Farewell, R.D.

R.D., Stacey’s father, passed away this afternoon at 92 years old.

I want to take a moment to honor him here.

R.D. was born in Annona, Texas, May 25th, 1918. In 1936, after alcoholism in his family forced him to drop out of college, he came to Houston, alone, hitching a ride on the back of a flatbed truck with $15.00 in his pocket. It was a story he told me a hundred times, and one quite frankly I had learned to sit quietly through and endure, because of my own shortcomings, as he repeated it.

He hit the streets finding whatever work he could and eventually learned the sheet metal trade, which he stayed with for almost 35 years.  As time passed he started investing in real estate, mostly rental properties, and continued doing that for yet another 25 years before retiring.

The history of struggles in his family, the Great Depression and decades of hard work put a steely edge on the man and gave him what most people would think was a too enthusiastic penchant for hanging on to a dime.

I witnessed this myself by watching him squeeze them till Roosevelt bled.

His thriftiness was a source of good natured humor in his family. People often remarked that he would drive across town to save a penny on a gallon of gas. They were not exaggerating.

The times we were able to talk him into going out for a meal, we learned not to take him anywhere too nice. Even when we were paying he would talk so much about the expense that we were groaning by the time the check came.

I saw more of this in recent months as he become ill with cancer and the effects of old age – when he became unable to care for himself.  Up to that point, even at 92, he was independent and hostile to the idea of anyone assuming control of his decisions. We knew he needed help, but stepping in and forcing it on him wasn’t going to happen.

It was still, after all, his life.

Then in December his health took a turn for the worse and we were able to intervene and bring to him the help he needed for his final days.

It still wasn’t easy.  We had to think of more and more creative lies to tell him about the round the clock nursing care and repairs to his neglected home that were going on.

It was all covered by his insurance, you see, because if he knew any of his money was being used to give him comfort and care in the last days of his life he would have thrown a fit.  We even had to coach repairmen and anyone else that came in to collude with us in the lies.

Oh, that new lift chair? Aren’t you lucky your insurance paid for that R.D? You were a wise man to get such a good policy.

Yes, R.D., that woman cooking your meals and cleaning your house is free. More benefits of your insurance company.  Don’t worry, we won’t let her leave the lights on. Same for the exterminator and the new hot water heater to replace the one he bought in 1978 that hadn’t worked right in a decade or more. All free.

Of course most of the money was coming from his estate, but we were not about to tell him. Turning his last days into a battle was not on the agenda.

We got a good view of his vigorous frugality when we cleared the cabinets to have the place exterminated, something he had not allowed to happen for way too long.  There were plates with cracks in them, coffee cups with the handles broken off, spices from the 80’s. He would not throw anything away.

The occasional remark would come from one person or another; people who knew that he had done quite well in his business life.  Can you believe that old man? All that money and too cheap to buy a new coffee cup.

And if you paid any attention to what he would say, you would think they were right.

$5.00 you say? For a coffee cup? No way I am spending $5.00 on a coffee cup!

But in all this, underneath the surface appearance of an old miser, was a much different story. I had learned that lesson a long time ago when counseling addicts and alcoholics.

If you want to know anything about someone, you throw out everything they say and watch what they do.

And I watched what R.D. actually did.

What he did was stay sober, work like a dog, save money and deprive himself even the smallest pleasures in life, much less the big stuff.  He lived in a house that was in disrepair, obsessively turning off lights, even eating only the cheapest food he could find.

And he saved and saved and saved and saved.


So he could give it to his children. That’s why.

I talked with him many times in the last months of his life. I was there at the brief moments his mind was clear; clear enough to see through the bullshit about free exterminators and home repairs. And in those moments R.D. showed me who he was.

He was a man who loved his children, and cared about their future more than he cared about having handles on his coffee cups, or high dollar meals, or the basic comforts of life he had righteously earned.

He took pride in his accomplishments, but he didn’t adorn himself with them.

In the end, the old miser was not an old miser at all. He was another loving father that gave it all away; all for the sheer pleasure of giving it away.

In the end, he proved that is who he was all along, though many, through the filter of personal judgment, could not see it.

He will be sorely missed by those he loved, more than he dared to love himself.

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