Follow me down

What makes someone worth following?

This question was posed to me (and a group of other men) one night at an event we call “Bourbon and Cigars.” The meeting has become a ritual, something we can count on; a weekly rhythm for men to gather and discuss life over spirits and smokes.

Who do you follow?

This was another question that succeeded the first. The men around the fire were silent for a long time; looking off into the distance to the sun setting over the West Side of Cincinnati.

“My father,” one man said after quite some time. We spoke about parents; about the roles of fathers versus mothers, if we, as men, were looking more for male leadership in our lives over female leadership. We spoke about the difference between people we look up to and those who we believe are worth following.

I thought about my dad. How I followed him as a child. How he taught me what he knew. I thought about his patience, his level-headedness; how I felt safe when he was around.

When I became a man, the image of my dad was tainted. My parents divorced. Now they don’t even speak to one another. My dad can’t even say my mom’s name. This question of who I follow caused my stomach to turn a bit.

I didn’t give my answer right away. Instead, I thought about how I don’t particularly want to follow anyone at the moment. Being a follower has almost become a bad word in our culture. We should be self starters! We should be completely independent! We should be free from any power over us! I am my own man, I thought. An army of one.

After battling in my own head, I thought about my mentor. How I met him when I was in grade school and did in fact follow his lead throughout middle and high school. What made him worth following?

Well, he is committed to service:

My mentor has been involved in the ministry of Young Life for over 20 years. He made a commitment when he was in college to mentor high school kids and share life with them and tell them his truth; how he found peace in the Gospel of Jesus. He has devoted his life to helping others; his impact is undeniable. He has reached thousands of young men and women through his humble service.

The Bourbon and Cigar crew talked then about imperfection; how it’s hard to follow anyone because we are all so broken. I said that the people worth following will undoubtedly screw up, but what makes them worth following is how they respond after.

There are two men in particular I’ve seen in my life that are worth following; my mentor and my grandfather. I thought about both of them and came to a realization – I have never seen either of them screw up. I do admit, I have put them on somewhat of a pedestal, but truthfully, they have been uncommonly consistent in their pursuit to live uprightly.

My mentor is steadfast and reliable. His “yes” means yes and his “no” means no. I am also certain he loves me. My grandpa was positive and uplifting every single time I saw him. His words were seasoned with love. His actions were compassion (the noun felt better there for some reason). I knew he loved me. He also loved his wife well.

(Aside) I don’t see many men that love their wives well. I don’t see men who inspire me with how they serve their wives.

So these were the themes that surfaced through the conversation around the fire. In my opinion, the people worth following are the ones who serve others, serve their families, and as a result, serve whole communities.

Also, people worth following, love well. There should be no question in your mind, that the person you are following, loves you.

They came rushing over a hill

Language, and the ever expanding volume of words, is a collection of venn diagrams. From one thousand feet up it looks just like a storm cloud. At the smallest scale, it seems like cells in a state of mitosis; splitting and fragmenting – all from one original idea. One day, I hope I’ll get to meet the speaker from whose lips came the great, indelible origin of it all. Now I’m not a betting man, but I’m guessing the first word sounded something … like love.

When we used to sit by the rotary phone

(Pulls fancy stationery out)
Pens a chicken scratch letter.
It starts, “I promised I would write you…”
But “promised” is misspelled.
It’s pretty much downhill from there.
He’s no romantic.
He barely knows his times tables.
But you were the prettiest girl at summer camp.
And he doesn’t want to lose you.
His best line is, “You’re a real swell dancer.”
And you giggle a bit and remember.
You think you’ll keep him.
Even if you’re a foot taller.
He signs it, “All the best, Ace.”
Which is what you called him,
When he missed the archery target by 10 feet.
Hold on to these never ending years,
Hearts held together by scotch tape
And friendships forged in blood.
When every day is new,
And every night is forever.

Replacement Parts

rusted-parts

I’m wearing my dad’s shoes now and giving him advice. Or is it his necktie? I don’t know for sure. Boys will become fathers and fathers will become boys. Mothers will cry to their sons for hours on the telephone and sons will cover up the receiver so their mothers don’t hear them crying. Because now they’re the man.

Sons will leave long pauses in conversations. Thinking of chess boards. They will look right past you, through you, to the house where they grew up. They will be distant.

They will have trouble sleeping. They will realize some things about marriage. Mostly, it is choosing to love.

Sons will fumble through prepared speeches basically written on note cards to their fathers. They will say things like, “I hope you know…” and “I’ve been thinking…” and “For now…”

I hope you know I can’t bear to hear my mother cry like that. I will die before I let that happen again.

I’ve been thinking that you probably feel like you’re under a microscope. I know it will feel forced and awkward. Nothing you do will feel right.

For now, you got to get back to even. For now, you have to learn to be a man.

For now…I guess I’ll have to do.

You’re a dead man

I’m listening to a dead man’s CD. He made it on a Fisher-Price recorder. He’s been dead a while now. I never knew him.

The deep dark hole inside
Hmm hmm hmm
The deep dark hole inside

But I did know him, understand? His genius is depressing. I’ll never make music like the dead man. I’ll never be that haunting even when I’m dead. It’s beautiful. It makes me never want to write again. It makes we want to give up, but in a good way, ya know?

I feel like a burglar broke into my house and stole something I didn’t even know I had. I’m wondering if it took me years to find it, it doesn’t matter though ‘cause now it’s gone.

He’s in this big tree in the backyard playing his guitar on the most bottom branch; singing and swaying in the breeze. I’m pretty sure he is anyway.

The dead man was my friend.
The dead man makes music for the dead.
Please, listen to his song.