Money has the unique ability to bring out the best and worst in all of us. And on those occasions when it brings out the worst, particularly between friends or family members, it can devastate a relationship. I’ve seen families torn apart and close friendships come to an end because of disagreements over money. “Control your money, control your life,” is the tag line to The Dough Roller. I chose those words to reflect how money intersects with our lives, hopefully for the better, but not always. And it’s not just about controlling money, it’s also about controlling our attitudes and emotions toward money. And with that in mind, I’d like to share with you something that happen to me when I was a child and how I’ve spent the better part of 30 years trying to come to terms with it.
The Financial Wound
If you’ve read What A Financially Painful Childhood Can Teach You About Money, you know that my father died in a car accident when I was 12. What you don’t know about is the conversation he and I had two months earlier as we were taking a two hour trip by car to visit some family. During the trip he told me that if anything should ever happen to him, he wanted me to have his watch and a ring he always wore. He was in the jewelry business, and these items meant a lot to him. At the time I didn’t think much about what he was saying. After all, he was 39 and in perfect health. Of course, how could I know that after that trip I would see him just one more time before his accident.
Some months after his death, I told my family about the conversation my father and I had. The watch and ring were very valuable, and the decision was made to give them to me when I turned 18. I accepted this and gave the issue little thought. A few years later, however, I learned that the ring had been stolen and the watch sold. Why was the watch sold? I was never given much of an explanation other than for the money. Of course, I had no interest in the monetary value of the watch. I wanted it because it was my father’s and because he wanted me to have it. Following this I had to come to terms not only with losing the watch, but also with the family member who chose to sell it rather than fulfill my father’s wishes.
Since then, I’ve told myself a thousand times that it was just a watch. For some reason, though, that just doesn’t seem to wipe away the pain of losing something so meaningful to my father. So how do we find healing when a loved one hurts us over money? I won’t pretend for a second to have all the answers to this question, but here is what I’ve learned over the past 30 years from this situation:
- Perspective: As a starting point, I’ve had to put this into the proper perspective. We are talking about a watch. Yes it was meaningful to my father, and therefore to me, but it was still just a watch.
- Choice: We have to make a choice whether we are going to allow the situation to ruin the relationship. Sometimes two friends will choose to end their friendship over money troubles. With my family member, I made a different choice and am glad I did. It hasn’t always been easy, but I think I’m a better person for having made the decision to keep and build the relationship rather than to end it over a watch. Besides, my family had already lost enough.
- Recognition: I had to recognize that none of us is perfect and that we all make mistakes. The family member who sold the watch had experienced their own tragedies in life. I can’t begin to imagine what it was like living through some of the painful experiences they lived through. The point isn’t to make excuses for them, but rather to realize that we all have challenges to overcome in our lives, and we all make mistakes as we try to overcome them.
- Time: You’ve probably heard the saying, “Time heals all wounds.” Don’t believe it. In fact, time can make wounds even deeper if we let it. But what time does give us is more experience, which in turn gives us more wisdom and understanding.
So after 30 years am I still searching for healing from the loss of the watch? No, I think I’m past that. I’m still searching for healing from the loss of a father.