When I was younger, I did some horrible things. Some, I didn’t know better because of age.
At least, I’d like to think so. For example, when I was four years old, I threw a tantrum fit while shopping with my pregnant mother. As she told me off, I punched her in the stomach.
Now, I’d like to think a four-year-old kid doesn’t throw a mean punch, and my mum didn’t flinch or give the impression that I’d hurt her. But every time I think of that moment, I think what an idiot thing to do.
Four months later, my sister was born. Early in her childhood, she developed kidney problems. One of them failed to work properly, so she had to take medication for a good chunk of her early years.
The doctors and my mum assured me it wasn’t the result of my punch during pregnancy – but then, they would say that to a little boy, right? So, I always feel I attributed to my sister’s health issues early on.
Skip forward a few years, to when I was maybe 11 or 12 years old, and I was a parent’s nightmare.
I lied. Often. I blamed my sister. Often. I stole from my mother’s purse, even though we were so poor our daily diet for about five years was nothing but Corn Flakes.
It got so bad that my mum and her boyfriend at the time – soon to be step-dad – sat me down at the kitchen table and threw about £6.50 in loose change – pennies, two pence pieces, ten pence pieces (UK money) – onto a plate in front of me.
“Go on – eat that. That’s all we have left for a week because you keep taking everything else. We can’t buy food, but we don’t want you to starve, so take that.”
My mum was in tears, and so was I. Had I really become this person?
Clearly, I had – because less than a week later, I stole from my mum’s purse again. This time, it was my mum who took action, and marched me down to the local police station and had the desk sergeant talk to me.
That worked. It scared the shit out of me, on two levels – first, jail scared me. Just being near the cells made me a quivering wreck.
Second, it was my mum who marched me down. The woman who always forgave me, and saw no wrong in me despite the fact there was.
That jolted me more than anything and made me realize something had to give.
Thankfully, something did give.
The Finding of Respect
One of my school friends told me about the Army Cadets – an institution for kids 13-18 to learn about army life, go on expeditions and (best of all) fire real guns! As a 12-year-old needing something to keep him busy, I was sold.
Little did I know just how much the idea of “being in the army” would change my life.
I found people that wanted to help you. I found a sense of belonging. Of loyalty. Of wanting to do right. I found discipline, and honour, and respect for both peers and elders.
Simply put, I found what it’s like to be a real member of society.
It took my life on a completely different path than the one I know I would have been on otherwise.
From my time in the cadets, I took away what it means to be a member of the community.
Of how to stand up for your friends and protect the vulnerable.
That led to me taking up martial arts and the discipline of karate.
Again, I loved the loyalty and peer respect that discipline brings.
I studied up until my brown belt, which is one below the black belt, before life events took precedent and I had to stop training for the next belt.
What karate taught me is that everyone is equal; the concept of “I’m more skilled than you” doesn’t exist, because there is always the moment someone less experienced can take you by surprise.
Karate also taught me to be a more patient and receptive person, and accept that situations are never truly in your control – it’s how you react that makes the difference.
It also showed me – finally – why we need to continuously strive to be a better person.
The Family is Everything
I truly believe that had I not made the decisions at that turning point when my mum took me down to the police station, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
I wouldn’t be the kind of husband I want to be for my wife Jaclyn; nor the father I want to be for my kids Ewan and Salem; nor the kind of friend I want to be for those that are kind enough to take me on as a friend.
For me, true friends are family and I want to be able to act if I need to protect them, and help them when they need help.
I don’t always get it right. I still make some crap decisions, and I know it hurts people.
But that’s the thing with trying to be better than you are – you do make mistakes and you will continue to do so.
The hope is, you learn from them.
Being a good person is not a given – you can say all the stuff in the world about how good you are, and how you’ll look out for those around you.
But if your actions don’t back up your words, you’ll never be anything other than the person that said so much and delivered little.
We don’t have to be that person. We shouldn’t be that person. Whether we are or not, though, comes down to one simple question:
Do you want to be a better person, truly?
The rest is up to you.