On February 2nd of last year my father Jack passed away at age 88. He smoked cigars for 40 or 50 years and ended up with throat cancer. He enlisted in the Navy immediately after graduating high school in 1944 and was sent to the South Pacific pretty quickly. It was common to smoke cigarettes as a way to help keep the mosquitos away but my father figured out the cigars lasted much longer and so were cheaper.
Like many World War II vets he was reticent to talk too much about his experiences there but later in life he opened up a lot more about his time in the service, as well as his time immediately after the service, a period where he needed to "get his head straight." He was in the Seabees and one day while working on a landing strip, a plane was coming in that did not sound right and sure enough it crashed, flames and all, and my father helped the pilot get out. After the service he worked for a time at a diner frequented by Jewish gangsters. One of the lower guys on the ladder paid my dad to drive him to a meeting with the Mayor and stand in the office trying to look tough but not say a word.
There are other stories and while they may not seem believable, I actually think he undersold his stories. I base this on what he did later in life living in Spain (how he ended up there is a whole other story), which was to start a school/foundation that taught blind people as well as people with other disabilities how to golf. I spent quite a bit of time over there a couple of months before he died and then made another visit a couple of weeks or so before he died. For all that he told me about the golf, the tournaments he put on, and the money he raised, and some other things it was quite clear that the impact was much greater than he let on.
A recurring theme to these blog posts is the extent to which people will adapt to whatever their financial reality is in "retirement" and that they will make it work for the simple reason that they have to. I've said we all know people who've done this and one of the ones I know was my father. In the past I mentioned having learned from my parents' financial mistakes. My father went to Spain in his early 50's with literally no money, or effectively no money, and found work that paid the bills.
His retirement consisted of $1,100 from Social Security and a "pension" from Spain that was about €300 and that covered his rent. He drove an Opel (not the cool one, it looked like a Toyota Tercel from the 1980's) forever that was apparently very cheap to maintain. His primary health insurance was free (the quality of the healthcare was not good) and he found project work here and there for extra money.
As opposed to having saved, I would describe it as being a few months ahead but he made it work. We would meet him in New York City almost every year so he could afford that and would get upset if we ever tried to pay for a meal. Even paying for a Starbucks wasn't going to happen; "Dad, I'm a gainfully employed adult." "I'm your father."
He did what he wanted to do and could afford it which financially is an outcome we should all hope for.
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