Winning the lottery

My dad was trained as an accountant. So, why didn’t he just do the math?

According to the Department of Agriculture, it costs those American families categorized by Uncle Sam as “middle income” a whopping $234,900 to rear a child from birth to age 18. Families with household incomes of less than $59,000 supposedly spend $169,080 per kiddo; wealthier families (those earning more than $102,870 per annum) will fork out $389,670 per heir.

Wow. Mom and Dad had six kids. That’s almost $1.5 million.

Apparently the price tag has been greatly inflated since my parents’ day. Which naturally conjures up the next question: how have my wife and I financed our three?

It gets worse. These sticker shock numbers don’t even include the cost of pre-natal care, the birth itself or, on the back-end, putting the youngsters through college. And remember, college costs have increased ten-fold from when I went to school. Add another $50,000 to $80,000 to child-rearing if college costs are included . . . and the student chooses a less expensive university.

Of course, birthing in bulk creates some economy of scale. “Families with three or more children,” the Los Angeles Times reports. “spend 22 percent less on each child than parents with two or fewer.”

Be thankful, of course, that these are government statistics, which must be ingested with a healthy skepticism or, better yet, can be tossed out altogether. (By the way, since children are reared and not raised, why on earth is the Department of Agriculture compiling such information?) Buried in the studies, I’m sure, are considerations of public expense per child and private expense. Since my wife and I home-schooled our daughters, most of their cost, in dollars and cents, was borne entirely by their parents, not by taxpaying others. As it should be. (Call me old-fashioned. Or even a radical. I can stand it.)

What I’m most thankful about, however, is that my dad was more Dad than Accountant. He and my mom, like my wife and me, didn’t use a calculator in deciding to have a family. (Let hormones be hormones.)

It is amazing how affordable children are once they’re here. And how unfathomable life would then be without them.

Usually this column is all about politics, but celebrating Father’s Day, recognizing my own father, I consider how different fatherhood is from politician-hoods. Sure, there’s George Washington, dubbed the “father of our country,” but he seems the exception that proves the rule.

Today, politicians tell us what we want to hear, even if it’s a lie — just to ingratiate themselves and reap the benefits. My dad always told me what I needed to hear — the truth — whether it made him more popular or not, so to benefit me. That is, he worked for my interest, not, always directly, for “his.”

Politicians argue to do as they say, not as they do. Dads teach by example.

Politicians claim if they don’t grab the pork, someone else will. Fathers teach to do what is right and take only what is yours.

Politicians will mortgage our future to win their next election. Dads will go to work next week to secure our future.

I realize I’m lucky, that not all fathers provide for their children what mine provided me. But I’m certainly not alone.

I also realize that the most important thing my father provided was my mother. If anything had happened to him, Mom was so strong of character that his children would have been provided for very well. I’ve striven to be as good a man as my father, though I do not claim to have achieved it, but through smarts or dumb luck or my debonair charm, I think I’ve managed to provide such a mother to my children.

As for my own fatherhood, as often as I’ve questioned whether we can afford the plans and schemes of politicians, I’ve never questioned whether I can afford to be a father. Whatever the costs, the benefits are priceless.

Sure, it appears one has to win the lottery to afford kids these days. But that only adds to the fantastical mystery of life, because with the birth of each of my kids, it sure felt like I had picked the winning numbers.

June 17, 2012

This column first appeared at Townhall.com.