My father was a proud employee.
For more than 20 years, he held the same desk job in the same office in the same company with diligence and pride. It didn’t matter that the job was unglamorous, or that the job was a dead end in terms of career advancement. It didn’t even matter to him if the pay wasn’t enough. To him, this was the job that paid for his children’s education. What mattered was that this was the job that put food on the table for him, his wife, and his two kids.
I wasn’t nearly as proud.
When I was 16, my father was rushed to the hospital, having collapsed from exhaustion. We’ve noticed his unrelenting cough for a couple of weeks, but he was adamant in his refusal to leave work to go to the doctor. He said that he couldn’t afford any absences.
As a child, during those too few times when my father and I got to bond with each other, we’d often talk of the days before I was born, and of the days to come when I’d be old enough to sire him his grandchildren. He often talked excitedly about being a grandparent, about how nice it would be to see the fruits of his seeds.
But my father never did get to see those fruits. He never even got to see his seeds flower. That day, in that cold hospital that smelled strongly of bleach and disinfectant, my father succumbed to a double infection of tuberculosis and pneumonia.
He was only 49 years old.
Many years have passed since then, yet the fear that has crept inside me on that day is still here. It’s not the fear of dying per se; it’s the fear of ending up just like my father did-overworked, underpaid, and dead without even reaching his golden years.
Though my father worked all his life, he never had a penny to pay for his medical expenses. He worked full hours, grinding his bones into dust, yet his pay never increased to a rate that could sufficiently support a family of four. He left home just as the sun peeped out from the horizon, and would come home well after the moon has floated to its spot. That was the norm, every day, until he met his end.
I fear that the same would happen to me.
Fearing this, I decided to break free from the tradition. Instead of following my father and older sibling’s footsteps of acquiring a common desk job, I decided to go for broke and to stand up on my own. Naturally, I was met with many problems, with my mother being the first and the fiercest.
I can’t say that I’ve impressed her enough; time and again she’d still comment about how a desk job would give me regular monthly pay, instead of relying on the highs and lows of gambling on stocks. That’s how she calls it-gambling. Though investing in stocks isn’t exactly like betting chips on a hand at poker, I really can’t blame her for thinking that way. After all, she’s seen me go through the 401(k) blues that’s plagued the country more than once.
She’s seen me frown and sigh as I opened the mail I received from my broker regarding my ETF. She’s watched me fret about Nasdaq’s system malfunctioning and causing mayhem to the stock exchange. But even so, I refuse to give up. Why? Because I know that my 401(k) will have a reprieve. Because I know that mishaps in stocks happen, but that they won’t last. Because I know, by the end of the month, I’ll be able to pay for the healthcare premiums that will get me and my loved ones covered should our bodies happen to fail us.
Because, like my father, I, too, am a proud worker, broken free from the mould.
Continuing the Fight
I am now 58, happily married for more than 30 years, blessed with 3 beautiful children, and blessed even more so with half a dozen adorable grandchildren. Looking at the smiles and laughter of the toddlers scrambling around my feet, I remember the conversations my father and I used to have, and with a bittersweet smile, I’d have to agree that he would’ve found it nice to see the fruits of his seeds. I’ve seen it for myself. I’m living it.
I firmly believe that if my father had been no less proud but more discontent with what he had, he’d have the capacity to go beyond the limits of what the corporate boardroom dictated of him. If he broke free from tradition and took a leap of faith, he might’ve stayed alive a little longer to see his golden years.
This is why I continue to fight. I fight for my golden years, and for the golden years of my children. I teach them what my father and mother have taught me, and I teach them what life has taught me. I still persevere. I owe it to my father, who worked his hardest until his last breath.
As for the fear, it’s still there, though it’s taken a different shape. I’m no longer afraid of ending up just as my father did, nor am I afraid of not having invested enough to secure myself and my family a bright future. The only thing I fear right now is stopping, that if I stopped what I’m doing right now, I’d end up right back where I started-complacent, lacking of knowledge, yet content with the meagre.
This is why I still fight. And this is why so should you.