I always have been intrigued by the term "unsung hero."
I suppose it is because I find it to be a bit redundant, since singing one's praises is antithetical to true heroism. Granted, we certainly live in a culture that encourages us to announce our good deeds like an amateur opera singer warming up for a performance with a chorus of "me, me, me, meee." But clearly, real self-sacrifice leaves no time for self-promotion.
I was reminded of this conundrum a few days ago while working with the staff at the National Fatherhood Initiative to prepare for our annual Military Fatherhood Awards ceremony, which will be held June 9 in the District.
This year, we had more than 600 nominations from every branch of the military. One candidate, U.S. Navy Chief Quartermaster John Lehnen, stood out in the midst of a very impressive and deserving pool. John, who has 10 years of military service, is a devoted husband and father of four special-needs children and has shown extraordinary dedication to his family and country.
John has been passionately involved in his children's lives. When Kathryne (now 8) and triplets Lindsey, Jacob, and Isaac (now 5) were born prematurely, John visited them in the NICU every day. In the following years, Jacob underwent multiple neurosurgeries, the kids went through various rehabilitation therapies and his wife, Jennifer, had major surgery. Somehow, John managed to be present for each event while fulfilling a rigorous military schedule. Over the years, John has always made time to correct homework assignments, play, read books, provide love and support, and be an exemplary role model to his children.
Prior to deployment, John spends time helping the kids to process their fears and concerns about him leaving, and he works hard to stay close during separation. He videotapes himself reading the kids' favorite books, helps them decorate a "daddy jar" filled with special gifts for each day he is deployed, and regularly sends postcards and e-mails to simply say, "I'm thinking of you and I love you." In the weeks after homecoming, John sits down with each child to review the journals they kept while he was gone.
While devoted to his family, John also cares deeply about his fellow sailors and their families. He encourages sailors to participate in the United Through Reading campaign and family readiness groups. When sailors deploy, he offers ideas to keep them engaged with their families. He is usually the first person to offer a meal, child care for an evening or an ear for a family in need. John also serves his fellow sailors as an alcohol and drug abuse management supervisor and a morale, welfare and recreation fund custodian.
As a testament to his military service, John has received multiple awards, including Sailor of the Quarter and Navy-Corps Achievement and Commendation Medals. The greatest compliment to John, however, is what his wife and children have to say about him. Jennifer told us, "I am honored and blessed to call John my husband. His perseverance and dedication to our family have enabled us to triumph over the many obstacles we have faced." When asked what makes their father so special, the Lehnen children said, "Daddy helps people every day, but he always has time to play and read with us. Daddy teaches us things we need to know when we grow up to be good people and do good things for our friends and family!"
I learned a long time ago that the truest measure of a man, a father and a hero is not what he does for himself but rather what he does for others. Indeed, John "measures up" on all fronts. Sometimes, we honor the least those who do the most for us. Not this time. For all that John has done and continues to do, I salute him, and I suspect that you do as well. Indeed, John is unsung no more.
• Roland C. Warren is the married father of two sons and president of the National Fatherhood Initiative (www.fatherhood.org). His Pop's Culture column appears on the first Sunday of the month in the Sunday Family Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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