Wissot: All of my heroes have been women (column)
All of Willie Nelson’s heroes were cowboys. All of mine have been women.
It may seem strange to you that I have chosen only women for an honor unfairly and inaccurately assigned to men. When we think of heroes, we often think of acts of bravery involving physical courage and risk to one’s life. That is why soldiers, police officers, firefighters and emergency responders, who put themselves in harm’s way, are natural candidates for heroic acknowledgement.
And while that is true for the brave souls who protect us and take risks we choose not to, it is not representative of the kind of courage most of us, male and female, are called upon to display in our less dangerous lives. For us, acting heroically means overcoming emotional fears and persisting in the face of significant adversity.
The heroism practiced by ordinary men and women is not as suspenseful and fraught with peril as is the bravery displayed by our finest in uniform. But that doesn’t mean it is any less worthy or laudatory.
Take my mother, for instance. She never fought on a battlefield, arrested criminals or rescued people from burning buildings, but what she did for me was terribly heroic: She saved my life.
You see, I was what can best be described as an unruly misfit, a rebel without a cause. I smoked and drank when I was 13, had my first sexual encounter at 14, stole hubcaps off of cars, made horrible grades in school and lacked any meaningful direction in my life. You might say I was negatively precocious; or, as my mother told me many times, “You may not be headed for prison, but you certainly are headed for no good.”
So why was my mother a hero to me? Simple. She believed in me before I believed in myself. That is the greatest gift a parent can give to a child. She gave me hope that what I thought was impossible could be possible.
By the time I was 18, I had straightened up and begun to fly right, so to speak. Rescuing somebody from emotional miasma may not be worthy of a program on cable, but I would gladly and gratefully award my mother the Medal of Honor for saving me from myself.
My wife is another one of my heroes. We have been married for 22 years and as is true for many couples, it hasn’t always been easy. I have suffered from depression really all my life. My father suffered from it. His mother did. His sister did. Depression ran in my family. Only we never called it depression back then. We labeled it as mood swings. I’ve always been one bad mood away from pessimism and two bad moods away from despair.
My wife put up with my depression as best she could. At its worst, she swore she loved me but couldn’t live with me anymore. She offered to move across the street so we could still be together, just not in the same house. God bless her. She stuck it out with me until I finally sought psychiatric treatment six years into our marriage.
Through the “miracle” of therapy and Wellbutrin, I was able to achieve a modicum of emotional stability. Ten years later, when I relapsed, Zoloft was added to my daily medication. The medication helped regulate my moods but would not have been enough to maintain my sanity. I needed my wife’s unwavering support. She made me feel loved. Unconditionally loved. Sadly, I was ill equipped then to reciprocate. That’s why she was heroic and I was not. Heroes can do what lesser mortals like me can’t.
My last set of heroes is my daughters. My daughters were a product of my first marriage, which lasted 13 years. Many of my problems that I have already alluded to were clearly present in that marriage. It ended badly because of me. My kids were 8 and 10 at the time.
Children don’t ask their parents to divorce. Except in cases of acute parental abuse, why would they? Kids don’t hope their parents will allow them to visit one of their parents on the weekends; kids don’t dream of wanting to feel divided in their loyalties to their parents; kids don’t wish to be part of an emotional drama not of their own making; kids are asked to make the best of what their parents have chosen to do with their marriage. I don’t blame kids for not liking it. Why should they?
My daughters did not come out of the divorce unscathed. But they did emerge resilient. They have both managed to enjoy successful careers, handle relationships better than their parents did and exhibit far more maturity than I was able to when I was their age. In short, they have overcome their fears and dealt with adversities not because of me but in spite of me. They are heroic, in my estimation, because they didn’t allow a disturbed father and a disrupted childhood to spoil the satisfactions of adulthood.
So there you have it. These are the women who are my heroes. If you don’t like it, then let me know. I’ll be happy to step outside and settle it man to man.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail.
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