As I turned ten years of age, I occasionally had to babysit my five younger siblings. My father was absent and my mother had to work to support us. She was only twenty-seven-years-old with six children to feed. My youngest brother was only one-year-old. Thinking back on this is a frightening picture.
Certainly, my mother didn’t want to leave us alone, but she was without alternatives. She had to work. We needed the money because our father was absent and not supporting us. I should mention that my mother is my hero for how hard she worked to raise her six children alone.
Needless to say, this was not the best start for any young person. However, the difficulties my siblings and I experienced pale in comparison to some of the challenges too many young people suffer. But preventable struggles, like those caused by my father’s parental neglect, should never happen.
How did we all do coming out of this situation? Beyond the challenges all kids face as they mature, we all had extra demons to defeat, some struggling with those demons more than others. The biggest challenge I had was a serious lack of confidence in myself. I believe my five siblings also suffered from this and other psychological issues.
I broke out of this cycle of despair more successfully than my siblings did because of two things, 1) a promise I made to myself and, 2) a dream. The promise was to never be poor! Not to be rich, but to not be poor – an error I will discuss later. My dream was to be a pilot, a dream of many young boys. But in my case, it was a passion.
My dream of being a pilot seemed so distant, but I kept my focus. This dream supported my goal of never being poor. It is amazing what one can do when you have a dream as a goal, backed up by a promise. I also had two personal heroes that I looked up to - Jack Buck, an announcer for the St. Louis Cardinals and Jimmy Stewart, my favorite actor and also a US Air Force pilot. I admired their values and personalities. Often, you can be a mentor just by being a good example. They were my mentors from afar.
Being a mentor is a wonderful way to help anyone who could use advice or guidance! My book, The Power of Dadhood is, in fact, a mentoring book intended to teach fathers to how to mentor their children. It may be obvious, by now, why I wrote this book.
I succeeded in my keeping my promise and achieving my dream. I have never been poor since the moment I graduated from college. I became a US Air Force pilot and loved every part of that experience. It wasn’t easy! The required steps to make my dreams come true were demanding but not really the issue. The toughest hurdles in this journey were the exaggerated and fabricated hurdles I put upon myself, thinking I was not worthy! The hurdle of self-worth will also cause one to underestimate their potential. I should have had a goal to be rich, instead, I just hoped to not be poor. Always shoot higher than you think possible.
My message is two-fold. The first message is that anyone with a dream can overcome obstacles with determination. That is a common theme of encouragement, but your self-imposed obstructions are the first and most important to overcome. There is no need of having a fifty-pound dead weight on your back when climbing Mt. Everest. This or any other test in life has its very own challenges to conquer and that extra, unnecessary weight may cause you to fail.
The second message is the desperate need for parents and other mentors to help young people grow. Having proper mentoring and a decent childhood atmosphere will not place unnecessary burdens on a child. A much easier and effective way to be successful is to not have those extra burdens in the first place. Children raised in a good, nourishing home will have a head start because their life has been streamlined, not encumbered with self-imposed friction and speed bumps. If the number one factor in a successful life is self-reliance, a very close second would be the way you were raised and mentored.
I challenge parents and all adults to be aware of the needs of the young people around you. Your help and guidance will save them from being an adversary and/or obstacle to themselves. It just takes a kind word or a bit of attention. Be there! Be a mentor!
Michael Byron Smith