The Toughest Man That I Know

David is probably the toughest man that I know.

He doesn’t have huge muscles. There isn’t a teardrop tattooed on his face. He needs help walking. Almost ten surgeries on your legs will do that to you.

But none of that keeps David from being tough. He is what every man should be.

A long time ago he made a commitment to his bride. He looked her in the eye and told her that he would be there for her in sickness and in health. Those were more than just romanticized words of a man simply in a hurry to get through with the formalities of a wedding ceremony. Those words were a covenant. David kept his covenant.

He’s the toughest man that I know.

When he was saying those vows all those years ago, he didn’t know that he would be spending the first few years of his retirement caring for his bride. But that’s what the situation called for. And that’s what David did.

David told me stories about staying up all night to do whatever it took to care for his sick bride. While his peers were retiring to the beaches of Florida, he was sleeping with one eye open just to make sure that everything was okay with his wife. Sleeping may not be the best way to put it. There were some nights when keeping his covenant got in the way of sleep.

I asked David what happened in the daytime. During those years when he was up all night caring for his bride, who took over to care for her during the daylight hours?

David’s answer was short and powerful.

“I did.”

David is the toughest man that I know.

You typically don’t think about tough guys moving slowly through life behind a walker or with the help of someone else. That’s because we’ve gotten it all wrong about what it means to be a real man. Any boy can drive a fancy truck. Only a man can keep a life-long covenant.

David gave me some advice.

“If you ever have knee replacement surgery, do your rehab.”

I like to run a lot so I figure that I’ll probably be needing one of those surgeries before too long. I filed his words of wisdom away for later use. He told me about friends who had their knees replaced but didn’t do the rehab. They can’t walk now. He kept telling them to do the rehab but they told him that it hurt too bad. Again, his response was short and powerful.

“Well, it can either hurt for a little now or a lot later.”

David wasn’t one to indulge in those types of momentary pleasures or comforts that come back to haunt you years later. I guess that’s part of why he’s managed to stay around as long as he has.

David’s physical therapist was a guy who used to play for the New England Patriots. He was brutal. He treated David’s knee like he would the punter for the New York Jets. But David toughed it out and was back to walking in no time.

David is the toughest man that I know.

It wasn’t long after David’s knee replacement that he fell and damaged his newly replaced knee. The pain was unbearable. There would be another surgery. And more rehab. But this time, David had a request. He told the physical therapy company not to send him that former New England Patriot.

“If you do, send a hearse because I might shoot him.”

They sent a woman this time.

One day when she showed up she noticed a rope on David’s bed and asked what it was for.

“My rehab.”

“But I haven’t told you to do anything with a rope. What do you do with it?”

David showed her an excruciating exercise where he used the rope to pull his leg up behind his back until it started to hurt. As soon as he felt pain, he held his leg there until the pain went away. And then he moved his leg further. His physical therapist added this new exercise to her repertoire.

David is the toughest man that I know.

I’m glad that I get to be David’s pastor. More than that, there are people who are glad to call him their dad, grandfather, great grandfather, friend and example. He helps us all to be better husbands, fathers and friends.

Today, manhood is defined by what women think of you, how much weight you can lift or how successful you are. But you can have all of that and still not be a real man. For proof, look no further than David. He stayed faithful to one woman until the end. He won’t be running in any races or competing in the CrossFit games. You won’t be hearing about his accomplishments on the news tonight.

But I like to think that we will in eternity because it’s there, not here, where the toughest man I know has stored his treasures.

When I was a kid I wanted to be like the strong men I saw on television. I looked up to men like Herschel Walker and Mr. T. Now that I’m older, I want to be like the toughest man that I know – David Ridgeway Sr.

I want to be an example, like he is.

I want to be a covenant keeper, like he was.

I want to persevere in the faith, like he continues to do today.

But I only have one request.

When it’s time for my knee replacement and the all-important rehab that follows, I hope that they take it easy on me.

Maybe they could just send me a defensive lineman from the Atlanta Falcons instead of a New England Patriot.