I’m doing a Bible Study called “Stepping Up: Becoming Men of Courage” from Dennis Rainey at Family Life. The first lesson was defining and exemplifying courage. And sure enough in the discussion phase the questions to the group were things like “What is the most courageous thing you’ve done” and “Who is the most courageous person you know in your life?”
I’ve never been asked either question before. I’ve never really given either question much thought. But.. Here is my answer to the second question – My Father.
Now if you were to tell 12 or 13 year old Mike Walsh that I’d be saying that now. I’d probably laugh at you. I’d probably antagonize you and give you a healthy dose of angry sarcasm. You see, 12 or 13 year old Mike was a “Survivor” of Child Abuse. He was an angry kid who had an excuse for anything not right in his life “Oh.. I was abused.. I can’t help it”.. In the summer of my 12th year of life I received this award called the “For Courage to Tell” award – I was a hero for not letting my abuser intimidate me into silence. For speaking up for all the kids who don’t. I received this award at a fancy banquet and had a bunch of Boston area media elite patting me on the back… I remember the trophy. This big pewter eagle deal that had the words “The Honor and the Glory” written on it. We called it “Thag” growing up. I don’t know what happened to it. I received it for bold courage. I was a courageous young boy who at 7 or 8 started talking to therapists, police and a court system about my story. About my family. My brother and sister talked to but they were young. I was the courageous one…
Except.. That I wasn’t courageous.. If you see my father’s day posts, you’ll see that the history isn’t what the history appears to be. You see.. I wasn’t abused. Not by my father anyway. By a system, by some therapists, by others who were supposed to protect and care for me. But not by my father..
I can’t get into how it happened and that doesn’t matter but it happened.
I’m a dad now. I have three kids who I love and care so much about. I am in the 3rd week of hosting an orphan from Ukraine who I love like a father and have to “let go” of in less than 2 weeks. Being a dad to these 3 (+1) kids gives me a different lens to look at my father in and some of the decisions he made in his life and why he made them. And some of the decisions he made for our benefit break my heart for him. But…. As a dad.. I understand them.
And that’s why my father is perhaps the most courageous person I personally know and care about. He taught me a few things through his courage and these are lessons I hope to be able to teach my kids as I grow older (and, sadly, balder – just like him)
Integrity Matters. The Truth Matters
I’ve pored through court documents, talked to other people involved or on the shoulders of the case. One of the things I learned is that my father, partially due to the weak case the prosecution had, had the opportunity to accept a really easy plea deal.. No more court, no more court appointed therapy visits for him, no jail time, just a little probation (and in the days before he’d have to register as any offender), no felony.. Really easy deal to accept.. Except that he wouldn’t. Really, he couldn’t. He didn’t want us to see that. He didn’t want to admit he did something he didn’t do. His family pleaded with him to take that deal. They saw his outlook on life and his life being torn apart. He wouldn’t. He had the courage to stand firm in what he knew was true.
Sometimes Crappy (for you) Decisions are Best (for your kids)
This is the one that crushes me more. Not a guilt. He and I are good and we have a fun time laughing at our past and the system. But it crushes me as a father. I am finding myself moved to tears thinking about our host daughter going back to her orphanage. I find myself homesick and missing my own kids after just a few days when I travel, like a physical pain in the stomach. I have that same feeling knowing that “our” girl is going back to her orphanage and hoping and praying that we can see her again and influence her life in some way. I have a taste of what it would be like to not see my kids and to miss them. Just a taste.
You see.. My dad had the opportunity to push for visitation rights after our case winded down and fell apart. The state ended up dropping the charges/giving him a deal that had no admission of guilt, no convictions, just an agreement that he wouldn’t fight for visitation. He couldn’t keep that end of the deal, though. He had already lost so many years of our lives, he already was letting this grief eat him up – his own kids – he couldn’t agree to that. So he fought. And what he saw back was a 12 or 13 year old boy angry at the world. Heart clenched in a big curse to the world and even more so to him. I was confused and was in one part thinking it was all made up but in another part saying “it must be true” and I believed that my dad was an evil and manipulative man intent on ruining our lives. So I fought. Letters to him, arguments with any guardian ad litem who suggested it would be good to see him. Reached out to the news and press because I was told and felt that my rights were being violated and if I said “no visitation” I shouldn’t have it forced on me – and certainly not my poor brother and sister.. So I fought. I fought for me. I fought for my family.
He saw me fight. He saw the hurt I had, the anger I had. He knew he did nothing, but he saw my reaction. And he felt that pushing further would drag us back into court. He knew that it would hurt us further and confuse us more. He wanted so badly to see us. So while I fought… He withdrew.
He gave up the fight. He stood down. He put his hook (he has one arm.. he has a prosthetic hook for the other one he uses sometimes) and shield down. He left the battlefield. That’s Courage. If I wasn’t a father, I would say “what a wimp!! He gave up! He stopped fighting! He isn’t courageous!” – But.. I would be so wrong. He put our needs and his love for us ahead of his needs and his heart’s desire – to know his own kids!! – I can’t describe the unbelievable amount of courage and love that took. He basically said “It’s time to stop fighting. I’m killing my kids. The truth is the truth and they may someday be back in my life, but if I love them, I have to stop this fight. They’ll get to know me when older, I hope”.. He decided to live a life that meant tears when he saw a father giving a daughter away at a wedding on TV. He decided a life of pain every graduation season, a life of hearing other people brag about their kids and just talk about the fun times they had together. He chose a life of missing us so much. But he did it for us.