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Blog | Flat Fee Financial Advisor | Washington DC

I like to write about what happens in our lives and how it can relate to our financial lives. Not always but most of the time. So keep checking in. I'm glad to have you reading along.

8 Lessons I Learned From My Dad


My father passed away on September 8, 2018. He was 70 years old. I find it somewhat ironic I'm publishing this post today, September 11. Social media is rightfully flooded with "Never Forget" posts.

This past Sunday marked the one year anniversary of my dad's passing. I was having my morning coffee when it hit me. I felt sad, again. I still vividly remember getting the call from my brother this time last year.

Honestly, I wasn't fall on the floor shocked when I first heard the news. I was saddened, no doubt. There were many tears. But my dad was 70, had heart problems, was overweight and basically allergic to exercising. It turned out he passed from a heart attack while sleeping. And he went out doing something he loved - on a golf trip with good friends. Not a bad way to go IMO.

I miss my dad.

We didn't have the closest relationship. More often than not, we were father and son…from a distance. I'll take the blame for some of that. My father, while he was a great man, was not perfect. Like all of us, he had his flaws as well.

I remember reading a magazine article right around the time I graduated from college. Yes, a real magazine article! The author spoke about receiving a notebook from his father. It was something like "50 Things I Want My Son To Know About Life." It included wisdom around career, marriage, relationships and money.

I thought to myself, hey wouldn't this be a great way to connect with my dad, too? And so I did. I used the article to create something like 25 or 50 questions, typed them up, and talked with my dad about it. I asked him to answer as many of the questions as he wanted, based on his experiences and opinions. He said he'd do it.

Yes!!!! Finally, we can connect on a level that isn't just about golf.

Then nothing. Months went by. A year. I asked him about it again. He'd forgotten and said he'd get to it. It never happened.

In hindsight, maybe he felt forced to do it. I've since learned force rarely if ever works - unless of course you're a Jedi knight. Maybe it wasn't his thing and he simply didn't have the heart to tell me? He was a terrible communicator, especially when it came to "bad" news. I don’t know why he never did it.

Since I'm telling you this story it clearly bothered me. I never really knew it bothered me until after he was gone. He was so good at guiding his students, filling them with wisdom and encouragement. Why couldn't he have done that for me, too? There's that feeling of jealousy again, huh?

Now that he's gone, I'll never have that chance again for him to share his wisdom about life & money & career. I can, though, look back at his life and our relationship. Through that I want to share with you some of the lessons I learned from him and that Jill & I want to pass on to our kids. Some of these are financial and some are not. Some make me laugh, and some make me cry. Here goes nothin’…

8 Life Lessons From the Life of Phillip Straniero

1. Earn it

My dad started his career with The Kellogg Company as a salesman. Sure, he could talk to anyone but he wasn't the natural salesman in a typical fashion. According to my mom, he was able to sell on metrics and knowledge. He also used to work in a grocery store as a stockboy so he knew that marketplace. Over the years he kept moving up. From salesman to manager to district manager to regional manager and when he retired, Senior VP of Marketing. Nothing was handed to him. He worked hard to earn his success. I didn't know this about him until only a few years ago when my mom shared this with me. I mean, I knew he worked his way up through Kellogg's, but I didn't know how he got started and what propelled his success. Hearing this made me respect him even more and I've tried to instill it in my business and with our kids.

2. Give, Give, Give…And Then Give Some More

Arguably the most unselfish person to walk on this earth, he was always giving. While I witnessed this growing up, this was reinforced at his funeral through the stories I heard from people I knew and didn’t know. He was always helping people and put others first.

Here's one of my favorite examples: my dad was 100% Italian. He LOVED bread! All. Of. The. Bread. At dinner, there'd be one piece of bread left in the basket. He wanted it. Everyone at the table KNEW he wanted it. Yet, he'd pick up the basket and ask everyone at the table 2 or 3 times if they wanted it.

Me: "No, dad. I don't want it. You eat it."

Dad: "I want you to have it. [My brother] Steve, you eat it."

Steve: "Dad, just take it."

Dad: [clearly lying] "I don't want it."

And this would persist until he finally relented.

Dad: "Well if no one's going to eat it then I'll have it."

I try to think of my dad as a beacon of giving and gratitude. I can be a pretty selfish individual and this is an area where I struggle to be like him.

3. [Estate] Plan Ahead

While he forged a successful career in Sales & Marketing, my father went to college to become an aeronautical engineer. He LOVED airplanes and even learned how to fly when he was younger. His personality was that of a planner. He was neat. He was organized. A true rows & columns kind of guy if there ever was one. Until he wasn't.

He never got around to finishing his will and finalizing his estate was both messy and time consuming. Obviously this an area where I counsel people in. I abhor using scare tactics, but this happens to the rich and the poor. Tidy up your estate people!

4. Communicate

My father was never the best communicator. Us kids heard "I love you" from him all the time. That was great! He wasn't great with other stuff Jill & I want our kids to know about.

For example, we NEVER talked about money. I don't ever recall receiving advice around how to buy a car, why credit cards are the devil, or even "hey, if you aren't already, you should be putting away some of that paycheck."

We NEVER talked about marriage and relationships. We NEVER talked about career and business.

He was more of an Ostrich. It was more like if we don't talk about it, maybe hopefully it will just go away - like a passing storm.

5. Love Hard

He loved us kids tremendously. He was super affectionate and I always appreciated that. He always made sure we knew he loved us. His form of love was that of a provider. If he could give us what we wanted materially and physically, that filled him up. That was how he showed his love. He also never missed a birthday or holiday. In college and beyond I always got a card in the mail from him. So did my brothers, his parents, his siblings, and all of his nieces and nephews. And when our kids were born, he sent them cards too. I think he must've owned stock in Hallmark! Either way, he was always letting us and those in his life know he loved them and was thinking about us.

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6. Laugh Harder

Oh his laugh! He loved to tell funny stories and jokes. And at the end…that belly laugh. I can still hear it today. A long resounding HAAAAAAAA! And then right into belly laughter. For a while, it was embarrassing - especially in my teens and college years. Seriously, Dad?! And when he did it on the golf course, it seemed everyone on the course could hear him. Yet it was joyous and lovable and contagious. He loved laughing and having a good time. Sometimes I get in trouble at home because I’m riling up the kids right before bedtime. Guilty as charged. Maybe I’m just trying to be more like my dad and laugh hard with my kids.

7. Value of Money

My dad was a giver. That was how he showed his love. He was an incredible provider and that enabled him to be very generous. Maybe too generous. And I was often a recipient of his generosity. College education? Paid for. Car in high school and beyond? Paid for. Live at home after college? Rent free. These are not negative traits, don't get me wrong. I was and remain grateful for this. Not having to worry about things like rent and student loans after college gave me a bit of a free pass - I didn't have any burdens. I could basically goof off and party and enjoy my twenties unlike some of my peers. In hindsight, it took me longer to understand the value of money and hard work.

8. ABC…People

In the world of sales, ABC refers to "Always Be Closing" - a tip of the hat to the movie Glengarry Glenross. In his world, I like to believe it referred to Always Be Coaching. Maybe I don't remember this from my childhood, maybe our strained relationship later on erased this aspect of my memories of him. Regardless, it's clear from his success as both a manager at Kellogg's and his later success as a college professor that the man could coach people. His students' effusive praise of him both while in school and after graduation and their continued relationships validates this for me. I see & live this in my own life - coaching multiple youth sports teams and coaching some of you around your financial life.

I miss and will always miss my dad. While he maybe wasn't the best at verbally passing on knowledge and advice, he did a tremendous job of providing some valuable life lessons for my brothers and me. I didn’t always see or feel them when they were happening, but I guess that's life. I didn't get the chance to tell my dad "I love you" one last time. I didn't get to hug him one last time.

So today, I'm asking everyone a favor. Call your parents. Call your spouse. Call anyone who’s important to you. Or send them a card. Tell them you love them. Hug them. Learn with and from them. Communicate with them. Coach them. Be like Phil.

And then laugh a big gigantic belly laugh.



Darren Straniero