On the day my first son was born eight years ago, I decided to write a book—a collection of heroes throughout history that would inspire him in his own life. Some are famous and some you may never have heard of, but all of the people I write about in Heroes for My Son have done such wonderful things with their lives that I am happy to consider them role models for my children.
The following are ten famous individuals I admire who are shining examples of how creativity, dedication, and perseverance can change your life.
For forty years, Fred Rogers used public television to teach kindness to children on his show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Did it work? After thieves stole Mr. Rogers’s car, the story was broadcast on TV and in newspapers. The car was returned two days later. The note in the car read: “If we’d known it was yours, we never would have taken it.”
Everyone told him not to follow his dream. His Aunt Mimi said music wasn’t a job. But he kept playing—until he was traveling around the world with his band The Beatles selling out arenas, singing about peace, and redefining what a rock star can shout about. By the time J. Edgar Hoover was tapping his phone and having him followed, John knew that there was only one way to deal with naysayers. You just have to keep singing your song.
Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel
Best friends Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel had a dream about a man who could fly. And at the brink of World War II, in the midst of the Great Depression, these two kids from Cleveland didn’t just give us the world’s first superhero; they gave us something to believe in. His name is Superman.
He is the most famous, successful, admired directors to ever work in film. He’s the visionary behind E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Schindler’s List. But the most important movies he’s helped create are ones that the fewest number of people will see: the nearly 52,000 videotaped testimonies from Holocaust survivors and other witnesses archived by his nonprofit organization, the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education.
When he was seventeen, way before he created The Muppets, Jim Henson was rejected from a job at a local TV station. While there, he saw a sign on a nearby bulletin board. The station was looking for a puppeteer. Jim went to the library, checked out a book on puppetry, built a few puppets, and returned to the station. “Now I am a puppeteer, will you hire me?” They gave him five minutes. It was all he needed.
Maybe it was the poverty—wearing potato sacks as dresses and keeping cockroaches as pets. Maybe it was running away from an abusive home, with no one to help her. Or maybe it was being told by her bosses to get plastic surgery, since her eyes were too far apart, her nose too flat, and her hair too “black.” But somewhere along the way, she came to a conclusion. She teaches it every day on her long-running talk show and we love her because she’s still learning it: The only person you ever need to be is yourself.
Theodor “Dr Seuss” Geisel
In the 1950s writer Theodor Seuss Geisel, pen name Dr. Seuss, thought the current crop of children’s book—Dick and Jane Stories—were “too nice.” Life magazine reported that those dull books were leading to massive literacy problems among kids. So he created his own book, one kids would actually want to read that included words they were learning in school. He called the book The Cat in the Hat and it sold nearly one million copies within three years. Today, his books have sold over 200 million copies.
On the week before Christmas, 1980 the world’s coolest man made a batch of salad dressing in his basement, stirring the tub with a canoe paddle. Even if the venture failed, it wouldn’t matter, the profits were going to charity. Dressings, popcorns, salsas, and $265 million later, movie star Paul Newman proved that true success doesn’t come from getting, it comes from giving.
No one floated faster. No one stung harder. No one taunted louder. And no one—black or white, activist or athlete—brought more beauty, grace, or personality to boxing. But what made Muhammad Ali the greatest? He was just being himself.
Five years after starting her story, she was convinced her novel wasn’t worth a damn. It was then that she threw open her window and tossed the manuscript out, scattering it in the filthy snow. In a fit, Harper Lee called her editor Tay Hohoff. No one knows what Hohoff said to her. But when Harper Lee hung up, she went outside, gathered the pages, and saved the manuscript. She revised and revised and revised—until To Kill a Mockingbird was ready. Lee introduced generations to moral hero Atticus Finch and ultimately won a Pulitzer Prize for her novel.
Originally published on Beliefnet
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