Our son, on a phone conversation with Mom, asked, “Am I a good man? are you proud of me.
As a good parent should, she responded immediately and without hesitation, “Of course!”
The answer was accurate, reinforcing and quick. It is the same answer I would have given to a son in the Air Force, striving to better himself, with more compassion than either anger or, at times, common sense. He is more likely to be sucker for a sob story than become a general, but that is what makes him who he is.
Then I thought about what makes a good man. In answering that question I have to tell a couple of stories, one from personal experience, the other a favorite gleaned from internet research.
My wife, son and I were bouncing along wind roughened waters in a rented power boat on Lake Pleasant near Phoenix. We don’t get to see our son as often as we like, as he lives hundreds of miles from home. We rented the boat to have a memorable day, even though the wind was whipping and the water was full of dangerous waves. The day would become more memorable than we could possibly imagine.
We noticed a boat floating near shore. We were still hundreds of yards away, but could see the people inside the boat frantically waving a red flag, normally a warning to other boaters that a water skier is down in the water. But, something didn’t seem quite right, even at that distance. The water was too rough and cold for casual skiers and the boat was too near hidden sand bars for experienced boaters. I pointed our bow toward the becalmed boat and shoved the throttle forward.
As we neared, we could see two men in the water. Both were obviously tired and scared, drifting further and further from their craft. The looks on their faces told us everything we needed to know. They were in trouble. The better swimmer of the two was trying to hold the other man’s head above water, but he was running on empty. Neither man was wearing safety equipment.
My son grabbed two life vests and jumped overboard, swimming life saving equipment to the desperate pair. The man in greatest danger was barely able to hold on in the frigid water, but hold on he did. We swung the boat around, killed the engine so the propeller would not harm either my son or the men in the water. My son climbed back into the boat and pulled both of them aboard.
We took them back to their boat, where they safely re-boarded. We shook their hands and left, never knowing who they were or how it all got started. They fired up their engine and made it back to shore. They never even got our son’s name and wouldn’t know how to thankfully contact him, but in his heart, he knew that someone’s brother or father or son was going to live beyond that day. Shivering all the way back to the docks, that was all he needed to know.
No one else saw what my son did. There were no bands playing or mayors offering keys to the city, nor were any of those a thought in his mind when he jumped into icy water to save two men on the verge of drowning. No one, outside those who read this story, will fathom his desire to help or save others. And he did it without thought for his own safety, without wondering whether or not it was worth his time or effort. He did it with the sole intent of helping someone else. That is what makes a good man.
Like the rest of us, he’s made mistakes, but that is not the measure of a man. We all make mistakes. The true measure of human worth is what we do when no one is looking. When surrounded by peers or law enforcement, we will all toe the line. What we do when only God can see, makes us who we really are.
My son, much to his mother’s chagrin, likes motorcycles and spends massive amounts of his spare time alternately riding and fixing them. Age and experience will teach him that no one, including him, will remember how fast he rode or how high he jumped, but there are two men, two families, who will never forget him, even if they don’t know his name.
On seperate occasion, our son pondered the importance of our seemingly unimportant lives. Most of what we do seems trivial, unnoticed, even insignificant in the scheme of things. That brings me to the second story, originally penned by Loren Eiseley.
Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.
One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.
As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.
He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”
“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.
To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”
Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”
At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “It made a difference for that one.”
We often mistake fame and fortune for validations of self worth, but there are poor, unheralded men and women the world over who are more valuable to society than any Hollywood millionaire. Human worth is based on sacrifice, willingness to do what is right, regardless of cost, and the knowledge that even when we do, no one may notice.
“Am I a good man? Are you proud of me?”
Son, no matter what may happen or what your future holds, I’m proud to say, you are one of the best men I know.