When I was young, I would have answered this question with Hulk Hogan, Bill Cosby, and Patch Adams. With his mantra of “eat your vitamins and say your prayers”, Hulk Hogan inspired me to want to build a strong body, and what young kid wouldn’t want to be the behemoth of Hulk Hogan! Ignoring what we now know about the sins of his personal life, the character of Bill Cosby introduced me to finding the laughter in life, even at difficult moments, and to cultivating an attitude of levity and lightheartedness, which has stayed with me in my relationships. Patch Adams, both the man whom I had a chance to meet in college and the character portrayed by Robin Williams, built on this by his example of using laughter to help treat his patients. His method, more than the other two, has stayed with me, first in how I teach my students with disabilities, and also in how I use playfulness in my relationships with my children and even my wife! All of these men are far from perfect, but this was the goodness in them that left a mark on me as a child. And as a product of a K-8 Catholic school where I had NO male teachers, where else would I look?
As an adult, I’ve developed a greater appreciation and affection for my father that I did not have as a child. My father was always present, even if he watched TV too often or drank too much at times. It’s through these faults, though, that I decided to shut the screen off and use moderation in all things. God’s grace is sufficient even through our weaknesses! More positively, my father is a carpenter and would always take me on jobs with him to help teach me his trade. He would also always give in to our petitions to play catch when we were young, and he set an example of saying the Rosary or Chaplet of Divine Mercy that has been an image which I often recall. As I write this, I’m also remembering his dutifulness and tenderness in caring for his dying mother when we visited her in the hospital or nursing home. All of these things I did not “see” when I was young, but as I’ve grown older, I have recalled them and come to appreciate that in him, I have an example of presence, resourcefulness, craftiness, prayer, tenderness, and duty.
My best friend’s Dad, Louis, has also been a man who I admire for his generosity, hospitality, amiability, and ability to show interest in others through his selfless conversations. He’s the kind of man that enjoys trying to strike up a conversation with someone in the elevator! Having known him for over 20 years, these traits have helped to shape me. More important than these though, are his devotion to his wife and their united prayer life. In both he and his wife I have seen a strong example of a marital love that submits to one another and unites in prayer.
I can’t end this without mentioning another Louis, St. Louis Martin, who, though I never knew physically, have come to know spiritually. He is one who has truly encouraged me toward a greater spirit of gentleness with my children, courage in suffering, hope in prayer, and purity in heart. The book The Father of the Little Flower: Louis Martin by Celine Martin has been a gift for my fatherhood. I hope my own daughters will remember me as fondly as St. Louis Martin’s write of him!
So, for me, there was no “one person” who shaped me. I guess God gave me many men, only some that I knew, and all with their faults, that have left a mark of grace upon me and have inspired me to be like the Man of men.