When I was growing up, my dad could do no wrong.
Even when he was drunk or high or both, he was my dad and that’s all that made him just short of God in my eyes. Even when he stumbled into my fourth-grade classroom, barely able to stand with his shirt on backward, he was my hero.
Drunk and disorderly must be a dad thing, I thought. The more time I spent with my friends and their sober dads, the more I understood just how different my dad was. Sometimes he went away and didn’t come back for months. Sometimes he called. Sometimes he didn’t. Eventually, I did what no young boy should; I lost faith.
Not just in my dad, but all dads. After all, if mine was a failure, then the rest of them must be. Moms too. And pastors and teachers and the rest. It sounds like a bad Hallmark movie now — dad drinks, boy loses faith, boy can’t trust anymore — formulaic and simple, but it’s the truth.
It took a long time to recover and I’m not sure I ever fully did, but I did learn that my dad wasn’t the problem. I was. It took me lots of mistakes and pain to learn that.
With everything going on in the world today, it’s easy to see what I mean. We take some specific human, an actor, or an athlete, an executive or a politician, and we make them into a hero. A symbol for some just cause, a backbone of some worthy initiative. We place them on a pedestal and we marvel at their accomplishments like ancient man worshipping Prometheus after he delivered fire. We turn into that chick in the bible who just wanted to touch rockstar Jesus’s cloak. Then, inevitably, our hero becomes human, and we hate them for it, and we criticize, blame and condemn, and forget that we’re no angel either and that no one is all hero … or all villain.
My dad sucked at being a dad. He was drunk for more than two decades of my life. But once he had a stroke he loved me. He also threw grenades at bad guys in Vietnam so there’s that.
The problem isn’t the hero or that the hero falls –because every hero falls. Recovery is the very thing that makes him heroic. No, the problem is expectation. We expect superhero, we get simplyhuman, and suddenly our oh so lofty hopes turn sour and we do what we do best; blame.
Forgiveness? Screw that. Oh, we expect the hell out of forgiveness when we screw up, but giving it? No thank you. Most of are more into kicking folks once their down than helping them up. And for what? Because we placed too high a burden on their shoulders and forget they’re just as fucked up as we are?
For a long time, I was heroless. I still believed in Batman and Bart Simpson, but I’d be damned if I ever cared for flesh and blood again. But that didn’t last. That little boy who still loves Peter Pan and believes if he tries hard enough one day he’ll fly, is just too strong. So I returned to the world of the real and cultivated living and breathing heroes once again. But this time I was smart. I didn’t let them in because I didn’t expect them to be anything other than human, just like me. Real, painfully broken and sad, in need of forgiveness for their many mistakes. A funny thing happened then, I understood mercy. And no matter what my hero did, I liked him anyway. Maybe not all of him, and maybe not the thing that made rounds on Twitter, but the other thing. The thing that made me like him in the first place. No one could take that from me.
Categorizing someone’s behavior — in other words, judging them — doesn’t mean you ignore their shortcomings. It means you recognize yourself in them, meditate on the things that inspire, and leave everything else that doesn’t. My dad never judged a soul. He was born broken and he knew that better than most. He never saw race either, everyone was equal. And in that, he was a great man. He was a hero. He was a drunken drug dealing and using cheater too. And I love him anyway.
It’s all broken. Everything. We’ve forgotten that all legends have two parts. The part where the hero falls, and the part where he rises again. We’ve come to expect too much and build our pedestals too high. So high no one can climb back up once they’re down, and everyone gets down sometimes.
Every hero is broken until he’s not, and then he’s often broken again. That’s the hero’s journey and it’s as old as the first story ever told. But thanks to cynicism, social media, stubbornness, jealousy and boredom, we’ve forgotten that. Today’s hero must remain vanilla and blameless, never offending, never failing, and never changing. To accept the adoration of the people, today’s hero must be nothing like those who worship him.
Maybe that’s the real problem but we can’t admit it. Maybe we see just how horrible we can be and we want someone to prove that perfection is possible. Because if they can be perfect, we can be too. In the meantime, the next generation grows up without heroes. Too afraid to try. Unwilling to forgive. No imagination. Without purpose. With no one to teach them that everyone falls, heroes just get back up.
Bunch's work can also be found at joshbunch.com and other rousing websites that focus on fitness, human overengineering and general awesomeness. If you want him to write something just as stunning for your crowd, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org