If you stand in the doorway of my room, the first thing you will see is the bucket. It’s where I’ve deposited my loose change since I was 13. I credit my dad with giving me the idea. “Save every penny,” he said. “It will help you in the long run.” Soon after, while cleaning out the garage with him, I spotted the bucket in the corner and put it on the dresser in my room. I’ve been saving ever since.

I brought it with me when we moved from Waterbury to Stamford. My father was long gone by then, and my family descended into progressively harder times and our house went into foreclosure. Since my brother was in college, I became the man of the family, responsible for helping put food on the table for my three younger sisters and my mother, who would soon become too sick to manage on her own. I took an afterschool & weekend job helping my uncle with his plumbing business.

“You should look into accounting the way I once did,” my mother advised, so I did for the next two years and loved everything about it – the way you put figures into neat columns, the way you build in reserves and contingency plans, identify the tipping point when it’s time to sell the business. I also had the motivation to succeed. Ever since 7th grade, my friend Bennie and I have challenged each other to see if we could both do better than we had last test, supporting each other in confirming that some problems can’t be solved. That it’s time to implement Plan B.

When the personal expenses of my family grew worse, we moved to Stamford where we had extended family and I enrolled at Stamford Academy. I brought my bucket with me. To keep my bucket fed, I took a job as a carver at Boston Market. It’s been interesting to see how its accounting practices play out in the workplace. Every second, every slice is accounted for. If one manager doesn’t get the job done, another takes his place.

The store is really run by the carver (me) and the cashier because we’re the face of the store when the customers come in. The cashier also serves the people their sides, but when he asks them, “What’s your protein today?” that’s where I come into action. I serve the customers their choice of chicken, turkey, ribs and meatloaf and I also handle the salad bowls and sandwiches. I cook the chicken and prepare the sandwich sides and heat the bread for the morning, keeping my station up to date. I also change the day dots for every food so we know if the food is still good enough to eat. I carve the chicken into quarters or eights depending on the customers’ choice of meal. If the order is “a quarter white,” I carve the breast and wing; if it’s “a quarter dark,” I carve the leg and thigh. Then, when my shift is done, I clean up the floors and the utilities I used and restock all of the sides for the next carver. I’m constantly monitored to make sure I don’t make any costly mistakes and whether I’m adding value. When everybody works together, we become a team. I’ve observed that good employees like me are hard to find.

So are good students. School is where I work to excel at each assignment and learn from my mistakes. I’ve got my eyes focused on the future. NCC makes the most sense. I can even go for free. Then with my associate’s degree in hand, I can transfer to a 4-year college, major in accounting, even take aim at an MBA.

Today, the house in Waterbury and my dad are gone, but the jar of change remains, the legacy left by my dad to keep money in reserve. Now when I think back on how my family managed to survive, I see that my absent father left me with all the tools I need to become a man.