Warning – Before you read this – grab a box of tissue.
Our relationship has been defined by hard work and beating the odds. In so many moments throughout my life, we’ve had every reason to quit and lay down our ambition and try something else. But, in every case, you’ve been by my side. You’ve worked with me to power through obstacles and disappointments that would rightly bring many to their knees.
At five years old, you fought for custody for me, made a family for us, created a home and made the effort to show me I would be OK, even though it wasn’t easy or convenient. Dad, you used your skills as an ex-fighter and former Golden Glove’s competitor to lift me up. You beat the odds and showed me you loved me, even though you grew up with a father who never said “I love you” and who beat you down to the ground with his fists and steel toe boots.
Mom, while you weren’t my biological mother, you took over as my mom in every sense of the word the moment I entered your home on Brunswick St. You brought me into your heart and created a special bond between all of us and made me feel as if I came from your very own womb. You cobbled together a family of, eventually, seven that shouldn’t have fit together but somehow did.
Dad, thank you for showing me how to compete and fight to be better, starting with athletics. You always kept me in karate, baseball, basketball, soccer, or football. Even though you drove in shifts for twelve hours at a time, you were there every night and told me to keep going, to always give 110 percent. You always said, it wasn’t about being the best but moving forward to become better than what you were. But I tell you now, you were a father who inspired me to be the best. You worked so Mom could keep us together; and despite making $6.50 an hour in a grueling career on the road, you showed me it was possible to never quit, to carry on. “Be better,” you always said.
Mom, you took Dad’s wages and pounded and sliced it until it was enough to feed five kids, a dog, a cat, and a parrot. You always made sure your kids had enough before you took some for yourself. You kept all of us going and put us first every single time. It would have been easy to become hardened, cold, and to stay permanently in survival mode, but you were my emotional, sensitive, caring, and nurturing rock. You were the woman who inspired my heart to give, to love, to connect with others.
Dad, as I made my way through high school, I understood that algebra and academics weren’t your strengths. It took humility to say, you didn’t understand all of those numbers and letters and that you couldn’t help. You watched me struggle to understand the material and study nightly until the early morning hours to keep up my grades that would get me into college. You encouraged and taught me as I lettered in football and achieved “All League” center. “Be better,” you always said, “be the first to go to college”. So I hit the books for hours every day.
You were there for me as I put all my chips down and used the only forty dollars we had to pay for an application to UC Berkeley. I remember telling you I used my only $40 out of $41 dollars to apply to one college. I told you, it was all or nothing and in all honesty, that was to try and reassure myself that it would be OK when I didn’t get in. I remember your look of fear as you knew it was impossible for someone to get into just one college with one application, especially UC Berkeley! I knew it too but it was the position we were in – we had no extra money. It was nearly an impossible shot, and both of you knew it. But then one day in March, Mom, I remember you standing on the porch trying to hide a thick packet from UC Berkeley. We both knew it was an acceptance letter. A never had seen before scenario… a Football playing, Academic Club joining, 3.9 carrying GPA kid with an SAT score of 990 applying to get into one college and one only because we only had enough to pay for one application.
I understood the heartbreak you felt when you had to tell me you couldn’t pay for college at UC Berkeley and asked me to decline the offer to attend so I could go to a local community college and save up more to get in later. I understand the pain you experienced having to tell your son that you wanted a better life for him but couldn’t pay the high price tag. It was a conversation motivated by fear and a desire to protect your son from disappointment, but I felt betrayed. “I thought you said to be better!” is what I said, as I cried in disbelief. But though your faith wavered, you had taught me well. I remember that conversation at the dinner table with just the three of us like it was yesterday. I will never forget it. I slammed my hand down onto the kitchen table with tears and snot rolling down my face. You had taught me to never give up. You had taught me that despite all odds I could win. I feel that one moment in time defined my entire life’s mindset. I said, “I will pay every last cent of the tuition.” And I did.
All of your lessons of hard work and determination had imbued in me a grit and resolve to pay for UC Berkeley with scholarships and grants. 200+ applications later, I had the money for my first year. It wasn’t something you understood at the time, but while I didn’t give up on my dream, you didn’t give up on me.
Mom, I used your frugality and stretched every grant, scholarship, and loan dollar I earned and didn’t waste my time or money at college. I got a job in sales and started to rise in the ranks. Dad, I worked hard like you and turned my jobs into bigger opportunities. I spent my career getting better and never settling into a position for long. “Be better,” you always said. And I climbed the corporate ladder and worked harder than anyone else.
Yet here I sit, now building for the first time ever a new company all of which happened through one story I wrote about your grandson. All of those same fears have welled up within me which inspired me to call to mind the most valuable lessons you both ever taught me – “Give it 110% percent, never quit, be better and you can do it.”
At both the most difficult and most successful points in my life, you were both there as motivators and influencers—and here we are again with the launch of M3Jr Growth Strategies. You weren’t perfect parents, and I certainly wasn’t the perfect son; but your love, support, and, sometimes, your fears showed me that even the dreams I was told were unachievable were, in fact, possible.
I love you.