March 7, 2008

A father’s love, a son’s passion: Hughes family shares inspiring story at father and son breakfast

Patrick John Hughes and his son, Patrick Henry Hughes, perform as part of the University of Louisville marching band during halftime at a 2006 home football game. (Photo by Tom Fougerousse/University of Louisville)

Patrick John Hughes and his son, Patrick Henry Hughes, perform as part of the University of Louisville marching band during halftime at a 2006 home football game. (Photo by Tom Fougerousse/University of Louisville)

By Mike Krokos

BEECH GROVE—This is a love story about faith, family, perseverance and passion.

It’s a story about the power of a father’s unconditional love for his son and the dreams that love has unleashed.

It’s a story about the sacrifices a father is willing to make so his son’s dreams can become reality.

The story of Patrick Henry Hughes, and his father, Patrick John Hughes, inspired and captured the hearts of more than 500 people who attended the annual Holy Name of Jesus Parish Father and Son Breakfast on March 2.

Patrick Henry Hughes, who will turn 20 on March 10, was born without eyes and the ability to straighten his arms and legs.

Yet, for Patrick Henry, life is more about using the gifts that God has given him.

His view is “not disabilities at all, more abilities.”

“I see blindness as ability and sight as a disability,” said Patrick Henry, who attends Mass at St. Bartholomew Parish in Louisville, Ky., with his parents and two brothers, ages 17 and 12.

“I just see what’s on the inside [of a person].”

For Patrick Henry, his abilities include being a talented pianist, vocalist and trumpet player.

A full-time student at the University of Louisville who commutes back and forth from campus, Patrick Henry also excels in the classroom. The sophomore is a straight A student majoring in Spanish. He is fluent in Spanish and hopes to be an interpreter or international ambassador to a Spanish-speaking country. And he is in the school’s marching band.

But that is only part of Patrick Henry’s story.

A love of music

His mom, Patricia, seemed on her way to a “picture-perfect pregnancy” after she and her husband conceived a child in 1987.

Though there was no explanation why, “his [Patrick Henry’s] eyes didn’t grow and his limbs didn’t straighten out,” Patrick John said of his firstborn child.

When doctors gave the young parents a list of all the things that newborn Patrick Henry wouldn’t do in life, his father was devastated and tried to come to grips with the fact that his son wouldn’t be able to compete in sports and experience many of the other things he had enjoyed.

Then one day, when his wife was shopping, Patrick John was faced with the challenge of trying to calm his crying 4-month-old son.

His solution? He sat with Patrick Henry at the piano and played a few notes, which seemed to soothe and calm the infant.

“He got quiet at the piano,” Patrick John said.

What developed in the months and years ahead was Patrick Henry’s love of music.

“At 9 months, he would play notes back to me,” his father said.

By age 2, Patrick Henry was playing requests on the piano like “You Are My Sunshine” and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

At the father and son breakfast, Patrick Henry sat at a piano, gently sliding his fingers on the keys as he performed “Rustles of Spring,” a classical piece whose soothing sound is music to any listener’s ears.

Later, he shared melodic vocals as he played “Somewhere, Over the Rainbow” and Brooks and Dunn’s hit song “Believe” on the piano.

“He’s my hero,” father Patrick John told ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi when discussing his son during a television piece on the family in 2006. The video was aired at the father and son breakfast.

“The places my son has taken me. … He has taken me on a path I would have never imagined,” Patrick John said at the father and son breakfast. “I have been blessed.”

Sacrifices for a son

Patrick John works the graveyard shift—11 p.m. to 5 a.m. at United Parcel Service in Louisville—so he can attend classes with his son at the University of Louisville. But that is only one of the sacrifices that father has made for his son.

When Patrick Henry enrolled at the University of Louisville in 2006, he was interested in playing in the school’s pep band at basketball games. There was one catch: Only members of the marching band can play in the pep band.

Not to be deterred, Patrick John attends band practice with Patrick Henry. Father learns each new routine and pushes his son in his wheelchair through the 220-member band’s maneuvers.

The father and son’s commitment has not gone unnoticed. In 2006, Patrick Henry received the Disney’s Wide World of Sports® Spirit Award, given each year to college football’s most inspirational figure. Patrick Henry was the first nonathlete to win the award.

For Patrick John, his strength comes through his son, who he said views himself as “just a guy living his life.”

“He’s got a discipline in him that I wish I had when I was younger,” Patrick John said.

Faith, family, friends and freedom

Though he is a straight A student, Patrick Henry is also known for the straight F’s he lives in life: faith, family, friends and freedom.

His faith in God is evident. In the past year, he spent 15 minutes a day reading the Bible. He read the entire book in roughly 10 months. It was the fourth time he has read it in its entirety.

He also lives his life by the acronym “P.A.T.” P is for passion, patience and perseverance; A is for ability and positive attitude; and T is for try and try again, Patrick Henry says.

“Never give up,” he adds.

For his father, the life lessons are abundant and a blessing.

“One of the greatest gifts Patrick has given me is perspective,” Patrick John said. “Do you see the day as an opportunity or a struggle?

“No matter what your burden, have faith and never give up,” he added. “I let this unfold at God’s speed.”

Afterward, Patrick John offered more advice for parents.

“Love your kids, and do what you can for them,” he said. “Make the most of your time.”

Joe Norris, a member of Holy Name of Jesus Parish, was moved by Patrick John’s relationship with his son, Patrick Henry.

“It’s an amazing commitment that his father has,” said Norris, who attended the breakfast with his son, Jake, a freshman at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis.

Mike Lamping, president of the Holy Name of Jesus Parish Men’s Club, which sponsored the event, said the annual breakfast is a way to bring families together.

Lamping, who attended with his two sons, Matt, 23, and Mason, 16, said that the Hughes’ message struck a chord for both parents and children at the program.

“You talk about quality time,” Lamping said. “That’s what’s it all about.” †

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