Letting Go of the Past

When I was a boy, one of the biggest things my father and I shared was baseball. We would listen to all of the Chicago Cubs games all summer long on the radio, watch many of them on television, and follow the day-to-day standings in the newspaper. I collected baseball cards with a burning passion and actually had a calendar that would count down the days until pitchers and catchers reported to spring training.

Some of my best memories of childhood involve watching baseball with my dad. I remember watching the 1985 World Series with him and my ailing grandfather. I remember sitting on my grandfather’s bed that October, watching the Cardinals and the Royals (two of the closer teams to where I grew up in rural Illinois) play each other.

I remember watching Game One of the 1988 World Series with him and I remember both of us leaping out of our chairs when Kirk Gibson hit his incredibly unexpected home run to end the game.

I remember being really disappointed when the Cubs faltered in the playoffs in 1989.

I remember countless fishing trips and camping trips and car rides and idle days out in the yard or the garden where I would bring along this pocket transistor radio that I had. For some reason, it was exceptionally good at picking up the Cubs games on 720 AM out of Chicago, so it would go everywhere with me.

Part of it was that I enjoyed baseball, of course, but another big part of it is that it was a shared experience with my dad. It was something we could engage in together. We didn’t have a lot of overlapping interests, but baseball was something we could come together for.

When my son was born, I anticipated that we would be doing many of the same things together, as my idea of a father-son relationship was based on what I remembered from the past.

Over the past several years, I’ve picked him up several baseball-related items, including a Cubs jersey and a baseball glove. I’ve watched some baseball games with him and played catch with him in the yard and such.

It took me a while to realize it, but he’s just not that interested in baseball.

Why did it take me a while to see it? For starters, I kept holding onto the past. My idea of how a father and son should bond involved baseball. It was just what we did together, and it was what I naturally expected that I would do together with my son.

In reality, though, baseball is not something we engage in together. We play a lot of games together, particularly board games and card games. Rather than watching a baseball game, we’ll play a game of Old Maid or checkers. We play a lot of soccer out in the yard, but we don’t really engage in watching any sort of expert-level soccer play.

We connect through a lot of things, but baseball just isn’t one of them.

A few months ago, I saw a really nice baseball jersey in a store and I thought about getting it for my son for Christmas. I couldn’t help but see my six year old self going crazy with joy if I received such an item.

Buying that item wouldn’t have been for him, though. It wouldn’t have been a good purchase at all. It would be a gift for the past, and spending money on something that’s long since past just isn’t a good use of that money.

Instead, I got him a Lego board game for Christmas. We’ve spent a lot of hours around the kitchen table assembling the game, playing it, modifying it, and playing it again. It’s something we’ve been able to engage in together.

Perhaps what baseball was (and still is, in some ways) to my father and I is what board games are to my son and I.

Never let the past define the present. If you’re buying things because they’re things that you enjoyed in the past, step back for a moment and ask yourself if they’re really things you’re enjoying now. Are you riding on something you cared much more deeply about years ago?

My son’s connection to baseball is just one example of this. I don’t buy video games any more because, honestly, I don’t play them much at all any more. I play a few casual computer games and that’s about all, so why spend money on video games – something I was passionate about in the past?

It takes reflection to figure out that your life has changed and the things you enjoy have also changed. Spending some time evaluating what you really enjoy right now – and not what you’re enjoying out of nostalgia or a sense of routine – can make an enormous difference in how you spend your money and your time.

Don’t let the past guide what you do today.

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  1. Andrew says:

    Trent, you sound like a good father.

    For the polar opposite, one has only to look at the wreckage that results when parents project their own thwarted past ambitions onto their children. Watch any episode of “Toddlers and Tiaras” and cringe. Or, for something even worse, check out the documentary “The Marinovich Project,” which is
    about the relentless training a would-be football star inflicted upon his son, with tragic results.

  2. Raya says:

    Great post, Trent! I love how you told the stories here. I can’t wait for you to do a fiction book. I’d definitely buy it.

  3. Tracy says:

    This was a fantastic post.

  4. Icarus says:

    Glad that you recognized it relatively quickly. Keep in mind, he might someday decide he does like baseball. it took me three decades to enjoy watching sports on TV…I loved playing them but watching baseball or football on TV seemed like a waste of time. That changed once I discovered the social aspect of going to games or meeting up with friends to watch them.

  5. Johanna says:

    I agree with Tracy. More like this, please. :)

    The present is not the past, but even more importantly, your son is not you. We have to relate to people based on the people they really are, not the people we wish they were.

  6. Jules says:

    I third Tracy and Johanna. Best post in a long time.

  7. Steven says:

    While others read this post with enthusiasm, I read it was a bit of sadness. Aside from your description of “a lot of soccer in the backyard,” it doesn’t sound like any of the other activities you share with your son are related to exercise or outdoor activity. It’s a sad reminder how things in this country have changed. It’s why our parks are largely vacant and our children spend far too much time couped up indoors in front of one screen or another.

    While your son may not be sitting in front of them now, I foresee a life not much different than the rest of Americans for your son. That makes me sad.

  8. Tracy says:

    @Steven

    I’m a little hesitant to address this, because I think it plays a bit into what’s a right/wrong activity for a child – and I think that’s individualistic and honestly none of our business, BUT:

    Trent’s actually listed a lot of activities his kids play – just a week or so ago, people were worried that all their extracurriculars *were* physical. Plus, most of Trent’s love of baseball was watching/listening … most of his son’s love of soccer is playing.

  9. Johanna says:

    Steven, do you have any idea how much of a Johnny-One-Note you sound like? No matter what Trent writes about, it seems like you always have to relate it back to how he and his family aren’t physically fit enough for your tastes. Why does a total stranger’s fitness level matter to you so much?

    Also, what Tracy said.

  10. Michelle says:

    Nice relevant post Trent. If more families took the time to really learn each others’ personalities, there would be so much more harmony in the world. I think that acceptance is one of the best gifts that you can give a person, and it is sorely lacking in some circles, particularly where the people are related.

  11. Katie says:

    And on top of all that, Trent regularly writes about how his family likes to take weekend bike rides and spend days at the park, so yeah.

  12. BirdDog says:

    Great post! I think all of us have something we had a deep connection to in the past but even though we may not be that connected to it anymore, it still has a grip on us. Probably the reason why my office is filled with John Deere collectibles. However, if I were to get rid of it, people would be shocked and it would almost be like removing part of my idenity.

    @Steven – Trent writes a lot about getting out to parks with his family and running around in the yard with them. He even mentions playing soccer with his son in this post. It sounds to me like they are pretty active. What do you want him to do? Sign the whole family up for CrossFit? Geez, give the man a break.

  13. Roberta says:

    What Michelle said at #10. And Trent has discussed the outdoor activities they all enjoy many times.

    You can guide your children to certain experiences you have found valuable or meaningful, but it doesn’t mean they’ll share your interest. It’s been an fascinating development for me – I love to read, cook and sew – and was one of five daughters who also shared those interests, largely instilled by a father who loved to read and cook. But I married a man who loves sports as well, and had four boys, whose interests are much more physical than mine – football in particular. So my experience has broadened to include that, which adds something to all our lives, and they read and cook as well.

  14. Steven says:

    I do talk a lot about fitness because it’s one of Trent’s goals (every year, actually.) And I guess I don’t recall Trent writing much about doing physical things aside from the occasional walk around the neighborhood, or playing Wii. My apologies if I missed the details of another post. I don’t read everything that Trent writes, only those things that catch my interest.

    Should Trent sign up the whole family for CrossFit? No. Should Trent sign up for CrossFit himself? Absolutely! I’d LOVE to read those articles about Trent pushing himself outside of his comfort zone to experience and do things he never thought possible. As it is now, Trent comes off to me as self-defeated and unwilling to challenge himself. I think he’s firmly stuck in a comfort zone that he (maybe doesn’t want to) can’t get himself out of.

    Trent is always alway always talking about personal growth, but I have yet to really see how Trent heeds his own advice. I don’t see any posts about how he is pushing himself into areas of unknown and unfamiliar, or into situations where he is unassured and insecure. THOSE are the moments when people really grow as individuals, and THOSE are the moments Trent seems to be lacking.

    So, yes, I may sound judgemental and a one note bloke, but only because I want to see Trent grow and expand his horizons. In truth, I see him as someone who is afraid of life. I also see someone who is incredibly intelligent who has a capacity to accomplish a lot. I’d love to see him succeed in anything he attempted. The problem, as I see it through this blog, is that he doesn’t attempt much. Just talks about all the things he’d like to do. (And that could be that he doesn’t share every detail of his life and half the story is missing. I don’t know.)

  15. Mister E says:

    This is definitely the best post in a long time.

  16. David C says:

    Trent, this is one of the best posts that I have read in quite some time. It’s all rather timely for me. When I was a kid I loved to build model kits and I just assumed it would be fun to do with my stepson. I had to learn that he is his own individual. We have a closet shelf full of unbuilt kits that he thought were cool, but it just wasn’t his “thing”. So I let it drop and encouraged his other pursuits.

    I have found myself with little time or motivation to build them over the last year. Life sort of gets in your way sometimes or maybe I am growing up again. I have began donating a lot of the kits to the Wounded Warriors program to help our wounded troups in recovery. Sometimes it is good to let go of the past, life is much too short and there are no do-overs.

    Thanks for this post, it really started me thinking again.

  17. Rebecca says:

    This is especially true for our family, with two autistic sons. We had to let go of our assumptions about what a “happy” life for them looked like. We strive to celebrate holidays and traditions with them in the ways they enjoy, which is often very different than what most might consider normal. But their joy brings us joy, and our family is stronger for it.

  18. Gretchen says:

    Well, you still have 2 other children to perhaps enjoy baseball with.

    Good post, though.

  19. Vanessa says:

    Maybe the bar has been set low? I thought this post was just average with Trent trying to reach again and find something in his life to relate to personal finance. Trent still loves baseball, his son just isn’t as enthusiastic about it. Though the video game example is much overused, it was more relevant to point he was trying to make.

  20. Steve says:

    Well said, Trent. A couple of years ago I bought the car that was my dream car when I was a teenager. Somehow it didn’t do it for me anymore, and I sold it within a year.

  21. Tracy says:

    @Vanessa

    Like some others on the thread, I think the personal benefits of his realization outweighs the financial – he obviously has a stronger relationship with his son because he’s basing it on his son’s personality, not his imaginary construct of what a father/son is. Although the realization of “Buying that item wouldn’t have been for him, though.” is a great one.

    But that’s also the reason I think this makes such a great post. The fact that it’s very personal. Trent made it clear that he worked through different things and *grew* from the knowledge. It doesn’t come-off as trite or dashed-off, but thoughtful.

    It’s a post that’s real, relevant, and sincere – based on actual experiences, not … misconceptions and projections, or having to twist the examples so far to make them work that they don’t feel real. I really, really liked it.

    (Steve above mentions Trent and personal growth and to me – this post is *all* about personal growth)

  22. Johanna says:

    @Vanessa: Here is what I like about this post:

    It’s really well written. The tone is pitch-perfect for what he’s writing about. There are no garbled sentences or references to “highly cost-effective solutions” or anything like that. Just straight talk from the heart. (It’s not grammatically perfect, but casual writing rarely is, so I’ll let that slide.)

    It’s a genuinely fresh idea, not a rehashing of something he’s already written about a hundred times before. Nor is it one of the many posts that starts out in an interesting place but ends up in one of about four conclusions that keep showing up over and over.

    It’s an example of something he’s learned about himself recently. Usually, whenever Trent talks about his own faults or mistakes, it’s in reference to the bizarre (and fairly unbelievable) world he lived in before his financial turnaround, with the implication that ever since then he’s been perfect. Here, he talks about how he’s still growing.

    I don’t mind that it’s only slightly related to personal finance. As I’ve said before, if Trent has to expand the scope of the blog to come up with fresh ideas, I’m in favor of that.

  23. Telephus44 says:

    @17 Rebecca – I hear you! I have an autistic son, and sometimes it frustrates me that he won’t play what I want to play – there are days when I don’t want to play hide and seek for the next 2 hours – but I try and respect his choices and preferences and be his parent, bonding over what he wants to, not what I think he “should” do.

  24. Nefretete says:

    Really nice story. I don’t relate much with the substance but as a regular story / novel – a very fine piece. Thank you.

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