Friday, February 3, 2012

A Life With No Regrets – The Family’s Black Sheep

Ba Ba Black Sheep

There is a saying that “You Can Forgive, But You Never Forget.”  My life has been an open book from the very beginning. A few years ago I would have been too ashamed to write this blog but not today. If my story can heal and help just one person move on with their lives, then I would have done my job by writing it.

On Oprah’s show recently she interviewed 5 sisters who had been bickering their whole lives. Even though they seemed to blame one sister for all the turmoil, it was clear that not one person was to blame for their dilemma.

From an early age, I learned beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was indeed the family’s “black sheep.” The dictionary defines a “black sheep” as a person who causes shame or embarrassment because of deviation from the accepted standards of his or her group.

One of the stories I will never forget and which still haunt me until this day is when I would wait for the school bus with my siblings in either cold or hot weather and right before the bus pulled up to our driveway, my sisters would jerk my stack of books out of my hands and throw them into the bushes --so that I would be late getting on the school bus. 

Meanwhile, they would tell everyone on the bus about the mean-spirited act they committed while everyone laughed at me. This occurred many times during my younger years.

Let me start from the beginning. I grew up in a small rural Georgia town, about 7 miles from the Alabama State Line. I was the sixth of nine children, born to parents whose primary livelihood came from farming. My father worked in a factory to pay the bills. My mother was a housewife who stayed home to raise her children and tend the farm.

She cleaned other people’s houses sometimes for extra income. After her children were older, my mother also went to work at one of the local factories.

Even though my childhood could be described as underprivileged -- I always felt rich because of the upbringing and values instilled in me as a child. My mother always taught me to “treat others the way you want to be treated. Always respect others, especially the elderly.”

I remembered her wise words, “If you must choose between right and wrong, choose right!” Her advice would serve me well later in my life especially when I became a “federal whistleblower” “The Cathy Harris Story: A Whistleblower's Victorious Journey to Justice” (

I was a good student in school and graduated in the top tier of my high school class. I wanted to attend college, however, I didn't go. My classmates encouraged me to go, but I had no mentor in my life to provide direction with obtaining college financial aid and scholarships even though I had other relatives who had went to college.

At the time, I knew my parents could not afford to send me to college even though I probably was the only person out of 9 kids that expressed a desire to go. So, after high school graduation, I started working in the factories like my parents and their parents before them.

Right away, I realized that factory work was not the life for me. My dreams and aspirations were much broader. From an early age, I desired a better standard of living -- and traveling to new places was my ultimate dream.

After about a year of working in the factory, still yearning to travel, I joined the U.S. Army. When I look back at my military years, I remembered many of the injustices I witnessed and they still haunt me to this day and this was my first introduction to any type of injustice. 

I witnessed how minority male soldiers and females were treated unfairly by first sergeants and company commanders.

Even though my sisters and brothers constantly physically fought with me as children, I still don’t look at what happened to me as a child as an injustice. To me it was just a part of growing up -- and yes it was painful!

My father was actually the disciplinarian in the family and he was a ‘functional’ alcoholic. But what I really did not like was both my mother and father had ‘favorites.’ 

This is another reason that I have a problem today with discrimination or any type of disparity anywhere because of my upbringing and the unfairness that I felt I witnessed at an early age in my own family.

I was the youngest daughter of 4 girls and I had 3 brothers below me and 2 older brothers (9 total). To me it was just too many children and my parents were probably overwhelmed so as soon as I finished high school and moved out at the age of 17, I forgave them. Forgiving them meant I could go on with my life.

They did the best with what they had but at the same time…I made sure when I had my family and my daughters that both of them were always treated the same…always treated fairly.

I did not hold any animosity against my mother, father, sisters or brothers --even though after joining the military, I never returned home until 20 years later. The only way that I could make sense of my upbringing was to get away from it –to remove myself from such a negative environment.

I eventually returned to Georgia, when my two daughters were ages 13 and 14 so they could be around my family before they went off into the world…to college.

We all make decisions in our lives and sometimes those decisions propel us forward or move us backwards. My decision to distance myself from my family -- did propel me forward. My life was absolutely great! I enjoyed being out in the world traveling from city to city – making new friends and building relationships.

After my mom passed away a couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to be with her at the end to try to understand why I had to live my life the way I did. I think the biggest fact that really surprised my siblings when I returned home again was the fact that I was not bitter or selfish but really a caring and forgiving person.

For years I had befriended many people of different cultures and upbringings so everything was just different for me. I am not saying that none of the rivalry or conflicts growing up was my fault. I am just saying that I did the best I could do with what I had…and I am sure they did too. I am just saying that –“I grew up!”

Childhood jealousy is just that –something you should leave in your childhood. Leave the past in the past! Many people today hold grudges about something that happened in the past making it impossible for them to move on.

People who hold grudges are full of self-hate and many will have a hard time being happy no matter
where they live, how much they have, or how they live their lives.

To me being a “Black Sheep” is not a bad thing because for me it made me into the person I am today. It made me resilient and more able to cope with things in life. It made me a stronger, courageous and a visionary person. 

It made me courageous enough to become a “whistleblower” and strong enough to work in a mostly male-dominated career for over 20 years and raise a beautiful family –all while still coming out on top.

Even though I feel many ‘black sheeps’ live on the edge and don’t have any boundaries, it’s extremely important to go ahead and live your life with no regrets. You can read more on my story in my book “The Cathy Harris Story: A Whistleblower’s Victorious Journey to Justice” (