VetFamily: Will Smith and his Veteran Father

Will Smith

Will Smith is considered A-list material by millions. He’s an award winning actor and musician. He’s got an Air Force lineage, but West Point considers him one of its own, too. Ultimately, he thanks his Veteran father for giving him the discipline and optimism that led to his success.

Will was born and raised in Philadelphia, the son of Caroline, a school administrator who worked for the Philadelphia school board, and Willard Christopher Smith, Sr., an Air Force Sergeant who later started his own business as a refrigeration engineer.

Smith’s charming and sly demeanor in school resulted in the nickname "Prince", which eventually turned into the "Fresh Prince," the persona which landed him his first break as a rap singer, in partnership with Jeff Townes (a.k.a. D.J. Jazzy Jeff), whom he met at a party.

And despite his parents’ divorce when he was 13, his family upbringing continues to influence the life he seeks for his own family.

Father’s Military Family Influence
"I was raised in a military household because my father was in the Air Force. We had to make the hospital corners on our beds, and I want to have some of those elements as a father. I want my kids to be disciplined and focused," he told the London Independent.

He brings a military approach to his marriage, too, to actress/singer Jada Pinkett-Smith his wife since of ten years. "I focus on my relationship with Jada like a soldier. You’ve got to work at it. When we’re together, I’m her mate, I’m her security guard, I’m her cook. I’m everything. I get turned on by working 16 hours, then completely drained coming in the house and taking the baby for an hour from her; that makes me feel strong. You have to focus on everything in your life with that type of military intensity."

Smith also passes on his father’s influence to his children through chess.

"My father taught me how to play chess at seven and introduced beautiful concepts that I try to pass on to my kids. The elements and concepts of life are so perfectly illustrated on a chess board. The ability to accurately assess your position is the key to chess, which I also think is the key to life."

"Whatever move you’re going to make in your life to be successful, you have to accurately access the next couple of moves - like what’s going to happen if you do this? Because once you’ve made your move, you can’t take it back. The universe is going to respond."

Show Business
The "move" that set his future in motion was rap music. "I told my parents I wanted to rap. They said, ’Rap?’ My mother graduated from Carnegie Mellon (and she was encouraging him to go to MIT). She thought college was the only way," he told Reader’s Digest. "My father could kind of see doing something differently. We agreed that I would take a year making music, and if it did not work out, I would go to college. That year we won the first Grammy given to a rap artist."

And from there, movie stardom soon took over. By 1996, Smith began a successful solo music career while simultaneously starring in a series of films. The first two films were hugely successful summer blockbusters: Independence Day (1996), in which he played a fearless fighter pilot, and Men in Black (1997), where he played the comic and confident Agent J against Tommy Lee Jones’s deadpan Agent K. Smith’s acting in Men in Black won critical praise.

West Point Praise and Beyond
It’s a path that’s already garnered him two Best Actor Oscar nominations, as well as other industry honors. And just last month, Smith was named the first winner of the Cadet Choice Movie Award, which was designed to honor the fictional character that best personifies West Point leadership qualities on the silver screen. His role in "I Am Legend," which is currently being released to DVD landed him the special honor. 

Smith’s character in the film, Army virologist Dr. Robert Neville, is the lone survivor of a zombie-making virus that devastates Manhattan. His nomination and award cites the Neville role for "value-based leadership."

What’s next? Believe it or not, Smith is confident enough to see a presidential run in his future. "I always wanted to be the first black president but Barack Obama stole my idea. That’s OK with me. Barack can go first and then I’ll take my turn."

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