I grew up in Illinois in a small farming community on the main road to Nauvoo. Although I was raised in the Church, I was a somewhat rebellious teenager, struggling with my identity and my relationship with my father. He wasn’t a bad person; in fact, everyone seemed to like him. It’s just that I felt a little embarrassed by him because he was a farmer who had not finished eighth grade. Besides that, my dad was always serving other people. For me, that was the problem: he was always helping others, and I hated it because he took me along.
We were the only members of the branch for many miles. Since my dad was a mechanic, the branch president often called to ask him to assist stranded Church members whose cars had broken down. Many times my dad would get me out of bed late at night, grab his tools, extra gas, blankets, and even food to go help the weary travelers.
I resented these late night trips because I just wanted to sleep. I’d even sleep in the car on the way there. When we arrived, I reluctantly gave up my warm seat so the tired but grateful family could get warm. My dad always managed to fix these cars, some of which I thought shouldn’t even be allowed on the road. Sometimes Dad had to work for hours before the cars would run, but he never complained. Even though I grumbled a lot, he just listened and nodded his head and smiled.
I remember one cold, windy January night quite clearly. It was so cold that before we went to bed we had plugged an electric heater on the car engine so that it would start in the morning. I was snug in my warm bed when the phone rang. It was the branch president asking my dad to help another family from out of town whose car had broken down. I just lay in bed, hoping it was a bad dream. Just once I wanted my dad to say, “Sorry, President, but my kids are sleeping and I am in my warm house. Could you find someone else?” Instead, he said, “Of course we will help, President.”
Well, my dad got me out of bed, we gathered our things, unplugged the heater, and set out. Dad drove while I slept most of the way. Inside the car it was warm; outside the temperature was below zero and the roads were covered with snow. When we found the stranded car, a woman got out and walked towards us. She told us how she and her three children were traveling to see her parents in Nauvoo. I remember thinking that she was crazy to be out on the road with small children in such bad weather.
My dad immediately went to work on the car while I stood there complaining about having to be outside in the cold when all I wanted to do was sleep. The family sat in our warm car while we froze. After about four hours the woman’s car finally sputtered to life and began to run well enough that it could finish the trip. The sun was rising when we woke the mother and her children. She expressed her gratitude to my father, and then she and her children went on their way. We went home, and I didn’t think much about it for a long time.
Two years later I started turning my life around and became more active in the Church. I attended a youth conference at the University of Illinois, where the keynote speaker talked about the heroes in our lives. She explained that our society would have us believe that movie stars, athletes, and musicians are the heroes of our day because of their fame and greatness. But the truth, she argued, is that making a lot of money and being famous do not make them heroes. The true heroes in our lives are the people around us who truly serve one another.
Next she told the story of how once she was traveling with her family when her car broke down. She didn’t have the ability to get the car fixed. She was scared. After offering a prayer, she called the local branch president, who sent out help.
She then talked about her hero. He was a person who had left his family and his warm bed on a cold night to serve someone he didn’t even know. Her hero had saved her family that night. Then she gave his name. It was my father.
I was stunned as tears ran down my face, and I realized she was right; my dad was a hero. He was a man who constantly helped others, even at great personal sacrifice. The service he offered made a big difference in other people’s lives. Suddenly I was really proud of my dad. That night my dad became my hero too.
Years have passed. I have gained some of the things that were important to me in my youth: an education and the respect of my peers. But I have also gained something I didn’t expect when I was young: a desire to serve my fellowmen. That came from my hero, my dad.