My dad, a physician, worked really hard when I was growing up. He still works really hard in his own medical practice to this day; he's in his 70s. When we were growing up, he had high expectations for all of us children, has a strong set of beliefs and a pretty fine-tuned moral compass. We never went without, but he also didn't spoil us. Instead of just giving us our first vehicle, he taught us to work for it and then matched us dollar for dollar. Want a nicer car? Work harder. He gave us this and other perks to help instill a hard working ethic in each of us. For example, if we earned a scholarship for college then he awarded us the value in dollars. But, it wasn’t all work and no play. He also knew how to have fun and often indulged us in the fruits of his hard labor with meals at nice restaurants, random gifts and, over the years, he took us on many memorable trips, even after we were married (Oktoberfest in Germany is pretty amazing and who doesn't love going to Greece?).
If you have met my dad you probably wouldn’t realize he is a well-respected and successful physician; he’s not flashy and not pretentious. He has worn the same jeans for years...with holes in the back pockets that were so big you could see his white Hanes briefs peeking through. He has driven a slew of practical cars and, while he showered our mom with jewelry and trips and a beautiful house, he didn't really need much for himself. Yet he was always happy when we were growing up. He is still happy. The biggest thing he taught me about life and my position in it? ”No matter where you go and what you do in your life, always treat the janitor the same way you would treat the CEO". That's my dad.
After I got married (at the way too young age of almost 24) it was time for me to really grow up. My husband hadn't started medical school yet so he was working in a lab making a little money. I was finishing up graduate school and we were living on student loans and, once he started medical school, we lived on my income as a physical therapist. Thankfully, my husband was a pretty amazing student so he was awarded a full ride to medical school but, we still had all of the bills that everyone has, just with very little income. Those were some tough times for sure! We had a townhouse, food and, eventually, a newborn so clearly we found a way.
The next number of years were pretty tough, and not only financially. Supporting someone through their medical training is mentally and emotionally draining. Especially the way he did it. He was the best, he had to be the best, he worked really, REALLY hard for many, many hours a week (sometimes as many as 136 weekly hours in fellowship) to be the best. We had one, then two, then three children. I worked to bring in money to pay for our mortgage and other bills, but when our second child was diagnosed with life threatening food allergies, it was time for me to stay home and take care of our babies.
We made it work. I paid the bills, balanced the checkbook meticulously, we didn't really go without but we also didn't have the best of the best and we didn't really need anything. We lived in the perfect little house for his five year medical residency and we lived in a very small two bedroom apartment for his one year fellowship. We both invested so much of our lives, our time and our money for his career. We knew the reward would be great and our sacrifices would be so worth it in the end. My dad's lessons to me about hard work and putting forth effort were in full effect for all of those years.
Then, we did it. We reached the end of over a decade of rigorous medical training. Sleepless nights (for both of us), so many family events that the girls and I attended alone, dinners I ate alone, vacations I took with our children alone, the scrubs that needed washing and folding, the meals I would make ahead and freeze for him to have if I wasn't there, the nights the kids would ask "is Daddy coming over tonight?" and I would have to say, "Yes, baby, Daddy lives with us but he has had to work a lot lately". It all came to an end and the marathon race was over. We had lived so much life and we had also missed out on so many things our friends were doing (buying houses, nice cars, designer clothes, jewelry and more). I remember my dad telling my husband, "Don't ever let anyone make you feel bad for the paycheck you will make some day. While you are spending your weekend working in the hospital, your friends are doing whatever they want to do. Don't forget that".
Shortly after we settled in to life as a couple who were no longer in school, I went to Brooks Brothers to buy wrinkle-free shirts for him to wear to his new, real job in a medical practice in Greensboro. I remember taking a picture of the shopping bag on the front seat of my new Yukon XL and texting it to him with the message "I feel so grown up now! I actually went to Brooks Brothers and bought you some nice shirts!".
Then, three years after training was over and he was about to make partner in his practice, it all ended. 17 years of togetherness and working hard for his career, all gone.
For the purpose of this post, I'll save the details that led up to our divorce for another time. I am pretty sure that almost every negative emotion I have ever felt in my entire life, I felt that first year when we separated. Worthless, betrayed, scared, worried, angry, used. I sacrificed so much for someone else's career. That person will always have that career and will earn ridiculous amounts of money year after year for the rest of his life.
My children will continue to benefit from our hard work, especially when they are with him and going to fancy restaurants and on trips, buying new clothes and toys and, some day, new cars. But, I won't. Sure, I will have child support and some spousal support for a while, but certainly nothing that will compare to lifelong earnings for a medical career. I won't have the benefits that come along with his career...no health insurance plan paid for by the company, no retirement plans, no ownership of stock in the practice, no real financial security and no true peace of mind.
But, guess what? It doesn't even matter. When we separated and I was forced to move into a much more modest house I remember driving in our previous, more affluent neighborhood and seeing other moms driving their Mercedes Benz, their Range Rover, their Cadillac Escalade and thinking, "I wonder which one of these women has the sad life or unhappy marriage like mine just to drive that car". Truth be told, my dream car has always been and will always be a white Range Rover, the full size macdaddy, not the sport. In my previous life that wouldn't have been a problem, I would have absolutely had that car someday and probably sooner than later.
But, the problem was the life itself.
I was sad and alone. I was probably depressed and, while I was still able to be a really good mom, I felt so empty. It sounds cliche, but money can't buy love. It can't buy happiness. It can't buy morals and values. Don't get me wrong, I’m still sort of a girly girl and I totally take after my grandmother in some ways…I love the vintage Louis Vuitton suitcase she handed down to me, I love the quality craftsmanship of my Gucci handbag and sunglasses, my Rolex, my diamond engagement ring from Tiffany's. But, if I had none of those material things, I know I would wake up tomorrow and be completely ok. Hell, I shopped at Walmart and Goodwill all through college and for over a decade after we were first married and I found some pretty great things that I still own to this day!
By the grace of God, I met and am now engaged to the most amazing man. He is truly my other half, my better half. We have the same thoughts and values. I know what real love is supposed to be, now. He says, "I love you" every day, several times a day. And, it's not just "love you", it's "I love you". That "I" means so much to me.
Is he a doctor? No, thankfully (haha, just kidding Dad, but I know you know what I mean). Is he a lawyer? No. Is he the CEO of some Fortune 500 company? No. He has a great job, works with some awesome people but I'm pretty sure he would be able to find joy in pouring an asphalt highway in the summer in Arizona.
It took me a while to figure out why he has this happy and peaceful approach to life. It's because his priorities are so perfectly in order.
God first, then family, then work.
Does he spoil me? Absolutely, every single day. He spoils me with hugs and kisses, with compliments (that are so hard for me to take!), with a cup of coffee in the morning or a glass of wine at the end of a long day. He spoils me with his presence; dinner with us and playing baseball with the kids in the yard. He spoils me with the things that matter in life. Can we buy that white Range Rover? Not today. Maybe someday. Maybe not. But, what he has given me is something even bigger. He has given my children something even bigger. He has given me a deep, unconditional love and a relationship that, I hope and pray, my girls find when they are grown women. My girls see this now and they “get“ it.
My dad worked so hard to pave a road for all of us children. He still works hard to keep us on, or bring us back, to that paved road. And mine broke. But that broken road, all of that hard work and sacrifice and effort I put in to someone else's career while trying to save a failing marriage, showed me that money truly can't buy everything. And, ironically, I can honestly say I feel richer today in so many ways. In so many ways that truly matter.