Growing up in a pastor’s home, I grew accustomed to listening to my father’s sermons, where he routinely threw in stories of my childhood that he could use as an illustration to make a point. To many, my father was a hero. He would jump out of bed in the middle of the night when a church member was rushed to the hospital. He’d arrive before the police when a friend was threatening suicide, and would sleep overnight in the church building when he couldn’t afford to fix a broken window but was afraid the neighborhood vandals would destroy the sanctuary. Sure, he couldn’t raise the dead or heal the sick but so many people looked up to my dad.
But he was just that—my dad. I didn’t see him as any other person. I didn’t think he secretly wore a superhero suit of spandex. He was the one who taught me how to shoot a free throw, who would attend my piano recitals, and who would discipline me when my attitude showed itself at the dinner table. I thought a hero was Abraham Lincoln, or Martin Luther King, Jr. I thought a hero was someone who ran the Olympic race of lifetime during the Nazi reign in Germany, or stood up for civil rights in the Castro District of 1970’s San Francisco. Though all of those individuals are truly American heroes, I couldn’t see my father through the eyes of everyone else. I couldn’t place him in any “hero” costume. I couldn’t…until two years ago.
My dad was diagnosed with cancer in late 2007. He has almost died at least three times in two years, has undergone multiple surgeries and tests, and has ridden the rollercoaster ride from hell in regard to insurance issues, bills, and uncertainty. Through it all, I have never once heard my dad complain. His hero costume has many times been a hospital gown, or a set of comfortable PJ’s. He hasn’t saved the day, but he has taught me the true definition of a hero: humbly taking every day one breath at a time, and being thankful for each second you have with those you love. He’s learned that he can’t control his health, but he can tell his daughter that he loves her. He’s learned that he can’t predict the future, but he can slow down and drink his morning cup of coffee, realizing that he’s blessed with another day to be alive.
And so, I’ve realized that my entire life I’ve had one of the greatest individuals in American history as my dad. He won’t win any awards and no comic books will contain his story. But his legacy of love, perseverance, and strength will continue for just as I’ve had the honor of knowing him, I’ve also learned from him. Maybe one day to my children, I can be a hero too.
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