In the fall of my freshman year, my father came home from work with the widest grin I had ever seen. He posed one of those life-altering questions that most would ponder for days instead of minutes. “Do you want to use some of that money you’ve been saving”? he blurted out. This was followed by, “If so, let’s get going.” Stunned, I quickly followed him out the driveway and two blocks down the street. I had been trying to save every dollar I earned through odd jobs because it seemed natural that saving was the right thing to do. Nevertheless, my questions tripped over each other as I tried to get a sense of where this journey was taking me; however I was ready for the adventure! The future had now become the present, and I recognized the demands of adulthood had crept up on me in a rush.
Ten minutes later, I stood before a run-down ranch house. The windows were cracked, the doors were rotted, and the property was overgrown with rambling vines. Nonetheless, it had a kind of down-on-its-luck fascination for me. The prospect of owning property drew me like the proverbial moth to a flame. I learned no one had lived there for over fifteen years, but it could have been fifty for all I knew. I recall thinking my dad was crazy, yet he convinced me to buy it. I put up my life’s savings and when everything was done, I paid for a whopping seven percent of the property.
The first thing my investment reaped was a long Friday ripping out bushes and creating new flower beds. Halfway through the day, four police cars arrived and questioned my buddies and I about why we weren’t in school and what we were doing trespassing on this vacant property. Filled with innocent hubris, I boldly explained, “This is my house,” to which I was unceremoniously scoffed at. “Didn’t I look the role of a suburban squire,” I murmured to myself? Four hours and a few phone calls later, I left the local constabulary and returned to my landscaping. I never felt so mortified, yet so proud to have joined the ranks of American homeowners and adulthood.
Three years and seemingly a lifetime of growing up have since ensued. I have spent months ripping out walls, removing nails and replacing windows. After being shoulder deep in bathroom plumbing, I will never take an operating toilet for granted. Sometimes, I would be alone there during the late hours of the evening, fighting off hunger while having that night’s homework hanging over my head. Because my dad works seven days a week, oftentimes fifteen hours a day, I recognize that time can be a valuable asset.
In retrospect, I’ve learned much about myself. For me, buying my “brick castle” and becoming a landlord was less about the investment and more about discovering who I was and how I fit into the world. It’s been a deeply individual quest for finding my identity. I have found the keys are learning patience, keeping focus, and consciously accepting responsibility for independent decisions. I’m reminded of a quote from Einstein, “Try not to become a man of success, rather become a man of value.” When I entered the door to my first house, I thought I was a man who had achieved the ultimate prize. Now more than ever, I understand it was my entryway into adulthood and being a man of value.