I worked for a time on a project involving heroquests and myth structures. I analyzed historic, legendary and fictional stories and texts, rituals, narratives and constructs. I was once asked if I ever knew anyone who was truly heroic.
Though I did not know it, I did. My dad.
My father was guileless, with heart breaking good looks that I envied. He had the charm I always wished for. As a result of a college football injury he faced huge physical barriers. I once sat as they shot the same set of x-rays on his back three times because the doctor could not believe he was getting the right x-rays for the patient in front of him. As he said “You idiot, how could you get the wrong x-rays twice? Can you see this man? He is walking. He is smiling. The man who those x-rays goes with can’t walk and surely isn’t smiling.” After he walked the third set through himself he realized that the guy the x-rays went with really was my dad.
My dad was in the U.S. Air Force, but had cross trained as a forward fire observer and spoke Korean. I still have the marble lion the ROK Dragon Battalion chaplain gave him. I won’t go into details, but I over time I learned a good deal about things my dad had done. I’ll never see hard combat of the sort that generates nightmares. I will never tie an Olympic record. But what struck me in talking with him in the time before he died of Parkinson’s was that what he valued most about his life was the four missions he served and that he loved his wife and children.
He did not want his grandchildren to be told about or remember him for the things he had done that would strike anyone as heroic, whether in combat or in disaster relief efforts. He did not care about the sports experiences he had. What he wanted from us was to serve others and to love our families.
To him, that was more important, more heroic and more worth remembering or modeling, than anything else he did. I’ve taken that to heart. I can love my wife and care for her. I can love my children and cherish them. I’ve served one mission and when I retire I can serve more. In the most important things my father left me, I can be like him. After years of thought, I can find a hero and even be one.
What do you look for in a hero? What would you like to be remembered for? What have you decided you want to be?