by Dr. Boyce Watkins
Our kids are our investments. In fact, they are the most important financial and emotional investments that we make. If we fail to see them that way, then we can end up paying for a lifetime. I strongly believe that a child can be either an asset or a liability in your life. If you raise a child to be independent, financially and otherwise, they are more likely to see themselves as a vessel to improve your life in old age. If you raise them to be dependent on you, then they are likely going to see you as a vessel to improve their own lives.
One of the most difficult challenges in the world is to reach retirement and struggle because you have adult children who are not in a position to help you out. Even worse is to have adult children who don’t feel obligated to help you out because they’ve been raised to only care for themselves. Even worse than that is to have adult children who not only fail to help you, but get angry with you because you are refusing to take care of them any longer.
When I read about the 24-year old man who had his mother killed for insurance money, I wondered if he was one of those people.
My mother was a 17-year old single mom, so I was the product of a teenage mistake. When I was a baby, my biological father abandoned me. My mom once told me that if there’d been an abortion clinic on her street, I probably would not exist (although she is glad she allowed me to live). She was not feeling financially secure enough to take responsibility for a newborn baby, and I don’t blame her.
My mother married my step father when I was three years old. Times were tough, but I noticed that my father didn’t complain. If he needed something, he would find a way go out and get it. He would work all day, go to school at night and work weekends and holidays to make extra money. He struggled in his twenties, like a lot of black men do, but he never gave up on himself and always kept working.
After 40 tough years of marriage, my parents raised my sister (a doctor), my brother (an Ivy League graduate) and me, although nearly every male friend I had as a child is now dead, on drugs or unemployed. It was tough to see my brothers falling to the wayside, which is what makes me sensitive to the plight of black men everywhere, but I could tell that they were given a different set of values from the ones that we had in our house. We never believed that we were better than anybody else, but we firmly believed that success comes through focus and hard work, not just luck.
My parents pushed us with at least three fundamental values:
1) Have accountability and responsibility for your actions (“nobody owes you a damn thing, so stop feeling sorry for yourself”). That means that if you go to college, get drunk and get arrested, no one is going to bail you out. If you get your paycheck and waste your money, no one is going to give up their last dollars to pay for your stupid mistake. Your life is what you choose or choose not to make of it, that’s it. I’ve watched my parents save money while their friends went broke. I’ve seen them maintain good credit while others would beg them to co-sign. The point is not to glorify my parents as something that the rest of us can’t be. It is to share strategies that might work for you.
2) Always work your behind off for anything you want out of life (“nothing comes to people who are lazy and don’t set goals”): To this day, I see my father constantly working…even in retirement. He built an entire section onto our house with his bare hands, he cuts a gigantic yard by himself, trims the bushes, paints the walls, fixes the roof, whatever needs to be done. I saw him work us up from the projects to a much nicer house in a good neighborhood. I watched him work his way through the ranks of the police department by being consistent and professional. I watched him look his struggles in the eye and never back down. He is one of the reasons that I believe that every black child deserves to have a strong male role model. I am NOT a fan of the widespread effort to make black men weak, overly sensitive and whiny. The truth is that life isn’t fair, but you still have to face your obstacles and find a way to get what you want without selling your soul in the process. To give you an idea of what I would love for black men to be, just go watch the movie “300” – that’s why I roll with Min. Louis Farrakhan: He builds black men better than nearly any other leader in history. We are at war, and a lot of us don’t even know it.
3) A smart black man should get as much education as he possibly can (much of that came from my deceased grandmother as well): I made horrible grades in school, but my parents always let me know that this strategy would not make me successful. So, when I got to college as an 18-year old single father (yes, I made a lot of mistakes myself), I knew that education was my ticket to fix my situation. So, I began to apply the principles I’d learned from playing sports to my school work and was a straight A student shortly thereafter. It was through education that I was able to pay 18-years of child support for my daughter, and I never again had another child out of wedlock, since I knew that no one was going to bail me out.
I don’t quite understand the strategy of a lazy young person. If you’re lazy today, that only means that you’re going to have to work harder than the rest of us later on down the road. That’s when you’re toiling away for peanuts and working 60 hours a week just to get by. My decision was to make my investment on the front-end to make it easier later on. So, although I work 80 hour weeks today, I get to do a job I love and I get paid very well to do it. I could never do this without my education.
I just thought I’d share this information for those who can use it. If you can’t use it or think that I’m being “uppity,” then so be it. The core of the Financial Juneteenth concept is that not all of us are prepared for freedom. Some of us are going to have to be left behind.