by Robert Holland
Medford, Oregon, USA
My father was originally a commercial fisherman who had come ashore to take better care of his family and offer his children better opportunities. He first worked as a diesel mechanic at a shipyard, then opened his own shop. He was not a highly educated man. Military academy was all his schooling, and then he had to drop out during the depression and start fishing to help my grandmother and aunt. So, when he opened his own business and began to work for himself, it was very hard — long hours were put in.
My mother had unfortunately become an alcoholic and, being the youngest of four children, I generally received the brunt of her displeasure. As time went on, I became a very difficult child, constantly in trouble with school, flirted with gang-related activity, and tried to find validation for my life in all the wrong places.
With the abuse I took at home from my mother, more mentally than physically, my grades became progressively worse …but I didn’t care. I was angry and it didn’t seem as if anyone really cared. One day my dad sat me down and asked me what was wrong and, being a kid, I couldn’t express myself. Instead I became angry and lashed out at him. He met with my teacher and discussed my grades and attitude. My father tried everything from spankings, to bribery, to intimidation.
One day during all of this turmoil I found him sitting outside of my classroom watching me to make sure that I was good and not a disruption. He did this at different times during the day, so I never knew when he would show up. Well, when you are in elementary school and at war with the world thinking that no one cares, this was a surprise.
It took him 45 minutes to drive from work to my school and 45 minutes back. I asked him why he was doing it and he said because he loved me and believed in me. His unfaltering belief in me, that I was good, that I was loved, is what turned me around.
My mother later died of alcoholism and his devotion to her was just as strong. Her death devastated him but even through that difficult time he continued working with me. In fact, if you look at his life from the days during the depression when he went out on the ocean as a teenager to help the family, to my mother, to me, he never wavered. He taught me by example. With my father’s help, I went on to college, class president, career, and now have children of my own. My hope is that my children will always say that I was there for them — as my father was for me.
Available in The Best of HeroicStories, Volume 1.