Who’s your hero?

A few years ago I was interviewing for a job and was caught a little off guard by the interviewer’s question. At this point we’d been on the video call for 10 or 15 minutes and had already gone through some of the more basic questions. Why this company? Why this job? What unique skills can you bring to the table? Tell us about a time you failed. Etc etc.

But after we got through some of those preliminary questions, the interview shifted a bit. Instead of focusing on my skills or professional aspirations, we started chatting more about my personal life. Talk about your upbringing. Who are your biggest influences of the past few years? And the one that really made me reflect: who’s your hero? Why?

I had never really thought about the answer to that question before. It seems like a pretty basic one that most people could answer off the cuff, but for some reason, it slowed me down. I mean sure, I could have easily said Tom Brady…but I wanted to give a real answer. A meaningful one. One that I actually believed. And so while the anxiety crept in and the seconds passed between the question and my eventual answer, I racked my brain for something of meaning. And then, as quickly as the self-doubt nestled in, it left. Because I landed on an answer that was so clear and compelling that it left no room for doubt. It felt like an eternity before that answer came to me, but in actuality it was probably more like ten seconds. And once it did come, it seemed so glaringly obvious that I couldn’t believe I had felt any anxiety about it at all. I couldn’t believe that it wasn’t abundantly clear to me from the beginning. I cleared my throat. “My hero?” I asked. “Well, that would have to be my father” I said confidently.

Johnson Family, Sagamore Beach June 2017. Picture Credit: Heather Varela

Johnson Family, Sagamore Beach June 2017. Picture Credit: Heather Varela

One of the many things I admire about my father is that he is the hardest working man I’ve ever met. Between a job that demanded sometimes too much, a house full of projects, and a bustling family, he still found time to cultivate lasting relationships with each of his kids. I’ve always looked up to him for what he’s been able to accomplish professionally, but also in his personal life. A skilled carpenter and handy man, I hope to have half the knowledge he does in my lifetime. But when I started answering the interviewer’s question, I realized there was a more specific moment that stood out. A story that illustrated why I look up to my Dad so much.

When I was a sophomore in high school, the Great Recession was in full-swing and tensions were high in the financial industry. My Dad had been working for State Street Bank for nearly 30 years and had built a solid career. Leadership within the organization had recognized his ability and eyed him for a major promotion. They asked if he would be interested in relocating to Kansas City. By this time, both my brother and sister had moved out of the house and started college, so it was really just me at home. It probably would have been pretty easy to pick-up everything and head South for a few years. But my Dad didn’t want to make the decision himself. I’m sure he gave it some thought and talked it through with my Mom, but ultimately, he asked me for my opinion. “If you don’t want to go, then we aren’t going” he said. I asked if I could have some time to think about it. “Sure, but I need to give an answer tomorrow, so lets talk again in an hour.” Everything was moving so fast. We’d need to decide tonight and start the moving process by next week. It felt surreal. Of course I didn’t want to go. I had friends here…family, my teammates. I said no. He noted that his colleagues probably wouldn’t be happy, but that if I didn’t want to go, then we weren’t going. And so as quickly as it came up, it disappeared. He turned down the offer. He wouldn’t move his family.

Why my Dad decided that I had some say in the matter as a 15 year old nobody under his roof, I’ll never understand. But I’m glad he did. I’m glad we didn’t move. And I think he’d tell you he’s glad too.

I finished telling the story and left room for some silence in our conversation. The interviewer sighed. “Wow, that is an awesome story” he said. “Yea, I guess its easy to forget about it because it was so sudden and the conversation ended so quickly, ya know? But when I think of my Dad, that moment sticks out. Because he didn’t want to move his family for a job. It just feels like so many other people I know wouldn’t have hesitated on pulling the trigger for themselves. It probably would have meant a nice promotion…a cushier gig. Everyone is just trying to get ahead and build their careers ya know? To climb the ladder. I don’t necessarily blame them, but I’m sure a lot of people wouldn’t have given a second-thought to their family. It was his first-thought. I think that is why he’s my hero, because I’ve never seen him put himself first” I replied. “Have you ever told your Dad that?” he asked. “No, I guess I haven’t.” He went on: “you know, people have no idea how they’ve influenced or impacted others sometimes. Its sad. You should really tell him how you see him…what all of that meant to you.”

I’ve never told my Dad what all that meant to me. I guess I hadn’t considered it much before then. But it meant a lot. It still does.

I didn’t end up getting that job, but I’m still glad I had the interview. My Pops turned 60 on Sunday, so I just thought he should know. Happy Birthday Dad, you’re my hero.

Now, who’s yours?

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