06/16/2014 12:08 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

My Ordinary Hero

I saw a tear-jerker of a movie on Saturday and although it was the opposite of what is called for on a sunny summer afternoon, The Fault In Our Stars made me think.

There was one line where the handsome, yet dying, hero of the story says that he wants to hear how his friends will eulogize him at his approaching funeral.

So, he asks his best friends to write their eulogies and give him a dress rehearsal.

I have always loved this idea. At the few funerals I've attended, it has always crossed my mind that the recently departed would be thrilled to hear these touching words.

Funeral speeches always seemed a little too little, too late.

And with Father's Day on Sunday, I've been thinking of my own Pops, who, although he is not at death's doorstep at the age of 82, he is certainly not guaranteed many more Father's Day celebrations.

This led me to wonder if I could be so presumptuous; If I could take a moment to honor him while he is still here to hear me by listing the many things that will be endearingly mentioned in the event that he ultimately does what us humans do and breathes his last breath.

Leland Love, born January 2, 1932, son of Lucile and Jacob Love, father of six children, has never organized his life around worldly accomplishments or self-fulfillment or a bucket list.


He has always done what many from his generation have done -- which is find a sense of meaning in his less obvious acts of self-sacrifice. He has never done anything in order to achieve accolades or success. He worked his whole life as an electrician. He did what he had to do.

In Wikipedia, Look up "The Salt of The Earth" and you'll see his picture.

I know his childhood biography by heart. He was a child of the Depression who has never talked much about his childhood. He has a scar on his forehead that our Grandma Love said was from a "forceps delivery." Whatever that is, it seems that his entry into the world was more traumatic than he has ever implied.

He was the beloved, only son of a farmer, my granddad, who died an agonizing death at age 47, from a virulent cancer when Pops was only 17 years old. He has never spoken of his father's tortuous death, but growing up, I heard whispers of it. Death came to his father slowly, in the farmhouse bedroom, like sleep sometimes does: very gradually and then all of a sudden. He died before chemo and pain-killers and before people talked about it.

It broke my grandmother's heart for life. This could be the reason I've only seen my dad cry twice: once when I was 10 and we went with him to put down our old dog Lassie.

Afterwards, he got back in the car and cried like a baby for 30 seconds, which scared me and my sister in the back seat to death. Then as quickly as it began, it was over. He got out his handkerchief, gave his nose a good honk and that was that.

He is still a sucker for any dog. If my dad is in the room and there's a dog in the house, look for them under the table at his feet, where he is feeding them surreptitiously so my mom doesn't see.

Then I saw him cry once more, a few years ago, in the front pew of the church, when Dori, my brother's wife, died. This time it didn't scare me; it touched my heart in a way that made me love him more.

He used to have a temper, which is where I got mine. I remember he got out the belt a few rare times, which again scared us kids to death in a different way.
He advocated the "Stop crying or I'll give you something to cry about" method, and I have to say that I think it worked. Trust me, we stopped crying.

He has always been unlike my mom, who has the patience of Job. She kept a ping-pong paddle on top of the fridge and we knew she was mad when she said "Garsh Darn You Kids." If she was really at her rope's end, she would stand us in a corner.

The few times Pops got mad, it was almost always when my mom wasn't there and the only reason she was ever not there was the few times that she was in the hospital.

He is a disciplined and determined man. He never drank in his life. He used to smoke cigarettes when I was little and would flick the ashes into the cuff of his pants. Then one day, he just quit.
Two weeks went by before any of us noticed. This offended him that we never noticed but he didn't do it for us; he just made up his mind to quit and that was the end of that.

He built an addition onto our house with only the help of a few friends and the tools in the garage, which we didn't know we would need when a few months later, my sister and I were in a horrible car accident in which she sustained the heart-breaking loss of the use of her legs. This was a wound my father has never overcome, as no parent ever does. All these decades later, he can barely speak of this without his voice choking with emotion. He never let those tears come out because he is a brave man who knows that father's never let their kids see tears shed on their behalf.

Before this accident none of us loves were big on saying "I love you." After that day, he has said it to every one of us kids every time we say goodbye, even if we just talked 10 minutes ago. And we say it back.

Dad is a math wiz. He loves maps. And cars. And airplanes. He hasn't seen a movie in a theater since Planet of the Apes, but he has his hobbies.

He is also an artist who would sketch drawings for us kids of planes that he saw in the sky. Still, to this day, with one leg numb from Neuropathy and the other crippled from arthritis, If we ever need a ride from the airport, he is there an hour early to park his car at the end of the runway and watch planes land and take off.

We camped a lot every summer. We drove cross-country with nine of us piled into our Country Squire station wagon. Me and my twin sister in the way, way back and my older sister co-piloting with an unfolded map in the middle front.

There are bigger visionaries who come to mind: Nelson Mandela, JFK, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King.

But my personal hero is my dad, who didn't do what he loved for a living. He gritted his teeth at a job he didn't like so that he could take care of us. He always puts our well-being above his own.

To this day, he still wants to press a few twenty dollar bills into my hand as we hug goodbye. He calls it "walkin' around money."

It's his way of saying "I want to take care of you."

Watching him live, I have learned something about how to live my life. He is the bravest ordinary hero I know.

And through him I have been given the best "walkin' around money" he could ever give me -- the money of watching how he has walked through his life.

Thank You, Dad. I love you.