From the moment he was born, Chris Gardner's childhood was anything but a fairy tale. Chris grew up on the north side of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and spent the first few years of his life in a foster home. His mother was in prison twice—once for alleged welfare fraud, another time for allegedly attempting to burn down her husband's house.
Chris says his stepfather was an abusive alcoholic who terrorized his family. One Christmas when Chris was about 16, he says he was taking a bath when his stepfather burst in with a 12-gauge shotgun. Chris says he was kicked out of the house into the cold Wisconsin night, dripping wet and naked. His mother had been kicked out earlier. "And that, unfortunately, has stayed with me 'til this day," Chris says.
Despite his challenges at home, Chris credits his mother's spirit for getting him through. "I chose to embrace the spirit of my mom—who despite the fact that she had too many of her own dreams denied, deferred and destroyed—still instilled in me that I could have dreams."
Chris remembers a time he was watching a basketball game with his mom and commented that one of the players would make a million dollars. "And my mom was on the other side of the room and she said, 'Son, you know what? If you want to, one day you can make a million dollars,'" Chris recalls. "That never entered my mind as a possibility. But after she said it, it was just a matter of finding the right venue."