Style and substance, two ideas that are neither mutually exclusive nor guaranteed traveling companions. Why then would I devote myself to a project of championing both ideas? It would be easy to say it is exactly because of the dichotomy represented by the ideas, but for me it is a bit deeper than that.
I want to tell you a story of four men. These four men shaped my life. They were dramatically different men, having come from entirely different kinds of lives, but each of them gave me an element that helped shape my life and my appreciation of style and substance.
First is Marvin, my paternal grandfather. Marvin was an example of consistency and simplicity. A Marine who served in WW2, he was somewhat rough around the edges. He owned his own plumbing business in small town Minnesota. Our visits to the family home were a high point in my life, partly because he always made time for me. He was always kind and gentle with me. I don’t remember him ever wearing anything other than his work coveralls, and he always drove a 1950’s era truck, his work truck. From him I learned to shoot, to fish, and I learned about consistency. He never pretended to be anything he wasn’t, and imperfect as he was, he always made me feel important. He was a man of style and substance.
Second is Leo, my maternal grandfather. He was a powerful example of joy found in the midst of responsibility. He was a missionary for his church to war torn Europe in the aftermath of WW1, and a father before the start of WW2. He ran his own grocery store through much of the depression and through the war, extending credit and kindness to the people in his small town in Utah when times were difficult. He sponsored a family wanting to emigrate to the US during the rise of communism throughout Europe. He and his wife raised 6 children, and tended his lawn after retirement with the care and attention of a master gardener. I never knew a day to go by that he didn’t laugh heartily at something! Overflowing with love, he was a man of style and substance.
Third is my Uncle Jim, the namesake of my youngest son. He was a scientist and a teacher and he fostered in me a love of discovery and an insatiable curiosity. He was always the first at family parties to ask me about my adventures, listening to them as though they were the most interesting things he had ever heard. I’ll never forget the hours I spent sitting with him at the player piano, playing pinball, or heating the goo that came from the inside of a Stretch Monster to see if we could figure out what it was made of. He encouraged me to pursue things I was interested and passionate in. Truly, he was a man of style and substance.
Finally, my father. We didn’t always see eye to eye, as I imagine is somewhat typical of fathers and sons, but he always took care of me. A quiet man, we spent hours shooting rifles and shotguns, riding motorcycles in the mountains, playing softball and baseball, and watching old westerns. We sang John Denver songs together nearly every week, he playing the guitar and me finding harmony. He was my first and only basketball coach, and he always encouraged me to do my very best in everything. All the things I learned from the other mentors in my life he helped solidify. Quiet, steady and dependable, he was a man of substance, and a style all his own.
As I became a father, I looked for mentors and role models. I desperately wanted to be the kind of example to my children that these men had been to me. Sadly, three of them are no longer with us. My wife never met either of my grandfathers, nor my Uncle Jim. And for a time my relationship with my father was strained enough that we struggled to connect. Like I said, fathers and sons.
None of these men were followers of fashion, but they all had a sense of style borne of practicality. Because of them, I learned to recognize the value of timelessness in the face of trendiness. I also learned to prize the permanent over the passing. These men helped me learn what it meant to be a man of style and substance.
May we all have men in our lives to help us learn these lessons!