"I just want my kids to be healthy, and I want them to be happy. I couldn't ask for anything else and let them decide what they do, who they want to be, and how they want to get there.”
At 22, his daughter still says, “Daddy, I love you!” His two younger sons talk with him in all they do, and his wife together with him for plus 22 years. A man who lives by four principles. In his words. “Don’t lie, don’t steal, be there when you said you’ll be there, and always do better than you did the day before.”
And yes, as a person, he is imperfect… Just like you and me.
Yet, in his imperfection can be found an honest heart. A man who admits where he has come from, and as he shares of his blessings and angers, he is open about lessons learned. A man who says it as it is, and a man who stands by his words. And as I get to know him, he prompts me to reflect on my history. For I too am one of the imperfect ones.
In him, a background of drug addiction that began at age 15. In me, a 20s filled with double vodkas on the rocks. In him, rock bottom moments of jail time, in me, homelessness. In both of us, pasts forming the people we are now becoming. Once again, the imperfect beings we are.
He reflects, “I was like, yeah, I have three kids. And I’m sitting down like, yo, I’m a piece of shit. Like. What am I doing for my kids, and what am I doing for my wife? And that’s when I had my epiphany, and then it became easy. I threw my phone away and started meeting new people.”
Standing side-by-side you might never guess the links that bonded us. Of our present as fathers, husbands, and children of parents who loved us. Of the darker histories of our lives, and the trials we have overcome–the rock bottom moments that, brought on by our choices, landed us in less than optimal circumstances. Personal sagas that, if we passed each other on the sidewalk, we would never know. That is until we spent together sharing a most unified discussion. A revealing of who we are to one another: Two distinct individuals with similar and different outlooks on many a topic:
Me, the conservative-looking white Jewish/Mormon guy (now, a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), and he, a confident atheist with a most permanent edge. Two radically different external personas, who standing together, share a great truth of this living experience. And as he warmly invites me into his life, a wonderment is revealed. That being, the worth of any one individual is great. For if either of us had fallen to the temptation to profile, to judge, or to close off our ears, our eyes, and even our hearts toward one another, we would have both lost out on a gift far beyond the two of us. The opportunity to learn from each other.
There is a basic principle I have been taught in the faith that works for me. It reads, We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
So in tribute to today’s-stranger-now-friend, Freddie, I author this story. A story of a good man sharing his beliefs, history, and lessons learned. And a man doing his best to leave a mark that matters.
He starts with a drug warning.
“Nobody, like, forced it on me, you know? I remember I had a couple of friends when I was 15, and at that time I drank. You know, I smoked weed, but I never did anything like crazy. And they were like, they’re talking about doing a line. And I was like, What are you guys talking about?
And I remember I did a line and I saw everything was crisp and, um, the feeling I got, it was amazing.
And then after that, it was all downhill trying to chase that feeling. And you never get that feeling again, you know, and that shit drives people to do stupid crazy shit.”
“”My mom, when she would cook dinner for us, it was for my father, myself, and my mother. You know. All my brothers and sisters were moved out. But when she cooked, she cooked enough for 20 people. And then when my friends came over, she fed them. So that’s the kind of attitude I have.
“I’m a prideful person. I like to boast,” Freddie tells me, “you know. I like to be front and center. I think I’m a showoff.” But as he does, I counter. Are you prideful, or are you confident?
He stands on pride:
“So like, okay, check it out. This studio is Pride Tattoos. You know, people like to show who they are and they write it with pictures like tattoos.
Why? It’s the rawest form of self-expression if you have to speak one word to somebody. Now, a lot of times you can be wrong, but you can pretty much gather what somebody is about by their tattoos. To me that is prideful.
Like, feeling pride in how you look and how you portray yourself. Pride, that’s my thing. Like, it’s not something to overcome. Because I don’t find any problem with it. Yeah, I think it can be taken too far sometimes. But I am who I am, and like it or hate it, it doesn’t matter.”
I push a little more with the confidence/pride comparison.
He deepens his perspective:
“I think pride is pride in who I am. And I am proud to be that person. I stand by people like me.
I get these young artists here, they’re learning, right? And they’re all like timid and all this stuff. And then you have a seasoned artist, they’re like, Yeah, whatever. And there’s confidence there. They found themselves. The new ones. They’re still finding themselves. I think once they find themselves, that’s when they get that confidence. But the pride, it’s just that I love my family name, where we came from, and that’s pride for me.
I know who I am. And I think that’s prideful because I don’t want everybody to know who I am, but to respect my journey here, and because of that, I respect everybody else. Yeah.”
Per that pride in family, and amidst his informing me about the gambling addiction his parents had, and although they are now gone, he credits them with the love and stability he feels inside. And not trying to grandstand his name and story, I have to let you know that, whenever I called him a good man, he looked away from me. A response that I identified with, for in my opinion, in all of us can be found regret, shame, and shortcoming. Yet, in the mind of this blogger, this is the stuff that makes us equally human. Able to find compassion toward our neighbors. That is; if we choose to do so.
“My mom, when she would cook dinner for us, it was for my father, myself, and my mother. You know. All my brothers and sisters were moved out. But when she cooked, she cooked enough for 20 people. And then when my friends came over, she fed them. So that’s the kind of attitude I have.
I had a very good relationship with my parents. It didn’t matter what I did. They supported the shit out of me. They had my back always. Yeah, yeah, I miss them. I wish I could do some bad shit to give my father and my mother a hug now. Just. Yeah.”
I ask, what are you living forward with your children, even the youth of the world?
“I’d rather have them be risk takers and experience some shit rather than never experience it at all, and then be blind to what’s going on around them.
I tell them, just ask questions. Don’t take everything at face value. Ask why, where, when, who, and how. Then if you can answer all those questions, you have the truth.
Yeah. Like we give them the information they need. Without information, you can’t accomplish anything.
Then I let them go. I’ll just let them loose and tell them what I expect. I’m saying, don’t do this, but go ahead, make a name for yourself. Do what you do! Be you! I think if that would have been done for me, I would have done some shit differently.
There was one time my son goes when I picked him up from school, I hate that guy. I was like, Whoa! hold on! I was like, Does he know that? He goes, What? You said you hate him. Does he know that? He goes, No. I said, well if you want, go tell them that you don’t like him.
Squash that. You know, I’m saying there’s no reason to walk around with hate for somebody that you don’t even know.
You get more bees with honey than vinegar.
I just want my kids to be healthy, and I want them to be happy. I couldn’t ask for anything else and let them decide what they do, who they want to be, and how they want to get there. And I’m here if I can help them a little bit. Give them some advice.”
“I just want everybody to land. Like there’s stuff I don’t believe and there’s stuff you believe. And because we’re all different, you know, like it’s, if God wanted robots, he should have made robots. If there is a God who knows us.”
“I thought long and hard about my why and I think it encompasses everything. Like, if I have like, or if I have to fight, it doesn’t matter. If I’m trying to be me, I have to do whatever it is I have to do.
That’s my why, I just have to. Yeah. It depends on what the why is. About the what is to the why. Because that why could be a lot of things.
I mean, as I try to conduct my life, I’m going to try. I’m not perfect. Everybody f–ks up.”
So I think before everybody has a decision, right? I’m saying there’s no like, well, there, I guess there is a right or wrong about certain stuff. We’re going to be judged by somebody, somewhere, and sometime. When they judge me, and since I’ve f–ked shit up. I just want everybody to land. Like there’s stuff I don’t believe and there’s stuff you believe. And because we’re all different, you know, like it’s, if God wanted robots, he should have made robots. If there is a God who knows us.”
I look at Freddie, his black tattooed eyes no longer intimidating. His art covered body and piercings blending into the person I see.
Freddie, I say, the one thing I am growing to love about you is that when I’m around you, I know who you are. It’s like if I was to put words in your mouth, I’d say, I am who I am.
Pointing to his chest, he smiles. “Check this out! I have I am who I am tattooed across my chest. Love me or hate me… your not going to forget me!
Freddie, I’m happy to take the first choice: Love ya my brother!
Talk tomorrow my good friends,