I grew up in a military household. My father was an artillery soldier in World War II. He stood ramrod straight and wore the army crew cut all his life. I jumped when he said jump, supposedly asking how high?
Although extremely strict with my behavior, he put no limits on my dreams. “You can be anything you want to be,” I often heard. Turning off our one black and white set in the middle of a show he’d demand, “Don’t believe everything you hear on TV. Be your own person. Believe in your own ideas.” Not the talk that you would expect from a 26-year military veteran, born in 1918, go-by-the-regulations kind of man, but those were the words I heard as part of my daily routine.
Because of his confidence in me, I began to believe in myself. I felt empowered to be anything during my dreaming years. I played mass with my siblings and the girls could always play the priest. We draped beach towels over our shoulders as chasubles and raised white bread rounds pressed flat in the dictionary and then cut out with a shot glass high over our heads for the consecration. With the Cuban influx to Miami in the 1970s, my Dad realized that in the changing world his children needed more tools to communicate and function. In 1972, he took the whole family to live in a small town in Costa Rica. He submerged us into the local schools so we could learn to speak Spanish. He counseled us as we struggled with the language to hang tough, to keep trying, to go at it one more time until I finally conjugated verbs in Espanol into the future and back to yesterday without any help. More than Spanish, I learned to believe in believing in possibilities.
In 1975, a high school teacher mentioned to me that the U.S. service academies were opening to women. Why don’t you try it, he suggested? I did not dismiss the idea. Just because there were no women before did not mean there could never be. Many times after my acceptance, I wanted to escape the harsh environment and come home, but Dad’s letters buoyed me us. They can’t get your goat if you don’t tell them where you tied it, he wrote.
When I graduated with the first class of women from USAFA (United States Air Force Academy) in 1980, my belief in myself was rock strong. Now, almost thirty years later, I believe in believing in one another. I believe in my own children’s dreams. I believe in life’s possibilities. Women can march and fly and fight with men. Women can someday be priests. African Americans can be president, and I believe that dreams can become reality if someone believes in a dreamer.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.