My Dad is My Hero Essay Example


The photo album is a good friend of mine; every so often, it comforts me, as I relive the first sentimental father-son memory I have. It was a sweltering July 4, 2007, in New York City. A parade was scheduled around the block from our apartment, and four-year-old me couldn’t contain my excitement. My dad and I walked along North Central Park under the shade of the trees, my playground pals running around on the other side of the path. They waved, and I waved back from the top of the world (I was perched on my dad’s shoulders). I had a red bandana around my head and a spray bottle full of water in my hand. We had a blast: a marching band stomped by, and I looked to the sky during the Macy’s Day Fourth of July fireworks. I can still smell his cologne and feel the sweat dripping down my forehead right onto his bald head with a discernible “plop, plop.”

The Lion King was my favorite Disney movie. Simba was lifted to the sky and declared the next king of the Pridelands—I could relate. That Fourth of July I thought to myself with a grin, “King of New York!” How was I to know the title already belonged to Jay-Z? But it was the monkey Rafiki who held Simba, not Mufasa, which meant I was even more blessed to have my dad himself lift me up, and better yet, on his shoulders. The circle of life scene also featured the proud mother Sarabi smiling up at Simba, the future leader of the pride. Looking back, I imagine my mom smiling down at her husband and son from the ninth floor apartment windows, while holding her two-year-old daughter. The sun set on this picturesque scene far too early, forcing me to face an unexpected monster of the night.

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance—these are the familiar five stages of grief. However, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the psychiatrist who formulated the well-known stages, was not describing the loss of a loved one. Instead, she was studying how people cope with the inevitability of their own deaths. The fact of the matter is that grief is fickle; it can strike you like a bullet train or a light punch to the face—it truly depends on your circumstances. To view grief as a linear journey with fixed checkpoints is to oversimplify one of the most complex mixtures of feelings humans are capable of experiencing.

I distinctly remember visiting my dad at the hospital the following summer. We had moved to the small town of Berryville, Arkansas, where my dad grew up—1,250 miles from West 110th Street Manhattan. New York will always be my hometown, but I could ride horses and jump from hay bale to hay bale here. After the tractor accident, we relocated once again to be closer to my dad at the Little Rock Baptist Hospital. “Sam’s Big Book of Drawings” never failed to put a smile on his face; perhaps it was the sun at the top right corner of every picture that made us both reminisce on that blazing Fourth of July sun. We often played checkers with a portable magnetic set my grandma bought me. He could not move from his hospital bed, so we passed the board back and forth. I usually won, although in hindsight, I think he let me. I listened to Coldplay’s “Clocks” on the ride back to our house, and since then, sad music has always helped me deal with sadness. 

My dad died on September 24, 2008, when the blood clot reached his heart. I couldn’t believe this could happen to him, to me, or to any of us, and I silently cried all night, head buried in my pillow so that my younger brother and sister wouldn’t see. For their sake, I had to be the strong older brother who didn’t wear his heart on his sleeve. A wide range of emotions visited me that night and in the following days. Anger, blame, and self-pity each asked me questions: “How could they take him from me?”, “Who is ‘they’?”, and “Why me?”, in that order. I wished I could answer them one by one, but, after a while, the emotions jumbled and unified. Thereafter, only grief approached me, posing the haunting question, “Now what?”

In examining my own grief, I find psychologist William Worden’s four tasks of mourning instructive. Each part is called a “task” rather than a “stage,” reminding me that grieving is an active process, which means I can do something about it. Additionally, this model is intended to describe the experience of losing a loved one, and the tasks can be completed (or not completed) in any order. He claims the healthiest way to mourn is (1) to accept the reality of the loss, (2) to work through the pain of grief, (3) to adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing, and (4) to find an enduring connection with the deceased in the midst of embarking on a new life. Each aspect of my grief is more clear in the context of Worden’s nonlinear approach to life after losing a loved one:

I was forced to accept that my dad’s death was real. His funeral service was held on September 29, 2008, and only the casket could convince me that he and I would not play another game of magnetic checkers. The past tense was just as terrifying—everyone at the funeral spoke of him using “was” instead of “is.” The shock wave his death created hit me harder than most and apparently froze me in time because my dad still existed in the present in my reality. Eventually, I caught up with time and the tragedy it left behind.

I revisit the Berryville cemetery at least once a year. My grandma takes me and my siblings. We buy a bouquet of flowers, place them next to his granite headstone, and brush the dust off his plaque. While my younger brothers explore the cemetery, looking for the oldest date, I sit next to my dad and talk to him. I know to not expect a response, yet it comforts me that he is close by.

Sometimes the pangs of grief are too much for me, and I briefly let go. In fifth-grade religion class, there was one prayer I had to read aloud for those whose parents died. Only once I started reading did I realize it was about me. Towards the end, I broke down, and my eyes watered: I could not finish. I became mortified, sternly shouting in my head, “Come on Sam! Pull it together!” As I looked around the room, I was met with looks of sympathy from my classmates. Though their concern was genuine, I detested the fact that I was the only one who had to experience such searing pain.

When my dad died, I lost the man who threw the football with me and acted out scenes from The Odyssey, decked out in plastic swords and chest plate armor. I would jealously look on as kids played with their dads in the park. However, the dad-shaped void in my life became easier to bear when my mom remarried in 2016. My step-dad is an important father figure in my life, a man who loves and supports me. He shares my enthusiasm for soccer, takes me to the gym and designs workouts and training sessions, so I can improve my game. We both wake up early to watch Manchester United play every Saturday or Sunday morning and comment on transfer news. His presence has greatly improved my lifestyle and contributed to new experiences, not to mention he bought us our two golden doodles.

Especially at a younger age, I tried to emulate my dad, mainly because I thought it would strengthen the connection between us. I looked up to him and wanted to preserve his memory in the part of my identity that disappeared at his passing. He played football at Notre Dame, so I became a huge fan of the Fighting Irish, sporting all the gear and attending games. He was a derivatives trader on Wall Street, so I wanted to work on Wall Street when I grew up, and so on and so forth. All of this still matters to me, as evidenced by the surprisingly large number of Notre Dame athletic t-shirts I own. But I’ve realized that it’s perfectly fine for me to pursue my own interests and aspirations in mathematics, physics, soccer, etc., since these are things that matter to me, and consequently things my dad would support.

The best method of connecting with my dad while choosing my own distinct path in life is by memorializing him. My mom created the John Patrick Bishop Memorial Scholarship, which annually awards an exceptional student at Berryville High School (of which my dad was an alumnus) a four-year college grant. It won’t be long before I am the one presenting the scholarship, a responsibility I will cherish and do my best to honor. We annually celebrate my dad’s sweet tooth as well. Every February 28, my mom makes his favorite birthday dessert, called “dirty dessert”; basically, it looks like soil, utilizing vanilla pudding and Oreo crumble as dirt and gummy worms as, well, worms.

Early on, Simba has everything he could ever want. He gets to play all day with Nala and is guaranteed to be king of the Pridelands, plus he can easily shake off Zazu, the royal babysitter. Yet all of this is not enough for him. He doesn’t think he can live up to his father’s expectations, so one day he decides to act brave like his father and travel to the hyena-infested Elephant Graveyard. He is almost killed, but Mufasa arrives just in time to save him.

Soon after, Scar’s wildebeest stampede takes away the world Simba knows and loves, sending him into an undeserved exile. He is without hope and without a home, grieving the loss of his father while blaming himself for it.

Flash forward several years. Simba is an adult, and his complicated emotions are hidden by a facade of carelessness—the embodiment of “Hakuna Matata.” Nala finds Simba and all but convinces him to return to his rightful spot on the throne, except that he hesitates. That night, Mufasa appears to Simba in the sky and reaffirms his unconditional love and support, telling him, “Remember who you are. You are my son and the one true King.” Grief drives Simba to take control of his identity and potential. It inspires him to ask the question, “What would Mufasa do?” and not wallow in the question, “Why me?” Most of all, grief empowers Simba to be better and do better.

I continue to grieve the loss of my dad to this day, and my grieving may never end. Regardless, grief and I have an agreement that he can visit me at times of my choosing, provided that some of his visits help me improve as a person. 

Charlie Brown best acknowledged the duality of loss when he emphatically sighed, “Good grief.” As much of a monster as he can be at times, grief grants me my dad’s company; he takes the form of my dad but never gets too close, as he wants me to dearly miss the life that could have been mine if my dad were here today. I consider myself lucky because I know my dad was a good man, a luxury many cannot enjoy. As a result, grief ironically reminds me to be thankful for what I do have and not what my life is missing. And when he fails to comply to our agreement, I lean on my network of support, composed of caring friends and family.

I will never be able to go back and save Mufasa from Scar, but I’m well on my way to reclaiming Pride Rock.

 

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