To my Pops at Father’s Day: My Hero

Published 10:08 am Monday, June 20, 2016

Recently, I wrote about a major league baseball player who walked away from his sport – forfeiting millions of dollars in so doing – after his employer instructed him to stop bringing his son to work.

His decision, whether you agreed with it or not, triggered what I thought was an interesting dynamic on how do you balance life and work if you’re a father in the 21st century.

This athlete is undoubtedly his son’s hero. Not because he is a professional athlete, but because he made the decision that caring for his son is more important than professional success. In this instance, the athlete placed his son and family above his own career—a move that must have reinforced his status as a hero in his son’s eyes.

And then there’s the case of Devon Still.

In case you’ve forgotten, Still was the Cincinnati Bengals football player who in 2014 was cut by the team in pre-season and then made headlines when it was revealed he needed the NFL insurance to pay for treatments for his daughter Leah’s Neuroblastoma Stage-Four cancer – a cancer of the adrenal gland that usually strikes children. Still, the father, was re-signed by Cincy to the practice squad, helped the Bengals make the playoffs, and little Leah became America’s Sweetheart, as the country joined her fight. Leah underwent surgery to remove her tumor, and in June she was declared cancer-free.

On July 15 of last year at the ESPY awards, Devon and Leah Still took their place alongside Jim Valvano, Robin Roberts, and Stuart Scott in receiving the Jimmy V Award for their determination and perseverance in the face of cancer. Even though cut again by the Bengals before the season began, Still went on to be signed and play for the Houston Texans.

“To your kids, you’ll always be a hero,” said Still at the ESPY ceremony, “just take it from Leah.”

Still said he yearned to be his daughter’s hero, even if it makes him feel awkward. As a professional athlete, he’s a hero to many; but more importantly, Still has called for the recognition of every father who goes above and beyond every day doing those small unrecognized tasks just for the sake of their kids.

“For me, care isn’t a choice, it’s an action I take every single day,” Still said recently. “The care I give for Leah is where I find my real strength.”

It doesn’t matter whether you push a wheelchair-bound son around a roller-rink or swing back-and-forth with your kids in a tire suspended by a rope from a tree, there are countless fathers around the world who put their children before themselves every day and inspire not only their children, but their entire families simply through continuous love, encouragement and support. These dads may not be the men scoring touchdowns, hitting home runs, dunking basketballs, or notching sacks on Sundays, but their care feeds their strength and make them heroes, and not just on Father’s Day, but every day.

You see, being a good father is also like being a good mother; you have to be there for your child when things happen. You have to demonstrate to your child everyday in what you say and do that you will sacrifice, fight, advocate, negotiate, go above and beyond to do for him or her.

Our kids are watching us all the time, and as they get older, evaluating how we act toward them, around them and ostensibly on their behalf. As parents it’s incumbent on us to live correctly because our actions impact the kind of adult our kids grow up to be. In other words, parenting is a life-long endeavor of selfless love.

One warning: Don’t get into this game if you’re not prepared to play until the final whistle.

Even though you’re no longer with us, Happy Father’s Day, Pop. You taught me how to be a man, and more importantly, how to be a hero to my step-kids because you were the perfect example. As the song says, you were “someone that I would like to be”.


Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7211.