Patty Lehman was just out of Hornell High School attending Alfred University with a major in athletic training. A friend told about a guy she had to meet who went to The Citadel. She said he would be perfect for her. His name was Steven Hopkins.

The two met. It was love at first sight. The visits became more frequent with Patty having to make the drive because of Steven's commitments at The Citadel.

However, after graduation, there would be no more driving. The couple married in Virginia where he was stationed in 2009.

Steven was not ordinary. He had a masters degree in biology, but did so much more. He worked on two guided-missile destroyers in Virginia. The Navy sent him to Rhode Island for more training. They saw something in Steven. He could also complete legal paperwork usually regulated to an attorney as well as doing his job as an engineer department head.

They also wanted him in Japan.

Steven and Patty had settled in here, they bought a home in Virginia and had two boys, Alex and Nathan.

Steven signed up to serve his country. But now, he was serving his family. He cherished every moment with the boys and he respected and loved his wife.

When the orders came in to go to Japan to quickly serve on the USS Fitzgerald, Steven, a man who never shows emotion, never raised his voice and never had a bad word to say about anyone, stood his ground.

He would not take the next flight to Japan. He was going to fly with his wife and kids. He did not think it was fair to Patty to have to make the 22-hour flight alone with two boys, one three, the other not yet two.

The USS Fitzgerald would sail without him. Steven had won the fight for his family and it gave him almost two more months with them before his next mission.

On June 17, the USS Fitzgerald collided with a container ship off the coast of Japan. There were seven casualties.

Word spread through the region, as many thought Steven was on that ship.

Instead, he was assigned to guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem. When he arrived in Japan, he had to write up the investigative reports on the accident. In Virginia, he wrote up legal work for power of attorney for all the sailors. He could do almost anything the Navy asked.

On Tuesday, the Navy believes Steven went overboard while on the USS Stethem. A search-and-rescue began, but was called off after 79 hours at sea.

When the Navy came to Hopkins' townhouse to tell Patty the news, she only heard Steven was missing. The rest was empty words and voices carrying on. She tried to call her mother, Eileen, in Hornell.

She is 29, but she needed her mom. She tried to speak but could not get the words out. Another Navy wife got on the phone and told her parents what was happening.

Over the next few days, the wives of the other sailors showed up. She was not alone for a single minute. They cleaned floors, they bought groceries, cooked meals and took Alex and Nathan to the park. They became parents, they become best friends.

When the news came in that the search had ended, boxes they packed up from their old home in Virginia to open together in Japan started arriving. They are still sealed.

The questions are many for the family. Not finding Steven leaves an empty feeling.

The tragic accident shows how precious time is in this life, and how important it is to be a good family man.

However, something happened in the past few years … and in the past few months when Steven took a stand and refused to board the USS Fitzgerald.

Alex and Nathan were never cheated for a minute from their father.

In the states, he took them to the zoo, they went to Washington, D.C. where he showed them the monuments. He taught them about our country, and anything else he could.

Steven may have had other interests and hobbies, but he put them on the back-burner for his family.

He took his family sightseeing in Japan. They celebrated America's Independence Day on July 4th with a few fireworks and a small carnival. They made friends.

Steven would come right home and go to the kids. He would read. First the many books in the Pout-Pout Fish series, and recently, the Little Blue Truck books. He loved to sing to the boys. His favorite was a funny song about a worm.

The family photos of the Hopkins were not posed. Those were natural smiles. When he saw the kids, his face lit up. Their faces lit up first.

Steven Hopkins got it.

He spent more time with his children than some fathers do in a lifetime. His memory will live on each day through the children.

The Navy will honor a great American later this month.

I'll always honor him as the perfect husband and father.

(John Anderson is the regional editor of the Hornell Evening Tribune, Wellsville Daily Reporter, Genesee Country Express and Sunday Spectator)