The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Dennis Miller |

I recently reconnected with Phil M. a high school buddy I had not seen in 50 years. We played “catch up”, shared some laughs, and then we began complaining about the state of the world today. We discussed lazy and disrespectful kids, government meddling in a kid’s lunch box – and a lot of points in between.

My wife Jo exclaimed, “Oh my! We have turned into our grandparents”. How right she was. Our grandparents complained about many of the same things when we were young.

While generational complaining seems to be a family tradition, I did a double take when I saw a recent post, “If your kid is disrespectful, respect is taught at home, do your job!” It’s more than respect. Many basic values are not being taught in the churches or schools, and need to be taught at home. Grandparents must take and share some of that responsibility.

Many children are more likely to listen to a grandparent than their own parents, particularly when it comes to handling money. A TIAA-CREF Intergenerational Study finds grandparents vastly underestimate the influence they have on grandchildren’s financial futures. They go on to say, “…. Grandchildren value their stories.” If you don’t think they are listening try uttering some profanities under your breath and see how quickly they pick them up!

The Best Encore Career of All

When working we traded our time for money. Retirees trade money for time. Mentoring future generations, teaching them real values in life will pay off far more than a donation to their college fund.

Forget the excuses, the iPod, too busy, disinterested, geographical challenges, etc. When you are with them, pick your shots and have some fun.

Where to Start?

I made a list of topics and it’s growing. We will spend Christmas this year with our youngest grandchildren, ages 6 & 11. Better to focus on a few important ones. I don’t want to be a “lecture” grandpa or overwhelm them. Things go better when they come to me or something happens to make my remarks appropriate.

Mom and dad are generally supportive as we are reinforcing things they hear at home. Most grandchildren, (even teens) love time with grandma and grandpa – even if it includes a short lecture. Don’t be surprised to find yourself discussing things they would never discuss with mom and dad. When that day comes, you are a trusted mentor. How cool is that?

Here are a few highlights from my list:

Good manners and respect are never old fashioned. As you go through life you want to earn the respect of others. Respecting your parents, teachers, elderly and others is where it starts. Young people who are disrespectful generally get noticed and receive a lot of attention; however the same holds true for respectful children. At a young age children can choose how they get attention. They need to understand they have a choice in the kind of reputation they want to build for themselves.

You are responsible for your own behavior. Leaders are not followers, they think and act independently. They don’t always go along with the crowd. When you screw up it is not someone else’s fault, you made a choice and behavior has consequences.

While you may want to be popular, going along with the crowd is not always the right thing to do. Make good, responsible choices. In time you will be looked upon as a leader and respected.

Life is not fair. Much of society stresses fairness to the point of being ridiculous. Everyone should have a fair and equal opportunity, but no one can guarantee an equal result. If there is a race, (and no one cheats), one person will win, the rest will lose, and yes one person will finish last. There is nothing unfair about that; each person is blessed with certain skills and they are different from others.

One of the proudest moments of my life was when my son got beat in the state wrestling playoffs. He was probably the hardest working, best conditioned, wrestler in the tournament and he still got beat. He congratulated the other wrestler, walked off the mat and told the coach, “I got beat by a much better athlete, there is not much I can do about that.” When you do your best and the results don’t go your way, hold your head high.

It is a waste of time and mental energy lamenting the unfairness of life. Focus on doing the best you can – that is something over which you have control.

Win the laps at practice. Whether it is football, soccer, basketball or hockey, at the end of each practice, the team does laps. Most teams run in a herd with the pace set by the slow and lazy. There is a reason for doing laps; it is called conditioning. Being in shape pays off late in a tight game. Don’t say anything; just start doing your best, going hard all the way. Soon others will catch on and the entire team will start to speed up. That is where leaders learn to lead.

When Michael Jordan retired from basketball, Oprah Winfrey asked him if he thought there would ever be another Michael Jordan. He smiled and said, “Sure – just depends on how hard you are willing to work and practice”.

When you get in the business world, you still do laps; only it is how you spend your time. Successful people use some of their free time to read and learn and improve their skills. Others may go back to school to improve their skills. They nicknamed the television the “boob-tube” for a reason.

Life is competition. Take most of your “participation trophies” you are awarded and throw them in the trash; they are counterproductive.

Too many school systems want to issue pass/fail grades as opposed to actual grades comparing student performance to each other. If they get away with it, they do all students a disservice. The potential high achiever gets lazy; what incentive do they have to work hard? The lazy student learns that doing just enough to get by is good enough. When they become adults they are ill prepared. In the real world, society keeps score!

Those who succeed generally work harder than most. While there are a few exceptions, those that do not succeed are not victims. Generally they are the ones who never ran their laps and joined the “get by” club. They want an EASY button and there is no such thing in life!

There are times when “earning” a participation trophy is significant. My youngest son and his wife both ran in the Disney marathon while we sat with their children cheering them on. They have reason to be proud of the Mickey Mouse medallions hanging on a ribbon around their neck. When I see people in wheelchairs cross the finish line in long races I normally find a little moisture on my cheek as I admire their accomplishments. In those cases they have “earned” their participation trophy by doing a lot more than just showing up. Those trophies are the keepers!

The End Game

I don’t know how many chances I will have over the holidays to make any of these points; but I am prepared should the situation arise.

One of the greatest joys of grand parenting is influencing your grandchildren in a positive way and seeing the result. I was in tears when my granddaughter, with college diploma in hand, gave me a big hug and kiss, looked me in the eye and said, “Thank you for everything you do, I love you.” Now she has two children and the process continues.

I will never live long enough to see this particular dream come true. I hope when my grandchildren are my age they can proudly say, “Oh my! We’ve turned into our grandparents”. It will mean we did our job.

On the Lighter Side

Jo and I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season. Christmas has always been special to me. I was an only child and always looked forward to the large gathering of family and friends for the holidays. Somehow the world was put on hold and it was quality time.

As grandparents, we love it when the younger ones talk excitedly about their fun memories of the family gatherings past. The memories last a lifetime.

Dennis Miller is the author of “Retirement Reboot," a book chronicling his own journey to save his retirement in a low yield, turbulent investing environment. You can track his exploits at Miller on the Money and sign up for his free newsletter.

DISCLOSURE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, and do not represent the views of Readers should not consider statements made by the author as formal recommendations and should consult their financial advisor before making any investment decisions. To read our full disclosure, please go to:


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