A Letter from Dad
written by Mike Ballew December 30, 2018

Today I am sharing a letter I wrote to my sons a few years back. They were 29 and 27 at the time. One had graduated from college and one had tried it but decided it was not for him.

I am glad that I'm your father and I'm proud of you and I love you. This is what I believe to be a much-needed and perhaps long overdue father-to-son message from me to you about life expectations.

As I approached adulthood, my parents made it clear to me that they expected me to provide for myself and take responsibility for my life. In other words, grow up, become a man, get a job, pay my bills, don't ask them for money, and don't move back in. I accepted that as a normal part of life and since graduating college at the age 22, I have met those expectations. I thought I had passed that same message along to you but perhaps I haven't been clear. For the record, I expect the same of you.

I get the impression that your generation thinks it's okay to live with their parents long into adulthood. I disagree, I don't think it is healthy for adult children to live with their parents. I think it strains relationships and perpetuates immaturity. There's enough of that already in this world. Every time I try to watch a new television program, I see another idiotic sitcom where grown men act like children. It's funny sometimes, but it's also pathetic.

In life it is very important to set priorities. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is a good place to start. It's a pyramid with fundamental needs like food and shelter at the bottom where the pyramid is wide, and secondary needs like love and self-esteem at the top where the pyramid is narrow. The idea is, starting at the bottom as each need is met it enables you to go on to achieve the next level. What that says to me is this: the most important thing in life is to meet those fundamental needs; i.e., to put a roof over your head and food on the table. Without the basics, secondary things like a sense of belonging pale by comparison and are not even on the radar. If you don't believe me, go downtown on a cold night and ask a homeless person if they would rather have dinner and a hotel room or a nice chat about self-esteem.

I see a generation of young adults abdicating their basic responsibilities to their parents. They're focused on reaching the top of the pyramid while ignoring the part at the bottom. I'll say it again: the most important thing in life is putting a roof over your head and food on the table. Today, one-third of millennials ages 18-34 live at home with their parents. That was unheard of just a generation ago. In my way of thinking, once you turn 18 you should be on your own, except if you're going to college. I don't believe parents eternally owe their children. Parents owe their children until they turn 18, and after that it's extra innings, and beyond mid-twenties it's game over.

Making it in life sometimes means taking a job that you do not like. We have this idea that everyone should have a fulfilling career that satisfies their every need. That is a myth. Very few people really like their jobs. That's why it's called work – a four-letter word. God set it up that way. The Bible says by the sweat of your brow you will earn your daily bread. It also says that if a man will not work, he should not eat. I do not love my job and my dad didn't like his much either. Every morning when the alarm rings, I would rather turn it off and go back to sleep. But I get up and I go to work because that's what you do. I've done it every day for the past 30 years, and I'll keep on doing it until I retire.

Not having a job is unacceptable. You should never hesitate to take a job that you hate or feel is beneath you. It's far better to do that than to be unemployed, plus something better will eventually come along. Time is money; not working is like throwing money away. Success comes from hard work and sometimes saying no to a night on the town or buying the latest thing.

You are both healthy young men living in the greatest country on earth. Having a college degree is a plus but there are plenty of successful people who didn't need one. To name a few that list includes Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg – billionaires all. The point is, with or without a college degree, America is the land of opportunity. People cross oceans and deserts to come here and we were lucky enough to be born here. Of everyone in the world, you are poised for success like no other.

Here is a little practical advice for you: if you are married or living with someone with whom you share household expenses, you should at all times have a job, a credit card (one that works, not one that's charged to the limit), and $1,400 in a savings account that only you have access to. The $1,400 is first month's rent and security deposit on a one-bedroom apartment. Relationships are unpredictable and they can end at any time. If that happens, your first move should be a trip to the bank to pick up that $1,400 and go apartment shopping, not calling me.

At this point in my life, my focus has shifted from raising children to retirement planning. Like most people, a day is coming when I will no longer be physically able to work. Going forward, asking me for financial assistance is like a healthy young man fully capable of working reaching into the pockets of a feeble old man who cannot. What I am saying is, from this point forward, the answer will be no. I hope you take this seriously because if you don't you could become homeless.

Here is some more practical advice: when the alarm goes off, get up. If you don't have a job, get one. If your job is less than 40 hours a week, get a second job. Show up for work 15 minutes early and leave15 minutes late. When bills come due, pay them. When you're tempted to spend beyond your budget, don't. If you don't have a budget, make one. Have a functioning credit card and save up some cash for life's little emergencies, they will come. These are normal things that responsible people do every day.

Finally, I believe this message is for your own good. People who are dependent on others don't feel good about themselves. By contrast, people who are self-sufficient live happier, more fulfilling lives. As your father, I want you to succeed and live a happy, fulfilling life.



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Eggstack founder, Financial Planning Association member, engineer, and software developer.