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Bill Gates, Sr.

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Why I Wrote Showing Up for Life

Posted: 04/24/09 03:50 PM ET

This Tuesday, my new book goes on sale. The name "Bill Gates" is featured prominently. I suspect some people, if not most people, will do a double-take. I'm used to that. I was still in my early 50s when my son "stole" my name and -- to avoid confusion with him -- I became Bill Gates Senior. (If you're thinking of naming your own child "junior," you might want to learn from my experience.)

Some people have asked me why I decided to write this book. I'm now 83 years old, and I've have had some pretty incredible experiences throughout my life. I also have a lot of ideas I feel strongly about. I had a long and satisfying career in the law before taking on the greatest career challenge of all - -trying to spend money wisely and well in order to improve the lives of people around the world. (Let me report that the upside of having brilliant bosses far outweighs the occasional awkwardness of calling your own son "boss.")

I've raised three good kids who turned out to be good citizens too. I'm proud of them -- in ways that I suspect most parents are. I wish my first wife Mary were able to see what they've accomplished and to share in the joy and satisfaction of seeing them as parents now too.

I believe there's power in sharing stories. My dad, who dropped out of school in the 8th grade to help support his family, didn't live long enough to see how our story has unfolded. And, as I enter my mid-80s, I know that I likely won't see how life unfolds for my own grandchildren as they move beyond young adulthood. I can at least help them to understand mine.

Like my son, I am an optimist. I believe in the combined power of men and women who "show up" for the people they love and the causes they believe in. I've seen the power of public will to take on and surmount great challenges and I believe our society works better when people think less about "me and mine" and more about "us and ours."

I've lived through a Depression, the second World War, and a Cold War that led us to the brink of a third -- a situation that caused people to be so afraid, school children everywhere were taught to hide under their desks. I've seen the huge progress that can be made when people invest for the common good and when bad precedent is overtaken by good thinking and public will -- perhaps with no greater example in my lifetime than the Civil Rights movement, which continues today.

I've experienced the fear of being poor, the exhilaration of working hard to build a career I loved while raising a family, and the incredible good fortune to be able to travel the world and meet people who are making the world a better place.

I've come to know many wonderful and interesting people -- from my own sister Merridy, who taught me a lasting lesson about generosity and whose own life prospects narrowed considerably because my dad didn't believe girls needed an education -- to Nelson Mandela and Jimmy Carter, the latter who introduced me and millions of other people to the importance of talking openly about "bare penises" in places where such words were never spoken In order to raise awareness of the importance of condoms in the fight against HIV-AIDS.

I've seen the parental anguish caused by the crippling effects of polio and am still hopeful that I'll live long enough to see polio completely eradicated from this planet -- due in large part to the extraordinary will and hard work of the men and women of Rotary. I'm grateful to my good friend Bill Foege, who led the successful eradication effort against smallpox and who opened my eyes to the idea that our neighbors include not just the people alive today, but those who lived before us and those who will come after and who will inherit the consequences of the decisions we make now.

I'm discouraged by a public education system where only a third of our children graduate from high school ready for college. (All of my children were college-ready, though it did take my son more than 25 years to finally collect his university's degree.) I've also seen the huge gains that can be made under the leadership of committed education reformers like Mayor Bloomberg who oversaw dramatic improvements in graduation rates in places where many people had given up. I believe one day soon the American people will recognize our public education system for the crisis it is and will insist upon and support fundamental reform.

I look forward to continuing to work hard on behalf of the causes I believe in, while enjoying the simple pleasures that come from a satisfying family and personal life anchored by my wife Mimi. And I remain dedicated to the belief that we all have a shared responsibility to one another and to the proposition that every child -- regardless of the circumstances of birth -- deserves the opportunity to lead a healthy, productive life.