Being the youngest son of a preacher, I struggled for my own identity for most of my early years. I can honestly say that until I was about 17 years old, I felt that when people looked at me, the only real thing they knew about me was who I was related to. Beyond being labeled as a “PK” (preacher’s kid), I cannot tell you how many times I heard “That’s the Preacher (or Mrs.) Rice’s son” or “That’s Greg (or Keith’s) younger brother”. Obviously people meant nothing by it, but when that seems to be the only thing people seem to know about you, that can be hard for a kid….at least it was for me.
I don’t state this for anyone to feel sorry for me. We had our times when we got on each other’s nerves, or didn’t get along, but all in all, things were good. I realize that my home life was much better than the average. But that doesn’t mean that becoming my own person was easy to come by for me.
Wherever I could, I tried to be different from my brothers. They both played trumpet in band, but when it came my time I purposely chose saxophone. I wanted to excel in school to try to stand out on my own. No matter what I tried, it really didn’t matter because for most people, I was still their kid brother. It was frustrating.
We moved cities toward the tail end of my junior year in high school. We began going to a really large church where my Dad was not on staff. I went from a private school with maybe 70 high school students to a public high school where my graduating class was over 400. In both places, nobody knew me or who my parents were. For some people that might have been really overwhelming, but I honestly loved it. I felt like I was able to be known for who I was, not for my parents or my brothers. It was a new beginning for me and it was a defining turning point in my life.
About 18 months later, another big milestone in my life was about to start: college. I lived at home with my folks and went to a local university with nearly 25k students, but unlike high school, this was definitely overwhelming for me. I had made some good friends at my church, and they were all going to colleges out of town. This had me feeling like I was starting all over again, but this time I felt like I had just lost a lot more. Thankfully I met a lot of great folks during college, several of whom I met through my social and business fraternities.
The interesting thing is that although I had become my own person, there was still something that drove me to push hard to be my own person, to be independent, to be successful. My new benchmark was graduating and starting my career. It then became getting a graduate degree and trying to push myself even further in my career. Then it was how much I made, and what promotions I had gotten. Basically I spent nearly 20 years of my life pursuing things that the world would use as good definitions of self worth. And by all accounts, I was doing just fine.
By this time, I was married and in my mid-30’s. We decided we wanted a family, but the road wouldn’t be easy. We found out it would be nearly impossible to have a child on our own, so we decided to adopt. It had its own set of hurdles (which you can read about in other posts) but we finally brought Alina home. I knew my world would be different, but I really didn’t expect it to be this big of a change.
I can’t say it happened overnight, but I started becoming less concerned about my self identity. I became less concerned about professional success being the benchmark of the value of my life. I started reading the Bible more and for the first time in my life, understanding what God truly meant to me, and how I could be a better father, husband, son and friend. There was nothing wrong with anything that I had been pursuing, it was just the fact that those pursuits were first and foremost in my life and not what should define me.
I now realize that I am largely at ease with being defined by a few simple statements: “Child of God”, “Husband to Brandon”, “Father to Alina”, “Son of David and Edith”, “Brother of Greg and Keith”. They have all helped make me who I am today, and I am forever grateful.