One of my boyhood heroes was Dave Wottle. He was a middle-distance runner from Ohio made famous by his incredible finishing kick and by wearing a tattered white cap when he ran. I can still remember watching him win gold in the 800 meters at the 1972 Munich Olympics. The only thing I knew about him was when I watched him, he made me want to run. I started running as a boy and didn’t stop until 40 years later when my knees could no longer take the pounding.
Boys today have heroes with names we recognize: Michael, Kobe, Lebron, Tiger, Cam, Brady. They inspire us by their athletic success.
As I moved past boyhood, my heroes became people who inspired me based on their character, vision, and accomplishments, not on how fast they could run. There was a neighbor who was a very successful businessman with integrity. Several pastors who taught me about faith in Christ and showed me how to put God first. An engineer that I carpooled with who taught me about leadership. And many others.
My Dad was my greatest hero. Other than my wife, he was my best friend. He wasn’t perfect. Raised in an era when men didn’t show their emotions, he never shared them. The only time I ever saw him cry was when our beloved dog died. I don’t ever remember hearing him say “I love you”, but my brother and I always knew he did. He was innovative, resourceful, a handyman who could fix anything and an accomplished athlete. He loved the outdoors – especially the mountains. He was both frugal and quietly generous, and he passed on all these qualities to us by his example. He rarely volunteered advice, but had it to offer if asked. He never told us how to treat a woman, but showed us how by his never-ending devotion to Mom. I can still remember them walking and holding hands in their 80’s. He made everyone feel special and always made people laugh. He rarely complained – even through seven difficult years of chemo. He’s been gone for four years now; I still miss him.
Throughout time, heroes have come on the scene in crisis to change the course of history. Men like George Whitfield, George Washington, William Wilberforce, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, and Billy Graham. While we need more men like them, today we also need a different kind of hero. Today we need dads to step up. Thousands and thousands of them, of every shape and size, from coast to coast, from every walk of life. Culturally, we are literally aflame with problems that legislation can’t fix. We need dad heroes.
Dads, here are some ways to be a hero:
1. Stick around. Don’t give up on marriage because it’s hard and not fun anymore. All marriages drift toward the shipwreck of divorce without effort to steer it away from the rocks. Like six pack abs, great marriages take work. So get at it. Your kids need you to be there. And as those irritating PSA radio ads say, you don’t have to be perfect.
2. Examine your behavior. Kids are going to mimic what you do— the good, the bad, and the ugly. And they magnify what they learn. If you are generous, they may be more so. If you have a problem with anger, they may rage at society. If you disrespect their Mom, don’t be surprised when they treat women badly.
3. Learn how to walk in purity and sexual wholeness. This may be the most important thing you do. It’s every man’s challenge. Guys, you know what I mean. Porn addiction is The Pandemic of our time, and a marriage killer. Have the courage to come out of the shadows and get help. It takes a band of brothers to live in freedom.
4. Keep your heart soft. Worries about money, constant work connection by email and text, strains in relationships, caffeine, and the crazy pace of life can make you never really present, even when you’re home. It’s insidious; without knowing it, we can get to a point where we don’t connect with our wife and kids emotionally.
5. For the workaholic, Type A, Enneagram 3 personalities out there (like me): work can wait, go be with your kids. I know your job demands long hours, that you’re just being responsible working late and you’re doing it all for your family. But your job can wait, I promise. Your kids won’t. In the twinkling of an eye they won’t be kids; don’t miss the years when they need a hero the most. Looking back, this is my greatest regret.
6. There is no age limit for heroes. Our role changes with time as our kids become adults and have their own children. We also change with time, and have more to offer, both to them and to grandchildren. Gray hair doesn’t make us irrelevant. So encourage, be a cheerleader, believe in them and listen to them. And pray for them just as much as when they were young.
7. Find young men to invest in outside your family. I’m grateful for the men who did that for me. Some of them have no idea that they impacted me, but their example and sometimes just a word spoken at the right time gave me hope. They helped me get back on my feet after failure, gave me courage to take risks, showed me how to avoid common pitfalls, and taught me the ABC’s of leadership.
So dads – for Father’s Day – will you grab your superman cape and be your kids’ hero?
It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men. Frederick Douglass