(Soundbite of This I Believe Intro)
LIANE HANSEN, host:
We extend an open invitation to all who would like to write something for our series, This I Believe. Today we hear from 27-year-old Dan Flanagan of Redford, Michigan. Flanagan builds sheds and garages for a living. He's also enrolled at the local community college where he recently wrote this essay for his English 101 class. Here's our series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.
JAY ALLISON: Dan Flanagan dropped out of high school in the 9th grade. He said that until a few years ago, he couldn't have read his own essay, much less have written it. The fact that he can do that now he credits to his belief. Here's Dan Flanagan with his essay for This I Believe.
Mr. DAN FLANAGAN: I don't know why I came to the decision to become a loser, but I know I made the choice at a young age. Sometime in the middle of fourth grade, I stopped trying. By the time I was in seventh grade, I was your typical degenerate - lazy, rebellious, disrespectful. I had lost all social graces. I was terminally hip and fatally cool. It wasn't long after that I dropped out of school and continued my downward spiral.
Hard physical labor was the consequence for the choices I made as an adolescent. At the age of 21, I was hopelessly lost and using drugs as a way to deal with the fact that I was illiterate and stuck in a dead-end job carrying roof shingles up a ladder all day. But now I believe in do-overs and the chance to do it all again. And I believe that do-overs can be made at any point in your life if you have the right motivation. Mine came from a surprising source.
It was September 21, 2002 when my son Blake was born. It's funny that after a life of avoiding responsibility, now I was in charge of something so fragile. Over the years, as I grew into the title of Dad, I began to learn something about myself. In a way, Blake and I were both learning to walk, talk, work and play for the first time. I began my do-over. It took me almost three years to learn how to read. I started with my son's books.
Over and over, I practiced reading books to him until I remembered all the words in every one of them. I began to wonder if it were possible for me to go back to school. I knew I wanted to be a good role model, so after a year-and-a-half and a lot of hard work, I passed my GED test on my son's fourth birthday. This may not sound like much, and I'm surely not trying to get praise for doing something that should have been done in the first place, but all things considered it was one of the best days in my life. Today I'm a full-time college student studying to become a sociologist.
It's funny. Growing up I always heard these great turn-around stories of triumph over shortcomings but I never thought they applied to me. Now I believe it's a choice anyone can make, to do it all over again.
ALLISON: Dan Flanagan with his essay for This I Believe. Flanagan said he was dedicated to a lifestyle of drugs, drinking and partying until his son was born. Now both he and his wife go to school, work and care for their two children. He says, it's a great life.
Our call for essays goes out to everyone. Visit npr.org to find out more. For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.
HANSEN: Jay Allison is co-editor with Dan Gediman, John Gregory and Viki Merrick of the book "This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women."