The 5 most important things that shaped who I am...and why...
1. My Mother
Good bad or indifferent, my mother has probably shaped both the best and the worst in me, like all parents do. God help my children. Anyway, I can thank my mother for the importance of education in my life, for my love of reading, for understanding the importance of living within my means (even if others around me don't always get that). On the flip side, my mother has never been one to have a ton of friends and isn't particularly close to her family, two traits that I've tried hard at changing in my life.
2. The Catholic Church
Catholicism isn't just a religion; in a lot of ways it's an attitude and a way of life. Although I don't claim regular church attendance these days (for a variety of reasons), it has definitely played an important role in my life. Growing up, next to my mother, it was the one constant in my life, as evidenced by the 10+ years I spent as an altar server and while attending Catholic high school. On the plus side, the Church really does instill a respect for life in it's members, and that's not just an anti-abortion thing (my own views on abortion are too complex to fit into a simple phrase like "pro-life"). It also teaches you that there are somethings in the universe that you should always strive to understand better (the nature of sin, for example), but there are also some things that you aren't really capable of understanding (as George Carlin would put it, the "it's a mystery!" stuff). Regardless of whatever I do from a religious perspective, I will probably always consider myself to be Catholic.
3. 4H Camp
I worked at a 4H camp when I was 16 & 17, and it was definitely one of the most influential things to happen to me. This is where I learned the value of independence (I would stay up there, away from my family, for weeks at a time), solitude and hard work. Here I saw some of the possibilities in life, even if I've yet to achieve all of them.
4. Penn State Harrisburg
PSH is the only thing that I consistently dream about. While this part of my college career only lasted two years, the memories I have will last forever. In a lot of ways, this was an extension of 4H Camp, as I learned again how to be independent and I began to see the world as much bigger place than what I had previously seen. I learned a lot in classes, but I think I learned even more from having to interact with others who were so much different than I was. In a lot of ways, I received so much from PSH that I'll never be adequately able to repay the organization.
5. Being A Father
Nothing is as frustrating and rewarding as being a parent, and when you factor in being a father to just girls, then the whole equation gets raised to the hundredth power. I've made a ton of mistakes as a parent, but I've also gotten it right more than once, sometimes despite the best efforts of the environment around me. In a lot of ways, being a father is like investing money: you do without now (when they are growing up), but you reap a great return later (when they grow up into productive adults). Being a parent also gives you this permanent thing in your life to be proud about, as so many other things we do in life that center around careers and things such as that are so very temporary.