My wife always said her dad was like Superman to her.
A couple of Christmases ago, I gave him a Superman animated bust that I scored at a Nerdist secret Santa party (knowing that my then-editor Brian Walton would have shopped well, I deliberately picked out his gift). It's still here, in-package, in his former office (his wife, like mine - her daughter - is a doll collector who taught him to keep toys in-box. I alone in the family ignore this). He naturally denied that he was Superman, but he did see himself sometimes as the hero who could save people, and should whenever it was possible. Unlike most people who look at themselves that way, his was a perception extremely well-earned.
I'll never have his skill-set. But my skills, such as they are, come with the written word. And it's the least I can do to apply them to the man I had the pleasure of knowing for too few years.
Julia likes to sometimes chide me with the South Park-ish moniker of "liberal hippie douche." I fit that bill in many respects; so much so that most people who found out I was going to have a career military father-in-law imagined some R. Lee Ermey-like horror story...or Meet the Parents. My father's family hails from Virginia, where the military often seems like an extension of virulent killjoy conservatism of the social variety; my dad himself was a conscientious objector to the draft, honorably discharged. John, Julia's father, lied about his age to go to Vietnam early; he became a Green Beret and was later recruited for more covert activities at higher levels, serving under multiple presidents until Carter downsized intelligence operations, and later rehired by Reagan, for whom he had worked security as California governor (and accidentally pulled a gun on when he caught the future president getting up suspiciously early to make coffee for everyone).
I was a twice-Nader voter with tattooed arms and back. You can see how, on paper, this might seem like a flammable match-up.
And then you'd be amazed by how it never was. I have friends all across the spectrum of beliefs and practices; despite what the media likes to tell you, I firmly believe that people of integrity can recognize each other even when they may come from vastly different places. John liked to tell people that I was Julia's first boyfriend that he didn't have to run a background check on; I learned from him that the military I had once seen as a homogenized war-making conspiracy was, like everything else, an organization of fallible human beings who sometimes made mistakes but had the highest aspirations. Just as my mind changed on many things knowing him, his changed visibly as I knew him, with his stance on gay marriage particularly evolving as the ban on out service members was lifted. Of course, being a dad, he would say that in fact he hadn't changed, but we just misunderstood him the first time.
In keeping with his wishes, I will not post his picture online; here, instead, is the closest pop-culture facsimile.
Imagine Pops Muppet as a human and you're pretty close.
John was what I would call an Eisenhower Republican - convinced people could take better care of themselves with less constricting governmental regulation, yet believing that government had no place in social issues like abortion, and did in fact have a mandate to help the less-fortunate. He was certainly no tie-wearing sociocon - he rarely took off his cowboy boots for anybody, and had no qualms about offending people who he felt deserved it. He met his wife Martha while she, a uniformed LAPD officer, was busting a drunk on skid row; as the suspect reached for what could have been a weapon, he stomped on the guys hand. She stomped harder and broke his foot, later finding out that he was her superior officer and now wanted to ask her out.
The day the towers fell on 9-11, he was reactivated by the government, to be frequently sent overseas into countries that may or may not have names that end in "stan." He should have been way past retirement age, but remembering the veterans who taught him the guerilla tactics to survive in Vietnam, he felt obliged to pass that on to a newer generation less familiar. He was one of the men who trained Seal Team 6 before they got Osama, and he owned a flask given to him from one of the guys who was later killed in a helicopter ambush. Though career army, he trained Marines, taking no small pleasure in the notion that this partly proved in his mind that army was better. Framed on the wall in this office is a death-threat letter from the Taliban, telling him - who had a fake passport at the time from a fictional country - that they would kill him if he were seen associating with Americans again.