Tyler Lennox Bush looks to his older brother for guidance on how to be a good man, even on the darkest of days.
With the recent Penn State scandal hanging over our heads, one is left to wonder, where’ve all the good men gone? What happened to the knights of the round table? Where are the men that take responsibility for their actions? Where are those groups of men that hold one another accountable for their missteps and keep the idea of honor, dignity, and civility as a guideline for living a life well?
At Wabash College, the small liberal arts school of eight hundred men that my brother Chad and I both attended, the community cultivates qualities of character and leadership in students by developing not only their analytic skills, but also sensitivity to values and judgment and compassion required of citizens living in a difficult and uncertain world.
The student body of Wabash is governed not by hefty code of ethics or a lengthy student handbook to be signed and dated, but rather by one rule alone…it is taken by a pledge…a personal oath…a standard for one to govern himself…as a free man…as a Gentleman…it is “The Gentleman’s Rule”:
“The student is expected to conduct himself at all times, both on and off campus, as a gentleman and a responsible citizen.”.
The Gentleman’s Rule however, can be an elusive thing when you attempt to put it into practice in the real world.
In my parents’ home in Crown Point, IN, only one Wabash image hangs as a reminder of the days my older brother Chad and I attended the small all-male university on the prairie of Indiana. The image is a pencil drawing. I drew it when I was a junior in high school. It’s a depiction of Chad leaving the field at Little Giant Stadium, battle tested and victorious in a tattered scarlet jersey. The line along the bottom of the page reads “Some Little Giant.”
My brother was small for a football player, undersized even for a Division III defensive back. But Chad played bigger, gave more, and he inspired me. The drawing was a gift to him on the Christmas I decided to follow his footsteps and attend Wabash College. Chad proclaimed that I would get more out of Wabash than he did. He said, “Ty will appreciate the experience more than I did. Ty will embrace the culture, take fewer road trips to chase women, be more involved on campus. Be a better Wabash Man.”
Wabash Man? What does that even mean?
My after-college journey had not been the typical Wabash narrative. My first five years out I lived in Manhattan attending a theater conservatory and working as a set carpenter by day and moonlighted as nightclub bartender in the after hours of the urban night. The money was good, real good, the temptations even better. By my own admission I had lost my way in that place, my Ego got attention, and I transformed into a follower of the night, a slave to fantasy.
When President Ford rung us out on graduation day in 1999, he urged us to go out into the world, and, above all, be good men. I had failed. I certainly was no gentleman!
My world changed on February 5, 2007. I was awakened by a phone call to my Manhattan loft—a call too early to bring anything but bad news. This brought worse. My younger sister was on the other line. She was delirious. My niece, Reilly—Chad’s five-year-old daughter— had died.
Reilly had been an exuberant spirit. She had the energy and moxie of that undersized defensive back her father had been in college. She had the intellect of an adult, and the heart of an angel. We later would find out that she passed away from complications of the flu.
No warning. No preparation. No answer.
The next few months were a terrible struggle. I decided it best to leave my life out East for the time being and return to Crown Point to be with family, to offer support, to try to be a good brother. I watched a family paralyzed with grief learn to walk again, slowly, bruised and battle tested, and scarlet tattered.
As the icy February ended, March brought new life. Amidst the depression, the darkness, and nothingness of grief a great deal of hope was born. People who had heard about Reilly’s death began to send donations. The outpouring was overwhelming. Chad and my sister-in-law Michelle decided it best to honor their daughter by starting a foundation that would help terminally ill children and teach others to do the same.
The Reilly C. Bush Foundation was born. In less than two years they raised over $100,000 dollars for children in Indiana and Illinois. The projects they are doing today are drawing notice and helping countless underprivileged and sick kids. They are making Reilly proud. Now, 13 years out of Wabash, I’ve learned that by going into the world you’re bound to fail—it’s inevitable—by taking risks and trying to evolve. The mark of a man isn’t when he falls down, but how he recreates himself—that he finds the courage to get back up when the odds are against him.
The underdog, his brother’s keeper, the Little Giant. As always, Chad has proven himself an excellent example of all three. The loss of his daughter has been the impetus for a rebirth—a rebirth for all of us. Together with Michelle and so many others, he has built a charity on top of grief and has shown us all what it means to be strong, to be a leader, and to serve others with grace and compassion.
This past year I’ve been reminded of what it means to be a gentleman. I now try to move forward to help others. To make the right decisions. To be a man. To re-learn the lessons taught so many years ago. The Gentleman’s Rule is an ever-elusive thing when you try to put it into practice outside the hermetic environment of your alma mater. It’s something we have to keep reaching for even in our darkest of days.
So I ask the question once again—to be governed by a rule that is defined by the individual: What does it mean to be a gentleman? How do we become good men?
We fight. We fight for those we love —our family, our friends, and for those who cannot fight for themselves.
Maybe Chad was right; perhaps I took more from Wabash than he did. But he is giving back. And from where I stand, all I see is Some Little Giant.
Photo courtesy of the author