I am so excited to have my dear friend, Ricky Garza on this week’s show. Ricky is part of the I’m Waiting team, as we go into local schools and discuss STD education, teen pregnancy, and how the decisions that kids make today will impact the rest of their lives. This seems to be a message that they’re not getting anywhere else these days.
In addition to being a key part of our team, Ricky is a doting dad to two little girls, a loving husband to his middle-school sweetheart, and pastor at Gospel City Church in Vista, CA.
But, one of the reasons why Ricky is able to communicate so well with the teenagers we come across, especially at many of the probation schools and continuation schools we go to, is because he has innate street cred.
Like many of the kids we talk to, Ricky’s family was not picture perfect at all while he was growing up. As he puts it, his family was “Breaking Bad” before it was cool.
His dad was addicted to meth. He was an enforcer and dealer for several of the local meth “cooks” – far from anything resembling a positive role model for little Ricky.
So, growing up, Ricky and his sister had a drug addict as a dad, and a “single parent” for a mom who worked at the local hospital. They were evicted from nearly every apartment complex in Vista, due to property managers finding out that his dad was dealing meth from their apartment.
Needless to say, for the first ten or eleven years of his life, Ricky was void of a father-figure. He was just getting by, as any little guy would, probably headed down the same path as his father.
It was difficult.
You can imagine little Ricky at his school’s career day, with all the other kids talking about their dads who were plumbers, teachers, businessmen, or other professionals. In the midst of this crowd, Ricky would tell his teachers and peers, “Oh, my dad is always away on business.”
Even as a third grader, he knew that his dad was “away” in jail, serving time for selling meth, or hiding from the law or competitors. It was an extremely tough burden for any young boy to shoulder.
One thing Ricky, his sister, and their mom had going for them was a very supportive extended family. While other kids would come back to school after Christmas vacation talking about their new toys and clothes, the Garza family was happy to have another serving of chicken and rice on their table.
So, it was no surprise that Ricky ended up on a first-name basis with several of the local police officers in their neighborhood. Ricky and his buddies would skateboard all over the neighborhood, vandalizing and creating havoc whenever and wherever they pleased. Luckily, the officers could tell that he wasn’t a “bad kid”, he just needed a little guidance… and periodically a ride home in the back of a squad car.
With this void of a father-figure, Ricky began to look for somebody… anybody… to fill that role. He ended up clinging to some older men who were definitely negative influences – far from the role model he desperately needed and even wanted. There were local gang bangers who were six or seven years older than him who were actually only interested in hooking up with Ricky’s sister, not in befriending him. But, they paid him attention, so Ricky clung to them. He was looking for a brotherhood, but instead witnessed gang initiations, beatings and robberies… all in the “name of manhood”.
Ricky remembers, very vividly, being just five-years-old and going to the Vista jailhouse to visit his dad. He recalls his mom trying to make the experience as light as possible, giving him a quarter for the vending machine so he could peruse the snacks (which was an incredible and rare treat!). Then Ricky remembers being escorted with his sister and mom down the hallway to the visitation room. He remembers pulling the phone off the wall to talk to his dad on the other side of the glass. And he remembers doing this so often that it just became life’s normal pattern for the Garza family.
Even at that young age, Ricky was aware that this was not how life was supposed to be. He knew that he should have been solely concerned about learning how to read and add and subtract, not worried about his dad in jail.
And even though he didn’t know all the specifics of what it meant to have his dad in jail, what he did know was that his dad was not with them. And that was hard enough.
Sadly, there are so many kids today who can relate with Ricky’s story. They, too, are just in “survivor mode” each and every day. They live by what they see – and what they see around them are people making poor choices that affect them. They, in turn, make poor life choices themselves, with no end to the cycle in sight.
However, as we will see next week, Ricky’s message is one of breaking out of that cycle!