Navigating Life With a Little Help

What my dad taught me about toughness

I always wanted to have arms like my dad. They weren’t huge Hulk Hogan arms, but they looked strong. Actually, I wanted to be like my dad in a lot of ways, as his strength lay not only in his arms but in his heart. Though he was strong, he would better be described as “tough.”

What takes someone from strength to toughness?

Let’s start with Hulk Hogan. He was a professional wrestling superstar in the WWF (World Wrestling Federation), and even if you have never watched the WWF before, you have likely seen or heard of Hulk Hogan. He was the original wrestling hero, the chosen one to take down the villains; or achieve the unbelievable feats of strength, like when he body-slammed Andre the Giant.

That being said, it takes more than big muscles or a booming voice to be tough. The aspect of Hulk Hogan that made him tougher than most was his ability to come back from the edge of defeat time and time again. You could never count this guy out, and he would never quit. That is what I saw in my dad.

Everyday Toughness

I’m taken back to my elementary years in California. He would come home at the end of the day, dirty clothes, and lunchbox in hand. He was a welder, and for 30 plus years he worked for that same welding company, giving them his best every day. He was up and out the door before dawn, and he did this with thankfulness along the way.

I learned so much about commitment from him, without him having to say a word because he lived it every day.

This toughness went way beyond his work ethic though. He was committed to play catch with us, teach us, have dinner with us, engage in discussion with us, snuggle with us, and altogether do life with our family. In those early years, he and my mom were also a great team, and they both brought inspiration to those around them.

Dad was also committed to our church, and it was important to him that our family was too. I can still see him with his Sunday morning best; a polo shirt tucked into his jeans, freshly trimmed mustache, and the smell of Old Spice aftershave. He and my mom would stay after church for an hour or more to talk with and pray with people who needed it. Foundational understandings of faith and community were established in me during those times.

It would take a book to truly define all of the ways my dad had impacted my life, but for this post, we will need to fast forward to the winter of 2015.

Finishing Strong

It was early December, and my brother and I found ourselves in the hospital room with my dad. Breathing had become a struggle due to fluid in his lungs, and we were awaiting the test results. The results came back from the doctor, and it was my dad in his commitment to his sons asking if we were okay. He was the one who just got diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, yet he immediately turned his concern toward us rather than himself. That is true love right there.

Less than a month later, my brother and I were playing our guitars at his memorial service. He fought as hard as he could until the end.

That next month was so hard. He didn’t let on how bad he was doing because he didn’t want to burden anyone. After all, when you’re tough, you train yourself to persevere and stay strong through hard times. His one hope as he fought through the cancer was that if he had to go he could go out as himself.

Less than a month after his diagnosis, my brother and I were playing our guitars at his memorial. He fought as hard as could until the very end.

Lasting Impact

Now that I am a husband and a father, I get it. To live and love fully, you need to be tough, and toughness lived out exemplifies courage and commitment, grit, compassion, and holding on to hope. I think about my dad all the time, I wouldn’t say every day, but pretty close to that. Every time I come to a decision point that affects my girls, I think of how much I love them. Whenever someone or something tries to break into space between me and my wife, I hear my dad’s voice telling us to protect that space.

I could have used his advice and love so much these past four years, his wisdom, his faith insights, and his political insights. He never stopped pouring into me or my wife and kids. His nonstop lovingkindness towards us created a legacy that will outlive his faults and failures. So what I take away this Father’s Day, is the challenge to be tough, to the core.

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