My father was born in July 1944 in the back of a small cabin along the Mississippi River in Illinois. He was the oldest son in a family of four children, with two older sisters and a younger brother.
His parents were extremely poor; poverty was a fact of life for them. His father was rather well off in the 1920s and 1930s due to running a bootlegging operation in which alcohol was smuggled into the Chicago, Illinois area, but by the end of World War II, the money had been squandered on a series of poor business choices. The only items remaining from the earlier windfall were a small aluminum fishing boat and the necessary equipment to conduct a small fishing operation.
So, when my father arrived in the world in the middle of 1944, his father was a second-generation German-American who maintained a small fishing operation and fish market out of his home, and his mother was a half Cherokee Indian.
My father's early youth was actually very full of promise. Some early documents shown to me by my grandmother show that my father was at the top of his class throughout primary school (through eighth grade). He showed special aptitude with mathematics, especially story problems.
However, in the spring of 1956, his father fell ill with meningitis, a disease that would play a great role later on. About to begin his first year of high school, he made a choice NOT to attend school and instead took over his father's fishing operation. His younger brother and mother needed food and money and his father was bedridden.
For most of 1956 and 1957, my father alternately dodged the truant officer and brought home fish to his mother, who would sell them from the market that was built onto their house. With one of his sisters traveling with her railroading husband, and the other sister pursuing a musical career, he became the cornerstone of the family for a while.
When his father recovered, he returned to school a year behind in 1957, but on the third week of classes, he also contracted spinal meningitis. This nearly killed him; he was bedridden for five months.
After recovering from this, he was two years behind his classmates and, given the choice between returning to school once again or getting started at a job, he chose a job as an apple picker. He worked at this job until he was able to get a job welding for a local metallurgy plant in late 1961.
Around this time, he fell in love and was married. In 1965, he had the first of two children in the marriage, but at the end of the year in December, he switched jobs. After going to the plant every day for better than a year and requesting a job at every position in the plant at each visit, he finally secured a lucrative job with the Case Corporation as a welder.
He had a second son in 1969, but shortly afterward, his marriage collapsed. While the divorce was going on, my father met my mother in 1974, and in 1976, during custody hearings for his two sons, they were married.
I arrived in the world in 1978; shortly after this, my two older brothers were kidnapped by their mother. During this period, my father lost all of his hair and became very ill, but he kept working and providing food and money for me and my mother to survive on. I was extremely sick in my early childhood, so even though his other children had been stolen from him, he worked an incredible amount of overtime to provide for me. Yet, I was not abandoned; my first memory is of him playing with me.
In late 1979, his oldest son called him on the telephone and said that he was at a gas station in Tempe, Arizona. Without hesitation, my father got into a truck and drove for twenty three straight hours nonstop. He arrived at the gas station, but his kids weren't there. However, he asked the locals and found out that a woman had moved to town recently with two kids matching his son's description. My father sat with his truck idling along the path between their school and their house at about three in the afternoon. When they arrived, he stepped out of the truck, put their bikes and bags in the back, and then drove the twenty three hour trip again nonstop back home.
My father did whatever was needed to make sure that I had everything that I could need for my life and education. He worked, on average, 60 hours a week as a welder and later as a computer operator. Beyond this, he maintained his father's fishing operation and also kept up a kitchen garden of more than two acres in size, which provided not only vegetables for us, but for many of the neighbors nearby.
I don't know to this day where the money came from, but whenever I wanted a book to read or something else to exercise my mind, it would often find its way to me. My father couldn't always answer my questions (and I was a very questioning child), but he made sure that I would never rest my mind.
I managed to acquire enough scholarships to go to a rather strong university. At my graduation, the first person I hugged was my father. For the first time since his father's funeral, my father had tears in his eyes.
Last April, after thirty seven years as a welder and computer operator, my father retired.
One of his plans for retirement is to get his GED, then perhaps take some college classes. He's also expanded his fishing operation and his garden is larger than ever, even though it is only my mother and him living together.
Sometimes, on the doorstep of some of the less fortunate people in my hometown, a box of fresh fish and vegetables appears.
My father's life was a series of sacrifices for others. Those around him who were important to him held top priority over everything else, including himself.
I often do not believe that I will do anything in my life to live up to the great sacrifices he made to give me the opportunities I now have in life. He truly is the person I could never be.
This was written for We Could Be Heroes: tes's Everything2 Heroes Quest.