His car was literally wrapped around a tree. They saved his life, but he was paralyzed from the waist down and had limited upper body movements. He was classified as a quadriplegic. He was 23. My mother was 22.
At that time, many quadriplegics gave up. That was never my father’s story. He wouldn’t let the accident rule his life. He was ambitious. He had goals. And with my mother right with him, nothing could stop him from going back to work, getting a house and adopting me. It’s funny. Some people may think that having a paraplegic father is not a blessing. But having parents who lived with such determination was the greatest blessing I could ever have.
As a kid, I thought it was cool that he had a power wheelchair. I would ride around the neighborhood on his lap for ice cream. When I grew up, I would ride my bike and he would rush with me. I only realized that people with disabilities can be discriminated against once we were in a restaurant, when the waiter came to the table, looked at my mother and said: “What would he like to order?”
My father didn’t raise his voice. He didn’t flinch. He just said, “Well, I’ll have the prime rib, medium-rare, horseradish on my side,” making it very clear that his handicap had nothing to do with his sanity.
That was my first realization that people feel sorry for my father or look down on him in some way. But I never did. And my father never showed any sign of self-pity. He believed that when you are focused and determined there is nothing you cannot do.
It wasn’t that there weren’t any obstacles, but he believed obstacles should be overcome.
When I was in sixth grade, there was a speech contest. Everyone had to recite a poem or a speech. I thought I was going to give the speech “I Have a Dream”. But my father said, “No, everyone will do that” and suggested the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling.
It has been my mantra ever since. I have a framed copy of it at work, right behind my desk. Whenever I am faced with a stressful situation, I turn around and read it. Even if I only stick to the first lines: If you can keep your head when it comes to you / If you lose yours and blame yourself / If you can trust yourself, if all men doubt you / But take it too their doubts in purchase; I say, “Okay. I have it. I can do this. “Not just because the words of the poem inspire confidence, but because my father taught me to. He was my hero. In my eyes, he was 7 feet tall.