It’s a fair question.  Why does this “finance guy” feel so strongly about financial empowerment for women?

The short answer:  My mother. My 5 daughters.  My almost 20 years of working with women clients.

I’ve dedicated my professional life to helping women take control of their financial lives and, in doing so, helped them approach their life goals with confidence and anticipation. Unfortunately, far too many women don’t know such a life is possible and that they are deserving of such a life.

That’s the short story.  For the full story, of enlightenHer, continue reading.

May it change the way women view money and its place in our world.

 

Why This Story Starts With My Momma

My first “why” and the topic of this blog centers on the first woman I’ve ever met – my momma.

 

 

My mother and father met in South Korea during the Vietnam War. My father, born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, was drafted into the Army and sent to South Korea where he served as a Staff Sergeant and Military Policeman.

It is there that my future parents met, fell in love, and were married. My older brother was born there and shortly thereafter they set forth for America and a new life together.

I’d like you to pause for a moment and put yourself in the shoes of my momma.

You’re 22 years old. Have just married an American GI and you have a young son. You’re about to leave your family behind and move halfway across the world to a place you’ve never set eyes on before.

You arrive and the only person you know is your husband and young son. You barely speak the language. You can’t read. You can’t write. You don’t drive. You don’t work.

Three more kids follow – a son (that’s me), a daughter, and another son.

This is your new life and it’s supposed to be a partnership for life.

My Father

US Army, Vietnam Vet.

Staff Sergeant.

Military Policeman.

Steelworker.

Doesn’t take much more than that to paint a picture of the type of man my father was. A stern, tough, imposing man with strict rules and little patience for painting outside the lines. He was also a generous man when he could be, had a good heart, and was full of good intentions.

But, like many of his time, he fell victim to alcoholism and there were many dark days for our family, particularly my mother. The occasional fight between my mom and dad grew in frequency until it became a way of life. One long shouting match broken up with moments of quiet.

To be fair, this isn’t me saying my father was bad and my mother was good. As we all know, relationships, especially marriage, can be hard. Sure, sometimes there are truly evil people, people who are black and white “bad”. But most relationships aren’t black and white, they’re far more nuanced.

That is the case with my parents. Unfortunately, my father’s alcoholism, and the corresponding verbal abuse that ensued from it, made it an unhealthy relationship for my mother to continue to be in.

And this is where the real damage was done, and “why” I am drawn to help women become financially savvy/empowered/strong.

My mom wanted to leave far earlier than she did. She remained in an abusive relationship for far longer than she should have. For far longer than was healthy for her. And it wasn’t by choice.

She couldn’t leave because she didn’t have any money and no way to earn a living. It was fifteen years later and she still couldn’t read. Still couldn’t write. Still couldn’t drive.

I’ve never been able to get a straight answer as to whether or not this was imposed upon her by my father or not but I have my suspicions. People do crazy things when they’re in love. Crazier still when you’re used to being in charge and in control (remember: Sergeant, Military Policeman).

The simple truth is for a long time my mom had no way out.

How do you leave your husband when you have no money, no job, no family, and few friends?

Oh, and you have four young children you have to care for. How do you get out?

Memories That Shaped Me

I don’t exactly remember when or how it happened, but I remember my dad saying “your mom is going to be staying at a friend’s house for a little while” and not really knowing what that meant. Turns out “a little while” was more like two years.

It’s strange because I don’t ever remember seeing her during those two years but I have to think I did. Isn’t that a strange thing? To not be able to remember if you saw your mother at all when you were 9 and 10 years old? In fact, I’m not even sure if that’s how old I was.

Truth is, there is only one thing I remember clearly from that time in my life. I remember it the same way every time and it’s emotional every time I allow myself to go there.

The funny thing about memories is they can feel more like dreams than something that actually happened. 

You ever get that feeling? Well, that’s how this memory feels for me. I don’t experience it as if it’s happening to me, but as if I am a spectator witnessing it from afar.

I see myself in my parents’ bedroom. I’m hiding behind soft, thin, almost see-through yellow curtains as I peek out of the big picture window and look on at the scene playing out before me. There in the driveway is everyone. Everyone but me.

My dad is there. My older and younger brothers are there too as is my younger sister. They are there to say goodbye to momma. This is the day where my mom leaves for real. Things have progressed from “just staying at a friends for a little while”, to she’s leaving and never coming back.

To my young mind, she’s not just leaving. She’s leaving “us” and I just can’t bear to be a part of it. So, there I hide. All by myself, gripping the faded yellow curtains and full of resentment towards my momma for leaving us.

I’ll carry that resentment with me and refuse to speak to her for the next three years.

A Long Road to Enlightenment

When I look back at that time in my life, I do so without regret or judgment. Generally speaking, I’m not one to question the past and certainly not one to judge it. Examine to learn from it, absolutely. But to judge it, well, that’s a road to nowhere.

Over the years I started to understand who my mother was and what she went through.

The learnings come in different forms:

  • I realized how intelligent my mother is. Not being able to read or write made it difficult to understand how smart she was. Plus, she left when I was pretty young – 9 years old – so I was incapable of seeing how smart she was in other ways. It wasn’t until much later in life – college and beyond that I started to truly appreciate how smart she truly is. Imagine being a really intelligent person but never having the ability to truly express that to others?
  • I realized how caring my mother is. One of the more surprising pieces of my story is my dad being the one who raised us. The father as the single parent. As difficult as it was, my mother knew my father was in the best position to raise us given her challenges with the language and employment. In those days, the mother almost always won custody of the children. The selfish thing to do would be to take custody of the kids and figure it out later. The harder path meant giving us up. The resentful, eleven year old kid hiding behind curtains had no idea of a mother’s pain at having to make such a decision.
  • I realized my mother was held hostage by not having financial/economic mobility. If my mother had her own money or the ability to earn a living of her own, she would have had a very different life. Perhaps, a life where she didn’t have to choose between living for herself without her children or living for children without living for herself.

I don’t ever want a woman to have to go through what my mom went through.

I can’t address interpersonal relationships, alcoholism, verbal abuse, or the like but I can address financial abuse. I can address using money as a weapon. I can address using money to control the actions and behaviors of others.

There’s no reason women should be subjected to the lack of economic/financial mobility my mom faced and the hardships and life choices that accompany it.

 

 

 

I have a saying I frequently bandy about – if you’re in a position to help, you should help. This is me doing something about it.

I’m in a unique position to help due to the shortcomings of my chosen profession – financial services. Quite frankly, there aren’t enough financial advisors out there who are willing to meet women where they are and build their businesses in ways that support women.

Aside from all that, I know I can help and I know firsthand the negative impact it can have on the lives of women and their children.

  • My first “why” is all about the consequences of getting it wrong
  • My second “why” is all about the promise of getting it right
  • My third “why” focuses on my five daughters and my passion to raise strong, independent, formidable women

You cannot be a strong, independent, formidable woman if you’re out of control/power financially.

So, knowing what I know today and what I’ve personally experienced as the child of a woman who was financially handicapped by another, I don’t take offense at the sneers or whispers or outright hostility I sometimes get from women who don’t know my story. I know my “why” and I am comfortable in my skin as a man operating in a woman’s world. And, no, the irony isn’t lost on me.

Continue reading the next chapter of this journey….. Raising Strong, Independent, Formidable Women 

 

 

5 replies
  1. joel phillips
    joel phillips says:

    I had a feeling that was it. I knew the stories I put it together a long time ago. I’m the way I am we didn’t have much money I had a brother that was born breech birth, he was mentally disabled till he died about 25 yrs ago. my mother had 2 nervous breakdowns that’s why I try to help as many people that I can try to teach them to count on nobody but yourself give a man a fish feed him for a day teach a man to fish feed him forever, knowledge is power I feel the same way about woman and people to and I’m very big on respect for each other I really had the feeling what you said Joel. and we have a lot of PRIDE something society does not seem to have much of these days if there is anything you need for enlighten her let me know..

    Reply
  2. Virg
    Virg says:

    Powerful, powerful. Ed, your article is surely relatable to many women, with their own twists to the circumstances. It gave me reason to reflect on my own upbringing, losing my Dad to a heart attack when I was 16, and watching my Mom raise my brother, me and 3 younger sisters alone, without any help. I am looking forward to more of your insights through enlightenHer.

    Reply
  3. Laura
    Laura says:

    Ed, thanks for sharing your story. Your vulnerability, honesty, and authenticity are apparent throughout the narrative. Your “why” and motivations are inspiring. Thank you for choosing to use your time and talents to help women, especially those in difficult situations.

    Reply
    • Ed Vargo
      Ed Vargo says:

      Thank you for the kind words, Laura. It’s been quite the journey and the journey for my girls is just beginning. Should have a few more interesting stories when it’s all said and done! 🙂

      Reply

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