Parenting is never easy, raising a child while focusing on meeting end needs requires two people in action to have everything in place. But unfortunately, there are several people who need to take care of everything on their own. The concept of single-parent looking after their child faces several challenges including social isolation, economic difficulties, and of course personal problems. While the struggles of single mothers are well listed and recognized, the struggles faced by single fathers are left to wait in the corner. Fatherhood is tough especially when they have the responsibility of finding a bed to sleep every night. And who can portray fatherhood better than Will Smith’s character in the 2006 film ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’.
Chris Gardner, the real-life inspiration behind Will Smith’s character defines his yearlong struggle with homelessness and fatherhood. He is the true inspiration behind the mega-hit movie describing his battle of finding a job and a bed to sleep all the while raising his toddler son.
Chris Gardner Pursuing Happyness
Chris Gardner is an American businessman and motivational speaker, but beyond the script of the movie, Gardener’s life from early childhood was full of challenges. He was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on February 9, 1954. As his mother divorced his father and remarried, Gardner never really had any male idols in his life. His stepfather was abusive to both his mother and sisters and on many occasions, the kids were brought to foster care due to their parent’s occasional fights.
The second time Chris was sent to foster care was when his mother tried to kill his stepfather and thus was arrested. It was here that he for the first time met his uncle Henry, who had the most profound influence in Gardner at the time when he was in desperate need of a father figure. Unfortunately, a year later Henry died drowning. Since then, Gardner grew up on his own. After completing secondary school, he decided to follow his uncle’s footprints and joined Unites States Navy. He was stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina for four years, where he was assigned as a hospital corpsman.
In the navy, Chris befriended Dr. Robert Ellis who helped set him up with a clinical research position at the University of California Medical Center. Following his discharge, Chris moved to San Francisco. On June 18, 1977, Chris Gardner married Sherry Dyson. But despite being already married, Chris has an affair with a dental student named Jackie Medina. Soon she became pregnant with his child and Chris divorced Dyson to move in with Jackie and embrace fatherhood. On January 28, 1981, Jackie gave birth to his son Christopher Jr.
Although Chris planned to become a physician, he dropped the idea realizing the money and time it would take to reach there. He continued working as a lab assistant, but his salary was not enough to support both his girlfriend and son. Thus, he decided to quit the job and doubled his salary by becoming a medical equipment salesman.
The moment that changed his life- for better and worse
Following a sales call to a San Francisco General Hospital, Chris met a man with a red Ferrari and was smitten by him. He directly approached him and ask “What do you do”, the scene is exactly depicted in the movie as well. This man was Bob Bridges, a stockbroker, who introduced Chris to the world of finance. The man then followed up and met Chris for lunch to explain the basics of Wall Street, altering his life forever. He introduced him to branch managers at a huge stock brokerage firm. Chris canceled all his sales appointments to interview in these companies in a hope of getting a job.
His first break within the finance was with Brokerage Dean Witter Reynolds. Gardner was soon accepted into a training program at E.F. Hutton. He quit his sales job completely to focus completely on the training. But just as life was getting back on track, another blow came to his life when Jackie decided to leave Gardner and take away his son. When he ran after her, they both engage in a fight when Chris mistakenly pushed her into the bushed. The scene was witnessed by a few policemen who imprisoned him for a night. The next day when he returned, he found his apartment empty. With no clothes to change, Gardner attended the first day of his training in the same clothes. Despite, his shaggy appearance, Gardner was accepted.
Though the training offered great future advances, they paid him no salary which meant that apart from selling medical equipment he bought in 300–400 dollars a month in the early 1980s, he had no other means to meet end needs. Gardner worked hard to become a top employee, he often came early in the morning and worked late till night making calls to prospective clients. Eventually, Gardner was recruited by Bear Stearns & Company in San Francisco.
About four months later, Jackie returned with his child and left him with Gardner. He happily accepted the sole custody of his child. By this time, Chris was earning enough to afford a room in a flophouse, but the one he was living in didn’t allow children. Although Chris was now employed, he and his son was secretly struggling with homelessness.
This was the toughest time of his life, he often stood in a soup kitchen and slept wherever he can with his son- in the office after hours, motels, airports, parks, and even a locked bathroom. One of the most famous scenes from the movie was when Smith with his son slept in a bathroom at the BART Station, this was actually true. Chris spent a couple of nights sleeping in the bathroom with his son. Concerned about the safety of his child, Gardner asked Reverend Cecil Williams to allow them to stay at the Glide Memorial United Methodist Church’s shelter for homeless women, to which Williams agreed.
One change made in the movie was the age of Christopher Jr. Though in the movie, he was five years old, in real life he was only two years old. Gardner accepted the change so that they can show more meaningful conversations between them. So, most of the dialogues shared between the duo were scripted- yet one scene was based on a true incident.
In an emotional moment, his son told Chris that he was “a good poppa” (onscreen and real-life). While they were still homeless, Gardner was giving a bath to his son, when he stood up and said, “Poppa, you know what? You’re a good poppa.”
Desperate for money, Chris would sometimes sell his blood in exchange for money to provide food for his son. It did not get him much, but it was better than nothing. The need for money went to an extent when Chris even committed small scams to get money. On one occasion, he saw a few men fighting a vending machine over cigarettes. When the machine didn’t work, they went to the front desk to get a refund. Chris adopted this trick and would often tell the desk that the machine ate his money and they would give him a refund.
In 1982, Gardner passed his Series 7 Exam on the first try and became a full employee of the firm- Brokerage Dean Witter Reynolds. It was then, his life started getting back on track.
A new start
In 1987, Gardner established the brokerage firm, Gardner Rich & Co, in Chicago an “institutional brokerage firm specializing in the execution of debt, equity, and derivative products transactions for some of the nation’s largest institutions, public pension plans, and unions.” By 1988, Christopher had achieved an incredible feat, he earned over $1 million in a single year. In 2006, Gardner published an autobiography detailing his struggle titled ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’. Today Chris Gardner is a multi-millionaire who travels the world as a motivational speaker and sponsor several charity programs.
The life of Chris Gardner teaches us an important life lesson- “even baby steps count” and so we should never lose our affection with life. Despite the struggles of life, Gardner’s sense of drive and enthusiasm was enough to get him what he wanted.