The O'Donnell family quilt is a colorful patchwork of classes and cultures, and political affiliations, but the common thread that knit us all together is a tireless work ethic, a fierce determination to stand for something (and for each other), and an enormous sense of pride, place, and love.
We have our disagreements, just like any other American family, but we work past them and set them aside because we love each other. We come together from all these different, sometimes opposing views and opinions, and we find our way to common ground, to a place of shared purpose and meaning.
I think every American family is its own little melting pot. In ours, there was a whole lot of Italian and Irish, with a healthy dose of American blue blood thrown into the mix. Initially, I wasn't really sure about including any stories from my childhood, because they don't only involve me. My parents and siblings were put through so much scrutiny and hardship when I ran for office and declared myself a public person. The moment I became a candidate, my life became an open book— and my life is so intertwined with their lives that my family was thrown right out there with me. Then I realized that my goal in writing this book is to inspire real people to engage in the political process. And real people have real lives and real problems. When we share the hard truths of our lives they often stand as an inspiration to others. We've all had our share of rough patches, and I believe we lift each other up when we talk about them; we can learn from each other's mistakes, and find strength in the struggle.
My family is close. We all have our own special relationships with our parents and with one another and this extends to the next generation as well; my siblings have great spouses and well- adjusted children. By all outward appearances, we're one big happy family. And this is true from our own perspectives as well. That's not to say we didn't have our problems. We did. Along with the great times, we had some tough times as a family. To the outside world it might have looked like we were the Waltons—living in the suburbs instead of the mountains. And in a lot of ways, that was true. But in addition to the financial struggles that you could imagine would arise in raising six children—yes, there were six of us—my dad drank heavily during my childhood. He doesn't drink like that anymore. And I'm proud of the way we've powered past it all. Our difficulties don't define us. It's how we deal with them that shape who we are. Frankly, I'm a little wary of politicians with "perfect" pasts, and I've come to regard the imperfections that have found my family over the years as badges of honor, not marks of shame.
My parents are the true heroes of my story— and were it not for their strength, their faith, and their boundless courage my journey could have gone another way. My mother's refusal to let her family fall apart on the back of my father's alcoholism was, and remains, an inspiration. My father's willingness to let himself be lifted by the love of his family to a place where he could do the hard work necessary to make himself whole . . . well, it's been a kind of revelation.
Ah, but I don't mean to get ahead of the story— my story, our story…