Laura often moans, “Why can’t you be like other parents?”
When Howard and I wrote a letter to our then teenaged children, Laura and Paul, outlining the financial legacy we wanted to leave to them, we began with that sentence. An excerpt of that letter continues as follows; “It is true that our worldview is different from many others. This letter is an attempt to speak to you two about one of the legacies that we hope to leave you. It is counter cultural, but it has come through years of searching our hearts, listening to the stories of people around the globe, and studying the Gospels in an attempt to see beyond our ‘American’ interpretation of scripture and faith.
“First, a brief family history. Your maternal great grandparents, O.R. and Ruth Tipps, lived the American Dream. They started with very little money and died wealthy. O.R. was involved in many things—a teacher first, then County Judge (where he could use the law books to pass the bar exam), lawyer, rancher, oilman. Ruth was a teacher before marriage (that was where she met O.R.), and she cared for an extended family after marriage. She was also a wonderful storyteller. They lived modestly and were generous with extended family.
“The other set of your maternal great-grandparents, Ann and John Mathys, also had more money than most. John came to this country as an infant. His parents owned a successful tavern in Green Bay and sent money back to help support the family who remained in Belgium. John became a Vice President of Northrup King Seed Company and made his own wealth. Ann got her master’s degree, a very unusual thing in her day, but she was not allowed to teach after she married. They were not as wealthy as O.R. and Ruth Tipps but they lived a more affluent-looking lifestyle.
“Your paternal grandparents and great-grandparents, the Thurston and Costello families, were middle class. They had a strong family ethic of saving and frugality that led to a comfortable lifestyle with enough saved that your Thurston grandparents enjoyed international travel during their retirement years.
“Our family’s financial success is partially a result of all of their hard work, vision and saving decisions. But that isn’t the whole story. All wage earners are not afforded equal opportunities to excel and make money through their hard work. Your maternal grandfathers (through whom our family wealth came) had many advantages before they began to work. They were male (this was especially vital for those in business at that time), they were white-skinned (the only option for most careers and professions at that time, and still a huge benefit), they were U.S. Americans (with our globally more affluent lifestyle and with our business opportunities and laws aimed to support businesses) and they had access to education through family support and a valuing of education. Without those things and others, doors would not have opened so quickly for them to become successful and prosperous. That doesn’t negate their success, but it does put it into an important context.
… “Our family gets lots of benefits from this wealth and we could follow the cultural norm of spending more extravagantly and passing on the remainder of the inheritance to you two. But, for us, that is too narrow a focus. We consider our extended family to be the global family. Ultimately what is best for the extended family is best for our little family of four. The world will be a safer place for all of us to live, the earth will be more vibrant and healthy, and the community between people will be healthier when there is more financial equity between all peoples. There are enough money and commodities globally to provide for all on the earth, but it has gotten “dammed up” and blocked in the hands of wealthy individuals (like us) and corporations. In our own small but powerful way, we want to participate in undamming our portion of the world’s wealth and letting things flow smoothly again.”
Howard and I still had lots of financial questions to answer, but we wanted to share our overarching clarity with Paul and Laura as it emerged. The conversations continue today, eleven years later.
What would you say to your children, or the next generation of children, about the financial legacy you’d like to leave behind?