From Chicken Soup for the Father & Son Soul

Rediscovered Hero

I don’t look a thing like my father.

In his prime he had a full head of gloriously red hair; mine is sort of a mousey, dishwater blond-brown-blah. He has bright, penetrating blue eyes; mine are a nondescript hazel (no matter how big your box of crayons is, you won’t find a crayon called “hazel”—I promise). He has a proud, prominent, almost Romanesque nose; mine is a squishy little blob in the middle of my face. And even at ninety-three, he has broad shoulders, strong arms, and large, powerful hands; my shoulders are narrow, my arms are reedlike, and my hands are soft, almost feminine.

Not that there is anything wrong with feminine hands. They look great on women. But they don’t look virile. Like my dad’s.

That is why I was startled when an older gentleman stopped me in the mall the other day.

“Aren’t you Bud Walker’s son?” he asked.

“Yes, I am,” I said. “I’m his youngest son, Joe.”

“I thought so,” the gentleman said. “He used to speak of you often.”

Now, you need to know that it has been years since Dad has spoken to anyone about anything. Time and disability have robbed him of one of his greatest natural abilities: communication. Dad had a way with words and a way with people that I always admired and wanted to emulate. These days Dad is in a care center, where his warm smile and pleasant disposition endear him to all he meets.

But he isn’t talking—about me or anything else.

So after bringing the gentleman in the mall up-to-date with my father’s condition, I had to ask him how he could, after so many years, remember Dad—not to mention Dad’s youngest son.

The man paused, then said simply, “Your father is one of my heroes.”

I could understand that. Dad was my hero, too. But somehow in caring for him through his current difficulties I had forgotten the bright, vibrant, charismatic man he once was.

Until a stranger reminded me.

“Years ago when I was starting out in the life insurance business, your father took me under his wing,” he explained. “He taught me how to sell, but more important, he taught me how to serve my clients and develop relationships of trust and understanding with them. I’ve tried to run my business that way ever since. I couldn’t have done it any other way.

“But that isn’t the real reason your dad is my hero,” the man continued. “One time a group of us from the main office went to a convention in Las Vegas. I had never been on one of these trips, but I had heard stories, you know? And sure enough, that first night a group of the guys were making plans to go places and do things that . . . well, married men shouldn’t do.

“I wanted to be one of the guys, but I didn’t want to do this. So I asked, ‘Is Bud going?’ The other guys kind of looked at one another and laughed. One of them said, ‘Bud’s a great guy and everything, but he doesn’t know how to relax and have a good time.’

“That’s all I needed to hear. I just smiled at the guy and said, ‘You know what? Neither do I.’ I figured if your dad could have a career without compromising his values, so could I.

“I’ve had a good career,” the man concluded, “and in two months my wife and I are going to celebrate our fiftieth wedding anniversary. Following your Dad’s example has been part of both.”

I didn’t find what I was looking for at the mall that day. But I found something even better: a rediscovered hero.

Even if I don’t look a thing like him.

Joseph Walker

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