Reflections on Fathers and Fatherhood

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I’ve been thinking about fatherhood and my own father/son relationship. When I was young, my father was a comfortably-employed engineer, with two small kids and a house in the suburbs. But he decided that he wanted to go back to graduate school. All of a sudden we were a family of 4 living in a small 2-bedroom apartment with both parents working long hours and still only earning a fraction of the income. But he eventually got his PhD, became a college professor, and I always remembered how he continued working long hours but told me about how it was great because he loved it and he had no boss. Nobody told him when to go to work or what to do on a daily basis.

I understood the autonomy part, but was always bitter about the lack of time he spent at home. Still, he was my role model. So as I went off to college, I pursued the goal of being a professor as well. I did all the right things and got accepted into one of the best engineering graduate schools in the country with a full fellowship, meaning I had full tuition covered plus a small stipend. I was set. I could make him proud… except for the little discovery that I didn’t like doing research.

Dropping out of grad school was one of the more difficult decisions in my life. I felt I was disappointing my father, as I wouldn’t be able to “do better” than him. At least I had employable skills. Still, I was unhappy. That led to starting this blog and learning about how managing your money properly gave you more freedom to do what you wanted. I was afraid, but I still felt I had to switch gears yet again and try something new, and today I work on my own terms and am well on the path to financial freedom and being able to live off investment income.

It took me a while to understand some of these things that my dad’s experiences taught me, but late is better than never. Happy Father’s Day!

  • A son always wants to make his dad proud, even if he won’t admit it to anyone including himself.
  • Sometimes you just know something is missing, and you have to take a risk. My father quit a safe job and took a long, cloudy road but eventually found the key ingredients to a satisfying career: autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward.
  • Being frugal and having the ability to live well on less money is a skill that allows you the flexibility to take on those positive risks and to weather those leaner times.
  • Having a supportive spouse or partner in your life is priceless.
  • As a soon-to-be father, I recognize the desire of having your kids exceed your own achievements. However, all I can do is provide them whatever life skills I can, and eventually let go and allow them take their own path. At least, I’ll try.
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  1. I enjoyed your lovely reflective post on fatherhood. I am not a father yet, but coincidentally I was thinking yesterday about something I learned from mine when I was a kid and how I have finally applied it; I am now inspired to decide to write about this on my blog for Father’s Day.

  2. Absolutely inspirational and introspective. You’re right, when you feel something is missing, you have to take a risk. And what encourages me to take that risk is thinking about the risk of NOT doing it.

    Can I risk not taking the chance on doing something I love?

  3. You sound like a great dad already! 😉

  4. nice article, thanks for sharing about your life!

    although I’ll note that you do love doing research… just on financial topics rather than theoretical engineering stuff. =)

  5. @HogWild – I agree, I’ve read some quotes about how their “big decision” really wasn’t a choice. Looking back, I don’t know if it really was, but I do believe if I didn’t I wouldn’t be as happy now. That’s very cool, I enjoyed your stand-up comedy. +1 subscriber!

    @Lisa – Faith and spirituality are important, but I don’t get the “90 seconds to choose (Christianity)” part. Why only 90 seconds?

    @Eric – Ha, wait until the first 24-hour crying marathon.

    @Bucky – That’s a good point as well. Learning new useful stuff is always fun.

  6. Excellent post, Jonathan. I always enjoy your blog.


  7. for someone who dosent like doing research you do a fine job doing alot of research for this blog!! but we wont complain thyanks for all you wonderful advice

    a dad

  8. boomalog says

    great share jonathan! always enjoy reading…

  9. Nice break from the money news.

    It certainly feels good to chase our dad’s achievements, it’s almost obligatory to try and contribute to society more than our own father’s did. But more important I think, is to do just ONE thing really well, and I think that’s you and money.

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