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12 Times Dads Were Real-Life Heroes

He may not wear a cape, but Dad can definitely save the day!

Courtesy Theodolphus Caldwell

He showed me how a man should treat a woman

“My dad is the definition of a hero—both as a veteran of the Air Force, where he worked to save lives every day, and as an example to me. When I was a little girl, my dad made it a part of our Saturday routine to share a banana split at our neighborhood Baskin Robbins. It wasn’t just about getting ice cream though. He would get me dressed up, pull my chair out for me, and basically show me how a gentleman should treat a lady. These daddy-daughter dates were the highlight of my weekends. I didn’t realize it then, but he was instilling in me a sense of self-worth and love that has stayed with me my whole life. My dad is the standard that I hold all other men to!” Vanessa Parker, founder of Pink Boss, Warner Robins, GA. Hint: It’s not just dads who worry about this stuff! Check out these 20 things your father-in-law wants you to know.

courtesy juan cubelos

My dad made me finish high school because he didn’t

“By the time I was a senior in high school I was basically over it. I’d been ‘homeschooling’ but really I just wasn’t doing anything and didn’t care if I graduated or not. But then I moved in with my dad and he decided I was going to get my degree and that was it. It was only seven months until graduation and I had nothing done, but he knew that I would need that diploma to be successful, and he wouldn’t let me fail. He signed me up for Utah Connections Academy, an online school, and pushed me to do it. He woke me up every morning and set a schedule where I did nothing but school for six hours a day, seven days a week. He checked all my homework and monitored my grades. He was pretty annoying, honestly, but I knew it was for the best. And hey, it worked. I got it all done and graduated with my class this month. I know he’s so proud of me and I’m proud of me too. Now I am applying to culinary schools to follow my dream of being a chef, and I know with the ‘get it done’ attitude I learned from him, I can do anything.” —Chase Cubelo, Moab, UT

courtesy Ann Hetzel

My dad was my invisible guardian angel

“My parents divorced when I was just four years old, and from that point on I rarely saw my dad. Both my parents remarried other people and I grew up thinking that he didn’t care much about me—that is until I got married. It was then that my stepmother said my mom had warned him to stay away from us kids, blocking him from seeing us. But he loved us so much that every morning he would drive and park across from a crosswalk near our elementary school. It was a very busy road and he never went to work until he made sure we all made it safely across and into school. He did this every day until we all finished grade school. None of us kids ever saw him at the time, but after my stepmom shared the story with us, I was so touched. My dad was far from perfect but I love that he watched over me and was with me, even when I didn’t know he was there.” —Ann Hetzel, Milwaukee, WI. Dads can be pretty sentimental too—just listen to these 20 dads on the best Father’s Day gifts they ever received.

courtesy Joci Smith

He stepped in as a surrogate father when my daughter needed one the most

“I’m a single mom and I’ve often worried that my daughter Cynthia is missing out, but my dad stepped in to be a father figure for her, making sure she had whatever she needed—right up until the day he died. I still come to tears remembering all the activities he’d do with her and the trips he’d take her on. Her favorite was when he taught her how to fish; those trips meant so much to her. It may seem like a small thing but being the ‘dad’ she never had and exposing her to new experiences changed her life. His dedication, love, and compassion for not just me but my children makes him a true hero in my eyes. I still miss him every day.” Joci Smith, pastry chef, Atlanta, GA

courtesy emily garrison

He rescued me from the high school mean girls

“During high school, I went to a sleepover party with the girls from my dance team—at least I thought they were my friends. After they thought I was asleep, they started saying the meanest things about me. I pretended I didn’t hear them but I was absolutely crushed. The next day, between sobs, I told my parents everything they said and that I didn’t want to go back to school where I’d have to see them. Obviously, I couldn’t drop out of school but my dad took my hurt feelings very seriously and dropped everything to whisk me off to a farm we owned in a different state. We spent several days together, just the two of us. I felt so loved. Not only did he get me away from those girls for a bit but he showed me that friends come and go but family is forever. I (mostly) forgot that awful time but I’ll never forget how much my dad loves me.” —Emily Garrison, Salt Lake City, UT. Want to show a little love to your papa? Try one of these 17 fun ideas to do with your dad.

courtesy mary smith

He helped me put my life back together after our home burned down

“Several years ago, I lost my house in a forest fire and with it, everything we owned. It was devastating. My dad came out to help as soon as he heard. He arrived before I knew how much our insurance company was going to cover so I wasn’t spending money on anything but absolute necessities. I remember we were at a store and he could see I had picked up and then reluctantly put back down a pair of running shoes. Running is my passion but I knew it wasn’t strictly ‘necessary.’ But before I knew it, my dad had bought the shoes for me along with any other gear I needed to get back out and running. It was something so small but he knew that it really was necessary for my survival. I realized how well my dad really knows me and cares about me.” —Mary Smith, Lodi, CA

Kissel photography/courtesy victoria phillips

He gave me the wedding of my dreams

“After I announced I was engaged, my dad decided to take a special work assignment in the Middle East. It didn’t give him a lot of time before the big day but he wanted to make sure I had enough money to have exactly the wedding I’ve always wanted. He would call me every weekend to talk about the wedding planning and how I was doing and everything. Of course, one of the only important things to me about that day was that he would be there! So when his return date was delayed, my now-husband knew I couldn’t walk down the aisle without him being there and said we would wait for him. Thankfully he made it on time (and said he was chilly in the 75-degree weather!) Our outdoor wedding was absolutely perfect thanks to him. He made everything work out, without me ever asking him to.” —Victoria Phillips, Denver, CO. For more fathers being awesome, check out these 14 short stories about inspiring dads.

courtesy Hubert Ross

He helped me reach my goal of becoming a lawyer

“When I learned that I didn’t pass the Bar Exam the first time around, my father was determined that it wouldn’t end my law career. Law school was already a huge expense—but he saw fit to save me. He found and paid for some of the top legal tutors and didn’t blink twice at the cost. Money could be seen as the blessing here but honestly, it goes so much deeper than finances. My father saw the light and passion for the law inside of me, even if I didn’t always see it in myself. Because of his constant belief in me I ultimately prevailed and now own my own law firm. He taught me how to be a leader and to this day I consider him one of my best friends.” Shequel Ross, attorney, Atlanta, GA

courtesy coral lee prickett

He may not have been my biological father but he was the best dad I could have asked for

“When I was three years old my father died. He left my mom, who was 25, to raise us four kids—all under nine years old—by herself. It was so hard on my mom, she had to do both jobs, working to support us but also making sure we were taken care of at home. Nearly a year later mom met a man by the name of Max Powell. He not only married my mom but us kids also. He loved us as his own and made sure we always had everything we needed. He gave up a lot to marry my mom knowing that he would never be able to father children of his own. Until the day he died, mom, us kids, and our families were the most important things in his life. I’ll always see him as my dad and my hero.” —Coral Lee Prickett, Westminster, CO

courtesy Michelle Swensen

He refused to let me be alone on my favorite holiday

“The Fourth of July has always been my favorite holiday. So, as a teen, when I had to get my wisdom teeth out on the third of July, the thing I was most upset about was having to miss out on fireworks and all the festivities. My mom and siblings went out to watch fireworks under the St. Louis Arch but even though I was old enough to stay home alone, my dad offered to stay with me. We watched the fireworks together on the TV while he brought me soft foods to eat and we just hung out together. It’s one of my favorite memories of my dad and of my favorite holiday.” —Shelly Swensen, Fenton, MO. Not sure how to put your feelings into words? Try these 50 amazing quotes about dads.

courtesy Michelle Stilley

He saved me from drowning

“When I was young, one of my favorite activities was to tube down a local river. The best (and scariest) part was the cement chute that would spit us out at the end. One day I decided to go down the river by myself; I’d done it many times and wasn’t worried. But this time was different. The current sucked me under the water, pinning me under the bottom of the cement slide. All I remember was feeling so helpless and trapped, and then a giant hand reached down, grabbed me by the hair, and yanked me out of the water. To this day I don’t know how he knew I was there. At the time I didn’t realize the seriousness of my situation and was just really mad that he’d pulled my hair so hard. But as an adult, and a mom myself, now I realize he saved my life. He’ll always be my hero!” —Michelle Stilley, Omaha, NE

courtesy Katie Huffman

He never made me feel dumb for making mistakes

“When I was a teenager and still a new driver, I decided to get my car washed. I pulled up to the car wash, put my car in park and proceeded to get out to go get car wash tokens, while my car was still running. Not thinking, I shut the door and walked away to get the coins. I walked back and after a few seconds of pure horror, I realized I’d locked my keys in the car. The first thing that popped into my mind was to call my dad; I knew he would help me. I went to use a pay phone but didn’t have any change because, duh, it was all in the car. So I called him collect. Not only did he accept the expensive call but he did it without hesitation and was there in 15 minutes with my spare key. And he didn’t even tease me about locking the keys in my car. My dad died a month ago of kidney cancer, and it’s memories like this that make me realize he was my hero not just that day, but every day in so many little ways.” —Katie Huffman, Arvada, CO. Dads are the best—here are some Father’s Day gift ideas you didn’t know you needed.