Posted by: tommybrennan | February 8, 2012

In Praise of Hephaestus

In the Greek Pantheon, there are some names that command attention.  After all, they are deities, so it is natural to notice them.  I was a lover of Greek Mythology as a child.  I sat and read  D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths by the hour.  The illustrations were exquisite, and the stories fascinating.  I was later to learn that I was not alone in my fondness for these stories, I found that much of our culture references the stories of Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite, and Athena.  I found that my knowledge of Icarus, the Minotaur and Hercules was to greatly impact my ability to understand a huge portion of Western literature, and that such literacy gave me the privilege of attaining at least a semi-classical education.  I have been able to fake the rest with the help of Looney Tunes Opera parodies and a musical Hamlet on Gilligan’s Island.  So now you know the truth…..

In any case, there was always one Olympian that grabbed my attention.  Ironically, he was the least attention-seeking of all the gods.   He shunned the limelight and craved his workshop.  He was homely and easy to ignore.  He wasn’t flashy or arrogant.  He had a profound humility, but a relentless work ethic.  In short, he was the opposite of the beautiful, lounging, lusting gods that inhabited the Greek tales.  He was the Greek god of fire and the forge: Hephaestus ( he-FESS-tus).  His Roman equivalent was Vulcan.  He was the patron of all those that work in the metal crafts, sculpture, crafts and technology.  It is safe to say that Hephaestus was always in the background, due to his lack of physical beauty, his handicap (lame in his legs) and the hidden nature of his skill;  Blacksmiths labor at their forges in a workshop, not on a stage or a lectern.  So, Hephaestus was content to keep the fires burning and creating beautiful and clever metalwork masterpieces.

It is hardly surprising that a CAD guy like me finds common ground with Hephaestus.  But there is more to it than that.  I see in Hephaestus a quality that is often greatly underestimated.  He was an indispensable person, but he was ignored due to his lack of comeliness.  I have seen some of these types in action over the years.  They are the Janitors, the Mechanics, the Funeral  Directors and the Army Mess Cooks.  They are the Dishwashers, the Unit Secretaries, the Housekeeping staff and the Plumbers.  They are the ones who keep society humming along, yet their work is largely ignored.

We live in a society that is obsessed with celebrities.  Stardom.  The larger than life people.  I have a belief that this obsession with celebrities is akin to the obsession that the ancients had with their gods.  After all, who is Lady Gaga but Aphrodite in a 21st century wrapper?  But I digress.  The fact is, our society is greatly enamored with the Stars of Hollywood, Broadway, Music, Politics, Sports and even Religion.  We check out their latest loves at the check out stand at Wal Mart.  We watch the Entertainment shows.  We Google for the latest news of our favorite personalities, and live vicariously through their larger than life deeds.  Kind of like the ancients did with their gods…. But again I digress.  That is not the point.

The material point is this:  our society tends to put a disproportionate value upon fame, and the acclaim of men.  Indeed, don’t we all secretly (or even overtly) crave Warhol’s famous 15 minutes of fame?  Or longer than 15 minutes?  If we are honest, we will admit this.  Few are content to live the life of a Hephaestus, hidden from the eyes of men, laboring without applause.

I have seen something, though.  I once knew a man.  This man was brilliant.  This man was ridiculously good-looking, and was never at a loss for feminine admirers.  This man rose to a position of great success in his trade at a young age.  He had the acclaim of many, if not all who knew him.  He had a beautiful wife, and a wonderful family with five children.   He had it all.

As he got older, things changed.   He stopped coming home every night.  He had a serious health issue that was worrisome.  In the stress of life and unexpected events, he met someone else, and he fell in love with her.   He left his wife and kids and embraced a new life, with a new woman.  He had a more exciting life than the typical suburban father, to be sure.  It was exciting, thrilling, and fun.  For him and for her.

But I can’t help thinking about his first wife and kids.  They were left with the memory of a father and husband they loved who rarely contacted them.  The kids watched their beloved mother struggle financially, emotionally, socially and ultimately physically.  The price of  this man’s choice and all that accompanies it took their brutally efficient toll, and profoundly affected these six lives.  Such was the cost of one man’s choice.  I know all this because this man was my father.

I was a kid who lived in a suburb of Detroit.  We lived in a very nice neighborhood, but without a man in the house and little discretionary income, our beautiful home crumbled into disrepair, and we became “that house” on our street.  Ours was the house that needed painting, landscaping, and the lawn mowed.  The difference between our home and every other home on the street was painfully obvious.

We had two neighbors on our street.   They were two Baptist families on either side of us.  The fathers were both leaders at Highland Park Baptist Church.  They came home every night.  They mowed their grass.  They waxed their cars.  They kept their homes in order.  I envied the predictability and “boredom” that these families enjoyed.  I will never forget one summer day when the value of these boring men became beautifully evident.

I was attempting to work on our pool.  We had an above ground Doughboy pool, and it had a large external filter.   I was attempting to open the drum and it burst open and began to flood the yard.  I had no idea what to do.  I was pretty much panicking, and I had nobody to call, as my father’s number was made unavailable to me.   I was in tears, freaking out.  I ran over to Mr. McRuer’s house, one of the men I described earlier.  He was home (because he was one of those boring, predictable types) and he listened to my pitiful story.  He calmly followed me over to my house and assessed the situation.  He had the same kind of pool, and within 10 minutes he had resolved the issue.  I cannot tell you what comfort, security, relief and gratitude I had that this man was available.  He was home when he was supposed to be.  He was in his place.  He was predictable in his faithfulness and integrity.  He didn’t shrink from the mundane call of home and hearth.  And because he was willing to be one of those who never receives the acclaims or attention of the world, he quietly changed my life.

I am weeping as I write this, as the sense of gratitude I have toward this man and everyone like him bubbles up in me.  Maybe he wanted to be a movie star.  Maybe he wanted to be a baseball star.  Maybe he wanted everyone to notice him on the stage.  But he accepted his humble lot in life and was where he was supposed to be when I had a need.

These words fall far short of what I hope to convey, but this faithfulness in the hidden place, this hammering away in the boiler room where nobody sees, this willingness to appear small and unimportant is of great and lasting worth to me, and will always command my respect.

So, to the hardworking people out there, the Hephaestuses,  who get what I am saying, keep on keeping on.  The world is always wrong about you.  But those of us with eyes to see know your worth.

And Thank You.



  1. Whatever happened in your life to get you here, you’re a great man Tom. A great man. I hope my kids turn out to be incredible adults like yours.

    • Mooney, you are way too kind. And you are one of these men. I speak with authority on this issue. I know one when I see one.

  2. Outstanding and very moving Tom. It is a gift to labor behind the scenes. It is men and women like this who keep the world running–not the celebrities. Two thumbs up!

  3. A friend sent this my way. It’s an excellent piece, and I thank you for writing it.

  4. Nice. The son of the dad who helped you is a Facebook friend of mine and linked to your column. He was moved by your tribute. I join you in praising the hardworking people and especially the reliable, predictable dads.

  5. It’s those seemingly small events that make such an enormous impact on the psyche of a little kid. I don’t think dad had any idea. The McRuer’s were such an awesome family (and their house smelled so good!)

    • I know Dad had his own health issues, but he made some choices later that I am sure he regretted. Unfortunately, life has no rewind or undo feature. Mr. McRuer and Mr. Martin were both kind to me no matter what, even when I was guilty of some juvenile mischief. They both were strong, steady influences on me. I wish I could have told them personally.

  6. Reblogged this on The Upside and commented:
    My good friend Tom Brennan wrote this moving piece about the unsung heroes among us. Enjoy!

    • Thanks for reposting this Chris. I am glad to see people being encouraged by the example of Mr. McRuer, and the other Hephaestuses among us.

  7. My first visit to your blog Tom…and you brought me to tears. Wonderful message and story.

    • Thanks for the kind words David. I appreciate your input. Also, thanks for reposting this essay. It is an important truth, and many people need to realize that their lives are worth as much as any celebrity. I am glad to hear this was a blessing to you.

  8. […] Brennan @ Whatsoever Things Are True with his post: In Praise of Hephaestus. “…I am weeping as I write this, as the sense of gratitude I have toward this man and […]

  9. I have now revisited and reread this page enough times over the past year to where I’m just going to print out a copy and put it up in my office. It’s one of a handful of things I’ve read in my life that I keep coming back to. Well done.

  10. My dad is one of these men , I understand ,we didn’t have a lot of money or extras but I wouldn’t trade any of that for
    the security I had as a kid knowing my dad would be home and found faithful ! Love this ~ thanks for posting this … we do see each other and we should acknowledge Those who consistently make a way for others to walk …

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