On two occasions in my life I borrowed money from my father. In neither case did I seek out the loan. Rather, in each the money was forthrightly offered.
In 1986 I was two years out of college, working as an agricultural news reporter in central Wisconsin. I was driving my parents’ Oldsmobile, understood to be a temporary vehicular arrangement until I could purchase a car of my own. I’d been pricing and comparing new and used compact cars for several months.
Having found what I thought was a good deal, I consulted my Dad to get his opinion. I told him about the Pontiac Sunbird, new on the lot, that I’d test driven the day before. He asked the price and how I planned to pay for it. I replied with the dealership’s bottom line and explained that I was trying to decide how much to put forth as a down payment and how much to finance. Then he asked how much of a down payment I could make without cleaning out my savings and what the interest rate would be. I told him my top dollar and the interest rate the car dealer had quoted. With no hesitation he said he’d loan me the rest of the money without any interest. It was an offer I didn’t refuse, and he handed me a check. I paid him back in a year.
Six years later in Iowa, with a baby and a car seat, it became clear to me that my sporty two-door Sunbird was no longer practical. So my husband and I began looking for a family car. We found a used Buick Century Station Wagon with low mileage, four doors, and a trailer hitch. It seemed like a good deal to us, but again I consulted my Dad, just to be sure we weren’t getting ripped off. And again, he asked how we planned to pay for it. I replied with the Sunbird trade and down payment we had in mind and the interest rate we were considering. Then he said he could do better and offered to loan us the money at a much lower rate. My Daddy didn’t raise a fool, so I accepted his offer. This time he mailed the check to me, along with a message he’d written on a yellow Post It Note and attached to the check. His note read, “Good luck with your new toy. Dad.” I cashed the check, and my husband and I paid the car dealership. And over six years, we repaid my Dad in full, with interest.
I was surprised each time that my Dad offered a loan. And each time I appreciated the money. But I believe over time I have appreciated that handwritten message from my Dad even more. My Dad was not a letter-writing kind of guy. That Post It Note is the only letter I have from him. I have kept it for 24 years now. The money was a loan. But the letter from my Dad truly was, and still is, a gift.