My father worked his entire life taking a train into the city and home, five days a week, with an hour-and-some-odd-long commute and long hours. He earned good money, enough to support an upper middle class life for myself, my sister, and my stay-at-home mom.
He retired early because he was overweight and couldn’t take the commute anymore. A few years later, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The recession hit and his 401k, once nearing $2 Million, was down to below $1M — still a respectable amount for retirement, but not necessarily enough to support his lifestyle, illness treatment, and my mom’s high-maintenance lifestyle.
Three years ago, my father was told he has two years to live. I’m glad he’s outlived that doctor prediction, but the reality is that it’s unlikely he’s going to live for many more years. He doesn’t want to think about that, or believe that, understandably, so while he complains about his slowly depleting bank account, he’s been spending the last year obsessively purchasing stuff to put in our NJ home. It’s actually really sad, as he’s spending lots of money to fast redecorate the entire home, and completely refurnish rooms, because to him, stuff is important, or at the very least a distraction from reality.
He purchased a $3,000 rug for the dining room, he’s bought paintings for thousands of dollars that have questionable value, but he liked them. He wants the house to look like a museum, now that he has time to shop for art. He complains that building on to the family room cost too much money, yet continues to spend. It’s not my place to say anything about his purchases, but the other reality is I’m going to be the one left to deal with my mother when she runs out of money later in life. And I’ll deal with it when the time comes, but all I want to do is teach my parents how to be responsible with money. It’s not a conversation I can have with my father — he’s worked his whole life while barely living and if acquiring “art,” movies and books makes him happy, then he should be able to do this… even if it means my mother is going to have to learn how to live on less or, more likely, run out of money when she’s 80.
I really hope I can live a life where I never get to the end and feel like I need to rush to spend my money buying stuff to fill the emptiness that extends beyond a few white walls. For now, I’ll continue to be surprised by the latest addition to my family “museum” every trip I take home.