Why didn’t I have the courage?

I saw how much he struggled and yet I could never muster enough strength to speak out.

Would it have helped?

Could my voice of reason really have changed a thing?

Unfortunately, I’ll never know.

I’ve shared before  about my father’s struggles with debt.  I vocally shared how it affected me, especially in my book. As a kid, when he was buying me every single G.I. Joe I could ever want, I didn’t think anything of it.

When I became older, I sensed he had money issues; I just never realized to what extent.

In junior high, my father remarried and we moved into a 3 bedroom 2 bath house.  It was 1990 and he paid a whopping $7,000 for the house.

Did I mention we live in a VERY small town in the Midwest? Even at that time, that house was dirt cheap.  It needed some work but it was more than liveable and I was super pumped because I had a much bigger bedroom.

What I didn’t know at the time was that all of the remodels and the repair were not paid in cash. They were put on credit.

Reappraised Again

This finally sank in when my dad was having his house reappraised for the third or fourth time. I never really knew the reason of why he was having the house appraised so often but in a conversation with him, it finally clicked.

He was having the house reappraised so that he could BORROW MORE against it by taking out a second mortgage. That second mortgage then was used to help pay the minimum payment on the credit cards that he used to fund the remodels and other purchases.

At that moment, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I now realized the scope of the financial mess my dad was in.

Tough Financial Honesty

Being a financial advisor, I was able to help people make smart decisions with their money. People were paying me to be brutally honest whether they could really afford to make a major purchase, retire when they wanted to, or take a vacation.

As honest as I could be with my clients, I couldn’t find that same confidence with my dad. I wanted to say something. I wanted to take him by the shoulders, shake him, and ask him “what are you doing?”.

My dad.

In his last remaining years, I can remember watching my dad age more rapidly.

I could tell that the stress of the debt was getting to him.

His beard once clinging to a hint of brownish gray was evidently turning white.

What struck me most was his face. My dad has always been the jokester. Thank goodness for his sense of humor because that wackiness is something that I cherish to this day. But as the stress began to mount, his face looked more somber. And worse, so was his spirit.

He tried to hide the pain that he was feeling from me, but I could see it clearly written all over that once easy-going face.

My dad had already filed bankruptcy twice and yet, he still couldn’t get a grasp on his finances. At the age of 69, my father died from a heart attack.


I am lucky to have a father that loved me and would do anything to support his son. He was never hesitant to tell me how much he loved me and I was never shy to let him know how much I loved him back. What I do regret to this day is not helping him get a grip on his finances.

Could he have lived longer if he didn’t have the stress of all of his debt?

Could he have met his grandsons had I made him cut up his credit cards and forbid him from charging on them even more?

I share this story now because I had the privilege of talking to someone who recently read my book. He shared with me that when he read about the relationship with my father, he could totally empathize. He also had a father that struggled with his finances but unlike me, his father was still living.

Up until that point he hadn’t had the courage to approach his dad and talk to him about his money struggles. But after reading my book, he was encouraged to do so. He was able to have that difficult conversation with his father and help him get his life back on financial track.

When I heard that story I nearly cried.  Partly because I never imagined that sharing the story of my father in my book would have that kind of impact on someone.

The other part is because unlike him I didn’t have the courage to talk to my father.  And that is something I still regret to his day.

No Regrets

Do you have a loved one, a parent, a sister, a cousin, that is struggling with their finances and needs an intervention? If you do, do like the gentleman that read my book and have that important talk.

Don’t regret not raising your voice and helping someone in need.


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Comments | 7 Responses

  1. says

    Thank you for sharing this powerful story Jeff.

    Talking about money with your family is extremely hard, especially if you know that they’re hurting. It’s even tougher when that person has a ton of pride.

  2. says

    Heartbreaking story but a powerful reminder. I’ve watched my own mom crush under the stress of debt and later, bankruptcy. It’s so hard when it’s a parent.

  3. Jack says

    Jeff, Appreciate you sharing this personal story about your dad and his struggles with finances. Don’t beat yourself up about not ever confronting him on this issue. It might not have helped at all… it could have even caused a divide between the two of you and put a rift in your relationship. From your description, it sounds like he was dealing with some serious addictive demons when it came to spending and debt. The most important thing is the love you both shared for one another and that you have made an intentional stand to break the generational chain of living in debt for you and your family. Hopefully your kids, their kids and future generations will benefit from the wise financial decision making skills you have instilled in them.

  4. Roy says

    We all have those financial intervention “regrets” whether it be family members, friends, or co-workers.

    Sometimes, at least in my case, the sharing has been unwanted, and estranged friends. They needlessly struggled with their silly debts while making as much or more money than I was making.

    To their credit some listened, and today are doing well. Debt free is awesome, hell of a lot of work to get there, but no regrets. Your book ‘Solider of Fortune’ was really excellent!

    While my life has been vastly different than yours, as my parents were both witness to the depression in 1929 as my father graduated high school in 1928, my mother in 1933. Neither ever had a credit card, owned stock, or borrowed money they could not pay back. My generation (born 1951) couldn’t wait to get credit cards, myself included.

    By age 19 I had a couple, a Clark Oil card, and a MasterCard. The only difference I wI charged only what I could pay for in 30 days -the grace period. Good training, and it mostly worked. When the transmission fell out of the car, or something larger than our always small emergency fund I would pay it off over a few months never forever!

    My parents were a good example, but as they were “scared of stocks” they did worse later in life than they might have otherwise. They never accumulated debt and when my father died, the last one to pass, he still had some money in the bank, and what else he owned was paid off.

    I’m trying to instill the same in my son, but wonder if it will ever “take.” He is 38 single, gainfully employed, and claims he is putting 20% into his 401K. He has no credit open, as he got in trouble with credit cards, and true to my warnings, I’m letting him extricate his ass from that tangle! Sorry, Jeff this is where “tough love” rears its ugly head. He is living at home and pays $125 a week a week rent here.

    That will be going to $150 a week in January inflation, and to inflict the comfortable. I don’t want him to get “too comfortable” here.

  5. says

    I have two sets of parents (through divorce), one set is the picture of financial responsibility, the other the complete opposite. Lately, when I talk to my dad, and I hear stress in his voice. His credit card bills are crushing him and my step-mother just won’t stop spending (mostly on travel). I feel terrible, but I don’t know how to broach the issue or if it’s really something I should leave alone. I know that my dad would listen, but he’s have to convince my step-mom to cut up those cards!

  6. Rizele says

    Thanks for being so open Jeff and for sharing this. Most often than not, its harder to be honest when it comes to money matters to people closest to you, especially parents.

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