Y’all, Tuesdays are getting REAL in these here parts, and I, for one, love it. Join with me in cheering on today’s writer, Jeff, who, after reading Cathy’s post last week, knew he, too, had to be honest with this words. I had the distinctly hilarious opportunity to work alongside this guy for a couple of years, and I can tell you, he’s got some good stuff for us to read.
My family had dropped me off at college for the start of the second semester of freshman year earlier in the day. So naturally, as most teenage college students I took to pillaging the town in some irresponsible way. Parties were happening and I hadn’t a care in the world since classes didn’t start for another few days. College life, single, and a little hard-earned cash in the pocket.
I had finally gotten back to my dorm room and was starting to settle down and go to bed when the phone rang. My brother was on the other line
“I can’t beat around the bush. Dad died tonight.”
I could tell by the seriousness in his voice that this wasn’t a sick joke. He was killed while walking to a late dinner meeting. I started crying and couldn’t speak a word. Then he said something that has probably changed my life more than anything else has…
“Listen. You can’t cry right now. You have to help our family through this. We don’t know what we’re doing.”
Strangely I immediately stopped crying. It’s crazy to think that a 19-year-old who loses his father suddenly would only shed a couple tears. But somehow that’s what happened. Part of that is because you have to know my brother:
Over the past 20+ years he’s been in the US Army and has been to all the places you read about in the news. He is a Sergeant – not the kind who yells at Privates, but one who teaches Officers – currently, and was an Airborne Ranger at the time of the phone call. While he likes to have fun with people just as much as we all do, you always knew when he was being serious. And when he was being serious every single word was serious and intentional.
To understand it more you’d have to know my father:
He wasn’t just the patriarch of our family; he was the patriarch to lots of people. Two years before his death he’d been featured on the front page of the Richmond newspaper for the second time. He was very active in civic life, ran a food-service that served 1200 a day, and still made plenty of time for his family. He was beyond an over-achiever having been blind since the age of 16, and having little to nothing when he first moved to the “big city” of Richmond, his only home the YMCA.
I, on the other hand, was just 19 years old and the youngest of three. I was still trying to figure out what the heck I was doing with my life. I am the first of my brothers and sisters to go to college even though I had never been much of a good student. If there were ever an example of someone cruising through life without a clue as to what was coming next it was me.
Oh sure, I learned lots of things and had gained lots of experiences. I’d always been active. However, if you’d asked me why I ran for class office, traveled to Boston to serve the poor, or competed in track and field to the point of throwing up, I couldn’t give you much of an answer. All those things (and more) just seemed like the thing to do at the moment.
But with the weight of those words, “You have to help our family through this,” everything started to change. It was as if I became responsible overnight. Education became a serious endeavor. Fitness meant more than simply winning medals. The purpose of wisdom now had nothing to do with impressing people. Those entire things fell under this new umbrella of using my developing abilities to bring people along.
Over the years that’s meant helping my family through various valleys in our lives. It’s also meant fighting against discrimination and injustices. It’s meant having fun, joking, and working with people from every walk of life. It’s meant being innovative in problem-solving. All those things my father did seemingly effortlessly, so effortlessly this teenager didn’t notice much until they fell onto his plate as an adult.
If what I’ve been doing over the past 15 years hasn’t added up to that, then I’ve missed the mark. Sometimes I start to tear up again and think so. Then I hear that abrupt phone call again…
“Listen. You can’t cry right now.” And I keep fighting on.
Jeff is married to his better half, Jenn, who is expecting twins later this year. He dabbles in work at a church, work outside the church, and school here and there. He runs a ton, cooks good food, and is a storyteller at heart. You can find him on Twitter at @jbshankle, or check out his blog today! Encourage Jeff for his bravery with words today! How did his words CHANGE you?