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Letter to Ryan

Steve Abramowitz

HI RYAN, DON’T FREAK out because I’ve written an actual letter rather than an email. No big news here, no emergency, we’re fine. I just have something that’s been percolating and I want to share it with you.

Ry, it’s become clear learning about investing is not where you’re at right now. I’ve tried to think of what I might have done to turn you off. We know I was depressed and withdrawn for much of your childhood, and you must have felt neglected or even ignored. I was overly concerned about how well you handled money and was impatient with a kid’s normal mishaps, like losing an allowance or spending it irresponsibly. A couple of times, I blew up at you. Or maybe you just recoiled from hearing so much about the harrowing gyrations of stock investing and the obligations that come with owning rental property. Am I in the ballpark?

Remember when we opened a joint brokerage account maybe five years ago? We were going to buy a stock, a mutual fund and an exchange-traded fund, so you could get an idea of how they worked. You would let me know when you felt comfortable going ahead with the plan after acquainting yourself with Morningstar. I was as excited as a little kid. But you never mentioned the account again until two years ago, when I told you I’d closed it. I could tell by your silence you were hurt, as I suspected you would be. Apparently, your wounded father was not above a bout of infantile retaliation.

I’m having trouble understanding your reluctance to pick up on managing money. You’re ambitious, you’ve got some cash and you’re a math jock. You’ll someday soon need to manage our family’s mutual funds, exchange-traded funds and real estate. And you were brought up in a home that places a premium on putting some money away in the event of, say, a health crisis or a business reversal. Acquiring some expertise in investing would seem to be only fitting.

Let’s face it, Ry, I’m almost age 78, with a stent, immunotherapy and a stroke warning. Mom will soon turn 70. For about 25 years, I’ve tried to honor Grandma and Grandpa’s sacrifices, and to protect their financial gift to us. As you and Mom know, we’ve overcome financial setbacks and avoided debacles. Along the way, I’ve accumulated a treasure trove of knowledge about the machinations of the stock market and the responsibilities of owning real estate. I’d love to pass some of that knowledge on to you.

Ryan, you’re not a kid anymore, you’re 35 and embarking on your own financial voyage. But as we’ve discussed, sports betting as a primary source of income is a risky venture that can invite personal and financial upheaval. Of course, you want to go your own way and make it on your own. We respect that and tried to encourage it. That’s why we’ve agreed to support your experiment emotionally and financially, and allow you to test the viability of living out your passion.

Your friends thought it was unwise to leave a dependable teaching job and try to turn a sideline into professional sports betting. Our friends think we’re foolish, if not outright enablers. What could make more sense than knowing how to supplement an unsteady income stream with dividends and rents? I’m baffled by your reluctance to grab the ring.

 Most likely, Mom will outlive me and have the responsibility of managing our investments. Ever since she began co-managing the properties, Mom has become more confident about overseeing their operation. She knows locations, the need for periodic upgrading and the features that renters like. You can trust her judgment.

But I don’t think she’s completely at ease with the numbers part, like the monthly reports, income statements and balance sheets, and more complex return-on-investment calculations. And I know she feels overwhelmed by the prospect of mastering mutual funds, exchange-traded funds and bonds. Your math facility, not to mention brainpower, make you a natural partner. Your mother, who has devoted so much of her life to you, will need you.

Our resilient bond survived the hurt feelings of the joint account and other episodes, and we’ve become very close. We talk almost daily about our hopes, our disappointments and our fears. We exchange good-natured barbs, and spend hours analyzing your betting strategies and results. I so look forward to Wednesday nights, when we FaceTime our basketball game of the week on TV and carry on like fraternity brothers.

Maybe I have it all backward. Why should you be the fall guy? Perhaps my harping on the benefits of investing was the original sin. Parents often revisit their childhood traumas when raising their own kids. I only began to emulate Grandpa through my investments when he was weakened by illness and his powerful image could no longer terrify me.

Could our impasse say less about a son resisting his father’s guidance than about his father’s unresolved need to seek his own father’s approval? I don’t want to repeat the tragedy of the relentless father who alienates his son. But the day will come when you’ll need to take over our family’s finances—and I’m anxious to make sure you’re prepared.

Love you, Ry,

Dad

Steve Abramowitz is a psychologist in Sacramento, California. Earlier in his career, Steve was a university professor, including serving as research director for the psychiatry department at the University of California, Davis. He also ran his own investment advisory firm. Check out Steve’s earlier articles.

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