It’s been more than four years since I lost my second set of parents.
And I finally feel ready to share the details behind why that happened and how it’s gone on to affect the rest of my life.
I’ve discussed many elements of my personal life over the years. That’s because I’ve never wanted to be strictly a personal finance blogger, stock analyst, or anything of the sort.
I first started blogging because I wanted to document a regular guy’s journey to financial independence and early retirement via frugality and investing in high-quality dividend growth stocks.
I couldn’t find anyone writing about some of the things I wanted to read about, which is why I kind of took up that mantle myself back in early 2011.
But the journey to, and through, FIRE is about a lot more than money. In fact, money is actually a rather small piece of the puzzle. And the longer you go, the smaller it becomes.
Money is important. No doubt about it. We all need to put a roof over our head and food in our stomach. But once you get the basics under control, more money becomes largely superfluous.
Simply put, navigating life requires way more than just navigating money. And the plot we all chart should end up being equally challenging and rewarding.
I’ve perhaps faced more challenges than rewards over the course of my life thus far, but I’m looking forward to evening the equation out moving forward. Indeed, I feel like that ship has been righting itself of late, which has been honestly a bit jarring. I’m just so used to facing extremely difficult challenges, that life on “easy mode” seems weird.
I’m Not Completely Emotionless
Getting back to some of those difficult challenges, the most difficult of them all occurred during late 2014. And it led to the permanent separation between me and my adoptive parents – my biological aunt and her husband. Although I didn’t suffer the most (nor will I claim I did) throughout what led to this, the realization of who these people really were hurt me more than I can ever convey.
I sometimes come across as machine-like in real life. I’m not a very emotional person in general. I prize logic, pragmatism, stoicism, and rationality. My thought processes are very tactical, at all times. Whenever I’m faced with a decision, I approach it in the most rational and advantageous way I can. If there were a fictional character that I’m most like, it’s Spock from Star Trek.
My personality has been a boon as a long-term investor. Emotions get investors (and all people) in trouble. I don’t really have that problem, for better or worse. And so stock market fluctuations truthfully just don’t bother me. I usually see short-term volatility as a long-term opportunity. Nothing more. Nothing less.
However, I do have emotions. I’m not a robot.
And I guess that’s why it’s taken me quite a while to digest the information related to my adoptive parents, which came as the biggest shock of my life. I see myself as a pretty good judge of character, but I was totally blindsided by what I found out in the fall of 2014.
Reconnecting With My Family
To retrace some history, I quit my job at a luxury car dealership in Sarasota, Florida in May 2014.
I put in my two-week’s notice, but I ended up leaving a few days earlier than planned. My employment there was immediately severed by yours truly mid-morning the day after my 32nd birthday because one of my fellow co-workers saw fit to steal some of my remaining repair orders. As he put it, I was “rich and didn’t need the money.” Adios, jobby job!
My original goal all along, as it pertains to FIRE, was to become financially independent and retire by the time I was 40 years old. I conceived the original path to FIRE just before turning 28 years old. So it was designed as a ~12-year journey, which I thought I could successfully execute.
But I became impatient.
I didn’t like my job at all. And I felt like, in some ways, my job was maybe holding me back a little bit from giving more to my online ventures and seeing what I was capable of. I also wanted to start enjoying my life more in the present moment.
The whole point of FIRE, to me, is to live life on my terms. It was my dream to do what I want, when I want, where I want, why I want, with whom I want. I saw the ownership of time as far more worthy than the ownership of any luxury good (or even more money itself). I didn’t want to wait until 40 for this. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. Life is meant to be lived.
Furthermore, this impatience was coinciding with some guilt I was feeling about how I moved far away from my family in order to pursue some of my dreams, which was further coinciding with growing differences between my significant other (at the time) and I.
So there were multiple life changes coalescing.
I moved from Florida to Michigan in May 2014 to start a new chapter in my life, spend more time with my family, and aggressively allocate resources toward creating the life I always wanted.
It was great. At first. That first month or so back in Michigan was total bliss.
My family and I were retelling old stories, marveling at where we currently were, teasing each other, having lots of laughs, and sharing some of our goals moving forward.
But the dream quickly turned into a nightmare.
Resentment And Losing My Sisters
Some of my family started to resent me for my relative success, which was exacerbated when they found out that I wouldn’t be some kind of benefactor to them.
I had thought, before I moved back, that most of my family was keenly aware of where I was financially and what it took for me to get there. But our disconnect (partially because I lived so far away prior to coming back) became evident pretty quickly, for they started to look at me as some kind of lottery winner who had a responsibility to “share the wealth” with everyone else. A lot of people just don’t understand FIRE, what it takes to get there, or how to responsibly manage money. To them, I was a bank.
This was, to say the least, disappointing.
Ironically, I moved back to Michigan to spend more time with the very people who resented me for having the time to spend with them. They resented who I had become since I moved away. I wanted to spend time with them. They would rather me spend money.
Looking back on it, I can see how things went wrong. They saw all of this available time I had. And I suppose they felt like it was being boastfully shoved in their face while they toiled away at their jobs. I can see how that made them feel somehow disrespected. Their response to it, though, was what really made me sad. Instead of taking me up on my offer to educate them, they preferred that I just hand over money. I disagreed with that idea.
As a result, I made the difficult but necessary choice to eliminate my two youngest sisters (the ones who pressed me on the financials) from my life.
Losing My First Set Of Parents
That was a tough call. And it was made all the tougher by the fact that I didn’t have much family left.
My father left when I was eight years old.
Growing up as the only white boy in a Detroit ghetto is tough. Lacking any kind of male role model and/or protector makes things even more difficult.
Then my drug-addled mother slid off the deep end. She was already in a bad state, which surely had something to do with my father leaving in the first place.
But she became much worse after my dad suddenly ducked out on us one day.
Her addictions started to take over her whole life. She’d disappear for weeks at a time on drug-fueled benders. I’d wake up sometimes to see her sprawled out on the living room floor, totally bombed out of her mind. This after I hadn’t seen her for a few weeks. It became clear that she couldn’t take care of herself, let alone three children.
My aunt – her sister – stepped in and pressured her to give us children up so that we could have a better life. The state was starting to investigate my mother, and all of this led to my mom begrudgingly (she wanted to keep us because of the welfare money) giving up control of her four kids (me and my three younger sisters) to my aunt and uncle.
Gaining Family And A Superhero
So they became our legal guardians, brought us into their home (which was located about an hour west of Detroit), and started to raise us as their own.
I always – always – saw them as more than my legal guardians. I saw them as my guardian angels. For me, I was convinced that they saved my life. It’s hard to say if we would have survived Detroit otherwise. I was 11 when they adopted me. And things were becoming very tough in our stretch of town.
I wrote my dad off as soon as he left.
And my mom was really nothing more to me than a person who gave birth to me. I had no feelings toward her. I wished her no ill will. At the same time, though, I had no love for her.
Maybe that’s why it’s been relatively easy for me to write about the elements of my life that were shaped by her, including her decision to kill herself around the time of my 21st birthday.
I’ve since slightly softened my stance regarding my mother. Time tends to heal wounds. But she was in all honesty a terrible person who had no business having children. And being the type of person I am, I don’t let emotion or nostalgia cloud that.
What happened as a young child, however, is that all of the love I could have ever had for my mom, I poured into my aunt. I looked at her as my mother.
Actually, it was more than that. I poured all of the love that I ever could have had for two parents into her. And then some, because I saw her as this angel that came in and rescued me from death.
She was my superhero. A real-life Wonder Woman.
I remember being tasked to write about a hero in middle school. I wrote about my aunt.
For further perspective on what this person meant to me, I actually have a very large tattoo on my back. It’s not something I’ve mentioned before (I’m not proud of it now), but I had it installed there, around 22 years old, in honor of my aunt. That’s how strongly I admired her.
Even while I lived in Florida, I would talk to her often. Maybe every 2-3 days. We would call each other and talk for hours. Like old pals. She was more than a mom or an aunt to me. She was like a best friend.
Undoubtedly, it was my strong relationship with her that partly prompted me to move back to Michigan in 2014. Now, I ultimately captained that ship. I made that decision. But I felt a sense of guilt about being so far away from someone who, in my mind, saved my life.
Losing my two younger sisters to resentment was one thing. It was tough, but I faced it down and made the most rational decision I could have made at the time.
However, I wasn’t prepared to also lose my adoptive parents. Yet that’s exactly what happened shortly after this.
Losing My Second Set Of Parents
So I wrote about the resentment I faced. It’s nothing terribly shocking. I’m certainly not the first one to run into something like that when they become successful relative to other people in their lives.
But the other aspect of what happened in my move back to Michigan was extremely surprising and disturbing.
Just before I left Michigan for Florida, which was something I felt I had to do after seeing the nightmare of living up there unfold, things with my family started to become… weird.
My uncle (my aunt’s husband) suddenly stopped attending family events. If everyone would get together for dinner or something, he would mysteriously not be there. Simultaneously, unexplained friction swiftly started to develop between my aunt and my sisters.
I wasn’t sure of what was happening. Nobody was cluing me in. But I could tell that something was very wrong.
Before all of this drama started to pop up, however, I had already made the decision to move back to Florida. The whole episode of trying to come back to Michigan was obviously a failure. And I thought the best thing to do about it was to admit that I no longer had a place in that world, which would free me up to getting back to some of my personal dreams and goals.
Within days of returning back to Florida, I found out what was really going on.
My oldest sister called me and relayed a long-gestating secret that shocked, sickened, and disappointed me.
She accused my uncle of sexually abusing her for many years throughout her childhood. Making matters worse, she stated that our aunt knew about it and did nothing to stop it for the entire time. In fact, she went on to tell me that our aunt forced her to lie about it by threatening her with the idea that us four children would all be forced into separate homes if my sister told people about this.
World. Upside down.
What do I say?
I’m speechless when I hear something like this. I almost can’t believe it.
I don’t want to doubt what my sister is telling me, which is now clearing up the weirdness that was occurring during my last few weeks in Michigan. At the same time, I can’t suddenly just accept at the drop of a hat that my hero could be guilty of something so heinous.
But the longer my sister talked (which was quite a while), the more I started to realize that my aunt and uncle were committing unspeakable acts for years on end.
I apologized profusely for not doing anything for all of those years, but I never acted or stepped in because I never knew about it. I never witnessed anything. Nobody ever told me that something like this had been occurring.
My uncle was (and probably still is) a very heavy drinker. In my opinion, he’s a functional alcoholic. And he would sometimes act, well, inappropriately. But there’s a hell of a gap between being that uncle and a sexual predator. I mean, she’s basically saying he’s a pedophile and a rapist.
I did speak up about some of his inappropriateness years prior. And he agreed to drink less and seek professional help. But I was already grown up and out of the house when this happened, so there was little I could do or monitor. Moreover, like I said, I had never thought for even a second he was sexually abusing anyone.
My sister went on to say that the birth of my other sister’s daughter (my niece) prompted the three girls to get together and finally stand up for the safety of this newborn child.
My sister then advised me that all of this was swept under the rug for so long because she wanted to keep the family unit intact. She was desperate for some sort of “normal” family, even if it was based on a lie. My sister was convinced by our aunt that the family would be broken apart if the authorities became involved.
But the three girls decided that this could no longer stand in the wake of a newborn baby coming into the family. Her innocence was to be protected at all costs. They were afraid that my uncle might attempt to molest my niece when she was older, so they decided to nip that in the bud right away. It was easier to speak up now that everyone was older and there was no danger of us siblings being flung apart.
The sisters convened, contacted our aunt, and told her that they didn’t want any more contact with her husband… for the rest of their lives.
They also decided to have different sets of rules regarding contact with her.
My oldest sister took the hardest stance on it and decided to never talk to her again.
The other girls still wanted her in their lives. (In my opinion, from what I’ve been told, this is for economic purposes. My aunt feels guilty about what she allowed to happen, and so she helps the younger girls out, financially. Based on the resentment they felt toward me when I refused to pay more than my fair share, this makes sense to me.)
Being told all of this, over the phone, is beyond anything I can really put into words. My heart was breaking into tiny pieces by the second. Everything I knew about my family was being destroyed right in front of my eyes, yet all of it pales in comparison to the pain my oldest sister dealt with over the course of decades.
We all had a tough childhood. I’ve been open and honest about both the pros and cons of growing up the way I did. It sucks to grow up on welfare, without parents, in a crack house in Detroit. I’ve had many dark days in my life where the light was hard to see. But I didn’t have to deal with any kind of sexual abuse. Ever.
My sister forwarded me some emails between her and my aunt that further indicated guilt on the part of my adoptive parents. More shock set in.
Shortly after my sister and I ended our phone call, I composed myself and contacted my aunt about this.
She neither confirmed nor denied it in an unapologetic manner.
That was the last time I’ve ever had any contact with her. This was late 2014.
I don’t have any kind of comparison to this type of event coming to pass in one’s life. And I cannot accurately portray in words how I felt when this happened. It was utter disbelief. As if an alternate reality had suddenly set in.
When I told a very select group of people in my life about what happened (for they’d eventually wonder why my family was completely gone), they were as shocked as I was. They thought of my aunt as some kind of angel. It didn’t compute.
I had to accept the reality of the situation. And that’s what I did.
There was the myth of who my aunt was. And then there was the truth. I choose to deal with the truth, completely banish my aunt and uncle from my life, and rebuild my life moving forward (without the family I grew up with).
It’s incredibly unfortunate. But it’s life. There are terrible people out there. And sometimes we don’t know how terrible the people close to us really are. We don’t always know people as well as we think we do.
This realization has forced me to re-calibrate the way I judge character. And I trust much less than I used to, which has led to a smaller circle of people in my life. I now count on and trust a very small number of people. All of which I can count on one hand.
It’s sad that it’s come to this, but I’ve simply reacted to the reality I’ve been presented with and dealt with it in the most rational way possible. I could never choose to ignore this, or forgive it, just because I desire a family. I won’t base my reality on lies.
Why I’m Sharing This
I haven’t publicly talked or written about any of this before because I didn’t feel ready. Furthermore, I wasn’t sure if it was relevant to the rest of my writing.
But it is relevant.
FIRE is about becoming happier, freer, and better versions of ourselves.
Thus, FIRE is, at its core, really about life.
All of us chasing after FIRE are on individual journeys toward our eventual selves. Those roads will have bumps. And I think it’s important to be open and honest about those bumps so that we can improve and move forward if we want to realize our full potential and become everything we want to be. It’s imperative that we don’t ignore these bumps or pretend that they didn’t happen.
We face challenges, overcome them, and grow. This is how we improve and move forward.
I also share this to give further perspective on my decision to move abroad and retire early in Thailand, which has led to an unprecedented period of growth and happiness in my life. I’ve prospered over here in a way that I’ve never experienced before.
I’m living a dream. It’s been absolutely incredible.
But the decision to move abroad in the first place was surely impacted in some way by the overall negative experience I had growing up and living in the US, which can be traced back to everything that’s happened with my family. My life was almost completely one long struggle over there. I’ve thought about moving away from the US for a while. But it’s an idea that only gained traction the longer I went on in the States.
Maybe if I would have had a better family, a job I enjoyed, and a far more pleasant life in general, living in the US wouldn’t have been so bad. But I can only recognize and reflect on what’s actually happened. Hypothetical situations don’t have any actionable value for me.
Meanwhile, living in Thailand has been great. 2018, which was my first full calendar year of living abroad, has been far and away the best year of my entire life. Truly. I finally feel like so many dark days are behind me. I never ran away from anything, though. Honestly, there was nothing left to run from. Instead, I felt pulled toward this life in Thailand. Thailand has been calling to me for a long time now. It’s only recently that I started listening and acting on that.
That said, it’s notable that my ability to flourish abroad is impacted, and arguably even aided, by the fact that I don’t have a family to keep in touch with back in the States. I don’t have anybody to “miss”. There’s nothing pulling me back. I don’t have that sense of gravity that weighs on other people who move/live abroad. If anything, the US repels me.
Even with all that’s happened to me, however, I’m still incredibly glad and lucky that I was born and able to grow up in the United States. It’s an incredible country full of immense opportunity. I’d rather be me and go through all that I went through in 1980s Detroit than be born in, say, 1600s Mumbai. Or even 1980s Mumbai, for that matter. The US largely allowed me to build this amazing lifestyle for myself. I’m forever indebted to America.
I also wanted to share this to help others out there who are going through their own tough times. I want you to know that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. You simply have to keep moving forward in life. Don’t let anything keep you down or stop you.
I’ve carved out an unbelievable life for myself. But that was only possible because I overcame every challenge that came my way, and I continue to do so. It’s all made me stronger and more appreciative of what I have. Challenges can be a tremendous gift in that sense.
Lastly, I hope this gives some courage and strength to anyone out there who’s suffering from abuse. I feel terrible that my sister felt powerless to stop this. Don’t let anyone ever abuse you in any way, shape, or form.
It feels good to finally get this fully off my chest. Writing is therapeutic. Although I’ve since moved on from the tragedy that is my family, and although I’m not an emotional person, there’s surely a piece of all of this that still lurks inside of me. It’s like a scar. The wounds might heal. But it leaves its mark. I have to logically accept my humanity.
Being almost completely alone in this world, in the sense that I no longer have any kind of familial support system, would seem difficult and strange to outsiders. It’s definitely unfortunate. I will say that.
But it’s also freeing in a way. I’m free to go about my life without being tied down to any legacy relationships. Nobody to worry about or miss me. And I don’t have anyone to worry about or miss.
I have a real autonomy that most people lack. The reasoning for that autonomy is sad. No doubt about that.
But the eternal optimist in me looks at this autonomy as a unique opportunity. And I’ve done my best to take advantage of it.
Losing one set of parents at a young age was tough. But losing two sets of parents, before turning 33 years old, is beyond words. Especially when I “doubled down” on that second set.
However, I also acknowledge that many people in this world have faced and overcome much bigger challenges than me. This is pretty small potatoes, in the grand scheme of things. And it’s not like I’m the one who was sexually abused. I can’t tell you how sorry I was (and still am) for my oldest sister. That’s something I’ve communicated to her numerous times.
Furthermore, I’m otherwise happy and healthy. Extremely so, actually. I feel very fortunate and grateful for my position in life.
I know, deep down inside, you can’t have a rainbow without the rain.
Well, the skies have finally cleared for me after a years-long torrential downpour. And I’m enjoying one hell of a rainbow.
Have you ever lost parents? Ever dealt with something similar to this? Did this piece provide some perspective regarding my life abroad?
Thanks for reading.
Image courtesy of: Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
P.S. If you’re aiming for FIRE, check out some fantastic tools that I personally used on my way to becoming financially free at 33!