by the Night Writer
I was moved by the story yesterday of the Mentor, MN man who was killed when he used his own body to protect his 25-year-old daughter from debris during a tornado. The man, Wes Michaels, was the owner of the Cenex station in Mentor and was taking the day off to celebrate his 58th birthday. His daughter was covering for him at the station. When he heard the news reports of severe weather headed their direction he went to his business to check on things and to warn his daughter and their customers. Shortly after arriving he saw the tornado coming right at them, and directed everyone into the business’s walk-in cooler, finally laying himself down on top of his daughter as the tornado hit. She survived with bruises and some stiffness … and an eternal reminder of a father’s love.
It symbolizes for me the ideal of a father literally laying down his life for his child; I’d even imagine that Mr. Michaels didn’t even think twice in the moment but reacted automatically as he would have done if his daughter were five instead of 25. I will even imagine that any father I know would do the same thing, even though we may never come face to face with a tornado. This morning, however, as I spoke to our Inside Outfitters group (consisting mainly of men going through drug and/or chemical rehab at Minnesota Teen Challenge) I wanted them to understand that the willingness to give up your life in a sudden instant is merely a dramatic part of what it means to lay down your life as a father.
Several years ago I wrote an essay on marriage where I suggested that most husbands, if it came down to it, would be willing to take a bullet for their wives. The real question, I said, is “Will you give her the last doughnut?” The point I was getting at is that we need to “die” to ourselves daily by putting aside our selfish interests (and newspapers) to do what is necessary to support our wives. It’s not as romantic as going out in a blaze of glory, but it is more beneficial to long-term happiness. Similarly, what I wanted the men to grasp today is that being a father bears a quite similar obligation; to put aside our self-interests as needed in order to provide a better life for our children. In the case of these men, for example, that means denying our desires or rationalizations to drink or do drugs in order to create a stable environment and so we can “be there” — as opposed to prison — when our children (and wives) need us.
I elaborated a bit on Mr. Michaels’ example, noting how he saw the storm coming, and how he put himself into position to protect his daughter. Similarly, we need to recognize the storms that can come and put ourselves in a position to love, nurture and protect…even if our inclination is do something else. Even if we didn’t receive an example of that ourselves growing up. I know that that is an ideal that my wife and I have tried to live up to for our children, and it has shaped the way we invested our time and spent our money. I can’t say that I’ve never indulged myself or that I’ve been totally self-sacrificing, or that I’ve always been cheerful about the responsibility, but it is an obligation that I recognize as being very real and even tangible.
So, anyway, I shared these thoughts with the men this morning and, as often happens, meditated upon them for myself after I went back to my seat. I did a little check-up to see if I’m still trying to live up to this ideal now that my children are older; now that, in fact, one of my daugthers is about to have a child of her own. And, as it often happens, I was immediately confronted with a situation where I have been harboring my own selfish thoughts and thinking about my own comfort and not about what others needed from me.
As my daughter shared the other day, she is planning on a home birth (which means — since she and Ben are living with us while he finishes his internship and last semester of seminary — my home). She has acquired the necessary accessories and assembled a crack team of her husband, mother, close friends and an experienced mid-wife all ready to swing into action at any moment day or night. For my part, as much as I am eager to see my first grandchild, I don’t want to be anywhere close to the action as the labor takes place and the baby arrives. I was there in person with my wife as our children were born and it was something I wouldn’t have dreamed of missing. The thought of hearing my own daughter’s travail, however, makes me weak in the knees. After all these years of looking out for her, it just seems so counter-intuitive. Of course, I was thinking only of what it meant to me, and not to her. I have said that I wanted to be playing 36 holes of golf while this was going on, or waiting a mile away at Buffalo Wild Wings to get the news and, bless her heart, my daughter has merely nodded and guarded her expression, though I believe I could tell it hurt her to some extent, even though I’ve tried to deny it to myself.
As I confronted this in myself today I knew that my place is here. Not in the same room, but close by, praying, jingling car keys, lifting furniture…just — as I’ve always promised my girls — being there. Even if I’d rather face down a tornado.
Here’s more about Wes Michaels. Sounds like he was a great example in so many ways.