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A Moment of Bravery/A Lifetime of Courage

Updated on March 24, 2019

For Krissy. My daughter wanted me to write an essay about the bravery of her father for a writing contest. Bravery doesn't belong in a contest. Bravery is a marathon. Courage is the finish line.

The Marathon

Dear Krissy,

You wanted me to write something about the bravery of your father for a contest. The yardstick used to measure bravery is different by circumstance. What I want to share with you will not win a contest. But, it has already won your heart because you believe your father deserves an entry in a 'bravery contest'. Was your father brave? Indeed he was. I cannot compare one man's bravery with another because they do differ by circumstance. Are there men braver? I would answer honesty, very likely. Are there men less brave? I would answer honesty, yes indeed. In a summary I wrote bravery doesn't belong in a contest, that it is a marathon and courage is the finish line. Your father was courageous in and for life. I hope I can justify that statement for you in regards to your dad.

I am sure your father was raised to be a brave little man for his mother, especially after his father died. I've heard and used the expression to be brave for many reasons with you children in your youth and even in the now. Very common now is the phrase "man up or grow a pair". The latter does seem somewhat offensive but still common. We ask our children to be brave for shots, for taking risks such as riding bikes without training wheels, for the unknown, sleeping in their own beds, in the dark, etc.

I don't know much about your father's upbringing other than he felt his father was more nurturing than his mother. I don't know if that is because she came from a large family that lived close and required her attention as well, or her aging father living with them and this kept her busy, or she was left alone to raise a child who was only seven, or maybe still overcome by the fact that she lost her first born at the age of six months in the great flu epidemic of 1918. She must have been kept busy with her attention diverted in every direction. She went from a housewife/mother to be the only financial provider for the family. I am sure that after the death of his father he did hear that he must be brave for whatever reasons: for your mother; because you're the man of the house now; or simply it's time to be brave and grow up. I can almost guarantee that he did become brave in ways that would not have been easy as a young child. He was now different from his friends. He was now different because he was fatherless. He had to do things that were beyond what would be considered safe: keeping the fire stoked in the furnace or chopping the wood for the furnace. He was sent to walk the railroad tracks picking coal that fell from the coal cars rather than sent out to play. I do know he was often teased as a child and even a young man by his many uncles, neighborhood children and classmates without the wisdom and protection of a father guardian. That takes courage to face our tormentors especially when they are family members. He had to learn to brave the circumstances that fathers often protect their children from.

He was brave enough to find his voice when the threat of war was breaking out in Europe. He was sent to the principal’s office for speaking out about the United State's responsibility or lack of responsibility in his social studies class in high school. He was brave enough to leave home right after graduation to move to Chicago to start a life different from the life of working in the copper mines and mill,as his father had done. He was brave enough to enlist during WWII when he had a job that offered a deferment from service. He had learned to be brave not just for the moment but for the duration. He was learning that being brave once in awhile wasn't enough. Moreover, that courage wasn't a once in a lifetime need but that courage was to become a life long need.

It probably took all the bravery he could muster up to fly solo for the first time. However, he had gotten pass that moment of bravery and now he would need courage. Each brave step he had taken during his life was now the foundation of courage he needed for the courage needed to step into a heavy bomber that: rattled during takeoff; wasn't pressurized; was loud and cold; fueled with very little excess for the mission; needed to take off and land with very little error on an often minimum amount of landing space; and then to fly over hostile territory knowing you will become a target with little maneuverability. And, then the courage to do it again the next time your mission is assigned knowing and watching as others failed to return or returned only on 'a wing and a prayer'. This was the reality that all soldiers face on the sea, land or the air. They are all brave for shots or doctor visits, brave for the nighttime scares, brave for their parents, brave for facing their drill sergeants, brave for their country. And, then there is the courage to return home. Home that is different because returning is not the same as leaving. No matter how old we are there is an innocence lost with each battle fought and this can last a lifetime. Young men and women left for war with an innocence that would never be recovered. This is the marathon that resulted in the courage your father had.

Your father had courage during his hardships, his service, his life. He had the courage to fight for causes he believed in and supported. But, most importantly he had courage to love. He had the courage to step into love not once but twice, and the courage to accept responsibility for nurturing children not once but twice. I'm sure you can appreciate the courage it takes to love. There is a fear of not knowing the outcome of opening our heart to others. There is fear in accepting the responsibility of parenthood. He held his courage to the end. I understand that as the body is shutting down there is a tremendous amount of pain and your father had the courage of love to hang on because I didn't think I had the courage to go on. He fought through everyday until he knew I/we had his courage and I see that now in hindsight.

And so, yes Krissy your father was brave he held his heart out for his country and family. Could his bravery win a contest? It has! He’s our very own HERO.


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