My dad, John Graveline, passed away July 4, 2007. In memory of him, I'm reposting an article I wrote a few years back:
It is almost impossible to find a decent hero these days — our sports figures are regularly arrested, dress up in weird costumes or get married for three minutes, our civil servants lie to us on national television and allow their staffs to "put the right spin on it", and the movies offer up too violent a fare to present to our young people for emulation. Where can we look for role models and people of distinction?
I am blessed, for I have a father to look up to. Let me say right up front that my dad never won a medal for bravery or for sports, never had a job that paid a great deal of money nor did he ever save a child from a burning building. But I've never met a soul who knows my dad and didn't like him or have something nice to say about him.
He is of the generation molded by the Depression and the Second World War; he started his senior year in high school by studying his text books from the beginning and the middle so that he might graduate early and join the Marines. It was, he believed, his duty. He cared for his crippled mother through much of his teenage years, but he shrugs it off as "merely" responsibility.
He met and wooed my mother (she wanted him to date her younger sister) and struggled to build a career and family. He went through a series of jobs, some of which he did not like very much, but it never occurred to him to give up, accept charity or even complain. He did not have the benefit of a college education and regretted it much of his adult life, but he managed to constantly learn from everything he did. He also learned the real value of education, the kind of education that puts food on the table come hell or high water, and stressed this ethic with his children, generous with his money for our minds.
He raised a family, with all that entails: turbulent teenage years, family vacations (by car, and you know what that's like), burying beloved pets, attending piano recitals and school plays, and enduring the boyfriends of his dear daughters. My dad built a playhouse that my sister and I practically lived in, and then tore it apart to make a stall when we outgrew the tea parties and wanted a horse. One of the greatest compliments I can pay my father is that throughout my growing-up years, he was there: at the dinner table, helping with school projects. He was not hiding in hobbies, working insane hours, or available only for weekend visits. My dad was there. He did it all with love, practical concern and his own hands.
My dad is a great amateur photographer, an avid genealogist and an accomplished handyman. Things out of order bother him and he is getting to the point in life where he values the quiet left behind when the grandchildren leave. He volunteers with numerous organizations and gives of his time generously.
When he retired, my father decided to go to school. So he bought a backpack and enrolled in college. I don't know if he was prouder of my graduation or if I was of his. I know he thinks that his decision to go to college wasn't that big of a deal, but it really did have profound effects: a friend of mine, who put off going to college (figuring he just couldn't cut it) told me once that when he saw what my father had accomplished, he knew he could do it too - an existence changed by my father's example.
And this is the legacy of my father's life: a quiet, unassuming, and rather stoic presence that ripples out to so many people. It has touched, not only his children and grandchildren, but nieces and nephews, foster children, employees, fellow students and volunteers, church members and so many others of whom I have no knowledge. What my father has taught all of us is that character is dignity, perseverance, willingness to do jobs that you don't like, sense of humor, keeping your word, faith in God, and an ability to look at the world as opportunity not merely luck, and no sense of entitlement without effort. I know my father is not unique to his generation; there are many men like him. But in today's world he seems so special that it is worth singling him out: "Look at this man. This is a man. Be like him: serve God, country, family and be blessed."
In our society today, we have so many people vying for the title of hero: singers of Satanic messages, sports figures with incredible athletic skills and no common sense, politicians who betray their family's trust and ours, actors and actresses who choose roles designed to show off their bodies more than their acting skills. We have confused fame with character. Perhaps what we need to do is look within our own families and communities — I choose to be like that man or woman because he or she is great in small but essential and enduring ways. Greatness in love, character, responsibility, and faith — that is certainly my father, the hero.