So, I guess I get a flag.
At least that is what I’ve been told. I hear that is what happens when a “hero” dies.
They use the word “hero” because my dad fought for his country and I am glad that they will honor him in his death. They will send out men with guns and shoot fake bullets into the air. They will salute and they will hand me a flag. And… I know that my dad will be smiling down. He was always very patriotic and was proud to have served his country.
Sometimes, on holidays like Memorial Day, he would sneak away to a cemetery and visit the graves of the vets. He would look at the flags by their graves and bow his head and pray with moving lips before their headstones. He would finish his prayer and look at the name one last time and mouth these words… “Thank You”.
That was who he was. He was very sentimental and traditional and was a man of honor. I understand why he deserves a flag. But, it is not only because of what he did on a far away shore… but for how he lived his life and the example he set for me.
He was a hero in his marriage.
He was in love with my mom since she was 15 years old. When she was only 17 my dad was drafted into the Vietnam War and was shipped across an ocean where he served his country in the 101st Airborne – Artillery Division. However, while he was there fighting, he was given a short leave… a small window to escape the jungle and the turmoil that raged around him to find solace in the arms of the one he loved. The only problem is that she was not yet 18, her mom didn’t like him, and she was still planted firmly in the United States of America.
But… as my dad would often quote from one of his favorite shows… “The A-Team”.
“I love it when a plan comes together.”
The plan was simple. My mom would run away from home days before her 18th birthday with my dad’s brother. They would hop on a plane to Hawaii where my dad would be there waiting. My mom would turn 18 in Hawaii and then… in a Catholic Church in Waikiki… they would tie the knot.
I don’t know how they did it… but they pulled it off. My mom made it to Hawaii… but was chased by her mom (my grandma) and her sister (my aunt). They searched all over Hawaii trying to find her… but never did. Instead, Ms. Janice Elaine Stock became Mrs. Janice E. Hintz and the rest was history.
I couldn’t blame my grandma for wanting to stop it. My dad was fighting a war. Her daughter had just turned 18. Statistically… it would never work. But, somehow it did. My parents were happily married until the day my mom breathed her last breath on earth. And… if you knew my dad… you would know that their marriage lasted long past my mother’s death. People come to me now and make statements like…
“Your father sure loved your mom.”
“Your dad still talks about your mom all the time.”
“I watched some of your home movies with your mom in them.”
I would try to coach him to not talk about my mom so much, but it didn’t matter. My mom was with him and part of him and there was nothing that I was ever going to say that was going to change that. I stopped trying.
I now smile when I think of how deep my dad’s love was for my mom. He had something that was so special that many never have the opportunity to experience today. It was true love. It wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t always pretty. They had many mountaintop moments and they also shared time in the valley together. There was the moment when my dad was downsized and lost his job and they had to reinvent what life looked like. There was the moment my mom was diagnosed with lymphoma and they had to balance the “good days” with the “bad”. There was the moment they had to say “Goodbye”. My mom from heaven and my dad pressing hard against the earth. But, through it all, I saw a grace and love that I long to emulate in my life.
I saw my hero.
I look back to the moment when his idiot 16 year old son (Yeah… ME) ran away from home and ended up going to Florida from Ohio. I remember getting stranded on a freeway in South Carolina and I remember the long Greyhound Bus ride back to Ohio. I remember getting off a bus… broken and lost with a chip on my shoulder… and I remember who was waiting for me. It was him. In spite of all that I had done. In spite of all the lies and the manipulation and the shame that I had brought upon my family’s name… he stood there waiting for me. Why? To bring me home. I didn’t know it at the time, but when I saw his face as I looked through the bus’s side window…
I saw my hero.
You see, that’s what a hero is. Some believe that a hero is someone who does something for themselves… but that is not a hero. A hero is someone who looks beyond themselves for the sake of another. One who puts the needs of another above their own. One who chooses to sacrifice their wants for the sake of another human being.
My dad did that in the jungles of Vietnam… He did that through the journey of life with my mom… And he did it in a punk kid like myself. He gave of himself for the sake of another.
I have pictures scattered all over my house. Some are black and white and some are tattered… some are yellowed out and some are crisp as can be. And, as I look at each one of them I realize the similarity that each one of them has. In each of them…
I see my hero.
His name was Al to many of you, but to me… his name is DAD. It always was and it always will be.
He is my hero because of the example he set. He is my hero for the memories he left me. He is my hero because he chose to live his life for something more than just himself… he chose to live for me.
I know that this may sound selfish, but I know that it’s true. When he went to work each day… he did it for his family. When he said yes to the opportunities and no to the temptations that surrounded him each day… he did it for his family. When he looked to the future, he never looked to it solely for himself… he looked for his family.
Now, I look away from the photos and I look in the mirror and I ask what he left behind. I look through the tears to see a mind that has been formed and a soul that has been touched by a hero. I know that many seeds have been planted in my heart over the last 38 years and I know that it is now my job to cultivate the soil of my soul and produce a harvest. To look back and remember the lessons that have been modeled for me… by my hero.
I look forward to receiving a flag and placing it on my mantle for the world to see. I will set it right next to another flag… the flag that my grandfather… my father’s father… received for being a hero. I will look at both of these flags differently after today. I will see them for what they are… one man’s attempt to honor another. But, I will also see them for what they mean to me. A legacy of heroes passing down the mantle from generation to generation.
With my father’s last breath he passed the baton to me. I am now running the race for my family. I am striving to become a hero. Not for the sake of 21 gun salutes or pats on the back… but for the possibility that my kids will look at a ragged old picture of me one day and honestly say…
I see my hero.
Thanks for Sitting Shiva with me again today.