One of the great blessings of my life has been the fact I’ve been surrounded by people who have been kinder to me than I have deserved. One of those people is leaving soon, and I want you to meet him before he goes.
My brother-in-law, Steve Woodhead, is going into hospice care today. He has battled cancer for more than a year now, but the doctors have told him he cannot win. He has a tumor growing around his spinal column. Between the pain and the drugs, he is in and out of lucidity at this point.
To give you an idea who Steve is, know that 26 years ago when I proposed marriage to his little sister, I was a starving student who had popped the question before I thought about practicalities like a honeymoon. Steve stepped in and procured for us a cabin in Kennebunkport, Maine about a mile from the compound owned by George H.W. and Barbara Bush. Steve and his wife, Joline, let us borrow their bikes for that week in Maine. I broke the chain on his and took it to a local bike shop to have it repaired. When I told the shop owner about Steve and what he’d done, the shop owner repaired Steve’s bike free of charge.
Kindness inspires more kindness, I believe. I think Steve believed it too. No, he believes it. Not past tense. This is not a eulogy. It is an introduction. I want you and Steve to meet each other.
I’ll not get a chance to say goodbye to Steve in person, but that doesn’t matter. We said more important things the last time we were together. You see, Steve and I are both fathers of remarkable daughters.
We used to talk about fatherhood in general terms, every year or so when we got together for one family function or another. But as Steve’s daughter Angela kept achieving and achieving, it became obvious she was destined for a life most of us will never attain.
I watched Angela grow from an infant. Today she works for the FDIC in Washington, having gone from a public school education in rural Maine through George Washington University to a position of responsibility, prestige and the potential for far greater growth.
My daughter, I told Steve last summer, is showing some of the same character traits and academic prowess Angela had shown at the same age. “Steve,” I said, “I am an only child who has, until now, raised only a son. I could raise a girl, but I know nothing of helping her grow from a girl into a wise, strong young woman. How do I help this girl become the kind of remarkable adult I believe she can be?”
Knowing Steve, I should not have been surprised at his answer. “Be there for her,” he said. “Don’t let her forget that you are there for her, and that she should never fear to spread her wings, because you’ll always provide that safety net. Let her have the confidence to take risks and follow her ambitions. That confidence comes from knowing that someone loves her and will – if she falls – keep her from falling too far, or at least will be there to help her pick herself up so she can try again.
“She’s got the hard part,” Steve said to me. “She’s got to go out there and accomplish whatever she sets out to do. It’ll be hard for you to watch sometimes because you’ll see things she doesn’t, but you’ll both be fine. Just be there for her. She’ll do the rest.”
Steve was doing for me exactly what he was telling me to do for my daughter. He was giving me the confidence to be the father I needed to be by telling me he knew I could do it.
I don’t fear for Angela when Steve passes. She has traveled far enough down her own path to becoming a strong, wise woman that she no longer needs the comfort of a safety net. But I feel for her. A love that strong is hard to lose from one’s life.
Upon Angela, Steve has helped bestow wisdom, strength and confidence. I hope she has also inherited his gift of kindness.
It’s that gift that made me want to introduce you to Steve – and to ask a favor of you. If you have the opportunity today, would you say or do something kind to someone else? It doesn’t matter what or for whom. Just help me honor Steve’s kindness with a bit of your own. Steve and I both believe kindness inspires more kindness. I just feel I owe it to him to ask you this favor before he leaves.