Thumbing for Nickles by Rob Azevedo
My Dad died broke.
But we never knew he was broke until, well, until we knew. By “we” I mean my brother and two sisters. This revelation presented itself just two months before that pig faced monster — otherwise known as cancer — put an end to him for good three years ago.
I still can’t muster up the nuggets to delete his number from my cell phone. Ah, so be it.
When you’re watching a parent die, or anyone die – young, middle aged or ancient — as a my dear retired neighbor Hank is watching his wife of 35 years die before his eyes — the horror is all you can focus on.
Sooner or later the medical bills come calling and she’s equally ugly as the pig faced beast. And just as big a priority. Numbers stacked on procedures, on lab runs, on ambulances only deepen the fear and sorrow.
Real scary stuff.
When we learned my father had virtually nothing left to his name in the form of property or finances when he died, we were shocked. We knew he wasn’t “well off” anymore.
But the 1980’s was a wonderful time for making money if you didn’t mind the hustle. My Dad hustled. Worked his way off a furniture truck to be a country club card carrying cranky pants with a long time financial business in downtown Melrose, Mass. He drove a sports car, bought a big brick house, spent very little on himself, had only a few friends, he smoked a lot of butts and read a lot of books.
He was a success! All this by age 50. Not bad.
And my neighbor, Hank, who is losing his wife, was a success too. He got early retirement like a 100 years ago from the phone company. Best health plan ever. Best pension. Best place in the world to retire from — back then anyways.
Hank figured he was covered financially. He was wrong.
I can remember on countless occasion, looking over at Hank messing around in his yard like a happy dog on some fine Monday morning — mowing, clipping, washing – and thinking to myself, “Now I want to be him instead of the cat.”
Then, just the other night, Hank arrives at my back door in tears. At a loss, this old man, so strong, hands like horse saddles, was busted up like no ones business. His mouth was quivering, buckets of tears beyond his thick glasses. He’s telling us she said, “Goodbye. You been a good man, a good husband.”
Then Hank starts talking about his life, all the years he worked, the money he saved, the Golden years he was promised. “Not so golden….“ Yeah, I know that one too.
He’s angry and terrified as he should be about the mounting bills. No person past their 70’s should suffer going broke, that’s a young man‘s game. But millions of seniors are drowning in debt, trying to heat their homes, pay for medications, eat some food and keep their butts out of the retirement home, where they’ll absolutely go broke.
Brutal business, this life thing.
Prophetic in hiding his financial demise, of course out of pride and shame, my father, amazingly, found himself so underwater that he stopped fighting for the current. He retired too early at 53. Stopped hustling and dreamed way too big. With earning out of the equation, every buck he borrowed and spent lead him deeper into the abyss.
Had his children an inkling he was drowning in something other than that pig faced monsters own slobbers, we would have helped. But the Christmas cards with cash inside arrived each year for the grandkids. Weddings and dinners were paid for, colleges funded, credit extended.
He never let on. In fact, he appeared to be comfortable, safe. I always thought he was being shrewd with his finances, in a survival sort of way. Live on the cheap, bare boned not busted. Spend it all but make it last.
Impossible these days.
As one finance friend of mine told me, “You have no idea how broke so many people your father’s age are. And you would never know it.”
But my old man was no street urchin thumbing for nickels on a cold winters night. And neither is Hank. Nobody should live that way, under a guise of ease and stability when in actuality the pig face isn’t only chowing down on your life line, but your pride, sanity and Golden Years to boot.
Wish I had a sweeter perspective on things, but the pig face ate that too.
Rob Azevedo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org