The Greatest Financial Gift

by | Oct 28, 2015 | 10 comments

My paternal grandfather Leo Hayes Garbarino didn’t follow the rules.  At least by the social norms of his time. Born in 1906, he voluntarily joined the Marine Corps at age thirty-five (best shape of his life, he said) and served in a war he wasn’t obligated to fight.  Upon returning from World War II, he married at age thirty-nine to his beautiful bride Ruth, who was twenty-eight at the time. They had four children with the last one (my uncle David) born when my grandfather was fifty-four. He definitely did things his own way.

One thing I came to find out about my grandfather was how incredibly private he was.  I didn’t know until years after his passing that he had survived the Spanish influenza as a young teenager.  He never talked much about his service in WWII. And while I knew he had met John F Kennedy and would run movies over to the Kennedy compound in Palm Beach (my grandfather managed movie theaters in South Florida), I never knew my grandfather had one of the highest security clearances to be alone with the President – the man who had his finger on the button that could end the world at the time.

My grandfather did not divulge a lot of personal information either.  He hated it when people would tell each other which candidate they voted for in an election – he felt like the right to private vote was something our country fought to protect.  He also never gave out personal information unless it was mandated by law.  This is why when my father applied to college, my grandfather refused to provide his financial information so that my dad could qualify for financial aid, which included student loans.

What my dad didn’t realize at the time was that his father was giving him a great gift.  Rather than providing my dad an “easy way” to pay for college, my grandfather’s private ways forced my dad to figure out alternative ways to attend college.  As a result, my dad applied to the Southern Scholarship Foundation (merit-based) and was awarded tuition and room at Florida State University.  He still had to figure out creative ways to earn for meals and others miscellaneous expenses in a college town crowded with other college kids.  Some of his crazier jobs included trying to work at a mortuary – that only lasted four hours!

My dad will tell you that his college years were some of the toughest years of his life.  It was not a free-wheeling, living in the land of luxury, good time’s kind of experience.  It was about learning how to manage or beat “the system”, a lot of hustle, and learning how to survive – much greater skills learned than most of his classroom work.  And by not having student loans available, my dad had to learn how to be scrappy and tenacious.

One could say that my grandfather was selfish to not provide the means for my dad to take out student loans and have an “easier” way to attend college.  But I’d like to say that my grandfather gave my dad the greatest gift by not letting student loans burden my dad for ten to twenty years like many of his classmates. And in the process, my dad gained some valuable life skills that survived long after the classroom learning was over.