What the Men Taught Me

‘Cause I’m pan handlin’, man handling’,
Post holin’, high rollin’, dust bowlin’ daddy!

-Amarillo Highway

Jack would belt out the Terry Allen lyrics to Amarillo Highway at random. It was an expression of joy, inspiring fawning admiration from boys yearning to be men.

It was also a pre-hipster, pre-millennial, pre-grunge (remember that?) Pied Piper call to feigned authenticity. We wanted to know the song, to have had the shared experience, to feel as if we knew the same things that Jack knew. Because he was smart and cool and tough, and we wanted to be smart and cool and bold enough to burst into song like that and have people fawning over our own wise-man auras.

It was the high school years, and Jack was the brilliant Young Life rebel leader. He eschewed rules and regulations and convention, preached the Gospel of the great revolutionary, Jesus. With intellectual heft (he introduced us to the word “eschewed,” for example), he taught us that Jesus was the antidote to the Bogus World System.

There was an authentic fight to be fought and manly men (and womanly women) would enlist and scrap and scrape and devote themselves to the Cause of Christ.

We would learn humility and be better at it than anyone else. We would love others more than ourselves. We would share the Gospel not through preaching but through living, setting the example of awesomeness, all while recognizing our utter worthlessness without Jesus.

We would love. And that love would be a sharp-edged, masculine, hardscrabblin’, pan handlin’, post holing’, dust bowling’ kind of love such as the world had rarely seen.


Conflict plus resolution equals intimacy.

Tend to the small things in your marriage or they will become big things.

We go to the mountaintop to see where we’ve been and to see where we want to go, but we can’t live up there.

-all quotes from Skeet

Skeet, an engineer by training, adhered to certainty. If you were to learn a bit of wisdom, you should keep it, repeat it, treasure it, store it.

He was the aloof, quiet director of Wilderness Ranch back in the days when Kendall Ruth was riding in John Wayne’s Horse. Guiding high school kids through the Colorado wilderness for six days embodied the ultimate Jesus adventure: Get dirty, get raw, and get found by Jesus.

As guides on these adventures, though, Skeet wanted us to discover what was right and to execute it over and over again. Improvisation was only allowed when it was Jesus-driven. Otherwise we had to stick to “ranch policy,” an unwritten, unarticulated, unknowable set of imagined rules that gave a pretense of certainty where none existed.

Humility was key because God would break you one way or another. We were prideful people aware of our arrogance, desperately asking our Father to make us humble, and recognizing that our sincerity in that endeavor was irrelevant because we would be humbled regardless. And we took a certain measure of unexpressed pride in that.


There are many who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge: that is curiosity.
There are others who desire to know in order that they themselves be known: that is vanity.
Others seek knowledge in order to sell it: that is dishonorable.
But there are those who seek knowledge in order to edify others: that is love.

-Bernard of Clairvaux

I swear by Apollo Physician, by Asclepius, by Health, by Panacea and by all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will carry out, according to my ability and judgment, this oath and this indenture.


I had asked Ron’s daughter to marry me. She had said yes.

Performing his fatherly duty, Ron took me for a ride in his Porsche for a little man-to-man talk. “You can always say no to me,” he said, for Ron was keen to foster healthy family interactions.

As a surgeon, Ron knew how to give orders and be obeyed. As a conservative Christian — at the time, a self-described fundamentalist — he knew what it meant to be the spiritual head of the household. As a serious church-goer, he knew the danger of being an overbearing father-in-law, one who could impose his ego on others.

Always striving to be closer to God, Ron wanted to be sure that I knew where his heart was. In his too-flattering manner — an overwrought graciousness born of a fear of his own arrogance — Ron attributed to me virtue and wisdom and forthrightness that I didn’t deserve.

Overcorrecting and inaccuracy remains a problem, 20 years later. Out of a misapplied reverence to ancient wisdom, Ron often refers to the Bernard of Clairvaux quote above and others like it. When I point out, as I have many times, that he as a doctor and I as a lawyer sell our knowledge, he deflects the issue of our dishonor and clings to the quote.

The same goes for the Hippocratic Oath, which Ron believes should be required of every medical student when they enter school rather than when they leave. When I point out that such students would be swearing by pagan gods and not the Christian one, he again deflects the issue.

And when I said the big “no” in 2006 after rejecting Christ, Ron could no longer deflect. Robbed of his primary tool for dealing with dissonant ideas, he seemed lost and conflicted for a while. But like an overloaded computer, he rebooted and found his standard starting point. Bernard and Hippocrates continue to pop up as if there was never a problem in the first place.


These men taught me to check my own ego at the door of every relationship. Jack and Skeet and Ron modeled for me how to struggle with male arrogance and how, at times, to overcome it. They showed me that the essence of strength, of manliness, is putting others before self, especially when it’s difficult.

Alas…they also showed me how to fail. Ron made an attempt to understand why I rejected god, but his defensiveness arising from his ego cut me deeper than few have ever been able to. Skeet, after a brief conversation about poor reasoning — about ideas, mind you — called me a fool and refused to continue speaking with me. Jack, despite a decade having passed since I rejected Christ, simply hasn’t seemed interested.

Skeet won’t talk to me and Jack just doesn’t (the latter of which — to be fair — is a mutual failing). I still see Ron regularly because he’s family, but we cannot manage a conversation about anything more substantive than the status of the Texas Rangers. These men, once so important in my life, have faded away by choice, indifference, or inability.

I get what you’re thinking: No one is obliged to care about me. That’s true. And the point here isn’t really about my relationship to these one-time role models.

The point…the point is…. What is the point?

I guess I just want to say that if you’re serious about humility, it means that you have to be able to say, “I’m wrong.” Not just about little things, either. If you were wrong in how you spoke to your wife that one time, you have to tell her.

If you were wrong about how you yelled at your kid, you’ve got to learn to apologize and, more importantly, change so that you don’t do it again.

If you’re wrong about Jesus, you have to admit it, no matter the consequences.

I may be wrong now. I invite you to show me how I am.