In my youth, Dobbins Park was a vast wonderland comprised of softball fields, greenspace for football fields, a pavilion for parties and an old school playground that included twisty slides, monkey bars and the nearly extinct merry-go-round.
There were also swing sets, smaller slides and a fort-like structure complete with a swinging bridge and fireman’s pole that we spent as much time trying to shimmy up as we did sliding down it. It truly was a vast wonderland for kids to get their exercise and learn social skills.
Dobbins Park was located near my house. I used to cut through my neighbor’s yard, which backed up to the park, and I was at my home away from home. That shortcut came in handy, especially after late night football practices. It saved me at least 2 minutes of walking time. The only peril was ensuring I didn’t do anything to provoke my neighbor’s wrath. In other words, I couldn’t let her catch me slipping through her yard!
I had so many great times at that park. Football practice, softball games, birthday parties and hours of hanging out with friends made it such a sweet refuge. There were also some trying times at the park, including one experience at the fort-like structure when I was young.
I made a new friend that day named Kahn. I recognized him as the new kid at our school. We could not have been more than eight or nine years old. Back then, making friends was as simple as walking up to somebody and saying, “Hey, you want to play?”
Kahn’s family had recently immigrated from Vietnam. He was much smaller than the rest of the kids his age.
It was a Saturday, and school had just begun, so this was one of the first weekends the park was full of students seeking a break from school. It was ironic that our elementary school was on the edge of the park, so we had recess there several times a week. It didn’t matter; the park was great. Playing there any day of the week was fun.
I was probably busy trying to climb the wrong way up the slide when I noticed another kid from our class named Jay harassing Kahn. Kahn was visibly scared of Jay because not only was Jay much bigger than him, Jay was also older as he’d been held back at least one grade. And, as bullies tend to be, Jay was a major disruption in our classroom those first few weeks of school. He must have viewed the new kid as an easy target.
I’m sure part of it had to do with how I was raised, but whenever I saw Jay picking on Kahn (for no good reason mind you), something inside of me told me to intervene.
And that is exactly what I did. After telling Jay he needed to leave Kahn alone, I watched as Jay went over to his dad, who had been sitting at the park bench observing the situation. Jay returned and told me that his dad told him he should fight me for sticking my nose in where it did not belong. I agreed to fight him.
Truth be told, I was terrified to fight him. I had never fought anyone at that point in my life, but that was not the biggest reason for my fear.
I could not reconcile my young brain around the fact that Jay’s father, a grown man, would sit as a spectator on a park bench encouraging his son to beat me up! It was so foreign to anything I had ever been taught or known. I had no idea there were grown ups in the world who could be so mean.
Word of a looming fight spread quickly and drew kids to us like flies to a barbecue sandwich at a church picnic. Before I knew it, a large crowd had circled around us, placing bets on who was going to bloody whose nose first. I’m pretty sure Jay’s dad was laying odds and acting as the bookie!
And so there we were, two kids surrounded by an encouraging mob of more kids along with Jay’s demented father.
I do not remember much of the fight, except that Jay hit me pretty hard a few times. I felt as if I got in a few good shots on him as well. We fought to a draw, with my older brother kind of brokering an end to the drama.
I had a few more fights in the years that followed, but one thing always remained constant…I did not like to fight. There was always a sickening feeling in my stomach before fists flew.
Thankfully, I matured enough to realize how dumb fighting was. I also realized I was growing strong enough that I could really hurt somebody. In other words, I became a lover not a fighter.
Today I reserve my fighting for the greater good, especially when it comes to long term care and FHCA’s members. This year’s battles will be tough, as we work to keep the $184 million funding increase the Legislature passed during the 2018 session. Recently we’ve been speaking with legislators and testifying before Senate and House committees as to how these increased dollars have improved quality care. There are impressive milestones, with members improving in seven out of eight Quality Measures, more four and five-star federally rated centers and more centers with professionally recognized quality awards.
We’ll be competing with other providers all looking to the Legislature for funding in a time when budgets are tight, so we’ll need to fight to rise above the noise and negative press to get the message heard that quality and funding are interconnected.
This session we’ll also fight to protect our certificate of need laws and show why nursing home staffing should be modernized to better meet residents’ care needs. These are complicated issues with many stakeholders expected to weigh in as either with us or against us…it will not be easy.
There is one difference between how I feel before these fights versus the ones I used to have. Gone are the wobbly knees and pounding heart. They are replaced with a fearlessness and an enthusiasm for the challenges that lie ahead.
Maybe because now my fights, our fights, are just and noble. They are for Florida’s most frail and elderly, and that’s something worth fighting for!