By Jeff Ginn, an EO Cincinnati member
When my dad was just 3 years old, his father chose to abandon his family, leaving my grandmother to raise eight children on her own with no education and no job. In a world where that situation seems to be more and more prevalent, my father not only raised his own biological children, he also raised a child he didn’t have to— me, his adopted son.
Growing up, my dad had to work two jobs just to provide for us. He always sacrificed himself to support his family. To him, family was everything. It was one of the most endearing parts of his character; his commitment to his loved ones showed in every interaction, and he was always putting us first, even if it meant attending to his own needs second. Over the years, I learned many life lessons from my father, some of them planned, many unintentional. Some of the most valuable lessons I learned came from his great example. He showed me how to love, be generous, work hard, cherish family and enjoy the present because tomorrow isn’t promised.
Still, the most powerful lesson I learned is also the most painful. It is not a lesson that my dad taught me, but one that I learned from his life. For more than 30 years, he worked at a job he hated; one that never pushed him to use his natural talents. He entered that factory because of his dedication to provide for his family, and when he came home, he would talk about retirement. My father dreamt about the free time that he would have to spend with us, and how he would use that freedom to make others happy. The only way he could get through his job was to dream of what life would be like afterward.
Sadly, my father did not live to see his retirement. In 1992, he was diagnosed with late-stage melanoma. He fought a brave and honorable fight, which he lost roughly a year before he was due to retire. For a guy who dreamt daily of retiring, seeing him never achieve it was a sobering reality. After reflecting on his life and the lessons that life taught me, I knew there had to be something more than spending a life working at a job. There had to be something beyond simply earning a paycheck. Why couldn’t you follow your passion now and live your dream?
At that moment of reflection, I knew that I wasn’t going to spend my life working just to pay the bills. I didn’t want to wait for retirement to start enjoying my life, and I certainly didn’t want to put all of my energy into a career that didn’t let me pursue my dreams. I wanted to use my talents. I wanted to be a part of something I was passionate about. As an infant, I was abandoned by a teenage mom who couldn’t raise me. Without the love and support of my adoptive parents, who knows where I would be today. I’ve always known that my purpose in life is to change the lives of children who face similar situations. Kids who, through no fault of their own, need a helping hand.
When it came time to start my own business, I recalled the positive impact that professional athletes had on me and my brothers growing up. I wanted to provide athletes with an avenue to maximize their efforts and extend their reach to as many people as possible. My dad’s life inspired me to start a company that gives professional athletes the opportunity to impact those less fortunate in their community. My business, my success—it all happened because a guy with no obligation chose me as his son 42 years ago! My father has been gone for 20 years now, and the legacy he left behind inspires me every single day.
When I look back at his life, I am reminded of some valuable lessons learned. Most notably, I’ve learned the value of pursuing your passions at all costs, while living for the moment as a husband, father and entrepreneur. My dad was a big part of my life, and I try to honor him by living with passion and purpose. Every day I feel blessed to be able to give back to others, and I know none of that would have been possible without my father.
Jeff Ginn is the founder and CEO of Prolanthropy.net, the largest and most successful provider of full-service philanthropy management in professional sports. Fun fact: Jeff’s company is proud to represent two out of the three finalists in the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, including overall winner Matt Birk.