The other day my 6-year-old daughter asked me “What is a hero?” As I stumbled through the words to describe someone who is admirable and inspires us to be better, I wondered if the idea of having heroes resonates as much in our world. Sometimes it feels like we know too much about our public figures these days to pick someone from that realm.
It also made me think of my personal hero, my dad.
It took me years to realize that he was my hero. It wasn’t until I’d traveled enough through life to have failures as well as successes that I started looking closer at my dad who was then in his 70’s. I wanted to try to identify what made him so unstoppably enthusiastic and delightful.
On first glance, it was easy to attribute his goodness to his career as a Presbyterian pastor for 40 years. Certainly that made him a person who worked hard to do good, but there was another equation that underscored who he was. Here’s what I’ve boiled it down to in three points, the number he always used for sermons:
He was dedicated to being useful. For him that meant rolling up his sleeves and pitching in where help was needed. If he came to my house for dinner, he would jump in to do the dishes before the dinner was even served. Sometimes I had to tell him to stand down if I wasn’t actually done with a pot. He’d laugh and look for something else. And that applied to plumbing, tiling, gardening, service projects, whatever he could find.
But he had the gift of making it a two way street because he’d ask for help. When he and my mom were building a cabin in the San Juan islands, he recruit people for “work parties” to clear the land or raise the foundation. Or if you were a member of his church, he’d recruit you for committees and service. And this back and forth made it feel not like his help was charity but that it was community because he wouldn’t hesitate to ask when he needed help.
He loved people. For him that usually meant listening. Although he was a preacher and a very good one, he thought that was a very small part of his job. He loved people for who they were and that included their imperfections too. If I ever asked him about people who he found frustrating, he’d shrug his shoulders and say something like “You never know all that’s going on with someone. We’re all weird and once you accept that, you can just love them anyway.”
He didn’t often give advice but when he did, there was no penalty for not listening. As the pastor who was performing my wedding to my now ex-husband, he sat us down for marriage counseling as he did with everyone he married. He very eloquently described what was wrong with us (my words, not his) because our personal and professional lives were too intertwined. We did nothing to correct this and he did a beautiful job of marrying us anyway.
He was obedient. That was his word for listening to the small voice of God within him. This was the part that most interested and confounded me. He was such a delightful person with many talents and a great attitude so what part did faith play in his life? It took me a long time to come up with an answer I could understand. And that was, he listened to where God led him, he abided by what he thought a Godly life was AND he lived life in partnership with God. He knew when things were above his pay grade and then he turned them over to God. That gave him an enormous amount of comfort and confidence.
My dad died suddenly in a bike accident at age 79. One of his friends eulogized him perfectly as “a battery on feet just looking for someone to jump start.” Fortunately in the years before he died, I’d started developing my own faith and the small voice of God within me led me to ask him questions about his life and record them. It was all part of my hero worship and a such a gift to be able to delve into this man from whom I’d inherited much of his way of looking at the world.
This is what was running through my mind as I answered my daughter about heroes and why we need them. They show us a little bit of the way so we can go further and faster. We stand on the shoulders of those that go before us. Recognizing heroes who resonate most with each of us is one great step forward in knowing what to study. They are part of our stories and give us connection and warmth to the inspiration we glean.
Who are your heroes?
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21 thoughts on “Holding Out for a Hero”
In the real world, I am a middle school English teacher. My six graders are currently reading one of the Percy Jackson novels in a unit is dealing very much with the concept of “the heroes journey“.
Wow what you’re talking about here is more of the idea of every day heroes, Joseph Campbell did probably some of the most extensive studies and what it means to be a hero. Simply stated, a hero is someone who exemplifies and embodies the good virtues of a culture at a given point in time.
1000 years ago, Beowulf was considered a hero. Today, Spider-Man is considered a hero.
Oh, you’ve added so much context to this post – thank you! I love Percy Jackson and I bet your 6th graders do as well. And the work of Joseph Campbell. Thank you for expanding my thinking on this topic!
What a nice post, Wynnie! My hero is one colleague of mine who has a rare disease. She is always helpful, listens carefully to my questions and needs, she never complains about the hardship she has been going through for some years already. She never calls off sick, even though sometimes she cannot focus on her work and needs to take a break, that may last just a couple of hours. Each morning we check in, and then we start our working day. I have known her for one year only, but we have already become also good friends.
Wow, what a tribute you’ve written here to your colleague. So inspirational. Thank you so much for adding this so we can all be inspired by her as well!
My hero was my Dad. He came home from WW2 and took over the care and feeding of three little kids that were “Not his own” by the standards of other people. He worked on the railroad making sure the tracks were safe and secure. He was a small man of stature, but a big man of heart. The kind of man that paid a dollar a week on a bicycle and when it was paid, sent me over to the Western Auto to bring it home. He also paid a dollar a week for shoes for us kids. He had to get real mad to holler at us. He wasn’t very demonstrative but he always supervised our fireworks on the fourth of July. I don’t remember him hugging us, but we knew he loved us just like we were his “Own kids!”
I love your line “a small man of stature but a big man of heart.” And the details you included paint such a wonderful picture of a great man. Here’s to your dad!! Thank you so much for this comment!
This has to be one of the best reads I have seen this year and leading into the new year.
My personal #1 hero was my grandfather. He worked hard for years and always found time for his family. He would always look for the best in people. You runover his foot with your car. He would just say you where avoiding hitting the skunk in the road. Not only was he my hero, I looked up to him as a mentor.
I retired from a career I still love. Some people looked at firefighters and paramedics as heroes. We just say “Its a profession we love.” Although it is hard to put into word what we see and others do not. The best way to communicated this is, we don’t look at ourselves as heroes. We are helping others when they need it, giving them someone to call when they are having a bad day.
Our heroes are the people who recognized they need help. To be able to admit that something has gone wrong and they need the help. To me, those are some real heroes in life.
Now, I’m not talking about the obvious fires, vehicle accidents, heart attacks, or disasters. I means the people that have had too much to drink and need a ride to a detox unit. The individuals that have been going through a rough patch in life and feel there is only one escape. Just to name a few.
Some of these people don’t have homes, cars, or even family to support them. Questions you may ask, How do these people inspire someone or how can you admire these people?
Yes not all are honestly looking for help. Some are conning you with their panhandling. Other have truly come on hard times in life, have looked for an escape. Now they are asking for just a little boost to get trough this rough patch.
Next time you see someone one the street think of how they got there. Ask yourself a few questions. Are they a veteran? Has their home been burnt down? Have they lost a job they had for 25 years? How did they get to a point of not knowing where they will be sleeping or when will they eat again? Yet they are surviving and have been brave enough to ask for a little help.
There is so much goodness in this comment, Ken! First, I’m still laughing about your example with your grandfather – just avoiding the skunk. But point taken – what a wonderful attitude!
And then your amazing experience as a firefighter and all that you’ve seen and done to help. And your complete willingness to help while not claiming as it is heroic is inspiring. All of it – the work, the service, the breadth of what you’ve done. Amazing.
Finally the perspective you provide on people who are willing to ask for help. What a wonderful reminder to us all, especially this time of year. It’s such a gift you’ve given to provide those questions we might ask when seeing someone down on their luck.
Thank you, Ken, for all of this! Sending my best – Wynne
“Dedicated to being useful . . . loving people . . . obedient to God” – you were truly blessed Wynne with a dad who was the sought after unsung hero so many children long for and need in today’s world of absentee dads .
Thanks for ‘singing’ your dad’s song. It encouraged me that, while I was the prodigy of an absentee dad back when such was not as common, my Dad above always there walking beside me … holding my hand … drying my tears.
Fred – thank you for this beautiful comment. I was blessed with an amazing dad and continue to be blessed not only by his memory but of people like you that remind me of him. Thank you! So glad your heavenly Father has walked beside you for so many years! Sending my best — Wynne
My hero is my husband. We have both recovered from a tough life, but he won over alcohol by himself with no help, and he is now sober for more than 9 years.
Merry Christmas to all from Denmark.
Wow, that is impressive!! I’m so glad you shared your hero and story. Merry Christmas to you all!
Do you have a blog site, Northern Witch 1969? When I click through to your profile, it shows me your Pinterest site but not a blog site that I can tell.
Yes, I do:
A beautiful tribute to your father, Wynn, and a very wise post for the new year. All the best for 2022!
My heroes are those who endure pain, those who have many reasons for disillusionment, and those in restrictive circumstances who still continue to believe in the goodness of others. They continue to care, to work, and to love in spite of adversity. My late husband and Robert are both heroes to me.
Wow, Cheryl, what a thoughtful formula for a hero. Thank you for sharing. How inspiring!
I’m grateful our paths crossed this year! Wishing you the best for 2022!