Today I am delighted to be able to welcome a new friend of mine to my blog. I am putting aside all posts on horror, or fiction to concentrate on a story that needs to be read. It is a journey of self reflection, self indulgence and eventually triumph in the face of adversity. There are some people in the world, who have faced a great number of set backs, and my guest today is one of them. Yet he stands tall, he smiles at these trials, and meets them head on, for to him, the title of his book, Adversity Builds Character is much more than just a title, it is the phrase that has guided him through his life, and brought him to the place he is today. It is my absolute honor to welcome Author Tom Ufert to my blog.
Alex Laybourne: How are you feeling today?
Tom Ufert: I’m feeling much better. After a VERY BUSY weekend of book signings/fundraisers and my first TV interview, along with two national blog radio interviews yesterday, it has been an exhausting week. However, I was rewarded with a great night’s sleep last night, so I have recovered quite nicely.
Alex Laybourne: Good to hear. It certainly sounds as though you have been busy. Were the radio and TV interviews all to do with your book promotion?
Tom Ufert: Yes. This past weekend was Mother’s Day in the U.S. and my book is dedicated to my mom, Gloria Riley, and my godmother/grandmother, Joy Campbell. I picked this weekend in my hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana – where we all were lifelong residents until 1991 when I moved to Texas. Mom passed in a tragic mercy killing/suicide back in 1985 and Grandma passed 5 years ago from a severe stroke. This was my first trip home since becoming an aspiring author last year. Both book signings were joint fundraisers for the local AIDs outreach center and the college chapter of Literacy Volunteers at my Alma Mater, Centenary College of Louisiana.
Alex Laybourne: How did the fund raising go?
Tom Ufert: Well, during Friday evening’s event we sold out my entire available stock of books except for one, and Saturday’s event, my 4th Barnes and Noble book signing, resulted in about thirty attendees and we sold half of the store’s available stock. I consider both to have been VERY SUCCESSFUL. That is the single largest number of books I’ve sold to date at any one time. Prospective readers/buyers should note, that every book I sell guarantees at least a 10% donation to a number of charities I support. Giving back is very important to me! Though I am a self-published/self-promoting author surviving totally on disability income, my “adopted” parents and my Jesuit educators instilled in me the notion of “Noblesse Oblige.”
Alex Laybourne: You have already mentioned your family, both birth and extended. The death of your mother was a tragic experience, and something you talk about in your book (Adversity Builds Character). You were very sincere in your absolution of blame towards your mother’s friend and carer; the man that took her life. That in itself is something that I don’t believe many people would be able to do.
Tom Ufert: You are probably right about most other people. However, I witnessed their strong friendship and Platonic love for each other during the 5 years Dudley took care of my mother; a time when her own family, myself included, seemed to not give a damn. Dudley gave her the best of care and in all the years I had known him, he was never happier than those years living with and caring for my mom. Events that were later revealed after the tragedy indicated, in my mind, beyond a shadow of doubt that Mom was so completely over wrought with depression she asked him to end her misery. In return, knowing that his act of mercy would legally be misinterpreted, he felt his only option was to commit suicide.
Alex Laybourne: Her passing was the first in a series of very tragic events in your life, many of which were largely self-destructive in their nature. Do you think that this was in some way a trigger?
Tom Ufert: I am unsure if her tragic passing was a “trigger”…I certainly could use that as an excuse, or crutch. However, in the end we make our own decisions are solely responsible for the actions we take. In today’s world I feel that there is a real decline in personal responsibility. To live a life of true integrity, one must not take the easy way out and simply shift responsibility. My years of self-destructive behavior were of my own making. I am a grown, mature, responsible adult….no one forced me to imbibe myself into near oblivion and death. I chose my actions, I made those choices… I am the maker of my own destiny or ill fortune… no one else!
Alex Laybourne: That is indeed a very noble point of view, and I certainly admire you for standing behind your convictions. You summed it up perfectly just now – as you do so often in your book – that people lack the integrity to either take and or live with their own personal responsibilities. How big a role does your faith play in the strength to your convictions?
Tom Ufert: My faith is huge in my convictions. To have clear transparency, I must note that for me, faith and religion are not synonymous. Raised a Roman Catholic, a devout one, for years, having regularly attended Mass; I even served as a Eucharistic minister. There was also a significant period where I strayed from the Church…I felt like the hypocrisy of church leaders shielding career pedophiles while condemning me as a gay man was a total antithesis to the teachings of Christ. I believe VERY STRONGLY in a loving/forgiving God, pray constantly, and feely deeply humbled in the constant wonder of God’s creation. One of my favorite quotes is by the French philosopher Voltaire, “God isa comedian, whose audience is afraid to laugh!” For me that perfectly describes organized religion. More human beings have been killed in the name of God than any other cause in human history. When we die and go where ever we go, I’m convinced God will be laughing because none of us have come even close to being right. The mind of man cannot even begin to possibly conceive all the beauty and wonder of God’s magnificence.
Alex Laybourne: That is a very a very interesting perspective, and something I could happily discuss over the course of another interview. However, I shall hold off on that track to keep the focus on your book. The struggle with your own sexuality was another key aspect of Adversity Builds Character. How much of a relief was it when you were finally able to stand up and be honest to others, and to yourself?
Tom Ufert: UNBELIEVABLE! The comedian/actor Jerry Lewis was once criticized via a fan’s letter that the only reason he hosted the highly successful Labor Day Telethon for MS was to boost his sagging career. His simple reply was, “For those who believe in me, no excuse is necessary…for those who don’t believe in me, no excuse will ever be good enough!” For years I personally lived a double life “living in the closet” while trying to maintain a picture perfect image for others. I did so to preserve my promising political career, and attempt to throw a contradictory lifestyle in the face of popular conviction. In many ways my self-destructive nature was my coping mechanism for trying to be something I was not just to appease others’ expectations of who and what I should be. My year of disabilities, 1992, changed all of that. Deep depression, prayer, and self-reflection taught me that, in Shakespeare’s words, “To thine ownself be true, and thence, though cannot be false to any other man!”
Alex Laybourne: You book is clearly there to talk about how you have responded to the incidents in your life, rather than to focus on the incidents themselves, so I feel that I can safely give away a small ‘spoiler’ here. You were diagnosed with MS – the same condition that your mother lived with – HIV and found yourself confined to a wheelchair after a car accident all within a short space of time. Each incident takes a different toll on the body, but which has tested you the most?
Tom Ufert: Alex, that is a tough one…I would have to say the MS. My HIV is now, and has been for the last 3 years, non-detectable; thanks to medication and an excellent doctor. The side effects from the incomplete spinal fracture are tolerable and controlled through medication. However, the MS keeps me from walking, extorts extreme exhaustion periodically, and prevents me from maintaining a steady job. A few of the side effects, Clonus & Foot Drop, are the primary causes preventing me from walking in a practical manner and can sometimes result in muscle fatiguing spasms. I am in relatively good health given my physical challenges and attempt as much independence as possible. However, MS presents me with my greatest overall challenges of obtaining physical mobility. I am in high hopes that with today’s medical advances, and the newly acquired challenges facing me with my new found promising career as an inspirational writer/speaker, that a renewed drive to improve my strength through exercise and determination, I shall one day have improvement.
Alex Laybourne: I sincerely hope so, for you, and everybody living with the condition. Having read your book, and talking to you now, it is clear that you wrote this book primarily for others rather than yourself. You mention a number of names within the book, and offer them your apologies and ask for their forgiveness. Have any of these people come to you since you wrote those sections, or since you published Adversity Builds Character
Tom Ufert: That’s a very poignant question. Yes, I did write Adversity Builds Character for others, primarily people coping with their own adversities. As for those that I’ve asked for forgiveness from…none have specifically responded. One in particular, my biological sister, I’m not even sure if she is aware of the books existence. I hope and pray in time, that we will come to reconciliation, and she will put my being gay behind us as a reason for lack of sibling affection. Some of my biological family, that I had not seen or communicated with for decades, have resurfaced, embraced me lovingly, and were even present this past weekend at my hometown book signing. Several friends/former classmates that I assumed would reject me for my lifestyle have become old friends again, and completely shattered my preconceptions….my, how times have changed. Others that I publicly and hypocritically ridiculed for being gay, to distract public attention from my own hidden life, have whole heartedly forgiven the past and enthusiastically embraced me as friend.
Alex Laybourne: So could you say that writing the book has, inadvertently, or rather as a result of your attempts to inspire others, had a somewhat cathartic effect on you, and those from your past.
Can I also say that I am sure you and your sister will reconcile your differences.
Tom Ufert: Without a doubt! Writing this book was very cathartic for me personally. I am a better person for having written it, and for confronting my past head on. It is my deepest hope and prayer that the book inspires others to better cope with their adversities, and to reach out to others with a helping/uplifting hand. As for my sister, only time will tell. I am certainly open to and hopeful for that transcending moment in both our lives.
Alex Laybourne: How long did it take you to write the book? Was it harder to start or to finish?
Tom Ufert: I started writing the book over ten years ago. Due to technological ignorance on my part, and my physical challenges with finger dexterity – I can only independently move three fingers on one hand and two fingers on the other – my typing was greatly impeded. In late 2011 my partner gave me a Dragon voice activated word processing program. I wrote more in six months than I had in the previous decade…miraculous technology. Writing wasn’t as difficult or frustrating as promoting has been. I have to give a huge shout out to my friend and mentor author Matthew Q. Dawson and his book The Self Publisher’s Marketing Bible—A MUST READ! In addition my senior English teacher Sharon Smith and good friend/photographer Ron Comstock…the book and my social media outreach would nothave been possible without them all. My godmother/grandmother, Joy Campbell, and my life partner Lester were both driving forces and undying supporters in the book’s completion. GODBLESS THEM ALL!
Alex Laybourne: To be honest with you Tom, I could carry on chatting for hours, but I cannot think of a better way to end this interview. I hope it will be the first of many we can do together. There are so many factors that we can discuss, from faith and motivational speaking, to future works and life challenges etc.
Tom Ufert: Thank you Alex for this wonderful opportunity… especially to reach beyond America to a wider global audience. I look forward to many such encounters with you and others in the future. Please don’t hesitate to invite me again and I wish you blessings and god speed in all of your endeavors.
Who Is Tom Ufert?
Tom Ufert, a 46-year-old quadriplegic afflicted with three different disabilities is an inspirational voice in our troubled times. He received his bachelor of arts in political science and history as a scholarship recipient from Centenary College of Louisiana. Tom is a former Rotary International graduate Fellow who attended Australian National University in Canberra, ACT, specializing in East Asian political affairs and was a White House Fellow nominee. He is a former Lyndon Baines Johnson Congressional Intern and constituency aid for two former United States members of Congress. His past services for 11 political campaigns on both sides of the aisle were highly valued by former Louisiana Governor Charles “Buddy” Roemer, Henson Moore the former assistant chief of staff to U.S. Vice President George H.W. Bush, and the present U.S. Trade Ambassador, Ron Kirk.
At age 23 he was the youngest artistic Board Chairman in the United States as head of the Shreveport Summer Music Festival. Mr. Ufert has served as a member of two other 501(c) three charity boards including his beloved fraternity Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia as well as the community advisory board for his former rehabilitation hospital. Over the years he has acquired extensive customer service experience in the food and beverage, hotel, insurance, home security, and pharmaceutical industries. Mr. Ufert has served as a member of two other 501(c) three charity boards including his beloved fraternity Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia as well as the community advisory board for his former rehabilitation hospital. His professional memberships include Phi Alpha Theta, Sigma Tau Delta, and the Worldwide Who’s Who. In recent years he has worked tirelessly as a volunteer fundraiser for numerous AIDS charities in his community and served briefly as the community affairs liaison for Legacy Founders Cottage. Tom Ufert, a native of Louisiana, now resides in Texas.