DR 074: My Real Life ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’

Many have said that Robert Kiyosaki’s ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’ book is a piece of fiction. Apparently, he never had a rich dad and a poor dad as described in his book, or at least that’s what many believe. But I did.

My parents divorced before I was two, and both remarried. My father, who lived across town, was my ‘Rich Dad.’ My step-father was my ‘Poor Dad.’ Let me tell you about them and how they each affected my views toward money, business, and life.

My Rich Dad

My father started his business in college. He sold stolen records, and when that didn’t pay the bills, he hustled others for money at the local pool hall. He was apparently a real shark at billiards and pocket billiards. Mom tells the story of the time he played Willie Mosconi (prettiest blue eyes she’d ever seen) and lost. But apparently he held his own.

When he graduated, he moved away from the hot vinyl market and into a wholesale business selling posters and incense (they were big in the ’70s). After cornering the Farrah Fawcett poster market, he upgraded to selling jewelry from Mexico. From Mexican jewelry he moved on to gold jewelry and eventually diamonds.

Interestingly, he never left the posters and incense business. The building that housed his business was a non-descript affair along I-70 just east of Columbus, Ohio. The front end contained four offices where he ran the jewelry business, and the back was a warehouse full of posters. I spent my summers rolling posters and putting them in the clear plastic sleeves you’re probably familiar with. We’d add a label identifying the poster, and they were ready for delivery to K-Mart and his other retail customers.

I can also remember going on a sales call with my Rich Dad. It was a jewelry store in The Continent, a then fashionable outdoor mall north of Columbus that has since declined precipitously. I can still remember the jewelry store owner looking me in the eye and saying that my father was the best salesmen he’d ever met. If only I had inherited that skill!

My Rich Dad made a lot of money. He spent a lot, too. He and my step-mother lived in a very nice home east of Columbus. They had an in ground pool put in. They owned a condo in Florida. My father drove a Mercedes 450 SL when he wasn’t driving his 1976 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud. My step mother drove a Mercedes 450 SLC.

Rich Dad was the first to own a VCR, at least that I had ever seen. It was a massive box by today’s standards. He also had the first car phone I’d ever seen. In the 1970s, a car phone involved installing significant equipment in the trunk of the car. He belonged to a very nice country club, had expensive jewelry, and wore custom suits.

He was also extremely unhappy and died in a car accident at the age of 39.

My Poor Dad

My Poor Dad worked at the gas company. He never went to college, but was a natural-born artist. He could paint or draw anything, and was an excellent photographer and videographer. And he was a fisherman. A bass fisherman. A tournament attending, power boat buying, depth finder using, plastic worm jigging, fisherman.

He had multiple, massive tackle boxes that when expanded, must have had a wing-span of 10 feet. At $2 to $3 a pop, his collection of lures was easily worth thousands of dollars. And his graphite rods and smooth spinning reels numbered in the dozens.

A day on the lake with my Poor Dad went something like this:

4:00 am: Wake up, stumble out of bed, eat eggs and bacon that my mom fixed, and be on the road by 4:45 (which was always late by his standards).

5:30 am: Boat in the water, helmets on (not kidding), and full throttle with a Johnson 150 hp outboard beast. If you’ve never experienced this, I can sum it all up in two words—freakin’ cold!

5:33 am: Arrive at THE fishing hole. We know it’s THE fishing hole because the previous winter, my Poor Dad and I spent countless hours photographing the bottom of the lake. Again, not kidding.

5:38 am: We spent 12 minutes trying to get my lure out of a tree. At $3 a pop, we would have spent 12 hours if need be.

6:25 am: Having seen absolutely no sign of any fish at THE fishing hole, we power up and zoom off to another fishing hole.

3:32 pm: I haven’t made a cast in two hours. I sit wondering what my Rich Dad is doing at the country club.

7:00 pm: We’ve caught nothing all day. With live bait, we would have had a boat full of fish. But we never used live bait. Somehow live bait gave us an unfair advantage over the fish. We pack up and head home.

The reason I’ve regaled you with this story is so you’ll understand the next step in my Poor Dad’s journey. In the late ’70s, he opened a fishing and archery store in north Columbus called The Big Fisherman. He didn’t quit his job at the gas company, but he did borrow against our home to fund the business. He also bought the store the business was in.

During the summers, I often ran the store. We would go entire days without a single customer. I vividly recall watching the Bjorn Borg versus John McEnroe epic battle at Wimbledon on a small black and white TV while potential customers zoomed by without giving us so much as a glance.

In large part because of the poor economic times of the late 70’s and early 80’s, the business failed. And because my Poor Dad borrowed against our home, bankruptcy and foreclosure hung over our heads. And you’re not going to believe what kept us from bankruptcy and foreclosure–my Rich Dad’s death.

When my dad died, social security sent me a monthly check until I graduated from high school. That check each month went to pay for my Poor Dad’s business loan that was secured by our home. Ironic, I know.

Lessons Learned

In the book ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad,” Kiyosaki describes what he learned from his Rich Dad. But he seemed not to learn anything from his Poor Dad. I learned a lot from both of them:

  1. Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness: We’ve all heard this before, but you can’t buy contentment. My Rich Dad taught me this, as did my Poor Dad. In many respects, my Poor Dad was more content than my Rich Dad.
  2. Poverty Can Rob You of Happiness: While money can’t buy happiness, poverty can rob you of contentment. While we never slept on the street, there were plenty of times where we had no money, no food in the house, and no gas in the car. We had our electricity and gas turned off, and lived paycheck-to-paycheck. I vowed never to live that way if I could help it.
  3. Take ‘Smart’ Risks: In many ways I respect my Poor Dad for taking the risks he did when he opened his tackle store. The problem is he put his ambitions above his family. Taking risks is part of life, but don’t bet the farm. Yes, we’ve all heard of people who risked everything and it paid off. What we don’t hear about are the thousands who did the same thing and lost everything. If you have a family, they come before your ambition.
  4. Save Money: Perhaps above all else, both my Rich Dad and my Poor Dad taught me the importance of saving. They taught me this lesson by showing me the consequences of living without an emergency fund or meaningful retirement account.

In the end, my Rich Dad and Poor Dad both gave me a healthy dose of perspective. The difficult times made me stronger in many ways. My childhood prepared me to be a better father and husband. And it prepared me to handle money more responsibly. Do I wish I had an easier childhood? Perhaps. But it wasn’t all bad, and it prepared me to handle the difficult things that life throws at us from time to time.

How has your childhood affected the way you handle money?

Published or Updated: June 15, 2014
About Rob Berger

Rob founded the Dough Roller in 2007. A litigation attorney in the securities industry, he lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, their two teenagers, and the family mascot, a shih tzu named Sophie.

Comments

  1. A very interesting story. It sounds like you have learned a lot. I have some ideas that I just have to put on hold to make sure that my family is cared for so I know about that one.

    • DR says:

      Yea, I’ve had to put a lot of ideas on hold, too. But I’ve never regretted it.

  2. Special Ed says:

    ‘I just learned more in 5 minutes than I did reading the entire “Rich Dad…” book.

  3. jaime says:

    Loved this post! Growing up I thought money grew on trees. It made me very unprepared to handle my own finances.

  4. What an inspiring story. I had 2 rich dads growing up, and 1 turned poor and the other just became financially stretched. I’ve learned a lot about money from both of them. Hope you don’t mind me borrowing your idea :)

    • DR says:

      Borrow away! It’s funny how the tough times in life teach us the most.

  5. Olivia says:

    It’s true, you do learn more from hard times. Still, I hope my kids don’t have to go through what I did. That they can learn from the lessons, going into life with eyes open, without getting the kicks in the head.

  6. Jen says:

    Great story! I’m all about learning from others – both good and bad. My father had tremendous talent but unfortunately was a “poor dad” because he made terrible decisions with money, definitely a “betting the farm” type of guy. He had both a “poor dad” and a “rich dad” but ended up exactly like the poor one. It has taught me that talent isn’t everything and it’s helped me to make responsible, smart choices with my money, always putting family first, then money, then things!

  7. Ryan says:

    Thanks for sharing – they make great lessons for all of us. I learned a lot from my father too, though I would say he was right in the middle of your experiences. He did inspire me to start saving and investing at an early age, and he is part of the reason I started blogging about money. Hopefully I can teach my children well. :)

  8. Ron says:

    Excellent story Bob. I guess it is a good or bad thing that I never grew up with a rich Dad. If I ever wanted anything I would have to work for it myself. Whereas, my Dad always ran to his parents if he needed money. Now that they are gone he has no one to turn to except his own kids.

  9. Kenneth says:

    Great story telling, Rob! My Dad made good money but spent it all, did not save. Fortunately, this was in the day pretty much before credit cards and easy credit so it was harder to get yourself in real financial trouble. He was diabetic and alcoholic a bad combination and died at 54. My step dad was a good earner and saver. He died at 64 of alcoholism (Mom made the same mistake) but had $700,000 in investments. Unfortunately Mom had a long period of Alzheimer’s and nursing homes so the money evaporated fast. What did I learn? Well I quit drinking about 10 years ago. And in the same general timeframe, I started working on my financial self from a position of massive debt. The debt is now gone, and I have investments working for me instead. And I made it to 64 in good health.

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