During the recession in 1990 my dad was laid off from his programming job.
We were forced to move back home to Louisiana. We rented an old house, in a bad area of Opelousas, close to my dad’s new job. The house was constantly getting infested with roaches and falling apart. We struggled to pay bills, and occasionally traded our ability to pay rent for repairs and improvements on the house. I remember food was scarce and meals were not very appetizing. I remember being disappointed with Christmas and birthday presents each year.
During that time, we watched our neighbors through the chain link fence, who seemed to have it all.
They got to attend summer camps and sports programs….we didn’t.
They got a new above ground swimming pool in the summer….we had a plastic baby pool that we filled with a hose.
They had swing sets and trampolines…. we had a rope in a tree.
They had all the cool toys….we played with sticks and a dirt pile.
My dad was always working…. Their dad was always home.
Everything on the other side of that fence seemed like the life I couldn’t have and I wanted it so badly.
It was all difficult to understand as a kid, and explanations didn’t suffice.
For years, my dad sacrificed working around the clock and with his spare time he worked on his own business. He rarely had time to play with me, and I remember being very upset about this. For a time, I was embarrassed by the car we drove and didn’t want to be dropped off at school. I rode my bike to school- until it was stolen.
Our neighbors had chosen a different path.
Their family was on welfare, and their dad was a self proclaimed master of government assistance. He organized a group that helped other families maximize their welfare benefits- such as getting swimming pools, attending summer camps, sports, swing sets, and better vehicles. For the most part he spent his life avoiding work, except for the occasional cash side job he would do- that was carefully “unreported” to avoid losing his government assistance. He was always hanging around, unsatisfied and restless. The irony that my dad was working and paying taxes that provided the lifestyle our neighbors had across the fence wasn’t lost on me.
Then one day everything instantly changed for us.
My dad sold the software he had sacrificed for years to build to an oil company for a large sum of money. Relatives and people who I heard call my dad a “failure” behind our backs (and to our face) during the difficult times now said things like, “We always knew you could do it!” Our neighbors couldn’t understand what had happened, and probably still live there to this day. After all the business expenses were paid, it left us with enough to buy a house and move to Prairieville to start our new life.
I learned resilience, sacrifice, and resourcefulness from the example of my amazing parents.
I learned to enjoy the simple things in life -playing on that rope swing, with those sticks, and that awesome dirt pile were some of the happiest and best memories of my entire life.
I learned that success isn’t a pre-requisite to happiness; it’s the other way around.
I learned that hard work pays off, and to never take the easy route.
I learned that Christmas and birthday presents are over rated.
I learned to eat everything on my plate out of necessity, and still cannot bring myself to waste food or not finish a meal to this very day.
I learned not to listen to people who doubted my abilities.
I learned to never hesitate to ask for what I was worth.
I learned the dangers of comparing my life to others, and to always look deeper than what was on the surface.
There are awesome experiences in this world, but most are reserved only for people with outstanding discipline. They are not attainable for the average person. Doors can open for you that you never knew existed. My job is to show your child how to attain those experiences.
In our Summer Camp and Afterschool Program, when your child shouts:
WE ARE… THE BEST!
HARD WORK…. PAYS OFF!
WE NEVER… GIVE UP!
We mean it.
There are deeper lessons going on than the fun summer camp activities they are participating in.
There is more going on than punching and kicking in our Martial Arts classes.
I created this positive environment for your children and my own children.
It’s all very intentional.
Thank you for reading a part of my story, and for allowing us the privilege of working with your family – in the past, the present, or in the future!