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Sometimes our greatest superpower is a willingness to accept help.

“An arch consists of two weaknesses, which, leaning on each other becomes a strength.” – Leonardo da Vinci

Growing up, many children believe their dad is Superman. From their youthful perspective, there’s simply nothing he can’t do.

Because he tucked them in each night and was oddly already dressed for the day when they got up, as far as they could tell he didn’t require sleep. When a frisbee got stuck in a tree, a ball went missing under some bushes, or a bike chain fell off they knew where to turn. Dad was always able to retrieve the frisbee, fetch the ball and fix the bike chain.

As children age, though, the pristine cape Dad once wore begins to varnish.

Whether it’s the occasional disappointments or just advancing through adolescent years, the mask of perfection fades. Dad can’t fix everything and they don’t agree with all his rules. His hair grays, his waist expands and eventually his cape falls off entirely. Turns out, Dad can’t fly.

While that might be the reality for many kids, it isn’t for my siblings and me.

Denny O’Leary’s health was legendary growing up. While I’d happily miss school for any reason possible, Dad never missed a single day of work. Perhaps more surprising to me as a kid, he never missed a single day of school; not one day missed in grade school, high school, college or law school.

Dad was perpetually in a good mood. As children our days began with him prancing into our rooms to get us up for school, crooning old marching songs he learned in the military. Each day he’d wear a suit and tie, drive us to school, work a full day and return home for dinner. He helped with our homework, made learning fun, and asked about our days. Most kids dread bedtime, but Dad made ours so fun that we actually looked forward to it.

Dad made each of his six kids feel as if we were his favorite and we loved how he adored our Mom.

I recognize not everyone enjoyed a father like this, but my siblings and I were incredibly lucky – and grateful- to be raised by a super hero.

Then a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis 35 years ago changed his life.

The man who never missed a day could no longer work. The father who was always moving was unable to move at all. The vocalist who sang military taps each morning to playfully coax his kids out of bed lost the ability to even speak. The man who was always serving others required full time care and constant attention. His life became incredibly difficult.

And yet the joy he radiated for life when we were kids continues to twinkle from Dad today.

Recently we took a family vacation. Our Mom and Dad, their six kids and spouses, and all 21 grandbabies stayed together in Florida. Dad spent a week enveloped with kids, swarmed with grandchildren and loved every moment.

One evening we celebrated with a bonfire on the beach. The sand was too soft and deep to roll my dad on the beach in his wheelchair. We resigned there was no way to get him down there to join us.


Until two stout sons-in-law and three strong grandchildren picked up his wheelchair and began the long journey out to the bonfire.

As the sun set on the horizon, the smaller grandchildren cheered as their grandpa- buoyed by faith and carried by love- did what seemed impossible: Dad flew above the sand.

During a situation most would be too scared to attempt or bitter to accept, Dad wore his trademark smile. In other words, his cape still fit. Our Superman could still fly.

My friends, while Dad spent the majority of his life working hard, being kind and making a profound difference in the lives of others, he’s spent the last several decades accepting help from others, embracing the life that is his and continuing to make a profound difference in the lives of others.

In a fractured and polarized world, Dad reminds us that an arch consists of two weaknesses, which, leaning on each other becomes a strength.

Grab your capes. Lean into others. And let’s soar together.

This is your day. Live Inspired.

12 replies on “The Time My Dad Flew”

Our family love the stories that you speak about and write. Denny is a man that sets the standard for others. Keep shining your light to the world. Thank you.

John thanks for another great story to live by. I have to kick myself when I am not at my best with my wife and kids especially when hearing of your fathers life and his relationships. Thanks for you and your insights. It was a special night way back when when my daughter and I met you after an evening presentation at St Gabriels School here in Austin. Be well.

I love everything about this adventure John. Where there is a will, there is a way. I am so glad your dad got to enjoy his adventure by the water. Always soothing to the soul. And all the love, giving, and care-taking your dad gave as you all were growing up, be return to him ten-fold. I say, well-done Papa O’Leary! And what a great story to start off the week, John, thanks!

Thanks for sharing this beautiful story this morning! I love your family stories, and relish the opportunity I had to meet some of them in St Louis. Thanks so much for sharing from the heart each week – you make a positive impact on so many of us!

Here’s to a great week ahead!

Another well written, heartfelt, motivating, insightful perspective from John O’Leary!!! Thanks John! Your Dad, your family, YOU …are all amazing people! The positive, “let’s do this” attitude among each of you help me to do, what I need to do each day. You make my “human experience “ a better one!
Let’s all have a great Monday, a great week & a great summer!!! Thanks brother!
God bless,
John Reilly

Sweet… definitely inspiring… Seemingly not doable in my world… Not that I live in a bad world or that I have any really reason to complain about anything but somehow those thoughts getting there is those emotions get in there and I live life stellar for the most part but I have my days and most people just say hey that’s being human and I would have to say your dad definitely been a super human… I much like your dad in ways… I like to serve others I like to be on the go… And I can’t imagine the difficulty of that life-changing disease… But then I think of my spirit that always says let’s make lemonade out of lemons… No matter what happens whether you now have some restrictions still find a way to love and serve and be kind and to be make out the world different so maybe I could do it just seems like I would hate it! Kudos to you and your family!

John– there are a million reasons why our precious Lord saved you from the fire. One is certain- your gift of love and writing inspires me to do better, be better, love better! Thank you and may God continue to richly bless you!

Thank you for my first Motivation Monday. It is so true that just because a person’s strength may appear in a different way from what we are used to, their strength is still there. That is my dad as well.

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