I am a man. I am a strong man, an honest man, a man of virtue and integrity. I am not bragging here, merely stating things that have been proven and shown to me through hardship and difficulty. I have passed through a refiner’s fire and come forth a sharpened blade of the best steel.
Many cultures have a well-defined rite of passage in which a boy passes through a trial or ceremony of some sort to become a man. In many cases these rites were perilous in some fashion, or otherwise incredibly arduous. Our culture has nearly obscured such traditions, turning them into things of education or age only. A boy rarely needs to demonstrate his honesty, his integrity, his trustworthiness to be considered a man. He needs only attend so many high school classes or live for so long. As a result we are overrun with boys masquerading as men, subsequently hurting their loved ones who rely upon them when a man is needed.
During our second year of marriage, my wife began to experience some odd things. Her hands and feet would tingle and go numb. Her joints ached all the time, and she found rapid movement to be quite difficult. Over the course of a handful of months she lost quite a bit of weight, which was all muscle mass. She became incredibly weak, to the point where she couldn’t stand up from a sitting position on her own or raise her arms above her head. It took several doctors and many months to finally discover that she had a rather rare combination of auto-immune diseases. Her diagnosis at the time was scleroderma with an overlap of polymyositis (that has since been amended to dermatomyositis.) Within the past few months she was also diagnosed with fibromyalgia.
Stacey continued to work a full time job throughout much of this time. After finally getting a diagnosis she started a treatment and had begun to improve. Unfortunately one night she had several seizures brought on by high blood pressure and ended up spending a week in the hospital; then did we realize she needed to quit her job and take time to recover. At that point the entire financial burden of our burgeoning household was put on my shoulders. In addition to that, I was fully a caretaker in nearly every sense of the word; all of the cooking and cleaning and such was up to me.
It has since been many years, and a lot has changed. Medication has helped my wife a lot, and she is far more capable now than she was then. Rather than a mere job, I now have a career. We have two children and our own home instead of a small apartment. As she recovered and began to shoulder some of her load once more, much more new responsibility was put on both of us together.
I know full well that all couples face their own sets of challenges, and I do not intend to belittle struggles that anyone else goes through. However, in our experience, after going through such severe health problems so early in our marriage… after facing a situation in which I honestly believed that I might lose my beloved at any time… no other problems have daunted us. Every other problem that has beset us has been just a speed bump; we have simply faced each one together and hit them head-on.
Not everybody in our sort of circumstance has done the same. I have become all too aware of how many so-called men abandon their wives to face the ravages of such diseases on their own. If I didn’t see how often such abominations take place through our associations with disease and caretaker support groups and doctors who counsel people going through it, I would not have believed it.
A number of years ago Stacey’s doctor asked us to sit on a panel in front of student doctors and allow them to ask us questions about living with these auto-immune diseases. The majority of the questions were absolutely expected, and centered around medically coping on a day-to-day basis. One of these doctors completely stunned me though with his question when he asked “and why have you stayed with your wife instead of leaving her?” I was flabbergasted that a professional would ask such a thing…. after a moment of recovering I could only tell him that I stayed because she was my wife and I vowed “through sickness and health.” After reviewing the situation a bit, I better understand it and believe he wanted to understand me to be able to counsel other spouses in my situation; and I admire him for asking that now and wish I had given a more cogent response.
However, since then others have asked me the same question who would never be in a position to pass my opinion on. I have become hardened to it and cynical and have a canned response: “I have stayed with her because I’m a man, and that’s what men do. Those who leave their women just because they are sick are not men and should have their testicles revoked.”
Typically these things are said to me out of ignorance or by someone who is trying to joke, though I try to make it clear that it is a line which should not be crossed. Some people should know that it is a line which should never be crossed. Recently at an appointment with Stacey’s doctor, the fact that both of her grandmothers suffer from scleroderma came up (something he knew, but had apparently forgotten.) As he was walking out the door, he walked past me and said “too bad you didn’t know about those bad genes before you married her, huh?”
That is one person who should definitely know the full gamut of the difficulties that those who have these health problems face, and know that such a comment is inappropriate. And the fact is that I knew full well that she had “those bad genes.” Granted I had no idea what the full implications of them would or could be on my life, but neither did Stacey…. there was no way anybody could have known. And the real kicker? It wouldn’t have made a lick of difference.
At least, I don’t think it would have; I can say now in retrospect that it wouldn’t. First there is the reason I stated to that student doctor. I made a vow, swore an oath to my wife. A man is nothing if he doesn’t keep his word, and an oath is the strongest form a word can take. Despite the popular conception that abounds these days, a marriage is absolutely not a piece of paper; the certificate just makes it legal. A marriage is a covenant between two people to honor each other in every way possible, to put their needs before your own, and it is solemnized before witnesses. And on top of all of that, I fell in love with my wife and love her far more to this day.
I have not been a saint or an absolute pillar of strength through all of this by any means. My back has been bent, my shoulders hunched at times. I have been so weary from long and exhausting days at work that the last thing I wanted to do was take care of someone who needed me. I have had to turn to friends and family to seek their strength and receive blessings from them at times. And I have had to cast it all at the feet of my God at times and all but give up, until He buoyed me enough to take another step. Through every step of it, my wife has been at my side.
My rite of passage has been my wife’s poor health. There has been no council of men, supreme ruler, Jedi Master, or anything of the sort to congratulate me and present to me a sword that I can wear in public now. I don’t have a uniform or a badge, I don’t even get a sash. Nobody has informed me that I have passed through this trial and come out triumphant at the end; nobody needed to.
I stand tall where many have fallen. My strength is not in my arms (I am a computer geek after all!) but in my determination. Finally, the symbol of my success is the beautiful family that I have around me, that I have grown worthy to care for.