Let me, as a native Coloradan, come to the defense of Richard Heene, the infamous father of the “balloon boy” whose apparent flight over the skies of the Centennial State in a homemade silver flying saucer took much of the country for a ride.

Yes, Heene, bitten by the reality TV bug after twice appearing on “Wife Swap,” perpetrated an elaborate hoax to get his own reality show – his son Falcon, found safe and sound and not aboard the silver balloon, said to his father during a CNN interview, “You said we did this for a show.” – and in turn made his family and the media who ceaselessly covered the bizarre story look buffoonish.

Yes, he’s a modern-day mad scientist, looking to squeeze a few bucks out of television producers in the new aristocracy instead of looking for rich patrons to fund his research, as da Vinci might have deigned to do in his time. And yes, he has revealed himself to be a relentless and somewhat delusional self-promoter.

But my question is this: How far is he really from the true ideals of the American Dream, writ large as the determination of the self-made man to provide for his family and make a name for himself in a classless, ceiling-less society?

Heene probably took a long, hard look at himself in the mirror one day and decided to do the most with what he had. What did he have? Kookiness, a penchant for invention and a capacity to act “real” with cameras following him around. Heene then, no doubt, took a look at the world in which he lives, where reality TV is the express highway to fame and fortune and the 24-hour cable newscasts a fount of free and ferocious publicity the likes of which he could never buy.

How then, is he different from the (insert name of ethnic group here) immigrant fresh from the shadow of the Statue of Liberty and the delousings of Ellis Island, setting his feet down on new soil and filling a niche in his adopted society? And to be perfectly frank, he’s also not the first man to put his family at risk – emotionally or physically – with high-minded thoughts of providing them a better life.

What of the coal miner who conscripts his son into service when he’s young with the hopes that their combined income will facilitate a permanent move out of the dangerous bowels of the earth? What of the “stage mother” who vamps up her daughter for beauty pageants and screen tests, yanking her out of class for any and every audition, with the surefire belief that she (and, concurrently, the family) will make it big?

If anything, we should be celebrating Mr. Heene, not for his actions per se or his atrocious handling of the particulars of his farce, but for his spirit to grab at a hope or ideal long since forgotten by most of our country. There will always be bad parents and bad parenting decisions, and I do not excuse lines of thought that expressly jeopardize the safety of children, but to go all out in pursuit of a goal, to strike out fresh for new ground, to take a broad and long look at one’s life and the possibilities it holds rather than a narrow glance at the next week on the calendar, is an invaluable lesson to show, and not tell, our children.

Somewhere along the way from “America” to America, throwing a tantrum at a son’s game and brawling with a referee or plotting the downfall of a rival cheerleader so a daughter can take her place has become not condoned but commonplace, while a father gambling everything on an invention and his relatively keen understanding of the voracious nosiness of our media and culture is “crazy” and “bizarre” and “what’s wrong with society.”

Well call me crazy and bizarre, but I’d rather have a dozen Richard Heene’s than a single Wanda Holloway (hired a hitman to kill her daughter’s cheer rival) or Thomas Junta (a father convicted of involuntary manslaughter after beating his son’s ice hockey coach/referee to death). Heene, after all, named his son Falcon – preparing him to take flight in his life – and had previously tried his hand at acting and stand-up comedy with, I’m sure, his eyes on greatness.

Do we believe what we opine, that everyone should ‘shoot for the moon, because even if they miss they land among the stars?’ At least in this case, shouldn’t we all shoot for 7,000 miles above the eastern Colorado prairie and land 12 miles east of Denver International Airport?