Blogger’s note: This is the 22nd installment from my manuscript of Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life. I post weekly excerpts every Wednesday morning. Check out the “About Summer in the Waiting Room” link at the top of this page to learn more about the story. To read previous installments, go to the “Tags” link and click on “Summer in the Waiting Room.”
Losing that second campaign for school board didn’t diminish my ambition or my hopes of winning election. Two years later, I decided to run for the city council. I had earned some name recognition with voters during the school board campaigns and my professional profile improved with my position in the business world. The only person who stood in the way was a high school board member who was the scion of a political family whose father had served in the California state legislature for two decades.
In the spring primary election, each of us defeated two other opponents to earn spots on the general election ballot in November. Primary election night would be the highlight of my electoral political career as I gave a victory speech, with three-year-old Erica in my arms, in a packed campaign office, to the cheers of my family, friends and supporters.
I started the fall campaign trailing badly in the polls, so with the support of a small cohort of extended family and friends, the campaign team was essentially a family affair. The Peralta girls and Miguel walked precincts every weekend and called voters every night asking them to vote for me. My mom and Mrs. Peralta shared phone bank duties as well. Pancho, Eddie, Will, and Rudy fanned out throughout the district posting campaign signs on supporters’ yards and along major roadways.
Even Marisa, just five years old, walked door-to-door campaigning with me, her infectious smile confidently persuading people on their front porches to vote for her daddy. After a long and vigorous campaign, I couldn’t overcome my opponent’s well-known name and well-financed campaign machine. The returns on election night proved to seal my third electoral loss in six years. I was devastated as I addressed supporters in a crowded room at a local restaurant to thank them on my family’s behalf.
As people gathered around me with tears and hugs, I felt something tugging at the bottom of my sweater and looked down to see Marisa looking up at me with teary eyes saying, “Daddy, I’m sorry you lost, but I’m kind of happy because we could have you back now.” The next morning, I woke up after just a few hours of sleep with my political dreams smoldering in the ashes of failure. Despite the fact that my political career was over, the ambition to succeed and erase the demons of the past with a focused urgency hadn’t gone away.
I was committed to putting all of that energy into spending time with my family and building a career as a corporate executive. As it turned out, I spent more time chasing the elusive concept of success than I did enjoying my family. I wanted to be a good husband and father, and I loved being with Sandra and the girls, so I made sure that I was home for dinner every night I was in town and available for as many school events and family events as possible.
For several years I coached Erica’s little league teams, but it wasn’t unusual to hear the kids shout, “Coach García is wearing a suit again,” because I would have to run out right after practice to be on time to my first meeting for the evening. Despite my efforts to be a fully engaged father, my professional ambitions took the lion’s share of my time.
When Comcast acquired the local cable company as part of a nationwide eighty billion dollar transaction, I was now working for a major American corporation with countless opportunities for those who wanted to get ahead. During a tour of Comcast facilities in San Jose, the new senior vice president for the California region stepped into my sparse office, asked about my background, my family, and my plans for the future. I filled him in with the basics about Sandra and the girls, my career up to that point, and boldly proclaimed that I wanted to be a vice president someday soon.
Over the next several months, the senior VP called on me to lead selected projects in the regional government affairs department, which I accepted without hesitation. Although these special projects required me to be away from the office often, my direct supervisor was supportive of my ambitions and allowed me the time needed to be away. I was making much progress in my climb up the corporate ladder when I became close friends with a colleague at the corporate office in Philadelphia.
He was a bright executive forging his own way up the organizational chart. We had much in common: we were both in our 30s, we both had our eyes on higher executive positions, we both had the same philosophy on government relations, and we both were persons of color. He asked me to help at the national level when a local elected official from California with whom I had a strong working relationship was appointed to the telecommunications public policy committee of the most influential municipal advocacy group in the nation.
With me and my colleague representing Comcast, we co-hosted a dinner with the California official in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the telecom committee members. Just like that, I became familiar to executives at corporate headquarters as a valued representative of the company, especially with Latino political organizations. Before long, I was in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Dallas, Santa Fe, and San Juan, Puerto Rico representing Comcast at national meetings of Latino public policymakers.