I was four years old, proudly standing with my pristinely curled pigtails and holding a sign almost bigger than I was when I waited for my dad to come home from serving in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. I was too young to know why he was gone for so long or to appreciate the sacrifices he was making every time he went to work. All I remember thinking was that I hoped he liked the dot-squiggle-dot pattern on my poster that my mom showed me how to do. I got my picture taken for the newspaper that day, and for many years that signified what I thought it meant to be the daughter of a firefighter: getting to sit in cool trucks and becoming “famous” for having a dad with a unique job.

Little did I know, having a firefighter as a dad has come to mean so much more. I was automatically exposed to an ideal example of bravery, sacrifice, and service, which shaped how I learned to overcome obstacles and go through life. I might not be fighting fires, but my dad was the one who taught me the value of rescuing those in need. I have grown to love going on mission trips, and even though I sometimes get scared to go into an unfamiliar environment to love and care for strangers, the impact I see in the lives of the people I meet is far greater than the amount of bravery it took to get there.

Sometimes, my dad has to miss things in my life. School dances, award ceremonies, cheer competitions, and even simple things like family dinners are all times I know he wishes he could be with me. But never once have I mistaken his selflessness for neglect. Instead, I am constantly in awe of his commitment to a job that needs him—a job he loves—in order to provide for me and help everyone he can. It is this selflessness that I strive to model my life after, as I believe there is no greater way to love than to put others’ needs first. In a way, my dad’s ability to sacrifice has taught me how to do the same; I might not get to see my dad every day, but it allows me to truly appreciate the days when he is home, or when he can make it to an event. My dad has shown me not to take things for granted—a skill that applies to every aspect of my life.

I come from a legacy of firefighters, my dad and grandpa being two of them. I have been raised around men whose values are integrated into their occupation, which makes me want the same for myself. In the future, I want a job that combines my passions for English and learning with my desire to make an impact, because I have witnessed how vital it is to have enthusiasm and pride in what I do. Though being a teacher isn’t the same as being a firefighter, my dad has shown me how universal these characteristics are. He demonstrates what it means to balanced, living out the traits of a firefighter on the job, but also in his role as father, husband, and friend—a feat. I believe is just as important.

It is clear that the story of my life isn’t solely about me; it is about everyone who has impacted me, even in the littlest of ways. And because of this, my story is largely about my dad—a hero who I am incredibly thankful for. A hero who has stood as an example, showing me how to lead a life of integrity and honor. A hero who shows me the importance of loving what I do and having a reason behind each of my actions. Not only is my dad a hero, but he is my hero. To me, being the daughter of my hero means modeling my life after him, because what better way is there to thank my dad than by making him proud of who I have become since I was that little girl, standing with a poster, ready to welcome him home.