Some of us are born with that gene or predisposition for being the hero or heroine through works, big gestures, and memorable gifts. The question of worthiness is tangled in the hero-in-my-works bias.

I have vague memories of the original kitchen cabinets in the old farmhouse on Fairpop Farm. Metal with white enamel surfaces, yellowed due to age and unvented cooking.

I remember fighting to yank stubborn doors open. Squeaky drawers and hinges sent chilling disturbances —akin to the sound of nails on chalkboards —through my bones and teeth.

Maybe dad saw his mom struggle with one of the cabinet doors. Or maybe he discovered a broken hinge or rusted shelf. Whatever prompted him, he put on his cape and set out to make new kitchen cabinets for the farmhouse of his childhood.

Kitchen Cabinets

This was no small feat. We lived eight hours away. Dad still worked full-time and he was fresh out of a couple of woodworking classes. Could he take this on?

I wish I had the notebook or yellow pad where he recorded measurements and figures. He brought his ideas together in a pre-computer/smartphone era, nearly thirty years before Google was even born, and forty plus years before he would learn to lean on Google for ideas, calculations, and tips.

The year dad hauled the handmade cabinets from north Alabama to Louisiana was a family-visication —not a Grand Canyon or Lookout Mountain vacation —year. Dad spent his time off tearing out a kitchen wall and metal cabinets and installing his hand-crafted, personally designed oak cabinets.

I don’t remember the conversations and prepping leading up to the installation. I do remember the collective awe sitting at the new kitchen bar and passthrough where a wall used to be and the joy of spinning the lazy Susan in the dead corner next to the sink. Dad brought modern times into his mom’s kitchen with her first dishwasher. Along with the modern, he injected some whimsical fun: a desk with tiny drawers and coins trapped under an inch of resin on the desktop.

I asked dad what prompted the project. He answered that it “seemed like a nice thing to do.” This is how hero-in-my-works minds work. We do big, memorable things. And sometimes more than once.

Dad gave the same gift to my mom’s parents the next year: another installation vacation.

“I wanted to be fair.”

So, on the corner of Superior Avenue, he tore out another kitchen wall and metal cabinets and replaced them with specially designed, hand-crafted oak cabinets.

A Hero Without a Cape

Dad is good at big gestures. I am sometimes critical of this trait I inherited from him.

“You don’t always have to be the hero!”

I remind myself that sometimes the most heroic thing is much simpler. Take the trip to visit. Go to the party. Make the phone call to find out how your loved one is doing.

Mom was good at leading dad to check off the small, sans-hero-cape things (grandchild graduations and concerts, family trips, family visits). I’m grateful she modeled that for me, because it doesn’t come natural to in-my-works folks like me and dad, who scope the scene wherever we are to find out “What can I do?” We might leave the table while you visit because we’re most comfortable doing solo, sometimes biggish jobs.

I struggle with dichotomies, especially when it comes to cataloguing in the book of Good vs. Bad. What I’m learning is that the Good/Bad catalogue is false and misleading. That I need to reframe my mind with “This and… ” instead of “This but…”

Being a hero in deeds is not bad. I’m grateful for all the times dad swept in wearing his hero cape to saw trees after a hurricane, repair well pumps and alternators, and so much more.


I hope he can find a way to be comfortable showing up without a cape.

A lifetime of wearing the cape can wear you slap out. What I hope to model for dad in the years to come is how to feel worthy without a cape. I want to help him discover that small gestures are just as heroic as sweeping in to save the day.

Loving Without a Cape

How do I know it’s hard and uncomfortable to show up without a cape? Without a problem to fix? Without a cabinet to build? I truly am my dad’s daughter.

If you have a hero-in-my-works in your life, please know that we wear a cape to justify ourselves and feel worthy, AND we do big things because we love you. Some of us are learning to do the small things (or nothing at all) and find worthiness in just sitting in the love we have for you. If we squirm a little, it’s because we’re finding our way without a cape.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2024