Thursday, August 2, 2012

Money and Happiness don't necessarily equate.

You know the happiest times in my life were the times I spent with my dad's mom, she didn't have two dimes to rub together her entire life, but there was love, warmth, acceptance and happiness to be found under her roof.  My dad's father died when he was just 8 years old, and he being the middle child of a large family, he felt the death probably more seriously than all of his other siblings. Because the 4 older ones were already on their own, and the 4 younger ones didn't understand what was happening.  But, my grandmother, did her best with what she had, and always smiled even when times had to be extremely tough for her.  Undoubtedly she was the glue that held our family together, she made sure that she spent time with all the grandchildren and great grandchildren while she was alive.  I remember that the family always spent time at her house. Her youngest son and his 3 children lived with her, as well as my cousin Eric, whose mother, committed suicide when he was just 18 months old.

I was seven when we moved away, and even though we moved from Pennsylvania to Texas, my parents did go home to visit often.  When I was in the sixth grade, my parents went on a year long vacation and my younger brother and I were sent to live with my mother's mom who lived fairly close by my other grandmother, and I would spend every weekend that I could with my dad's mom. She was born in 1895 and had lot's of stories to tell about how things had changed during her life.  My dad's mother was the first to realize I was different and told me long ago that I was special and that I had a gift of joy and love to share with the world, that I should not let my parents or anyone deter me from sharing my gifts.

I joined the Navy right out of high school, and after boot camp and A school, I was transferred to the U.S.S. Wisconsin (BB-64) the last of the Great Battleships. We spent a great deal of time in the shipyards getting her ready for recommissioning. Some of the time we were in Pascagoula, MS and the other part of the time we were in the Naval Shipyard in Philadelphia.  It was then that I spent every weekend visiting my grandparents, splitting the time between both of them, and my mother's sister at the same time.  It was during these visits that I began to notice how different one side of my family was compared to the other side.  See, my parents fought all the time, were physically and mentally abusive compared to what parents are today. My parents had moved away to follow their dreams, and in a sense made it.  Back then my father was making good money about 50 to 60k a year, and my mother's family had always had money.

Now, to understand the contrast between the two sides of my family you have to understand that there was love, a sense of family and togetherness on my father's side that wasn't found on my mother's side.  My dad's mom pulled the family together, kept them together, and spent time with her children and grandchildren.  Even though she lived and supported a bigger family of 6 or more on her widows pension, she was always surrounded by family and love.  My mom's side of the family there were never any real close ties or bonds, my mother and her sister were close, but there was 17 years difference between my mother and her brother, where there were only 2 years difference between her and her sister.  My mom's parents bickered and often fought, yet there was a gulf separating them.  It didn't matter how successful my parents were or my aunt was there just didn't seem to be the same kind of love and warmth that was shown on my dad's side of the family.

Now, I do believe that my mom's parents love each other and their family, it was just shown differently, my mother came from a much different place than my father did.  There wasn't any want or real need on my mother's side of the family, my mom's mother never had to work, and had every comfort of life.  She did struggle with being a mother and a grandmother, and I believe that it came from being married at such a young age.  My grandfather served in the Navy during World War II and built upon his career when he got out.  Made lots of money and kept the family well insulated from the world around him. He was a remarkable man, full of energy and continued to work until his death at 80 years of age.  He never slowed down, and was frugal with his money.  When he passed away he left a great deal behind. Which caused a lot of strife between my mother and her brother who were the only ones left in my mother's family.  My grandmother had passed away in the late 80's and my aunt had died in a car accident 2 years before my grandmother.

Of course there is more to the story which helped me to come to a better understanding of life and the correlation between happiness and money.  To look into this a bit further, I would like to talk to you about my own family life, and how it comparatively contrasted my aunt's life.  See my mother and father, had made their money by working hard, my mother going to medical school and studying to be a nurse and then other things, my father worked his way up in the electronics field.  There marriage was never happy, there were constant fights and struggles, and they ended up marrying and divorcing each other 3 separate times.  Neither one could see that this was unhealthy for them, and damaging to both of them.  My aunt's life on the other hand, she had worked herself to a position high up in the insurance industry, she actually put her career before anything else, and got married later in life.  She was an executive Vice President of a large insurance firm when she met her husband who was in the toy industry.  Both of them had money when they met and married, yet over time their relationship was fraught with problems just like my parents. Now keep in mind that I had spent a great deal of time with my family the 2 years I was stationed in Philadelphia, and I got to know my aunt and uncle very well, as well as spent time with both grandmothers and my grandfather.  My aunt and uncle's way of dealing with issues was to pour money into the problem to try and make it go away. Maybe they did this hoping that by some chance the issue would just take care of itself while they focused on other things. Unfortunately, that never happened, I know that my aunt had hoped that she would be able to reconcile the differences between herself and her husband, but never got the chance because she was killed by a drunk driver.  My mother's parents never seemed to talk about anything, when my grandmother complained, my grandfather, went to work and brought in more money and also through money at the situation.

In the end all I can say is this, my parents couldn't make it work, by throwing dollars over fist at the issues that faced them, my aunt and uncle nor my grandmother or father ever did it that way either.  My parents today are not together, and have moved on with their lives apart.  An appropriate solution and they both seem so much happier.  Everybody else is dead and gone now on my mother's side, except for her and her brother, and they don't talk at all because of the money that was left by my grandfather.  This caused a rift between the two of them that even 15 years later has never been repaired.  My grandfather had decided in his will that my uncle had inherited all he was going to get while my grandfather was alive and left everything to my mother, which my uncle thought was unfair. I won't go into the details, but it was an ugly battle and my mother came out the winner in the end.

But the point I am trying to make by telling you all of this, is that money doesn't always make a family or even a person happier, it does make it easier to life and life comfortably, but it doesn't essentially mean that they have a perfect life, that there aren't problems, and certainly doesn't mean they are happy.  Yet, in contrast there seems to be a bond on my father's side of the family where struggling and need brought the family closer, there was happiness and laughter, acceptance and companionship to be found.  As I told you my dad's mother struggled to take care for her family on a widow's pension, that was meager by any sense of the word.  Constantly fraught with bills, and housing situations, they somehow made it through, and through it all there was love and a unity that cannot be explained.  I envy that side of the family really because no matter what the situation they faced it together, and overcame the obstacles and kept holding on together.

My dad's mother never swore, and as far back as I can remember looked old, but she had a fierceness about her and a driving force that made her the perfect matriarch.  She protected us all and stood up to anyone that she thought was a threat to her or the family.  One of the kids down the street that was friends with my cousin Eric, got in some sort of trouble and my grandmother chased him away, for whatever reason, and his father came down and threatened her. I was there! He had an axe handle in his hands and kept telling her that if she ever chased his son away with a broom again he would be back. Her words to him were firm and she held out her bony arm and said here, you think your man enough, break it!  You know what, he looked at her with amazement in his eyes, and turned speechless and left.  That is how strong she was, undeterred and not afraid of anything.

When I would come over as a child she would stand up for me. She knew how my parents were and she would hug me and kiss me and tell me that everything would be alright, and I knew without a doubt that she loved me and if by chance I got into some kind of trouble and my Uncle Jim was angry, Jim her youngest that lived with her till she died, she would tell him I got enough abuse and beatings at home and would keep him from punishing me.  I think about her often, and I wonder how she did it. How she kept the family together, showed love to everyone, never let anyone know the financial stress and pressure she had to have felt.  How every year she always sent $5.00 for every birthday, knowing that she couldn't spare it.  How much love must she have had to weather all those storms of life, being on her own for so long and raising her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  In my own life I have never seen so much love and dedication.  No matter how much money I have made in my life have I ever been able to experience that sort of happiness and love again.

Up until late 2008 I was making well over 100k a year, had 2 homes, at least 2 cars, 2 dogs, a cat and a solid relationship.  But like my parents before me, my relationship was full of fights and arguments, most stemming from bills and money.  It couldn't last, there wasn't the kind of peace and love in it like there was in my grandmother's world.  So, as I look back and ponder the question does money equal happiness? I would have to answer that it does not. That the issues remain the same whether you have money or not, that the secret to all of this is contentment, happiness and joy.  I now understand that if you aren't content with what you have at every moment of your life and give joy and thanks for what you have. There is no possible way that you can ever be happy.  It takes an deep understanding to see the achievements you have made and to be thankful for them.  To appreciate the people that are with you and help you to achieve them.  I want you to be blessed. I want you to be able to feel the love and joy in every moment of your life.  I want you to cherish the things that you have and be thankful for what you have achieved.  Above all else I want you to love yourself and your family. Money does make the world go round, but it doesn't buy you happiness or peace of mind. Only you can do that and it comes from within yourself.  It is not something you can chase down, achieve, or even buy.  So take a moment and be thankful for what you have and who you are with.  Love and cherish them, hug them and tell them daily how much you care for them. Life is short and before you know it, it might be too late and they are gone before you have a chance to tell them how much you love them.

I miss all my grandparents, I understand them better now, and didn't when I was younger. If I knew what I know now, I would have loved better, cherished more, and told them how much they inspired me.  But they are gone now, and it took me so long to realize what was right in front of my face the entire time.

As always my hopes and dreams are with you,

Uncle B