Where would America be without those willing to sacrifice themselves and their own selfish interests, choosing instead to become surrogate fathers of and for a nation? Individuals like President Abraham Lincoln, to our first Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton (and a founding father who did not seek the Presidency), to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and my personal hero, Ambassador Andrew Young; the strategist of, in and for the civil rights movement, or my shero, the late Dr. Dorothy I. Height, who counseled every U.S. president since Franklin D. Roosevelt, and built the National Council of Negro Women.
Where would South Africa be without the selfless "fatherhood" of a nation, by leaders like Nelson Mandela, and my friend Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu?
Or where I be, without my dad Johnie W. Smith, a businessman-role model in my life from as far back as I can remember? The answer is simple; the world would be different (and not different better), and without question, I would be different. My life, would be different today.
There is no secret why I am entrepreneur, business man and so-called philanthropist today. I am, because my father was, and remains so to this day. My father has had his own a construction company for more than 50 years, and when I was like 5 or so, I can recall our family owning a gas station, an 8 unit apartment building, a nursery (my mother's doing), and as I have said, our own construction company.
I recall seeing my dad wearing a suit, and so, in time I wanted to wear a suit too. I am an entrepreneur, because my dad was one first.
I also remember my dad and mom divorcing, and going their own ways in life, but not pulling their children in two as they did it. My mother (and sister) took care of me and raised me in my earlier years, and this is probably where I gained my sensitive nature, but by the time I was in my early teens, I yearned for time spent with my father — and my mother lovingly let me go, allowing me "time" to spend with him. I noticed no drama between them (even though there was plenty), over me — only love.
Later on, as I yearned for more, and dreamed for even more still. And so, I found myself gravitating to a number of surrogate fathers who could teach me how the world worked, and how I could work within it (I call them mentors today).
These heroes in my life included (and includes to this very day) Ambassador Saburo Yuzawa, of Japan ("John, allow your life to be guided by The Invisible Hand."), civil rights icon Ambassador Andrew Young ("the three reasons why men fail are pride, arrogance and greed. Learn to lead with the strength of humility John."), entertainment icon Quincy Jones ("only love John, only love"), and Reverend Dr. cecil "Chip" Murray ("John, it's not what people call you, it's what you answer to that's important. Never answer out of your name.").
And then for good measure, there was the occasional amazing shero in my life too, namely Dr. Dorothy I. Height ("John, I like you because you are a dreamer with a shovel in your hand…").
And so, while yes, I am where I am today, on some level, because of my own steam and energy and never-give-up approach to life. But in reality, I am who I am today, because of others — including the many "fathers" in my life.
Today, I say thank you, to them all. I love you. I love what you do through me. Helping me, to become fully me.
John Hope Bryant is a thought leader, the founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE and Bryant Group Companies, Inc., author of Inc. Magazine/CEO READ bestselling business book LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), and a Member of the U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability.