Crossing Generations: Being Grateful For What We Have And Some Reflections On The Future

by golbguru on October 1, 2007

It all started with these lines from the movie Rush Hour, which we watched over this weekend for the umpteenth time:

Carter: …My daddy once saved five crackheads from a burnin’ building, by himself.
Lee: My daddy once caught a bullet with his bare hand.

One thing led to another and we (me and my wife) eventually got to discussing how our respective parents struggled through adverse financial conditions, and yet managed to make the most of their lives.

Here are a few interesting features (although, not as exciting as catching bullets with bare hands) about my parents’ lives that briefly came under discussion:

  • My dad and his siblings walked to school on tar roads without any footwear to protect their feet. I often thought that this story was blown to legendary proportions until I visited the village where he lived when he was young, and saw quite a few school children walking on hot roads without any footwear (and this was in 2005!). He got his first flip-flops when he was in 7th grade and didn’t have proper *shoes* till 3 years later.
  • Mom was a bit luckier - she had access to footwear when she was a kid (she grew up in an urban area); but, she spent about 18 years of her life sharing a small single room (about 400 sq. ft) with 8 other family members. “Privacy” was an unheard concept among the middle class at the time - even now, it’s not a very popular concept. :)
  • Both of them had to give up their education at some point of time in order to work towards earning income, so that they can lend a helping hand towards educating their respective younger siblings.
  • After they were married, their life together started in a small rented apartment which didn’t even have plumbing facilities for the first 4 of the 8 years that they spent there. Drinking water had to be brought from a well that was about 200 feet away from the apartment.
  • They couldn’t afford a car until after retirement [it did help that a public transport system was in place and they didn't really need one].
  • Luxuries like refrigerator, washing machine, television, telephone, etc. came very late in their adult lives (long after I was born; check my TV story here). They still don’t have an air conditioner at their home - though it does get pretty hot in summer. For them, it’s not really a big deal because most other middle class families around them don’t have air conditioners either (astute readers will have realized by now that I am not talking about the US here).

In fact, in the part of the world where my parents grew up (and in their time frame), such financial hardships were a norm. Many people of my generation (although, not all), who were brought up in middle class families in that part of the world, would have similar stories to share about their parents.

Sometimes, when I think of all this and compare it with how we are living our lives right now - with all the educational and financial opportunities available to us, with most of the *comforts* in life one could ask for, without having to worry about how we will survive till the next paycheck, without having to worry about how we will be able to provide for our younger siblings, and stuff like that - I can’t help but feel extremely grateful for how life has treated us so far. We may not be among the wealthiest people in the world, but whatever we are getting out of our life at present is a whole lot more than what was even remotely possible for our parents.

It’s truly humbling to look back and think of how much the efforts and sacrifices (mostly sacrifices) of our parents have contributed to where we are at present. Of course, I wouldn’t underestimate the importance of our own decisions and choices towards getting us to our present situation - but, it’s with the full understanding that those decisions and choices couldn’t have been very effective without a solid foundation and unconditional support that was provided to us early on by our parents - in spite of all the financial adversities they were facing in their lives.

In between such sentimental thoughts, I often slip in the future - yeah.. many years in the future - and wonder what kind of comments our would-be kids will have about our evolving financial situation. As things stand now, I am sure they won’t have anything to write about how their parents rose through “financial hardships” and stuff .. so, I don’t know if I will hear about any “grateful” type of feelings … the only thing I am hoping for, is to not see/hear statements like:

  • My old man had everything but he blew it away and couldn’t save anything for my college.
  • My old man had everything but he still got into huge debt.
  • My old man was miserable and greedy, he had money on his mind all the time - never had enough time for family.
  • Etc., etc., :)


Interestingly, in spite of the tough financial conditions early on, my dad and mom retired at the ages of 49 years and 46 years, respectively. More about this sometime later.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Donald Mckenzie Jr 10.01.07 at 8:14 am

That sounds great. People should give thanks everday for whatever they have.

2 ispf 10.01.07 at 9:52 am

Nice article! Can definitely relate to it! I think our kids will still have *some* stories to tell about us. For instance, during my undergrad I lived on $20 per month (even by the non-US standards, that is LOW) but everyone around me was in a similar boat, so it really didn’t matter. I doubt our kids will ever see such such days and if we tell them our childhood money stories they will probably be as amazed as you are with your dad’s stories :) About gratefulness - that’s something I doubt - especially since I plan to make them save for their own college education :)

3 Kyle @ Rather-Be-Shopping 10.01.07 at 10:03 am

Great post, I have been watching Ken Burns, “The War” and it has been a real eye opener in terms of what my parents and especially my grandparents went through. Myself and my generation have very little idea what REAL sacrifice is all about. Both financial sacrifice and sacrifice for the greater cause.

4 Nicole - Dollars and Sense Education 10.01.07 at 10:47 am

Great post. My mom struggled tremendously when I was growing up. She was a young single parent, a child raising a child. She worked 3 jobs at a time so that I could live in a safe neighborhood and attend a good school. She went from a waitress making 20K when I was growing up, to a paralegal making little more, then put herself through college and law school while she worked and now is VP of an Insurance Company! She is my hero!

5 BAMAToNE 10.01.07 at 11:21 am

Very nice post. I have found myself appreciating what I have more and more the last few years.

6 plonkee 10.01.07 at 11:56 am

I’ve seen the half a barn that my grandfather grew up in, and I’ve heard the tales of when my parents were first married and had no money. I don’t think I’ve been that poor, but I have different opportunities and made different choices. I hope that there won’t be a generation worse off than the parents.

7 Lemuel Jopio 10.01.07 at 12:05 pm

A nice personal post. It’s good to hear your folks set up a good foundation while growing up.

My old man is also retired. The old lady is on the verge of retiring as well. And they both remain positive influences in my life.

No matter how hard I try or financially successful I become, there’s no way I’ll be able to pay them back in terms of the sacrifices they’ve made to raise me (I was a pain in the ass as a kid).

I hope my kids feel the same way for me as I did with my folks.

8 kitty 10.01.07 at 8:08 pm

Great article.
I think just having basic necessities, access to healthcare and education is a blessing.

Until I was about 4, my extended family - mother, father, grandmother, grandfather and me lived in one big room in a “communal” apartment in St Petersburg (then Leningrad). A “communal” apartment was an apartment shared by a number of families, one family in each room, with one kitchen and one bathroom. There is no word for “privacy” in Russian, right now they use the English word with slightly “russified” pronunciation.

Then - luck, all 5 of us got a very small “two bedroom” apartment to ourselves that had three small rooms, a tiny kitchen and bath. I stayed in one room with my grandmother, my parents had a tiny room for themselves, and the grandfather slept in our living/dining room. We had a small black and white TV: even though color TVs appeared in Soviet Union when I was in school, the colors were bad and the TVs occasionally blew up. So we never got one. I didn’t get “allowance”, I got a sandwitch for lunch. We walked to school and around town and used public transportation; had one school uniform for the whole year, saved for a few months to buy a pair of nicer shoes (if you could find them). But we were better off then many other families. A friend of mine still lived in a communal apartment when we were in high school. Once she was late for a final exam because her neighbors stopped her from going as it was her family turn to clean the apartment’s common areas, her mother had already left for work, and they wanted it done in the morning. Thankfully, this was oral exam, so you had to wait for your turn and she managed to be there before she was called.

Still, I got good school education, had piano lessons, saw theater performances, read, and all in all I had a happy childhood.

Unlike I, my parents knew what real hunger feels like - during the Second World War in Russia when food was rationed. My father said that if you lie in your bed hungry yourself and hear your brother crying and asking for food - any food - you are ready to do anything to get food. But they were lucky - their mothers (fathers were at war) were smart enough to be evacuated.

My aunt stayed and survived the siege ( She was a teenager when the city was surronded with only enough food for a month and no way to get supplies or food in or people out. She had to learn how to quench fire bombs with tongues and throw them into a box of sand to prevent her building from catching fire.

I consider myself very lucky that I have never had to experience it, and that I’ve never been hungry.

9 The Financial Blogger 10.02.07 at 2:59 am

Definitely the best post I read this morning ;-)
I am shocked when I look at what my grandparents had versus what my parents had versus what I have and what my kids will end-up with.

It’s funny how most of our grandparents or parents used to live into very small apartment/home, walk to school and could not afford a car until they were much older.

When I was young, I had the whole basement for me. My dad used to drive me to school and I got my first car at the age of 16.

Then, I look at my son (he’s only 2) and I see all these toys and clothe he has… It seems that our needs are growing bigger and bigger.

But the real question is :
Is bigger is really better?

10 Susy 10.02.07 at 8:28 am

Yeah, I wonder when I read articles in the paper about how the middle class are struggling to keep afloat with inflation & rising costs. Is it really a struggle to keep basic food and shelter, or is it a struggle because you can’t get a new car every other year and a bigger house.

Our grandparents raised large families in small homes and we think it’s awful if our kids have to share bedrooms. They also lived with one car and their kids didn’t get cars when they turned 16 or went to college.

I think doing without is good for the soul. It’s hard to learn those lessons now because people just use credit to get what they think they deserve. We often feel entitled to whatever everyone else has.

11 Single Ma 10.02.07 at 7:56 pm

That is my most favorite movie of all times!! I love it, love it, love it! Since I was already laughing and hadn’t quite picked up the intent of the article (yet), I read this:

“Mom was a bit luckier…”

as…Mom was a butt licker. LOL sorry!

But you’re right, we should all appreciate our modern day luxuries. I tell ya, I’ve heard my share of “I had to walk 3 miles ONE WAY just to get to school” to last a lifetime.

Our parents didn’t realize they were poor or struggling back then. They just made due with what they had available to them. The only reason we recognize it now is because we have so many conveniences in this day and age.

Don’t worry, in 20 years, our children will think we were struggling too, no matter how comfortable we are financially. With advanced technology, they will have even more conveniences or maybe even robots to do everything for them.

I imagine my grandkids saying, “can you believe grandma actually DROVE her car with a circle thingy they called a steering wheel? It took her 45 minutes to get to work!” or “OMG, the actual PEOPLE had to clean the houses!”

LOL not too far fetched. It’s all about perception and what you consider ‘normal.’

12 Jake 10.03.07 at 5:42 am

This is a great post. Thought out and well written. How thankful we should be. How can we make sure the drive to work hard and save hard is passed to our kids?

I see a sense of entitlement everywhere I look.

13 Marble Man 10.31.07 at 7:24 pm

Hi, I was born in poor, working family, but I could change my mind by myself. I recomend to read my favorite book “Rich Dad - Poor Dad” What the rich people teach their kids about money and that the poor people do not. Thanks

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