In search of heroes

There has been a palpable shift in my household in the last year. Three boys have gone off into the world, leaving a girl as the eldest at home. Then there are two more boys, then three more girls.

We have a mostly girl house now.

And yet, I find myself thinking even more about boys - because, well, as girls grow they start thinking about boys. Suddenly, I am aware that other people's boys are going to figure heavily into my days for the foreseeable future. My big boys text me from afar, checking in, sharing their days, telling tales, confiding secrets. All their information passes through a new filter - these are the boys in the lives of someone else's daughter. It's not that I never considered that before. I've prayed for the women who will one day marry my sons. (Sometimes, I've even apologized in advance.) I've prayed for the parents of those one-day wives as well.

But this is different somehow. As my daughter sits on the edge of my bed late into the night and we talk about those qualities that make a man a good husband, I want to call my big boys back. I want to be certain that they know. I want to ensure that they are the heroes in another girl's story. Because it's increasingly obvious that heroes are in short supply. I want those boys to know that a young woman, lovely in the evening light, has a precious heart. I want them to love well.

This is a harsh culture in which to become a man. Our vision of godly manhood has been distorted in the glare of screens. Conversations are hurried and stilted, limited by the six seconds and the 30 characters on a Snapchat screen. Those short snippets of communication make 140 character Tweets look like a luxury. Did I remember to tell the boys to pull off the online highway frequently? Do they know that true friendships deepen and grow when you hear a voice, or better still, look into someone else's eyes? The heroes? They aren't likely to be captured inside an iPhone. They are larger than life. The heroes show up for real.

The story of the true life hero isn't a fairytale at all. It's a God story. A genuine hero knows that harmony and wholeness don't come at the wave of a magic wand. It begins when he walks hand in hand with Jesus and then invites a girl to come along. Could she be the one to introduce him to Jesus? Sure. But sooner than later, he needs to walk the walk for himself. That path is where he learns that to be mighty means to kneel low, to serve, to give until it hurts. The boys who are real men, heroic men, want to change the culture by loving the least of these. They seek the sacrifice of the altar instead of the sound of applause.

As we talk late, the light catches her hair and is cast over the fine chisel of her cheekbones, and I'm startled. Where did the round baby face go? The girl who swung from trees and scoffed at the princesses in fairy tales, the one who was wedged in the middle of all those boys - she's a young woman now. The education of a sister in the middle of all the boys has served her well. She doesn't miss a trick. She knows a hero when she sees one.

She knows that Prince Charming doesn't come galloping on a white horse. She knows she's strong and capable and not in need of rescuing. She knows too, that there are real life heroes out there - young men who are bold and unafraid and virtuous and strong in all the right places. Most importantly, she knows that her hero is not perfect. We are all broken. We are all desperately in need of a savior. Even the heroes - maybe especially the heroes - are better and more equipped to answer the call when they are fortified by the encouragement and prayers of the kind and true girl.

Foss, whose website is elizabethfoss.com, is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015

@elizabethfoss