At my last meeting with my writer buddy, all too long ago now, we began an interesting discussing on the nature and meaning of the hero in American society. She was exploring the idea through the endearing superhero loving main character of her middle grade novel. I was trying to understand why every time I started research on a new subject, I found heroic qualities in the most unexpected places.
Sports heroism is easy enough to relate to. It’s not difficult to admire the guy who scores the winning basket at the buzzer, hits the home run in the bottom of the ninth, or sends the champion down for the count with a swift left hook. Yet once you’ve spent some time getting to know these people, you quickly realize it’s their more human qualities that make them so appealing. Joe Louis was a dominating heavyweight boxer, but he was a champ to me for looking beyond the media’s portrayal of his opponent, Max Schmeling, as a symbol of Nazism and seeing a decent, hardworking athlete and friend. Hank Greenberg hit many amazing home runs for the Detroit Tigers but it was his willingness to stand proudly as a Jewish ballplayer in the 1940s that made him such a powerful guy.
Still, hero should not be confused with fabulous all around person who you’d like as a family member. It turns out a fair share of American heroes are some of the worst fathers you’d ever want to meet. Joe Louis was once at an event and didn’t even recognize his own son. One of Hank Greenberg’s sons stopped talking to him altogether after years of a strained, distant relationship. Even Jackie Robinson had such a difficult relationship with his son that he blamed himself for his drug addiction and early death in a car accident.
After researching all of these sports heroes, I turned to more historical figures. From what I already new, I wasn’t convinced I’d be interested in their heroic qualities. But then I remembered the common weakness I had found in so many strong men and I decided to start there. Thus my greatest discovery while researching became uncovering a popular, war-loving, powerful man of the 20th century who turned out to be one of the most loving father’s I’ve ever read about.
His name was Teddy Roosevelt. I read hundreds of the many thousands of letters he wrote to his children. His letters to his “bunnies” as he called his six children were sweet, funny, and endearingly personal. This was a man who knew his children and enjoyed being with them. Teddy was not the best athlete ever but he was an ace at pillow fighting and hide and go seek. Yes, he also happened to be the President of the United States but as Teddy himself once said, “compared to this home life, everything else was of very small importance from the standpoint of happiness.”
I had discovered a side to a man that kids had undoubtedly never read about. And I felt confident I could show them a fundamentally important reason to admire this famous hero. Research mission complete. Until the next subject.