“How’s It Feel, Tough Guy?” is the story of Mike Palombi’s transition from lawless teen to God-filled man. In his youth, he thought being a man was all about how much you could lift, how much beer you could drink and how many girls you could get. His one rule for deciding whether or not to do something was if he wanted to do it or not.
That lifestyle and those beliefs landed him in prison.
In prison, Mike found God, took responsibility and confronted his past. He ultimately realized that he was a victim too — that his abusive, emotionally unstable upbringing directly contributed to his life choices. His understanding of these dynamics and his new-found faith inspired him (and continue to inspire him) to reach out to other at-risk males. BuildingBoys recently talked to Mike about what it means to be a man.
One of the things that you talk about in your book is how your idea of manhood changed from when you were young to later on in your life. Where were you getting your ideas of manhood from at that point in your life?
You know it’s funny, because my father didn’t lift weights. My father didn’t drink. He wasn’t a womanizer. But my father did have a bad temper. He had a foul mouth and he was a very aggressive man. My father was road rage all the way, punching holes in walls in the house, breaking stuff, aggressive with his discipline. Is it a surprise that a kid like me, who was physically disciplined, whose father taught me to settle my disputes with others by using my fists, who played football for eleven years listening to my coaches telling me to hit somebody — is it really any surprise that I end up in a parking lot beating up another guy?
You’ve written and talked about the importance of reaching out to kids, of not assuming that a kid is beyond reach.
When I went to prison and my criminal case came before the appellate court seeking relief, one of the judges said to me, “It’s a shame that people like you even exist. I’d only wish I could give him more time.” What those words communicated to me was that he felt my life was hopeless. He believed that nothing good could ever come from my life.
Here’s the thing: when society has a mentality like that judge, that people are hopeless, they treat them like they’re hopeless. And when you are the target of that type of an approach, you can’t have any expectation that something’s good is going to come out of it. Hope is all about the expectation of something good happening, which is in sharp contrast to an approach of hopelessness, an approach that assumes failure.
With every single kid, there’s hope. I don’t care how bad they are. I don’t care if they murdered someone. There is potential there, potential that is undiscovered. I believe that if people change that hopeless approach to one that includes hope, they can tap in to that potential, that undiscovered talent and ability that is born within every human being.
What would you tell parents who are concerned about the crowd their kid is starting to hang out with?
In my book, I say, Show me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you where you’re going to be in five years.Certainly that was the truth in my life. A lot of parents are ignorant or naive. Your kids aren’t hanging out with the kids who are using drugs because they have no one else to hang out with. Your kids are hanging out with kids who are using drugs because they use drugs.
If you’re concerned about who your kids are hanging out with, maybe you need to spend more time hanging out with your kids. Stop blaming everyone else for the choices your children are making.
God is a huge part of your story. How do you help young men understand that they might need something more in their life, that maybe life isn’t just all about them?
That’s a good question. Initially I wrote my book for men in prison because men in prison, as bad as they are, they’re willing to listen. They’ll listen because what else do they have? It’s over for them, so they’ll listen.
In prison, I read and studied the Bible. To me, the Bible makes an extremely excellent case that what it talks about is real. Based on things that have happened in my life for which I have no explanation, I’ve concluded that God is really who he says he is. I don’t need to have all the answers to believe that. I’m not asking anybody else to believe it. I’m telling people, This is how I turned my life around. I don’t care if you believe in God or if you don’t believe in God. If you live your life according to what the Bible says, your life is going to be better.
People don’t want to hear about God because when they think of God, they think judgment. When I think of God, I think of mercy and love. I don’t think about judgment. I think, God loves me. He saved me from the way I was going. Any good that comes from me is a result from God in my life. It’s a result of my reading the Bible, studying the Bible, going to church and doing things in a way that honors God. Before, I lived my life in a way that I thought would honor me. That didn’t work so well.
Let’s bring this full circle. What does being a man mean to you now?
To be a man means being a leader in my home. It means being a provider, being a friend or a father figure to my kids. It means setting a good example! The purpose in my life now is to impact the quality of life of other people. As a man, my life should be about investing in the lives of other people. Ultimately, every man should be investing in the lives of the younger generation.
I didn’t do that as a young guy. I robbed people. I stole. I robbed people of life. Like I said in the book, my greatest regret is that there are people worse off for knowing me. There are all different aspects of being a man, but certainly doing drugs, drinking, committing crime, disrespecting people and devaluing life is not part of anybody’s plan for life. That certainly isn’t part of what being a man is.