Michael Byron Smith shares how his single-parent mom kept her family together through difficult times, how he managed to keep a promise and fulfill a dream, and why mentoring is so important today. We present, “A Promise, a Dream, and a Mom’s Love.”
Occasionally, children raised in a stressful or unloving atmosphere achieve while others, raised in the same atmosphere, or even in a seemingly ideal situation, do not. However, I think most experts agree, with little doubt, that having two savvy and involved parents is a huge advantage in the mental health of a child. Children without that advantage can succeed, but they will struggle more than necessary. I lived this scenario and I’ve seen others in my family both fail and succeed, but the successes have been far fewer.
Big Job for a Ten-Year-Old
As I turned ten years of age, I was in a situation that required me to babysit my five younger siblings. My father was absent and my mother had to work to support us. She was only 27 years-old with six children to feed. My youngest brother was not even a year old. Thinking back on this is a frightening picture; back then, it was normal to me!
It wasn’t every day that I had to do this, just on occasions when nothing else would work out for my mother. My memories of these days are not totally clear. What I do know is that my father abandoned us. Where he was in the world at that time I do not know. Where and how he spent his earnings, other than on alcohol, is a mystery. But more mysterious to me is how a person could abandon his young children.
Some may think my mother should have never left us alone, but she was without alternatives. I don’t know how she got through the pressures of being a single mom with a tenth-grade education. All I do know is she did not abandon us and worked to exhaustion to raise and support her children.
Not surprisingly, a ten-year-old placed in charge of his brothers and sisters doesn’t get much respect. My eight-year-old brother would challenge me and aggravate everyone else. My five and three-year-old sisters were typical little girls getting into stuff and fighting. My two youngest brothers were a two-year-old toddler and a baby under a year old. Basically, I was there to keep them from injuring themselves or each other; I’d call Mom if someone got hurt badly.
Why am I writing this, exposing my family’s dirty laundry? It is obviously not to brag, nor am I asking anyone to feel sorry for us, but to share a story of hope. Hope, however, needs action – mostly our own action to meet our challenges head-on. It is up to each individual, but many kids don’t know what to do, or how to do it.
I don’t know where we lived when I was ten because we moved quite often, and I didn’t have many childhood friends. Because of this, I was much more comfortable around women than men. Being a shy, skinny, and often new kid, I was like shark-bait to the local bullies common in poorer neighborhoods. My self-defense plan was invisibility, staying indoors or peeking around corners before proceeding. It wasn’t even close to an ideal upbringing.
Tough Beginnings Mean Extra Work
Needless to say, this was not the best start for any young person. The difficulties my siblings and I experienced pale in comparison to the challenges too many young people suffer. But preventable struggles, like struggles 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. We’ve had teen mothers, a lack of a high school education, truancy, poverty and some minor drug and alcohol use, with following generations dealing with some of the same problems. Of the six of us, three extended families are doing well, while three families are still struggling to one degree or another.
Fortunately, I did not have any of the problems described above, but I did have others. The most challenging to me 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 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 not to 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 more of a passion. I knew that I would have to do it on my own because I didn’t know how to ask for help. Mentoring was not something of which I was aware, and being shy didn’t help. Certainly, someone would have mentored me had we stayed in one place long enough. (I apologize immensely to those I have forgotten who did give me help and advice, especially my many teachers.)
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.
My dream of being a pilot seemed so distant, like a star in another galaxy, but I kept my focus. This dream supported my goal of never being poor. It is amazing what one can do when they have a dream as a goal backed up by a promise. I also had two distant people that I looked up to: Jack Buck, the announcer for the St. Louis Cardinals, and Jimmy Stewart, my favorite actor and a US Air Force pilot himself. I admired their values and personalities. Never was there a bad word said of either, not by anyone I would respect. It was to my benefit to invent my own mentors because everyone needs role models and teachers.
I succeeded in my keeping my promise and achieving my dream. I have never been poor since the moment I graduated from college. I also became a US Air Force pilot and loved every part of that experience.
But 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. I’m doing very well but what if……?
My message here is two-fold. The first message is that anyone with a dream can overcome obstacles. 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 you’re climbing Mt. Everest. This or any other test in life has its very own challenges to conquer and that extra, unnecessary weight could cause you to fail.
The second message is the desperate need today for parents and other mentors to help young people grow. Having proper mentoring and a decent childhood atmosphere will help a child avoid unnecessary burdens. A much easier and effective way to be successful, of course, 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 lives have 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 one is raised and mentored.
I challenge parents and all adults to be aware of the needs of the young people around them. Your help and guidance will save them from being an adversary and/or an obstacle to themselves. It just takes a kind word or a bit of attention. ###
Michael Byron Smith is the author of The Power of Dadhood [website]. He also hosts the “Helping Fathers to be Dads” blog.