Essay: A Time for Heroes

June 18, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


NEWS ANCHOR: Coming up, we’ll tell you about one student’s absolutely amazing story about how he overcame some unbelievable odds…

ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: You can’t turn on any news show any hour of the day or night now without hearing somebody, or a group of somebodies, described as heroes. The word is everywhere. It most often wears a uniform: The uniform of the armed forces who are serving and sometimes losing their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the uniform of the cop or firefighter– so many, too many who were entombed in the collapsing twin towers on that epochal day of disaster, leaving us all imagining them trudging up those smoky stairwells to a certain death. Unquestionably, 9/11 put the word “hero” front and center in the current vocabulary. It is a way for us survivors to honor and thank those who died.

SPOKESPERSON: Their bravery and their strength and the way in which they functioned in this first battle in this war that we’re fighting should be an example to the rest of America to be strong, to not be afraid.

ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: That was true, too, of course, of all the recent D-Day remembrances, the somber and moving 60th anniversary, that endless stretch of white crosses in that cemetery in Normandy, which can, however often seen, stop a heart on a dime. There was also the dedication of our own world war ii memorial in Washington, where again the word “hero” was much heard, as it was during all of the funeral ceremonies for President Ronald Reagan. Not to sound seditious, but it would be nice this father’s day to take a little of the oomph out of the word “hero.” Better yet, to expand the definition to include a different kind of man: Not the overtly brave, out-in-the-world, into-the-breach kind of male, but a tender, often more tedious version: Daddy, dad, pop, pops, father.

SPOKESPERSON: Michele Lee Jean Robitham…

ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: Let’s flip the scenario. Let’s celebrate the husband who lost a wife on 9/11 and is now raising the children.


ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: Or the guy whose wife is in Iraq, leaving him to the daily, hands-on work of being both mother and father — or the stepfathers who move into new families, not with a cold shoulder or a heavy paw, but with an easy ear and a heroic delicacy — not a contradiction in terms, or it certainly shouldn’t be. Or just the regular harried husband/father trying to help make ends meet while being the best dad he can, not letting his own fatigue and ego and longings get in the way of the sweet- tough task of raising children.


ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: We tend to think of heroes as men of action, doers, conquerors, warriors. Think Brad Pitt in his shiny armor. We are in a moment of masculinity redux.

SONG: We are the champions…

ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: Just look at the babe-ogling, Viagra-taking pop culture male. He’s a supercharged stud who can, the inference is, go a few rounds with Ms. Sexually liberated babe. I wince sometimes when I see another one of the ever-present ads for Viagra or Levitra or Cialis, not out of embarrassment– we’ve come too far for that– but out of tenderness for men, for all the sexual performance pressure that is being put on them.

SONG: We are the champions of the world.

ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: This Father’s Day maybe we can just lower the decibel level, take the pressure off, stop insisting that performance on a battlefield or in bed is the only measure of a man or his heroism.

SPOKESMAN: One, two, three…

ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: Let us honor instead all the men out there who are trying to turn children into whole, hopeful people. Can there be a nobler task?

I’m Anne Taylor Fleming.