Today is my 40th birthday.
First of all, thank God for allowing me to live this long … to be born an American … and for all of the gifts he has bestowed.
The only way to appropriately reflect on turning 40 is by thinking back to when I turned 30.
What a disaster I was then.
How much of a disaster? So much so that only a month before my 30th birthday, the hometown newspaper ran a front-page story about me titled “A Wilting of Great Promise.“
It was that bad. And it would get worse. I didn’t really bottom out for another 18 months. And as my situation deteriorated, I continued to do horrible things to myself and those around me. Considering what I did then, I am truly lucky to be alive.
At some point then, one of the jobs I burned through was as a waiter at Leverock’s Seafood House, where the early bird special offered a two-fer of the onion-crusted salmon for $6.95. Working for tips of $1.05 at a time forces you to humble yourself.
But I never gave up. I spent the better part of two years deconstructing what I had made of my life. By 2008, I resolved to turn around my life.
The “As God as my witness, I’ll never be hungry again” moment came in New York as I walked home from a double shift at work … uphill … in the snow. I remember how bone-chilling cold it was to this Florida Man. And I kept thinking of the line from Camus: “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”
After I returned to St. Petersburg, one of the last places I hoped to find myself was in a courthouse. The previous visits had not worked out so well! But it was in a courthouse, during the investiture of Thomas Minkoff, where I first saw Michelle.
That’s where the trajectory of my life got back on course while at same time dramatically shifting.
It would take two years after first meeting her before Michelle and I dated. She was too engrossed working for the governor to pay me much attention. But my perseverance paid off. And paid off well.
Today, that ambitious young woman is the most devoted of mothers and wives. We have a beautiful home and purposeful, blessed lives.
Most important – and most improbable considering where I was a decade ago – we have Ella Joyce. I’m sure there are many other situations similar to my own, but still, do you know of another instance in which a child has more changed a man?
And therein lies the rub: had I not been so off course on my birthday 10 years ago, I would not be where I am today.
So when I blow out the candles on this year’s birthday cake, what I will wish for is this: For everyone reading this to give someone in their lives the same kind of grand second chance I was given.
Because a second chance is what I wished for on this day 10 years ago.