It was sleek. It was beautiful. And with all my soul I wanted it to be mine.

Unfortunately, there was the little matter of $800, which is what the brand new Fender Precision electric bass guitar was going to cost me. Actually, the bass itself was only about $300. The remaining $500 was for the thundering Fender Bassman amplifier that went with it. Sure, I could just hook up the new Precision to the wimpy little amp that I already had. But seriously, what’s the use of having a Fender electric bass if you can’t bring a little thunder with it?

So to me it was a package deal, and well worth emptying out my college savings account. Besides, I told my father, with all the money I’d be making with my band, I’d be able to replace the cash long before another tuition payment was due.

“But you’re not actually in a band,” Dad said.

“I know,” I said. “But with this great equipment, bands will be knocking down my door to sign me up.”

“Uh-huh,” Dad said with that maddeningly patient, condescending tone he usually reserved for toddlers and Democrats. “Well, you’re an adult now, and it’s your money. But if it were me, I might want to think about making the tuition payments first, and then using whatever is left over for the bassmaster.”

“Bassman,” I said tersely.

“Whatever,” Dad said. “You know, this wouldn’t be an issue if you hadn’t done so poorly your first year of college that they took away your scholarship.”

“I know,” I said, turning my face away from him so he couldn’t see me rolling my eyes. He hated it when I did that. But I hated it when he talked to me like I was a little boy. It made me just want to scream and hold my breath and stomp my feet and jump up and down. I especially hated it when I knew perfectly well that he was right.

For the next couple of days I plotted and schemed and connived every possible plan to pay my tuition and buy the musical equipment. I even asked my hero and greatest advocate, my big brother Bud, for a loan. But I think Dad anticipated that move and got to Bud first, because for the first and only time that I can remember, my brother turned me down.

Eventually I paid my tuition, promising myself that I would save up and buy the Precision bass and the Bassman amplifier as a Christmas present to myself. But tuition for winter semester was due around Christmas, and that left me a few bucks short of a Fender. So I adjusted my goal to buy the new equipment by the end of the school year, when I wouldn’t have another tuition payment due until the fall.

But something happened during winter semester: I fell in love. And love makes us do crazy things, like taking our savings and using it to buy engagement rings. In fact, my savings weren't enough for the wedding ring set my sweetheart, Anita, wanted. So I willingly — even happily and anxiously — sold the wimpy bass guitar and amplifier I already had to complete the investment.

And I didn’t think twice about it. Like Dad said, I wasn’t actually in a band.

I’ve been transported back to those days lately, as my youngest son, Jon, has wrestled with an uncannily similar decision in his own 21-year-old life. To be honest, it feels a little weird being on the other side of the discussion, and I’m surprised by how clear the view is from this perspective. But I’m not so old that I don’t remember how exasperatingly hard it can be to set aside what you want — what you really, really want — right now in favor of long-term goals and objectives, no matter how worthy and correct those goals and objectives may be.

Especially when right now is sleek and beautiful, and you want it with all your soul.

(To read more by Joseph B. Walker, please go to