My Dad, My Hero: What My Father Taught Me About Overcoming Adversity

by Brandon Highwood

Hardship can, and will, happen; none of us are immune to it.

The toughest situations will always find a way to weave themselves into our lives, regardless of whether or not we have any control over them.

And, while these moments have the potential to tear us down, they also have the ability to inspire us like nothing else ever could.

When I was 9 years old, I encountered one of the scariest situations of my entire life.

It was a matter entirely out of my hands, and it was equally as terrifying as it was sudden.

That being said, it also gave me a new kind of perspective on life I could not have gotten any other way.

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a tight-knit family. I had one older brother and an incredible set of parents.

As an active family, we were always on the move: weekend camping trips to Kentucky and Tennessee, tee-ball and hockey leagues and afternoon bowling and go-kart competitions.

You name it, we did it.

Growing up, I saw it as having my role models -- the three most important people in my life -- right there with me wherever I went.

My dad was a pretty big guy, about 6'1" and 225 pounds.

He spent a few years in the US Army as an airborne sniper, but aside from a faded tattoo easily hidden by a shirt sleeve, that side of him was trumped by a calming demeanor and a great sense of humor.

Make no mistake about it, however: If there was one thing that could get him fired up, it was his innate ability to always protect his family.

On my fifth birthday, he took me to see my very first Reds game; as a surprise, we went to see "Power Rangers Live" after that.

During an interactive portion of the show, he felt that one of the spandex-wearing super villains was getting a bit too close to his youngest son, and proceeded to floor him with a stiff-arm that could have rivaled an Emmitt Smith highlight tape.

So, there's that.

I looked up to my dad in every aspect of life. In my eyes, he was the best man on the face of the planet. He worked hard, but he would always make time to talk to me, take me and my brother to the park or teach us something new.

He was the kind of dad who would make the two of us watch him fix things around the house so we would know how to do it in the future.

My brother and I were involved in several different clubs and sports throughout our childhoods, and my dad somehow managed to coach us through every single one of them.

Literally, he was always our head coach.

From teaching me how to throw a spiral to showing me how to properly cast a line, he was there with a big smile and all the patience in the world.

But, this is a story of adversity.

I remember my dad telling my mom he had been feeling weak at times, and he was unsure why. At the time, I didn't think twice about it.

After all, he was still the invincible superhero I knew, and we were still the same crazy family that had taken a weekend trip to Universal Studios Florida just a few months earlier.

About a week later, my dad woke up to find he had lost all feeling in his legs.

There I was, a 9-year-old kid who could never seem to keep his mouth shut, and suddenly, I was in a confused state of pure silence.

I had no idea what to think.

A few days before, I was watching my dad steal third in a backyard kickball game, and now he couldn't walk. What was happening? Why was it happening?

I remember the four of us piling into the car to go see a specialist and find out the severity of whatever was going on.

I was still so confused. I hadn't quite pieced everything together yet, and I was too scared to ask questions.

Once we got there, my brother and I sat in the waiting room. I remember watching through a big glass window while my parents spoke with the doctor inside a small, white-walled office.

I couldn't hear what they were saying, but I could tell by the expression on my mother's face she was either scared or upset. That's when I knew; that's when all the pieces came crashing together.

I'll never forget the moment my parents called us into that room.

They stayed calm, but there was no hiding the obvious pain they both had written on their faces. Whatever this was, it was not going to be good news.

"It's called transverse myelitis. It's not going to get any better, but it won't get any worse. Your dad is okay, but he is going to have to use a wheelchair from now on."

I never knew so many emotions could rush through your body at once, each one as intense as the last. An hour ago, I was confused; twenty minutes ago, I was scared. Now, I was furious.

No, not this. Not my dad. How is he going to play basketball with us? How is he going to help us put up the Christmas lights?

It was selfish, but I didn't care.

When my dad finally spoke, that selfishness evaporated in an instant.

"Are my boys going to be okay?"

Here was this man who had just found out he would never walk again — the kind of news that held enough weight to break someone down in every way possible; yet, his very first thought was to ask the doctor if it was hereditary and whether or not my brother and I were at risk.

At that moment, I knew what it felt like to witness a truly selfless act. And, honestly, I don’t know why it took me nine years to realize it because that was just the kind of guy my dad was.

Through anything, whether it was good or bad, all he ever wanted was the best for his family. And, that’s why he was, and always will be, my hero.

Within three months, my dad had started support groups for both transverse myelitis awareness and disabled veterans.

Two months after that, he decided to get himself back into sports, and he competed in his first wheelchair tennis tournament.

He finished as the top seed, winning it all. I had never been more proud to be a ball boy in my life.

Life gave my dad an unexpected and devastating blow.

But, by realizing he had a loving and supportive family, and by choosing to stay positive and tackle it head on, it never changed the man he was (aside from being a new recipient of incredible parking spaces and immediate entry to amusement park rides, but I digress).

Through my father’s actions, I learned at an early age we are only as strong as the will we have within us.

Life isn’t fair, and we have to be able to adjust accordingly.

We have to realize that with every opportunity to lie down and give up, there’s also an opportunity to stay positive and push forward.

When we are met with adversity, we just have to fight through it, adapt and overcome.