Consider this post a brief biography of two men, whose names were Bob and Frank. I knew them both, though they didn’t know each other; sadly, they both died this past month, only three days apart. They were unremarkable, unexceptional men, as measured by the skewed societal standards of celebrity or accomplishment. In reality, however, nothing could be further from the truth; both Bob and Frank held in common those ideals and characteristics that are the truest measure of the worth of a man.
Bob was born in Akron, Ohio in 1931; he was raised in the Christian faith, albeit in a stifling sect that demanded conformity from its members and the shunning of all outsiders, including other Christians. He owned his own construction business for a time, and built their first home for himself and his wife. He graduated from Kent State University with a degree in Chemistry and worked for the B.F. Goodrich Tire and Rubber Company. Ultimately, he found his church’s incursions into his family life far too invasive, and so bravely decided to move his wife and children away to Tucson in 1970. He worked as a polymer chemist for a local company until his retirement. Bob was my father in law; to me his single greatest achievement in life was his third child, of five, who would later become my wife.
Frank was born in Brooklyn in 1951, to a mother that didn’t want him; she gave him to her sister to raise. His was a troubled childhood, bounced around between mother and aunt, neither of whom provided the best of care. He quit school at the age of fifteen and began to abuse drugs and alcohol. Later he joined the air force, and met a man who introduced him to Jesus Christ. Frank became a physical therapist, married a special woman and together they had four strapping lads and one lovely daughter. Frank was a friend, whose younger children attended homeschool groups and later Christian high school with my children. Most recently, he mentored and counseled my son (at Sam’s request) with respect to being a good husband for his future bride.
Within days of Sam’s wedding and of each other both men became ill and were rushed to the intensive care unit at Tucson Medical Center. Bob had contracted pneumonia; doctors soon discovered that his swallow reflex was so weak he was aspirating – food and liquids were being drawn into his lungs. A feeding tube was installed in his abdomen so he could be fed. Frank was admitted suffering from a blood disorder; in addition, there was an underlying diagnosis of bone cancer. In both cases, doctors did what they could, and eventually both men were sent to hospice within days of each other.
Frank died on August 21. Bob, though he had briefly rallied, faltered and passed on August 24. In life, neither had sought nor achieved fame at any level; no one who didn’t know them personally will regard their passing. Both provided well for their families, but neither man possessed great wealth. Their legacies, however, are far greater than those of the merely rich and famous, because both men lived as God would have men live.
Both Frank and Bob loved the Lord. Frank was the more unabashed of the two; spend any time with him, and he would soon know where you stood on matters of faith. My son found great encouragement from Frank’s premarital counseling, and had sought him out for his example. Bob took delight in the Word; as he lay distressed in his hospital bed, it was Psalms and verses read by his children and grandchildren that gave him comfort.
Each man took great delight in his family. Though even the most deviant among us can claim to love his own, few can say their happiness and personal definition depended almost solely upon them. Both men loved their wives deeply; Frank for over thirty five years and Bob for over sixty. Each of these men’s children grew confidently in the security of knowing they enjoyed the complete love and devotion of their fathers. Both Bob and Frank radiated contentment and joy while in the presence of their respective families.
Perhaps the most impressive quality inherent in both men was their humility. Though each were brilliant, thoughtful, engaging and quick-witted men, both Bob and Frank were content to defer to others in conversation and were genuinely interested in the lives of those with whom they were engaged. Often, over the raised voices, laughter and interruptions of a large family sharing stories around the dinner table, I would see Bob sitting quietly, smiling broadly and laughing silently as he watched his wife and children interact. On more than one occasion I found myself telling Frank more than I would have him know; I have no doubt that many others who have known him would say the same. How did he do that?
The families of both men are grieving; we have lost the very foundations upon which our relationships are built. We are deprived, as though things cherished but oft taken for granted are stolen forever. Typical of God’s grace, however, as we watched them slowly being taken from us, a sense of peace and acceptance settled in. We became aware that He was and always is in control, and that two men who were fully vested and faithful in life, at its end clinging to it solely for our sake, were freed to relinquish it and take their inheritance in the kingdom of Heaven. And now, for all our sadness, how great their joy!