When you grow up with far less than a Leave it to Beaver-type family, all you can do is imagine what a real family would be like. An immigrant mother and a reckless World War II pilot father, my parents were not for this world. The only thing I learned from my parents was that I had nothing and I better figure out how to survive. I did. My father became increasingly more alcoholic and abusive over the years, leaving me at a very early age to support the family’s needs. By the time I was 7 years old, I had learned to stayed away as much as possible by crashing with friends. While in elementary school, my two sisters and I had to go to work because my father could no longer hold a job and was selling everything we had to support his habit before he deserted us. Because of our age, none of us could make enough money to support the family so welfare became necessary.
Our clothes were hand-me-downs, we brushed our teeth with salt, we put newspaper in our shoes to protect our feet from the holes (the idea of kids not having decent shoes has bothered me all my life, and that’s why we did the Shoes for Kids in Care promo in May of this year). Unless I was staying regularly at a friend’s house, I washed my clothes in a laundromat using dimes I found by searching under the machines – 20 cents to wash and 10 to dry. Many times I had to wash the clothes I was wearing.
So like I said at the beginning, when you grow up with no family, you imagine one–especially after seeing your friends’ families. It was always special to me to see them interact in ways I never experienced. And while there was nothing I could do to create a real family of my own as a youth, all I dreamed about was the day when I would create my own family, and how I would make sure they got to have everything I didn’t. I knew I could then live vicariously through them, and to experience what it’s like to have a mother and father who nurtured you.
I didn’t start a family until I was 41 years old for exactly that reason. I wanted to give my kids what I never got. I wanted parties at our house with their friends; I wanted to coach their teams as they grew up; I wanted to hold my children; I wanted them to want to hold me and I wanted them to adore me like I adored them. I wanted all that to continue forever. When my daughter was born, I imagined when she was 15, 16, 17 or 18, she would walk with me and still hold hands – today she’s 16 and she does. I wanted my sons, no matter how old, to always kiss me hello and goodbye and tell me they loved me – today they’re 18 and 20 and they do. I hurt so badly wanting this because I never said it to my parents and they never said it to me. I missed my childhood because I was thrown to the wolves but I am now experiencing what I missed. Now there are times I allow myself to feel that sadness, when I’m alone, and even feel sorry for myself for the crappy lot I got as a kid. But the rest of the time I am happy to finally have a family where love, respect and support is the glue.
And that’s also why I have always felt like I wanted to be the father other people never had. It was never just about my family; my work has always been about all families. My kids gave me that. They have taught me what it’s like to be a child and they continue to guide me in my life to be a better person every day. Most importantly, they give me the strength to never stop working to make the next generation better than mine. And ask every one of the thousands of employees I have had over the years, male or female, about my view on them having children. I always encourage it because when you first see your eyes in your baby, you will forever change for the better in everything you do.
I might not be a perfect father, but I have finally found peace by trying to be the father I never had. And for me, family, and I mean all families, is everything.