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Tom W. Watson Headshot

Ripples of Change...

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Alamy
Alamy

I can still remember, as a boy, standing on the lakeshore with my buddies, skipping stones across the water. Invariably, impromptu competitions would break out, each of us vying for the highest number of skips with just one toss. Whenever someone launched a stone toward the water, we'd all stop and count the number of skips in unison -- four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11 -- the excitement in our voices escalating with the growing number. Eventually, of course, the rocks lost momentum and after a final leap into the air, they plunged beneath the surface of the water for good, leaving only radiating ripples to remind us of their existence. Those were simple times as a boy -- fun times spent with my friends.

Over the years I have come to realize how skipping stones on a lake in many ways mirrors living life. The stone tossed disturbs the calm water and creates ripples that push widening circles across the lake. Similarly, the act of living our lives creates ripples throughout our community. Regardless of whether our actions create positive or negative results, the ripples we create affect far more people than we could ever imagine.

April is designated National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Child abuse is an issue that is near and dear to my heart -- something I believe we should all take a stance against.

My birth parents were ill-prepared to care for me as an infant, and I was taken into custody by the Ministry of Social Services at the tender age of one. During the following four years, I endured immense emotional trauma as I was shuffled from one foster home to the next until I finally landed in the home of Jim and Edwina Watson in the fall of 1966.

I was in rough shape by then -- the emotional trauma, compounded by the physical abuse I'd endured in the home of the last foster family I lived with prior to the Watsons taking me in, had taken a toll on me. For some reason, the family took sadistic pleasure in torturing me. For example, at three years of age, I was expected to wash the dirty dishes after meals. If I took too long, or in particular if I was sloppy and splashed water on the kitchen counter or the floor, they pulled me off the stool I was standing on and chased me around the kitchen with the old electric floor polisher until I tired. Then they would run the polisher over my feet again and again, until they were mangled and bloody.

The physical wounds from these attacks healed many years ago, but the emotional scars still exist today. Often, when I stand in front of a sink in my own home, my subconscious mind kicks in and recalls youth's pain. Unknowingly, I roll my feet awkwardly onto their sides in an unconscious effort to protect my toes. It's a painful way to stand, but my mind seems to equate standing in front of a sink with the pain endured from the floor polisher all those years ago. My wife has witnessed this habit and has come to understand why I do it. When she notices, she lovingly says, "Tom, stand normal," bringing me back to the present to realize what I am doing, and I relax and adjust my stance to be flat-footed once again.

Sadly, my story reflects the plight of tens of thousands of children around the world who have, and unfortunately are, enduring abuse daily. This April, during National Child Abuse Prevention Month, I encourage you to challenge yourself, your family, your friends, and your community to take a stand against child abuse. Be the ripple of change and help children live abuse-free lives. These children are the world's future and we need to remember that our efforts in protecting them today will help them grow up with kinder, more caring hearts and leadership skills.

I regularly mull over how my family and I can help the children of our world. I've coached children for years; our company has assisted children in need financially so that they have food, water and homes; we have provided care to foster children; we've traveled to Africa and Mexico to assist children in orphanages; and I am a proud Rotarian, fundraising and supporting work around the world that assists children in a multitude of ways. It's gratifying to know that our family's work is making a difference in the world, but more importantly, I hope that our work is encouraging others to consider how they can help make the world a better place for children, as well.

It would be interesting to know some of the things other individuals and families in North America are doing to assist the abused children of our world. How are you helping to create a better tomorrow -- today? I hope you will take a little time to share your stories today. Please comment on this article and tell us some of the ways that you and your close friends and relatives are working to brighten the lives of the world's children. I'm looking forward to being inspired by your stories.

Like the rock that creates ripples across the lake, I want to be a person whose life changes the world. I want to be a person who builds a better tomorrow -- today. I want to be known as a ripple in the world, a ripple that positively affects the lives of others. I believe most of us want to be known for making a difference and I hope you will join me in whatever way you can so that together, we become a tidal wave of change for the all-too-often silent victims of abuse -- the world's children.

Lives that create positive ripples are lives well lived...