V Teamer and veteran David Pope shares his incredible life story.
Homeless at 15. Cancer survivor. Air Force Veteran. Meet David Pope.
On Christmas Day, 1995, David Pope ran out of his father’s house and set out on his own. He was 15 years old.
David’s decision to leave that morning was not an easy one; it was the only one. His father, an abuser and an alcoholic, had been drinking excessively leading to traumatic events that would change his life forever.
“I share my story in hopes that I can help others,” David says. “I had a challenging childhood, but there’s always a different path to follow.”
Today, David is the Managing Director for the West Central Region for Verizon’s Retail, Hospitality, Transportation, and Distribution vertical. He’s an Air Force veteran and a cancer survivor. He’s happily married, and he’s the father of a 4-year old boy. This is David’s story.
In high school without a home.
After that Christmas Day, David was homeless for his junior and senior years of high school. He went to school during the day, and then went to work the night shift at a loading dock for a local retail store. A straight-A student, he did his homework in the store’s lunchroom on his breaks.
At night he slept on park benches, playground slides, and in the big drain sewers of Southern California. Eventually, he saved enough to buy a car, a Honda Civic, that he lived out of for the rest of his time in high school.
“I didn’t like to share with my friends what was going on at the time,” David says. “Being a victim of abuse, I thought everything was my fault. I felt embarrassed and ashamed, so I kept to myself.”
When he was 17, David enlisted in the United States Air Force.
A core set of values.
“I talk a lot about intangibles in a person,” David says. “That’s a person’s integrity, work ethic, perseverance, resilience, and ability to work as a team. Military service grows those intangibles in you. As a lost kid at a young age, the Air Force provided me with a core set of values that helped me become a leader, a friend, and now a husband and a father.”
David joined the Air Force in 1997 and served for 6 years. After 9/11, he served in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
In 2002, David was honorably discharged from the Air Force, only to receive some life-changing news: he had been diagnosed with colon cancer. After successful treatment, his cancer went into remission, but returned again in 2007. That’s when he moved back to Southern California to be closer to his mom’s side of the family.
Building his own family.
Today, David is healthy and cancer-free. “I’ll be turning 40 next week,” David says. “It’s no coincidence that I waited until I was 36 to have a family. When I was younger I was scared of commitment. I was scared of repeating my own parents’ mistakes.”
After David and his wife, Maria, had their son, Dominic, David started to see a therapist to address his difficult childhood, and the PTSD he suffered as a result of his service. “I used to be ashamed of my past, but now I’m learning that it’s not my fault. You start to forgive yourself.”
After not speaking to him for 21 years, David reconciled with his father, and introduced him to his grandson. He learned that his father had also been abused when he was young, but had never spoken about it. “It was such a relief to reconcile with him,” David says. “You can be different. You can forgive. You can break the cycle.”
Paying it forward.
Between his busy schedule at Verizon, David spends time mentoring and speaking openly about his story to youth groups. He is also now getting involved with Verizon’s Veterans employee resource group.
“I really want to be a mentor to other veterans,” David says. “It can be really hard getting back to civilian life once you’ve served. Lots of veterans suffer from PTSD and have trouble adjusting. It can be hard to transfer military skills to career skills, but veterans have great core values. They have those intangibles.”
David hopes his story will help inspire others and spread awareness about the struggles that many veterans, and victims of domestic violence face everyday.