My Hero, My Dad

On a dreary January morning in 1965, Sister Fidelis announced, “Who wants to read their story about their hero first?”

Don, the dark-eyed thirteen-year-old hunk in our class, immediately raised his hand and took center stage.

“My hero is my father,” he stated proudly.

Dead silence followed. Then the room broke out in snickers and sneers as I sat in disbelief, shocked. Don, in my mind, was one of the cool kids, a great athlete, and a leader in our class. He was also someone I had a huge crush on.

“How could he pick his father?” I wondered. Even I, a clueless 7th grader at St. Charles, the plump nerdling with a pixie haircut and braces, knew all that parents were just – parents. Nothing special. They were the grownups who drove us around, fed us, paid the bills, made us go to church, and forced us to live good, moral, and respectful lives. So he had to be kidding.

“Let him read his story!” the nun demanded, holding the long pointer meant for the blackboard but often used for the head of a naughty child.

As Don bravely continued, he talked about his father’s many sacrifices. He’d grown up during the Great Depression and survived World War II. He wanted more for his children than he had experienced. “Back in the olden days,” Don said, “having fun was not the focus of life like today. Being happy meant you had a job so your family could eat.”

Silence, again, filled the room.

“My dad’s not a superstar,” he continued. “He’s not a billionaire but my hero because I know he loves me and is always there for me.”

Suddenly, my eyes began to burn, and I forcefully held back the tears. It was as if he was talking about my dad. Shame and guilt ran through my veins like ice water as I realized I’d failed to recognize all that my father had done for me.

The epiphany that transpired that day stayed with me for the next 46 years, and, like a fly on the wall, I’d study his every move and every word, soaking in the memories and wonder of the man I call Dad.

How I once giggled as he stumbled with his only daughter on the dance floor of our Father-Daughter dances. More like Fred Flintstone than Fred Astaire, he endured the excruciating torture with his two left feet because he knew how much it meant to me to be at these events.

He, along with my mother, were the only parents sitting in the stands for every softball game I played and every cheerleading activity. And after a long day at work, when he was tired and hungry, he’d patiently wait in his car for my bus from Mercy High School when I’d arrive late from a school activity, for he didn’t want me to walk home.

With limited funds, he educated his four children and set them on the path to becoming productive members of society. The Golden Rule was the standard by which we were taught to live.

Later, as a grown woman, I admired his unwavering faith, even in his darkest moments of despair. And when a stroke stripped him of his left side at sixty-eight, he accepted it with bravery and grace. With his tenacity and determination, he went on to reclaim his mobility, a feat originally deemed by his doctors as an “Impossible Dream.”

Webster defines a hero as “one with exceptional courage, dignity, and strength.” At ninety-five, my beloved father is trapped in a body that has completely abandoned him. He spends his days confined to a wheelchair, eyesight dim, hearing faint, and, yet, is still happy to be alive. He keeps his mind alert and sharp and can still talk sports or politics with the best of them, plus he manages his financial affairs to the last dime – something I’ve yet to conquer.

While I may have once drooled over gorgeous actors dressed like superheroes in the movies, a real man, a stud among studs, would have to be my dad. Of course, I’ll never be as honest, decent, or honorable as him, but just having him in my life has given me the courage to try.