By Mark E. Smith
My brother, six days less than a year older than me, is a private man, and so rarely do I speak or write of him. And, his story is one that he may not want told. But, it should be told, a cautionary tale for many.
At 17, my brother dropped out of high school and lived in his car. And, it all made sense. He was on the plight that made perfect sense coming from estranged, alcoholic parents and a childhood that went from harrowing to hellish at times. Incarceration, substance abuse and poverty were par for the course. And, so if I told you that from that point on, my brother drifted, dabbled in drugs and jail time, there’d be no surprise – he had every reason to do so.
But, he didn’t do that. With no family support, he worked at a gas station, lived in his car, and saved enough money to rent an apartment. He enrolled in adult school, was promoted to Assistant Manager at the gas station, then Manager, then became a Regional Manager for Shell service stations. He got married, rented a nicer apartment, and made a bold move, becoming a tile setter, getting his contractor’s license, establishing himself as a master tile setter, doing the likes of Danny Glover’s house and multi-million dollar homes. He had two daughters, and after 20 years in the same little apartment, he saved up the cash to buy his dream home, nestled on wooded property in Northern California.
At any time, my brother’s life could have jumped the tracks. The grips of our family lineage could have led his life down a dark past, just as it did every generation before us. Instead, he’s lived with intentionality. He’s refused to be a substance abuser, where he knows when not to drink and certainly knows when to stop. He, who didn’t have a dad, has proved himself as a lifelong amazing dad. And, never knowing a sustained marriage in our family’s history, he’s passed the two-decade mark with his wife.
See, here’s what you need to know about my brother: He’s an astounding father, husband and man. And, he’s done it based on a core principle of personal accountability. Our upbringing demonstrates that there are reasons why so many fall into generational traps of abhorrent behavior. Yet, my brother’s intentional life proves a far more valuable lesson. While we can point to reasons for issues like substance abuse and poor parenting, there simply are no excuses. We all make decisions, we all have control over our life paths, and there’s no gray between right and wrong when it comes to individuals of true integrity like my brother.