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I recently shared a story with my parents, one I kept close to my chest. I kept this close to my chest mostly because up until recently I really never felt necessary to tell them. I hadn't even shared it with my wife up until a few months back. And really the only reason it came up was due to a conversation my dad and my mom had with me as we traversed the 80/90 expressway.

My mom made a statement to the effect that she had no idea how I could feel the way I did and how I thought about life in general. Her referencing my progressive values during the last few hours of conversation we had whilst en route back home.

After the orange shelter I'll share it here and how it crafted and morphed my values. It's a pretty long read, so if you make it to the end I'll give an advanced thank you.

It was the spring of 99 and I was a freshman soon to be sophomore at a university near Chicago IL. I wasn't really into it and I had sort of sloughed the last few weeks and hadn't really performed to my true potential. Sure I was likely going to pass most of my classes, but I also was going to fail a few others because of attendance issues.

It was foreign to me, I hadn't really understood it, if I turn in the work and I pass the tests...why do I need bother come in? I had this cavalier attitude that honestly only comes with a privileged attitude. I mean I know this now, having had an extra decade or so of life experience, but looking back on it then...I was just a really clueless teenager who had no idea of the world at large and lived in my own little bubble.

That is not to say that my parents were affluent mind you. My dad was a working class guy, and looking back on it I now know why we ate KFC for a week straight when my mom was a manager at a local store. I was inspired with work values, but at the same time I never had a want as a kid. My parents worked hard for what they had, and they gave me practically everything growing up.

I remember getting an Atari the year after it came out and looking back on it I realize how hard my dad, a traveling photographer for Sears, must have worked at the time. I remember getting my own TV one Christmas and now understand as an adult how hard my mom must have worked to get it, her being a manager at a local Kentucky Fried Chicken while my father searched for work.

And as I got older they instilled in me the importance of money and work ethic, the importance of self sufficiency.

I only got to drive a car if I paid my portion of the insurance. This obviously required a job and I remember working the maximum amount of hours possible for a teenager in high school, just so I could also have a little fun on top of my now looking back on it, 65 hour work week.

I realize now this instilled work ethic with the early age insulation from my parents true lack of wealth created my privileged attitude, and it was the months after I left school that helped me to realize it. You see shortly after my final week of class I received a letter in the mail. In it, the letter stated very clearly that because I had failed a number of classes I was losing my student aid, specifically for housing. I could remain a tenant of the building but I would be paying straight rent, not the lower subsidized amount and I could of course, still attend school.

I was already working almost full time to cover the costs of schooling that student aid did not pick up. For me at the time picking up another 300 dollars would be impossible, even on the most minimalist budget. I didn't want to go crawling back home a failure either. I didn't want to face my dad and tell him I failed. I wasn't raised a failure, you pulled yourself up by your boot straps even it meant ripping the straps off in the process. Pride has a funny way of making decisions for us.

So facing my dad or facing homelessness I made what was then quite possibly the stupidest decision of my life.

I moved into my 84 teal colored Buick LaSabre.

I still went to school. I still went to work. For awhile anyway. Without residency though, I fell behind in payments for my schooling. And then I lost even more aid because I had to reduce my credit load. I had to withdraw from school, couldn't afford it.

I, still standing tall on the idiocy of pride, refused to move back home. I kept up the charade with my parents though. I kept them in the dark, I did not want to admit failure. So I lived, out of my car. It was an uncomfortable place to be, emotionally, however I will say that the back seat was incredibly comfortable physically.

I couldn't stay at the job I was at. I lacked the ability to clean my uniform on a regular basis. So I did the only thing I could think for money. No I didn't beg, I stood on pride remember, I worked for my money. I took various odd jobs and stood on the corner as a day laborer. I felt horrible at first, standing on the corner with those almost always, Mexican immigrant workers.

It was those three months working with those immigrants that likely change my life for the better.

You see every day, we'd stand on the corner and wait. Eventually a truck or van would pull up and a foreman would hop out and point fingers. You get picked, you get the work that day. And every day I noticed something, that myself and a few others gentleman would almost invariably be picked. It didn't dawn on me till some months later well after I finally admitted failure and moved back with my folks.  I took some time for me to realize that I and the others that were always picked had been because we were white. That was one prod in my brain that the world is so much bigger, and how sheltered I really was.

I met some amazing people during that as well. I met a fellow named Jose whose family came from Tula, Mexico. I sort of... I don't know, not necessarily befriended but came to a great respect and appreciation. I was used to almost every day for lunch, eating out somewhere at some fast food joint. One day however I lacked the cash and had planned to just go hungry, once paid for the day perhaps stop at a mart and get something I could eat in the car that night. Jose wouldn't have it though, between him and his friends they put together a meal for me that day out of their lunches. I stopped eating at fast food for the most part that day.

I remember laughing and joking with these hard working men. Many of them taking their cash at the end of the day, walking across the street from that corner to the western union store and sending their families the money. Keeping very little for themselves, just enough to get by on. Wasn't until later in my life looking back on those moments, seeing them send money away that I would realize how destitute some of their families were.

I also remember eating tapas on a construction site with those guys. We planned it you see, all of us having saved up during the week while we worked on this one site. The work was about wrapped up and we wanted to celebrate to some degree, because chances were high that unless something bigger picked up many of those men would have to move on, looking for work elsewhere. So I found myself surrounded by camaraderie, some damn good food, and at the end of the day a few drinks after we erected some office building in Munster, IN. I wonder if it still stands, I think if memory serves me right it was destined to be a dentist office.

That was close to the end of month three. Those stories the men shared with me of their families, sticks with me even still to this day. A man who was working on a job site and then would go handyman at an apartment building at night. He was working hard because he was saving to try and bring his family here, having been separated from them for 9 years.

Can you imagine leaving your family for that long? I mean some do it, but it's often a choice you make not a necessity. You know that you can come back, this man, yeah he had no choice. He was here and unless he worked, his family starved, they living in one of the more impoverished locations in Mexico. At 18, young and dumb I got a nice bit of culture shock that opened my eyes to the world at large. I hope he was reunited maybe found some stability in life.

Nearing the start of month four, some of the regulars asked if I would stay at the communal home they had setup. I guess a guy had moved out and they had a spot open up. So at that start of month 4, I technically speaking stopped being homeless. I still had no permanency for address, but those fine men and a few women opened a home to me.

Have I mentioned how damn good the food was? Amazing what they were able to cook using just a few dollars a day at times. Sure it was repetitive at times, but it tasted so damn good I didn't mind eating it over and over and over and over.

Closing in on the end of month four it was a conversation with one of the women of the house, a wife of one of the workers there, that convinced me to suck up my pride and return to my family. We talked of her grandmother and how she longed to see her again. During the conversation I opened up about my family and the how and why I was there, and why I had chosen to not return to my parents. She openly admonished me and my choice. She lacked understanding of how I would refuse such safety, how if given a chance would without a doubt 100% return to her family in Mexico or at the very least finally save up enough to bring them here.

So I did just that. I sucked up my pride and asked to return home. My parents welcomed me with open arms, and never asked any questions. They had assumed I was just fed up with school and had moved out the day before asking to return. I didn't want them to worry about anymore, so I kept that story. Kept it close to my chest for many years. Maybe secretly I still felt some shame, some sort of resentment and just wouldn't admit to myself of it.

Looking back though, I see how its shaped my world view, how I care more for others than myself. How rich one can be, even when your sleeping on a cot in a house on the lower west side of Chicago, in what some people like Mitt Romney would call a demilitarized zone. I see how it taught me the true value of a dollar, and the truth worth of a man. I saw and realized how privileged I was, even as an only son of a working lower middle class family. It taught me what the true worth of a hard days labor is, that its not the 40 dollars I might have earned that day framing a new office building.

I learned more about life in those 4 months, than honestly I think I have since in the last decade.

So while yes, it was most likely the stupidest decision of my life, I don't regret it a single bit. I learned how to be humble and love what you have when you have it, and give to someone else who might need it more than you. And give it with a smile.

I doubt any of those guys I worked with will ever read this, maybe I'll catch one of them in passing some day, but by chance if you do happen to be reading this and I worked with you side by side those months.

Thank you.

8:31 PM PT: Saw that this made the spotlight. Thanks rangers for thinking it needed a wider audience.

As pointed out in the comments below my parents response was unique to use a singular term and really warrants another diary.

Ill likely start on that tomorrow but for now thank you all for reading. I go to the weekend and hope yours to be a restful one.

8:31 PM PT: Saw that this made the spotlight. Thanks rangers for thinking it needed a wider audience.

As pointed out in the comments below my parents response was unique to use a singular term and really warrants another diary.

Ill likely start on that tomorrow but for now thank you all for reading. I go to the weekend and hope yours to be a restful one.

Originally posted to Hoosier Progressive on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 12:20 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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