Watch your heroes closely

When I was 8 years old my mom took me to visit my dad in the hospital. He had been battling cancer and had just come out of surgery. I remember standing next to his bed and him holding my hand. I remember being scared and I remember him looking me dead in the eyes and asking me why I couldn’t talk to him.

I don’t remember what I said — if anything at all. But I remember how I felt. Seeing him in that bed was like seeing Superman for the first time without his cape.

Growing up I was shy. Imagine Ralphy from The Christmas Story but with a severe speech impediment and even thicker coke bottle glasses. My dad was the opposite. He was my protector. Six foot five when I closed my eyes, but five foot eleven in real life. He was strong. He was a military leader. It fit him. He had that air about him. A presence. He made me feel safe. But at times he also scared me.

I remember after he got better he would stand at my bedroom door at night when he got home late from work. I remember acting like I was asleep. Having children of my own I wish I hadn’t done that. I wish I’d told him I was awake. I wish I’d asked him to come lay down next to me. I wish I’d asked him to tell me about all the bad guys he caught. I wish we’d talked.

Looking back on it, for the first half of my life, I can’t help but think that best sums up the relationship I had with my dad. He was my shield — but neither of us made the effort to remove the armor.

Fast-forward to today and the last twenty-five years of civilian life has softened him. My dad is kind. My friends even stopped calling him sir. We talk. We still rarely dive deep, but we talk. To be perfectly honest I prefer it that way. My dad has never been one to teach me with words. But he’s taught me everything I’ve needed to know about being a person of principles through his actions.

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Be a lifelong learner:

My dad loves reading. He also loves listening to friends and strangers alike talk about their experiences and perspectives. He doesn’t say much, but he asks good questions and he’s one of those few people whose attention can be felt. He may be 78 years old, but he’s as intellectually alive as anyone I know. I really admire this quality. But what I admire even more is his willingness to change his mind. He’s not scared to admit he got something wrong.

I think the world could use more people like this.

People who question their preconceived notions and beliefs.

People who approach each day as a chance to learn.

People who seek understanding.

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Be a person of your word:

My dad doesn’t blow smoke. When he talks it’s because he has something to say. And if one of those things is a commitment to do something — consider it done. For as long as I can remember he’s been that way. I think it’s a big reason why I’ve always felt safe under his watch. I’ve never doubted his word. I’ve always trusted him. Other people do too. This is because he doesn’t over-promise — he simply delivers.

I think the world could use more people like this.

People who understand that their reputation is everything.

People who do what they say they’re going to do.

People who are trustworthy.

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Be an adventurer:

My dad has lived all over the world. In his 20’s he lived in Asia. He spent the better part of the ’70s and early ’80s in Europe. All during trying times. Since retiring he hasn’t stopped seeing the world. He walked across Spain at the age of 73 and the UK at the age of 76. Recently he told me that he’s petrified before every trip. But he goes anyway. He’d rather get in the game than sit on the sidelines. He makes friends in these places. He asks waiters about their lives. He asks the local people to share their stories. He treats everyone he meets with respect.

I think the world could use more people like this.

People who aren’t afraid to put themselves out into the world.

People who may be scared of the unknown, but face it away.

People who don’t waste their days.

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Be a person who makes a stand:

My dad was a military man, but to this day he is still fighting for causes he believes in. When others sit down, he stands up. He fights for people who don’t have a voice. He fights for people who are being taken advantage of. He fights for those who aren’t receiving fair treatment. He doesn’t do these things for fun. He does these things because they’re the right thing to do.

I think the world could use more people like this.

People who aren’t afraid to be in the minority.

People who have the guts to take a stand.

People who aren’t afraid to do the right thing.

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Be a person who prioritizes people over possessions:

Material things don’t matter much to my dad. His house could burn down tomorrow and as long as he had his family and friends he’d be fine. He always wears the same jeans. He has a handful of shirts. A few for around the house and a few for outside of it. He isn’t worried about being cool. He is cool. This is because he understands that the only thing worth collecting is friendships.

I think the world could use more people like this.

People who treat absolutely everyone with respect.

People who are there for the people they care about.

People who actually prioritize their relationships.

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Growing up I got frustrated with my dad. I wanted his attention. I wanted him to give me advice and take me under his wing. But looking back on it through his actions he gave me everything I needed.

He showed me first hand the importance of being a person of integrity and how to treat people with respect.

He showed me that life should be lived through curious eyes and the importance of pushing our boundaries.

Most of all — my dad showed me what a person of principles looks like.

Growing up I thought my dad was Superman.

I was in awe of him.

But it can’t compare to the admiration I feel for him today.

The best lessons take years to learn and the best relationships take years to make.

Watch your heroes closely.

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This article first appeared in PS I Love You (Medium.com)

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