Dennis Chan: Counting on my daughters

Dennis Chan: Counting on my daughters

Stories on retirement planning feature regularly in my job as a financial journalist. At Money Desk, we often delve into financial planning for retirement based on a hard-headed approach.

But gaining financial independence is only half the story.

So what if you save slavishly, invest wisely and build a tidy nest egg? You could lose it all overnight, if recent stories of the elderly being swindled of their possessions are anything to go by.

In my youthful folly, I would be incredulous at the victims' naivety when I chanced upon their hard luck stories in newspapers.

Now that I am nearing 50 and my faculties are not as sharply honed as they once were, I realise I had been too presumptuous.

There is an unpleasant truism about growing old. Actually, there are more, but let's stick to just one: The older we get, the worse our cognitive and affective abilities become.

Mind you, there are people in their 80s or older who remain lucid to the very end. But it is generally accepted that cognitive skills, which deal with thought processes such as memory and processing speed, peak at about age 30.

History is littered with examples of famous geniuses, such as mathematician Blaise Pascal, physicist Isaac Newton and sculptor Michelangelo, who produced their best works before their 30s.

Neuroscience studies have shown that our cognitive abilities peak in our late 20s as our brain capacity shrinks and mental power declines.

I admit that my short-term memory isn't as good as before. The grey is starting to show and my myopia has morphed into long-sightedness as well.

But my mind? No, sir, it's still as sharp as a razor. Oh fine - an old razor, I concede.

But can I still say the same when I'm in my 70s or 80s?

While I am in no hurry to draw up a Lasting Power of Attorney - a legal document to appoint a guardian to look after my needs should I lose my mind - I hope that my two daughters can look out for my wife and me when they become adults.

Of course there is no guarantee they will.

Just as there are stories of strangers and acquaintances cheating old folks of their money, there are also tales of children turfing their parents out of the house after they sold their flat to help their kids financially.

But I reckon the odds of being cheated by your own children are significantly lower than being swindled by strangers, acquaintances or friends.

With an outsider, you can never tell what he is like. Mostly, what you get is a facade which will invariably illuminate his good side and hide his darker nature.

Such an artificial construct is almost impossible to maintain among family members who know one another intimately.

I believe if we inculcate the right values in our children, they will grow up to be honest, filial and responsible.

Naturally, I must set a good example as my daughters are watching and learning from me.

Of particular relevance is how I treat my own parents and in-laws.

It is natural to have disagreements with them from time to time. But as they are my elders, I try to be patient and disagree respectfully.

Lest this be seen as a millstone around their neck, I'm not suggesting that my daughters must subordinate their needs to care for my wife and me.

We plan to remain financially independent after retirement and continue to live in our own home after our daughters have their own families.

But I hope they remember this story.

A young man took his 85-year-old dad to the park one day. After they got home, the son complained to his mother about the exasperating conversation they had.

"We were seated on a bench and every time a robin swooped to the ground, dad would ask, 'What kind of bird is that?' In the half hour we were there, he must have asked the same thing a dozen times."

The mother, patting the young man on his arm, said: "When you were just a little boy, your father and I used to take you to the same park almost every weekend.

You would ask many questions and some questions many times. Not once did he find them annoying."

Today, I am the ship anchored safely in the harbour on which my daughters can seek shelter from any storm.

If I were to be cut adrift one day, I hope they will be there to guide me home.

This article was first published on Oct 12, 2014.
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