Last weekend, I flew to Chicago for my cousin David Tafuna's graduation from Northwestern's prestigious Kellogg School of Management with his MBA. I wrote of David's acceptance to Kellogg two years ago after he lived and worked in the Philadelphia area for a few years with his young family.
After an internship with Credit Suisse on Wall Street last summer, David accepted an offer from Bank of America in their mergers and acquisitions division. He'll spend July and August training in Manhattan before beginning his investment banking career at their Palo Alto, California, headquarters.
Since childhood, David aspired to follow my football career to BYU and then into the NFL. David's mother, Marguerite, is the youngest girl and my mother the eldest of 10 children, so I'm significantly older. David's family lived a few miles from mine in Mesa, Arizona, though he was born while I was already at BYU. He followed my path to Mesa High School where he also starred, then served a Mormon mission before heading to Provo.
David wore my same No. 23 jersey as he started two years as the Cougars' free safety from 2007-2008. His bigger-than-life mural still occupies a wall on the second floor of the Student Athlete Center in Provo.
Our connection is even closer by marriage — his marriage. David was introduced to his wife, Melissa, by my oldest son, Landon, on a blind date at BYU. As David returned from his mission to Brazil in 2004, I asked him if he would room with Landon in Deseret Towers for a semester of Landon's freshman year so he could influence my son positively.
Landon asked out Melissa Rebilas for a double date that semester because they grew up together in our home ward in New Jersey. David wasn't much interested in his date, but he was smitten by Melissa. It didn't bother Landon at all. Melissa is like a sister. They've been friends since CTR Primary class and grade school. Besides, Landon was preparing for his mission.
I was bishop of the ward when Melissa was in the youth program, and I conducted her ecclesiastic interview for her BYU application. Even as a teenager, Melissa was strikingly beautiful, athletic (basketball, soccer and field hockey) and smart.
So imagine my joy when my younger, beloved, BYU standout cousin married a young woman from my ward whose parents are dear, close friends!
After graduation, the NFL didn't beckon. David had multiple shoulder surgeries, and the truth (which I told David) is that he didn't have the foot speed to play safety in the track meet that is the National Football League. Nothing wrong with that. A lot of people don't.
But lots of all-American college football players also don't graduate with a 3.4 grade-point average in finance. So, I encouraged him to pursue his life's work. That started with a move east, where I have connections. I could help him find work in his field and at the same time live with his in-laws so they could help Melissa with their first baby.
He landed a job with the Social Security Administration in Philly, then I got him on with a financial firm owned by a friend. That led to another job with Meryl Lynch. After three years of solid work experience, he was positioned to apply to the top business schools in the world — Wharton, Harvard, Columbia and Kellogg. He received enticing scholarship offers from BYU's Marriott School of Management and UCLA.
I repeated to David my mantra: "Go big or go home!"
His GPA, high scores, Division I athlete experience, mission experience overseas, language skills and gilded resume gave him lots of options. He chose Kellogg as the best fit for what he wanted.
True to form, David also had lots of options as he neared graduation.
I threw a dinner party in an Evanston restaurant for David's family and friends after commencement. I shared with him this advice at dinner as he embarks on what will surely be a successful and prosperous career.
The purpose of your education is to build the kingdom, not self-aggrandizement. The process may reward you financially beyond your wildest imagination. Don't let big salaries, custom suits, monogrammed shirts and fancy cars distract you from what's truly important. Nothing wrong with those things. But don't let it blind you. Church service will keep you focused and grounded. Usually, it happens when you’re given stewardship over the less fortunate: materially, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
In my view, my wife's career as homemaker is more important than mine because her work has a greater impact on our eternal future. Mine simply handles our current circumstances and perhaps our financial future. To me, the major purpose of my work is to allow my wife to succeed in hers. I did whatever I could to support her and let her know that raising our children was my highest priority. Her happiness was and is the object of my existence.
I told my bosses during contract negotiations that if they appreciated my work, it was my wife they had to please to keep me. If my job ever interfered with my role as husband and father in any way, I would find another job.
Case in point. I once had a news director who seemed annoyed that I drove the 30 minutes from our Philadelphia studios to my New Jersey home for dinner every evening after our 6 p.m. broadcast. Previous news directors had always accommodated me, knowing that my family was a priority, as were my church responsibilities. The new boss called me into his office one day and told me he wanted me to start going to Phillies, 76ers and Flyers games to get player interviews after the 6 p.m. broadcast for our 11 p.m. show.
I flat out told him to go pound sand and start looking for a new sports anchor because I’d resign. That time was the only chance I had to eat with my kids, read to them, pray with them, help them with homework, tuck them in and give my wife some relief from her day. The task he asked me to perform was done by interns who only needed to hold the mic during postgame interviews. Often, those sound bites never aired due to lack of time.
He was simply irritated I went home. I wasn't above doing that work, as I had done plenty of it in the early years as I built my career. But at that juncture, and with my kids' ages, I had earned my stripes and I wasn’t willing to compromise those evening hours with my family. Plus, I knew the quality of my work was highly valued within my own shop and in the Philadelphia television market.
I told him I'll do something else that allowed me to be home with my kids, even if it doesn't pay as well. "My parents raised me with a fraction of what I make, so don't underestimate me,” I told him. “My salary allows us lots of luxuries, but that's all they are — luxuries. I grew up without them and if they had to, my kids will go without, too. It'll be hard, but I'm more interested in my children's well-being than being on TV. I can get other jobs; I’m not getting other children. I have one chance to raise my kids right. If I don't, does anything else really matter?"
The following day, the boss summoned me. He stood down. "Look, keep your cellphone charged in case Allen Iverson is in a car accident or Curt Schilling throws a no-hitter. Otherwise, go see your family. And don't be late for the 11 p.m."
Now, go make your mark on the world, David. And build the Kingdom. Congrats, Cuz.
Vai Sikahema is the sports director and anchor for NBC10 Philadelphia and host of the "Vai & Gonzo Show" on ESPN Philadelphia Radio. He is a two-time All-Pro, two-time Emmy Award winner and was a member of BYU's 1984 national championship team.