September 11, 2006
The following story was written by Gary Porter, from Barrie, Ontario. Gary is enrolled in literacy classes at the Barrie Literacy Council. The following story helped Gary win the Canada Post Literacy Award in 2003, in the Individual Achievement category. Since then, he has achieved his GED.
My name is Gary Porter. I am 43 years old, father of three children (27, 23 and 16 years old), and co-partner in my own glass and mirror business. Although I have been divorced twice, I now live with a very supportive spouse. Life is much smoother now. I feel good about myself and look forward to new challenges. But this is not the way things have always been. For forty of those forty-three years, I struggled with low literacy and numeracy skills. This is my story.
Life Before Literacy
Growing up as a middle child in a loving family of five children, I always had difficulty in school. My interests were more sports and social activitie because I could not grasp academics. I was bigger than average for my age, and after repeating grade four, I seemed to be pushed through the system. When I entered high school, I attended a technical school because of my reading and writing difficulties. After one year, I was sent out on work experience and never returned to school.
I was married at sixteen, and not long after, I found myself to be a father. I had met my first wife at the technical school, so her skills weren't much better than mine. We had no idea how to handle a baby, cook a meal, pay the bills or handle any of the home responsibilities.
Things most people would take for granted I found difficult. I would go to the grocery store and copy the store name on the cheque as I sat in the car in the parking lot before I went in. As I would approach the cashier, I would get hot. My stomach would turn and I would often work myself into such a state that I could not complete writing the cheque. Sometimes, I would just scribble so they could barely read it; they certainly would not be able to tell if there were any spelling mistakes.
My employment consisted of many low-paying dead-end jobs. I made pizza, worked in a bowling alley, laid sod and assembled pipe couplings in a factory. But, at eighteen, I was fortunate enough to be hired by my father. He had just opened a business in glass and mirror. When I first started, I could not read a tape measure, deal with customers, write orders or calculate sizes. If customers came in, I would find an excuse to go into the back room. I often wondered if my dad and brother thought I had a bladder problem. Or I would wait until the customer had written his/her name on the cheque so I could copy it onto the invoice. I was floundering through life, making many mistakes at work. If it weren't for my dad's understanding, I would not have lasted at this job either.
Life growing up had many difficult challenges. Not being able to spell words that were in my brain was not only frustrating, it ate away at my self-confidence. Self-esteem was always at a very low level. In my heart, I truly feel my lack of success in marriage was partly due to my problems with literacy. I never felt that I did the things a "real man" should do, such as filling out hotel registrations. I would leave my wife to do it, while I unpacked the car. I couldn't write a simple note. A game of scrabble with friends or family could be very embarrassing. I couldn't read novels or newspapers since I didn't know a third of the words. All these things were too overwhelming! And on top of this, I felt my wife thought I was stupid, not a whole person. The marriage just seemed to go downhill.
One of the hardest things to deal with was not being able to help my children with homework or read to them at bedtime. When they were little, I could sometimes make up the story line, or find a book that had a story I was familiar with. But as they got older, I would have to admit that I couldn't help them and tell them to ask their mother. I often wondered what they thought of me. Did they think I didn't care, that I didn't love them? Did they know I had a problem?
[This story was taken with permission, from the Barrie Literacy Council website, in the Student Writings section. It is an excerpt of Gary’s story.]