This story below was originally written to be shared at my church.
When I think back to my childhood, I have fond memories of my parents, my interaction with them, the priorities they modeled. Now that I am an adult, and a parent, I even remember painful moments of discipline as a net positive experience. I come from a relatively large nuclear family. Two parents with ten children; eight boys & two girls (I am the second oldest, if you attend Edgewater Covenant Church you may know Uriel & Cuyler, they are the fourth & the sixth, respectively). My parents were married on July 7th, 1973 are are still married today, nearly forty years later.
My parents met at a church youth winter retreat, married young as relatively new christians who wanted to do life differently than they had experienced it, both with partially absent parents due to death and military leave on my dad’s side and alcoholism and divorce on my mom’s side. My mom dreamed of having a loving simple pioneer-like family, and my dad dreamed of making his father’s hope of growing the family name and legacy with twelve children, since my grandfather had only one natural child (my dad) with his first wife, who died when my dad was only seven.
I remember being told the story of my dad having to work a few entry-level low paying jobs after being refused for being overqualified for everything he applied for. He previously earned several degrees at CSU Sacramento, and eventually took a job opening mail for the phone company after taking a GED test and putting only that on his application.
We lived in a diverse, low-income neighborhood in Sacramento, attended church meetings at least twice a week, and did not have much, if any, money for extras like cable TV, eating out, or travel. So when it was hot, we played over the sprinkler, when it got dark, we danced with dad in the living room to records playing, drew funny pictures with mom on paper, and chased our dogs around in the backyard when we had too much energy for my parent’s patience with us indoors.
My parents would save all year for the once-in-a-lifetime gift of a new bicycle on Christmas when each of us was the right size for one we could grow into. In retrospect, the bicycle was not the most exciting gift my parents gave me, it was their time and attention.
One day, when my dad’s boss was having a problem with his computer, my dad asked if he could take a look at it. After some quick troubleshooting, the problem was fixed, and his boss was surprised at his programming ability (computers were pretty daunting text-only machines at that time, and you had to know something about programming to get through many problems). What are you doing working here? was the question my dad’s puzzled boss asked, and put in a good word to some higher level management. Soon, my dad was offered a comfortably paying job in San Ramon, and expenses were paid for my family to move to a house in Martinez. We were able to afford new clothes and better food now, although we still were relatively frugal with our living expenses as a family. My dad seemed busier, but also very happy about all the attention he was getting for his programming talent at the phone company. He was able to telecommute sometimes, and it was good having him around to chat with even as I grew older and had more activities with friends to do myself.
Then my dad’s popularity and recognition at work seemed to really take off. A consulting firm offered him a position in Washington State as a contractor for Boeing that was about $100,000 more than he was making at the time at the phone company. It was an offer that was too good to ignore. He talked to his boss at the phone company about his offer, and they said that he was already at the top of what they could pay programmers (around $60,000), so they would not be able to compete with that high offer. I had just graduated from high school, and was happy for his career, but my younger siblings did not get to see him as often as I did, and I saw signs that my mom was growing emotionally distant also. This made me sad. I love my dad, and seem to have gotten a better parenting experience than my brothers and sisters were getting.
As work is known to do, it trades time for money. If you give away too much time for money, there won’t be enough time for what money can’t buy.
This shaped my decisions about life as I carefully considered my relationships, my education decisions, business decisions, and even my decision making process when considering marriage. I wanted to have a solid relationship with Karyn, where we could be friends, have fun and be ourselves, and keep that a priority after our relationships with God, and before our children, with career decisions following in rank after that.
My dad always encouraged me to read the Bible, otherwise beat my own path, learn to save, be an entrepreneur, be bold and not care what most other people thought about me. He also taught me to avoid traps like depending on credit cards, financing depreciating assets, and variable interest mortgage rates. Even though he did not always model all of his own advice, I knew that he loved Jesus with a passion, wanted the best for me, and I kept all of his advice in mind.
Once I got a job in Pleasanton (coincidentally, at the same phone company) that seemed stable enough after working there for a while to start paying my bills as they arrived, instead of worrying about how late I could pay them without a penalty. A scheduled raise was coming, and I knew I had to do things differently than my coworkers. every raise after that went to a percentage of saving for retirement. I suppose I was afraid of getting used to more money than I thought I deserved, or did not want to fall from the height I may be headed for. My coworkers increased their lifestyles, by eating out every day, buying Harley motorcycles, new cars, new houses and took way more interesting vacations than me. I kept everything the same, but changed the percentage of my 401K contributions only, keeping my paycheck virtually unchanged for years. Eventually I had 30% of my income going to retirement, which was the maximum I could contribute at the time. I started feeling a little silly about putting so much into a fund I can’t really touch until more than thirty years later (I was around 24 then) Until I heard my workgroup was going to be surplused. I had priority to transfer to any other available job if I volunteered, but the jobs closer to home would include a significant cut in pay. My coworkers nervously laughed at the possibility of a pay cut. They could not just stop all of the payments they had signed up for, so they kept looking for other jobs with equal pay. I did a study on my travel expenses, time and insurance rates and discovered that I may make less per hour, but I would not be away from home as long, and I could just change my 401K contributions to 6% and still have the same take home pay! I took the transfer to Pittsburg and was able to drive, skateboard or ride a bicycle to work when I wanted. I wanted to give my own kids the quantity time like I had with my dad, and wanted to make every life decision with careful consideration and Karyn’s full support. I could not have done this without Karyn’s continued respect and encouragement.
One big thing that kept me on track was the realization that I didn’t deserve any of the blessings I had, They were there only because of God’s grace (undeserved) and made every effort to do the most with what I was given, because none of what I had was really guaranteed to continue. I needed to plan for the worst, and hope and pray for the best. I also wanted to raise children who know that…
“Godliness with contentment is great gain” -1 Timothy 6:1
I am not a perfect parent, but I have one available to me in God, and I hope to be a reflection of Him like my dad was at a critical time in my development. God is patient, and makes everything new. I still see God working in my dad’s life today, and in my own. Both giving and taking away, as needed. I pray that everyone accepts the God of the Bible as their perfect father so that they can pass on blessings and allow God to be…
“showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” -Exodus 20:6
I am still learning so much from the examples and wise words others around me in this church too, and when any of you can’t make it, we all miss out. We do life better together!
-Ezra J. Engle