I haven’t had so much time to write blogs lately because I’ve had a couple of major life events happen and happening. One is that I got married, which I wrote about here. The other is that I’ve been raising startup funds for AvecMode, the most significant professional undertaking I’ve ever taken.
Not to take anything away from how special getting married has been, but the two events have been eerily similar for three reasons:
1. The dating process.
Finding investors has been a very interesting process. People ask me how I started finding investors, and it’s actually very similar to how you find a girlfriend or boyfriend. You start with your friends and personal network. Chances are, like a future lover, your investors may be friends of friends. You may meet them in a bar, either for a tech meetup or a happy hour.
This is not to say that every friend of a friend is a good match. That’s far from reality. In fact, what ends up happening is that most of those friends of friends are simply willing to go on a date with you. They may already have, in the back of their head, a reason not to spend any more time with you (or invest). But at least you got the date.
Being open to a relationship is just as important as creating opportunities to meeting new people. The same is true for investors. Once you start talking, you quickly begin to learn what that person is into, what they’re looking for and whether or not it’ll be a good fit. Some people date for years before getting married, others date for months. Star and I dated for four months.
2. You know when you know.
That last sentence goes to show that the saying that “you know when you know” is really true. In the first three minutes of talking to a potential investor on the phone or having an in-person meeting, I can usually tell if it’s going to go further than that. It’s more difficult to know if you’re going to go all the way; if you’ll get an investor…but you know if they’re genuinely interested. The most honest investors, like honest people you may date, are up front after an initial conversation/date about their interest.
I have been very disappointed in people who’ve strung me along, and gained more respect for the people who were more up-front. Rejection is something I can take if I feel like it’s coming from a good place and that the person gave me a fair shot. If they didn’t give me a fair shot, I make sure to remember it like remembering a bad girlfriend and how they did you wrong. You may forgive, but you never forget. Spite is a great source of motivation, at least short-term.
3. It’s never perfect at the start.
Long-term, however, your motivation has to be to have sustainable, repeatable success for all the right reasons. Some people start businesses to make lots of money. For me, and my business partner Jon, I think we’re in it to solve a real problem that we perceive which we believe will lead to money if we execute our business plan properly. That means we have to be entering this relationship, we have to want to date (and seek investors), for the right reasons.
For us, it’s all about finding people who share our vision and are willing to acknowledge that not everything is perfect simply because we agreed to get in bed with one another. Sometimes the business plan needs to pivot, maybe an assumption was off or a new revenue stream opened up. The best relationships, like investors, have a lot of dialogue, understanding and a hell of a lot of faith and trust in the abilities of the people involved.
I’ve been raising money for AvecMode because we believe the right investors will help Jon and I take this business to the next level, with hyper-growth trajectory. You often hear people say that their husbands or wives are their other halves. Star is just that for me; she’s the woman that God gave me to take me to the next level as a human being.
These major life events take faith, patience, respect, and trust. I know that’s a lot to ask for so I’ve been doing a lot of talking with God to make sure my head’s in the right place and I’m making the decisions I’m making for all the right reasons. There’s a lot at stake for me personally and professionally, with the most important people in my life counting on me.
So growing up, I had a choice of sorts: focus on girls or focus on my education. I chose the latter, and became the first in my immediate family to graduate from college when I walked across the stage in the Frank Erwin Center in 2005. Since then, I’ve stacked up a certain degree of professional accomplishment that has led me to believe that I made the right decision back in my pre-teen years. I also have Jenny Restrepo to thank for reinforcing to me that spending years of my life chasing women was a waste of my time (I’d have to re-learn that lesson years later, mind you).
I share this to lay the groundwork for a decision that I, along with the most amazing woman I’ve ever met, made yesterday. We got married. In the Travis County Courthouse. Besides the judge, only my good friend Terry Lickona was in the room. I wanted a man, a friend I could trust there. And someone who didn’t question my decision making. Girls our age imagine fancy weddings because that’s what they’ve spent many of their summer weekends attending since college. Guys my age question any guy who wants to settle down.
So yesterday at 4pm, I married the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known (without even talking about how she looks). That’s not husband talk either. I’ve thought that since our first date four months ago. Yes, four months ago. It was a business lunch that turned into a date about 10 minutes into the conversation. By our second date, I had started figuring out what steps were needed to make a proposal. After each date, I spent hours online researching the perfect ring. I traveled a lot for work during that time and spent even more time doing internal, introspective research to confirm the decision I made after our third date. I was going to marry this woman. I had to.
Now I’ve heard people say “you know when you know” but it’s hard to give any weight to such a statement until you’ve been in that position. After years and years and years of relationship after relationship, guesses, uncertainties, doubts, second chances, and mistakes aplenty, I finally reached a point to say “fuck it” and go back to focusing on myself. Then I met her, and the game changed. Cliché or not, this is what I felt and what I will tell our children one day. There’s no other explanation.
We’re complete opposites but have one thing in common. We both wanted to make this commitment to one another and didn’t want a long engagement or fancy wedding to prove it. You know when you know, we both understand now.
So we didn’t do all the invitations and bridesmaid dresses and location scouting and parent-pleasing. We just did what was best for us. We got married. We’ll have a ring ceremony on our one-year anniversary and worry about involving other people then. People can be disappointed about not being invited then.
Ultimately what I’m sharing here isn’t the story of how I met and why I married my wife (I have a million reasons there). No, what I wanted to share was something more important. Too many people spend too much time in life – their personal lives, their professional lives, their love lives – worrying about what other people want instead of listening to what they want for themselves. The second I knew getting married to this special woman is what I wanted to happen in my life, I said screw the rest and made it happen. I hope our children look back on this important day in the lives of their mom and dad and learn something that will positively shape their lives and decision-making.
[Quick word of clarification. My wife is not pregnant nor do we plan to be for several years. Thank you for your concern. lol]
The opinions expressed here are my own, duh, my name in on the blog title.
Well, since you ask, my answer is yes.
Why? Because the same behavior is what made interracial marriage unlawful in far too many states in decades past. The opponents to interracial marriage can’t be described as anything other than people exhibiting bigot-like behavior. Who wants to debate that?
What does interracial marriage have to do with gay marriage, you may ask?
Well, mainly the fact that their respective opponents are both rooted in a) an outdated understanding of law, b) bigotry, and the desire to be intolerant of people different from them, c) the fact that someone thinks they own the definition for love. If the goal is to uphold the sanctity of marriage, then the goal should be to uphold the sanctity of love, right?
Should Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson have not been allowed to marry because he is half-white? Okay, so he’s half-black too, does that make it OK then (and only then?)? What about Seal and Heidi Klum? Do you realize that in my second home state of South Carolina, that celebrity couple would not have been able to legally marry up until 14 years ago? One of the good arguments that finally removed that law was how much money the state was losing with having these marriages happen elsewhere. The same revenue case can be made for gay marriages now that some states have deemed the marriages legally sound.
But screw the economics. This is about love and marriage. This is about sanctity and bigotry. This is about being for something today or wasting time and making yourself look bad (a la Chick-fil-a) by standing in the way of something that all forms and levels of government, even South Carolina’s, will one day realize must be accepted.
You see the person out at a bar and they don’t make a point to speak to you or a restaurant and they don’t at least say hello to you.
You send the person an invitation and they don’t accept it or let you know they can’t make it or give you a reason why they didn’t come after the event.
You call the person and they don’t answer; you leave a voicemail and they don’t call back.
You text the person and they don’t text back. "K" is not an acceptable response unless it's followed up with greater context/detail within 12 hours or the person is abroad.
You tweet at the person and they don’t respond. (Follow back is not required if they RT or reply to you.)
You write on the person’s Facebook wall or message the person but they don’t respond; you send a friend request but they don’t accept.
You like a photo on Instagram and follow them; but they never follow you back or like any of your photos (follow back is not required if they "like" any of your photos).
You send the person a LinkedIn connection request but they never respond; you send a recommendation request and they never respond.
It was just after Father’s Day 1996, and I was a few months into my 13th year. The following two-year stretch – my 8th and 9th grade years - would go on to become the best time in my immediate family’s history in my recollection.
My mom had a good paying job as an assistant to the owner of several Pizza Hut franchises in Upstate South Carolina; she wasn’t always working two jobs for once. My two older brothers – then in high school - were still within reach of going to college despite their best attempts not to. And with my first-ever startup business – a neighborhood lawn service – taking off, I actually had enough money to buy my own school clothes and go to the movies with friends. I even paid for my own trip to Washington, D.C., the following spring with Beta Club.
Some sixteen years later, I can now fully recall that summer as the peak of my childhood experience. When most people think of “peaks” in life they think it means the best of times. Well, that’s part of it for me.
I remember living in Berea, spending my afternoons playing with my brothers and neighborhood kids. We’d go hours on end playing basketball, softball, running around the field in our backyard or playing near the pond across the street. I'd gotten my mouth busted open on a concrete porch playing hide-and-go-seek just the summer before. I’d ride around the “hood” of West Greenville with my uncle and see everything from drug deals to cheap prostitution from a gunner’s position (figuratively), but never get involved; it was my street education. I spent many a weekend at my friends’ places; James, Doug and Brian were like my 3rd, 4th and 5th brothers back then, despite them all being white. I was a straight-A student, and had already determined – during my 7th grade year – that the University of Texas at Austin was a place I’d like to go to college. I also ran track that year, and started playing baritone in the high school marching band. Man, those were the days. I still remember being in love with Jennifer Schrader during my choir tour in Daytona Beach, Florida.
My family is a bit of an odd one, but I guess everyone’s is. No one in my family was married at the time; not my grandparents (whom never wed), my mother (who would have her second marriage and divorce less than five years later), not anyone. No one in my family had graduated from college; at least no one I grew up around. Marriage certificates and college degrees were about as scarce as family vacations in my childhood. Still, that summer of ’96 was special…everything just seemed to be clicking for us as a family. Our family bond – extending to grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins – appeared to be at an all-time high. We even went to Myrtle Beach, the four of us, that year.
To me, though, “peaks” can also mean the hardest times when I learned the most about myself and the world. That’s part of what happened during the summer of ’96. Maybe I didn’t learn it then, but the seeds for life-long lessons were planted.
My dad wasn’t around much during my childhood. When I say “much” I’m talking about my entire childhood after the age of three. My parents got divorced, and my dad took off to New Jersey where he grew up. If he paid child support, I sure as hell don’t remember. If he sent birthday cards, I damn sure didn’t see the words “I love you” inside.
When I was in 7th grade my dad, that guy, got the bright idea to come check in on his three boys down in the South. My mom, perhaps enamored with the idea of having a man in the house when three boys were becoming young men, let him back in our two-bedroom duplex.
He was so cool. I mean, seriously, he was so fucking cool.
He lived in Jersey so he had this way of talking that was so fast and new and fresh; I wanted to be him. I forgave him for all those times he was a shitty dad, even when I was only two and three years old (yes, I can remember him spanking me when I peed myself at 3). I forgave him for all those years lost. I forgave him for the nights my brothers and I would hear my mom go off to her 2nd job or the mornings when she’d be out the door to her first job before we even took the bus to school.
He wore Kangol hats, like LL Cool J. He said “word is bond” like rappers from New York at the time. He talked about Kwame and Kool ‘N The Gang like they were the biggest names in music history. He knew the exact perfect way to tune the sound on a stereo or record player, getting the equalizer just so that we’d be dancing in the house in no time. He was something like a 6th degree black belt in Kung Fu; no joke. He could handle a set of nunchucks the way Bruce Lee did in his flicks. He was young-ish, fit, creative, inspired, and handsome.
But he sucked as a dad; even when he was around. Sucked. He tried to split my brothers up to pit us against one another. He was like a politician trying to get votes from one lobby after another; Mitt Romney knows nothing of lacking a moral compass compared to my dad. I guess he decided my middle brother wasn’t a constituency he cared for, because he usually gave him the silent treatment. As for me, he’d take me to the movies…we saw all the Steven Seagal and Bruce Willis movies even if they were rated R and I wasn’t 13 yet.
He was picky as all hell too. I distinctly remember him yelling at my mother for buying potato salad rather than macaroni salad.
My oldest brother and I got his knack for writing. My middle brother got his music savvyness. I got his conversational skills and fitness bug. We all got a little something genetically. But we didn’t get a real dad.
And I think he realized that, which is why he eventually moved into his own place up the street before moving back to New Jersey altogether. I can’t even tell you the precise months he was with us, that’s how miniscule the time together seemed. But I can tell you this; it laid the foundation for something that has shaped me to this day.
You see, a few months later, during that summer of ’96, my dad called me up. I had this weird way of feeling like the favorite for my grandparents and uncle and I think I was my dad’s favorite, too. I think maybe I’m the most like him, and he saw that.
So he called me up, and said I should come up to New Jersey to visit him. We could spend quality time together, father and youngest son, and I could see how he lived. He planned to buy me a train ticket from Greenville, SC, to Elizabeth, NJ, which sounded absolutely amazing to me. I loved the idea of going somewhere bigger than my hometown; I envisioned Elizabeth was walking distance from New York City. I especially loved the idea of doing this with my dad.
That conversation happened not long after Father’s Day ’96. About a month later, he called me up and said, “I don’t think it’s such a good idea for you to come up right now.”
That was the last time I spoke to him. Sixteen year ago.
Leave me when I’m 3 years old, shame on you; leave me when I’m 13 years old, shame on me, I suppose. Songs like this have always resonated with me since then.
When I turned 29 this year, I realized something. I realized that he was 29 years old when he left us the first time.
Twenty-nine years of age doesn’t seem old to me, but times were different nearly 20 years ago. At 29, I think my dad realized that he wanted to use his strengths, his creativity, his motivation, his talent, his knack for discovery...he wanted to use it away from a family. He had a shot, I guess, and he took it. Only he didn’t take us with him.
He wanted to be young, Black, successful, well-traveled, not hard-up for money, single with no children, and unattached.
He wanted the life that I have today at 29 years of age.
So with Father’s Day coming up, I can’t say I have a father worth speaking of, and definitely not one worth sending a card with a “thank you” to. But I can say I have a father who made sure I missed out on regrets and resentment; at least the kind you direct towards a wife and kids.
Perhaps much of my drive and ambition – to be the first person in my immediate family to graduate from college, to be successful, to see the world, etc. – comes from his failures. I struggle with opening myself up to others, at times, because I don’t need to let anyone else disappoint me that much ever again. Yet I still battle with needing the acceptance of others.
I guess I didn’t want to look up at 29 and see a world for myself that ran in opposition to the world forced upon me by poor, short-sighted and immature decisions. At 29, my dad had a wife and three kids. That’s a mature sounding thing, but the process for him wasn’t that at all. He met my mom when she was a high school senior and they had my brother a few months after she graduated. That was that.
Nor was the process he deployed to remove himself from my life very sound or thoughtful.
Am I angry? Yes. Do I forgive him? I don’t know; he’s never asked for an apology. Have I come to an age where I can understand a little bit of the pressure he may have felt at 29 causing him to resent his family and leave us? I believe I have.
That’s a lesson I’ll definitely chalk up as a “peak” in my life. It’s a lesson I’m proud to have not had to learn the hard way with resentment, deferred dreams and children of my own at this young age.
So Happy Father’s Day, I suppose.