I’m struggling with the title of this, but I wanted this piece to reflect how I felt in the moment, not how I feel on reflection. And in the moment of deciding to go away to university on a full scholarship hundreds of miles from my hometown, I felt like I was failing my child.
And that was a tough pill to swallow. I was so committed to the idea of having a family that I dropped out of high school to move out with the mother of my daughter. We struggled through a year of my minimum wage jobs while living in a single room basement apartment. There were times I needed my uncle to buy me groceries. Embarrassing to admit, but true.
Halfway through that year, I signed up for night school and earned my final credit. By some blessing of the universe, I still had two scholarship offers on the table (I was a really good basketball player) and by the spring, I had to make a decision. Do I accept one of these scholarships? Or do I stay in Toronto and try to forge a career on a high school diploma?
I chose the former. I chose myself.
And I felt selfish for it. But in the end, I knew there was something bigger for me. At 19, I didn’t have the awareness to articulate what that calling was or that it was even a calling to begin with. I just felt in my heart that there was an entire world out there and if I wanted to find my place in it, I’d have to take this opportunity.
I cried when my bus pulled off from the terminal. My daughter’s mother was holding her and watching me go. In those last glimpses of my little girl, I thought she would forget me. She was only one and here I was disappearing for four years only coming home for a few weeks over the summers.
I didn’t even consider how my girlfriend would feel. She’s the mother of my daughter and I was leaving her too. She was only 18 and being asked to take care of our child on her own. My selfishness ran deep.
But I fought through all the doubt, anxiety and indecision I felt about leaving my daughter. I had an opportunity to better myself. To elevate my mind and hone my skills. Writing was still only a passion then. Going to university inspired me to turn it into a career.
On reflection, this is the single most important decision of my life. University is where I started and completed my first book. It’s where I met the professor who encouraged me to “keep writing” and prepared me for the long road ahead. University is where I came out of my shell and became more social. I found my tribe and it was an incredible experience.
The most important thing from my time in university was that my daughter and I continued to bond. All my concerns about her not knowing I was her father were all in my head. And once I graduated university, my physical presence in her life has been constant, including my having full-custody for the past four years.
Who knows where I would’ve ended up had I decided not to accept that scholarship. I’m glad I’ll never have to know. But in putting myself first, I’ve been able to create a life for my daughter that I never had for myself. More than that, I’ve been able to live my true calling. The fact that I’m a full-time writer sharing my stories and helping others share theirs is a blessing I owe to that single decision.
I’d be lying if I saw this exact outcome. But I’d also be lying if I didn’t admit that even as a 19 -year-old parent who dropped out of high school and was working minimum wage jobs, I felt something inside me calling me to be great. I listened to that voice even though it meant physically leaving my daughter. That fate or trust in myself is the reason I’m literally living my dream every day.