Thursday, November 23, 2006


I’ve never been much for heroes. As a young child in Illinois during the 60s, my friends dreamed of being Daniel Boone or Davey Crockett. My late and beloved maternal grandmother even gave me an official Daniel Boone faux coonskin cap, which I wore till I outgrew it. Historical and cinematic cowboys, notably Marion Morrison, er, John Wayne, were popular too. Finally, there were the inevitable sports stars; baseball and football players, mostly.

Not for me. My earliest hero was the 16th President of the United States, born in Kentucky but the adopted first son of Illinois. Of course I mean Abraham Lincoln. I would experience a little thrill every time we drove through Springfield on the way to visit my Nana in St. Louis (birthplace of my mother and where my parents met). Granted, Lincoln was an unusual choice of veneration for the typical seven–year–old, but I wasn’t a typical child.

I found additional people to admire as I grew older, including Benjamin Franklin (a remarkable Renaissance man) and a few presidents: Washington; Jefferson; Madison; T. Roosevelt; and FDR. And I’m reading up on Wilson, who is just beginning to get his due. (The Founding Fathers were all remarkable men and uniformly worthy of admiration.) I also discovered the late, great physicist, Richard Phillips Feynman (sometimes called ‘The Best Mind Since Einstein’). But still no athletes or performers. ...I have gained significant respect for Boone and especially for Crockett.

I will never forget last Tuesday. First, an aside with my mother, when she said she didn’t want my father receiving chemotherapy unless it would really benefit him. Then, a little later, sitting in Dr. Cainin’s office on Tuesday, as my mother addressed that very issue with my dad’s oncologist. Finally, listening to my father pragmatically discuss his biopsy, asking to where the cancer has metastacized: “It’s spread to the iliac crest?” After being told that each was positive, I was floored when my dad asked Dr. Cainin whether all of the four biopsy samples had been easy [surgically] to obtain. Dr. Cainin assured him that they were, to which my father happily replied “Good!”

Even as they each face the ultimate truth, albeit from starkly different perspectives, my parents’ composure–without a hint of denial–bravery and selfless compassion for one another–and for me–amazes me. I am proud to say that I’ve gained two new heroes: Clark and Betty Howell.

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