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How do You Define a Hero? Let's Ask Meghan McCain

Michelle Watson

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America mourned the loss of a national hero last week, that of 81-year old Senator John McCain.

Perhaps you viewed the televised services where his family, friends, and colleagues celebrated, highlighted, and honored him for the profound impact he had on their lives. I watched some of the memorial service as it aired live and I was deeply touched by the tributes that were shared about him, namely that he was a man who spoke his mind freely with conviction and one who fiercely pursued his friendships, regardless of gender, financial status, or political standing. 

I don’t know about you, but those are qualities I truly admire in a person.

Regardless of which side of the political aisle you sit on, I imagine that most every one of us would agree that this man gave much of himself to our country because of his love for America. John McCain invested his time and energy for the causes that were close to his heart over the course of three and a half decades. For his immense sacrifice, we are truly grateful.

All week I’ve been struck by the fact that almost every time Senator McCain’s name has been mentioned, it has been preceded by the word, “hero.” 

Let’s be honest. Wouldn’t most of us, especially you as men, love to have a similar description said about you at the time of your death?Consequently, I’ve been asking myself what it is about that word that defined this gentleman?

  • Is it because he was a naval aviator in the Vietnam War who was shot down, seriously injured, and captured by the North Vietnamese, only then to be severely tortured and locked in solitary confinement for two of his five and a half years as a POW? Perhaps.
  • Is it because he chose not to accept an early repatriation offer while in captivity, refusing to leave until every man captured before him had been released? Perhaps.
  • Is it because he engaged in nine months of grueling physical therapy upon his return to the US, determined to fly again despite few believing it could happen, only to pass his physical exam and have his flight status reinstated? Perhaps. 
  • Is it because he was awarded the Silver Star Medal, the Legion of Merit, three Bronze Star Medals, the Navy Commendation Medal, and the Purple Heart Medal because of his actions as a prisoner of war, followed years later with receiving the Meritorious Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, and a Gold Star Medal, among others? Perhaps. 
  • Is it because he was later elected to the House of Representatives where he served for two terms? Perhaps.
  • Is it because he was an Arizona congressman and senator who easily won reelection six times? Perhaps. 
  • Is it because of being named by Time magazine as one of America's 10 Best Senators in 2006? Perhaps.
  • Is it because he twice ran for President of the United States, demonstrating a courageous willingness to lead our country while fulfilling a vision he’d had as a POW when telling other prisoners that when he got out he wanted to become President? Perhaps.

Yet beyond all of that, I believe that the most significant definition of “hero” came from his daughter, Meghan, when she honored her father in two specific extraordinary ways.

First, on the day of her dad’s death she posted one of the most powerful statements I’ve ever read from a daughter about her dad. In fact, after reading it I felt prompted to share her words on social media while adding this challenge, “Dads---let this serve as a model of what you want your daughter to say about you after you’re gone.” 

To my surprise, I soon discovered that it was the most shared post of anything I’ve ever put on Facebook, revealing to me that Meghan’s words resonated powerfully with both men and women. Here’s what she wrote:


"I was with my father at his end, as he was with me at my beginning. In the thirty-three years we shared together, he raised me, taught me, corrected me, comforted me, encouraged me and supported me in all things.

He loved me, and I loved him. His love and his care, ever present, always unfailing, took me from a girl to a woman – and he showed me what it is to be a man.

All that I am is thanks to him. Now that he is gone, the task of my lifetime is to live up to his example, his expectations, and his love.

My father’s passing comes with sorrow and grief for me, for my mother, for my brothers, and for my sisters. He was a great fire who burned bright, and we lived in his light and warmth for so very long. We know that his flame lives on, in each of us.The days and years to come will not be the same without my dad – but they will be good days, filled with life and love, because of the example he lived for us.

My father is gone, and
I miss him as only as an adoring daughter can.But in this loss, and in this sorrow, I take comfort in this: John McCain, hero of the republicand to his little girl,wakes today to something more glorious than anything on earth. Today the warrior enters his true and eternal life, greeted by those who have gone before him, rising to meet the Author of All Things."

Hearing this adult daughter refer to herself as her dad’s “little girl,” and as one who sees him not only as a national hero, but most importantly, as her own, is the one endorsement that matters above the restAnd even without him here on earth to remind her that she’s valuable to him, she is committed to living each day in ways that make him proud. 

Without a doubt, her dad’s love will always remain alive in her

That reality was even more boldly declared during her 17-minute eulogy held at the National Cathedral, one spoken mostly through tears, where her words touched the hearts of every person listening. In it she said:

"Dad, I love you, I always have. All that I am, all that I hope, all that I dream is grounded in what you taught me. You loved me and you showed me what love must be.

The best of John McCain, the greatest of his titles and the most important of his roles was as a father. Today I want to share with you where I found out who John McCain truly was. It wasn't in the Hanoi Hilton. It wasn't in the cockpit of a fast and lethal fighter jet. It wasn't on the high seas or on the campaign trail. John McCain was in all of those places, but the best of him was somewhere else.

My father was a great man. He was a great warrior. He was a great American. I admired him for all of these things, but I love him because he was a great father."

We know that heroes aren’t born; they’re created when ordinary people do extraordinary things. And we also know that heroes aren’t self-selected; they’re named as such by those who deem their actions worthy of the title.

Dad, it doesn’t matter what the world has to say about you if those precious lives you brought into the world don’t see the best of you. 

If you want to know what it a hero looks like through the eyes of your daughter, just ask her to define what a hero looks like to herLether responses direct you and define your purpose. Then choose daily to live up to her ideals, wishes, needs, and dreams. 

And remember that sometimes it’s the little things make the biggest impactkeeping your promises, listening to her thoughts and feelings, drying her tears with your shirt sleeve, responding with kindness and not anger, all the while cheering her on from the stands with no cell phone in hand to distract you from being fully present.  

Today is a new day. 

Hero training starts now.