Cloister Commentary, Addendum 2: What Kind of Man was Mike?

I shared this on Walnut Lawn’s memorial page, but I thought I should share it here, too. You become very close to some folks during your life, and there are some things you just want to be sure are known widely about them. Also, I screwed up a quote on the memorial page and couldn’t edit it…

Mike and I had many talks over the years, and he was a very, very funny conversationalist–about the only person I LOVED talking to on the phone. But when the hard rap on swilling beer, watching sports, and playing rock and roll quieted, we often turned to the necessity of growing up. Mike’s sister Becky shared with me the other day that he was a deep thinker, and he WAS–especially when it came to the meaning of being a man. We returned to that topic as if it had gravitational pull; in fact, we talked about it in our fifties (as perhaps befits two guys who would not give up Converse All-Stars). We both had fathers with high expectations; we both regularly questioned whether we measured up.

It’s funny: you see men walking around every day–adult males who look like men. But many of them (maybe not enough of them) keep working on it for years without being satisfied, still feeling like a kid, never considering themselves bona fide men. It’s our own INTERIOR version of the one where parents always see their offspring, to some extent at least, as children, no matter how crotchety they get.

However, the fact is, Mike became an excellent MAN a long time ago, though he was so self-effacing he could be hard to convince. He firmly, quietly, and methodically paid off his house. He was loyal and hard-working at his job. He was a very faithful friend and one helluva groomsman (he gave my wife’s grandma a 45-mile ride home before the reception was over when she had vehicular problems). And? He was the best by-God dad I’ve ever witnessed demonstrate the art of parenting. From the time London was old enough to absorb a lesson to the last time we saw them together, my wife Nicole and I always marveled at the firmness, consistency, persistence, and–most of all–demonstrative love with which Mike spoke to and treated his son. I choose the word “demonstrative” very deliberately, because it’s been said we guys occasionally have a little trouble with that. Not Mike. He could say “I love you” like pattin’ for a dance, and he meant it–and he always let London know it. When we’d praise him for such excellence, he’d always remind us of a particular weak spot he needed to work on.

One of my favorite memories of the two of them is when they came up to Columbia for London’s baseball tournament. We got to see the kid pitch and remain totally poised during a rain delay, then react to some struggles on the mound with perspicacity. I hadn’t really had many conversations with him at that point, but while waiting in a grocery store parking lot for Mike to return with some grub afterward, we started chatting, and I was immediately impressed with his dry wit and eloquence (about math, yet)–and his ability to needle his dad as skillfully as Mike had always needled us. He seemed very much like his father’s son, if not quite as animated.

After London started school at Mizzou, he came over once to eat lunch and change the oil in his whip as Mike had taught him; he kept his tools with us. While he toiled and I prayed he wouldn’t ask me for help, we had an even more enjoyable conversation about hip hop, which wasn’t always Mike’s bag, and the kid really knew his stuff (Earthgang fans, holla!). But, more important, the kid’s depth of thought and easy politeness felt very, very familiar. And–he did extremely well on a philosophy paper I had the pleasure of reading; those are not easy for seniors, not to mention freshmen. Deep thinker.

Yep, Mike was a bona fide man, and London’s well on his way. I’ve taught kids for 37 years and they’re no day at the beach in the classroom, much less at home. If raising London were the only thing Mike had ever done extremely well–it’s not–he passed the dang test. I wish he were going to be here to witness his son’s future exploits, but, folks, he did the heavy lifting.

That reminds me: to paraphrase a rock and roll sage who knew his time was short, Mike’s just dead–he’s not gone. He’ll live on in the way London moves through the world, where he will be sure to be pushing himself to meet his father’s example. Thing is, he’ll be meeting it in the pushing, not necessarily the outcome.So long, Mike. You done good.

The memorial was perfect. Our hearts continue to be with Mike’s friends and family.

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