I CONFESS: Money at root of family discord
FIFTEEN YEARS AGO my father won some money and it turned out to be a nightmare for my family rather than the blessing we initially expected it would have been. Today, my family is in tatters and the money has virtually disappeared. It has certainly taught me that money is not all that matters in life.
It is important that good home training, good morals and an understanding of money management be all interconnected. But, most of all, understanding the value of family and how important it is today and tomorrow is perhaps the most critical factor.
When my father realised that he had struck it big with his winnings, we were all elated in our household. My mother saw it as the end of years of hardship and sacrifice. We, the four of us children, felt it would have given us a chance to enjoy many of the things we never had and also to give us a strong footing for the future. We felt it would have helped our father to escape the burden he carried – working hard for an employer with little reward.
My father bought a house with the winnings – one much better than what we had; and at the suggestion of a family friend repaired the one we lived in and subsequently rented it. The man who offered suggestions was not one of his closest friends before the winnings and stayed outside of my father’s inner circle. Indeed, he was my brother’s friend and he gave valuable recommendations. He never asked for as much as a beer.
I remember one of the things he said when we moved to our new house was that with the new-found money we would have new friends. He warned against having “hangers-on” around us since they were not true friends. At that small gathering he also said that we should be wary of old associates who would want to beg and plead and request all sorts of favours, from a little cash to help with a bill to buying a little foodstuff.
The money, he noted, was “a good piece” but not so much that it would do every possible thing and would not last forever. He further warned about women who would be on the prowl looking for prey. He jokingly suggested that the money be handed over to my mother and that my father stay home even more than before.
Four years after my father won the money and we had sorted out a number of things, there was suddenly cause for concern. One of my sisters took ill and needed a fairly large portion of money to go overseas for medical treatment. My mother said the money on a fixed deposit could be used in some fashion or form, by either breaking the agreement or borrowing against it. The medical insurance could not cover it all.
In response, my father shocked us all when he indicated there was no money there. Fortunately, my brother was able to help out and my sister went off for her treatment. The treatment helped and even though she has never regained her “old self” she has survived.
However, it was on my mother’s return from overseas with my sister that she started to question, dig and probe where the money had gone. My father eventually admitted he had given “a loan to someone”. On closer investigation we realised it was to a lady and was done without any strings attached. My mother was blue vex. She immediately went to check on the return of the funds.
The woman rudely but firmly informed my mother that she had no signed agreement and as far as she was concerned the money was a gift. In the words of the calypso, there was something for something. My mother felt bad and humiliated; my father was belittled and also humiliated.
The situation brought a strain between my parents; it hurt my sisters and brother. The anger which followed between mummy and daddy was unknown; my mother pointed to all things, some long gone and even unknown. There was no healing.
My father eventually returned to our original house after quietly giving the tenants notice. My mother sought legal advice and talked about a divorce. My father said very little but made it known he did not want any legal separation. After considerable discussion my mother backed away from such ideas. She was happy to have retained the newer house and my father simply left the car which he had bought with her.
The situation drove him into the church and I believe he is a changed man. But there has been no reconciliation between my parents; and in their old age when I felt they should be sharing each other’s company, the distance is great. One of my sisters spends a lot of time with our father, and our brother is also close to him. At Christmas, when families should be together and sharing good times, we were divided. He had sent us the peas, the pork, the sweet potatoes and the ham. We were all together, except him, and it was so obvious when we gathered to have lunch. My sister said she would go and take lunch for him and eat with him. Mummy took out his lunch, saying that she knew what he liked. I pray that there is still hope. I honestly believe that family does come first.
We are not broke, and better off than we were before the windfall, but the torment the money has brought has been far greater than the joy and happiness.