I just returned from visiting my brother. He has two sweet little girls that are five and seven. Last spring, he and his wife of eight years separated. It was horrible. I've never heard a grown man's heart break like his did on a daily basis. The thought of disappointing his daughters nearly killed him. I mean it. There were moments when I called just to make sure he was still alive. I worried about him constantly. If he called, I answered. Whether it was while walking on the beach during our family vacation in California or shopping at Kroger alone with the kids, I took his call.
Then spring turned into summer, summer turned into fall, and fall has turned to winter. Divorce proceedings are underway, custody is still being decided, and he just underwent major back surgery; all as he continues to run a successful business. His stress load has multiplied exponentially. Yet he's standing taller and stronger than I've ever seen him.
I watch him with his daughters and I am amazed. He cares about their feelings. He listens to what they have to say. When he's made a mistake he gets down on one knee, looks them in the eye, offers them a sincere hug and says, "I'm sorry." That's it. I'm sorry. No but to follow, no lesson to be learned, no excuse to be made.
I look in his oldest daughter's room and I can tell how much she loves him. Of all the girly chapter books on her shelf, an antique copy of Chip Hilton sits on her bedside table. This is her current independent book of choice. It sits next to the Cleveland Browns helmet they got at the last game together, and one of his old weathered footballs from high school. He didn't tell her how to decorate her room. She made these sentimental decisions on her own.
I watch as his youngest daughter stands behind him on the couch and drapes her arms around his neck. He grimaces in pain, but doesn't say a word. "Be careful with your daddy's back," I say. He shoots me an annoyed glare that tells me he's okay. Then I hear him whisper in her ear that she is fine just where she is. She smiles from ear to ear and kisses him on the cheek.
I am impressed when he gets up to go sit at the kids' table at Denny's. I know he hasn't slept well, and his daughters are perfectly content sitting with their cousins. But their eyes light up when they see him approach, and they readily scoot over in the booth to make room for him. Time with his daughters is precious now, and he is sure to make every minute count.
I am touched as I listen to the three of them laugh together while telling us about their most recent adventures. Just last week, he and his oldest were in a stall together in a women's public restroom. Usually he stands outside the bathroom door and waits for her. But she asked him to come in, because she missed him. It was empty at the time, so he happily agreed. However it filled up quickly, so they were forced to exit with apologies and embarrassed giggles. The other women weren't offended. They thought it was sweet.
Even though my brother's current situation is less than ideal, I am so proud of him for making the most of it. He is teaching his girls that quality is just as important as quantity. He is teaching them to find all kinds of reasons to smile, instead of dwelling on the frown. He is demonstrating the virtue of patience as they all work towards more time together. He is setting an example of what it means to be a bigger person without having to say a word. And when it's all said and done, his daughters will thrive because he spent time at rock bottom.