Let me be up front about what this post is not about. I’m not going to be talking about how, despite whatever amount of money we make as parents, that ultimately our value to our children is priceless. Instead, I’m literally going to be talking about the invisible dollar sign each one of us has floating over our heads. It’s that simple; and for me, it’s that deep and fascinating.
From December 2010 to April 2011, my wife and I were worth zero dollars. We had left behind our respectable jobs in Nashville and moved to Alabama to be close to my family and we were both jobless, yet desperately looking. Our education, professional experience, resumes, and determination carried no weight in this different town. Finally, I got a job, but it wasn’t enough for me to support my wife and son- we literally couldn’t afford to pay the bills.
So we moved back to Nashville in July. After returning to my old job, I began making over $15K more a year than the job in Alabama. As for my wife, her old position at Vanderbilt no longer existed, but she was instantly able to get a different job there paying more than I get paid now and more than she was paid before moving away (not to mention benefits for the whole family).
Oh yeah, and I have my sanity back now. I, for one, was in a very dark place there for a while. There was such a hellish, demonic, heavy feeling of worthlessness I experienced when I couldn’t financially provide enough for my wife and son, knowing that I was qualified, capable, and willing. If it wasn’t hell, it was at least purgatory with a broken thermostat.
For months, we had no income; zero. Now collectively, we make over two and a half times more than I alone made in Alabama.
It’s literally a case of “double or nothing.”
Granted, the cost of living is a bit more in Nashville. We are obviously spending a lot more on gas now. My wife’s 20 mile drive to work each day often takes well over an hour (thanks to traffic) and we recently had to buy a newer, more dependable car for her. Plus, our son is now enrolled in a wonderful daycare; as compared to free child care back in Alabama, when my wife was unemployed.
As a family unit, we spend much less quality time with each other throughout the week, as we earn our living. But I have to admit, the time I do spend with my wife and son on the weekends has never meant more to me. I savor every minute.
I had thought our valuable jobs skill and “big city job experience” from Nashville would have helped us tremendously in finding jobs in Alabama. But it didn’t, whatsoever.
Instead, the two of us are worth much more money in Nashville; despite the higher cost of living. I guess it’s just weird now to think about how it was only a couple of months ago that we couldn’t afford to pay our bills.
Today as I was thinking about all this, I reminded myself that finance guru Dave Ramsey actually went bankrupt twice; it was part of his necessary life lesson to became the expert he is today. And thanks to his teachings, my wife and I are able to put his practices into daily use.
Like he says, “Debt is normal. Be weird.” Trust me, I want to be weird, so badly.
My wife and I are now so dedicated to (and educated on) being the best stewards of our income, as we build back our savings, pay off our debts, and regularly tithe to our church and sponsor a child through World Vision.
I hate money. I wish I didn’t have to think about it. But it’s kind of hard not to when I have an invisible dollar sign floating over my head that increases or decreases when I cross the state line.
In case you weren’t yet reading my blog back in December of 2010, my wife and I moved to Alabama to be close to family just a few weeks after our son Jack was born. Somewhere between being brave and outrageous, we made the move with no jobs lined up. It took four months for me to find a job, only to have to move back to Nashville four months later because we couldn’t financially make things work.
I especially remember those first couple of months while we were living off savings and no new income, praying to God, “I trust in You to provide for my family and when You do, I’ll make it obvious to everyone that it had nothing to do with me and everything to do with You.” After all, this was what we called our “God-nudged leap of faith,” trading in financial security in Nashville to be closer to family back in my hometown.
So surely God would make it possible for us to remain there. We had uprooted our lives and started over- for a very good cause with pure intentions and for the “right reasons.”
I admit it seemed at least a little bit ironic when after labeling our move as a “God-nudged leap of faith,” that we would just ultimately end up back in Nashville, having to start back over yet again.
But this week I started reading a book that helped me grasp a much clearer understanding of what really happened; why the move was so necessary for us and despite much confusion on our end, why it was what was supposed to happen.
In Peter Buffet’s book Life is What You Make It, he tells about a guy who changed his major nearly every semester in college: from engineering, to physics, to math, to art, to architecture, then finally, he realized his calling was to be an urban planner. Finally, he had found where he needed to be- but it took several “wrong turns” to get there. It was a graduated learning process; a concept that sounds way too familiar to me.
I love the way Buffett sums it up:
“So– was this fellow “lost” during the years of his academic wanderings? Or was he following a path that was not yet visible but that was nonetheless leading him where he was meant to go?”
It would have been nice if we could have just already known what we know now; without sacrificing our savings, our jobs, and all the effort it took to move away from and then back to, so that we could learn A) how to manage our money much better, B) be much more thankful for the jobs we had to begin with, and C) that the city of Nashville needs our gifts and abilities more than any other city in the world right now.
Taking it a step further, Parents.com picked up my blog right in the middle of all this. I take that to mean that another reason I was destined to experience all this was to use my gift of communication in order to share the story with others who need to hear it, from the perspective of a random, yet focused, guy like me.
So did my God-nudged leap of faith pan out in the end? Or did He leave me hanging? After all, he provided a job only long enough to survive for a few more months but not long enough to logically justify us moving there.
It’s clear to me now: The only way we could have learned what we needed to know was by following a path that was not yet visible but that was nonetheless leading us where we were meant to go.
I am a huge fan of Peter Buffet’s New York Times best-seller, Life is What You Make It. In fact, it’s the kind of book that I’m almost jealous of for not having written myself. He thinks along the same patterns as I do. That being said, today I am proudly giving away the book to one lucky reader.
Since there is only one copy for the book giveaway this time, I’m making it a bit more challenging than usual: Be the first person to leave a comment correctly telling me which Internet fad landed my son on the desk of late night talk show host of Conan O’Brien. You have to also give me your mailing address either in the comment or send it to me via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Every time I do a book giveaway there is at least one person who loses their gift to the next person because they don’t actually give me their mailing address.)
As for the rest of you who don’t actually win a free copy of Life is What You Make It, it is totally worth getting your hands on. To further entice you, I want to share the names of the chapters of the book. Again, I’m jealous- many of them would have made really good titles for Dadabase posts had I thought of them first!
1. Normal is what you’re used to
2. No one deserves anything
3. The myth of the level playing field
4. The (mixed) blessing of choice
5. The mystery of vocation
6. Buying time
7. Don’t just find your bliss- do your bliss
8. Portals of discovery
9. Be careful what you wish for…
10. What we mean when we say “success”
11. The perils of prosperity
12. The gentle art of giving back
“Peter Buffett has given us a wise and inspiring book that should be required reading for every young person seeking to find his or her place in the world, and for every family hoping to give its daughters and sons the best possible start in life.” –President Bill Clinton
“Knowing and admiring Peter as we do, this book captures his spirit, passion and values beautifully. As parents, it’s the kind of dialogue about our life’s purpose and opportunity we’re having with our children. We will have everyone in our family read and discuss the book.” —Bill & Melinda Gates
“With home-spun, heart-felt wisdom, Peter Buffett ponders how to make a meaningful life, while making a living. Life Is What You Make It is thought-provoking, worthwhile reading.” —Ted Turner
“So take your lessons hard… and when your car crash comes don‘t be misled.” Convince yourself that everything is alright, ’cause it already is.” – “For Nancy” by Pete Yorn
In last week’s cliffhanger episode, I closed by saying that I was counting on a miracle in order to remain in Alabama, knowing that our savings we had been living off of since December 4th would be running out in the next few weeks and that every door and window had closed for us regarding a long term job. And more importantly, I needed a job with good insurance, since there are 3 of us now. I avoid drama at all costs, but in order to be true to the reality of “dad from day one”, I couldn’t play down the real life happenings of coming to terms with the fact that our leap of faith may end with us moving back to Nashville, despite all our efforts to move to Alabama.
That was last Wednesday. It literally felt like my world was collapsing in on me, which I realize is no comparison to the literal collapsing that occurred in Japan last week, but still, it was the most intense thing I have ever lived through. Maybe a better comparison is that it was like being in a car wreck, where I was in the driver’s seat, running the car through a guard rail, causing my family to be flipped upside down a few times as the car rolled over, not knowing if we were looking up or down.
It helped me to literally understand the phrase, “hell of a week”. I never so literally felt such a heavy, demonic presence around me. Not like dark storm clouds and a violent storm; more like a silent, heavy overcast. It was so subtle, yet terrifying. I truly felt that my family was caught between two spiritual worlds- with one army that wanted us here and one army that wanted us gone. With that being said, there must be some serious unseen reason why my family should or shouldn’t be living here in Alabama.
But as I had always expected, the scarier that things got in my real life during this move, it would only make it that much more obvious when God miraculously provided for us. In order for this real life story to be more legit, it had to be obvious that it was no coincidence if things worked out in the end. I, the protagonist, had to be that desperate and completely dependent for God’s intervention. And I couldn’t just paint God as a genie who grants wishes. Also, like Abraham being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac, I had to be willing to give it all up. I had to become humbled more than I ever have before.
As I put it last week, “Perhaps there’s a thin line between bravery and foolishness. The way I see it, that thin line in my case is actually having a steady job.” I could also compare it to that “bankrupt/million/bankrupt” wedge on Wheel of Fortune.
That was last Wednesday. Less than 24 hours later, in what felt like a loopy dream, I found myself in a job interview at the place I truly had my heart set on when I moved here. (Interestingly, this is not the position I referred to last week; this is something completely different.) It’s a Marketing position for one of the world’s largest playground equipment companies. I know it’s the perfect fit for me. Today I took my drug test, so unless there was something extra in the brownies last night, I start this coming Monday (March 28th).
But… the good news isn’t over yet. God is more creative than that for this story.
Something else happened in the past week that is pretty dang awesome. Something that I didn’t initiate. Instead, out of nowhere, I was approached. It’s bigger than just simply having one of my articles or “dad from day one” entries being published in a magazine. I don’t think it would be wise to give away all the details at this point, but just know that it involves me signing a contract, it will take “dad from day one” to a whole new level and audience, it means I will be teaming up with a major publishing company (in a regular paying gig), and it should officially begin within the next month or two…
So, that is what has happened since “Part 1″. What a week. Granted, I realize now more than ever, there is no where telling where anyone may end up for the duration of their lives. I honestly never would have believed that I would ever have moved back to Alabama, or more importantly, that I would ever want to. But as far as my own plans, I want roots again. I want solid ground. I want anchorage. I don’t want to even think about moving again.
Admittedly, I wouldn’t be surprised if all this dramatic struggle is a necessary part of the story of “dad from day one”. With rare exceptions like the movie Napoleon Dynamite, a strong plot is vital to build a solid story line- not to mention, it’s absolutely necessary for character development.
So, will we be moving Jack back to Nashville? With an exciting and fulfilling job starting Monday here in Fort Payne, a big secret “dad from day one” reveal coming up in the next month or so, and a juicy income tax return coming our way soon, I suppose it’s as safe as possible to say that we can keep our anchor down in Alabama.
It’s the ultimate irony that we moved to Alabama to settle down, yet it has been such an unsettling experience until now. And it’s pretty interesting, too, how these doors opened the very week that the winter season ended and the spring season began. Man, the symbolism. The dead of winter surrenders to the resurrected life of spring.
Please, God, let this good ending and new beginning be real.
“You got to go through hell before you get to heaven… ’Cause it’s here that I’ve got to stay.” – “Jet Airliner” by The Steve Miller Band
You are looking at a picture of our “guest towels”. If you are one of the 7 (maybe less?) males to actually be reading this, you will be just as confused as I once was to learn that despite their name, guest towels, these are not actually towels intended for guests to use. Granted, we do have extra towels for when guests do actually stay at our home- but those are in our “guest bathroom” on the other end of the house. As a guy, who is unable to see any logic in having guest towels in the bathroom attached to our bedroom that are actually only there to look nice and for decoration, not actually for guests to use, I found comfort in watching many male stand up comics who made a routine out of the same topic.
I am becoming more and more aware of how little control I actually have over my own life; much less my own house. Because another common topic that married male stand up comics talk about is the fact that they don’t know where anything in their own house belongs: like the mixing bowl, the stapler, and of course, the real guest towels that are actually intended for guests for use. And now it makes so much more sense why it is so common for the man of the house to spend time in his “man cave”, whether it is his garage, his shop, or even the yard. Why? Because while in his solitude, he has a sense of control over something on the land he owns or rents.
Jack's first taste of a pineapple.
I’m at a point in my life where I am constantly reminded of what little I actually do control right now. With tomorrow reaching the 2 month mark of unemployment, the dignity of providing for my family has been surrendered. And without that, I also feel like I can’t control my time (because I feel guilty if I’m not constantly doing something constructive to find a job). Starting on Christmas Day and ending yesterday (Groundhog Day), after my wife and son went to sleep each night, I would spend an hour or so revisiting my video game past. I took take the time to go through all 3 Super Mario Bros. games on regular Nintendo, Super Mario World for Super NES, and New Super Mario Bros. for WII, and beat them without using any Game Genies or Warp Zones (which again may only interest the 7 or less men reading this). And while there is something seemingly pathetic about a jobless, 29 year-old guy cheering out loud because he beat Super Mario Bros. 3 for the first time in his life; for me, it was a major sense of accomplishment.
I controled those old-school, 8-bit Nintendo games. And in some slightly true sense, I had control over my time as well.
I think it’s easy to overlook the importance of control in life. Why is it that if you drive into certain “bad neighborhoods” that the residents stand in the road or take their sweet time crossing the street, knowing that you need to get by? It’s gives them a sense of control. Why are there rapists in the world? Well, the easy answer is “the depravity of man” or “lust” or “an unfulfilled sex drive”. But to me it’s pretty obvious that their hideous crime is also largely fueled by a lack of control in their own lives. For more times than I can remember, it seems any time I watch a story on NBC Dateline about a rapist, he was emotionally, physically, or sexually abused growing up. Some people will do anything for the sense of control in their own life.
So what can I do right now? What can I actually control in my life at this moment? I can help with the basic needs of my son. I can control whether or not he gets fed, held, played with, and nurtured. And perhaps the best part, I can make him do funny, weird stunts to be featured on YouTube. Because hey, what else am I going to do until I get a real job?