A Hero’s Journey

They will soar on wings like eagles

They will run and not grow weary

They will walk and not grow faint

Isaiah 40:31

He never wanted to make history, he just wanted to fly. My father, Frederick L. Parker, Jr., was born June 25, 1920, the third of six children. He grew up on the south side of Chicago, but his parents owned a farm in Cassopolis, Michigan where the family vacationed. During his youth he loved nothing more than spending lazy summer afternoons, lying on his back, gazing toward the sky in the meadow near the farmhouse. Hands cupped over his forehead to shield his eyes from the sun, he watched birds flying overhead, soaring, dipping and diving for hours at a time. “What freedom!” he thought. He tried to imagine what it would be like to be as free as those birds. My father’s dream was to someday become an aviator.

When he graduated from junior college he was not yet 21, so he had to get his father’s permission to enlist in the Illinois National Guard and attend Officer’s Candidate School. He was later commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army Air Corps. In 1943 he attended pilot training at Tuskegee Airfield in Alabama as part of an “experiment” to train African American fighter pilots.  Graduates of his class of 1944 were an integral part of the infamous 332nd fighter group called the Red-Tail Angels.

At that time the United States armed forces were racially segregated. The military propaganda was that African American pilots were unfit for anything but the lowest ranks of military service. A report issued by the war college in 1925 stated that Black pilots were not smart enough or disciplined enough to fly combat aircraft. The pilot training program, known as the Tuskegee Experiment, was in actuality designed to prove that the military propaganda of the day was factual.

In spite of the obstacles they faced, these men refused to accept the limitations others tried to place on them. To them, every obstacle they faced was just another door to be opened. The Red-Tails flew hundreds of successful missions as bomber escorts over North Africa and Europe, eventually gaining the respect and admiration of the military brass…the same people who questioned their ability and doubted their courage.

Rather than chasing after and downing enemy aircraft for their own personal glory, these pilots had a reputation for staying with the bombers they were assigned to safeguard. As they flew through enemy territory they risked their own lives to protect the lives of others. It is a matter of record: the Red-Tail Angels never lost a single bomber assigned to them. Once they appeared as escorts, the bomber pilots and crews knew without a doubt that they would be protected from enemy fire.

The Tuskegee Airmen fought a war on two fronts. They helped to destroy Adolph Hitler’s regime, defeating Nazi tyranny.  At the same time they helped end racial segregation in the armed services.  These men wanted both the freedom to fly, and the freedom to fight for their country. In the process, they helped to end oppression abroad as well as at home. They weren’t trying to make history; they were trying to make a difference. By remaining true to their hearts and to their calling, they changed the world.

As far as I know my father never once stepped onto a yoga mat. Yet it is through his example that I learned what living yoga off the yoga mat really means. It’s about attitudes and actions that keep you focused, calm, and non-reactive in the face of life’s challenges. It’s about doing what’s right, not what’s easy. He did this throughout his military career by valiantly fighting, at his own peril, for freedoms that were not always granted to him because it was the right thing to do. He demonstrated courage by standing up for and insisting on equal treatment for all, even in the face of overwhelming opposition. He proved that obstacles are overcome by committing to relentlessly following  your purpose, no matter who or what opposes you. He demonstrated that living life heroically means living life authentically and facing your fears head on, everyday, with an open heart.

Here’s how you can become a hero in your own life and change the world.

To live life fully we are called to live a life of service to others. Ask yourself each day upon awakening, what difference you want to make in someone else’s life. It doesn’t have to be a monumental difference. It could be something as simple as offering a listening ear to a friend in need, making a phone call to someone you’ve been thinking about, or running an errand for a neighbor.

Rather than focusing on what you may be getting out of a relationship, or a situation, shift your focus to what you have to give and offer that. Do this without the expectation of a return.

Do not let limitations or barriers keep you from pursuing your dreams. No achievement comes without obstacles. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and continue moving toward your goal. Remember no effort you make goes unrewarded. Keep looking for a job if you’re unemployed. Keep applying to schools until you’re admitted. Finish what you start. Don’t give up.

When you know someone has been wronged, or treated unfairly, instead of looking the other way, for fear of others’ disapproval, stand up for what you know is right.

Most of us will never be called upon to put our lives on the line for a person, a cause, or a purpose, but we are called on to live our lives authentically. Only you and you alone can know what that means, but whatever it means, find the courage to be true to it and you will be living life heroically.


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10 responses to “A Hero’s Journey

  1. please contact me i am Ruth Parker granddaughter of William Parker who is the baby brother of Fredrick L. Parker (Fred jr.) if were talking about the same person than were kin, and also descendants of the Great Commanche Indian Chief Quanah Parker. My grandfather is from the southside of Chicago,il (so am I) but I currently live in Louisiana. My grandfather william parker was the baby boy & his siblings are: Fredrick L. Parker(Fred Jr.),Alan Parker, Kenny Parker, Patricia Parker/Joules (poet), wilda Parker. my grandfathers parents are Fredrick L. Parker & his mother name is berniece c. kennedy/parker by marriage. i am currently studying towards a Master’s degree in public policy at Grambling State Univ. My grandfather’s father Fredrick had my granpa at 60yr.s old all of his siblings were grown when he was born. my grandfather died in 2008 covert, mi. please contact me ruthparker32yahoo.com or facebook under Ruth Parker. may God Bless you!

  2. This is my first visit to your site, but will return when time allows to finish reading your posts. Your blog is a real page turner, drawing me in for more.

  3. “If I could tell the story with words, I wouldn’t have to lug a camera around”… Lewis Hines

    Dr. Parker
    Thanks for your service! You do such a fantastic job sharing your stories, wisdom, & insight. The image of your father & the other airmen helps provide a visual of their inner strength, desires, and accomplishments as individuals & as Americans. They look great and it makes me feel proud. Thank you for sharing & inspiring me.

  4. I needed this message today and I opened it just at the right time. Your father’s journey is incredible. Thank you for sharing his story as historical evidence of our stories and the universal guidance that comes from them. Keep writing. I look forward to what the universe brings to me from you! Peace & Blessings!

  5. Tom Johnson MD, MBA

    What a wonderful legacy of intelligence, courage and strength!
    I particularly enjoyed their view of every obstacle as just another door in the way to be opened

  6. Thank you. Once again you have given us a road map for how to achieve our goals, connect to our deepest desires and replace fear with courage.

  7. This post was truly inspired, and in turn inspires me. Thank you! And uh . . . isn’t that what you just said above? You really walk the walk . . . but you always have. Love that!

  8. Gail, I continue to find inspiration in your writing. I think of you often, remembering the joy and commitment you bring to your practice. Miss you! xoxo

  9. Jason Parker Johnson

    My favorite line in this post is “He just wanted to fly.” Its the literal truth and a great metaphor. It says that being a hero is, and comes from, living your life to the fullest. It says that putting one foot in front of the other is how everyone can learn to ‘fly’. Its perfectly stated to facilitate the simple and profound understanding of taking yoga off your mat. Thank you!

  10. Amen Gail! You’ve hit the nail on the head once again my dear! Bless you!

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