Posted on January 24, 2019
by Steve Janowick

I was sitting in the waiting area of my barber shop when I first came across him.  He stood about five-foot nine and was no more than 170 pounds ringing wet. Very unassuming.  Some would even say nerdy. He probably couldn’t bench press a hundred pounds or win a fight against my teenage nephew.

Physical strength, skills and endurance are the usual measuring sticks we think of when gauging a man’s toughness.  Can he scrap? Does he have a high pain threshold? Is he fast and powerful? Looking at this guy, the answer to all of these would be an emphatic no!

Yet, I’d soon come to realize that this father who just walked in with his son was the toughest man I’d ever met up to this point in my life.

I’ll admit I was at first a little frustrated when I saw him pushing the wheelchair and the special needs young man in it.  I was in a horrible mood and didn’t feel like being over-stimulated. Was this kid going to have outbursts? Was he suddenly going to make the quiet barber shop a rambunctious one?  Was he going to ruin my hair cutting experience (one of which I look forward to monthly?) Sounds selfish and insensitive-but they were the thoughts going through my mind at that moment.

I did that thing where I was pretending to read a magazine.  Face buried and mindlessly flipping pages, I was really focused on this man and his son. I watched him manipulate the boy’s chair into an empty space. Take the boy’s coat off. Wipe his drooling lips then take a seat next to him.  I was carefully watching him interact and communicate with the boy. He didn’t baby him. He spoke to him like any man would to his 17-year old son.  Of course, the boy couldn’t answer back. He was basically catatonic in a terribly weakened body, but the man didn’t care-this was his son. His baby boy.

Suddenly, as I predicted may happen, the boy let out a shrieking yell.  A nervous tick type yell. Everyone jumped, including the barbers. But not the man.  He calmly started caressing his son’s head with the other arm snuggly around him-comforting him.  This was an act he’d probably done thousands of times before.

Eventually, the boy and me were getting our haircuts together.  Sitting next to each other. The man straddled his son while the barber did his absolute best to not injure him from all the sudden head movements.  The boy got frightened at one point and began to loudly cry as his dad attempted to sooth him-all while keeping him upright in the chair.

Meanwhile, I was just sitting there.  Listening. Watching from my periphery.  I started to succumb to waves of guilt. I could not believe or fathom the mental and emotional energy this father had.  Why was he dealt this hand? It seemed so unfair. But while I was having my own internal pity party for the man, he was gutting it up and doing everything he could to ensure his son was comfortable and the other patrons in the shop weren’t inconvenienced.

The amount of selflessness and love and patience and sense of duty this man had was unfathomable to me.  He was giving up everything to care for his boy.  I would leave the shop in a few minutes and be calmed.  I would soon have quiet and easy feelings. But this guy would be in the trenches until the day he was no more-a lifetime of caring for and tending to his helpless child.  His entire existence, from the second he awoke to the moment he put his head on the pillow, was all about the boy. Performing every single menial task for him just to ensure his survival and some semblance of happiness.  That’s this guy’s life-everyday!

The mental toughness and fortitude it must have taken to display such grace in that barber shop-I can’t imagine.  He wasn’t a bundle of nerves. He seemed appreciative and thankful to be with his son. He wasn’t bitching or getting frustrated-like most of us would have been.  He was at peace being able to spend time with him out in the world. To watch and help him get a haircut-the most mundane thing to most of us.

I sat in my car for a while after leaving.  I was emotionally drained. I felt like I had just been in the company of a real-life super hero.  A man who sacrificed more in an hour than most of us will in a year. A man who helped redefine what perseverance and strength and mental courage meant to me.  I was very effected by that experience and hope to never forget it. I hope to use it as a reminder of what’s important. To help me re-adjust my own priorities.  To keep me grounded. To be thankful for the health of my kids every single day. To be less selfish and more selfless.

It was the toughest man I’d ever seen, the caregiver, who taught me and reminded me…

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