On the weekend I was running errands while my older daughter was in her ballet class. My iPhone pinged and I noticed my sister posted a photo of me on my timeline from when I was 14 or 15. It stopped dead in my tracks… I was angry.  I thought, “This is not who I am and not at all how I want people to see me.” I hid the photo immediately.  So many feelings from those days came back and it floored me. About an hour later I unhid the photo from my timeline and added it back.

Gene V then and now (002)

We all go through formative times in our lives that mold us. I think I wouldn’t be true to who I am and the lessons I want to share with the world if I buried this image and didn’t embrace it.

My childhood wasn’t easy; my uncles on my mother’s side and my father were either alcoholics or criminals. Around the time this photo was taken my parents had recently separated after my mother could no longer support being beaten, living with an unpredictable alcoholic, and being threatened with guns. I remember one night hiding between the wall and my bed listening to my mother in despair begging my father to shoot her. She’d had enough and had given up. My dad eventually went to jail for his abusive ways.

Luckily, my wonderful mother escaped my father’s craziness. I attribute a lot of who I am to the unconditional love my mother gave me throughout every high and low point. But she also had to heal and grow herself. She is now happily married to a husband that is kind, cares deeply for her, and treats her with gentle respect. I’m really happy for her to have found him but also think he is fortunate to have found my mother.

At the time this photo was taken I had an uncle living with us who had just gotten out of jail. One afternoon, he watched me doing math/fractions homework and said, “How can 2 times anything be less than 2?” … “Yep, I need to keep working” I said to myself.

I had always known I had to follow my own path, chart it as I went along and search for the values that would define my personal journey.

Shortly after this photo was taken I discovered cycling… Within a year I was working a lot after school and on weekends, cycling everywhere, and excelling at school. Work, school and cycling were my salvation and escape from the chaos of what was going on at home. I lost a lot of weight, became pretty good on the bike and went on to build a thriving career where I differentiate myself on values of kindness, passion, integrity, and building teams with strong identities. Today I am an executive with an international software firm, run a big sales team, and live in Europe. A long way from my Canadian roots.

More importantly I am a dad of two beautiful girls. I had to unlearn instinctual responses to stress and anger to break the cycle. It is still a struggle. I find that taking care of myself with running, cycling and good nutrition is a must. I feel out of control when I start losing fitness. And when I feel out of control this is when I am the most unpredictable, emotionally. It sounds obsessive but it is how I’ve managed the stress and the emotional pain for so many years.

My children continue to mold me. As a dad, I feel I’m living more formative times than I was as a child.

Equally important is my wife and the deep friendship and love we have for each other. Having found my wife has been a godsend. She saw a lot of good in me and believed in me. Her patience and support have always been a rock in my life. She constantly coaches me and looks out for me. Sometimes more than I do for myself.

My father, before he passed away far too young, eventually found inner peace, stopped drinking and tried to make amends. One day after he was first diagnosed with the lung cancer that took his life at the age of 58, he told me he was proud of whom I’d become… and that it was despite him and without him. I think this must have been terribly difficult for him to express these words. I’ve never forgotten that moment. It was his gift to me and I thank him for it.

Despite my beginnings I am happy with what I’ve built. I never saw myself as a victim… Just someone who had to endure some tough times and learn how to be the best I could be.

I don’t blame or hold anything against my family. Each member had his or her own respective journeys, challenges, and issues to overcome. I love them all and respect them. Looking back, one thing that has always been consistent in my outlook is to be respectful of others. Everyone has a story, a history, and is living his or her own journey. One can’t assume anything. Everyone deserves respect and a smile.