You know, as young people we grow up in this culture. We are taught from such a young age, the key to a happy and successful life is to work hard, go to school, get good grades, get involved in as much as possible because that is going to look good on a college application. Then, after high school, if you’ve been successful thus far, hopefully you’ve made your way into college, and the big reward for that… Taking on on average, $37,000 of student loan debt by graduation. Oh… and of course, you’ll graduate with your degree, the degree you picked more out of necessity than passion. I mean, if you’re graduating with all this debt, you’ve gotta have a way to pay it all back, right?
Then, if you’re one of the lucky ones, you are going to go get a job. According to recent studies, the average college graduate makes roughly $50,000 a year coming out of college. So, lets just say you’re above average, and you make $70,000. Man, life is probably feeling pretty good for awhile. You worked hard, and now you’re achieving the American Dream. And days turn into months, and months turn into years. And you come home each night, turn on the tv or play some video games just to escape your reality for a little bit. And each day, as this routine plays out, you die a little inside. But the thing is you don’t even realize it because you watch the ads on the tv, and you think, “ Aw man… Thats what I need right there. When I get that new car I’m going to be so happy!”
“When I get a girl or guy like that… I’m going to be so crazy in love. Then I’ll be happy.”
“When I can finally afford that big house in the suburbs. Then I’ll be happy.”
So, you work and save, and keep going to the job you hate. And you die a little each day, just waiting for that illusive moment, the moment when you’re finally happy.
But, you see, that moment doesn’t last very long. That moment becomes just another segway into the next achievement because the happiness you get from that one thing sure as hell doesn’t equate to all the blood, sweat, and tears you know it took you to get to that place. And since we’ve been conditioned to believe that MORE stuff, BETTER stuff, will be that one thing that finally makes us happy, we keep seeking, we keep working - climbing, grinding, achieving.
Then, we get that call. That one call that changes everything. The one that puts it all into perspective. And you never think that call is going to come for you, but one day it does.
“Hi, I’m so sorry, but your father passed away last night,” or “I’m so sorry, but the cancer spread.”
And just like that, all that stuff that you spent your whole life acquiring doesn’t mean shit.
Fortunately, that call came for me a month after my 22nd birthday. It’s only in hindsight that I can see the benefit of going through such a catastrophic event, but what was the single most painful moment of my life thus far, has woken me up to the truth of what’s really important in my life, and for that I am grateful.
October 27, 2007 was an ordinary day. The day before I had spent time taking my dad to go see a chiropractor for his back. He’d been experiencing some pretty significant back pain, so he needed an adjustment. That morning my mom had called and asked if I could come have lunch with her a my brother. My brother, who was a senior at the time, had tried to commit suicide a month prior. He attempted suicide the night before the culmination of everything that I thought was my life ceasing to exist. It was the climax to a horrible nightmare that had taken over my reality. How could a life that seemed so perfect go so terribly wrong?
And life had been pretty perfect. It had been the type of perfect that you really don’t consider any alternative reality. I was the oldest of five children. I was born to two very loving and devoted parents, parents who did everything they could to provide us every opportunity for success. To an outsider, I’m pretty sure our family looked like the Cleavers. Well, maybe more like the Cleavers mixed with a touch of Gene Simmons.
I used to watch that show, Gene Simmons Family Jewels, every once in awhile, and I always thought of Gene Simmons as someone who reminded me a lot of my dad. He was someone you could tell had a deep love for his family, he was intelligent, but he also had charisma and loved living life on the wild side. He is kind of one of those “larger than life” personalities - too hard to explain, too hard to understand.
So, that was my family, a little Cleaver meets a little Simmons. Still, it was pretty close to my idea of perfect. Gradually though, by my senior year of high school things began to shift. I’m still not sure what that shift was, but my dad had been making significantly more money than he had ever made, and with money came options, opportunities (both good and bad) and ego. Our life slowly started resembling, as my good friend put it, “A high class Jerry Springer show”.
I’m not going to lie. I loved it at first. We’d take trips to Vegas, and as an 18 year old who rarely got carded, it was AMAZING! We’d stay in pent houses, sun bathe, shop, drink, gamble, and then do it all again the next day. What’s not to love? To put it mildly, I think if we would have had a camera rolling for a few years, the Kardashians would have had nothing on us.
Well, just as it seems to have for them, it came at an expensive price. I didn’t know it at the time, but my dad began an affair with a stripper who he’d often put up in the next hotel over. He was dealing with drug money. He was dealing with investors who had no clue what he was doing with their money. To any outsider it looked as if he’d found an amazing way to make money day trading, but his world was about to come crashing down around him.
Unfortunately for us kids, we’d get to experience the fall out. My parents divorce was final 6 months prior to what would have been their 20th wedding anniversary. My dad was indicted for money laundering and mail fraud around the same time. The life I knew and Ioved was forever gone.
It took about two years from the time my dad was indicted to the time of his sentencing. It was a stressful time to say the least. Beyond dealing with having to talk to federal prosecutors about my dad’s case, I was also dealing with a failing marriage I hurried into at 19, and the birth of my two beautiful, but very busy boys. I could hardly cope. Every day I felt like I was waking up to continue living this nightmarish hell that had become my life.
My dad continually assured us kids that the most he’d get was a year in Federal prison, but that was on the bleak end of things. He was certain he’d end up doing far less or possibly even house arrest.
In the early morning on the day of my dad’s sentencing, I received a phone call from my mom. She was on her way to the hospital where my brother was being taken in an ambulance. She had no idea what had happened yet, but my brother, a seventeen year old child, had tried to commit suicide. When his body started shutting down he thankfully got scared, and called 911. To say it put all the other hardships into perspective would be a massive understatement.
That’s how I ended up at lunch the day before the hardest day of my life. My mom called me and asked me to come have lunch with her and my brother. I ended up bringing my dad along because, despite his reassurance that he’d have a short sentence, he had been sentenced to five years in Federal prison, and he was scheduled to surrender the following week. He had come to live with me until his surrender date, so I didn’t feel like I could just leave him there.
Lunch was good. After my brother’s suicide attempt we all put a lot of effort into healing. We all went to the beach together. We had some great conversations, and my parents really did everything they could to help us kids heal. We had a great time at lunch, and made plans for the next day. My dad hadn’t seen the younger kids for a few days, so we had planned to go see my youngest brother’s football game, go to my sisters volleyball tournament, and then they’d all stay the night. It was the last weekend he had to spend with us before his surrender date.