When I was a boy, my dreams where of flight and space travel. Space, new frontiers, and discovery excited me. I was a prodigy of a kind: I knew how to read before I went to school, thanks to my mom. I was soon reading science fiction by Heinlein, Vonnegut, Bradbury, and others, geek that I was.
A deviation in my reading started with espionage, and I leaned towards writers including Shibumi, Eric Van Lustbader, and the man, Robert Ludlum. My uncle would quiz me on how much thrust NASA rockets required to reach maximum velocity for orbit. I knew the answer. I was a huge fan of Wernher Magnus Maximilian Freiherr von Braun, the German-American aerospace engineer and space architect who was the leading figure in the development of rocket technology in Germany, and a pioneer of rocket technology and space science in the United States. He was the creator of the Saturn 5 rocket boosters that launched the Apollo missions into space. I had a model in my room when I was 8 years old.
Being Black and growing up in the ’60s and ’70s was difficult, especially with parents who struggled with being Black, at that time. The turmoil, the assassinations (King, Evers, Kennedys)—the world was rapidly changing and it was a very precarious time for mankind in general with the ever-present threat of nuclear war.
In retrospect, I never expected to live as long as I have and I am eternally grateful when I open my eyes every morning. Have you checked the life expectancy of Black men? It is decreased by the stressors of racism. I recently told a friend that I have had a good run, and if I am called “back to the source,” I will have no regrets. It’s been a good life.
In my humble opinion, I am a better man than I had ever hoped I could be. I have been blessed to love and be loved deeply. I have been able to help countless others in their journeys. I have been privileged to help the less fortunate, advocate for clients in law practice, help people achieve their dreams by finding them capital, created policy for municipalities and worked with agencies in peacetime and in times of attack (9/11). I was a good father and raised a good son, and although his mother and I divorced early in his life, he is a good man and he has married an equally good woman. In a review of my life? I have been in rooms that a kid who grew up in the projects in NYC never dreamed he would be in. I have been blessed.
My geekdom as a youth paved my way for understanding, “what if?” and led to a long tenure of commercializing technology and growing companies for NYC, NYS and the U.S. Department of Commerce and interacting with agencies and individuals at the FBI, DOD, DARPA, and at the top of Science, Engineering, Robotics, Healthcare and even technologies to support forensic discoveries with the NYC Medical Examiners Office after 9/11. For a geek like me? it was playtime as an adult.
Do I have all the money I want? Nope, but there is still more time. Did I have all the children I wanted? Nope, but I have people I helped raise who treat me as if I were their father. Did my relationships last as long as I would have liked? Nope, but I am grateful for each and every one of them for molding me into who I am at this very moment in time.
Society often puts pressures on men to be, do, or act in certain ways. The pivot for me was in the process of reading four books:
- Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston;
- We Real Cool, by bell hooks (intentionally lowercase);
- The Spirit of a Man: A Vision Of Transformation For Black Men And The Women Who Love Them, by Iyanla Vanzant;
- The Bible (My mother made me do it…I am glad she did).
From these books, I learned I didn’t have to be defined by what I did; I can define myself by who I am. A spiritual definition that mattered to me and the people with whom I resonated and those who depended on me. More than an occupation, I felt a calling to be dependable, loving, empathetic, just—qualities that make a man more than his work.
My father was the biggest example of what not to do. I am grateful that I learned that lesson by the time I was 10 years old and my sister was born so that I could know how to be there for her in a way that our Father was never there for either of us.
My path chose me; I planned nothing. I surfed my way through life. If it excited me, if there was an element of risk, if “everyone” was not doing it, I was first to volunteer—and, thank God, I was a quick study. I failed at some things, but it wasn’t part of the calling. Some people know what they want to be very early in life, or fall into something that they stay loyal to. That wasn’t me.
I have never been swayed by another person’s vision of what my life would be like. My mother’s “goal” for my life was for me to be a preacher. At an early age, I spoke before hundreds—sometimes thousands—of people at church-related events, and I was comfortable doing so. I knew my bible and I knew how to use it to create a convincing argument. I used what I learned, to enhance my respect for life, my morals and how I could help others and translated those skills to business, where I could create jobs and other opportunities to help others be the best they could be. Fortunately for me, I earned a decent living doing so.
Those who know me and love me know that while I am not perfect yet I have integrity, work hard, am optimistic, and I do everything out of love, without expectation of repayment. That is more than I had ever hoped to be. I have managed to carve out a good reputation and a modicum of respect for the work I have done and continue to do. I am grateful to the universe for granting me the gifts that I use not just in service of self, but also in willingly serving others, especially the people I love.
I have been able to speak with many children and adults about following their own path. My advice is to do what you love. Do what speaks to your soul, no matter what that is. Do what gets you up in the morning. Do everything based on your heart and service to others while keeping in mind that the universe is karmic and whatever you put out there comes back to you. If someone tells you, “No, you can’t do or be [something],” whether that is a parent or anyone else, go DO IT, just because they said you couldn’t; prove them wrong. In my life, telling me “no” was like waving a red flag in front of a bull in a ring. I tell them not to be so self-absorbed because as an organism on spaceship earth we are obligated to leave it better than when we arrived and for future generations.
I have lived up to my own set of expectations and I am pleased as punch with my choices. I thought life would do one thing and it did something else based upon my willingness to listen to my soul, my ancestors, and the people who love me. I listen to good advice and then act on it, which feeds my soul and my purpose. Sometimes, I will take all the advice, sometimes partial advice, sometimes I won’t listen at all, but I won’t regret anything. You can’t take yourself that seriously—I am self-deprecating at times. This is life, you will make mistakes before you take the eternal dirt nap. While it’s serious to the individual human whose life it is, you should have fun, eat the cake, and swing from the chandelier from time to time because it is your life and YOU alone get to make the choices. Just don’t bitch and moan if the choice isn’t perfect, own it and move on.
Essentially, for me, I wouldn’t change a thing, and why think that way because you can’t go back and change anything, you keep it moving and you try to make better decisions based on what works for you and what you learn during your personal journey. You can apologize, and you can learn from your past because in everything good and bad there is a lesson. You just have to be rational and in tune enough to pick up the frequency. Am I the man I hoped to be? for me, I am. I know I can be even better and I am working towards that daily and that’s all that can be asked of any of us.
“A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship and he who plants kindness gathers love.” — St. Basil
Plant kindness, plant love, and watch what grows. That sums up what my hope and dreams for myself.
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