Archive for July, 2012

A Man Called Marshall

July 23, 2012

Yesterday, Sunday, my wife and I were driving down to have lunch with her son, Allen, who is my step-son (though he has become as much a son as my own flesh-and-blood son), and his son, Colt, our 1-year-old grandson. He is in the middle of family and custody issues that rival a soap-opera, and we, of course, get caught in the middle, trying to navigate the treacherous waters that will bring the most benefit for the little tyke, whom we want to have the best family and spiritual heritage possible in the midst of a not-so-pleasant situation. It IS resolving itself some, but it is painful, and we were going to lunch to try to resolve some of most recent eruptions of the issue.

On the drive down, we are talking about a man who paid tribute to his just-deceased father at the start of a long teaching I had been listening to. We have a lot of respect for this particular teacher, having heard him in person a number of times, but this particular video is on YouTube, and has become relatively well-viewed. Out of the blue, my wife says, “I don’t know what I would say at my father’s funeral. I guess if I don’t have anything to say, the best thing would be to simply keep quiet.”

I was appalled. My wife’s father, Marshall, is in his upper 80’s. He has lived all his life in flat farming country in the Midwest. He was a successful farmer, a major officer in a land bank, and still married—they just celebrated 65 years in May. But that is not where I think his greatest success lies. The last 6 years have been probably the most painful of his whole life, watching his wife be slowly stolen from him by the ravages of Alzheimers. Whether out of stubbornness or perseverance (flip-sides of the same coin to me), he resists putting her in a nursing home. In-home care is costing him into 5 figures each year, and is slowly eating away the inheritance he longed to—and was giving some of—to his 3 daughters. He has had to make necessary adjustments—keeping the stove power off because his wife tried to boil water in plastic, having to restrain her in ways that tear his heart out, watching her weep when she gets up on a Thursday morning and dresses for church and cries because she can’t go (it’s not Sunday), seeing her personality disappear out of a body that is like a walking death endured in a thousand indescribable ways. (The blessings of our medical prowess have brought us curses as well, like the Cumaean sibyl of Ovid, able to live forever, but having failed to ask for eternal youth, withering away till we’re trapped in a jar with only a voice left.)

So I said to my wife, “Your dad is a monument. I wish the world could be full of Marshalls.” I went on to describe some of the ways I admire him—a man who at 88 still lives in the same house for half a century, who still makes his own ammo and shoots prairie dogs, who is still able to drive to visit his daughter a thousand miles away, who is proud of how little he has to recycle, who still eats a simple breakfast—the list goes on and on. I said, “If the world had a lot more men like your dad, we wouldn’t be having all the situations like we are going to try to take care of today. I wish there were thousands of men like Marshall.”

She got teary-eyed and said, “Thank you. I appreciate you helping me see that about my dad.” But it’s true: I would gladly be like a man called Marshall, and I wish far more men had models and monuments like that to look up to.