I’ve always admired the givers in this world – the people who get it, who, either intuitively or as a result of their or a loved one’s life circumstances understand, that they are on this planet to serve the we and not the me. The people who are sensitive to manifestations of the frailty of the human spirit. Those who seemingly have a sixth sense when it comes to recognizing others in their midst who are suffering or in need. Individuals who, despite having the same built-in “excuses” as everyone else (e.g., the demands and “busyness” of everyday life, a more-than-one-human-being-could-possibly-do-in-a-lifetime amount of work on their desk, the responsibilities of family (nuclear and extended), etc.), still manage to find (or, more likely, make) time to “be there” for and/or comfort a friend, co-worker or acquaintance in need or offer a helping hand – often on a moment’s notice. The folks who can spot a lonely, desperate, broken or misguidedly shame-filled heart from “a mile away” and who, rather than turn away and pretend it’s none of their business or, worse yet, that it’s someone else’s problem or responsibility, take the initiative to reach out and offer support, empathy and understanding. The first responders, if you will, to matters of the heart – difference-makers, who not only have a willingness, but the courage to be vulnerable and compassionate, instead of judgmental, in the face of others’ sometimes silent, sometimes not-so-silent pleas for help.
I’ve been very fortunate in my life to have known a number of givers. One in particular, Chuck Davis, was a friend and “back door” neighbor, who died too young. In the days leading up to his death, I sent him the following letter in the hope that he would know what a profound impact the body of his life’s work as a giver had on me:
January 13, 2005
This note is long overdue and I apologize for that. I’m not sure why it is that we men have such difficulty sharing our feelings for another. I’m sure it has something to do with the messages we receive as young boys, messages that are only reinforced as we get older and enter the work world. The idea that we’re different from girls—that we’re supposed to be tough, to always be in control of our emotions, that we aren’t supposed to cry, that crying is a sign of weakness, that tears somehow make us less of a man. I never really bought into all of those beliefs, which probably is why I spent most of my young-adult and adult life hanging out with friends who were women, and in the process, have spilled more tears along the way than I care to think about. Still, I’m certain that those messages had an impact on me, because to this day, I struggle to be open and vulnerable with other men. I need to do better about that. Perhaps this note will be a starting point.
There are a lot of things that I want you to know, things that I know I should have told you along the way, but for one reason or another, never felt that the time was right to share them, or if the time was right, never was able to summon the courage to break through the male barriers that inevitably go up whenever two guys find themselves alone together. Seems like it’s always a lot easier to talk about work, sports, politics, finances, the kids, etc., than it is to share our fears, our concerns, our feelings towards others or towards each other, our aspirations, our faith, our hopes, our disappointments. I suppose part of it is that we know how much each other is already dealing with, between being the head of a family, the principal breadwinner, a father, a husband, a handyman, and we are reluctant to add our own problems to each other’s plate. I’m as guilty of that as the next guy, just as I am of believing, like most men do, that when problems arise, we should just tough it out. Of course, you and I know it doesn’t work that way.
First things first, I want you to know how much I have cherished you and our friendship over the years. From the early days, when you were thoughtful enough to install a gate in your backyard so that our children and our families would have one less obstacle to overcome in spending time together, I knew that you were a special person—and I was right. You were and are, in the words of a therapist friend of mine from Dallas, a “New Father,” a man who was and is far more concerned with finding out how you could find more time to spend with your family than you were with finding excuses to spend more time at the office; a man who has always been other-centered; a man of faith and of service; a man who would readily drop whatever he was doing to help a friend, a neighbor, or a business associate in need or simply to listen; and, above all else, a man of principle, of integrity, of character, of commitment. I have always admired you for all of those gifts and am eternally grateful for all that they have contributed to my life, and by your example, the lives of our children.
I also want you to know that I have always admired your commitment and your love for Robert and Katie. Dads don’t always get a lot of credit for those things and certainly when our children are young, they can’t possibly appreciate how much energy and sacrifice that kind of a commitment requires, but as a dad myself, I do and someday they will too. You’ve always been there for your family—at every school or church function in which they participated, at every softball and baseball game (more often than not in the dugout!), pool-side at every swim meet, greenside at golf tournaments and high school matches, even in things as simple as family meals, outings, and vacations. In being there, you have given your children a gift more magnificent than even they realize—the gift of you, the gift of your presence, and all that those gifts signify. However, I also have seen firsthand and have been deeply touched by the emotional energy and love you have invested in their lives behind the scenes—a type of being there that they will never see, but one that I saw and admire greatly. You are and have been an exceptional role model for your children and for other dads, including me, whose paths you have crossed along the way.
I also admire and more often than you will ever know have been very moved by your relationship with Libby. I know from our conversations over the years how committed you are to her and how much you love her. I also know from watching the two of you interact over the years how much she loves you. I can tell you that your commitment to each other, even in the face of what certainly must have been some difficult times over the years, has always been a positive influence on my relationship with Cyndy. In an era where the institution of marriage seems to have lost its luster, it’s refreshing and encouraging to know that there are those like you and Libby who still understand and respect the sacrifice and hard work that the marital commitment requires. Your and Libby’s level of devotion to each other has set a wonderful example for Robert and Katie, as well as for Greg and Ashley. I am grateful for that. I also am grateful for the times that you trusted me enough as a friend to share your thoughts and feelings about Libby and your marriage, as well as the times when you cared enough to listen and offer your heartfelt concern and advice about my relationship with Cyndy.
Chuck, I know that you and Libby have been confronted with the greatest challenge of your lives. As I have told Libby many times, I wish that there was something I could do to ease your burden. Unfortunately, all I have to offer are my thoughts, my prayers and my friendship, which have been there from the beginning and which I will continue to offer. In the meantime, I want you to know that you are truly a remarkable person and that I consider myself blessed many times over to have the privilege of calling you my friend.
With love and concern,
As the world (our worlds) become increasingly more complex, stressful and impersonal, the demand for “givers” is greater than it’s ever been. Regrettably, too many people fail to appreciate just how great the need is or how rewarding selfless giving and other-centered living can be! Need proof, a little extra inspiration? Check out the faces of the “giver” and “givee” in the photo that accompanies this post (Chuck and his son, Robert) – and then look around you, find a tear (trust me, you won’t have to look far) and commit to drying it. We’re all in this life thing together folks!