I need to tell you a story. It is the only way to explain the most important money lesson you can teach your children.
Personal finance writers miss this tip often. It takes explaining and that slows down the information transfer which is why the lesson is so often forgotten, yet it is vital you have this information. If this were a minor tip it wouldn’t be that serious. But it is the most important of all the financial lessons you must teach your children.
After nearly 40 years in the industry I paid the price for my lack of understanding. It caused more pain than you can imagine, as you will soon see. It is important to read to the end where the lesson is revealed. If there is only one lesson this blog can convey, this is it.
In the Beginning God Created…
Five years ago when I started this blog my goal was to leave a guide for my children. Along the way I shared the medical issues my children have suffered so readers could understand the situation and benefit as well. My wife, Sue, and I have been married for over 32 years and going strong. I shared how we met. I shared some of the medical issues my oldest daughter, Heather, deals with.
And then we come to Brooke, my youngest daughter, age 20. Her medical history is longer than a Russian novel. Some medical problems are filled with guilt.
The Reader’s Digest version is this: Brooke has a birth defect; she was born intersex. In other words, she had a bit of everything and a lot on nothing, if you understand my meaning. The technical answer is she was conceived male, but the Y chromosome went AWOL after a few cell divisions. Whereas most people are either XX (female) or XY (male), Brooke is about 15% XY and 85% X only. In the absence of a complete sex chromosome the body defaults to androgynous, which is more feminine.
Her deformities were what was called a “medical imperative.” Her urinary tract exited the penile structure and the vaginal area; a serious infection risk. Her gonads had not dropped (they were where ovaries would be), but were pre-cancerous purplish masses. They need to be removed.
In the first year of her life Brooke had something like six or seven surgeries. It was a stressful time. Our family strengthened as we fought to hold the family together on this side of the grave.
After the numerous surgeries Brooke’s first year things settled down. The initial risks were behind us and Brooke would grow like any other child with one exception: her body would not produce the hormones she would need to move from childhood to adolescence.
Brooke enjoyed a typical childhood prior to puberty. The unique thing for Brooke is that we got to choose the exact date she would enter puberty. Without gonads her body would not fire up the hormones needed to become an adult and that was a real problem. Without hormones Brooke would go from childhood to menopause and old age.
Around age 12 we worked with the doctors to start the process. Brooke’s body did not handle estrogen well. We tried every option available. Every prescription made her very sick. Then the headaches started.
A risk factor of taking hormone therapy is stroke. Little did we know that when Brooke started having massive headaches that no pain reliever could solve that she was having mini-strokes. The doctors diagnosed the headaches as migraines. Nobody had an inkling of what was about to happen.
Into the Abyss
We fast forward to today. I am writing this December 20-21, 2020.
November 4th started like any other day. Brooke had been tired lately. We didn’t think a lot of it because Brooke never complains. She stoically accepts life as it is.
I kiss my girls every day. In the morning I kiss them on the forehead and they kiss me on the cheek. Sue gets a peck on the lips. I do the same when I come home at night and before they go to bed.
November 4th was no different. I kissed my girls goodbye and went to the office. By 10:00 Sue was on the phone. Sue doesn’t call the office unless it is serious. “I’m at the hospital. Brooke had a stroke.”
Sue was fighting tears and I remember standing up and saying, “You have got to be kidding me!”
I regained my composure quickly, knowing that stroke was a risk factor Brooke had. Sue didn’t have a lot of information. I left the office for the St. Elizabeth Hospital emergency room. I was not allowed in; it is the Age of COVID. Sue was with Brooke, but they only allowed one person to see Brooke. I had to return to the office.
Little did we know the nightmare entered. Brooke spent several days at St. E’s as they did scans of her brain. The diagnosis: moyamoya.
Everything started to fit into place. Brooke’s growing fatigue and endless headaches finally made sense. She was having strokes for years and they got progressively worse. It took a major stroke for us to notice.
She had a slight droop to the right side of her face. Everything else went back to normal. We got to bring my sweetheart home. We had no idea this was the calm before the storm.
The scans were sent down to Madison where Doctor Dempsey would handle Brooke’s case.
Brooke needed surgery on both sides of her brain to bypass the blockages. The left side of Brooke’s brain has received significant damage. We were lucky that the damage from the strokes didn’t do too much damage to sensitive areas. That was about to change.
Brooke was scheduled for surgery December 4th. The plan was for Brooke and Sue to arrive at the UW hospital in Madison the night before. If all went well Brooke could possibly be home Sunday night!
Doctor Dempsey is an incredible doctor and surgeon. He is soft-spoken with an over abundance of compassion and talent. He prepared us for Brooke’s surgery. He first wanted to work on the right side of Brooke’s brain, but after more thought and consulting with colleagues he changed his mind. Brooke’s brain on the left side was another stroke waiting to happen. The left side needed attention now.
The surgery went well; the aftermath did not. Brooke started suffering severe pain and her face had a major droop; her face swelled to the point one eye was completely closed. Fluid was building on her brain.
Emergency surgery was required. On December 8th Brooke was back in the operating room. We waited nervously.
The second surgery went well! The swelling in Brooke’s face receded and the pain subsided. By December 10th optimism was high. On December 11th we brought our baby home.
The Darkest Hour
It felt good to have Brooke home. She loved up the cats and rested as she healed. It was late so Brooke went to bed shortly after arriving home.
Saturday, December 12th, started good. Brooke was bright eyed and alert in the morning. About 11:00 she started getting tired. We had lunch and Brooke went to bed for a nap. She got up at 2:00. Being Christmas season she wanted to light some Christmas candles. She struggled with the match so I helped her.
She went into the kitchen. A few minutes later I heard Sue say, “Brooke?” in a weird voice. “Say something.”
I flew to the kitchen. Brooke was crouching, looking into a floor level cupboard. I looked Brooke in the face. She had a blank stare. I called her name. No response. I said, “Smile for me, Brooke.” Only one side of her face went up. “Call 9-1-1,” I said too loudly to Sue. “I’m getting her an aspirin.” “No,” Sue said, “the doctor said no aspirin because of bleeding.”
The only treatment I knew to deal with a stroke was unavailable to me. First responders were at our home in minutes, followed by the ambulance. Brooke was going back to St. E’s.
Once she was stabilized Brooke was transported back to Madison. They put her in a room so Sue could be with her.
Around 3:00 a.m. the call no parent ever wants to receive came in. Brooke was dying. Sue was chocking on her words. I could hear Brooke moaning in pain in the background. I grew up on a farm. I knew that sound. It was the sound made just before an animal died.
Heather called my parents and they rushed over. We prepared for last rites. We are Lutheran so technically it wasn’t last rites, but you know what I mean.
The next hours were the most intense up to that time in my life. Once again, I had no idea the bottom was not reached.
Brooke was moved to the ICU. Sue couldn’t be there so she went to a hotel next to the hospital. Brooke couldn’t lift her right arm at all, the right side of her face drooped and she could no longer speak as they took her to the ICU. This time the disease was going to extract a dear price.
Doctor Dempsey gave the news the next morning. Brooke had another serious stroke. Her speech and motor skills for her right arm were damaged. (This morning Doctor Dempsey confirmed those areas of her brain are dead and not coming back.)
Brooke wanted to be home so bad. In less than 24 hours she was back at the hospital. At home, when the stroke hit, Brooke gathered herself as the ambulance arrived. All she said was, “I’m done.” Her morale was shattered. She worked so hard to meet the doctor’s goals to get home only to face a massive setback. We were able to get video chat (and later FB Messenger) with Brooke. We kept working to bring her spirits up. She had to fight.
I explained to Brooke about all the people on The Wealthy Accountant Facebook page pulling for her; the number of churches with her in their prayer chain. I was in tears as I explained to Brooke I never saw anything like this. “There are thousands of people who care and are watching. Thousands! All those people want you better so bad.” Brooke was unable to take it all in, but she knew she had to fight, to find a way. She could only say “Yeah” and “No” in response to any questions. Communication was a challenge, but we managed. The best news was that Brooke could understand us.
Doctor Dempsey put Brooke on medication to raise her blood pressure and push more blood into the damaged areas of her brain.
Result were immediate. Brooke was listed at 10% Monday, 30% Tuesday, 50% Wednesday, maybe 60% Thursday and reached 75% over the weekend.
But the scans showed her brain was still not getting enough blood. If Brooke is to get home ever again and lead a normal, healthy life she needs another surgery. The surgery is scheduled for tomorrow (December 22). And this is where the personal finance lesson comes into play.
The Money Lesson You must Teach Your Children
I am typing these words Sunday night, December 20th, and editing Monday mid-day. We struggled with this third surgery for most of the past week.
The Facebook page for this blog was a place for me to get the story out. My family needed help. Brooke wants to go home, even if it means she will die there. The third surgery on her brain in less than three weeks is “not without risk,” as doctor Dempsey said. The third surgery requires yet another surgeon who specializes in a unique type of bypass.
The surgery is safer for Brooke than doing nothing. Without it another stroke is going to happen and if it hits a vital area Brooke may die or be vegetative. Sue thought we should opt for the surgery. I felt we should respect Brooke’s wishes to go home.
This morning (Sunday, December 20th) Brooke came on the video conference a bit down. We were spending a lot of time together digitally this week; it was Brooke’s (and our) lifeline. She was doing so good.
The doctor called so we talked with him. The surgery had to happen. He had talked with Brooke about it.
We got back with Brooke and broke the silence on the elephant in the room. Brooke was afraid to say anything over fear it would upset us; we were afraid to say anything over fear it would upset her.
Once it was out (and with lots of tears) Brooke acknowledged the surgery was the best course.
Then she broke down in tears and couldn’t stop. She said, “Can I ask something?” in the broken way she now spoke.
“Of course, sweetie. You can ask us anything,” I said.
“Will you still love me?”
And that broke the record from the week before. I never cried so hard in my life. Brooke struggled to get the words out. I knew why she was worried we might not love her anymore. After the first surgery when things went wrong she said she was worried about the money this was costing us. We explained money is not an issue when it comes to getting her better. Brooke actually believed we would not love her because it was costing money and disrupting our lives!
Here is what I said to Brooke, “Do you know what unconditional love is?” She nodded. “Well, mom, Heather and I love you unconditionally. We love you and will never stop loving you. Ever! I know we work hard to be frugal and save and invest. But this is why. Times like this! If we don’t spend whatever it takes to get you better, what good is having money? I don’t care what it costs. We will not be frugal when it comes to getting you better, getting you back home. I would give every dime I have just to have you.”
The whole family cried for a long time. Brooke finally understood we love her unconditionally, no matter what. But it exposed a major flaw in our teachings about money.
By tonight (Sunday, December 20th) Brooke digested the new information. Once she knew we would love her regardless the amount of money this would cost, she was ready to move forward. She is still nervous about the surgery, but she knows we will never abandon her or stop loving her.
What Brooke doesn’t understand is that insurance is covering virtually all the expense. There are some hotel and meal costs. Big deal. And we are spending a lot of time with Brooke. I consider that a good expenditure of time.
I see bloggers in this demographic encouraging readers to go with no health insurance or something subpar so they can claim the frugality banner. I am 100% against that advice. Even if you have plenty of money to cover any and all medical bills in even the most extreme circumstances, do you want to spend time with your loved ones or paying bills? To me it is clear. Medical insurance is important for covering medical bills and freeing time during times of high stress to spend with family. I think bloggers publishing about not having health insurance are harming their readers, simple as that. It is irresponsible.
Here is the lesson we MUST teach our children in a nutshell: Frugality, saving and investing are important. But it is worth nothing if you never spend for the right reasons. Health and education are two areas where I am willing to spend. Habits that gave you financial independence don’t die when you have financial wealth. But you have to know when spending is not an issue. Your children must know at all times they are more important than any amount of money. Money is replaceable; they are not!
Now I want to close with a word to the dads in the room. Hug and kiss your children every day. Tell them you love them every day, even when they are adults. This is easier with daughters, I understand. But you have to do it with your boys as well. I give my mother and father a hug and tell them I love them every time I see them to this day.
You need to say and show you love them, even if you have disagreements. If your children are at that age where they refuse, it is okay. Just say, “I want you to know I love you. When you are ready, I am here to listen.” No forced hugs. No preaching. They need to know you care, love them unconditionally and want to listen to what they have to say when they are ready to share their thoughts.
You do this because you never know when you will get a call at work at 10 a.m. and never get the chance to say those words again.
Postscript: This drama unfolded on this blog’s Facebook page. I shared the events as they happened. I feel it is important for readers to see how I deal with crisis situations live. If you want to see how this unfolded in real time (and is still unfolding) or know more details, you can visit the Facebook page here.
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Sunday 17th of January 2021
I'm not sure what to start with here. I suppose the general point is:
Your advice hits hard when backed by your personal story—health and family (whether blood or those you designate to be such through love) is more valuable than wealth. Worrying about the cost of saving a loved one's life is a terrible thing to endure and insurance, at least in the US today, is key to mitigating that pressing worry.
But to your story... Good lord, Keith, I'm sorry. That was heartbreaking to read. You and Sue have been through hell and back. Brooke is a champion to have endured, and, judging by the FB page, things are improving but you're not out of the woods yet. We're all really pulling for you.
Sunday 3rd of January 2021
My thoughts are with your family.
Thank you for providing this great reminder that money is a tool and we need to know when to spend.
My dad taught me a similar lesson in my later teens - sometimes you should spend money to solve problems which will greatly improve your quality of life and health. Those are the "easy" problems if you've got frugality, savings, and ability to earn a good income. Don't regret that spending, actually practice gratitude, as you will encounter situations you can't solve with money and those times will be "hard". Spending isn't always the right decision but it isn't necessarily the wrong one.
Saturday 2nd of January 2021
As a father with three kids similar in age to Brooke, I couldn't fight back the tears and the dam broke as tears streamed down may face reading Brooke's story. Thanks for having the courage to share this heart breaking story and reminding us how precious life is and to cherish every moment we have with our kids, tomorrow is never guaranteed.
I agree wholeheartedly on the importance of medical coverage. Although I can retire today at 50, I will sacrifice 5 more years of my life at my job to to obtain retiree coverage to ensure my kids are fully insured until they are 26.
I am going to bookmark this page for perspective when I get down about frivolous issues that are nothing but minor inconveniences.
We look forward to the next post, when you inform us how well Brooke is doing! If she's anything like her father, she'll be a fighter and persevere. Our prayers, thoughts and best wishes are with your family Keith! Stay strong and hopefully God will deliver a miraculous recovery and healing for Brooke.
God bless Brooke and Godspeed, with lots of love and best wishes!
Sunday 3rd of January 2021
It warms me inside when a post touches a reader intimately. My focus has always been to add value to all who wander this way. Thank you for the kind words and encouragement.
Sunday 27th of December 2020
You are a terrific father. Praying for you and your family.
The Social Capitalist
Saturday 26th of December 2020
Thank you again for sharing. It is a Christmas gift on its own. My children too, I am afraid, feel that I will not spend on them unconditionally in time of need and this reminds me to ensure that they know otherwise. Enough about me, i will hope for the best for your family- as you have pointed out trials can be blessings too. Brooke is an obvious fighter and cares for her family greatly. May your family have as Merry a Christmas and a Happier New Year than the current situation allows you to see.
Saturday 26th of December 2020
Merry Christmas to you and your family as well, SC. I lift my glass to a better 2021 for all parties in the room.
Note: Since publishing this post, Brooke as improved a lot. The surgery is done (over 10 hours of work was needed). She still gets tired fast, but she is walking multiple times a day and is on the verge of leaving the ICU (maybe two more days). That means a few days in a regular hospital room for observation (and one visitor: mom) before she can come home. That would be an incredible way to begin the New Year.