I grew up pretty poor in East Boston. We lived in a three-decker, dumbbell tenement where my mother and sister had to walk through my bedroom to get to their own. My sister’s bedroom was basically a storage room or oversized closet. There were no doors in the rooms, so there wasn’t a whole lot of privacy. We lived on the third floor, and my grandparents lived on the first floor. Angie and Rico, the couple who rented the middle floor, were like family. The three-deckers were so close together that in the summertime, when the windows were open, you could hear the conversations from folks living in the building next door, and could literally hand items from window to window if your neighbor needed to borrow flour or milk.
Just to give you a better feel of just how tight things were money-wise, my mom used to stretch my shoes and dye them another color to get longer use out of them; it was a creative way to get new shoes. We didn’t go on family vacations, and we purchased necessities, not luxuries. OK, I think you get the picture.
I am not revealing these facts because I want any sympathy, or for you to say, “poor Lou,” because the fact of the matter is that I wouldn’t want it any other way. We were extremely happy. What we lacked in money was made up in the love of our parents and grandparents. I saw my grandparents every day. We ate dinner together, and we talked, laughed, and played cards. I knew their philosophies and what they believed in because they invested time in me. My grandparents dedicated a lot of time, care, and love to my sister, Stephanie, and me.
If you think of it, my mother was 22 when I was born. Nothing against my mom or my dad, but at 22, there is not a lot of teaching that you have in you to offer. At 22, you’re still a kid yourself. At 22, you’re struggling to make ends meet and make your mark in order to be successful. It’s a pretty young age to be having children – just my opinion. So, having 50-year-old wisdom at your disposal every day is very beneficial. The fact that we spent so much time with our grandparents helped us out in many ways. The love, the advice, the food on the table – all pieces for a happy childhood. We had no money, but we were extremely happy.
In the fields I have been in throughout my career, I have met a good number of very wealthy people. They have big houses and cars and all the gadgets everyone thinks they want. Some even have their own private jets. Many of them have it all, and yet have nothing. I’m generalizing, but many of the wealthy folks I have met have strange relationships with their kids. They worked so hard to become wealthy, that they did not spend enough time with their kids and family. Yeah, sure, they were doing it for their family, but in the process they lost site of what truly mattered and what was most important. Buying items and possessions for your children is no substitute for your presence and display of love.
When we were kids, we didn’t have smart phones, PSP’s, iPads and all these scheduled sports that we see today. Because we didn’t have these things, we got creative, used our imaginations, and actually played. We played for the love of the game. My best pal, Gene, and I would play stickball in the schoolyard for hours – all of that focusing on a small ball with a thin bat made us much better Little League hitters. We didn’t receive outside instruction from paid coaches and clinics to get better; we just had fun doing it, and happened to get better in the process. I believe we were better off and actually had more than kids who appear to have more today. Our lives were enriched even though we weren’t rich.
When I was with the Patriots, I worked crazy hours, traveled with the team, and saw my kids much less than I would have liked. I was focused on a career and making money and my eye got off the ball. I was fortunate that my kids were babies and young enough not to be negatively affected by not having my presence. In fact, we were very lucky – Patricia stayed at home and got the kids on my schedule so we could maximize the time I spent with them. But just the same, I was headed in the wrong direction, and got caught up with things that really were just window dressing. Something had to give.
I don’t have the same “glamorous”, jet-setting job that I had years ago, but I have dinner with my family just about every night. I make all my kids games and all their practices. We ski together, swim together, and spend a lot of time chatting and discussing philosophies, working things out together. I am happier for it. I am happy like when I was a kid and I received time, love and wisdom from my grandparents; only now, it’s Patricia and I who are providing those aspects of life to our kids. My son came home a few days ago and said that one of his friends was sad because she never saw her dad. In fact, she was a bit mad at him for not being around. I know I sound like I’m lecturing, but kids notice. They’re very perceptive; if you are not spending enough time with them, you may want to shift your thinking.
I realize money is necessary for living, but how much do you really need? Are you aiming for money and possessions, or are you aiming for happiness? The relationship you have with your children is far more important than any bank account or stock portfolio. Who is actually a success, the guys like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life or the guys like Mr. Potter? Society has things all backwards. When your kids need you the most, your time is limited. When you have time, it’s their time to make a name for themselves. You can succumb to an inverted system, or you can end the struggle, and strive to achieve what is truly important to you.
What are you aiming for? I suggest you aim for happiness.