Updated: Jul 10, 2019
Happy birthday to my old man who taught me many life lessons. One of my favorites was
"Omnia mea mecum porto!"
I grew up in a country in Southeast Europe, that had six republics, five nations, four languages, three major religions, two alphabets and one heart. Yugoslavia, in less than one century, was ruled by a king, communists, then socialists and now a democratic government.
My parents were brought up in the communist regime and my brother and I in the socialist. People of Yugoslavia that disagreed with the government or wanted to express their religious beliefs had to suffer consequences, from being ridiculed, ostracized from their communities and jobs, to being beaten, imprisoned or worse, executed. My generation did not feel threatened that way, however one could be harassed and ridiculed for believing in God.
The building that we lived in was older than the United States. We had no bathrooms in our apartments, only communal outhouses, which we shared with other families. To access them we had to walk through the courtyard and carry a key with us.
My mom bathed my brother and I in a big plastic tub, for as long as we fitted in. When we no longer could fit in the tub, on the weekends, we would shower in public pools, or better at my uncle's new apartment which we loved so much. Mainly because of playing with our cousins not the shower! Most of my clothes were hand-me-downs from my cousins and brother. I could only dream of owning a nice pair of shoes.
It's funny how we weren't aware of how poor we were. My parents made sure we payed more attention to what we put in our minds versus what clothes we wore. The only things that we were rich in was our imagination, parental love and books. Our walls were covered with books. We had over 2,000 of them!
The most vivid image of my dad is seeing him read books and play chess. His favorite Latin saying was "Omnia mea mecum porto". It means "All that's mine I carry with me". Growing up I must have heard that phrase a million times, not really grasping its true meaning until I came to this country.
A month shy of my eighteenth birthday, I arrived in the United States without speaking a word of English, with only a few hundreds of dollars, and lots of tears. My country was falling apart, on a brink of the civil war. My parents only hope for my brother and I was to continue learning in a country which they referred to as “the land of opportunities.” A place where if you work hard, you can achieve anything, a place where dreams come true and the place where you can be who you are without a fear of being imprisoned. And although I did not speak a word of English, I was fluent in numbers and I could play sports like no other.
Playing basketball help me gain friends and learn English. And my knowledge of numbers helped me pay for my school by helping other students who struggled in math. Later, I became a college teacher.
It took lots of years of hard work and perseverance to become a doctor of math. And little did I know that the discipline and goal setting I developed through playing sports played a big part of it.
Now that I am older I try to teach my kids about the same Latin proverb that my dad taught me.
I tell them to invest their time and energy into gaining knowledge and experience, learning languages, playing instruments, mastering a new skill, not just accumulating things.
Those are the things that no one can take away from you no matter where you go.
I also tell my boys that besides accumulating knowledge, it's important to use and share that knowledge with others and for doing good in the world.
Dad, thank you for teaching me this important lesson. Happy birthday Dad!