My dad is a hero. When people read that sentence, they may think that I am referring to his eight Air Medals and Two Bronze Stars that he earned during his 11 months stationed in the Highlands of Viet Nam between 1966-67. Others may think that I am referring to his many years as a volunteer fire fighter, risking his life to save others for no pay at all. Yet others might think that I am referring to the countless kittens and cats that he has rescued, found homes for, and still feed in his back yard. But, that’s not what I am referring to.
Now that I am older, I am able to see the real hero side of my dad; the side of him that made me into a strong and independent man that I am today. Growing up, my dad worked shift work: 4-12, 12-8, 8-4 on a rotating basis. He worked hard, and wasn’t always around. Sometimes, he would be sleeping during the day, and get really upset if we woke him up. At the time, as a kid, I hated it. But today, I realise what he was really doing…he was taking care of his family. He kept a good roof over our heads, we were never without, we always had a family vacation, and I learned a lot.
As a kid, I would wake up to get ready to go to school, and dad would have a full breakfast cooked for us. When I was a newspaper boy, he would drive me around sitting on the tailgate of his truck to deliver the papers.
One year, on my birthday, which was always shared with my sister since we are just a few days apart, he didn’t come home. Everyone was gathered, the cakes were waiting, but my dad wasn’t there. My mom was FURIOUS! “He’s getting drunk somewhere that bastard,” I can still hear her saying. In reality, he was at the Emergency Room. My dad had gone to the local farm to pick strawberries for our birthday party. While he was there, he was petting a dog that he knew, when the dog suddenly bit off the tip of his middle finger. Later, when my mom asked him why he didn’t call to tell her where he was his reply is one of a true dad: “If i had called, you would have jumped in the car and come to the ER, and the kids wouldn’t have had their party. By not calling, you were pissed off at me, but the kids still had their party.”
About a week later, with his hand bandaged, and stitches still in place, he drove all of us down to Disney World in Orlando, Florida, while pulling our pop-up trailer. How he ever managed to hook up the trailer, unhook it, level it, and set it up while missing the tip of his middle finger is beyond me. I remember that the every few hours at Disney, he would have to go to their medical centre to soak his finger in salt water. While a lot of other fathers would have cancelled thier trip over such an accident, my dad put us first and kept to the trip plan. That still amazes me.
When the Steel Mill locked out the employees during a contract dispute, my dad always found a way to provide. We never really felt that anything was missing or wrong. Today, I can truly appreciate how scary that must have been for him: a man with a mortgage, bills, two kids to feed and no income.
He taught me how to paint, plaster, build, hunt, fix things, do electrical work and plumbing, and in recent months, how to readjust to living alone for the first time in his life.
When I came out as being gay to him when I was 16 years old, he said to me, “There are people that are going to want to harm you, don’t let them. You’re my son, and I will always love you.” He then had to take the dog for a walk. He always stood by me, when my mom would get all out of joint, he stood by me.
On the Sunday night of father’s day, I called my dad. He told me that his 93 year old neighbour may have suffered a stroke. This enighbour is another true hero, having served in the Third Army during the Second World War. He was at the Battle of the Bulge and received the Purple Heart. While talking about this brave man, my father talked about how it upsets him that people throw the word “hero” around for everything these days; and that may be true. But, I said to him that he has never heard me do that. My dad is a hero, in many senses of the word; but, most importantly, he is my hero, and, I am still learning from him everyday.