A Legacy of Strength

My husband, Jim, is 52 but looks younger. His brown hair has just started to gray above his ears. He is a lanky six foot two and walks on the balls of his feet, with the energy of a Duracell battery. His job often requires him to travel across several continents, but he never complains of jet lag — his internal clock always resets to where he is. His parents used to tell him, “You can’t hoot with the owls and fly with the eagles the next morning,” but he still tries to do both.

My father was a wrestler in the world championships, heavyweight division. As a young girl, I would count his 100 one-arm pushups and 100 clapping pushups, sometimes sitting on his back midway through to see if he could still do them. My father loved to win. When I was 10 on vacation in Southampton, Ontario it was shuffleboard. After numerous losses, he offered me a handicap. “I will beat you fair and square,” I said. When I finally won, the guilt and euphoria made me decline a rematch. All afternoon my father teased and cajoled, the next morning he soundly beat me. We were both, I think, happy with this outcome.

When my father met Jim they circled around each other like two alpha dogs. “If he’s so great how come he hasn’t married yet?” my father asked. Twenty-eight seemed old to my father, who had married at twenty-three. That first visit Jim cheerfully followed my father as he did his chores, showing interest in the chickens, the trout-stocked pond, and the property at large. He was a good sport to run on the trail my father had made on the property. My sisters and I had all abandoned this trail as one by one we turned our ankles or were attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes as we bushwacked our way behind him.

That fall, two things happened. Jim decided to run the NYC marathon in addition to grinding out ninety-hour workweeks. His longest run before the race was thirteen miles, he still managed on a cold, blustery day to finish under four hours. Wrapped in a space blanket after the race and unable to find a taxi, he staggered home like a drunken old man, lucky to return safely.

A few weeks later I was driving home and I felt someone’s eyes on me at a stoplight. A man in his early twenties drove next to me. He gave me a smile like the Joker without make-up, held up a can he was drinking from, and waved. I stared straight ahead and pretended I wasn’t bothered. When the light turned green, I drove on, keeping an eye on his car in my rear view window. He continued behind me. It’s just a coincidence. Lots of people live in this area.

Fifteen minutes later, I turned onto a dark gravel concession road and he turned as well. My driving foot began to tap involuntarily on the pedal. Stay calm. He may still live this way. I’ll do a test — a quick U-turn and if he follows I know he is following me and I’ll call for help. My father had one of the early brick-like car phones in the console. My follower did a U-turn and my fingers shook too as I dialed home. I marvel now that calling the police never crossed my mind. My father answered on the first ring, his voice heavy with sleep.

“Dad, I’m being followed,” I said.

“Head on home. I’ll meet you when you turn on our concession road,” he replied, suddenly awake.

As I turned onto the Eighth Concession road, there was my father walking towards my car; lit up by the headlights, he looked like Superman. He put his hand up and I slowed. He told me to keep going home and then he strode to the car behind me.

He told me later that the car stopped for him. He asked the man to roll down the window. My father reached through the window and lifted the man by his collar, an easy feat for a world wrestler. He told the man to turn off the engine, and then he called the police. It turns out my follower was potentially dangerous. He had a mental illness and a criminal record.

The next day, my father said that Jim had called his office to thank him for protecting me. He looked slightly perplexed — a mixture of confusion and admiration on his face.

Eventually Jim asked my father to go for a walk with him. Jim picked up the key to our Manhattan apartment and off they went. Little did I know that the next chapter of my life was about to begin.

These two strong men came to view each other as close friends. Celebrating Thanksgiving in Northern Ontario, we would hear the splitting of wood outside for hours and then see my father and Jim carrying the wood, knees bent from the weight, steam surrounding their bodies like halos, both completely fulfilled as the wood pile neatly grew.

For my father’s 60th birthday, my parents took their three daughters and two sons-in-law to tennis camp in Florida. At dinner, my father tried out one of his joke gifts — a blood pressure monitor. We laughed when his reading was higher than ours. The monitor must be broken because we knew he was invincible. Eighteen months later my parents went for a jog along the Eighth Concession road, the running trail by now too overgrown, and my father uncharacteristically complained of fatigue. My mother responded that he had just played some terrific tennis over the weekend. His blue eyes widened in shock as he fell to the ground. The doctor called the heart attack a widow maker because there is no recovery from this kind of clogged artery. When we heard the news, Jim held me in his arms and we both wept.

My father taught me how to compete in shuffleboard and in life. He protected me from stalkers and unsuitable dates. When Superman died, Jim and I realized we could carry on that strength for our children.

It had been there all along.

This piece originally appeared on The Good Men Project. Follow them on Facebook for more.

Lisanne Rogers is a former lawyer working on her writing and a mother of 3 living in Houston, Texas.

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