What an interesting question, especially because this book is primarily about William and the way he inspired others by creating the windmill to help his family in Africa. However, just as with all cultural heroes, their inspiration comes from somewhere. In William's case, William's relationship with his father (and the knowledge of his father's outlook on life) helped shape William into an inspiring and successful figure for the community.
Let's take a look at how William's father inspires all of his children by comparing them to successful business people.
It was common for my father to sit my sisters down and tell them things like, "I saw a girl working in the bank in town, and she was a girl just like you." My parents had never completed primary school. They couldn't speak English or even read that well. My parents only knew the language of numbers, buying and selling, but they wanted more for their kids.
William gives this as the reason why his parents kept him and his sister, Annie, in school. They wanted their children to have more than they had growing up, William's father included. Embedded in this desire is William's dad's desire for his children to both read and to speak English.
In the midst of this natural business sense, William's father has a warm and tender relationship with his son. Look at how they discuss crops:
"Twenty days,” I said, looking at my father. “I’d say you’re right.” We smiled and stroked the leaves like swaddled babes, enjoying the soft music they created together in the breeze.
The use of the simile here is beautiful. It adds to the tenderness between father and son talking about work. It takes away from the monotony of their daily lives which includes buying corn, making cakes, selling cakes, eating leftover cakes, and using the money to buy more corn for the next day.
It was practically nothing, yet knowing it would be there somehow made the hunger less painful. "As long as we can stay in business," my father said, "we'll make it through. Our profit is that we live.”
This is the key: profit. It sounds cold and cruel, but when a family is poor, they are only trying to survive. These corn cakes and their few goats are what they have to feed the family. William watches all of these transactions with interest, longing to have something more to help his family.
“Papa, why are you selling our goats? I like these goats." "A week ago the price was five hundred, now it's four hundred. I'm sorry, but we can't wait for it go any lower." ... I had to let [my dear goats] down. What could I do? My family had to eat.
Now even William's goats have to be sold. The family has to live. William is inspired by this tragedy. William begins to use his imagination to create the windmill. Meanwhile, other fathers are selling their children in desperation. William will not let it get to that point in his own family.
In conclusion, William's father helped to inspire William in regard to the importance of profit and ingenuity. All of the decisions mentioned above and observed by William first-hand led directly to William's desire to help the family even more and create the windmill in order to harness electricity.