Dan, 30, is big, slow-spoken and thoughtful.  He’s married, with 4 children.  He and his wife have just bought a house, his second foray into home ownership.  A mental health episode based in circumstances that he does not include in the narrative interrupted his college career, and family obligations led him to return to work for his father in a business that has been in the family for 3 generations.  His family is close-knit and supportive.  His foster-sister, Tinkerbell, and her now-husband, Jim, also participated in this research.

FM:  Can we start with a bit about your family?

Family unit:  mom, dad, 2 sisters, brother.  Multiple foster kids though.  That’s the gist of it. 

FM:  Talk a bit about how your family supported itself.

My father owned his own business, for over 30 years now.  His father owned the same kind of business before him.  I’m now for all intents and purposes running the business with him.  So it’s always been part of the family, paid the bills, supported everything.  My mom didn’t work, she’s been a stay at home mom.  Shouldn’t say ‘didn’t work’ – she’d kick my butt. 

FM: Did she help manage the business – the office?

She’s always done the bookwork and whatnot. 

FM: And she fostered? 

Yes she did.  We had lots of kids through the system. 

FM: Okay:  Let’s now start with the first place you lived in other than your parents’ home.

Editor's note: Dan's moves are numbered. 

[#1} A basement apartment in Middletown. 

FM: Tell me the circumstances around that move.

I was going to college [in Middletown], needed a place to stay, didn’t want to stay in res as I like my personal space, so I rented a basement apartment from a very special lady.

FM: Before you go on… how did you know that you wouldn’t like res, that having your personal space was essential.

I’ve never liked people touching my things.  My things are my things.  My toothbrush should not be used for anything but my teeth.  I just require things to be a certain way.  At times I can be a very private person. 

So I didn’t want to live with 4 other guys.  When I could have my apartment and go hang out at res and still go back to my own private space. 

FM: What course were you taking?

Hotel and resort management. 

FM: What was that about?

I had worked at [a local resort] for a couple of years.  I thought that would be an industry I would be interested in getting into, so I went to learn more about the industry and get my degree and follow that industry.  Half way through my second year, I had some issues and kinda lost interest in the course and there wasn’t a lot of transfer credits so I cut my losses and went to work. 

FM: Could you clarify a bit the nature of the issues?

Anxiety, depression, substance abuse.

FM: This is already becoming a quite familiar story.  How do you understand that  - I’m going to say reaction - now?  What led to it, do you think?

Actually the anxiety attacks had not a whole lot to do with city life or living away from home.  It was just prior things in my life that had came to a head, some of which I’m still dealing with.

FM: Would you say that if you hadn’t gone off to school, you might have had the same issues?

Yes, absolutely. 

FM:  Okay, move number two?

[#2] Was very short-lived.  It was to [a smaller town south of Middletown].  I shared an apartment with a friend of mine [there], was there for 6 months, not even, 5 months.  Then they opened -- the store that I was working for in [that town], they opened a subsidiary store in Middletown so I transferred and went back to where I had some sort of base. 

FM: Could you talk a bit about ‘some sort of base’.

[#3] Middletown.  I had friends I’d made in college.  I had family in Middletown.  Just from knowing nobody but my friend in [the other town] to being back where I had kind of a circle of friends and some sort of support group and familiar surroundings. 

FM: Was it at the same ‘special lady’ that was your first landlady?

No, thank God. 

FM: Talk a bit more about that

She was a "Christian lady” who was kinda anti-everything and at the same time was dating a trucker from the States who was all tattoos and beard and bald head and every other word was F.  So, very special arrangement, I found. 

FM: Okay, so what kind of living arrangements your second stop in Middletown?

I moved in with my girlfriend of the time.  We lived together for about 6 months, broke up.

FM: Let me ask – did you move in because of the relationship, or was it a way to solve the problem of finding a place – not that they’re mutually exclusive, but was she a well-established girlfriend or it was a bit practical?

All of the above.  It just made sense at the time.  She had an apartment, had extra room for my stuff.  We’d talked about moving in together before I’d left for [the other town] so it just made sense at the time. 

FM: Okay. Number four?

[#4] I rented the floor of a house – it was this big old townhouse that had been divided into a triplex.  I had the main level which means I had thumping elephants above and below me.  I resided there for approximately a year at which time I moved in with my new girlfriend.

FM: Before we go there, were you working during this time and at what?

I was working at that time.  I was in retail. 

FM: And was your income sufficient to live on?

Ish. 

FM: So were you getting support from home?  Financial I mean.

No.  I could have if I’d wanted it.  I was kinda being stubborn and as self sufficient as possible.  But after I had kids I accepted as much help as I could get. 

FM: We’ll get there.  But for now: in with a new girlfriend.

[#5]  And her mom.  Had a wartime brick bungalow which I paid the mortgage on and her and her mom took care of all the other bills.  So we carried that living arrangement on for about a year and a half.  In that amount of time, my girlfriend and I found out we were going to have a baby and my father had started experiencing some health issues, so we moved back up here. 

[#6]  I bought a townhouse in the Riverville.  We lived there – the baby was born, 3 bedrooms so there was a baby’s room, our room and for all intents and purposes the mother-in-law’s room.  We were engaged and we lived there for 2 years.  The house that I’d purchased was the first house that you could own in that complex – the others were rental.  So we had really great neighbours on one side because they owned their place and they took care of it, and really crappy on the other side.  So we listed the town house and [purchased] a house [#7] in [a small village to the south], so we’re now in Lake County. 

FM: Why [that village]?

My fiancé at the time was working in [a small city to the south] so it was kinda a compromise as for location.  The house worked, it had everything we needed. Lots of land, a 4 bedroom, 2 bath, living room, rec room, back split. 

FM: Did the mother-in-law come along?

Yes she did, like the tail of a dog follows the head.  We were there for about a year and a half at which time we decided we should go our separate ways.

FM: Clarification here:  you and your fiancé or the two of you and the mother-in-law.

The fiancé and I.  just wasn’t working out.

FM: To go back a bit…did the mother-in-law help with child care?

Yes, the mother-in-law did all of the child care pretty much.  The fiancé had suffered from post partum so I did 80% of the child care plus working and it was a lot but we made it through.  By that I mean my daughter and I.

FM: And were your family also supportive at this time, and how?

My family is close knit so any time I needed anything for the baby or help with the baby, help was only a phone call away. 

FM: Did your fiancé’s mental health improve by the time you broke up, or was it a major factor in your coming apart? 

She was definitely showing improvement.  By the time we split she was helping with the baby and definitely viewing the child as a part of her life. 

FM: But when you split, baby stayed with you?

50-50 custody. 

FM: And her mother?

Stayed with her and the child.

FM: Because otherwise she may not have been able to manage 50-50 custody? 

In my opinion, yes. 

FM:  So number eight?  

[#8] Back to Middletown.  Rented a basement apartment off a good friend of mine and his wife.  Just wanted to go back down there.  I was commuting back here for work still.  It was a more exciting, vibrant place where I could let go of troubles and what not, just a breath of fresh air.  I’d pretty much lost my shirt in the split up with my fiancé through my stupidity so went from owning homes and everything to back to a basement apartment.  There’s also a much better dating scene in Middletown – back on the market. 

FM: When you had custody, did babe come to you in Middletown?

Yes.  We would meet in Littletown, kinda half-way between.

FM: Was the arrangement fairly amicable, or fraught?

The custody part was amicable.  Everything else I took a beating on.  I was more worried about getting the time with my child than I was with monetary gain.  It’s only money so I actually signed over my half of the house, willingly, I just wanted out. 

I lived with my buddy and his wife for a couple of years, probably.  Meantime I’d started dating a girl that I’d dated while I was in college.  This sounds ridiculous but we dated for 12 weeks and had an impromptu city hall marriage at which time because I’d lost my shirt in my prior split, we moved in with my parents.  [#9]  So that was myself, my wife, my daughter and step-daughter moved into mom and dad’s. 

FM: Two questions:  How old was the step-daughter and were there any other kids still with your mom and dad?

My step-daughter was 5 months younger than my daughter.  Which actually worked really well because for all intents and purposes they’ve always been sisters.  They don’t view each other as anything other than sisters.  And there were 2 foster kids with mom and dad at that time. 

FM: And what age/stage were they?

They were 13 and 17 I think.  And then my older sister on weekends.  Good thing it’s a 6-bedroom house!

We stayed there for 5 months or so, in which time I got up the money to put down first and last on our own home.

FM: Renting?

Yes.  [#10]  So we moved next door to mom and dad’s – it made for a short move.  We lived at that address for about 6 months, rented, and in the mean time mom and dad were looking at purchasing another home.  At which point, when they purchased another home, we paid the mortgage and lived in the first house, their house. 

FM: But this time, just you, your wife and 2 kids. 

[#11] Yup.  So we were living there in mom and dad’s ‘spare’ house, we lived there for 4 years during which time my son was born, 3 years younger than the next youngest.  So we continued on living there for 2 years after he was born.  My wife was working part-time.  I was still working for dad, ever since we moved home.  Then [I] finally managed to get everything back in perspective to put myself in place to buy another home. [#12] We’ve been there for 6 months and we were blessed with another baby boy 2 months after moving in.  Now we’re up to 4 children, 2 boys, 2 girls, a dog, 2 cats, and a partridge in a pear tree… 

FM:  When you lived in your folks’ house, you said you paid the mortgage.

Yup.

FM: So paying your own freight? 

Yeah, we paid all the bills. 

FM:  Okay.  I know the question.  School debt.  Do you have debt from your 1 ½ years in college? 

I paid it off while I was working in Middletown.  I don’t like owing money.

FM: So you don’t have a big debt load?

The only thing I owe money on is the house.  Both of the new vehicles are paid. 

FM: And does your wife work – when she’s not got a new baby? 

She was, she’s on maternity now.  She was on stress leave because her mother was really sick and her mother passed in January.  So she was on stress leave, rolled into maternity leave.  We’re unsure when she comes off maternity leave.  She’s thinking about maybe going back to school. 

FM: Will you say a bit about what kind of employment or career she has had / wants, etc.

She has her degree in BST – Behavioral Science Therapy – from [a college in a small town].  Her mother was also in the mental health field.  When her mother passed, she kind of like the candle that was burning for the mental health field was kinda extinguished.  She worked in a restaurant and in an office until she went on stress leave.  She’s thinking about taking a business program if she goes back to school. 

FM: Just to clarify.  Do you mean that she has a bad feeling about her field because of what it did to her mom?

Partially, also from all the… when her mom passed, a lot of her mother’s clients came to the services and everybody was so passionate and thankful for all the things that her mother had done, had gone above and beyond to take care of them that my wife felt that she might not be able to live up to that standard.  And she’s one of those people that thinks that if she can’t give 110%, she doesn’t do it.  It’s all or nothing with my wife. 

FM: Plus I was thinking that child care costs for 4 kids means she’d need a pretty good job to pay for it.

Yeah, with school now for the oldest, child care would be $60-80/day for the boys.  Our son goes to day care 2 days a week just to help him socialize with other children and to give her time to catch up with other things with the baby.  I’m a little lax with the housework myself. 

FM:  So both the girls are in school.  Just, still, before/after school [care] for them … unless your job would have that flexibility.

My job has a fair bit of flexibility. I basically have free range as long as I put in my 44 hours I’m paid for.  I’m on salary, so as long as I put in the 44 or close to it, it doesn’t really much matter when I put them in.

FM: Do you see yourself taking over your dad’s business?  Is that your future? 

I would say yes, not because it’s my dream job but for the simple fact that it provides a good stable living.  My family growing up were never lacking for anything, we were on vacation once or twice a year.  My dad always encouraged me to take my friends on fishing trips, or Jay’s games or Wonderland and he’d always foot the bill for everything.  So just knowing that that comfortable yet not substantial income possibility is available to me is too good to turn down. 

FM: Do you think the social life of Cottage County will be sufficient now that you’re a family man? 

I believe Cottage County is a wonderful place to raise children.  I do however feel that once children are beyond the age of 13 or 14 we need to find constructive ways for the teenage youth of the community to enjoy and …  use the natural elements the county has to offer.  I left at 18 basically.  I was gone pretty much as soon as I finished my high school year, that was it, I was gone, moved down even before school started.  For me, I always found that once you were over that 12 or 13 age you had to make your own fun which I think causes boredom and frustration for you which contributes to the relatively high rate of vandalism and break and enter per capita.

FM: Do you think that the same conditions lead to higher rates of drinking, partying, ‘wild’ behaviour than same-age kids in urban settings?

Yes.  As a man who can remember the first time I got drunk in public school, at school, absolutely!  It’s kind of a learned behavior.  You know that demographic from 20-30, the demographic that all the kids from 13-18 look up to, what is there for them here?  They get drunk and go 4-wheeling, get drunk and go snowmobiling, get drunk and go fishing or hunting.  Are you noticing a trend?

FM:  And what about the women?

I would think that compared to what I saw first hand living in more urban centres, there would be a lot more lonely women in relationships for the simple reason that the rural setting naturally is more conducive to a male life style.   Now on the flip side, there are more women taking up hunting, fishing, 4-wheeling, all those kind of rough-neck activities, I’d guess you’d say.

FM: Or learning to enjoy what the area has to offer? On equal terms? 

[A pause.]

To some degree, yes. 

FM: Lemme ask whether your wife was raised rural or urban.

My wife was raised in an urban centre with a dash of rural flavor.  She was raised in a city, a fairly large city.  Her parents split at a young age. Her dad bought a place in the country so she kinda saw both sides of the coin.  She doesn’t so much embrace the country life style, however she enjoys the quiet and the natural aspect, hiking and what not.

FM:  would you say she feels comfortable or fits in with the rural social life?  Has she found women friends that she feels are like her enough that they can be buddies?  

It has been difficult for her.  She has made some friends, yes.  It has been a difficult change for her.  She often voices her opinion of wishing Riverville had more to offer from an industry standpoint.  I myself feel the same way.  Also, as a businessman, there are a lot of up-grades and improvements that could be made to the industry sector here.  I’m hoping that Canadian Tire makes inroads into bringing bigger industry.

FM:  I was going to ask if you saw yourself as being in a position to do something about that, over the longer run?  

Um, I believe if the council for Riverville and surrounding small rural areas was more open-minded and had more clarity and a willingness to diversify our communities as more than retirement or cottage driven industry, we would find that both the residents and the townships would prosper and grow.  We’re supposed to be a tourist driven township / economy, yet when even the tourists have to leave town for many items that they want or need, it’s kinda counterproductive. 

FM:  one of the qualifications for being a participant in this research is being, we say, ‘insecurely housed’.  Which you have been in the past, and you’re early in the job of buying your present house.  But do you think that you are, going forward, in danger of losing the roof over your head? 

Myself, no.  I look at a lot of people around me in my same age demographic and unfortunately in this town, everything comes down, including credit, to the simple not what you know it’s who you know adage, and I see a lot of people who make less than I do owning larger, fancier homes, driving new vehicles all the time and living well beyond their means, and I do not worry, but often wonder how far down the road they’re looking.  If you are living pay check to pay check simply to keep up with the Joneses it leads me to question your ethics and for all purposes, your intelligence. 

FM:  What do you think…- some times I think that in a small town where everyone has a pretty good idea what other people make, or I think they do, that this idea of keeping up with the Joneses makes no real sense.  Everybody knows – or has an opinion – of whether you can afford the fancy new truck or snow machine or whatever.  What’s that about?

I guess the best way for me to answer that is that it doesn’t seem to be a question of whether you can afford it, it seems to be a question of you either have it or you don’t. And what I mean by that is, I have friends myself who are stretched pretty close to thin who will then take on another payment just to upgrade something because a friend, brother or cousin just purchased something new.  I’m guessing it’s more a status thing in a small town – everyone has a pretty good idea what you make but if you don’t have that fancy new house, truck, whatever, it may affect the social status and/or demographic you can fit into.

FM:  is it a more grown-up expression of the wild behaviour during teen years, d’ya think? 

It very well could be.  To me, I just seen that because we’re in a small town and there are so many ways to make extra money, y’know in ways that are not available in a city or urban centre, i.e. splitting wood, fire wood, construction jobs on the side -  and lots of the business people up here are willing to do side projects and pay people under the table -  it seems a lot of people’s idea about credit and spending is I’ll buy it now and figure out how to pay for it later.  Everybody has the idea well I can figure out how to scrape up an extra $300/month. 

FM:  Very interesting.  Um, do you think the fact that you work for your dad, even though you’re salaried, makes a difference? 

I think in all honesty more of it comes down to leaving the community and seeing on a larger scale how finances in most settings come into play.  And by that I mean, living to your means or as my father would say, not having champagne taste on a beer budget.  Just seems to me so many people live well beyond their means. 

FM:  What influence do you think their money management skills play?  Like, you paid off – first probably limited your school debt by not living in res, and then you paid it off within a very short time, which suggests some pretty good money management skills. 

Discipline?

FM:  Yes, that as well.  For sure.  But do you think that ‘most people’ have good ‘financial literacy’, they’re calling it.  Knowing money in money out, value for dollar, value for work, that sort of thing. 

There’s so many ways I could answer this question.  I’m going to first come clean and say that I too can be impulsive and have been known to spend beyond my means at times in my life.  So I’m not perfect.  However, I believe that because in school there’s not a lot of emphasis put on the financial workings of a family unit and/or your day-to-day spending or budgeting, a lot of people graduate from school, especially in a rural area, knowing how to calculate the area of the third side of a triangle but not knowing how to translate the interest rates or payment terms on a home or vehicle.  I feel sometimes as though the financial aspect of growing up should play a larger role in our education system as we turn out all these people with all this knowledge and nothing that’s applicable to daily life.  As well as salesmen, whether it be real estate, car dealer, whatever, they go to school to learn their craft, how to sell things, how to make things look good on paper, maybe better than they should to the untrained eye.  I find listening to people talk, so many people, they buy a new vehicle or buy a new house and they finance it over a huge term because all they see is they want to get that payment lower and that’s all they’re looking at, it’s only $180/month, perhaps without having the knowledge to sit down and realize that $30,000 car by financing it at 6% over 15 years, they’re paying $50,000.  But it seems they have that mentality in this town that he who has the most toys when he dies, wins.  I myself would rather drive a 2-year old truck that I bought off lease and paid cash for or financed over a short term and made a heavier payment up front, and in 2 or 3 years it’s paid for and I’m free and clear, rather than stretching it out to the point where the truck or car is falling apart and you owe too much to get anything back on trade.  I sometimes wonder what people are thinking.

FM: Just one more question in their vein:  Where did you learn good financial thinking?

Some of it was instilled by my father and grandfather.  My dad always told me if you don’t have the money in your pocket and you can’t save up to get it on credit, then you didn’t want it that bad anyways.  It was just kind of a work hard and get what you want through hard work and dedication rather than relying on somebody else’s money and a hope and a prayer later on.  And following up on that with business courses, marketing and accounting and that stuff, when I was in college. 

FM:  Okay, I think it’s time to move on…  My question here is: Thinking about the story you’ve told me, what would you say is The Most Important Event in that story.  Could be something that happened, or something that didn’t happen…

For me, I would have to say that the highlight of my epic saga to date would have to be marrying my wife.  As much as sometimes we get frustrated with one another, I can’t imagine spending my life, can’t imagine being happier spending my life with anyone else.

FM:  Even though it was a very impulsive beginning?

Yeah, absolutely.  But I was kinda always brought up where if something’s right, you’ll know it’s right and if you want things in life you have to reach out and take them. With no risk comes no reward.  So yes, definitely impulsive and maybe a little crazy.  If I could change anything about that situation it would maybe be to go back and give my wife the wedding she deserved, maybe. 

FM:  Well, there could be time, still?

We’re actually talking about doing a vow renewal. 

FM:  The people who will read this story will want to know how it turns out – although of course they can’t.  But to help them get closure: What would you say is the future for you.  How well or not well do you think it will turn out? 

It’s kind of a tough question.  I really am not one of those people to set very stringent goals or guidelines for myself or my family.  Basically as long as my family, my kids, my wife, are healthy, happy, clothed, fed, sheltered, as far as I’m concerned, my life has been a success.  Life to me isn’t happiness.  Life isn’t about money or social standing.  It’s what you make it.  What your family and what they do for you and what you do for them.  Being there for your friends and your family.  And enjoying all the great little things that pop up along the way.  and banding together and bailing the boat when things are going down. 

FM:  So I’m hearing family values – the real kind, not the phrase that gets bandied about politically – is really the core of what’s important to you, and you’re fairly far along the way to being where you want to be.  Fair?

Yup.  I can’t really argue that.  There’s times I wish I had more money in the bank or a fancier house.  However, there’s also times I wish I didn’t have to work as many hours as I do so I could spend more time with my family.  So I find the happy medium, close my eyes and push forward. 

FM:  Last bit.  Two questions about advice.  I believe that people are the best experts on their own lives, so I want ask what advice you would give to your younger self, if your younger self would take that advice or not, that might have you in a better place now?

I guess the main thing would be when you need help or advice, no matter how hard, embarrassing or whatever it may be, to seek that help.  Or support.  To push it back or work around it only makes it harder down the line.

FM:  I didn’t follow up on your comment way back about anxiety attacks and such, and I guess this is what you’re referring to now.  Could you say – whatever about that that might help us understand how that time could have been easier, better for you.

[A pause.]

I guess what I’m trying to say is that tragedy enters all of our lives at one point or another.  It’s how we deal with those traumatic incidences that makes us who we are.  I spent 4 years of my life self-medicating and running away from issues in my past.  It took the realization of my first child to snap me back to reality.  And another 8 years after that to finally seek the help I needed.  So I’m going back to my comment above and saying when you need help and when you’re ready to receive that help, don’t be afraid or ashamed, just deal with it. 

FM:  The second part of the advice question you’ve pretty much addressed, which is: What could we who try to help, what advice would you give to us that would have allowed us to be more helpful to the younger you? 

I guess the only information I could pass along would be if you see someone who might be hurting, find a way to connect with them and offer help but don’t badger them.  If they know you care, and want to help, they’ll seek you out when ready. 

FM:  Okay.  Very good.  That’s it.