For the introduction to the Lessons From My Father Series – Click Here
Walk on the Roadside – Part 1
“Chivalry!—why, maiden, she is the nurse of pure and high affection—the stay of the oppressed, the redresser of grievances, the curb of the power of the tyrant —Nobility were but an empty name without her, and liberty finds the best protection in her lance and her sword.” – Sir Walter Scott
It was probably just a routine walk from home to another perennial school event. You know, the kind of event that drags reluctant parents to their kids’ elementary school to see bizarre pipe-cleaner collages hanging on the walls or to “oooh” and “aaah” over science projects that were mostly completed by coerced parents. It might have been just an evening walk for the family around the block, although those kinds of walks were rare. I really don’t even remember the reason we took the stroll. All that remains of that memory is a shadowy image floating in my mind of my sister, my parents and me on a dark night on the sidewalk in front of our house.
My sister, three years older and many inches taller, had always made sure that I knew she was older and taller. I could not run as fast. I could not jump as high and I could not do as much as she could…yet.
As Julie and I walked with our parents that night, we did the same pushing, shoving and arguing that marks most normal sibling relationships but this night was about to take on special significance. As dad and mom walked behind us, they ignored the antics but dad proffered this statement.
“Michael, you should be walking on the roadside.”
The roadside? I had no clue what he meant because we weren’t even on the road; we were on the sidewalk. And why would I walk in the road? It was probably the single raised eye brow and quirky frown that prompted him to clarify.
“When you are walking with a girl, you are supposed to walk between her and the road. It is your job to protect her from cars that may drive past and splash mud on her while she walks on the sidewalk.” Quirky frown turned to a full scowl and groan.
“Dad, she’s not a girl. She’s my sister!”
“You are the man. It is your job to protect the girl. Today it is your sister; someday it will be your wife.”
Scowl and groan turned to gleaming smile and straighter back! As I took a little stutter-step to the left to reposition to the “roadside” of the sidewalk, I was no longer the younger and shorter brother; I was “the man – the Protector!” Honestly, if a car had driven by at that moment, I am sure I would have stepped aside and let Julie take every drop of the mud bath, but still, I felt different somehow. I had suddenly been made aware of a purpose in my position. Ten seconds earlier I was just walking on the sidewalk trying to find a way to irritate my sister. And now I was protecting her…creepy! And why is dad talking about “my wife”? I’m only six years old!
I think every parent prays for the chance to say or do something that truly impacts their child. We all hope for that one teachable moment when we share the “wisdom of Solomon” and it changes them forever. Unfortunately, I am not sure that we can create these moments…often they just happen and we don’t know what, if anything, sticks with them until years later. I believe that was the case for my dad as well. He was just sharing what he had learned and that seed took root in my heart. For me, that root has become a tree that bears fruit in many different areas of my life. Walking on the roadside is not just about protection from mud or rain; it is not about being chivalrous or gallant. Those things are important and, certainly, chivalry needs a rebirth in our culture; but this idea of the roadside was about providing a line of defense for my family; my faith and even my God.
Damsels in Distress
I suppose you could call it our first real fight and perhaps our best fight. Debbie and I had been married for over a year and the honeymoon was still in full swing – I was always right and she always agreed with me. Life was as it should be! I think I might have made a very innocent comparison to my mother’s way of doing something or maybe the comment was about her mother…I’m really not sure what caused the fracas but I am sure my wife can recall every detail – do me a favor…don’t ask her. What I do remember is lying on the bed in our small two room apartment and laughing while Debbie was getting angrier by the minute. No, I was not laughing at her; I was just laughing. I don’t think she appreciated the difference. Whatever the disagreement, I found her emotional reaction to it hilarious. She found my humorous reaction to it insulting. In complete frustration, she began to beat me with one of the pillows. Do I dare admit to more laughter? The end result was an angry, hurting wife and a selfish, mocking husband. In hind sight, I should be glad that this brawl took place in the bedroom with soft “cushy” things rather than in the kitchen. In either event, I had missed out on an opportunity to stand on the roadside for my wife and serve as her protector. After many years of marriage and much learning I am slowly coming to understand that protecting my wife includes more than preventing the physical threats from a dangerous world; it includes these many intangible areas as well. I am still learning how to best fulfill these needs but it has been nearly 40 years since that night in front of our house walking next to my sister and it is still impossible for me to walk with my wife without doing a little stutter-step, placing my hand on her waist to move her over and then take my place on the roadside.
OPEN MIC: SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS
- Is there someone in your life that would benefit from you standing on the roadside for them?
- How could you serve as a protector or “encourager” for someone today?