I’ve met a number of genuine tough guys in my life. Back in sixth grade, for example, I met Chuck Norris – yes, the Chuck Norris who battled Bruce Lee in the Way of the Dragon. Chuck was a special guest in our karate class taught by my homeroom teacher, Mr. Fried – a serious tough guy in his own right. Mr. Fried was both a fifth degree black belt instructor and a reserve deputy sheriff who just happened to be a personal friend of Chuck Norris.
Two tough guys. Men worthy of respect. The kind of brawny men I’d like to become.
I’m a lot older now and, while there’s nothing wrong with admiring their achievements and skill, I’ve come to appreciate another kind of tough guy. I’m talking about the kind of man who possesses a strength of character; whose personal integrity is unshakable. He’s the kind of man who honors his wedding vows, who stands by his wife and family in good times and when the pressure is on.
Don Hodel is that kind of man.
Indeed, Don has a string of accomplishments that are hard to match – not the least of which is the fact that President Ronald Reagan appointed him to be Secretary of the Department of Energy and then appointed him Secretary of the Interior. Don Hodel became so distinguished in his service, President Reagan awarded him the Presidential Citizens Medal.
Years later, Don served in a volunteer capacity as President and CEO of Focus on the Family. While maybe not as flashy as having a fifth degree black belt in Taekwondo, Don’s skill tackling the day-to-day operations of Focus on the Family enabled Dr. Dobson to concentrate on being the chief spokesman and visionary leader of the ministry.
Don knew his role as President of Focus would be part of a transition process, one which led to my appointment as the new president. Don was a model of what it means to be a servant leader. But here’s the amazing thing about Don that has really impressed me.
At 7:15 the morning of August 14, 2007, Don’s wife Barbara tumbled down a flight of stairs, landing face down. Her injuries required her to be airlifted to St. Anthony’s Central Hospital in Denver where her MRI revealed serious damage to the C3 and C4 vertebras. Barbara had no movement in her arms or hands and only minimal movement in her legs. Unable to breath on her own, she was placed on a life-saving respirator.
In an instant, Don’s world was rocked to the core. His love of a lifetime lay motionless in a hospital bed . . . and her prognosis wasn’t promising. Her doctors said Barbara most likely would never be able to get off of her respirator for more than a handful of minutes at a time, if ever. She couldn’t move or speak above a whisper. Now what? Would Don stand by his bride – in sickness as he did in health? For better or for worse?
As I’ve witnessed first hand, far too many men cut their losses and bail on their marriage and family when the road gets rough. In my case, after my mother died – on the very night of her funeral – my stepfather packed his bags, called a taxi, and left us kids as orphans. He never looked back. Worse, he sold everything we had, leaving us penniless. I was just nine at the time.
Which might be why I’m especially encouraged and challenged by Don. Here’s a man who remains faithfully steadfast in the midst of his wife’s crisis. To me, that kind of commitment takes a really strong man. A man of his word. A man of rock solid integrity. A man who knows real love hangs tough.
The kind of man I want to be.
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