Father's Day reckoning
In a week where I clocked a poster along the side of a bus for wongaforbusiness.com (not content with wanting to get individuals into a lifetime of debt with their four-figure APRs, those old people puppets want to take down small businesses too), I didn't expect to encounter a more heinous advert for a long time. But just days later on the tube, I did.
It was for an investment banking group - they'll know who they are - and it pictured a little boy snuggled up with his teddy bear in his bed. Aah cute, you're thinking. Then you read the words alongside it: 'You invest in missed bedtimes. Choose an ISA provider that could make the long hours count.'
Never mind the word 'could' - we'll come to that sneaky piece of wording later. In the week leading up to Father's Day, I don't think I've seen anything quite so offensive as the assertion that missing your child's bedtimes is something to invest in. As a dad who has been spending a lot of time away from home working for the last two years, it struck quite a jagged chord.
I can't understand anyone in any job choosing to not get home in time to be there to read their kids a bedtime story. Every night I spend away I wish I could go home and do the same. And now some upstart investment firm are trying to guilt me into investing my money with them, as though if I had the cash to spare, I'd be standing here on the flippin' tube, 100s of miles away from my kids, in the first place.
I appreciate that the dads (and mums) at whom the advert is aimed have different ambitions to my own. They are going to be striving away to have enough money to invest hundreds, possibly thousands, in a long term ISA to make the tax savings worthwhile. Lucky them. I'm not saying the firm shouldn't be advertising their wares, I just think this advert in particular sends out a bad message that suggests it is perfectly acceptable for people to miss valuable time with their children for the sake of earning an extra few bucks. In fact it comes close to even encouraging it.
Perhaps the argument will go: 'Oh but I'm saving for their future, to provide for them as best as I can. So one day I can put them through college, secure a deposit on their first house...'
But how much is this brought on by media scaremongering that intermittently screams how one day the next generation won't be able to afford further education or their own house unless their parents have saved for it?
I say ignore this scaremongering and think back to the boy sleeping in bed, missing his dad/mum reading him that bedtime story. He doesn't care about going to college or having his own house one day. What matters to him is the here and now and having as much quality time with his parents now is going to prove more valuable in the long run than any ISA fund 'could' do.
I don't want to make people feel even more guilty than perhaps they already do because sometimes it is necessary to work long hours or be away from home.
What I am saying is that if you do feel like, yes, you are missing too many of your kids' bedtimes and it is in your power to change that, then change it. Even if it means making it home for one more of them every week than you are currently doing. Consider it a resolution for Father's Day.
Money is only worth so much to a child. Your time is precious to them. Sure, having the cash to invest 'could' leave you with significantly more in 10 or 20 years' time; it 'could' be enough to put that deposit down on your child's first house. But these are all unknown quantities, guarantees that aren't really guarantees if you read the small print.
Instead of trying to earn more, invest your time in doing more with your kids and you WILL see instant results. Investors WILL get back something from the time they invest. A happy face, an appreciative grin, not to mention the joy it will give you, the joy it is easy to forget when we feel bogged down by the daily grind. It's there for the taking, yet it won't be there forever.
To be horribly morbid for a moment, my wife was 10 when she lost her dad. Thirty years on, she still misses him and would give anything for just one more day at the beach with him. But what always strikes me is how vivid the memories of him always are, how much they seemed to do in what relatively little time they had together.
That's the small print that we often ignore in life. We don't know how much time we have. And that's what parents especially should be investing in wisely.