COLUMN: It takes a fishing village to raise a child

Vandy Vela, Through Emerald Colored Glasses
Vandy Vela and her son Daniel Eric. After moving to Destin five years ago, Daniel worked for Legendary Inc. as a first and second mate on charter boats and the water shuttle. Now he is working at Destin Snorkel.

For some families it takes a village. For me and my son, it took the World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.

Being a Mom has undoubtedly been the most rewarding role of my life. Having two little people, Vendelina Marie and Daniel Eric, look to me for guidance — and most of all supper — has kept me on my toes.

By the time I moved to the Emerald Coast five years ago, the two little people had grown into young adults. I handed in the titles Team Mom, Soccer Mom, and Room Mom but luckily “Mom” hangs on for life.

Ven’s heart led her back to Missouri where she married, but Daniel stayed here in Destin with me. My sister, Ana, always says, “Daniel, we know why you’re in Destin — your Momma’s cooking.”

Daniel and I got to work in the World’s Luckiest Fishing Village and another phase of motherhood began.

Daniel was a whopping 19-years-old — what’s a Mom to do when your son begins to grow into a man, earn a living and pay his own bills? No need to chauffer, offer homework help and thank God … do his laundry.

Of course, I continued in the family tradition of home cooked meals, but it was different with two work schedules. We had to make it a priority to sit down at the table, swap stories and catch up.

Table-time talk revealed a difference in Daniel’s conversation and even his Aunt Ana took note. He knew folks that we didn’t know, and he had been to places we hadn’t gone; he had a life all his own.

However, one thing remained the same and became even more pronounced — he was more adamant about our family values, in fact he began to claim them as his own.

Where was this newfound passion coming from?

A decade earlier back in Missouri, I had become a single mom. The challenge of juggling two jobs, two kids and still keeping the family traditions that I knew would build character in my kids was a struggle. 

The foundation of our "happy home" was shaken and it was evident in Daniel’s choices. Being miles away from a very supportive family, I had reached out to community organizations, faith-based groups, friends and the response lacked any sustained help for mentoring a young man searching for answers.

For the first time in my life, my optimism began to flicker. Things were looking grim.

But then enter the Emerald Coast chapter of our lives. Something/someone was transforming my son without my intervention. Daniel’s laughter was once again a common sound in our home. The easy-going, happy guy that I had known began to resurface. 

I would be on the job helping customers and find out that they worked at the harbor. “You might know my son, Daniel; he works there.”

“You mean our son,” was the reply. We’d laugh and then my response, “I hope you plan on helping with his grocery budget.”  

It was all said in jest but what a welcomed change — people taking a role in my son’s life without my asking. And there was more, when Daniel’s birthday rolled around, other folks were throwing a party, cutting a cake and the beauty of it all? I was able to sit back and enjoy.  He ate meals that I didn’t cook, received gifts I didn’t buy, and went on trips I didn’t plan.

Today, Daniel’s well on his way to being the man of character I always envisioned.

I’ll be forever grateful to the Emerald Coast locals who generously invested in his life, especially the men and women of Destin’s harbor district and Destiny Worship Center. They gave of themselves, our community’s unwritten mantra.

Through sharing my story, I desire to offer hope to all parents who have a prodigal child that has yet to come home.

Hang in there, prayers are still being answered, dreams do come true and sometimes the outcome far exceeds your expectations. Who knows, you just might get lucky and your destiny could include … "looking at parenthood through emerald colored glasses." 

Vandy Vela is a local businesswoman passionate about faith, family, friends, our Emerald Coast and America. In her Log column, she explores life through the lens of The Emerald Coast.