Like almost every former schoolkid, I remember being assigned my first major writing task. I was
about 10 years old, and it was sometime between earning my pen licence and learning the game of bullrush. The theme: who is your hero and why?
My answer back then came as easily as it does now: my dad. The previous weekend had been spent at the beach, where I found myself caught in a rip that was dragging me out into the Tasman. With the ocean floor invisible and the outlook, from my angle, grim, I panicked, causing me to ingest salt water in great gulps. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, I felt an arm wrap around me from behind, simultaneously hoisting me skyward and pulling me towards the sand. My rescuer was none other than my father.
It was an act that now, more than 20 years later, I’m sure he doesn’t even recall. Such is the way with heroes: what seem to them like simple and instinctive acts of necessity are, to their recipients, feats of extraordinary courage and capability. That moment not only provided me with a hero (and a subject for my writing assignment), but also inspired me to become a lifesaver for more than 15 years at the very beach where I was rescued. And although I’m not yet the hero I see in my father, maybe that spell in the tower provides a poetic setting for my own origin story, should there ever be a clamour for its telling.
As I’ve grown, so too has the breadth of Papa Hendo’s influence. As our relationship has evolved from father and son to great mates, he’s been a pillar of inspiration and font of wisdom when it comes to family, relationships, health, finances and sport. In the eyes of all of his kids, he’s our family’s eternal optimist. He’s also our biggest fan, our champion and, in every sense of the word, our hero.
There’s a reason why father figures play such formative roles in our lives and become our biggest inspiration. Biological or assigned, they provide a blueprint for manhood. Whether we choose to follow that blueprint or try to draw up a new one of our own is up to us. Either way, that blueprint is their legacy, a playbook passed to the next generation of men – for better or worse.
Because, heroes or not, fathers are also flawed. They’re human and make mistakes. Many father-son relationships have complications. In some cases, those complications provide us with some of our most profound moments of learning and growth. The role of a father is not fixed. But while it changes according to circumstances, its importance never dims. Fathers are the great driving force behind the next generation. And great power begets great responsibility.
In our inaugural ‘Dedicated to Dads’ issue, we pay tribute to father figures everywhere, while reflecting on the qualities of fathers passed, including a recent paternal passing within our own MH family. And as we’ve been reminded during the creation of this issue, you don’t need to have children of your own to approach life in a fatherly manner. We implore you to share and impart your hard-won wisdom to a generation beyond your own, with the aim of building a better future for us all. Pretty darn heroic