When Brad Meltzer's first son was born, Meltzer asked himself what kind of man he wanted his son to become.
To help his son along, he wrote "Heroes for My Son," a collection of short vignettes about great men and women in history who inspire courage and character -- traits Meltzer hoped to pass along to his son.
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Read an excerpt of the book below, and then head to the "GMA" Library to find more good reads.
I was stuck at a red light. It wasn't a particularly long light. But I remember the moment because it was dark and it was quiet?the first moment of quiet on the day my son, Jonas, was born.
And there I was, stuck at this red light.
It was one of those moments where you sit outside your body -- like your first kiss, or that first time someone in your family dies -- and you're looking down, knowing that the moment is so personally vital, the only way to comprehend it is to witness it from somewhere else.
So as I sat there, gripping the steering wheel of our little banged-up car, I remember looking up at the crisp black sky and thinking of this baby boy we were just blessed with. That's when it hit me -- and when I asked myself the question for the very first time: What kind of man did I want my son to be?
I have three children now. I've long ago realized I have little say in the matter.
But I still love that moment. That pure, beautiful moment where you get to think of your newborn child, and every door and every possibility is just waiting there, perfectly open. You can dream as big as you want in that moment. That baby of yours may be the future President of the United States, or a creative genius, or a big thinker, or best yet, the kind of person who leaves the world better than he found it.
It's a moment where there are no limits or detours or any of the restrictions that reality eventually brings. And it was in that moment of unbridled love and pure naïveté that this book was born.
I decided right there that I'd write this book over the course of my son's life -- that I'd fill it with advice and good ideas. I started that very night, writing the instructions that he needed to be a good man:
1. Love God.
2. Be nice to the fat kid in class.
The plan was that I'd add more ideas throughout his lifetime, and then one day when he was older, he'd thank me, realizing what a brilliant father I was (I'd assumed Cat Stevens would be playing in the background. Norman Rockwell would of course be resurrected to paint the moment).
It was the day my son was born. I'm allowed mushy.
And so, on that day, I began this book.
Of course, it was crap.
Sure, there was some good advice in there. But most of it was just sentimental manure -- the ramblings of someone who clearly had never been a parent. I mean, did I really think that if I said, "Be good," my son would be good?
So I started thinking of my own life: Where did I learn kindness? Who taught me about the benefits of patience? I didn't have to look far. Sure, my Mom and Dad laid the foundation. But when I thought of my first real hero, it was my grandfather, Ben Rubin.
When I was little, my grandfather knew I loved hearing Batman stories, so he'd always tell me this one story that went like this: "Batman and Robin were in the Batmobile. And they were riding along the edge of a curving cliff. And up ahead of them was a white van, which held the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler, and Catwoman. And as they drove along this cliff, Batman and Robin caught them."
That's when I'd look him right in the eyes and whisper, "Tell it again."
He'd smile at me and say, "Batman and Robin were in the Batmobile. And they were riding along the edge of a curving cliff…"
And when it was done, I'd say, "Tell it again."
And he would.
It was the same story every time. Just four sentences long. Batman and Robin were in the Batmobile… But he told me this story over and over simply because he knew I loved hearing it.
That's a hero to me.
In that action, he taught me about love and compassion and dedication. He taught me the power of creativity. He opened the first window of my imagination. And most of all, as I looked back on it, he showed me the true impact of a well-told story.
That's what I wanted for my son.
From there, I started looking for more heroes. I wanted to hear their stories -- the ones no one knew. It made sense to me -- especially since, as a parent, the only lesson we ever teach is the one that comes from example.
One of the first stories I heard was about the Wright Brothers. A friend told me that every day Orville and Wilbur Wright went out to fly their plane, they would bring enough materials for multiple crashes. That way, when they crashed, they could rebuild the plane and try again. Think about it a moment: every time they went out -- every time -- they knew they were going to fail. But that's what they did: Crash and rebuild. Crash and rebuild. And that's why they finally took off.
I loved that story. I still love that story. And that's the kind of story I wanted my son to hear: a story that wouldn't lecture to him, but would show him that if he was determined…if he wasn't afraid to fail…if he had persistence (and a side order of stubbornness), the impossible becomes possible.
Since that time, I've been collecting heroes and their stories for my son (though of course, every hero in here is heroic for both boys and girls alike. Every single one.). There are thousands of heroes. And I think that's what I like best. There is proof -- absolute proof -- everywhere. Look around at any life and you'll find examples of charity and honesty, leadership and humility, tenacity and dignity. These are the tools I want my sons to have. Indeed, as this book got started, it became even more important as my younger son, Theo, was born. I want these tools for Theo too.
Does that mean every hero in the world is in here? Of course not. I purposely left out most religious leaders so there'd be no battling among faiths.
You'll see heroes you know, like Jim Henson and Eleanor Roosevelt. There are others who are not as well known, like Frank Shankwitz and Barbara Johns. And there are others who seem almost ridiculously obvious, like George Washington or Rosa Parks. But to be clear, this is not a book about fame. Thomas Jefferson isn't in here just because he wrote the Declaration of Independence. He's in here because he didn't publicize that fact (indeed, it didn't become common knowledge that he was the author until years after he was president), showing the kind of modesty that I want my sons to know about.
Before each hero is a piece of related advice -- from strangers, from friends, from whomever I could find good life counsel. At my highest aspiration, this isn't a book about how to be remembered -- it's a book about how we live our lives and what we are capable of on our very best days.
Is that schmaltzy and naive? I hope so. Because I want my sons to learn those things too.
We all are who we are -- until that moment when we strive for something greater.
In the end, I suppose there are easier ways to share life's most valuable lessons with my sons. There were moments where I thought about doing it Mr. Miyagi style and teaching it through karate. But I don't know karate. And so I do the only thing I know how to do: I tell a story. Just like my grandfather taught me all those years ago.
- Brad Meltzer
Fort Lauderdale, Florida 2009
The Wright Brothers
Innovators, Inventors of the world's first flying machine - 1903
When it was time to try building the first flying machine, the Smithsonian Institution had incredible resources and millions in funding. Bicycle salesmen Orville and Wilbur Wright had the paper airplane their father gave them as children and a dream that they refused to give up on. Guess who won?
Every day, they knew they'd fail.
Every time they'd go out to fly -- every time -- they brought extra materials because they knew their fledgling design would crash.
Crash and rebuild. Crash and rebuild.
But never ever, ever give up.
"If we worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true really is true, then there would be little hope for advance." – Orville Wright
Designer, My Mom
It was the worst day of my professional life.
My publisher was shutting down, and we had no idea if another publisher would take over my contract.
This was terrifying to me. I was wracked with fear, feeling like I was watching my career deteriorate.
But as I shared my fears with my mother, her reaction was instantaneous:
"I'd love you if you were a garbage man."
It wasn't anything she practiced. It was just her honest feelings at that moment.
To this day, every day that I sit down to write, I say those words to myself -- "I'd love you if you were a garbage man" -- soaking in the purity and selflessness of that love from my mother.
Her name was Teri Meltzer. And Theo, she's the woman you're named after.
"Now you'll understand how I love you." – Teri Meltzer, said to me when each of my children was born.
"Not everyone is nice like that." - The receptionist in my Mom's doctor's office, when she heard my Mom had died from breast cancer.
Always remember: The truth is what people say behind your back.