Mind Over Miller: A lesson from my father


Mind Over Miller: A lesson from my father

This column originally appeared in the June 1974 issue of Veterinary Medicine.
Jun 01, 2005

Dr. Miller's father in 1915 at the age of 16 (top). In 1943, Dr. Miller had the picture below taken of himself at the same age; he framed the photos as a Father's Day gift.
My father watched me present a credit card to the service station attendant. The Christmas visit to my parents' home in Arizona was over, and I was filling my camper with fuel for the drive back to California. This was in 1972 B.C. (Before Crisis).

"You use credit cards, huh?" Dad observed.

"Yes, I have for the last few years. I find them convenient, and I don't have to carry a lot of cash with me."

Dad was silent a moment before he answered. "I don't believe in them! I believe in paying for everything in cash."

"Yes," I answered, "I know that. You brought me up that way—to never buy anything unless you could afford to pay cash for it. That's why I resisted credit cards for so long. They seemed immoral. And that's why I'm so compulsive about paying my bills. I just wish everybody was."

"Well," Dad mused, "times have changed. I never bought anything on credit. If I couldn't pay for it, I got by without it."

"I know," I said. "I guess except for your automobiles you never bought a thing on credit in your life."

Dad looked at me disdainfully. "Automobiles! I never bought a car on credit! I paid cash for every car I ever owned. Remember our first car, the 1927 Chrysler? It cost $120!"

I remembered the old car. I was just a kid then. We called the car Asthma. Dad spent most of his Sundays under that car. And he paid cash for it and for the succession of jalopies that followed. Not until after World War II did he own a new car, and unknown to me, he had paid cash for it.

"You mean that you've never bought anything on credit?" I asked, amazed. "The house is the only thing you've ever made payments on?"

Dad looked at me again thoughtfully. "I paid cash for our house, son," he said. "I never bought anything on credit. That's why you were brought up in rented homes. I didn't buy a house until I'd saved enough to pay for it outright."

I was stunned. Here I was middle-aged, and I never knew this. "I've never heard of such a thing." I said. "I can't believe it."

"Listen," Dad said. "I've never paid anyone a cent of interest. Do you realize how much money the average person pays out in interest? I never made much money, and if I'd bought things on credit, I'd be living on social security today. How do you think I'm able to travel and live comfortably in my retirement? I worked all my life, and I saved every cent I could. I bought only what I really needed and paid cash for what I did buy. I didn't have an education and a profession with a sure income like you."

I looked at this man, in his 70s, my father, really seeing him for the first time. Memories from my childhood came flooding back to me. I remembered a penny stick of chewing gum torn in half to be shared with my sister. I remembered how he worked all during the depression and never took a cent of welfare. He said, "There's always a job for the man who is willing to work hard enough—and cheap enough!"