The gift of adversity

Do you see that guy shaking his fist at the sky and cursing his father?   That was me.  My mantra was “You no good s.o.b.!”

 You see, my father grew addicted to gambling.  Unbeknown to me.  I lived overseas.  Phone calls cost $100, so we did not talk much.  And when we did, he neglected to tell me he had blown his money on the horses.

 Or that he had blown my mother’s inheritance.  And wagered away the mortgage money.

 Then he killed himself.  He deserted my mother, on the edge of Alzheimers.  Deserted my brother, still in high school.

 His debts trapped me and my wife.  We had to dump our plans and dreams and take over his country hotel.  Which had deteriorated into a saloon.

 We had three young kids.  We were forced to try to rescue his business, pay his debts, care for my mother, care for my brother.  I felt abandoned by him.  Whenever the agonies of it all got to me out would come the raised fist.  “You no good!”

 So many years ago.

 I often talk to young prisoners about how they can prosper. They always ask: “Are you rich?  What kind of big car do you drive?  Do you live in a big house, like a mansion?”

 Last week, one of them stunned me.  He asked about my father.  So I told them what I have just related to you.  I shook my fist and sneered “You rotten s.o.b.!”

 And then I put into words, for the first time, my views today.  “He gave me a wonderful gift.  The gift of hardship.  He shoved my face into it.

 “In those horrible times I was forced to learn how to organize.  To lead.  To operate a business.  I was forced to learn how to scratch together and use capital.  I was forced to be both a better brother and a surrogate parent to my brother.  Forced to learn how to help a flailing mother.

 Forced to borrow and lay awake worrying about paying back the money.  Forced to do work I hated.

 “I must give credit for much of what I might call my successes in life – must give credit to my dad.  He gave me the gift of adversity.  Of hard and sometimes desperate times.

“I am sincerely grateful he subjected me to them.

 “My cup truly overflows with a thousand things.  All made more wondrous by those hardships we suffered.”

 And suddenly this thought arose:  “I know you have experienced bad stuff.  Family strife.  Drugs.  Booze.  Violence.

 “You’ve been tossed in jail.  Dragged through the courts.  Locked up, away from your families.  You’ve spent your teenage years behind bars.

 “But you’ve also been given a gift.  The gift of adversity.  The gift of hard times, maybe despair.  You have an advantage over the rich kid who’s grown up in a bed of clover.  In tough situations you can draw on your experiences.  Been there, done that, learned how to handle this.

 “That privileged kid – as an adult – may be overwhelmed and never recover.

 “You probably never heard the old song called A Boy Named Sue.  Johnny Cash sang it to prisoners.  This boy named Sue finally tracks down his father.  Demands ëWhy did you give me this stupid name?’

 “His father says he did it because he knew that growing up with a girl’s name would help him become tough. 

“That father took credit.  If my dad came back to life, he wouldn’t take credit.  He’d  hang his head in shame.  But I’m happy to grant him credit for his gift.

“Like any gift, you can choose to value it, use it to your advantage.  Or you can do the opposite and let it drag you down.

 “I hope you’re lucky enough to build on these adversities.  Make them work for you.  So that some day you can say that this bad stuff that happened to you was really one of the greatest gifts you ever received.”

From Tom ... as in Morgan.

Read more of Tom’s columns and listen to his “Moneytalk” radio shows at

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