Insurance and Ice Cream Cones

Insurance is best understood over an ice cream cone.

My Dad taught me that when I was 17. And like all life lessons that last, there was no grand diatribe of advice. No lessons. No lectures. You learn best not from what a person says, but from what they do. You learn from who they are.

The night I learned about insurance began, as was often the case with my Dad, with an ice cream cone. A proper beginning.

On the Green Bay Road. An old Indian walking trail connecting the Fort at Chicago with the deeper green and wild forests of Wisconsin. The echoes of native American and French traders footsteps perhaps not all that distant in a grander sense of time. During our time, a charging yellow Chicago and Northwestern locomotive pumping power down the tracks to the side of the Green Bay Road. In what was then just an average middle class town named for the Frenchman Wilmette—long before it grew to become closer to a gated community of the super rich—my Dad and I pushed out of the balmy summer night and into the ice cream excitement freeze of Hammonds. Silver gleaming soda fountain magic, mirrors and red topped silver stools that spun circles around the chilled marble counter. The tubs of wonder ice cream set out proudly.

We liked chocolate chip. And chocolate mint. Two scoops please.

I look back and wonder: Would we have the satanic trajectory of greed dressed in $2,000 suits, sporting $400 haircuts and commanding $1,000 per hour lobbyist fees all guarding the gold of the insurance status quo if everybody’s Dad took them out for ice cream cones?

I worked in an insurance driven industry for almost 10 years. I know what an actuary does. I even know why it’s important. I even LIKE people who work for insurance companies. Individual people are not the issue. It’s the system of self-perpetuating greed. A SYSTEM who never had a Dad take them out for ice cream cones.

Or take them next door to the used car lot.

That my Dad was even thinking about buying me a car was so far beyond my comprehension of the way life worked that I really didn’t know what to think, what to say and was iffy on whether or not I knew how to breathe.

I had never asked for a car. I had lusted over girls a lot more than any car. I hadn’t really thought about it all that much. I knew we weren’t rich people because I read books and watched TV. I knew we weren’t poor people because we always had enough. And my Mom did work with poor people. So I knew we weren’t poor.

But my parents were moving to the east coast. A job change for my Dad. And I was being allowed to stay. To live with my aunt in Evanston. To far to walk to where I was being allowed to finish my last year in high school. So my Dad thought a car made sense.

That’s what I mean about learning from someone who knows. My Dad always did things that made sense. So that’s what I tried to do too.

So ambling around the used car lot eating our ice cream cones, the cold keeping me out of the stunned shock of the purpose of this walk—-to buy me a car.

I don’t remember a salesman. When I was seventeen, my Dad had a quiet presence, not all that different than the one he has today, that was open and friendly to all. But it also included an underlying layer of an indefinable something that said, “Never, ever, ever, mess with this guy.” Once, when I was even younger, I remember a guy sliding his car in out of turn to steal a parking place from my Dad. The guy then got out of his car, and started to walk away. My Dad rolled down his window, looked straight at the guy and roared like a clap of thunder HEY!

The guy took one look at my Dad. Said nothing. Just walked back to his car, unlocked it. Got in, drove off and left us the parking place.

So I’m guessing the used car salesman kept his distance that night we walked on to his lot enjoying our ice cream cones. And when My Dad found a sturdy, reasonably priced old VW beetle, asked me if I thought this would work—to which I probably just mutely nodded yes—we went into the shack at the back of the lot to sign the papers.

And that’s when we found out that the insurance would cost more than the car.

“The insurance,” my Dad raised his eyebrow at the trembling salesman and very calmly said, “the insurance cost that much more than the car? I have this right?”

To which the salesman nodded.

My Dad then thanked him for his time. And he said, “Well, that doesn’t make sense. So we’ll pass.”

To which the salesman, being smart enough to not even try to overcome that objection, said, “I understand. Thanks for stopping by.”

So we walked home. The loss of the car not even scratching the surface of my teenage angst. I didn’t know then that you can’t loose something you never had. And if I had ever heard that sentence, I probably wouldn’t have known what it meant.

What I did know was how much fun it was just to go for a walk with my Dad. How in our family, we did things that made sense. That never went away.

Now all these years later insurance comes up again.

As a defining issue of our time.

On TV the slickly dressed lobbyist says, “We want to insure everyone.” And his smiling opponent speaking up for sanity says, “No, you make money by NOT insuring people!”

My wife screams at the TV, “That’s why we have 6 riders on our policy making sure you won’t insure the two of us for those 6 medical conditions. That’s WHY we have to pay more to take our prescriptions to an independent drug store so the decisions on the drugs stay between our doctors and us and the data on the prescriptions doesn’t zoom right into the insurance data bases. That’s why we have to work so hard to protect ourselves from you insurance company!!

If only we could take those insurance companies out for a walk and let them have an ice cream cone.

Not a leveraged buyout of the ice cream industry. An ice cream cone.

And then just stand there in quiet, consistent and loving strength like my Dad did all those years ago.

And simply go and do what makes sense.

9 Responses to “Insurance and Ice Cream Cones”

  1. Carol S. Says:


  2. Melissa Houle Says:

    I’m beginning to think everyone in Congress needs an ice cream cone.

    The reliable pleasure of a summer night in childhood. Some members of congress may have had the level headed parental guidance your father gave you. Some probably wish they did.

    I don’t know if an ice cream cone could straigthen out Joe Lieberman, but I figure it couldn’t possibly hurt to try.

  3. Dale Says:

    If only.
    When I was a kid, I had this not fully formed idea that insurance was a shell game. Now, of course, it’s a shell game with no prize underneath the shell. We’re just forced to place bets. (Well, we’re not forced to. We can roll the dice and drop out–a different game of chance.)

    This is, as always, very well done, Roger: grounded in a simple lesson, but using that to reach a larger truth; a crystalline memory that sparkles as an example.

    And vivid images: “Silver gleaming soda fountain magic, mirrors and red topped silver stools that spun circles around the chilled marble counter. The tubs of wonder ice cream set out proudly.” And you and your dad walking around the lot–I can see it. Good work.

  4. Cathy G Feroe Says:


    Wanna go out for ice cream?


  5. Ted Schneider Says:


    Sounds like your father is a wise man, he reminds me a little of my father who unfortunatly has been gone a long time. I like the idea of approaching issues over an ice cream cone and I really wish everyone (especially our elected officials) would simply go and do what makes sense.

  6. Anne Says:

    Greed has damaged too many aspects of our lives for too long. Common sense is thrown out the window by an alarming number of the powers that be, along with any concern for the common good.

    Sounds like you had a wise dad. An ice cream cone summit – now there’s an idea!

  7. Gwen Says:

    A beautiful post. Well-written. It simply rings true. Thanks for writing the truth.

  8. Lisa Says:

    Yes. Definitely. We all need more ice cream and wise loving fathers.

  9. 2010 in review « Says:

    […] Insurance and Ice Cream Cones March 20108 comments 5 […]

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