On Skateboards, Whoopi Goldberg, Gratitude and Compassion

To celebrate Mother’s Day, which is May 12 in the U.S., we are dedicating this week’s Wednesdays for Women blog to our mothers. Today’s blog is penned by JDA’s Josh Cook, senior director, talent acquisition. And, from everyone at JDA, we say #ThanksMom!

Recently, my daughter asked my mom what the proudest day of her life was. Without hesitation, my mom said the days she and her sister were born.  My daughter, now in full pre-teen mode, said, “well, like, that’s obvious, but what about before we were born?” I interjected and restated a story I had heard many times. The day was my 7th grade parent-teacher conferences. My mom made her way to meet with the social studies teacher, Mr. Van Ness.  As a less than stellar student, I was a little nervous to hear his appraisal.  Fortunately, he was in a good mood that day and told my mom I was doing fine with my work.  He went on to say that I was a good kid and then came the magic words, “you know Mrs. Cook, Josh is all boy, he must have a great relationship with his dad.”  My mom paused, grinned and simply told Mr. Van Ness she appreciated his kind words and wished him good luck with the remainder of the year.

Terry Cook, Josh’s mom, with Carter, Josh’s daughter

My mom walked out of the classroom and couldn’t get to the car fast enough before a few tears began running down her face.  It was one of the few times that I witnessed tears from my mom.  What Mr. Van Ness didn’t know was that he was not paying me a compliment but validating that my mom was doing one hell of a job raising her son, on her own. Shortly after I was born, my mother and father divorced.  In fact, I never met my father.  He had just finished law school and was on his way to a career in law when things went very sideways.  Suddenly, my mom, who had dropped out of college her senior year to help pay for his law school, was suddenly broke, a single parent, jobless and without a college degree. People could say that she had no options in the face of this daunting scenario, but there are always options.  Some people give up and others persist.  What emerged was a drive and relentless determination to not only survive, but to succeed. It is this persistence that would define my mom, and so many mothers like her and, of course, it would provide me a chance to make something of my life.

It takes a village to properly raise a child and my mom had to turn to the last place she wanted for help, her own mom.  This may have been the biggest sacrifice if you ask her.  She didn’t ask for money, but needed child care to work and go back to school to finish her degree.  She completed her degree in psychology with honors within a year and obtained a job with the State Government as an entry-level social worker.  My mom witnessed some dire family circumstances and became a strong advocate for those living in poverty, particularly women and children of domestic abuse.  While my job can be demanding at times, I remind myself of the stories she conveyed during this point in her career.  In fact, as I write this blog, I am tired, but I am also enormously grateful to have a good job with great people, and a roof over my head.  Gratitude is one of many lessons I have learned from my mom and something I try to practice daily. It can, after all, be so much worse.

She taught me the importance of giving back to our communities.  My mom is one of the smartest and hardest working people I know and could have chosen so many other professions that paid more money, but she had a driving desire, perhaps a calling, to help those less fortunate.  We have a moral obligation, if we have the means or talents, to improve the lives of our fellow humans who are in need.  It’s hard to deny the interconnected nature of our existence and the value of fostering a better community, society and planet.  I love the phrase corporate social responsibility and am proud to work for a company that fervently strives to serve the communities in which we live and work.

Make no mistake though, my mom is far from a bleeding heart.  She believes in a hand up and not a handout. She doesn’t suffer fools and those unwilling to take accountability for their mistakes and strive to better their lives.  And she certainly didn’t tolerate foolishness from me.  On a certain Saturday I’ll never forget, I was with a group of kids who were throwing water balloons at each other and some of them started lobbing them toward cars that were passing by.  Although I would never do something like that, I was guilty by association and brought home by a police officer.  As you might have surmised, we didn’t have an abundance of money.  I had one prized possession upon which I spent most of my days, a Mark Gonzales custom skateboard.  I had saved long and worked hard for the money to buy it.  The board was everything to me and it was in the dumpster before the officer had left our street.  This degree of consequence almost seems foreign and corporal in this day of indulgence.  However, you can’t deny the effectiveness as it was the only time I was brought home in a cop car.

She taught me to continually strive to improve myself in all endeavors and to be ambitious.  She was fond of saying that the harder you work today, the better you will be tomorrow.  After serving the Arizona community as a social worker, she became the Director of Program Management for Homelessness overseeing all initiatives pertaining to housing and homeless assistance.  I am so proud of her achievement and many accomplishments in this role.  She wrote a Federal proposal that was awarded the largest grant in the State’s history and created a winter overflow shelter for those without a roof and meals during the cold winter months.  She also worked to create a system of networks aligning the many agencies and non-profits to provide comprehensive services for this population.  She also helped start a school for homeless children in Arizona to help break the cycle of poverty.  She received many awards and accolades, but being named to the board of the national non-profit that benefited from the Comic Relief fundraiser was my favorite. When I lived in New York City, my mom was given front row tickets to the Comic Relief performance and passes to the after party where Whoopi Goldberg and Chris Rock served me smoked salmon, made a joke about my attire and thanked me for attending.  My mom chose not to come because she had important meetings in Arizona.  Now that’s dedication.

From L to R: Dylan (on Josh’s back), Josh, Terry (middle – Josh’s mom), Carter,
Kylie (Josh’s wife)

I am blessed to have such a tough, yet compassionate mom.  It’s no surprise that I married a person who has always risen above her personal challenges, gives her everything to our kids, and tirelessly serves our community by raising money for pediatric illnesses. Our boxing coach recently told me that my wife was working harder and improving faster than me.  I am not surprised.  I firmly believe women are stronger than men and am immovable in that belief.

On this Mother’s Day, I implore you to honor our moms by recalling the lessons they have instilled in us.  May we be more compassionate toward the local family without a home or running from an oppressive government in their home countries.  Let us empathize with the kid who is struggling with depression or their sexuality.  Practice gratitude for the enormous blessings in our life and give back to our communities, even if it’s a few hours or dollars. Be bold and act when you are witness to injustice.  Perhaps most importantly, be persistent and never stop trying to improve yourself and those around you.  In other words, make your mother proud today.

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