By Troy Headrick
This is the story of my complicated relationship with money and how such a relationship came to be. In the telling of this story, I’ll need to explore the nature of fear and how our parents’ fears end up shaping our own inner psychological landscapes.
Before becoming an adult and leaving home, I lived with a father who was perpetually terrified that some financial crisis might befall the family. He worried about our bills and whether or not we had the funds to pay them. Because we lived in a rural setting, he fretted that our water well would go out or that some large appliance, like our hot water heater, would suddenly quit working and he’d have to replace it. As a result of these worries, he would secretly creep around the house turning down the thermostat in the dead of winter or he’d stand for minutes at a time looking at our dishwasher or clothes washer (or some such contraption) while it was running and then note how ever little sound the machine made was full of ominous warnings that the thing was on its last legs. It even got so bad that he refused to run the central heating unit during the coldest days of winter and would “heat” our entire house—no significant heating actually took place—with nothing more than a fire in the fireplace in the living room.
I can’t really blame my father for his insecurities because once he divorced my mother he remarried a woman with three kids. Thus, there were suddenly several mouths to feed in the Headrick household. There was quite a lot of laundry to do too. As you might guess, the hot water heater had to work overtime to give all of us warm showers and this exacerbated my dad’s worries about the appliance’s well-being. The expenditures were considerable while my father and his wife’s incomes weren’t. This turned my dad into a brooding, fretting man who appeared to be carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.
After my father retired at a fairly early age, he started investing in real estate and now he and my stepmother are very comfortable. Still, when we occasionally talk about money today, he tightens up and furrows his brow as those old insecurities rear their head. I suppose it is hard to shake our deep-seated fears, those bogeymen that first come into being early in our lives and yet continue to terrify us even as we mature.
Stepping back in time, my dad was born into a family of what some might call the “working poor.” His father, my grandfather, had only an eighth-grade education and his wife didn’t work outside the home. Thus, with the small business my grandfather operated, he could not provide his four kids (my dad being the oldest one of them) with anything remotely resembling a middle-class lifestyle. Because my father had grown up poor and had watched his parents struggle, he became a man who also felt poor (even if he was much more financially secure than he’d been as a child). These feelings became more real to him than actual reality. But fear is like this. Fear and insecurity are often irrational.
Children are like sponges. They absorb their parents’ speech and thinking patterns. They are likely to be frivolous if they are brought up by frivolous people. And they learn to become insecure about money if they see a parent acting this way.
I am insecure about money and I know this about myself. My wife and I are actually doing fine, but I constantly worry about our savings and whether or not something bad might happen that would require a large expenditure of cash. So, I value money greatly, but only because it’s my security blanket. On the other hand, I actually hate money because of what it does to me. My worries about it sap my strength and are very distracting. I wish I could get past all this, but I haven’t been able to do so, so far.
Do any of you have any suggestions for me? Or do you have similar experiences you’d like to share? I’m anxious to hear what everyone has to say.
Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.