It took my dad’s deteriorating health and the realization that he wouldn’t be with me much longer to make me realize I wasn’t living the life I desired. Sitting beside him in the hospital and not knowing how much more time he had left served as my wake-up call. I want to share the letter with you as it was what sparked me to write my newest book, You Can Have a Better Life. I hope you can relate to the letter below and use it to motivate you to go get the life you desire before it’s too late.
P.S. My new book You Can Have A Better Life: 21 Secrets to Getting the Life You Desire—Full of Significance, Joy and Purpose is now available! See it HERE.
— Before Five —
I'm trying to remember the early years—those before I was 5—but I'm not sure if the memories I have are real ones, or whether they're simply “memories” from stories I've heard and pictures I've seen.
I'm told you weren't around much during those early years, but I don't remember that. I know now that you were working two jobs, just trying to get by. Already a father to me, and a baby on the way, I'm sure you were worried about how you and Mom would manage. I remember (or I remember hearing) that the landlord of our tiny two-bedroom, one-bath apartment gave us a small folding table so we had somewhere to eat and four metal folding chairs so we had somewhere to sit. I don’t remember if we had a sofa then, but I know we had one by the time I was 5, as I saw a picture of me sitting on it with a freshly-molded cast framing my broken arm. I was a tomboy back then and although I thought it was a good idea to swing like Tarzan on the branch of the sizeable yet decrepit tree in our backyard it turned out to not be such a good idea.
I know now that when Mom cried as the table and chairs showed up outside our apartment door, her tears weren’t 100 percent from joy like she claimed. “Honey,” she said, “sometimes people cry when they’re happy.” Instead, I understand that she shed tears of relief since her family now had somewhere to sit and eat. The table, gifted by someone we barely knew, I now realize was something some adults might view as a handout—something to cause slight embarrassment (even if feeling grateful at the same time). But as a 4-year-old, I only remember the event through a child’s eyes: receiving a wonderful gift that was very unexpected.
I’m not sure, Dad, why I’m telling you so much of what I remember at this age. Somehow it seems important to me now—like this is where all my memories of you and mom began. Like this small apartment was the beginning of all my future memories. So here I sit, trying to remember the rest of our humble home. I can visualize the layout of every room. Near the front door, there was a small living space that held our folding table and chairs. Past that, I can see two small bedrooms—yours to the left and mine to the right. The one meager bathroom was closer to my room than yours. Ironically, the kitchen, the room that seemed most important, is also the one I’m having the most difficulty remembering. I can visualize its location, but I only remember how small it was and no other details. That entire kitchen could easily fit inside the space that holds my kitchen island today.
Mom made all our meals in that small space. I remember eating hot dogs and beans often—not because you and Mom loved them (like I assumed at the time)—but because we couldn’t afford much else. I never went hungry.
The only other real memory I have from that time—the time before I became a 5-year-old—involves Mom walking me to preschool. I remember only because the school was right next door to our apartment, with the playground right off our backyard. Mom would walk out to the yard while I was at recess and wave to me, and I’d always excitedly wave back. It's funny how perceptions change. As a kid, I thought living next door to an elementary school—especially one with the playground right off our backyard—was extremely lucky. As an adult, I realize that the close proximity to school wasn't the best feature of our small apartment, but I was happy.
— Five Years Old —-
At age 5, so many things changed. I remember all the big events of this year, even if I can’t remember the minute details. I remember you teaching me how to ride a bike while mom looked on—holding the back of my sparkly silver banana seat and running next to me while I tried to remain upright. I remember you letting go and cheering me on, truly excited for my accomplishment, as I veered off straight into the trunk of the big oak tree that grew out from a sidewalk in front of our place. Fortunately, I wasn’t going fast enough to do any damage to the tree, the bike or myself. But I was startled nonetheless, and you came running to my rescue, comforting me and encouraging me to try again (something I would later do with both of my own kids).
Five was a big year. Not only did I learn to ride my bike without the wobbly training wheels, but it also marked many significant life changes for our family. For years I’d been asking for a baby brother or sister, and this was the year you decided to grant this wish and give me one—a little sister. She came into our lives (and into my bedroom), and I got the title I’d been dreaming of: “big sister.”
This was also the year during which we moved into a real house. We left the small apartment for a humble (900-square-foot) house, which to me, and in comparison to our previous apartment, felt enormous. The house was more than an hour from our apartment, so I said my goodbyes to all my friends, not knowing I’d never see any of them again. Life as I knew it, in the tiny apartment with the school next door, was over. I was heartbroken, but you and mom were elated.
Our new house in Valencia, a town named for its acres and acres of orange groves, felt monstrous in comparison. Not only did we have a separate area for our table and chairs, but more importantly (to me), I had my very own room once again. You and Mom even had a bathroom connected to your bedroom rather than out in the hallway to be shared. I remember running all over the house and in and out of each of the three bedrooms. You let me pick my room first, since I was the older sister.
It was strange having our own place. We even had our own front and backyard. Although the back remained dirt for some time, the front was vibrantly alive with green grass included with the purchase of the newly built house.
— Pre-Teen —
My pre-teen years are full of memories that might hold little significance to an adult, but back then, they felt paramount in my mind. This was the year of “banana butt” (I’ll explain later), Del Taco, Dolphin shorts, Kmart and the realization that not everyone lives the same exact way.
As a kid, some seemingly insignificant events unfortunately become the most memorable. We lived only a few miles from the nearest Kmart. This was the only store where I remember ever shopping for school clothes—or anything else, for that matter. In fifth grade, it started to become very important to wear the “right” clothing, which typically cost more than the rest. When it was time to shop before the new school year, I remember begging Mom to buy me the same jeans as the other kids wore. I wanted Jordache, Sergio Valente or even Sasson—name brands that had not yet made it into my closet. But we didn’t have the money for these extravagances, so like all previous years, Mom took me to Kmart to stock up on that year’s essentials.
When we got to the jeans section, there were no popular name-brands to be found. So I reluctantly opted for two pairs of jeans—the first with a pair of cherries on the back pockets and the second with bananas. The jeans spent most of the summer in layaway, but when it was time for school to start, we paid the last of what we owed and brought the new purchases home. That year, unlike the girls with the perfect hair and cool jeans who were called by their real names, I became known as “banana butt.”
I spent many a night crying to Mom about this unfortunate situation. And even after she agreed that I would never have to wear those jeans to school again, the name stuck for nearly the entire year.
The next year, when it came time to go shopping again, Mom took me to lunch at a local fast food restaurant (a very special treat). We chatted over our tacos and burritos and, as we were walking back to the car, she took my hand as we veered toward a popular clothing store that stocked all the newest and most hip clothing brands (like Ocean Pacific and Levi’s). I asked Mom what we were doing, as we had never stepped foot in that store before. She said she’d been saving up extra money and wanted to buy me something special. I came out of the store that afternoon with two brightly-colored pairs of Dolphin shorts and my first pair of name-brand jeans. I still remember how great I felt putting on those Jordache jeans, envisioning the memories of “banana butt” slowly fading away.
It wasn’t until many years later, when I was in college having a heart-to-heart with Mom, that I learned just how difficult it had been for her to save up enough money for that very special shopping spree. And I know you had something to do with that, too, Dad. Now, as a parent of a 9-year-old daughter for whom I would also do anything to make life easier, I greatly appreciate what you and Mom did for me. (But to this day, I still wish I had been stronger and simply continued to wear my “banana butt” jeans without caring what others thought.)
As I grew, your business did, too. The financial struggles we once faced seemed to slowly disappear—replaced by family vacations, new cars and updated clothing choices. Yet although we were doing well, I know that no matter how hard you worked or how quickly your success came, you continued to compare yourself to your brother.
I know this is a tough subject to address, but I think it’s worth a little discussion, even if just to tell you that I would always choose you for my dad. Although I loved my uncle and his big house next to Michael Jackson’s—and although a Rolls-Royce parked in a five-car garage, a personal limousine, private chauffer and live-in maid may have been nice—it wouldn’t have meant anything without having you as my dad. I realize the financial differences between you and your only sibling didn’t make you feel good, but I want you to know that never—not when I was young and not now that I’m nearing 50—did I ever wish to be anyone other than YOUR daughter.
I acknowledge the struggles and dedication it took for you to give us the wonderful life you did. And I have always felt the immense love you showered upon us, as you also taught us more about strength and perseverance than anyone else ever could. I remember being invited to some of those lavish parties that your brother hosted, later listening to their stories about celebrity appearances and feeling somewhat envious of their trips to Europe. Yet, my fondest memories involve the times when our family—you, Mom, me and Michele—enjoyed backyard BBQs with our neighbors and played at the park pool and later in our own backyard pool, as well as always having you there to tuck me into bed at night. We’re the lucky ones!
— Young Adult —
As I became an adult, I began to realize just how fortunate I was. Because of you, I was the first person in our family to go to college. I know my enrollment must have been a huge financial burden, but I am forever grateful that you found a way to make it happen and insisted it wasn’t a hardship (even though I know it was).
You know I’m a huge believer in education. And although I realize that it may have been possible for me to succeed both personally and financially without a college education, I truly believe those years helped shape my life to make me the successful person I am today. Thank you for your unconditional love and unwavering support.
— Now You’re Dying —
I can’t remember a specific point in time when I realized that your health was deteriorating. The first heart attack came so unexpectedly that we were all caught off guard. The next three, although always terrifying, didn’t seem as surprising. The thought of losing you is not only painful but now also very real. As your health continues to deteriorate, I am trying to face the fact that you, my biggest supporter, may not be with me much longer.
I know you’re dying, Dad, but before you go, I want you to know that you made a difference. I know, with certain clarity, that my success is in large part due to what I learned from you. You taught me about perseverance, forgiveness, leadership, hard work and, most of all, you taught me about putting family first. I learned from you that life is short and having fun should be a priority. I learned to always be myself, always believe in myself and always have faith. And I learned that making people laugh (something I’ll never be able to do as well as you) is as important as anything else.
My life is richer and I am more successful because of the things I learned by watching you.
Thank you for everything!
I love you!