This I Believe

Raina - Rancho Mirage, California
Entered on January 7, 2008
Age Group: Under 18

I believe that success is not determined by the accident of the family you’re born into. My father is serving a 30-year prison sentence, and my mother is in and out of rehab. The difference between them that concerns me in particular is what they have made of their situations. It all boils down to the simple fact that my mother has only disappointed me, and that my father has made me strive to become the person I want to be.

My father was the kind of person who may have been expected to fall onto the path he did. He lived with his four sisters, brother, mother, and occasionally father in a one bedroom house that his mother still lives in today. He didn’t live in a wealthy neighborhood and he didn’t take the right classes for him to get into college; he knew that wasn’t an option.

My mother’s background would seem more appealing. She had a family just as big, that lived in fabulous houses and owned a prominent food company. They were wealthy, and looked happy on the surface, but their arrogance and denial may have been what drove my mother to her drug use. Her most important contribution has been to prove that a wealthy childhood does not ensure success. By the time she had married my father, she was used to a life of privilege and irresponsibility. He risked everything by becoming a big player in a drug cartel in order to keep her happy, so that she wouldn’t leave him and bring my younger sister and me along. Unfortunately, just weeks after my sister was born, it all came crashing down.

Now everything has changed, in a dramatic sort of irony. My mother has given up all control of what she had held onto so tightly to coerce my father; I live with my aunt in Palm Springs and my sister lives with our half brother and his grandfather in San Diego. My father still resides in prison, but has become my most relied upon source for advice, concerning anything from the romantic longings of high school to the angst felt when my stepfather overdosed on drugs. He helped me make the hardest decision of my life, when I chose the stability of four years at the same high school in my aunt’s home over living with my beloved brother and sister.

My dad perfectly represents the reformation that prison is supposed to give. He has become truly wise in the time he has spent in jail. He has enrolled in college, so that when he is freed he won’t be dependent on anyone but himself, and he has started to pursue his artistic talents once again. He won’t be there for my graduation from high school, and he might not be there to give me away at my wedding, but he has given me so much perspective on life that I believe he has truly made me the person I am.