An Investment Strategy for Dads

I made my first financial investment with my dad when I was 15 years old. A new spinoff of Bell Labs called Lucent Technology was set to construct two new massive, all-glass structures in my hometown of Lisle, Illinois, and the future looked bright.

My dad and I sat at our family computer one night in 1998 and opened up an Etrade account. I had gathered around $1,000 in savings bonds and cash that I’d made mowing lawns, and used this to fund my investment. I had seen plenty of kids in math class “invest” in the stock market with imaginary money during a class project, and this seemed like a reasonably good bet. I purchased 33 shares at about $30 each.

It turned out that we were right: within two years, the stock had surged over $82 a share, and my initial investment had ballooned to over $2,500. But the stock market, I was advised, is a long-term investment, and markets fluctuate. I decided to wait it out — there was no telling how high the price of my stock would go!

Of course, anyone familiar with the company knows it collapsed in historic fashion shortly thereafter, and shares plummeted lower than $2. I got out at around $7 a share in 2003, after basically having lost everything. I was still in my teens, though, and in the ensuing years, I’ve smartened up and invested my money in our family home (which is now an investment property) and index funds that have predictable growth.

It’s fair to say that I didn’t secure a whole lot of sound investment advice from my dad — at least not as far as financial gain is concerned. But there is, without question, one successful investment that my dad made: and that’s in his family.

But there is, without question, one successful investment that my dad made: the investment he made in our family.

First, my dad’s time was invested in his work: standing behind a steam press at the local dry cleaners on 90 degree days, he provided for our family. My dad invested by taking our family to Church every Saturday night, cooking a gourmet, Bohemian meal every Sunday, and stringing up a nightcrawler on my fishing hook at the pond down the street from our house whenever we had the chance to go out and fish for bluegill.

As I grew into my teens, we spent a year tearing apart the wood paneling in our basement and built a magnificent bedroom. There was nothing he couldn’t fix with a screwdriver and a set of needle nose pliers. And when I came back from college with a credit card balance, he helped me figure that out, too.

His love of family went far beyond my brother, sister, mom, and I: when his dad was struggling to break free from alcoholism, my grandfather stayed with us as my parents helped hold him take the first painful steps. He once lent money to a friend who was going through a divorce who later skipped town, but told me that it wasn’t the money that bothered him at all — it was the loss of a friend. There was never a time someone asked for his help and he wasn’t ready to do whatever he could, without condition or question.

These investments have paid off. My dad’s commitment to raising a faithful family established a habit of being involved in a community of faith, even though my wife and I have moved frequently in the past few years. Every time I ignite the gas grill on our porch, I remember how he artfully waited patiently for the meat to cook while his vigilance prevented it from charring. The basement room we constructed is now where I stay with my family when we’re home for the holidays.

A year ago at Christmas, my dad was diagnosed with lymphoma. He spent the last year undergoing chemotherapy and battling back infections, skin rashes, and allergic reactions to the toxins that his body needed and rejected at the same time. Today, as the stock market slides, he’s on the rebound.

My dad didn’t have the midas touch when it came to the stock market. He once told me that he regretted not having invested in gold before prices spiked in 2011. But unlike bullion, a barrel of oil, or a handful of stock in an upstart tech company, my dad’s investment in our family hasn’t fluctuated, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have had a share.

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