If real-life experience means anything, then I have had my fair share over the years. I grew up in abject poverty and was often homeless as a child, living in cars, tents and shelters. By the time I was 17, my family had been evicted 34 times.
To be sure, untold people have had it much worse than I have. After Simon & Schuster published my memoir a few years ago, I heard from hundreds of individuals from across the country. Some with stories that made my young life look like a fairy tale by comparison.
That said, for better and worse, I have seen life through a different prism than many.
Over the years, I have been asked whether there were any positives associated with the way I grew up. Though there are understandably few to be found, there were two that had a tremendous impact upon me.
The first being that as a white child, I often lived in predominantly poor African-American neighborhoods. Most of my little friends and I never cared about the color of our skin and honestly never talked about it. What those of us who were determined to try and make something of ourselves did focus on and discuss was defeating the common enemies of poverty and massive family dysfunction that threatened our very welfare on a daily basis.
Part of that “real-life experience” that has stayed with me through the years is the heroism of the single mothers I encountered along the way, most of them African-American. Though some of my fellow conservatives have devoted a good deal of their time to criticizing these women and their “lifestyles,” the ones I saw were a vision to behold. Most worked two to four jobs and did every single thing in their power to give their children the best life possible. The other “positive” from my childhood is the fact that the abject poverty and never-ending dysfunction around me made me more determined than ever to roll the dice in life and not settle. And with each chance I took, I would think to myself, “What’s the worst that can happen? I end up living in a car again? Better that than living with the regret of not trying.”
Because of that, I’ve had an interesting career and life track. Along the way, I got invited to training camp by a few professional hockey teams as well as one professional baseball team — no talent and a bad knee quickly took care of those fleeting dreams — before eventually spending some time working in the White House, the Pentagon, the private sector and scribbling a few books aside from the memoir.
After my time with the government, I was often invited to appear on network and cable news shows to discuss or debate the political issues of the day. Often, when certain Republican officials or staff found out I was going to be on a program, they would call or email to offer talking points, which I would always politely but firmly turn down. My feeling being that to take the talking points would be to cheat the viewers. Though many from both sides certainly took and recited talking points verbatim on these programs, I found it deceptive and dishonest. Some people may like what I write, and some will undoubtedly hate it. That’s OK. Whatever the verdict, I simply want people to know that what I write, I believe, and that it has been shaped only by my real-life experiences.