With all the missing teeth, his smile resembles a slice of Swiss cheese. With decades of labor under the sun having burnt him crisp brown, his skin resembles brown leather. Last but not least, his myriad of aches and injuries throughout the years has permanently rendered his posture awkward. Nevertheless, despite what these images might suggest, this man has taught me everything I know. This man is my dad.
After recently reading the article “Why Steven Seagal Doesn’t Have Sh*t on My Dad“, I naturally thought of my own dad. One reason for this is because of the fact that he is an immigrant parent, a “role” which takes a certain amount of gumption to live out. Indeed, I think those of us from immigrant households can attest to the tremendous grit and supernatural perseverance modeled by our parents. And yet, my dad’s identity as an “immigrant parent” barely scratches the surface of the series of struggles that have chiseled him into the man he is today and which convict me to become at least half the man that he is.
A hero is someone who can step forward into the heart of darkness and still muster compassion for a fellow human being. A hero can realistically look at their circumstances, think, “I don’t have a chance,” and then take another step forward.
Heroes surround us.
For reasons I won’t specifically get into online (though I will say my dad was not at fault), the following happened to my dad in a span of months: my mom left him and our family when I was 5, he lost his cushy business executive job (FYI – He grew up with nothing as the 4th of 7 children of Korean farmers. He literally had scratched and clawed all the way from poverty, only to end up where he started) and, saddled with me and my sister, he was completely ostracized by nearly all his family and friends.
Honestly, he could have easily dumped me and my sister to save his own behind. In fact, I very well could have grown up floating through a series of foster homes and adoption agencies in Korea. However, my dad refused to let this happen. Instead, he took a deep breath, maintained perspective (instead of becoming a permanent, jaded prick) and took a huge step forward despite inertia’s taunts of “you have no chance in hell!” and “you can’t overcome this!”.
My father’s first steps forward were barely perceptible. He sprawled out on the couch and watched Spaceballs with us. He turned off all the lights in the house and pretended to be a monster, absorbing our heroic deathblows with ease. He punished us for fighting and asked forgiveness when his anger would flare up. He cooked, did laundry, helped with homework, grew his business, ordered more pizza, played videogames with us and occasionally cried. When we asked about Mom, he met our painful questions with blunt honesty. There were never easy answers. But we still managed to laugh.
Coming from a life of luxury in Korea, any first steps in the U.S. made for some extreme juxtapositions. For example, the once proud and self-made businessman was now a dime-a-dozen house painter. Moreover, we had to “downgrade” from a mansion at the top of the hill to an unassuming, single-bedroom apartment. Finally, my (Korean!!!!!!!) dad learned how to housekeep, cook (best chef as far as I’m concerned) and emotionally provide for me and my sister. He learned how to play Super Mario, scoured Swap Meets to find the rarest Pokemon cards, and paid all the bills. Times were tough, but he somehow managed to be even tougher.
And for all that, as a child, I did little other than expressing my desire to turn back time and return to our previous life in Korea. In hindsight, I can only imagine how much a comment like that crushed him. It boggles my mind and breaks my heart to know that the anguish I’ve seen and heard from him is only the tip of the iceberg, and that I’ll never truly understand what he’s been through.
So why are we continually sucked into the narrative of the hero? It’s not just the escapist pleasure found in good triumphing over evil; if it were, why would we all be subjecting ourselves to the existential horror and hollow victories present in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight series, or graphic novels like Watchmen? We must crave more than escapism. We want our heroes (even superheroes) to be broken like us because we want to see them fight. Whether they win or lose is no longer relevant because deep down we know that this is as much a matter of fate, chance, gods, etc. as it is their character. Instead, we celebrate the fighting spirit. We desire resilience.
We are caught up in his struggle, not the inevitable victory.
So why do I consider my dad a hero? Well, like the above excerpt puts it, it’s not so much his moral victories (as inspirational as they have been) as it has been his very human struggles in coping with unfavorable circumstances. Honestly speaking, were I in his shoes, I don’t know if I would have dealt with his circumstances as well as he has. What I admire about my dad isn’t something grand like defeating terrorists and restoring world peace. No, what I admire is that every day for the past 20 years, he’s given inertia the proverbial finger as he busted his behind for our family.
As amazing as my dad is, I have an even greater hero in my life. This hero was broken like us, dealt with the same issues we face today, and displayed the greatest fighting spirit ever. His name is Jesus. And in him, I fully celebrate his triumph over death and sin as well as the fighting spirit he displayed throughout his life. Indeed, both aspects are critical to appreciating Jesus Christ for the hero that he is. From being born as a helpless babe in a manger to dying on the cross, he was no stranger to physical, emotional and spiritual pain and helplessness. This is where he stands out as a hero among heroes. Indeed, if he were just another human being, his story would end with him somehow and barely “making it through” his trials. However, as the Son of God and Son of man, this hero’s gospel story is that he died on the cross for my sins, resurrected from the grave, and defeated death and sin.
So what does the title of this post mean? For me, it means cherishing the sacrifices that both of my heroes have made for me. The best revenge doesn’t mean being bitter about past or present circumstances, but rather, it means being grateful for life and simply enjoying it as the gift that it is. The best revenge is not negativity personified, it’s contentment personified.
My life is only possible because of these two heroes. My earthly father daily dies to himself so that he can secure a better life for me. My heavenly father DIED ON THE CROSS so that he could secure a perfect eternity for me. When circumstances dictated they confront the hard road ahead of them, they both eagerly took that first step forward.
In my dad, the physical injuries are daily reminders of his sacrifices for me. In Christ, the nails in his hands and feet are daily reminders of his eternal sacrifice for me. In my dad, I literally live with a hero. In God, my ultimate hero lives in me.
Heroes surround me.