It may be a result of my upbringing, or maybe it was just the way I read into the
things people said around me, but I put an awful lot of stock into working hard
and what that means to be a man. A man works…PERIOD. It doesn’t matter if it’s pouring cement, peddling watermelon at the farmer’s market, or selling real
estate; if you are a man you work hard, make money, and have a family. That’s what I was brought up to believe, but I’m just not so sure anymore.
I grew up with some pretty solid role models in my life. My father provided for my family, and was a hard worker. My uncles were the same, and family friends were as well. All I ever heard about while growing up was how important hard work is, and how it pays off. I bought into that notion, and then in 2007 the recent recession hit, and hit hard.
At the time I was in my first year of law school, so the recession didn’t affect
me all that much until my father, who had some 20-plus rental properties at the
time, began to lose his rental homes due to excessive vacancies and
squatters. In the matter of a year, I watched all of my father’s hard work (over 25 years of accumulation and negotiations), and retirement fall to the way side. He was devastated, and I was too. Not only had I witnessed firsthand how all of
that hard work went to the wayside, but the futility of it all is what affected
me most. No matter what he did, no matter how much effort he put into trying to save the properties, his efforts were fruitless.
I’d love to say that this was the reason I did not do well in law school, but in truth, there were several reasons, and this was certainly a big one. I was
shaken in my belief that you can accomplish anything as long as you work hard,
because in reality, up to that point my hard work did pay off. I went from
being a lackluster high school student, to a college graduate, to a law school
attendee. Not to mention, that right before law school I had lost nearly ninety pounds. I went to law school feeling like a world beater, but after watching my father go through all of the foreclosures on his rentals, that small crack in the armor was all it took to rattle me.
When you stop believing in yourself, a lot of things happen. You start to see the world in black and white, or just all gray. It literally never
occurred to me to simply pass law school as one of the middle of the road
students. You know, just get your J.D., and get on with it. I thought I either
had to be at the top of the class, or just burn. You can probably guess by now which of the two I was. Once my first round of exams didn’t go as well as I had hoped, something in me just turned off. Instead of working harder, subconsciously I thought that hard work had not paid off, and to hell with it.
I’m not saying that a man (or a woman for that matter) shouldn’t work hard, because I believe that everyone should, but at that time in my life, I was so
overwhelmed with defeat-my father’s loss, my bad exams, and slowly gaining back the weight I had worked so hard to take off-that I had given up. It was easier to say I was defeated because I didn’t try, rather than to take defeat after having worked so hard for it. So, I meandered through another two semesters
of law school, gained roughly 75 pounds, and eventually came back home a
complete failure. I had no money, no job, and no confidence, so I did what most of us do in times of trouble, I called a friend.
My best friend Sandro has been in my life for over twenty-one years. We have been best friends from the start. He’s funny, charming, reliable, honest, handsome, and yes, a hard worker. Sandro took me into his home after I left law school, where I spent over two years building myself back up. The
first five or six months weren’t easy, and I don’t mean for me. Thinking back now, I realize it was very difficult for him. You see, Sandro is
the type of guy that wants to help. It doesn’t matter what the problem is, whether he knows you or not, or even if you ask for help, he is going to help you.
That’s just how he is. He will not coddle you though.
During the first few months of our living together, I thought that he recognized that I was depressed, and that he would spend a lot of time with me, and help
“nurse” me a bit. There was some of that the first week or so, but after that, he left me to my own devices. He fathered me if you will. I was over thirty years old, and I was truly learning what it took to be a man. Sandro left me to find a job on my own, to work through a dying relationship I had at the time on my own, and to spend much of the down time alone.
It takes someone with a lot of patience and a whole lot of love to watch somebody
you care about go through a difficult period and not help them at every
turn. Sandro somehow knew that I was going to need a little reassurance, but an awful lot more self-reliance than anything else. He remembered what it was
like to work hard, and to reap the rewards.
He knew that even if it took a while (and it did), that I would find a job and start to believe in myself again. And that’s just what I did.
Little by little, I was building myself back up. I was cutting out negative people and influences, I was slowly getting my weight back down, and I was working.
Beyond that, I was watching what a man does. I watched as he woke up early for work. I was watching when he tended his garden and reaped the harvest. I watched as he supported those in his life with just the right amount of love, guidance, and temperance that truly helps others thrive.
I watched myself idolize my best friend for being an example. If you ask a man who their model is, many would name a sports figure, or someone successful in business, while others would say their father. Many don’t have
one at all, and just say the latter to look good. There are reasons why Sandro is a good role model. He embodies what people love most about a super hero, honesty.
It wasn’t as if Sandro’s honesty was a surprise to me-we’d been best friends long
enough for me to have seen that-but I had never before witnessed the extent to
which he lives by it. Let me tell you a little bit about my friend. A lot of
people would never cheat on their girlfriend; Sandro wouldn’t even think about it. Many people may return a lost wallet sans any cash that was inside; Sandro wouldn’t even open it before handing it over to the proper authorities. And that’s just the man’s honesty.
I’ve seen Sandro leave conversations because people were being racist, misogynistic, or just plain rude. I’ve seen Sandro help
complete strangers for no other reason than because it was the right thing to
do (he truly doesn’t even want a thank you in return). I’ve seen countless kindnesses over two decades that were truly selfless, and it never really occurred to me what Sandro was, and what he best exemplifies…a man.
I used to look up to Spider-Man while growing up because he made the hard
choices, and life always crapped on him for sacrificing for others. It’s how I felt about myself. I felt that life was always handing me a raw
deal, and that I still had to be the good guy, which, when I really think about
it, I wasn’t. Sure, I’ve made some good decisions in my life, but most of them ended up with some benefit in it for me. I was never truly selflessly giving of
myself; on some level, I always expected or hoped for something in return. Even now as I write this, I know that as much as I want to be, I may never live up to what that self-imposed standard of what a man is. For a while now, I’ve thought a super hero is impossible in the real world, but, because I live in a world with
a best friend like Sandro, I know it’s possible.
I still haven’t found my way entirely. I have lost nearly all of the excess weight I put back on, I have a pretty decent job (though not a career), I help people every so often, and I don’t take advantage of women like I used to-oh yeah, I was the king of, “As long as you tell them you don’t want a relationship up front, it’s ok to have meaningless sex. A woman can’t be hurt if you tell them upfront.” I’m still not so sure I want to thank Sandro for getting me out of that phase, but I will thank him for this.
Thank you for helping me, and not helping me. Thank you for helping me realize there are many roads to a destination, and not just one. Thank you for every example you had no idea you were setting, and thank you for those you did. Thank you for encouraging me. Thank you for standing by me. Thank you for believing in me and helping me believe in me. Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for being a real-life super hero Sandro. Thank you for being you. A man.