Until I recently heard it from John Philips, president of the board of the AllHealth Network, I’d never heard that phrase. And when I did, John’s matter-of-fact way of inserting it into our discussion jolted my prudish sensibilities. Despite our political differences (he ran a losing campaign as a Democrat for the same state House seat that I ended up winning as a Republican two years after he lost), John’s plain spoken ways also raised him a notch or two in my estimation. Given that John is an estate planning attorney, he’s probably known more than his fair share of Club members. And, if he doesn’t, he probably wishes he did.
But it was more than the casual reference to sex that jarred me. The fact is, I’m a member of the Club-I just didn’t know what it was called. So, when John threw the line across our breakfast of eggs and hash browns, I had to check to make sure that I hadn’t betrayed myself by snorting up some coffee or orange juice. Thankfully, I hadn’t.
Which raises the question: why is it just as uncomfortable for me to talk about money as it is about sex? I’m not completely sure.
But if I’m going to talk about money, it makes sense to me that I do it like pulling an abscessed tooth: quickly and completely. Here goes. (And, don’t worry, no more about sex.)
My dad was a serial entrepreneur and a very successful business man. I’m not.
By the time he died, he left my siblings and me very well off financially. But that was a far cry from where he started. His widowed mother was so impoverished that she had to put my dad in foster care when he was a little boy in the hardscrabble ’20’s of rural Idaho. By the time he was about 13 years old, he was basically supporting himself. And he never looked back.
I, on the other hand, and despite having a dramatic head start over my father, have never been very successful financially. Yes, I’ve always been employed (almost always self-employed), but there’s a big difference between working for your self and making an income adequate to provide anything beyond the bare essentials for a family. And relying on periodic hand outs from your folks for many of the non-essentials.
When our three kids were young, my wife worked hard as a nurse. It was her employment that provided us with health insurance. We couldn’t afford it on my income.
We drove cars until the wheels came off. Once, we picked up a relatively low milage Camry at a bargain basement price-because it was generously pockmarked with hail damage. I can imagine my folks cringing when I showed up at their house in that gem.
We missed house payments once in a while. To catch up, I would have to take money out of an IRA that I had been able to contribute to in early in our marriage-before we started running out of money before we ran out of month.
Want to get discouraged? Try getting behind on your mortgage-and get hit with a late fee and a threatening demand letter. Then catch up by taking money out of an IRA. And, when the next April 15 rolls around, see that the IRS also wants its pound of flesh in the way of a premature withdrawal fee. The final insult? See your IRA dramatically smaller than your wife’s due to the power of compound interest over the intervening decades since you took money out of your account. And your wife didn’t.
But don’t get me wrong. We were never going to be hungry or homeless. It was just humiliating and depressing and stressful.
I suppose, by now, you get my drift. My dad pulled himself a long way up from the bottom of the barrel. I started a long way from the bottom. And largely blazed a trail of downward mobility.
Was it because I didn’t try at all? No. Or try hard enough? More likely. But I know that I never really found my métier. And that is a real problem. (Which is a sad commentary in itself and the subject, perhaps, of another post.)
I got a law degree: you’d think you could make some money doing that. In fact, like my breakfast companion, I also did estate planning. But it was never more than an anorexic practice. I always saw the law as a sort of incantation: if you didn’t string together the right combination of words, the magic wouldn’t happen. And, like the paranormal, the results were highly unpredictable. Lack of confidence doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in potential clients. In fact, they can sense it a mile away. And stay just as far away.
We tried Amway; that was even worse (and, again, the subject, maybe, of another post).
I finally wound up in insurance, but it was only my father’s death that, ultimately, pulled our financial irons out of the fire.
And there you have it: one man’s story of what it’s like to be a member of the Lucky Sperm Club.