As promised, here is the first chapter in a series that will let you get to understand who I am a little better:
“My Childhood” (1976-1994)
While it was the beginning of an amazing life journey, my life as a kid was a relatively standard experience. I was born in Granada Hills in 1976 during the year of our nation’s bicentennial celebration, and as a first-generation American (my dad immigrated from Mexico in 1959), I was exposed to the diverse cultures and abundant opportunities of Southern California early on.
My dad was an accountant and my mom was a bookkeeper and office manager, and we grew up as a lower-middle-income family. My dad and my grandpa both worked construction and ultimately did very well for themselves, demonstrating the value of hard work and fulfilling the American dream. Both of my parents instilled a sense of pride in myself, my family and my country. While my parents divorced when I was 7 years old, I was blessed with 2 stable, loving and supportive households.
My mom was so strong and I respect her for staying resilient and holding my brother and me accountable during that critical phase. She re-married in 1983 and we moved to Saugus. My stepdad, a Vietnam vet and police officer, remains one of the most influential role models for me. At a young age, he taught me about service. Growing up under his sense of discipline and hard work ended up being a very special ingredient for my successes. He never complained, he just executed and got things done. I loved that.
I had ups and downs and challenges just like any kid does but I learned to persevere, and the tough times hardened me and made me appreciate my life. When I was 10 years old, my family and I attended a boat race in which one of the boats lost control and came onshore, killing the little girl who was playing next to me on the beach. In the blink of an eye, I learned how short life can be. From that day forward I vowed that I would never take life or God for granted and I committed to ensuring I lived in “full afterburner”. We can’t assume there’s time tomorrow to accomplish what needs to be done today.
I spent my youth dreaming of flying. My older brother was a huge influence in that. When I wasn’t riding my bike outside, I would build model airplanes, I would go to the air shows at Edwards Air Force base, and I would take every opportunity to learn about aviation. It was an addiction. (Fun fact: To this day you may catch me “flying my hands” and pretending to “land” my hand on a table or handrail.) In the mid-1980s, my parents took me on a tour of the USS Ranger aircraft carrier. I knew at that moment that I wanted to fly fighter jets for the Navy. The release of the movie TOPGUN in 1986 sealed the deal for me and there was nothing else I wanted to do since the age of 8 (and yes, I still love that movie, despite how ridiculous it is).
I was also a young entrepreneur. Always selling candy or magazines or mowing lawns. When I was 13, I would sell sodas to the construction workers who were building homes up and down Copper Hill Drive in Saugus. I put a large ice chest on a golf pull cart and I made a tidy profit selling 200-300 cans each day. I delivered the coldest drinks possible directly to the framers while they hammered away on the new houses. It was hard work but was a wildly successful first business. It taught me my first lessons about profit margin, buying and selling a product, and adding value and customer service.
As a teenager, I was a bit of a stoic and I had a handful of very close friends. I wasn’t a social butterfly and I was relatively shy and humble. While I was seen as the clean-cut kid, I was also known for getting in trouble with the neighbors as well, usually involving water balloon launchers, eggs, firecrackers, or having unwanted pizzas delivered to my closest friends at inopportune times. In high school, I worked at Lampost Pizza and saved up to buy my first car, a 1973 Porsche 914 (the “poor man’s” Porsche), for $1,000 in 1991. That car was my baby and I pushed that little car to its limits every time I drove it. (Another fun fact: I still own the 914 and have restored it to near-factory condition…it’s still my baby.)
Most of my early years were focused on one goal: becoming a Naval Aviator. From the age of 10, I had been told that if I wanted to fly in the Navy, I needed to attend the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis. While this obviously wasn’t the only path to fly, this did give me a road map and I put the blinders on to get there. I was told that Annapolis was impossible to get accepted to, tougher to graduate from, and even harder to earn a flying spot after doing so. What no one told me was the odds of becoming a fighter pilot were lower than becoming a professional athlete! So, for a decade, I studied hard, played sports (primarily Hart baseball), and made sure I did everything to develop myself into a well-rounded applicant. The Naval Academy doesn’t just want smart kids, they want young men and women who are multidimensional and can communicate and lead.
Ultimately, I graduated at the top of my class at Saugus High in 1994 and I was in fact accepted to Annapolis, with the nomination of then-freshman Congressman Buck McKeon.
The biggest take away from my youth?…I benefited from growing up in an area of Southern California that is as close to utopia as you can get. I benefited from the embrace and support of the most amazing family and best friends that a young man could have. I learned to truly love this country after seeing my dad and grandpa become successful by digging ditches and pouring concrete. I lived and saw firsthand what the American Dream looked like and those experiences gave me a deep appreciation for this community and country that still lives with me today!