Well, this didn’t work out as planned. I thought I would read Gaining Ground this week but only succeeded in carrying it around with me for a week.
I did start and finish Robinson Crusoe and sped my way through something unexpected, The Dilemmas of Family Wealth. On that last one, I feel I should clarify that family money is no problem I suffer from. Rather, I hope to equip my children with a soil-building, cash generating machine that will enable them to live life to the fullest, pursuing their own interests, finding enlightenment and fulfillment on their own terms…not just tagging cows for the old man.
So let’s talk for a minute about reading whatever I wanna and about my kids. My kids read whatever they wanna. Here is a post that talks about why.
Another four inches of snow fell last night. You know what sounds nice? Nicaragua. 93 degrees in Managua today. Sigh.
Let’s get started. We’ll start on a tropical island.
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
Guy ignores his father’s advice and ends up shipwrecked on an island. He deals with scarcity and economy as he scratches out an existence on the little island. Seriously? You haven’t read this?
This is a classic among classics. Classics are classics because people still read them. Some are more classic than others though. For example, I have never survived the meat grinder that is Don Quixote…short of watching Peter O’Toole and Sophia Loren.
I focused on economy as I read. What is most important to Rob? The ship wrecks. His companions are all washed away. He is alone and has an unknown but limited amount of time to retrieve goods from the ship before it washes out to sea. What is first? That choice is faced over and over. How to make the most of his time and resources. So let’s bring this on home. Rob had to farm. He kept goats, grew barley, etc. Barley. Barley from seeds he found in a coat pocket. Starting small, with very little, showing a small profit, saving that profit instead of consuming it and re-investing it in the future, Rob ultimately had more barley than he needed. It took time.
It takes time. we bought 6 cows. How long will it take us to increase that to 30 cows? A long time…even in a perfect world where all cows breed each year. Half of the cows born each year are male. Math that out for yourself. But you save heifers and reinvest them. You save and hatch a few chicken eggs and duck eggs. You build your customer base slowly as your production increases. Little by little, over time, focusing on keeping the most important things at the top of your list.
Economy aside, you know what Rob wanted more than anything? Companionship. The Bible says that’s what God wanted too. That’s why He made us.
I spend a lot of blog time praising my wife. I do that in real life too. I need my wife. I need her support. She is my companion. Isolation in our marriage is just a few criticisms away. If I want her to leave me alone I just have to say a few magic words and she’ll disappear. Vanish. In fact, I can make her disappear with a lack of words as well. I can just neglect her out of my life. I also have to be careful with my expectations. I expect to be married the rest of my life and I don’t want to be a broken down old man married to a broken down old woman when we’re 50. We have to make careful choices right now to care for our bodies. She should not be carrying 50 pound feed sacks across ice. I shouldn’t carry two hay bales at once. Those kinds of actions limit our potential over the long haul.
And Robinson Crusoe was in it for the long haul. He played the long game and <SPOILER!> he won.
You may be asking, reader, if everything I read has to involve my farm and my marriage.
Yes. Yes it does.
Do you think eggs matter to anybody? Eggs don’t last. My marriage matters to me…even if you don’t care. My marriage has to last. I was made to worship God. I have vowed before that God that my marriage would work. I have a limited amount of time and resources to invest in my relationship. What do I do first?
The Delimmas of Family Wealth by Judy Martel
Hoo boy. I SPRINTED through this book. Sprinted. This book requires serious, personal reflection time but it is hard for me to apply because I’m not the target audience. I’m ready to step aside and let the next generation run but they aren’t ready yet and we are certainly don’t have money to burn. Is it a classic? I don’t know. I won’t know for some time. I gathered some ideas that will help me guide my family for a few decades but you’ll have to check in 50 years from now to see if I garnered anything of value.
Let’s begin at the beginning. What do I want for my children?
I don’t want my children to take the farm. I hope one or more of them will but I can’t look at my oldest son and say, “Son, this will all be yours someday.” He wants to be an engineer. Oldest girl? Baker. Next child? Pastor/carpenter/taco stand owner. Last child? She just wants to live with us. And she can. So maybe she’ll take the farm. But maybe she’ll grow out of being 8. I don’t know.
But here’s what I do know. I can’t make my kids do this. Nor do I want to. I need to build a base of resources upon which I launch subsequent generations into successes of their own. The farm is our foundation of wealth. We are not slaves, the farm is not our master. The farm is our launch pad.
Martel includes this quote from James Hughes, author of Family Wealth: Keeping It in the Family, a book Julie and dad and I read within the last year.
…most succession plans fail because the first generation tries to impose its dreams on the second, setting up a cycle for dysfunction and eventual collapse. “The families that fail fast are the ones where the first generation says to the second ‘you’ll do this for us, and then we’ll do something for you,’ he says. “It’s better to ask, ‘what is your dream, and how can the family enhance it?”
What are my kids’ dreams? Who are they? Who could they become? What’s the point of having any resources at all if we don’t use them to answer these questions?
So what is the farm then? This is home. This is the place we return to when we are hurt, when we need to heal up, when we need to rest. We are safe here. If there is nowhere else to go, if all the world is against us we can return here.
That’s what this house means to me. This was grandma’s house. There were always bags of cookies in the freezer and probably some ham in the fridge. I was loved and wanted here…welcome. If I needed anything at all (need, not want) I could count on grandma and grandpa to help me. When we came to visit I was warm and safe and slept soundly on the couch to the sound of the clock ticking on the mantle. My sister slept on the other couch. Mom and dad slept upstairs. Grandpa slept in his recliner until he went to bed. Even as a teen, I brought a date here to watch Aladdin. We sat on the couch laughing, grandma slept in her recliner.
You know who loved us? Who hated beards but never judged us? Who was more supportive and understanding and loving about the mistakes my cousins and I made in life than anybody else? My grandma. My Bible-reading, popcorn-eating, cookie-baking grandma who had made serious mistakes of her own in life. This was NOT the place to turn when you were short on money but it was the place to turn when your heart was broken. Grandma loved us.
Grandma was perceptive and intuitive. In a certain mood I might say she was manipulative…lol. But she was also creative. She made bookshelves. She made cabinets. She painted pictures and saw blades that are probably in every family’s house. She and her sister wrote a cookbook that mom and her sister just republished so we can still cook up our favorite grandma dishes. Those are, to me, happy smells. They are more than just oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and frozen fruit salad. They are emotion.
Grandma represented love and Grandpa, to my mind, exuded strength. Grandpa was a big, big dude. Remember, his job as a child was to restrain his older brother when Billy had seizures. And he had to carry the milk cans from the white barn down the lane, across the bridge and up the hill because the milk truck couldn’t drive back there…after he milked the cows by hand. That’s a path we still travel.
Through tornadoes, wild animals, recession and ’80’s farm debt, there was comfort in my grandfather’s strength. Maybe I’m showing that the boy in me worshiped the man. Maybe. But maybe it wasn’t just me. Maybe that’s why grandpa positively impacted so many people. Uncle Jack’s eulogy is included in the family cookbook. I’ll quote a little. I’ll start after the story of lifting a little boy up onto the back of his horse to spare him from school bullies…an act that got him out of a traffic ticket years later when said little boy became a police officer.
He himself was a faithful hero. He was the kind of hero who takes on impossible burdens, and never gives up. At the age of 16, he had to drop out of school and become sole support of a family of five, in the midst of the Great Depression. He bought a tractor, one of the first in the community, and began a career of innovation and hard work that lasted 60 years. When his doctor told him he had only two or three years to live, he continued to farm for four years before he retired and had a final sale of his machinery – a month before he died.
About his cancer, he told me, “I’m not afraid of dying, but I hate the idea of becoming helpless and worthless.” The tedium of his illness drove him crazy. He knew farmers who, discovering they had terminal cancer, put their affairs in order and killed themselves. But I knew he’d never do that, because he saw it as his duty to set a good example to the end. He’d spent his life demonstrating, for us, how a man should live. Now he spent these final years showing us how a man dies.
I don’t really want to write a post where I cry and tell you how much I loved my grandparents. I want you to know that this place where I am now…the room where my grandparents watched Johnny Carson and snored in their recliners…this is home. I feel safe here. I want to give that to my children. Grandpa didn’t give me cattle or chickens or stock dogs. He built a pond. That’s true. But I am buying it from the bank at a price I myself find shocking. My grandparents gave me love and a legacy of creativity and integrity and hard work. My grandparents set the stage for me to live my life and helped teach me to be happy and hard-working no matter what. And to worship the Lord. They taught their children who taught their children. Now I teach my children.
That’s wealth. Real wealth. Do you know who I am not? I am not my grandfather. I miss by a few inches and about 60 pounds. I lack the personal discipline and character he developed. But I can love my children. I can love them for being who they are and I can apply my own resources to helping them fulfill their individual purposes, not to bend them to my will. Reading these books is not an expression of my love of money. It is an expression of love for my family following the path grandma and grandpa walked before us.
So with tears wiped and nose blown maybe I should talk about the book a little bit…in my book post. We have clearly established what we’re trying to do. Now how do we do it?
One thing Martel points out is the need for the next generation to share our common vision. There is a worksheet included that boils down to two questions for family members:
- Who actually understands what we are trying to do here?
- Are we succeeding?
It may turn out that nobody knows what is going on. Maybe we need to state it more clearly. Maybe I should state it more clearly.
Kids, I want you to learn everything you can about everything you can. I enjoy working with animals and tromping around outdoors. I think owning a farm is a hoot and I see business potential here…though we have yet to fully realize it. I hope the farm will teach you the rewards of hard work, help you appreciate and understand the world around you and will give us a source of income from which we can launch other businesses. Whatever you want to do, I’m with you. The land is just the place. You are the purpose. Or as your mother wrote it:
We work together as a team to steward God’s resources, create a welcoming home, share with others, encourage one another, learn and explore new ideas and pursue our God given purpose.
My grandparents didn’t make anybody stay home on the farm. They also didn’t make anybody leave. But had grandma and grandpa been intentional about building a family business here, things might be different. Aunts and uncles may still have moved away but there would have been something more than the cemetery to link their children to this land.
The cemetery is a good example of another quote I liked from this book. The cemetery committee is voluntary. You want to participate? Great. The committee’s goal appears to be to see to it that our family memorials are cared for and our own place is prepared. I want the cemetery to be the kind of place I would like to be buried. To make that happen, there is a committee to oversee the cemetery and it’s made of adults who contribute willingly. Here the author is quoting David Gage.
The potential roles for siblings working together are extremely diverse – from running the business to being a “silent” investor with a seat on the board of directors. If they, as adults, are given the opportunity to work out their roles and their partnership themselves, they will be more invested in the outcome, and will have a better chance of feeling good about their arrangement – much better, Gage maintains, than if a parent selected those roles for them.
There is no reason my aunt and uncle and parents can’t work together outside of the boundaries of a formal family business. In fact, they do. But the family business structure could be a way Julie and I can facilitate that cooperation. We just have to structure it correctly. There is a TJED home school quote we repeat to ourselves constantly. We seek to inspire, not require. Did you read the link at the top about helping your kids to develop a passion for reading? Let me sum up. If you want your kids to read, you should read. Early and often. That inspire quote is in this book too. Quoting Robert Mondavi’s book Harvests of Joy the author includes:
The greatest leaders don’t rule. They inspire.
This is important, as the author points out, because at some point a family business is likely to be sold. And that may be the best thing. Culture, economy, legislation and talent in the family change. What then? I can’t anticipate what will happen in the future. The best thing I can do is to help my children become thoughtful, mature adults who can branch out, do their own thing and feel that they, themselves are the founding generation so the wealth will grow rather than evaporate.
…what some founders fail to take into account is that future business entrepreneurs are vital for wealthy families because it is through the sale of a successful company that much of the great wealth in this country is earned. These supplemental fortunes help to offset the original asset base that is being depleted as the family grows, simply through the care and feeding of too many mouths. While the family begins to write a multigenerational narrative that will be funded through the wealth created by the founder, the money is being stretched to pay for more members who come into the fold. New family entrepreneurs are needed to replenish the financial capital.
So, by golly, we will have engineers and bakers and taco makers…or the book talks about soldiers, farmers and poets. So I’ll invest in their success. And their children? Who knows. But that’s a more interesting investment than anything listed on an exchange. And it sounds like more fun than buying yacht.
I really can’t cover this book. I found it to be a valuable read but there is just too much here…and as I hope you can tell it is all very personal and important to me. The introduction strongly suggests that the book be read with a group. I agree. And I know just the group to read it with.
I do want to say, though, that the book points out the necessity of connecting future generations with the family’s past. Who are we? Can we still be “us” without the farm? My kids barely remember my grandmother. They never met my grandpa. It is important that we record and tell the stories of our family past to lend context to the process of discovering who we are now. This is important because cows and money do not encompass our family. Those are a means, not an end. I know I used a lot of words to illustrate it but that’s what this book reinforced for me.
Article of the Week
On the topic of family wealth, I make it a point to read Bill Bonner (author of the excellent book Family Fortunes, BTW) at least a couple of times each week. This is not a farming topic. This is entertainment. Just for laughs. The last thing I am looking for is investment advice. Just humor. Keep that in mind as you click. Also, sometimes Bill’s posts are all about misdirection. This week he threatened to post a two-part meditation on the burden of wealth but part 2 was…well, part 2 didn’t go anywhere so he promised to write more later. So go into this forewarned.
Bill kicked this off on Wednesday by writing If You Value Your Freedom, Don’t Get Rich. Basically, being poor…genuinely poor – without clothing or food, not the moving target that is the poverty line – is obviously bad. But being rich isn’t all it’s cracked up to be either. Wealth may lead to isolation. It might be better to be somewhere in the middle. Read the post and you’ll see what he’s getting at.
Part two is inappropriately titled The ONLY Stocks You Should Be Holding Right Now. That’s the right way to title part two of a series about the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (Look, it’s a play on words, Shakespeare. Let it go.) If you click on the link focus your time on the lower third of the post as he describes a gentleman named Emile. I’ll quote a little.
He was probably the least vulnerable person we have ever met. If the stock market got cut in half, he wouldn’t have noticed. If the country fell into a recession or depression, it wouldn’t have changed a thing about his life or his living standard.
Emile needed no job. He paid no mortgage. He awaited the arrival of no check, neither from the government nor from anywhere else.
It’s not lack of income that makes you vulnerable. Nor is it lack of income equality that makes you a schmuck.
This builds on to the notion Bill frequently presents that you should be ready to ride out any storm with a garden, a wine cellar, a stack of firewood…what more do you need?
And I have no response to that question. What more do I need? I recently asked Julie why we have so much stuff. Really! Why? Our bedroom requires a bed, a dresser and about a foot of clothes hanging in my closet, another foot or more of clothes hanging in her closet. Maybe a bedside table. So why is there so much other stuff? Keep going around the house. Living room. Couch, chair, bookshelf, lamp. Everything else needs to go. Why do I have all of that other stuff? Probably because I have more money than sense. Which is why I don’t have more money. Which is why I don’t have more cows. Which is why I spend several hours each day driving to work instead of sitting with my wife by the fire or tending my garden.
I don’t know who you are or what your are reading. I don’t know if you are even reading this. Pop something in the comment box to let me know you are alive, will you?
Click here to see all entries in my reading journal.