The words poor and broke have different meanings, but often they are used as if they share the same one; they don’t.
My parents taught me that broke is when you have no money, but poor is when you have no options. At times, my family was broke, not Hillary Clinton “broke,” but real people broke.
I remember my mother pawned her wedding ring to pay rent, and my father asked a nephew for money because I was a sickly child who almost lived in the doctor’s office, making medical bills they couldn’t afford.
My father, John Joseph Valdez, was a decorated World War II soldier who served in Patton’s 3rd Army, survived the Battle of the Bulge and later was decorated for his service during the Berlin Airlift. Then at the age of 50, he retired and ended the military career he loved because he opposed the United State’s involvement in Vietnam.
Our family was broke because of his principal, but we were broke for the right reason. We settled in the Midwest closer to my mom’s family, but my dad couldn’t find a job except for two options — a janitor in a bank on the graveyard shift or working on the city’s street crew. He chose the janitor job since it would be warmer in the winter.
Every night he could only spend a few hours with me and my brother, Philip, before he took the bus to work where he emptied garbage cans until 6 a.m.
By the time he got home in the morning, we were at school. In a child’s mind, time has little meaning and only experience adds value. It wasn’t until years later that I understood and appreciated my father.
While emptying the trash cans of Central National Bank, my dad found an instructional manual to a machine in the microfiche department. Decades ago, paper files were microfiched or photographed onto film slides for easier storage. My dad was a voracious reader and even read the entire encyclopedia set twice in his lifetime, so during his dinner breaks, he read the microfiche instructional manual.
At some point, a job became available for an entry level machine operator, and based on what he taught himself from the manual, my dad demonstrated how to use a machine he had never operated before. He got the job and by the time he retired from the bank in 1978, he had rose to be the supervisor of that department.
I marvel at his sheer genius navigating through life, not as a soldier, but more like a captain of a ship that’s been damaged and repaired many times, but is still seaworthy. That captain always has his eyes on the horizon and he sees options no one else can.
As I age, I try to see like my father, searching for the options on my horizon and trying to be worthy of him. June 24 would have been my father’s 102nd birthday. Happy birthday, Daddy.