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Home Economics

The Value of Priceless Gifts

by William Athanasidy

I recently read this article in a magazine and thought it worth sharing with you. It is reprinted with permission.

The downsizing in the economy has affected us all, whether in terms of job loss, delayed raises or reduced financial options. Living with my family in Westchester County, N.Y., which has the highest median property taxes in America, I am well aware of the uncertainty of these times and have seen some of the negative fallout in our area, which is usually considered the “affluent” suburbs of New York City.

Endless fretting about finances, however, can rob us of peace of mind and spirit. There are many things of value that do not cost much – or anything at all. We just need to remember where to find them.

As the father of three children, I have learned certain priorities in life. With the birth of my first child, I learned that my main job was to be a father. As a young, single man, my job was quite simply my job; my work was my identity. When I met my future wife, my job description changed – first to a confidant, then to husband and finally to a father. Even though money is still a primary concern, my professional job description has sunk lower and lower on the totem of self-image.

As a senior teacher in a large public school district, I am fairly secure in my job. My wife is a freelance writer, and due to a recent illness and the economic downturn, we readjusted our lifestyle in proportion to a drop in income. We chose to take on some debt with the full knowledge that we will simply have to make adjustments to pay it back when our income stream improves. At the same time, we made sure we did not get in over our heads and put ourselves in a situation that could not be managed.

Being a father, of course, is more than simply making sure a household budget is manageable or that the children are well-fed. I am primarily a dad, and I am fortunate enough, with my teacher’s schedule, to have time to be around my children. Playing with the kids, gently cajoling them about their homework, asking them about their school day– these are at the forefront of my daily routine. Note that these activities do not involve spending or making money. Indeed, the investment of personal time and attention cannot be measured monetarily, but the payoff can be a treasury of memories.

Think back to your fondest memories. I would guess that they do not involve the exchange of money. A few of my favorite recollections of childhood are playing cards with my grandfather, picking dandelions for my mom and learning how to fish with my dad in the Bronx River with a plastic fishing pole.

You don’t need to live in a high-cost area to enjoy simple pleasures. In fact, concerns about money can blind us to the joys of daily family life. Watching my two daughters act out a scene from a musical or my son perform mind-boggling feats on his video game beats taking them to a movie – which, with the price of tickets, popcorn, and soda, is not a cheap family outing anymore.

This year, we are more mindful of the needs of struggling friends and acquaintances. While we don’t have much, we remember to make charitable contributions to those who are even less fortunate, and we find ways to make non-cash donations. For instance, when we receive a free or discounted toy with the purchase of another, we donate the second to Toys for Tots. We also learned that we could give our hotel points to the Red Cross to aid disaster relief or the homeless. Finally, I notice an extra sparkle in the eyes of my youngest child when we buy food coupons for the needy at the supermarket instead of that little treat she sees by the checkout.

My children, I have happily discovered, have gained a spiritual depth and empathy that it took me many more years to develop. That is something I could never buy for them, and it reminds me that I am responsible for something more important than a paycheck.

This article is taken from the August 2010 issue of Columbia magazine, Knights of Columbus. There are additional articles and resources for men and their families at www.fathersforgood.org

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