I recall an article I read a few years back detailing the events of a boy with Down syndrome who had fallen into a septic tank on the family’s land. His father jumped into the tank to rescue the boy, but was unable to climb out himself. His action—nothing short of heroic—was a fulfillment of his vocation as fathers are called to sacrifice his life for his children. Both the fulfillment and the vocation depend on this.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines self-sacrifice as "a sacrifice of oneself or one's interest for a cause or ideal." Sacrifice is multifaceted and a powerful intersection of self-expression and human service. All of us experience delight when we do a noble deed because we find unity with the other---our true nature in the other---and it serves as a moral "gift."
While fathers in the military, police, fire and public safety professions often give their lives, not every sacrifice is one of death. Consider the small, daily or hidden sacrifices from a father giving up his career, starting or finishing school, changing jobs or shifts, going to church with his family, disciplining his children, the love for his spouse, or teaching anybody the value of hard work. Wrought with bumps along the way, they lead to perfection if practiced over time. This is where children, especially boys, learn the lesson of self-gift in the family. When a father sacrifices through his actions it leads to the essence of adulthood in a way that psycho-social and theological research correlates as both positive and progressive. Whether a physical or symbolic sacrifice in our often skeptical, self-centered culture, it is indeed heroic.
Clearly, we need to put a face on heroes and I unapologetically call them fathers. Why? In doing well for their family and others they are advancing their own humanity and it's critical to share and celebrate that gift. That expansion of their human worth is a testament to how we promote humankind's quest for good over evil in both literal and figurative senses.
The father image is an important reality—biblically and psychologically. Sigmund Freud first saw the implications (although an atheist) where God served as a projection of the need for a father figure and our psycho-social constructs thus developed ideas about a supernatural support system because of our experiences with parents.
Although borrowing from Edward Rice Burroughs and Arthurian legend, the mythology of our iconic superhero Superman harkens back to his creator’s biblical knowledge. In Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus (1 Tim. 3:4, Titus 1:6), he explains that a mark of maturity or immaturity is how a man functions in his home. Furthermore, fathers are to “train up a child in the way he should go, even when he’s old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6).
In the mythology of Superman, his Kryptonian father—knowing his own death was imminent—sends his son to Earth. More than saving him (or us), it was an act of self-sacrifice---a legacy-building. In doing so a Trinitarian symbolism is achieved where the son becomes the father and the father the son. Superman embraces the vision of his father and the father fills his son with the power to achieve his vision: goodness, hope, justice, leadership, temperance, fortitude, and prudence.
Portrayed by Marlon Brando in the original Superman movie in 1978, Jor-El exclaims, “The richness of our lives will be yours. All that I have, all that I’ve learned, everything I feel…all this and more, I bequeath you my son. You will carry me with you all the days of your life. You will see my life through your eyes, as your life will be seen through mine.” He goes on to say, “Live as one them to discover where your powers and strength are needed. Always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage. They can be a great people Kal-El, they wish to be, they only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you.”
In the 2013 Superman reboot film Man of Steel, Kevin Costner’s character Jonathan Kent eventually reveals to Clark the spacecraft they found him in. Overwhelmed with the discovery and having been reared by his Earth father, Clark asks, “Can’t I just keep pretending I’m your son”? He replies, “Your are my son.” He goes on to say, “I have to believe that you were sent here for a reason. Even if it takes the rest of your life, you owe it to yourself to find out what that reason is.” In searching for that answer his father explains to him that he must decide what kind of man he wants to grow up to be. Whoever that man is, good or evil, he will change the world.
Often oblivious to a leadership vacuum that being a passive father creates, our priorities and visions must be clear. Throughout history, heroic men that left legacies did it intentionally. Future generations are impacted by our daily decisions. As we learn from our mistakes and others, we create a trail of goodness. I believe there is a rising movement of men who are stepping up today, even more so than in past decades, upset with the standards of our dark society and wanting to make the most of the rest of their lives. We have only a short time, like Superman’s Earthly and Kryptonian fathers, or our own heavenly Father, to leave what will remain behind for them and future generations forever.
During a particularly difficult time I was having in middle school, my father had sent along a message on a napkin in my school lunch before heading out on a week-long trip for business. It read, “No one can make me feel inferior without my permission --- never give permission.” I kept that napkin into my adulthood and now I simply read it in my mind—the exact pen color, penmanship, and boldness within capital letters. Among other things I was taught while becoming a man, that is something I took into fatherhood—and for which I will pass on to my own children.
So whether you’re heading out as you accept your next military tour of duty, leave your home for work in the morning, coach or watch your children’s ball team, I call you to know who you are and where your responsibilities lie. With a clear vision, life beholds a strong and powerful new purpose—a heroic one—and you certainly don't need to be hailed a hero to “be” one.
Copyright © 2014 by Brian A. Kinnaird
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