I knew the type of neighborhood it would be when I read the address on my daughter’s birthday invitation. Even after a week of preparation, when I pulled up to drop her off at the steps of the $500,000 home, I had a lump in my throat.
She doesn’t know.
She ran in smiling, with her ten-dollar present tucked under arm, and I drove away filled with guilt and shame, back to our tiny two-bedroom apartment in the bad part of town.
A few years ago, my wife and I decided to go back to school. We knew it would be a sacrifice, but no one ever tells you there will be moments when you stare into an empty fridge wondering where your next meal will come from.
Throwing a cheese slice into a tortilla wrap and heating it I yell, “Hey, kids! Cheese quesadillas for breakfast today!”
They don’t know.
My son brings me the ringing phone. I look, and it’s a long number I don’t recognize, so I hit Mute.
“Who is it, Daddy?”
“Just a telemarketer! Let’s go play Mousetrap!”
He doesn’t know.
For the first few years, I lived in shame. Growing up in a culture that taught me a man who can’t provide isn’t a man had taken its toll on my psyche. We had to make a mental change. We decided to start raising our kids during this season of life to have a happiness mentality, instead of a poverty mentality.
We see how poverty takes it toll on the families around us. The stress of unpaid bills and collection calls clearly visible in their faces, 20- and 30-somethings who look worn and tired. We don’t want that.
Choosing happiness is something you must do. It is imperative. You have to come full circle in your mind and go against subcultural norms in your thinking. Happiness does not equal having things, nor does the latter depend on the former. Ever.
Happiness, like life, is made in moments. Moments that offer complete and perfect perspective about what is most important.
Last summer, I was watching my kids play at the park. “Daddy, come push me on the swing!”
Two mothers sit close by, and I overhear them talking about how their husbands are away for work, often for three weeks at a time. Those dads have to miss moments like this.
Perspective. That damned perspective.
These moments are fleeting. I watch my kids grow at a rapid pace, and it forces me to think about all of the things I could have missed out on through these formative years had I been gone.
I don’t have things, but I get to take my son to the library on Monday mornings.
I don’t have a cell phone, but I get to drive my daughter to school and pick her up every single day. I treasure those mornings in the car. There is an unbreakable relationship forming in that car. Every. Single. Morning.
My kids don’t know about the struggle. And they don’t need to know, because to them, their lives are fantastic. They have two parents who love them, a warm house on cold winter nights, and food in their tummies. Our family now trades in a currency of moments instead of things. They are happy. We are happy.
Soon this will all be over. My wife will have a job that will afford us the relative luxuries of a middle-class lifestyle. We always get through by reminding ourselves that this season will soon be over. And when it is over, I am not so sure I want to change our minimalist lifestyle.
I don’t want to be the family that communicates through cell phones at the dinner table, or to have kids who expect iPads and PS4s for Christmas.
My daughter got some birthday money this year, so I suggested we go to the mall to pick a few things out. Hannah said, “Nah, I want to save it for Angelica (our sponsor child) for her Christmas present.”
Something tells me we will be fine.
Justin Connors is a husband, father, photographer, and writer of Life In 140. He is obsessed with Disney, Fuji-X Gear, and pop culture (web,tech). He Lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, and he hates the winter. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.