ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker

HEROES FOR TODAY

Growing up, I never thought of my Dad as a hero.  He was a good guy.  I loved him, and we got along great – as long as I kept the lawn mowed and didn't sass Mom.

But a hero?  Nah.

My heroes were more . . . you know . . . heroic.  One of them wore Yankee pinstripes with a big number 7 on his back.  I had every baseball card ever made featuring Mickey Mantle – including the rookie card that is worth about 30 gazillion dollars today – until I went away to college and Mom went on one of her infamous cleaning binges.

The Smothers Brothers were also my heroes.  I bought all of their comedy albums, and I had their comic patter memorized.  I learned to play the bass and I dreamed of one day doing shtick with my guitar-playing brother Bud.  He'd be the good singer, of course, and I'd be the funny one – except we'd have to adjust the “Mom always liked you best” routine, because . . . well . . . Mom always liked ME best.

And then there was JFK.  In my then-8-year-old mind, President Kennedy lived and died larger than life.  His assassination, and the attendant national mourning, made a huge impression upon me.  I don't think it's coincidental that I was idealistically political throughout junior high and high school – and that I've steadfastly avoided going to Dallas.

Of course, those heroic images have been tarnished somewhat over the years.  Time and truth have a way of altering perspective – heroic or otherwise.  But back then, my heroes gave me something to strive for, something to dream about, something to become.  And I can't help but wonder where my children are looking for their heroes today.

The sports world?  That's a scary thought.  The names of many of today's most popular athletes appear on police blotters as frequently as they appear in box scores.  And the athletes make no apologies, claiming they never asked to be role models.  Then they turn around and sign huge endorsement deals with the implication that their name on a product will make a difference at the cash register.  In other words, they take credit for influencing your behavior in the mall, but deny any influence elsewhere.  That sounds like a cop-out to me – and hardly heroic.

The entertainment world is similarly frightening.  The film, television and music industries seem to celebrate the vile and vulgar, and many performers lead lives that are publicly awash in immorality and abuse.  Today's Lalaland standard is “no standards,” and the moral objective is amorality.  Even the characters that are portrayed in movies and TV programs tend to be weak and smaller-than-life, as opposed to the strong, larger-than-life heroes of yesterday.

Nor are our kids going to find many heroes in the political arena.  There is enough hypocrisy and ineptitude on both sides of the aisle to keep cynical tongues wagging for a month of Sunday morning pundit programs.  Even more troubling, however, is the apparent reluctance of the electorate to hold officials to traditional standards of personal integrity.  It’s as if we don’t want them to be heroic – perhaps because if we expect more of them, they might have the right to expect more of us.

So where are our children going to find heroes for today?  Actually, they’re everywhere.  You just have to look in the right places: the classroom, the fire station, the squad car, the pulpit. The heroes we’ll find in such places may not be famous or wealthy, but they can be incredibly influential in establishing meaningful goals, exemplary values and patterns for living.  Heck, we can even find heroes in our own homes – like my Dad, who, it turns out, was pretty heroic after all.  I understand that now.  And that helps me understand what my kids need me to be: heroic.

Even without the pinstripes, the patter or the presidency.

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— © Joseph Walker

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E-mail Joseph at: valuespeak@msn.com 

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