One of my biggest motivators on the path to Financial Independence is the dream of one day becoming a Dad. I want to be the best Dad I can be, and have as many kids as I possibly can! To give you all a bit of context as to why this is so important to me, I just want to reflect on my own childhood experiences. I think this will properly frame why I am so motivated to be a successful father, and why I think Financial Independence is an important goal before creating new life.
Reflections on an amazing childhood
Growing up myself without a Dad, I know just how important this really is, and I’m really only recognizing now just how hard my mother struggled as a single parent on a low income. To her credit, my Mother is an amazing woman and worked incredibly hard to make sure me and all my siblings were always properly looked after, clothed and fed. She stretched that budget in ways I could never dream of, and to this day I still feel guilty about the life of incredible excess I currently live, and think back to how things used to be.
To clarify, my mother fled from our families farm in rural South East Australia due to escape domestic violence and my Fathers drug addictions. We left with the clothes on our back and the family car. This is something my Mum has always felt ashamed and embarrassed about, but she did anyway despite the significant shame and fallout. She had so much Love for her children she wanted us to have the best chance in life; she couldn’t have us growing up in an environment where she feared for our safety. A child’s early years are incredibly important, and these formative years become the the foundation of the person you become.
In a vindictive measure, my Father sold-off or gave away all of the families assets, quit his high paying job and moved overseas to avoid paying child support – what a dick move! Forcing her to struggle by herself, we grew up below the poverty line. This is something I never understood until she explained it to me when I was in my 20s, and something that still brings a tear to my eye. I am so proud that my Mum wouldn’t allow herself to be manipulated and controlled, and sacrificed everything for our freedom.
But just to further clarify, my upbringing was better than 99.99% of the world. Whenever I turned the tap on – fresh water. Whenever it was meal time – nutritious home cooked meals. Whenever I woke up with night terrors and hit the light switch – the electricity worked. When it was the middle of winter, freezing and pouring with rain – the house was warm and dry! Whilst we sometimes didn’t have a car, and I didn’t get ‘all’ the latest gadgets and toys (I got more than enough, despite how much I begged and tried to manipulate my dear mother), we had everything we needed to grow and flourish.
Because of being a single parent, my mum took on extra shifts and responsibilities to make ends meet. As a result we often didn’t get to spend a lot of time with her, and so me and my siblings spent a lot of time together. We learned to become independent and rely on ourselves from a young age. When you really ‘needed’ that sandwich right now, sometimes you just couldn’t just wait around for Mum to get home, so you learned how to wield the knife unauthorized and shonkily cut the bread, cut the tomato, add the sauce etc. Thankfully I never burned the house down. I was the youngest of the pack, so I always had older siblings to look up to and learn from.
The weekends were great because we would often always do things together as a family, like going out for bike rides or gardening. And weekends ALWAYS started with ‘Hot Chip’ night, where we would feast on a huge bag of excessively salted hot chips from the local fish and chip shop.
We moved a lot, until one day my mother had saved enough to put down a deposit on our very own family home! I recently found old financial records (I have been helping her structure her finances for retirement), and she put down a $10,000 deposit on the $42,000, 4-bedroom home on a 400 sqm block.
My Mum was fiercely independent, and never relied on ‘help’, but in this instance she gratefully accepted contribution ‘match’ from my grandparents, which helped her get over the line and secure the loan. Sure the carpet was bright green and the garden was, well literally a mound of construction rubbish, but it was home!
As a Kid, I had a lot of issues at school. I have always been gifted academically, but I would get bored easily and find my mind wandering off. I have never had any issues speaking my mind, and would find myself getting into confrontations several times per day, becoming frustrated and then the whole thing would get out of control. I never liked ‘the way things are’ and always thought I could do a better job if I made the rules.
I was kicked out of more schools than I can remember, and ended up in juvenile behavior rehabilitation programs a couple of times (FYI, all these did was teach me to become sneaky about breaking rules and not get caught, and to make friends with other problem kids). My poor old Mum was at her wits end, and ended up taking me to see specialist after specialist and a psychologist finally slapped a diagnosis of ADHD and ODD, thrust a fist full of Ritalin in my general direction and handed her the bill.
I did a lot of things I am not proud of as a kid. I lied, I cheated and I stole. I hurt people. I broke things. I caused a lot of damage. Worst of all I think I broke my poor Mum’s heart a few times. But regardless of all the shitty things I did, she was always in my corner and never gave up on me. I literally owe this woman my life. I can’t imagine how difficult raising a big family would be, on your own, on a low income, when one of your kids has a chronic illness and one of your kids has extreme behavioral difficulties.
Sometimes she needed a break, so I would go and stay with relatives for a while. I loved these ‘holidays’ because I would get to go all over the country and stay with Aunts, Uncles and close family friends. Once every year or two I would even get to spend time with my Dad!
I remember as a child waiting for my father to come pick me up – I would sit in the tree in the front yard, as high up as I dared climb to get the best vantage point to spot incoming cars, with my bags packed by the kerb for a maximum speedy get away. Sometimes he just forgot, or had other plans. Mum would always be there for a comforting hug and to wipe away the tears. I never understood, and thought it was my fault.
One day when my mum was riding her Bicycle to work (as we didn’t have a car at the time), she was hit by a speeding driver. This was one of the scariest times for our family. She had been seriously injured and hospitalized. They found her helmet about 50m down the road, split clean in half. She was incredibly lucky to survive, but with many broken bones and other serious injuries. We didn’t know it but this would change her (and our) lives permanently, and be the cause of so much future stress, anxiety and turmoil.
Amazingly, she recovered well. I call her the ‘bionic mum’ because anytime she comes flying with me, she sets off all the metal detectors. Her passport actually had a page added which explains all of her titanium rods and plates she still has in lieu of certain bones.
Unfortunately though, if there are any medical practitioners or those experienced in this kind of stuff, these additions cause a lot of issues. My Dear mum now has chronic pain and arthritis, and suffers from extreme anxiety.
She struggled going back to work and as such had to work less than .5 (half time), taking a massive pay cut and struggling through ongoing legal and compensation battles with her superannuation company. Even 10 years after the incident, it still hadn’t been settled and she was seriously out of pocket, almost losing the family house.
By now I had managed to not get kicked out of high school, and was starting to control my own emotion and behavior, despite failing a lot of my subjects. I failed Phys. Ed. once because I refused to play Netball because it was ‘gay’ (and I was terrified at the idea of turning out to be gay). I had a bit of an epiphany at the end of year 10, where a teacher basically told me to ‘look in a mirror and grow the f up’. I brushed it off at first but it kinda stuck with me. I also got an amazing girlfriend and she helped settle me down a bit.
I quit my supermarket job to put in the hard yards during my final two years of school, and my Mum was amazingly supportive despite all the crap going on in her life; she would bring me hot chocolates and study snacks and make nice dinners as I tapped away on my computer and chewed through my STEM texbooks.
I think it was around this time that the government started paying me Youth Study Allowance, which was epic. I just saved it all, with an occasional splurge on red bull and subway take-outs. My girlfriend bought her cousins old car for $1000 which she earned working in the local shops, so sometimes we would buy a tank of petrol and go for a drive into town or out through the mountains. As a 15 and 16 year old we put a lot of pressure on ourselves for these exams, but she and I were both incredibly successful and I ended up with perfect scores for a lot of my subjects; a feat which would later earn me a full-ride scholarship for my engineering degree.
I left home after year 12 to travel interstate and live on campus. When I finished my degree and started working, along came the heart breaking news that she had Cancer. I’ve never cried so much in my life, immediately quit my job and moved home. I was lucky in the end to negotiate a transfer different department and ended up still working while being able to look after Mum. This actually helped give me the push to finally ditch my office job and pursue a flying career, and during this time I picked up several extra jobs to help fund my flying training.
The chemotherapy treatment was tough on her, and very tough to watch her go through. Here was this amazing woman, who gave me life, taught me how to walk, how to speak and how to do my taxes. She fed, clothed and bathed me and nurtured me from a baby. She was the first love of my life and here she was, hurting, throwing up, coughing, losing her hair, couldn’t walk. And it was up to us kids to keep sending her back for more toxic chemicals to try and beat the cancer.
Again, my tough old Mum pulled through. Nothing could stop her. Tough old nut! She and I had some of the best time together, reconnecting as she went through her treatment. As a flying instructor I had access to company planes so we would sometimes take the plane out together just to get out of the house and criss-cross the country side for a fun day out. One day I even ‘forgot’ to mention the plane we were flying was capable of aerobatics: she got the fright of her life when we did a loop-de-loop followed by a barrel roll!
I look back on all of the challenges and hardships that she must have faced as a single mum on a low income, and how she overcame every single one of these. But with each of these challenges, she sacrificed a piece of herself. She gave up her time, physical and mental health to make sure her kids all flourished.
Sometimes my mind wanders, and I think about what kind of a life she could have had if my father had been a better person, or even if he had just contributed his fair share. I wonder what that might have meant for me and my siblings upbringing.
I cant help but think that, when I have kids, I wish that I could be even half of the parent she was. I know that reaching Financial Independence and being work optional will be a massive benefit for my pursuit of raising a family, and make my life much easier.
In an ironic twist of fate, my father (who remarried overseas and started another family) is now sick with blood cancer, and has returned to the old family farm in Australia (abandoning his current family overseas). I am currently on the property, looking after him and trying to fix the run down ‘shack’ (I won’t even qualify it as a house!). The farm has not been productive for many years and is in a shambles, so there is much work to be done.
So now I am an adult, my childhood is all but in the rear vision mirror. Funny though, I don’t feel like an adult. Sometimes, I can have hundreds of people down the back of the plane which I have just flown between two countries, over literally thousands of kilometres and through challenging weather, but I still feel like a child. Sometimes I still feel like that kid, just waiting in his tree-house for his Dad to come pick him up…