When I was a child, my dad was my hero. I suppose that is true for many children. We envision our fathers being strong like Superman, brave like Batman, and inspiring like… Superman and Batman. Like so many other children, I built a pedestal of epic proportions for my father to stand on. As those of you who know and love dad know all too well, the archenemies he fought were epic in their own right. These enemies were powerful enough that I was still just a child when they managed to knock dad from the pedestal I had created for him. But we all know what happens in a hero’s tale–in spite of the setbacks, the hero will win in the end.
I knew my dad was strong when I was a child because he could walk on his hands. He could hold my sister up on one hand while she stood proud as wonder woman, arms out at her sides. Dad gave us piggy back rides and taught us “dog pile on Spencer!” Dad could pick us up in the pool and throw us to the deep end like we were rag dolls. Later, I saw how strong he was in how he endured setback after setback. Sometimes, the mistakes were his own doing. Superheroes who go looking for their archenemies aren’t always well prepared for the fight that follows. There were other times, though, when the enemies showed up unannounced, and they brought kryptonite. After every battle, he got back up again. With his scrapes and bruises, he picked up the pieces and trudged on.
That was how I saw his bravery. No matter how badly he’d been injured in his battles, he got up again, reached out to his close friends and family, and asked for help to move on. Fighting with enemies takes a great deal of courage in itself; crawling back to your family and friends, cape in hand, and asking for support requires an entirely different sort of courage. Some of his battle scars never went away, and other wounds took years to heal. All too often, the people who loved him and supported him most were also injured in the crossfire. Sometimes his bravery showed in how he ventured off on his own, changing jobs and changing cities like he was retreating to a fortress of solitude.
Through all of this, dad served as an inspiration to many. During my childhood, he inspired me and my siblings to dream big and chase those dreams. Especially in those times when he was able to soar, he made us believe we could fly. Dad inspired others, too—he made friends everywhere he went, and nearly every person who knew him could say that he made them believe in themselves, even when he struggled to believe in himself. Dad was our father, but he was a father figure to many others, as well. Dad was a brother to his sisters, who loved him deeply, and to his brothers, who were also his closest friends. But he was a brother to many others he met along the way. People who knew Dad were able to see both his struggles and his successes—he had plenty of both, and he would tell just about anyone about his life if they’d listen for a minute… or an hour. Dad’s troubles and triumphs inspired the people who knew him, and helped them believe they could overcome their own challenges and achieve their own dreams.
I must admit, when Dad got sick, it had been a lot of years since I had let myself see him as a hero. Those final days in the hospital, though, proved to me that he still held on to the same qualities I admired so much as a child: strength, bravery, and ability to inspire. No matter how hard it was for him to breathe or even sit up in bed on his own, he had the strength to insist on coffee at 2 o’clock in the morning. He showed his bravery, insisting that we take him outside for one final look at nature–his grandson playing in the grass, and his dog Odie coming to lick his face one last time. Sure, I know he was really just trying to get outside so he could duck back behind a corner and smoke a cigarette. Last, but not least, he also served as an inspiration in those final days at the hospital. Each time the hospital staff changed shifts, a new set of nurses and technicians who knew him well would come in and joke with him like they’d known each other for years. That was just how he was–no matter where he went or what he did, he was a father, a brother, and a friend. His hero’s journey was completed early in the afternoon of July 4th, and Dad finally achieved the freedom every hero deserves. Dad is free of his enemies and free of his suffering. His strength and bravery can inspire us all–not just to fight our own enemies, but to be good fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, and most of all good friends to the other heroes we meet on our own journeys.