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THE SECRETS MEN KEEP
By Stephen Arterburn
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2006 Stephen Arterburn
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFINANCIAL SECURITY: NOW AND THEN
When the reporter arrived, Burt was raking leaves around the "For Sale" sign stuck in the middle of his front yard. Earlier that day Burt had received a phone call from the reporter asking if he would share his story. Burt agreed, the reporter wrote the story, and I read it.
Burt had worked for Enron. He had prepared for his retirement with Enron stock that had, at one point, been worth more than $2 million. Burt explained how his retirement fund made him feel free, like the man he had always wanted to be. When the time came, he would be able to maintain a decent lifestyle without financial worries. But within a few months it had all gone away as the story of Enron's failure became known. The reporter wanted to know what it was like for Burt now.
It was like being a fool, Burt had said. He had gone from confidence and pride in the provision and plans he had made to feeling like a fool for entrusting his future to Enron. At first he had been furious and wanted to fight like a man to the death. Then the depression hit and he wanted to die, or at least run. But he stayed, put his house up for sale, and started looking for a job. He explained that in addition to losing his house and his retirement, he had lost his manhood as well. Now all he had was anger, bitterness, sadness, and desperation. And a feeling that all of his hard work had been for nothing. It had all meant that much to him.
WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT MEN AND FINANCIAL SECURITY
Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine published a list of thirteen "scary scenarios" related to personal finances. Number one on the list was "Not Saving Enough for Retirement," and number two was "Outliving Your Retirement Savings." Those are obviously the flip sides of the same coin, but they are different. The first has to do with the discipline of saving, beginning at an early age, while the second has to do with the sometimes daunting task of figuring out which will arrive first: the end of me or the end of money. Related to these two issues was number six on the list: illness requiring long-term care and the financial implications of such a scenario.
The folks at Kiplinger's must have talked to some of the same people—at least some of the same men—we did. In our survey we found that this statement—"Men are fearful about financial security now and in retirement"—drew greater agreement than any other statement in our survey. Specifically, 68.3 percent of the 3,600 men surveyed agreed. (Of the Christian men surveyed, 69.1 percent agreed; of all other men surveyed, 66.2 percent agreed.)
What does this mean? In short, more than two-thirds of all men live in fear of running out of money either now or in the future.
WHAT FINANCIAL SECURITY MEANS TO MEN
Television producer Alan Eisenstock, in his book Ten on Sunday: The Secret Life of Men, tells about the experience of buying his and his wife's dream house in Santa Monica, California. In 1992, the couple lived through the Rodney King riots in L.A., which proved to be the last straw—they needed to move. They found a four-thousand-square-foot, six-bathroom house on several acres with a driveway wide enough for three-on-three basketball games. The asking price was seven figures, but the sellers came down and they signed a contract.
I'll let Mr. Eisenstock take it from here:
It's okay. I can afford it. I'm co-executive producer of a hot new sitcom [A League of Their Own] and the money is rolling in, no end in sight.
What I can't admit yet, what I don't actually know yet, at least not consciously, is that I am miserable.
It's not because of the two mortgages lashed to my back like two grand pianos. There is something deeper, a hole inside me, related to the midlife crisis I am facing and the numbing sense that, despite all the financial success I have achieved, I have, in fact, achieved nothing at all. The work I do, the television show I produce, and the more than one hundred television shows I have written and produced before, throb through my skull in a low-level hum, accompanied miraculously by an obscene amount of money that I receive every week, an amount that no one could possibly deserve. It's like some crazy game that I've gotten stuck in. I really don't want to do this, but I keep playing and they keep paying and I am scared to death to stop. Because if I stop, I'm afraid I will have to give up everything else in my life. I will have to live my life on spec.
After signing the contract to buy the house, Eisenstock and his wife, Bobbie, talk about his fears that they may be getting in over their heads:
"I think we should back out," Bobbie says, hard. "When in doubt, don't." Her motto.
"But you love the house."
"I do. But it's just a house."
Her eyes glimmer with the truth. I look deep into them and see no judgment. She is giving me permission to fail, the okay to walk away.
But I can't.
My upbringing and my gender will not allow me. I am bred to be the breadwinner. The man, damn it. I can't shake that. In the sixties, Ricky Nelson was my role model, but in the nineties I have become Ozzie. I am The Dad. Sire of two children, king of the castle, lord of the debt.
"Let's go for it."
Six months go by, during which they have the house remodeled (... remodeling this house took a lot more money than we thought. Why is that? We had a budget. A drop-dead bottom-line number that we absolutely could not exceed, which we have now exceeded by seventy grand. How did that happen?), and after which they move in.
They had been in the house only a short time when what happened to Job of old happened to Alan Eisenstock:
The next morning I get the word.
A League of Their Own has been canceled after three episodes.
(Job, a man of great wealth, who experienced history's most famous financial reversal, said, "What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me" [Job 3:25].)
I hope you caught the part where he said his gender would not allow him to walk away. If you're a man, you get it. If you're a woman, you need to get it to understand your man. Ozzie and Harriet may have come and gone (Google it if you were born after 1970), but the ghost of Ozzie Nelson (and Ward Cleaver and Jim Anderson—Google Leave It to Beaver and Father Knows Best) is still around, reminding men to make good and be the man! Be the king of the castle, lord of the debt.
Fifties and sixties sitcom fathers didn't invent this role, of course. Alan Eisenstock got it right when he said it was a gender thing, not a generational thing. Men and money have been joined at the hip since time began, and basically for the right reasons. Yes, money gets the best of men sometimes. Yes, the love of it is the root of all evil. And yes, contrary to Wall Street's Gordon Gekko, greed is not good.
But what exactly does money mean to men? Simply put, money is a tool in the hands of reasonable men. With it, they can fix things in their domain. They can provide for themselves and their family, which is part of the male thing.
If you live in the kind of subdivision or neighborhood that makes up much of America today—houses on postage-stamp lots with garages that face the street—try this experiment: next time you take a walk after supper, see how many garages you can peer into and spot a large, red, five- to sixfoot tall metal cabinet. That is the classic auto mechanic's tool chest, now appearing in countless garages near you. Is your neighborhood filled with mechanics? Of course not—but it is filled with men. And men love tools. Even though they don't work on their own cars, they collect tools like women collect shoes.
And money is a tool. When a man doesn't have money, or is afraid he may not have enough for retirement or to cover exigencies such as a long-term illness, he gets insecure. Okay, he panics. So much so that sometimes he does really foolish things to get the money he thinks he needs.
The whole nation was amazed by the December 2005 story about Al Ginglen, the sixty-four-year-old grandfather of seven who robbed a series of small banks in Illinois to cover the ever-deeper financial hole he had gotten himself into. The amazing part, of course, was that it was his three grown sons who turned him in after one of the sons recognized his father's picture, taken from a bank surveillance video, on an Internet law enforcement Web site. The sad part was that a grown man lost the primary tool by which men define themselves—money—and turned to crime to get it.
Al Ginglen's sons turned their father in because he had raised them to do what was right. Yet such is the power of money that he failed to do what was right himself. I can't help but think that his amateur burglaries were just an open invitation for officials to catch him and put an end to his out-of-money pain. At least in jail he'd have no bills to pay.
No issue strikes the male heart with such a discordant note as the thought of running out of money either now or in the future. It's not running out of money, of course—it's not being able to secure that for which we exchange money: food, shelter, and the rest of life's needs for ourselves and our families, not to mention the "wants" that our creative minds dream about.
For good or for ill, money is almost a synonym of masculinity. That's good in the sense that a man is motivated to earn money in order to fulfill his responsibilities. But it's ill when money becomes an object in itself, an end instead of a means to an end. Walking the fine line between the two is every man's calling.
If men feel secure when they have the tool of money in their hands, then it's not surprising that a majority of men feel insecure today. For only the third time since records have been kept, Americans recorded a negative savings rate in 2005 of .05 percent. The previous two times this happened were in 1932 (-0.9 percent) and 1933 (-1.5 percent) in the midst of the Great Depression. A negative savings rate means that not only did people not save money overall in 2005, they dipped into their savings to pay for increased spending. (The Commerce Department announced in January 2006 that in December 2005 consumer spending rose 0.9 percent while incomes rose only 0.4 percent.)
With those facts in hand, men who are worried about the present and future state of their finances need to assume they have been issued a wake-up call. It's impossible for men to take advantage of their built-in congratulatory mechanism when they are not being responsible with money. And being responsible means spending less than is earned and laying the balance aside.
Saved money for a man is like that tall, red, metal mechanic's tool chest in the garage. It means being able to go to the cabinet and take out the tool that's needed to solve a problem. For a man to go to the cabinet and not find the tool he needs is an affront to his masculinity. Unfortunately, money that wasn't saved when it was available can't be replaced as easily as going to the hardware store to get a new wrench.
So a new practical direction is needed. Fortunately, there is no shortage of information available to help men gain the upper hand in financial planning. And the very fact that information is so readily available suggests that a lack of know-how is not the problem. Indeed, it suggests that something else is needed: conviction. And for men of faith: faith.
It takes tremendous courage to stand against the financial trends of the day. The over-the-top housing boom of 2004 and 2005 gave most people an excuse to pull the windfall equity out of their houses and spend the money on unnecessary purchases. Or they sold their newly appreciated (and previously adequate) home and moved on up, garnering for themselves a larger piece of the pie—and a more oppressive mortgage to boot. There's certainly nothing wrong with selling at the top of the market. But the trend in society is not to save windfalls, or even hard-earned excesses, but to spend them.
It's true that Jesus said we are to take no thought for tomorrow (Matthew 6:25–34). But that teaching was given in this context: "But seek first [God's] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (v. 33). Therefore, the question is, What does it mean to seek God's kingdom first in order to receive His provision for today and tomorrow second?
With regard to money, it means to live by the teaching of Scripture: Live modest, frugal, generous lives; work and save diligently as an expression of faithful trust; acknowledge that everything comes from and therefore belongs to God; adopt the attitude of a steward—a manager of that which God has entrusted to you—and seek His approval for what you do with that which is His.
Regardless of whose survey you look at, money always lands near the top of the hot-button issues in marriages. And that shouldn't surprise anyone. Whatever is a critical issue in one partner's life is going to become an issue in the marriage. If 68 percent of the men in America are fearful about financial security now and in retirement, I can assure you that 68 percent of the marriages in America have a measure of tension in them as a result.
In 1985, Richard Foster wrote a book titled Money, Sex, and Power: The Challenge of a Disciplined Life. Think of those three subjects in terms of marriage and you'll identify three prime places for couples to either stand their ground or seek common ground. Far too often they stand their ground, holding tenaciously to practices and points of view they either learned from their parents or picked up along the way in life. Most couples enter marriage thinking about money the way their parents did—detailed record keeping or constantly overdrawn; poor credit ratings or great credit ratings; disciplined savers or dedicated shoppers; planning for the future or living for today; hording every penny or enjoying every penny.
Money is a great topic around which to build consensus in your marriage, but it requires making a commitment and connecting with your spouse. The future is coming, like it or not. It's up to you and your husband or wife to decide how you want to spend it.
Ipsos Public Affairs conducted a telephone survey in which they interviewed 1,016 adults ages forty-five to seventy-five. Indications are that there is not a lot of planning for the future going on among pre-retirees. Forty-nine percent of those surveyed had spent five hours or less during the previous twelve months planning for retirement; 18 percent had spent no time. Thirty-one percent of pre-retirees said they would rather clean their bathroom or pay bills than plan for retirement. Thirty-four percent said the most challenging part of planning for retirement is not knowing how much money they would need.
I could cite statistics all day, but they would all reveal the same thing: people don't like to think about the future because it represents a giant unknown. It's easier to live in denial than to make a commitment to gathering the information, creating a plan, and then making the necessary adjustments today to make the plan work in the future. If it's true that two heads are usually better than one (and it is), couples can begin creating their future today by making a commitment to each other to shape the future rather than letting the future shape them.
Merrill Lynch produced "The New Retirement Survey" in February 2005, which charted the changing landscape of retirement in America, especially among the massive generation of about-to-retire baby boomers. Consider some facts cited:
Seventy-six percent of boomers intend to retire around age sixty-four and then launch into an entirely new job or career.
Most boomers reject either full-time work or full-time leisure in retirement, preferring a blend of work (part-time or full-time) and leisure. Only 17 percent hope never to work for pay again after retirement.
Excerpted from THE SECRETS MEN KEEP by Stephen Arterburn Copyright © 2006 by Stephen Arterburn. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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