Life experience is nothing more than the accumulated knowledge of sorrow, joy and lessons gained from living. For many voters, identifying with a candidate’s life experience is almost as important as agreeing with a candidate’s political beliefs.
Discovering a candidate’s life experience goes beyond just seeing if he is in touch with ordinary people. To truly know what a candidate has lived through requires the candidate to expose more of his life than most people are comfortable sharing. Voters end up with a view of the candidate shaped by the media, the candidate’s opposition and the candidate’s own campaign.
I had the same issue in identifying with Pres. George H. W. Bush during his re-election campaign. The news media made much of his “amazement” at checkout scanners found in grocery stores. They portrayed him as a President from a privileged family out of touch with everyday life. It wasn’t until I learned that he and Barbara had lost their 3-year old daughter that I could personally identify with him. Understanding the strength required to overcome that level of grief humanized him to me. I may never vacation in Kennebunkport but I share with him the emotion that comes from burying your 3-year old child.
The Greenville News recently published a story about the number of votes missed by the Greenville delegation during the last 2-year House of Representatives session. The article listed me as missing the highest number of votes.
The article was absolutely correct. These votes were missed during a time when I discovered that my wife was not meeting the health and emotional needs of our son. He has hemophilia and requires infusions throughout the week that she was responsible for doing. The infusions were not being handled properly and her behavior became so erratic that I feared for his well-being. After she was dismissed by yet another therapist for refusing to follow their treatment recommendations, I moved out of our house, taking our son with me.
At first, I thought she was suffering from a mid-life crisis or depression. After months of therapy, medical exams and second opinions, we received an unexpected diagnosis. She suffers from frontotemporal dementia (FTD) coupled with an underlying personality disorder.
Depression was a logical place to start when diagnosing my wife’s illness. We lost our first son abruptly from hemophilia complications almost 13 years ago. He was a week away from his 3-year old birthday. Our second son had just been born 3 weeks earlier. Three months later I was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson’s disease (YOPD) – a slower progressing type of Parkinson’s that exhibits symptoms unique to the younger individual.
Dealing with chronic health conditions has been a constant in my life. Before I had children, I helped take care of my mother who suffered from polycystic kidney disease. She underwent dialysis for a few years before having a heart attack. The way that my siblings and I took care of her was a high mark in our collective family memory. Her final years though painful were good times especially after the years she spent watching her husband descend into an unexplained mental illness and eventual suicide.
My father, we now believe, suffered from YOPD as I do. His physical symptoms appeared in the 1970s and were similar to mine. However, YOPD was not “officially” recognized until 1987. Instead of being referred to a neurologist and possibly receiving the correct diagnosis, he saw a psychiatrist and was misdiagnosed. Trust me. Treating Parkinson’s disease with psychiatric drugs has disastrous results. His health issues started when I was 10 years old and ended when I was 26.
I recently received a call from a reporter from The Greenville News who is writing candidate profiles. He told me that he was using public records to look into the backgrounds of all the Greenville candidates. He asked his questions and I answered them on the spot. He even mentioned my few traffic tickets, so detailed was his search. He also asked me about a failed business I had in 1994.
During the time before my father’s death, I was looking into buying an existing business that my soon-to-be wife wanted to run. We planned on her operating the business and I would return to my accounting work.
After my father’s death and my subsequent marriage, I purchased it. All went well for a while but a combination of me not anticipating an economic downturn in the business cycle and my wife’s inexperience in certain areas of operating the business caused the business to start failing. I was forced into bankruptcy. I paid back in full the loan that I had taken but was unable to get out of a building lease. Bankruptcy was a cruel teacher but the lesson learned was valuable. Since then, I have successfully built my pension administration firm from one employee to eleven that services over 450 clients.
Since the reporter’s intent was to present a “candidate profile”, I found it interesting that he did not look at the probate records or ask about my first son. He did not ask how the last 13 years have been for me fighting off Parkinson’s while running a business, caring for a fragile son, or trying to communicate with a fading spouse.
You may ask why I try to do so much? I want to show my son that a physical disorder or any of life’s tragic events should never be an excuse for us not to achieve all that we can. With prayer, determination and support, we can rise above the unexpected tragedy and build a productive life.
Regardless of your vote, I want you to know that I understand that you suffer from unpredictable tragic events as I do. We are all well schooled by life. As painful as they have been, the lessons that I have learned have made me a better legislator. They cause me to consider the worth of legislation not only from a policy position but also from a human impact perspective. They also have made me a better person by teaching me the value of kindness and remaining positive in the face of adversity. Best of all, they grant me the freedom to appreciate the joys and beauty of everyday life.
I have diligently served the people in District 18 for ten years and have done so in a conservative manner. I have voted against more “Republican” bills than most Democrats have. You can look back through my website posts to see what I have done in the difficult areas of tax reform. The last two years have been hard but my personal life has stabilized and I am proceeding forward.
Thank you for allowing me to share these experiences with you. I would appreciate your vote on June 12th.
Tommy, I was aware of some of the hardships in your life, but I did not know all this. I had (and still do) great respect for you. The only thing you really have in this temporary home we live in is our character. You have it Tommy.
I can’t imagine how you endured living through the life difficulties you’ve experienced and still carry on with your work and serving in the General Assembly. Amazing, amazing indeed.
But, I can and do identify with you in two (2) ways; 1) As you know I was a State Legislator for twenty (20) years. I KNOW it is not easy, and, 2) We lost a son to leukemia at 3 1/2 years of age fifty (50) years ago, and sometimes its so fresh and vivid in my mind that I think it just happened yesterday.
I wish you well my friend.
This tells me more about Rep. Tommy Stringer than his number of absences or missed votes. It tells me that he is a man of character and principle. He has a heart for his fellow citizens and their interests more than his own advancement and self-interests. Rep. Stringer is a man of integrity which is much more valuable than voting the party line or mere political posing. He has my support!
Please find a way to get this to the reporter and into the public record. We all want candidates with good character, but that’s deeper than the parking tickets we have. Thank you for your transparency. Your strength in making good judgements comes from your clear intellect coupled with the experience of overcoming and still remaining loving, compassionate, and honest.. Other members of the House from other Districts regard you as an Imspiration to be better at governing themselves.. Take heart we are behind you and are so grateful for your service. Please be transparent enough to share this on fb so we can share it. Realize it’s personal, but we would treasure the reality.
Thank you for sharing. I was concerned that you had missed so many votes but now have a better understanding. Thank you for being consistently conservative over the years. I’m glad your personal life has stabilized and hope you will be able to continue to represent us in your conservative fashion.
I am moved by your honesty and sharing your story of your life. As I feel that you are not only a personal friend by way of advocating for our community, I am saddened by the loss of a friend in your wife.
Your experiences have shown your son with Hemophilia that he can conquer the world and after meeting him recently, I believe he will. Thank you for sharing and for working so hard for the citizens of SC!
If I may share your story, it can help others who have so much they too are dealing with in healthcare understand, we are all in this together!
Ps you have my vote!
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