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In  honor of Father’s Day, John shares how accepting help is a real superpower.

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

With yesterday’s celebration of Father’s Day, I’d like to celebrate the man who was strength for me when I was weak, the model of love he radiated so brilliantly and the reason my family and I are more certain than ever that our Dad really is a superhero. Let me explain.

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.

Last summer, 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.

18 replies on “My Dad, My Hero”

Thanks for sharing this story w us. What an amazing man, and equally incredible family of siblings and family!

Thank you for this sweet tribute to your amazing Dad.
I met you in Dallas at HPUMC a few years ago. You and your story inspired me, and I have shared your book with many people.
My Dad was diagnosed with leukemia when I was 8 (1961). He was told he had 3 months to live. With the dedicated help of a specialist in Dallas, and experimental treatments of that time, he lived almost 9 years. During that time, he worked every day that he was able, wanting to save as much money as possible for my mother and me. He endured painful treatments. He was, and still is, my hero, and sweet Daddy.
I know you are the same inspiring hero and great Daddy to your children.
Continued blessings to you and all of your family.
Sherry McCrary

John, your dad is an amazing person. My daughter remembers him very well. Thank you for sharing him with us.

What an incredible tribute to your dad. This is a beautiful and heart warming story of love, strength, and joy. Albeit heart-breaking for a father to succumb to such a horrible disease, and for the family to witness his deterioration. To me you are all super heroes! Life is a gift, meant to be enjoyed. So very inspirational. Xo

Thank you for sharing! I grew up in St. Louis and can imagine how special it was to be blessed with a Father such as yours. Look what he received in return for all of his good decisions, hard work, and showing up. I appreciate your inspiration!

John, thanks for your message of love, resilience and hope! Your Dad is blessed by such a loving and supportive family!

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