Fatherly Advice: What I Learned From My Father and What I Hope To Teach My Kids

If for some reason you couldn’t bequeath any assets to your heirs, what is a piece of advice you would want them to have?  

When we think about what we leave to our children, the first thing that comes to mind from a financial standpoint is of course wealth. Good estate planning can provide a brighter future for our children, their children, and beyond. But what could be more meaningful and lasting are the ideals and values we instill in our kids. 

When going through the initial discovery process with my new clients, I often ask the question “If for some reason you couldn’t pass along any assets to your heirs, what is a piece of advice you would want them to have?” In this article, I’d like to share my personal perspective about what I’ve learned from my wonderful father and what I’m hoping my children will learn from me. 

What My Father Taught Me 

Growing up, his family didn’t have much. At a relatively young age, my father had to make ends meet for his own mother and siblings. What he experienced made him realize that the best way for him to provide for his own children was to start a business and work as hard as he could to make it successful. 

Make Family Time Worthwhile 

My father prioritized family experiences over material gifts. Because spending time with family was such a rare occurrence, my father deeply valued every moment he spent with family and always sought to make family outings memorable. We didn’t eat out often, but when we did, it was someplace special. We didn’t take many vacations, but the ones we had were to faraway destinations and were amazing experiences. 

Running A Small Business Is Hard Work (But Rewarding) 

When you’re the head of a small business, there’s a lot of stuff on your plate. Although you get to work for your favorite boss, free time is scarce. You have to oversee business affairs, plan strategically, and drum up new business. All three are essential for success, and my father had to regularly put in long hours. What he experienced as a small business owner led him to want a less stressful path for my brother and I. His success enabled him to let us focus on education and choose our own paths. 

Keep Things In Perspective When Considering Risk 

Seeing the path my father took as well as my own personal journey helped me to develop a balanced mindset when it comes to assessing risk. The same risk on paper carries different impacts depending on timing and situation. If you’re young and looking to move up, that startup job offer would be a good risk. Even if the company doesn’t work out, you should still learn a lot and be well positioned for your next career step. But if you’ve got a mortgage and have kids coming, that same risk might not be worthwhile. 

Don’t let the fear of failure prevent you from pursuing your goals and dreams. A good technique when making big decisions is to assess potential worst case scenarios and figure out ways you’d be able to mitigate the downsides of your decision. It’s easy to descend into a spiral of doomsday scenarios, so focus on reasonable worst cases. If that reasonable worst case is acceptable or can be mitigated, then take the leap. 

What I Hope To Teach My Kids 

These are a few lessons I hope to teach to my kids: 

Your Personal Time Has Value 

Sometimes, we will do something ourselves instead of hiring a professional to do it for us. This can be for mundane tasks such as dog walking, or major tasks like home renovation or car repair. We’ll save money as a result, but at the cost of our personal free time.  

Your available free time is irreplaceable, and time spent doing such tasks means less time to spend with your loved ones. So it’s important to consider whether you are doing a thing because you enjoy doing it, or only to save money. If you keep putting it off or are not looking forward to doing it, it’s probably the latter. That’s the time to consider letting someone else do it.  

Small Changes Over Time Can Work Just As Well 

Drastic change can feel daunting, but it is not the only way. Small incremental changes are not only more doable, but their compound effect over time allows you to build sustained momentum such that once successful, the change will have lasting impact. 

Cutting out excess sugar from your diet cold turkey might give you withdrawal headaches and be extremely tough to maintain. But if you instead gradually reduce your sugar intake over several weeks, you’ll eventually be sugar-free and be far more likely to stay that way. You don’t have to jump straight from black to white; it’s easier to get there through the shades of gray. This principle applies just as well to savings, investments, and career advancement. 

Don’t Be Afraid Of Standing Out 

It’s good to be modest and humble and not want to show off or brag about your achievements. But in order to be successful, you do need to be noticed and stand out in some way. Don’t let fear of the former sabotage the latter. Let your accomplishments speak for themselves, and don’t be afraid to talk about them if asked. 

Align Your Values To Find Joy 

When dealing with change, there are two general paths. One of course is to gradually condition yourself to like the new behavior/situation, or at least tolerate it. The other is to find something in the change that aligns with your personal values. If you can, you will find enjoyment in what you’re doing and gradually you’ll want to continue doing it. Once you are able to do it regularly, it becomes part of your regular routine and will no longer feel like effort. 

Know The Differences Between Assets And Liabilities 

To paraphrase Robert Kiyosaki of Rich Dad Poor Dad fame, an asset is something that will generate positive net income for you over time. An asset grows as you take care of it and gains more in value than what you put into it. 

A liability, on the other hand, takes away from your financial resources. Even if you sell it or get some income from it, it’s less than what you put into it. 

A reliable mutual fund is an asset. An expensive car you drive to work is a liability. A vacation home could be an asset if you can rent it out for a profit or are able to sell it at a much higher price; otherwise it is a liability because of the upkeep costs. If my kids can understand these nuances, they will be able to make mindful financial decisions. 

In Closing 

How we use our money is ultimately a reflection of our personal values as well as our fears. Through my own experiences I hope to demonstrate to my kids how to have a healthy relationship with money. What we teach our children can empower them to have their own successful lives and build their own wealth. The values we pass along will magnify and solidify our legacy to our children, and ultimately their children and beyond.