Scion of the Wild

Tomorrow marks two years since my father passed away unexpectedly. This event was very difficult for me – and I still find myself having to cope with his premature exit from this world. But the anniversary of his death has me thinking about what he contributed to my life as well as ways in which I learned to deal with some of his shortcomings.

My father, Steven Sparks and me on my first Christmas, December 1989.

My father taught me a lot – I learned from him through observation the value of strong work ethic and determination to “pull yourself up by the bootstraps”. I come from somewhat humble beginnings – at least in comparison to the life I’ve built for myself up to this point. As an example, I was the first in my family, which includes my parents and two older brothers, to earn a high school diploma and pursue higher education. Since then, my youngest sibling later achieved this feat as well, but I was the first.

Because my parents were less educated, they ended up having to work multiple low paying jobs to be able to afford raising us children in the relatively affluent area of northern Virginia. I therefore observed two young, hardworking parents trying to make ends meet while growing up which translated into me perceiving idle time as a luxury afforded to those better off than myself for many years.

I therefore filled my plate with responsibilities and stretched myself thin: working three part time jobs while going to school full time my first few semesters of college, taking 20+ credits semester after semester during undergrad, and more recently taking on extremely difficult problems that may be better suited to with someone with more experience or better resources.

This personal aspect has payed off in many ways though and I’m grateful for the lessons learned from my experiences thus far. I have suffered “burn out” on more than one occasion, and as I’ve mentioned before, my mental health has not always been the best. This was something I learned to recognize later also affecting my parents. That meant that growing up, my father wasn’t always as available to me as I needed him to be.

One thing that helped me though was seeking support from those outside of my immediate family. I often received positive attention from teachers because I performed well in school. I therefore continued to strive for academic excellence and collected numerous mentors in a strong support network. In addition to my family, these people have shaped me into the person I am today and I am extremely appreciative of them.

But now that my father is gone I sometimes find myself wishing I could tell him things about my life. Unfortunately, there’s no real substitute for that but I do think of him often, and imagine that he could be with me and share my experiences.

Last month, I came across a letter he wrote to my grandmother when I was about 5 years old. He said a lot in the letter that moved me, but the most meaningful thing I read was – in his words of course – his belief of me having great potential. Since then and going forward I try to realize the potential that he saw in me and live in a way in which he would be proud.