My father grew up
in Georgia, and his father was a sharecropper. But when my father--his name was
Jimmie--was 12, my grandfather had a heart attack while working the fields. My
father quit school and took over plowing the fields to support the family.
When he was
older, he began working in a kaolin mine. It was one of the main sources of
income in the area. If one of your parents worked in the mine, you were doing
O.K. Kaolin is a fine, white clay used for ceramics and to coat paper. They
worked in a silo in the mine, mixing kaolin with water and chemicals. When they
drained it, the sediment would settle to the bottom and be harder than cement.
My father's job was to get a jackhammer, break the sediment into chunks and
lift it out of the silo. He made me work there during summers so I would know
what manual labor felt like to motivate me to get out of Sandersville, Georgia,
where I lived with him and my mom [Lillie] and my sister and two brothers.
My father wanted
me to make my own decisions and live with their consequences. He told me to be
a leader. He would have me look at packs of birds and say they were all
followers and that I should be an eagle, because they soar alone. He also said
I should never look back, because the more time I spent looking back, the more
time it would take to accomplish my goal.
My father was
diagnosed with a brain tumor when I was with the Bengals in 2001. Nine months
later he died at age 62. A lot of his friends who worked in the mine also died
from cancer. My father worked there 32 years, and I believe the chemicals took
their toll. That game against the Browns [two days after Jimmie died] was the
first start I had missed since joining the league. It was hard to miss it, but
my heart was too heavy.
During the year
my father was sick I began writing his initials on my wrist tape before every
game, and I have done it since. It's a way of dedicating my career to him. He
was such a hard worker, and he was right to push me. My parents named me Takeo
because it means great warrior in Japanese. I try to live up to my name.