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

Don, the green-eyed twelve-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. The room then broke out in snickers and sneers. I sat in disbelief, shocked. Don was one of the really cool kids. He was a great athlete, straight-A student, and the undisputed leader of our class. How could he pick his father? Even as a clueless 6th grader I, the plump nerdling with a pixie haircut and braces, knew all parents were just parents. Nothing special. They were those people who drove us around, fed us, paid the bills, made us go to church, and forced us to live good, moral and respectful lives. He had to be kidding.

“Let him read his story!” the nun demanded.

As Don bravely continued, he talked about the many sacrifices his father had made. 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 it is today. Being happy meant you had a job so your family could eat.”

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

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

The epiphany that transpired that day stayed with me for the next 45 years. Like a fly on the wall, I’ve since studied his every move, soaking in the wonder of the man I call my father.

I had giggled as he stumbled with his only daughter on the dance floor of our Father Daughter dance. 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 a Father Daughter dance with him.

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

I’ve admired his unwavering faith even in his darkest moments of despair. When a stroke stripped him of his left side twenty-seven years ago, 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, 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 have yet to conquer.

While I may drool over gorgeous actors dressed like superheroes in the movies, a real man, a stud among studs, would have to be my dad. 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.

Do you have a hero? Someone who has significantly shaped your life? I’d love to know who that person is and why.