“Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.” -Mark Twain
I walked around the house again. This would be the last time.
There was the siding that needed to be repaired near the back door. I remember when our dog was a puppy and decided, for some reason, to chew on it.
There was my favorite Maple tree near the bedroom window. The new buds were forming on the branches. This would be another great year for that magnificent tree.
I looked at the back fence again. My wife and I painstakingly built it a few summers ago. I remember the neighbor coming to tell me I misplaced the fence posts too far out toward the alley. I had to dig a bunch of new fence post holes to get it right.
I heard the crunch of the pea gravel beneath my feet as I moved around to the side yard. I put that pea gravel there. Truck load after truck load. Now I was going to leave it behind.
I got back to the front of the house.
“At least it’s better than we found it,” I thought to myself.
I placed the foam covers on the hose bibs. Winter was on its way out, but sometimes late cold snaps occur and I didn’t want the pipes to freeze.
With a last look, and after a final double check, I left.
The house had been auctioned off just a few weeks before this day. We had been in there for over a year without paying the mortgage.
When my wife and I arrived at the decision to let the house foreclose in the fall of 2011, I could feel that there was some hidden truth lurking in the decision. Some notion that was tickling the edges of my consciousness.
It wasn’t clear.
I could tell it wasn’t some superficial thing about ruining my credit. Nor was it the sacrifice of my ego every time I had to explain our decision to others. Rather, it was something a little more fundamental.
I put it out of my mind.
Logic was squarely on our side in this decision. That facts are these.
We found a house at the height of the U.S. housing market bubble in the fall of 2007. We found a variable mortgage that, in retrospect, was clearly no good. We signed the papers.
We agreed to a bad deal that didn’t expire until 2037.
Fast forward from 2007 to 2012 and our situation had completely changed.
The “variable” part of the variable rate mortgage was set to kick in on January 1, 2012. Our payment that was already just a bit uncomfortably high was going to increase by hundreds of dollars per month.
Our family had expanded. Since we originally signed the papers two beautiful children joined us on this journey – and took up the remaining bedrooms. We got a dog.
The only thing in this equation that stayed the same was our mortgage. Literally, the amount of money we owed on the house was almost the same as it was in 2007. After years of payments the balance remained almost untouched.
Bad deals have consequences.
Some of these consequences are obvious – like owing the same amount of money after years of payments – but others glide just beneath the surface, hidden. These are the ones that not fully understood or realized until after an action is taken.
As I look back on it now, I think the hidden truth had to do with keeping my promise.
But it’s not what you think.
Almost anytime you sign documents for loans there is some mention of a “promise to repay.” It’s an interesting word choice because the word promise is so personal, yet the transaction is anything but.
Setting that nuance aside, even my most logical self often falls for the romanticized version of “real men” making promises they keep no matter what.
The movie scene of this being some cowboy shaking hands with the affable but ruthless banker and then eating the consequences of that bad deal for as long as it takes. The cowboy toiling to keep his promise.
I always thought of myself as that cowboy. I’m not.
At least not anymore.
In reality, I didn’t feel bad at all about breaking this promise. I didn’t brood, I didn’t fight it. Once the analysis of our situation revealed a better solution, I broke that promise without second thought.
The truth that I learned through this ordeal was that I would break any personal promise that ran contrary to my family’s greater good.
Unlike the cowboy, I would not ask my family to bear the consequences of my bad decision if there was any other way out. Especially if that way out meant that only I would be taking the punches.
Up until this point the idea of putting my family first was just that – an idea.
“My family comes first.”
You have probably heard this phrase a number of times. It’s overused.
I have heard a number of men throw this phrase around over the years. It can justify anything from working late to taking nice vacations.
But I’ve only witnessed a few men prove it through real hardship. I’ve only witnessed a few take a big time hit to keep their family first.
I had to prove it. In my case this meant ruining my credit, drowning my ego, and letting go of a house we loved, a house we had poured blood, sweat, and tears into.
These are the hidden consequences. And hidden consequences never fully reveal their full power until after an action is taken.
For me, the hidden consequence revealed a hidden truth.
It’s been almost a year since we vacated that house. I have driven by it a number of times just to check on it.
I’m not sure why I care so much about the house itself. We were paid by the bank not to ruin it before we left. This made no sense to me because I couldn’t imagine destroying something we put so much effort into.
I will always remember the feel of the hardwood floors under my feet, the smell of the tiny hallway bathroom in the morning, and the sound of the french doors closing.
Yes, I put a lot of work into that house. But, in return, that house taught me a lot. It taught me about real life consequences. And, it taught me that family really does come first.
Question: When have you been forced to give up a long-held idea of yourself? What caused it?
Photo by Kelly B.