The world isn’t all sunshine and palm trees | Letters to my sons

by The Darwinian Doctor

Today’s post is about the privilege of growing up in SoCal with resources, and my advice to my boys as they enter the world.

The world isn’t all sunshine and palm trees | Letters to my sons

My kids love the beach.  We live pretty close to Santa Monica, so most weekends, that’s where you’ll find my family.  After snacks, we send the kids to dig a hole in the sand, while the Dr-ess and I sip coffee and enjoy some downtime.  As we bask in the sun, we joke to each other that our kids will grow up soft and won’t be able to live anywhere except SoCal.  

Boys playing in the sand

Aside from intolerance to cold weather, I often wonder if my kids will lack resilience in life because they’re growing up with a lot of privilege.  Since they’re mixed race, I don’t know how much racial privilege they have. But financial privilege? They’re likely going to have plenty.

Although I never went hungry growing up, the financial scarcity of my childhood left marks on my psyche.  Even now, it pushes me to build an unassailable financial position to ensure a high quality of life for my family. 

But for my sons, will a childhood of financial abundance create a rude awakening when they leave the nest?  How do I make sure they both appreciate their privilege and have empathy for those who grew up without similar resources?

I think it’s time for another letter to my sons.  This is a series of posts where I write to my sons from the perspective of my future, financially independent self (about a decade in the future).

Read the last Letter To My Sons:  Why I’m home for breakfast these days

Dear sons,

It’s hard to believe that you’re both teenagers now!  This part of your lives is really tough; I’m not gonna lie.  High school kids can be mean, judgemental, and insecure.  But you’ll get through it, I have no doubt.  It’s just four years, then off to college.

Today I want to talk to you about the world you’ll be entering when you leave high school.  I’m not sure where you’ll end up for college, but if it’s out of SoCal, I’ve got news for you: 

The world isn’t all sunshine and palm trees.

I mean this both literally and figuratively. 

The blessed climate of southern California is pretty unusual for our country.  Summer in many parts of the country feels like a soggy steam bath, even at night.  The winters of the midwest and northeast are also insanely cold.  

You know how people in Los Angeles walk around in puffy coats and ski caps when it gets down to 50 degrees?  That’s the same gear they wear in Boston when it’s -2 degrees.  

Aside from the weather, there’s a lot of variability out there in the financial position of the people you’ll meet both in college and in life. 

Do you know you’ve grown up with financial privilege?

How do I say this in a way that resonates with you?  

When I was your age in high school, my family struggled with money.  Just a few years before high school, we lost our house because we couldn’t make our mortgage payments.  Sunglasses were a luxury that were too expensive.  There was even a time when we couldn’t afford to buy a meatball sub as a treat. 

It sounds pretty dire, right?

Yet even in the worst of times, I was better off than so many kids in this country.  I always had a roof over my head, loving parents, and access to education.  

It’s been a different childhood for you two.

Even in the first years of your lives, when I was just making a resident’s salary, your mom was also supporting us with her job.  Together, our income was much more than enough to meet our needs.  

Your mom’s parents also helped us buy our first house a few years before Theo was born.  To own a house in Los Angeles so early in life was a huge luxury.  And then when I finally graduated from residency training, all of a sudden we were making more money than 99% of the country.

Our income afforded us a quality of life that was beyond my wildest dreams as a kid. 

This income, combined with our real estate and other investments, allowed our family to become financially independent. Through careful planning, saving, investing, and high incomes, we hit FIRE decades earlier than most of our peers. 

A lot in life is luck.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that our lifestyle was deserved or guaranteed by virtue of some intrinsic worth.  There are plenty of smart, hard working people who struggle their whole lives without gaining financial stability.  There are plenty of awful people who have much more than us, too.  

We’ve made good choices, sure.  But we’ve also had help and been incredibly fortunate.  

So what’s my advice?  

First of all, don’t be scared by cold weather. You can get used to anything.

More importantly, have empathy for those who don’t have the financial blessings you’ve had your entire life.  Don’t ascribe personal worth or relevance just based on someone’s clothing, car, or where they spend their summer vacation. 

Be open minded.  Be kind.  Be compassionate.  

And never believe that the sunshine and palm trees will be everlasting.  

If your income is coming just from one job or business, (or your parents,) you’re not secure, no matter how great your lifestyle seems.   Work hard to create multiple streams of income to guard against the inevitable financial storms of life.

That’s it for now, boys. I’ll let you get back to your lives now.

But always remember: Keep hustling, keep dreaming, and make your own mark on this world.  

— TDD (The Darwinian Dad)

How will you speak to your kids about privilege? Please comment below, share, and subscribe!

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Chris Iwuchukwu
Chris Iwuchukwu
3 years ago

The idea to write letters to you sons is a powerful tool. I have been telling myself that I would like to do this for my kids as well but just haven’t gotten around to it. Ive learned so much from you in such a short period. Thanks


[…] Can too much luxury be a good thing? The Darwinian Doctor, a surgeon in SoCal, seems to think so, and he wants his sons to understand that. The world isn’t all sunshine and palm trees | Letters to my sons. […]

Loonie Doctor
3 years ago

My wife and I have had exactly the same concerns with our kids. Neither of us grew up with the financial wealth that our family enjoys, but we were still fortunate and happy. We have discussed the issues you mention in your letter. Now our kids are early teens and we are FI. We decided to use that to make work flexible, sell our huge house/property in a very affluent area, and move further north to a normal house in a community that has average wealth but an abundance of natural beauty. We felt lived experience would be more powerful than words and the only thing that would give them true perspective. It hasn’t all been easy, but facing some challenges as a family and coming out the other side is also good for resilience building.

Loonie Doctor
3 years ago

That is a great question. My wife and I went to public schools in small communities and it was great. We wanted that for our kids and were concerned our kids would not get a balanced perspective of the world in private school.

After a few years in public school, we switched them to a small country private school. The underlying issue was that we were in an affluent area with lots of private schools. These siphoned off a lot of the really academically inclined students.

When we moved from there to a more normal smaller city, we put them back into public school. There is only one private school in the area which is a boarding school for the ultra-rich. Not really direct competition with the public schools. So, there is a good mix of students in the public school. There are enough engaged and well-educated parents to add to the vibrant public system here without the competition from the private system.

My wife and stressed about the education issue. However, having seen both the public and private systems, I think that a student can do well in either if they have strong engagement from home. That can be made up for a bit more easily in the private system, but a public school can do it too if it is not diluted.

Dividend Power
3 years ago

Life is full of ups and downs but mostly ups one hopes.

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