This past spring, I talked about heroines that made sacrifices for their family in What We Do for Love: Sacrificing Heroines from Higgins, Carr, and More so it only seemed fair that I chat about the heroes, because guys in romance novels are just as willing as the women to put aside their foot-loose ways for the people they love. George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life set the bar high, but there are many men who have emulated him.
The first heroes who come to mind are Cameron, Ethan, and Phillip Quinn from the Chesapeake Bay saga by Nora Roberts, but that's almost too easy, since the whole series is about the sacrifices each brother makes to care for their brother Seth.
Ben Thocco from Gentle Rain by Deborah Smith fell in love with his Down syndrome brother from the moment he smiled at him.
His head was too big, and his face was flat. His eyes slanted like the eyes of a Chinese boy I’d seen at a rodeo in Tallahassee. He was scrawny. His skin had a weird blue tint.
But he wasn’t ugly. He had mine and Pa’s black Seminole hair. He had Ma’s cute, brunette-white-girl nose. He had my serious look on his face. And he smiled. He smiled at me…
We took Joey and Mama home to Ocala the next day. We made the best of it. And you know what, Joey was worth the best. Even though finding a home for us would take more sacrifice than I realized.
I never again wished he hadn’t been born…
I’m a hard ass. Hard man. They say. Pa died in a ranch accident when we were kids, then Mama when I was sixteen and Joey just seven. I had to run off to Mexico with Joey to keep him out of an institution.
We spent ten years in Mexico, and I saved enough money to come back home and buy a ranch. What I did to earn that kind of money was honest labor but an embarrassment that haunted me still.
In Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas, Mark Nolan sure hadn’t planned on being a surrogate parent, but he loves his niece, and is sure not going to disregard his sister’s wishes, no matter how much it changes his life.
Sam gave him a wary look. “You’re the one who’s signing on for this not me. There’s a reason Vick didn’t name me as her guardian. I’m not good with kids.”
“You’re still Holly’s uncle.”
“Yes, uncle. My responsibilities are limited to making jokes about body functions and drinking too much beer at family cookouts. I’m not the dad type.”
“Neither am I,” Mark said grimly. “But we have to try. Unless you want to sign her up for foster care.”
In Molly O’Keefe’s Unexpected Family, Jeremiah Stone made the right choice, stepping up to take care of his three nephews after his sister’s death, but it has most certainly been a struggle. And sadly his nephews know just how difficult it has been:
There was no abundance in his days right now. Every bone was rubbing up against another bone, his stomach growled, his body hurt, and he went to bed every damn night hungering for what he used to take for granted.
“You never wanted to be here,” Ben said. “We all know it.”
“That’s not true.” Jeremiah scrambled for words but everything sounded like lies and he couldn’t breathe. Not in the presence of the grown-up pain on Ben’s face. “I do want to be here.“
“You wouldn’t choose us.”
Every day I choose you.” Jeremiah insisted. “Every day I stay.”
“You don’t make it feel like a choice, Uncle J.”
In Susan Elizabeth Phillips's Natural Born Charmer, hero Dean Robillard wants nothing to do with his mother, April, or his father, Jack Patriot. But when Riley, the half-sister he just met, asks if she can spend time at his house, he puts her wants over his own:
“That would be okay, wouldn’t it, April? If he stayed for two weeks?”
. . .
“It’s not my cottage, Riley,” April said gently. “It’s Dean’s. So is this house.”
. . .
“I know I’m fat and everything,” Riley said in a small voice. “And I know you don’t like me, but I’ll be quiet and Dad will be too.” She lifted those heartbreaking eyes so she was looking directly at Dean. “He doesn’t pay attention to anybody when he’s writing songs. He wouldn’t bother you or anything. And I could even help. Like, I could—I could sweep up stuff and was the dishes maybe.” Dean stood frozen as Riley’s tears blurred her next words. “Or…if you…if you needed somebody to throw the football so you could practice and everything—I could maybe try.”
In Bring Me Home for Christmas by Robyn Carr, twenty-two-year-old, Denny Cutler put his life on hold and his romance with Becca Timm suffered for it.
Denny still hadn’t been sure what he wanted and before he could consider his options, his mother took a turn for the worse. His only real choice was to take care of her: there was no one else. . .
It was just Denny and his mom; he had a job at Home Depot, part-time so he had plenty of free time for his mother. Sue was either having cancer treatment or home on the sofa, week and ill, waiting for her son to take her to the clinic or warm up some soup for her. And finally there had been hospice.
A lot of responsibility for a man of twenty two, especially when many men his age are not yet out on their own.
Men are also apt to make sacrifices not only for friends and family but for the greater good, like enlisting in the military to fight and protect. You could say oh, that is their job, but many soldiers, like Ford Sinclair from Mariah Stewart’s On Sunset Beach, continued to reenlist again and again, living in very primitive conditions in poverty-stricken areas trying to make a difference. While in the special forces, Ford spend a large portion of his time in Africa, striving to protect others:
Once on the ground, however, he and his cohorts had found that providing security to the small villages against the ravages of the well-armed, well-trained rebels was pretty much a full-time job. There’d been no words to describe the horrors they’d witnessed, no way to assure his family that he, too, would not become a victim of the same forces, and so he’d permitted his mother to believe that he was part of a UN Peacekeeping Mission.
And even later when he is out the service, Ford still is willing to put his life on hold, to bring those who killed so many indiscriminately to justice:
Wait. You’re going to Africa? Now?” she sat up. “I thought you said you were out of the military.”
“I am out of the military. I’ve been asked to go back to give testimony against him about what I know, what I observed. I want to go, Car. I have to go.”
“For Anna and for the two guys from my unit.”
Instead of raking in the big bucks, Physician Assistant Piney Baxley, Jr. in The Lovesick Cure by Pamela Morsi elected to come back to the Arkansas Ozarks to care for the people there. He converted his family’s grocery store into a clinic. Of course his clinic gets Medicare payments, but you’re not going to legally get rich off of that. But Piney is very much satisfied with what his friends and patients give him in return:
Aunt Will led the way, using her walking stick to steady her. Jesse followed behind, carrying the heavy basket of eggs, fresh vegetables and jars of canned goods that her aunt felt obligated to bring.
“I’ve got to take something in trade,” the old woman insisted.
“Aunt Will, I’m sure your doctor visits are covered by Medicare,” she told her.
She made a tutting sound in disapproval. “The government pays for the clinic, but I can provide for myself.”
What are the sacrifices that your favorite fictional heroes have made?
Leigh Davis, blogger