When I moved to New York after graduating from college in 2005, one of the things I left in Tampa was my car. My father, who was quick to remind me of who’d made all the payments, reclaimed it with the cold authority of a repo man.
“Sorry, kid. The car’s in my name,” he said. “And if you think you’re taking it up to New York with you, you’ve got rocks in your head.”
This is a favorite saying of his, the having rocks in your head thing. Paying full price for cable, reporting cash tips on your tax return, moving to the most expensive city in the world—people who willingly do these things have rocks in their head.
Even so, I was hoping to sell the car and roll over the money to cover my rent in New York while I looked for a writing job. Having it swept out from under me had thrown a real wrench in my plans, but in Lou Hayes’ opinion, it was his car fair and square.
I couldn’t say I was surprised by the way it had all panned out. In fact, I can still think of no greater scam than to have somehow tricked my father into financing my move to New York. It wasn’t that he didn’t support the idea of me pursuing my dreams in the big city—he just didn’t support the idea of footing the bill.
A self-described “knockaround guy,” my father simply couldn’t relate to the idea of a free ride, probably because he was never given one.
As Father’s Day rolled around this year, I couldn’t help but look back on all the things I’ve inherited from my dad. Aside from my freckles, the number-one trait is certainly my attitude toward money.
Growing Up With a Cautious Spender
My dad came of age in a working-class Brooklyn neighborhood in the 1950s, where both opportunity and money were equally hard to come by. If he wanted new sneakers, he waited for his older brother to outgrow his. If he got a cavity, it meant months of toughing it out while his mother quietly snuck money away from her husband for a dental visit.
Unlike his own children, my dad knew what it felt like to walk to school with holes in his shoes, the weight of hunger heavy in his belly. My grandfather’s belt served as a reminder of what happened to those who squandered what little money they had.
“That’s just how it was in them days,” he’d say casually. But while time and circumstance have lifted him far beyond his days on Flatbush Avenue, the imprint it left behind runs deep.