“It’s not easy being a mother. If it were easy, fathers would do it.”
—The Golden Girls
Today’s story is from Brandon Steiner.“You Gotta’ Have Balls” is Brandon Steiner’s inspiring book about how he grew up as a dirt-poor Jewish boy with no dad and no money. He and his mom got by on welfare stamps.
Things worked out. Today, his Steiner Sports is a multi-million dollar international brand, the heaviest hitter in the sports memorabilia world. Brandon is also a big-hearted guy and a valued, “What can I do for you?” personal friend.
How did he do it? “My mom,” Brandon proudly tells Savvy Dad.“I had no dad. We had no money. But Mom took no excuses. She was forced to wear the ‘dad hat,’ and she wore it well. Mom would say, “I’m your mom and your dad too, so whatever I say goes double!”
We asked Brandon to share the most valuable lessons he learned from this remarkable woman, who served as both mom and dad. He asked that we share three, and you don’t mess with kids from Brooklyn, so here they are:
LESSON #1 — Be an Advocate, Not a Judge
Mom was incredibly giving, despite our lack of money. It seemed like the less we had, the more she would try to give away! One day, as we were walking home from the market, she placed a whole dollar into the cup of a homeless guy. I quietly snuck back to pull the dollar from his cup, but Mom caught me in the act. After demanding that I immediately put the dollar back in the cup, she pulled me aside and said, “Brandon, it’s not for you to judge who needs help and who doesn’t…
If a person asks for help, you help them, plain and simple. Unless you sit on a bench in a black robe, your job is not to judge others, especially those in need.”
Mom’s lesson took. I try to help people whenever I can. I don’t question their need. I don’t ask why. I’m an advocate of help, not a judge of needs.”
LESSON #2 — It’s Not What Happens, It’s How You React
4th grade. Mr. Kerper’s class. He also lived across the street from us. An athlete in his heyday. A tall, well built man. All the kids looked up to him. I sure did. Mr. Kerper asked me to remain after class one day. “Brandon, you’ve been wearing the same pants for the past three weeks now. Do you have another pair son?”
It was true. I was so embarrassed. I tried to lie my way out of it. “No Mr. Kerper, I wore different ones last week,” I defended. “Well, does that other pair of pants have the same rip in the right knee?” he questioned, pointing to the tear in the leg of my pants.
Busted cold! I froze, speechless.
“Here,” he continued, pulling a few bills from his wallet. “Take this home to your mom for some new pants.”
Money in hand, I ran home, crying the whole way. I was mortified. “Why are you so upset?” Mom asked when I got home. I explained what happened. “Now Mr. Kerper knows we’re poor!” I moaned.
“Brandon, it’s not about what happens to you, it’s about how you react. I’m sorry about what happened today, but there is no reason to be upset. Take this money back to Mr. Kerper tomorrow and tell him ‘Thank you, but there are others who need the money more than we do.’ We’ll get you new pants next week when the welfare check arrives.”
This was a valuable lesson from Mom.
Embarrassing, seemingly unexpected, things are going to happen. Expect it. You can’t control that. But you can control how you react.
Lesson #3 — Be Accountable, Earn the Right to Accept Help
The Kerper incident was a turning point for me. Still bothered, I asked Mom about it later that day.
“Accepting help from others is OK if you really need it,” she said, “But you must be accountable. You’ve got to earn the right to accept help. If you don’t do what you can to avoid needing help, you don’t deserve the help.”
The following Saturday, I hit the streets in search of a job. I was 10. Eight long hours on the hunt… nothing. As a fourth grader, I didn’t have much of a resume yet. The end of the day. One last shot — Freddie the Fruit Man. I had asked him for a delivery job earlier that day. He laughed at me.
I went back for another attempt, begging Freddie with all that I had. To my surprise, he actually said yes! I sprinted home, “Mom! I got it! I got a job! You don’t need to worry about me anymore!”
She smiled, amused. “Ok, just after school and on weekends though,” she warned. “You are accountable. I am proud of you.”
Three lessons from Mom:
- Don’t judge those in need.
- It’s not what happens, it’s how we react.
- Be accountable before you accept help.
My mom raised three proud, successful men on her own. On welfare. Living principles like these. My mom — the best dad a kid could have.
Brandon Steiner is an author, motivational speaker and CEO of Steiner Sports Marketing, based in New Rochelle, N.Y.
He has written two books, including his most recent: You Gotta Have Balls: How a Kid from Brooklyn Started From Scratch, Bought Yankee Stadium, and Created a Sports Empire.
You can read Brandon’s daily insights into business, relationships and life on his blog at BrandonSteiner.com