My father grew upin Georgia, and his father was a sharecropper. But when my father--his name wasJimmie--was 12, my grandfather had a heart attack while working the fields. Myfather quit school and took over plowing the fields to support the family.
When he wasolder, he began working in a kaolin mine. It was one of the main sources ofincome in the area. If one of your parents worked in the mine, you were doingO.K. Kaolin is a fine, white clay used for ceramics and to coat paper. Theyworked in a silo in the mine, mixing kaolin with water and chemicals. When theydrained 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 andlift it out of the silo. He made me work there during summers so I would knowwhat 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 wantedme to make my own decisions and live with their consequences. He told me to bea leader. He would have me look at packs of birds and say they were allfollowers and that I should be an eagle, because they soar alone. He also saidI should never look back, because the more time I spent looking back, the moretime it would take to accomplish my goal.
My father wasdiagnosed with a brain tumor when I was with the Bengals in 2001. Nine monthslater he died at age 62. A lot of his friends who worked in the mine also diedfrom cancer. My father worked there 32 years, and I believe the chemicals tooktheir toll. That game against the Browns [two days after Jimmie died] was thefirst start I had missed since joining the league. It was hard to miss it, butmy heart was too heavy.
During the yearmy father was sick I began writing his initials on my wrist tape before everygame, and I have done it since. It's a way of dedicating my career to him. Hewas such a hard worker, and he was right to push me. My parents named me Takeobecause it means great warrior in Japanese. I try to live up to my name.
COURTESY OF TAKEO SPIKES