Why Labor Day, 9/11 and Financial Intimacy Matter To Me

Sep 08, 2023

Dear Readers,


Today, I will write in a more personal tone than usual. September is a significant month for me, as it may be for you. Up to this point, I have yet to give much thought to Labor Day beyond the fact that it is a federal holiday and typically comes along with signaling the end of summer. 


This year is different as I continue to foster my authenticity and own the fullness of my story. I got curious about the history of Labor Day, which then got me thinking about my five years as a professional firefighter and all of the life that has unfolded since then. 


I imagine you will be able to relate to bits and pieces of my story and other parts, you will have to make an imaginative leap to consider my perspective. Remember, it is just that—my perspective. 

Labor Day

What is Labor Day all about? In this short blog post, I can’t give an entire history, but my understanding of Labor Day is that it is a day to honor the laborers who have helped build this country. Two people recognized early at the start of the holiday were a carpenter and one was a machist.


I recognize now from my place in life that there is a wide range of emotions and beliefs about the nature of labor in this country. I easily fall outside those recognized during Labor Day, but that is not how my life started. 


I am the son of a union electrician primarily focused on parking access control for garages. Yes, you know, the machine that lets you go into the parking lot downtown. My father was one of the people who would install and maintain those machines. He would come home from a day of work in his white work utility truck with greasy hands and often nicks and cuts with bandaids covering them. 


I love my father and was always excited to see him home as a little boy. Now that I am a father of young boys who come out to greet me, it always strikes me a bit odd that instead of coming home in a blue uniform with my name patch sewn on, I am wearing a polo shirt, and my hands are clean. 


I live in two psychological worlds, much like what Alfred Lubrano describes in his book Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots White-Collar Dreams. He describes going to job sites where his father would lay bricks on the outside of important buildings, and now, as an adult, he works inside those same buildings. Lubrano describes a discomfort with this outside/inside experience. I, too have felt this.  I, too, had the experience of going with my father from time to time to San Francisco to help him fix broken ticketing machines in large buildings. As a child, I often wondered what those people did inside those big fancy buildings. 


Labor Day has just passed at the time of writing this, and I recognize many of my points of connection to the labor movement and the unions often associated with them. As a professional firefighter, I watched guys organize and start an International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) chapter. I was simultaneously working as a firefighter and earning my undergraduate degree in business because I thought I might be a fire chief one day. In my early twenties, I had difficulty wrapping my head around the complexities of leadership and labor, the us vs. them that often appeared in conversations in the firehouse. 


As you read this part of my story, reflect on your journey and thoughts about people who are part of the labor movement, professional trades, and people who build and produce. What comes to mind for you? What have been your experiences, and how have they shaped your emotions, attitudes, and beliefs about making and using money? 


September 11th 2001 - 9/11

A day forever etched in the minds of Americans. I acknowledge that most reading this will have a personal and first-person experience of that day and the weeks and months that unfolded. 


What I write is my first-person perspective of the day. My experiences and perspectives will not necessarily be yours, but I share mine so you can reflect on your own. 


I was twenty years old in July 2001, and I had just begun being a professional firefighter in Sugar Land, TX, an affluent suburb of Houston, TX. It was a childhood dream fulfilled and one I felt so proud of accomplishing. Firefighters among blue-collar laborers have a special status in the minds of many. 


It was just two months later my world would be rocked by 9/11. I watched the events unfold from the perspective of a young firefighter. I watched as countless firefighters responded to the Twin Towers and lost their lives. 


As I write this, the memories come flooding back to me. The images, the sounds, the overwhelming emotions, and the tattoo months later emblazoned on one of the Lietenant's shoulder. A skull with a fireman helmet and the number 343. The number of firefighters that lost their lives in direct response to 9/11. 


Firefighting is a brotherhood. It is made of a deep psychological bond between fellow firefighters. There is a group identity unlike anything else I have experienced. Our lives are in each other's hands and those we serve. 


It is now twenty-two years later since 9/11. I can acknowledge and recognize the day and its significance. But there were many years when I could not and would not remember the day. There was too much trauma associated with it for me, baked into the constellation of all the other trauma I experienced as a professional firefighter over the next five years. 


There was no psychological support to process everything we saw, thought, and felt during that time. It all just got locked inside of me. It was not until I was well on my way in my healing journey that one year, 9/11 came around, and on the windows of my local coffee shop, an image had been drawn honoring the lives and experiences of those impacted by 9/11. I saw the image, and immediately, the dam broke. The years of held-back emotions came flooding forward. The unprocessed grief was uncontained. 


In time, it passed over like a hurricane. The calm on the other side was refreshing. Acknowledging my pain and loss related to the experience freed me to live more fully. This year, as we pass through another year past 9/11, I can remain more open and reflective about that time in history. Yes, of course, there is sadness for the countless losses experienced that day, and there is hope and breath again. I have learned this is a sign of working through one’s trauma. 


I ask you to reflect on your experiences of 9/11. Have you been able to grieve your losses related to that time in history? Or are you still holding back your breath and your sadness, anger, fear, etc? If so, I invite you to find a place of refuge and comfort with yourself or a safe other person to encounter your experiences of 9/11. 


As we process our own experiences of trauma, we open more to financial intimacy. 


Fostering Financial Intimacy 

I had no idea my life would turn out as it has. I thought that when I entered being a professional firefighter, I would be a lifetime firefighter and eventually rise to the rank of chief. Life hasn’t worked out that way for me, as I am now aware, is the case for many people. The plans we initially think we have for our lives change as we grow and change. 


There are many reasons why I am no longer a firefighter, and at times I miss the closeness of the brotherhood, the challenges of going into a dangerous situation to save someone, and, yes, the social status of being a firefighter. I loved being part of a local parade on the firetruck and showing kids all the cool tools we had. There was such a great source of pride for me that I miss. 


I have been married for 17 years as of September 16th, 2023. We have three boys, and life is full of new challenges and adventures. One of them is my work as a Therapy-Informed Financial Planner. This version of myself, I continue reconciling with the young man who wanted to be a firefighter.  I ultimately married a dentist and catapulted myself into the world of white-collar work, fully unprepared for the psychological needs and differences in this different work culture, alongside the experiences of being married to someone with a job that has high social status, as I gave up mine initial to pursue a new path in work. 


These days, I no longer run into burning down buildings but often get called to a relationship on fire. The couples I work with struggle to find a way forward together. Their financial life is adversely affected by their inability to connect. My fire hose and the water that flowed from it have changed for the flow of therapeutic presence in my client's life, which cools the flames of relationship distress.


There are two natures to fire—one that is destructive and the other that is constructive. The constructive energy of fire helps to heat and guide us. When I think of intimacy, I think of the warmth shared and created between people. Yet, for many couples, there is little constructive warmth shared between them regarding their financial life. 


Financial intimacy is the experience of being able to share all of yourself with another person. Specifically, it relates to your experiences of money, your financial identity (part of which is made up of the work that you do for money), the accounts you have and don’t have, and the hopes, dreams, and even fantasies you experience alongside the experiences of fear, anxiety, and places of shame that cloud a positive relationship with money. 


Fostering financial intimacy in your life and relationship is not a singular event but is made up of many experiences that create safety, care, transparency, and trust at ever deeper levels. Being known and accepted for who you have been, who you are, and who you are becoming on this incredible journey through life. 


My life started more deeply identifying with the labor movement than I could have realized, and colored so much of how I see myself and the world. Now, with many diverse life experiences, I see my life and work more expansively and differently. Yet I hold dear many of those experiences shaped by my father's labor and my work as a firefighter, which set me on this incredible path. I haven’t always felt this sense of gratitude for my background. It has been a journey of internal reconciliation to get to this point. 

If you have crossed social class boundaries in your life and work or experienced significant losses that are still impacting your relationship with money, I would like to help you foster greater financial intimacy in your life. Schedule a 30-minute consultation to learn how Therapy-Informed Financial Planning™ can help you and your family. 


Wishing You Financial Intimacy,

Ed Coambs


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