They're Selling My Bank

By Brian Caulfield

I have been caught unwittingly in the headlights of history. The bank where I happen to have my checking account is in the headlines, looking for a buyer.

I say “happen to” because I have no particular allegiance or loyalty to my bank. It was the closest branch to where I work and the ATM was 2 blocks away. In fact, I actually started out doing business with another bank in the same building, but that one got sold to my present bank. Now my present bank is being sold to another one.

This is the only time in my life I am relieved not to have more than $100,000 in the bank, at least for the sake of convenience. The FDIC will cover me if my bank can't find a buyer, which is unlikely.

There’s a larger message here for fatherhood, of course.

When I was about 9 or 10, my father brought me to THE BANK. It was a high-vaulted cathedral of a place, with the silence to match. There was serious business going on. My father was opening an account in my name, so I could learn about thrift, savings and interest. Money was something to be treated with respect. I remember looking at the cashiers behind the iron grilles and the bankers on the “platform” and having the overwhelming sense of security and permanence. No easy credit here.

Last week, my wife and I opened a savings account for our 8-year-old son...We want to teach him about thrift, savings, and interest.

Soon after, I asked my dad, who was a boy in the Depression, how it happened that so many people lost so much money “overnight.”

He said what he had learned from his own father: so many people (even the paper boy on the corner, he noted) were buying stocks on “margin,” not having the money but betting that the market would keep going up so they could pay their earlier debt with later earnings. “They were buying things with money they really didn't have,” my father said ominously, with a look that told me I must never do the same.

My dad’s explanation is very close to how economists are now describing the housing bubble that has fueled our present meltdown: People took mortgages they really couldn’t afford, hoping to pay off with profits of a later sale.

Last week, my wife and I opened a savings account for our 8-year-old son at the bank that is now for sale. We want to teach him about thrift, savings and interest. I pray that by the time he is old enough to hold the account in his own name, his peers will have learned the same things -- and not buy more than they can afford.

How about we dads make a promise to teach our children well?

Brian Caulfield is editor of Fathers for Good.