Heroes are found at home

Published 8:59 am Wednesday, August 1, 2012

My father had his photo taken a few years back at his alma mater, with an arm around the statue of Joe Paterno on Penn State’s campus.
Turns out the legendary coach’s feet were made of clay in a different way.
JoePa was a hero in our house, in the way that people look up to a football coach as a symbol of the team you root for. I even did a book report on him at one point, learning that he had been a fan of the classics, studying Latin after school with the Jesuit priests at his high school before going on to an Ivy League education.
JoePa was my hero because he coached the team my father spent fall Saturdays yelling at on TV, because he seemed to be above the egotistical young coaches who now command huge salaries, because he seemed straight out of a better time.
Even as stories of the horror that Jerry Sandusky put young boys through surfaced, I thought for sure Paterno couldn’t have known, that he had done what he could.
Of course we know different now, after an independent investigation showed the coach was likely involved on some level. While it is easy to throw the reputation of a man who can no longer defend himself under the bus, it does seem that Paterno — just like many people at Penn State — had every opportunity to intervene and save so many children, but they looked the other way.
It’s such a trifling thing to say I lost JoePa as a hero compared to what Jerry Sandusky’s victims have endured for years, from the actual abuse to the ongoing pain of living with its effects.
Paterno was my hero because he was my father’s hero, which is of course to say that my father is my real hero.
Younger than JoePa but cut from the same cloth as that generation, my father’s lessons to me over the years have come from his actions — he’s taught me to be a hard worker and a gentle parent. He worked nights toward a master’s degree when we were small children — and now that I have my own kids I don’t know how he and my mother balanced that schedule. I never once felt he didn’t have time for us; he read to us every night, helped with homework, praised our successes and chided our mistakes.
But it is my father’s quiet kindness — to everyone, his family, co-workers, even stray dogs — that is my favorite lesson.
Jerry Sandusky was largely able to prey on his victims because they lacked that kind of father figure.
I wish for every child the kind of hero with which I was blessed — not a statue backed by an inflated ego but a living example of kindness.

Email newsletter signup