A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


I donít 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 non-committal hazel (no matter how big your box of crayons is, you wonít find a crayon called "hazel" Ė 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 93 years of age he has broad shoulders, strong arms and large, powerful hands; my shoulders are narrow, my arms are reed-like and my hands are soft, almost feminine.

Not that there is anything wrong with feminine hands. They look great on women. But they donít look virile and masculine. Like my Dadís.

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

"Arenít you Bud Walkerís son?" he asked.

"Yes, I am," I said. "Iím 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: his ability to communicate. 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 with whom he comes in contact.

But he isnít talking Ė about me or anything else.

So after bringing the gentleman in the mall up to date with my fatherís condition, I had to ask him how he could, after so many years, remember Dad Ė not to mention Dadís 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 I was reminded by a stranger.

"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. Iíve tried to run my business that way ever since. I couldnít have done it any other way.

"But that isnít 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 shouldnít do.

"I wanted to be one of the guys, but I didnít want to do this. So I asked: `Is Bud going?í The other guys kind of looked at each other and laughed. One of them said, `Budís a great guy and everything, but he doesnít know how to relax and have a good time.í

"Thatís all I needed to hear. I just smiled at the guy and said, `You know what? Neither do I.í I figured if your Dad could have a career without compromising his values, so could I.

"Iíve had a good career," the man concluded, "and in two months my wife and I are going to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. Following your Dadís example has been part of both."

I didnít find what I was looking for at the mall that day. But I found something even better: a rediscovered hero.

Even if I donít look a thing like him.

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--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through