For years, the last face I saw before I drifted off to sleep every night was an angry-looking sweaty bald dude, sticking his tongue out at me. He was my childhood hero. I’m embarrassed to admit it now, but I would actually say “Goodnight, Mike” to the Michael Jordan poster thumbtacked to my “hero wall.” The poster of him dunking was right next to a couple other big-time athletes — guys like Steve Young, Bo Jackson, and Andre Agassi — men I looked up to and dreamed to be just like someday. Heroes.
As kids, my friends and I would get together and swap trading cards of our favorite sports heroes. We’d rattle off their many attributes and accomplishments (height, team, points per game, nicknames, championships, etc.) and argue endlessly about who was best. We all dreamed of being stars and standouts in the NBA, NFL, MLB, or any other three-letter combination that meant the world to us then.
Spoiler alert — my pro sports career never panned out. I didn’t grow-up to become a 6-foot something athlete immortalized in posters on kids’ bedroom walls. Instead I’m an incredibly average 5-foot-something, mid-30s guy with a desk job and a dad-bod. But guess what? Despite failing to reach my childhood dreams, I am truly, incredibly happy. Why? Well, because you can’t spell “dad-bod” without “DAD,” and that is a three-letter combination that means the world to me now.
I’m happy because what I dream of becoming has changed. The heroes of my childhood and those of my adult life are very different people with different heroic qualities. As time goes on, I seem to value championships less and relationships more. I place less importance on home runs and more on time spent at home as a family.
As I’ve become a husband and a father, I’ve come to appreciate and admire men who strive to be exceptional, loving husbands to their wives and truly good fathers to their children. Instead of looking up to sports stars, these are the men I want to be like. I see these fathers wherever I go — strong examples of commitment and conviction. I’m honored to be a member of this brotherhood of fathers, all trying to do our best for the children we’ve been entrusted to look after, provide for, and protect.
I’m lucky to remain close to the same childhood friends I grew up with. As we’ve grown, we have often talked about who our personal heroes were as kids and who our heroes are now. I’ve imagined a hypothetical scenario where we could go back in time, into the old wood-paneled, shag-carpeted basement where we used to swap trading cards — only this time, instead of bringing Big League Chew gum and our cherished sports card collections, we’d each bring some life experience and a shoebox of trading cards featuring our current, grown-up heroes.
If we had the chance to go back, here are a few players that would be in my shoebox:
Name: Chip Gaines
Team: Fixer Upper
Position: HGTV Star, loving husband to Joanna, father to five children
Skills: Committed Christian, loving husband, strong father, writer, master builder, teacher, coach, goofball
I love Chip. I only know him from TV and books, but from what I can see, he is a good man. He loves his family and his faith, and he works hard to make everything and everyone around him better. If you think about it, what Chip and Joanna do with houses, is a compelling metaphor for what the Gospel of Jesus Christ does with souls.
Name: Ryan Smith
Position: CEO, tech-star, center stage, loving husband, and father to 5 children
Skills: Leadership, strategy, speaking, committed Christian, faithful family man, philanthropist
Years ago, I was one of the first employees of a tech start-up operated out of a basement. My boss was a young dad named Ryan Smith. Ryan has since grown that little team of just 6 employees into a world-class, industry leading software technology company with 14 global offices. With all his success, he has never lost sight of what is truly important to him: his faith, his family, and his friendships.
Name: John Stockton
Team: Utah Jazz
Position: Point guard, husband, father of six, coach
Skills: Ball-handling, jump-shots, coaching, assisting, committed Christian
One card that would be in both my childhood card-collection and on my list of adult role-models is John Stockton. When I was a teenager, I was hired to referee little-league Fall soccer games. One 6-year-old player was Stockton’s son, and John came to every game. I remember seeing him coach and support from the sidelines, and was so impressed with his commitment to his Roman Catholic faith, and his family.
Name: President Russell M. Nelson
Nickname: I’m sure someone calls him Russ
Team: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Position: LDS President, loving husband to Dantzel (deceased) and Wendy, faithful father of ten
Skills: Touching and healing hearts, courageous leadership, faithful discipleship, leading, inspiring, snow-skiing at age 93
President Nelson is a great man. He is an accomplished surgeon, president of the Church, and the Lord’s chosen prophet. He is a loving husband and father and has dedicated his life to the service of our Savior. His leadership, optimism, and example are inspiring to countless men, women, and children today.
Name: Lamar Westra
Nickname: Dad, Pops, Bepa
Height: 5’10 and shrinking
Team: Westra Family
Position: Faithful husband, loving father, grandpa, coach, genealogist, loyal friend, follower of Jesus Christ
Skills: #Dadjokes, tennis, soccer, singing, napping, serving, teaching
The last modern-day hero trading card I’ll show off is my own dad. My dad isn’t a Hall of Fame basketball player, TV-star, CEO or a revered religious leader — but he was always there for me and still is. My dad was my soccer and tennis coach, and he came to every game and match I played. He was my math tutor. He taught me to drive a stick-shift, how to shave, and how to apply deodorant. He taught me to respect women and be kind to others and how to work hard. He taught me how to rely on heaven when things get hard. He taught me to love the scriptures and to be honest. My dad is one of my biggest, personal heroes.
As I look at my current hero trading cards and review their attributes and accomplishments, the common denominator is that they are all committed disciples of Jesus Christ, faithful husbands, and good fathers.
I can’t dunk a basketball or even touch the rim anymore, but I can aspire to follow the example of these great men and be all of these things. We all can, and we all should.
I’m a dad. I have the dad-bod to prove it. I once dreamed to be like Mike — but now I dream only to be the kind of man that my kids can be proud to call Dad.