For Lucas Ahlsen, it’s more than a family crest or some coins.
Twenty years from now, I will describe the early 2000s as a period of blurred absolutes. Sex and gender theory, the war on terror, the rise of the corprocrat, reality television, the occupy movement–all of these altered paradigms I grew up with since my birth in 1985. The most significant shift came with 9/11, where the national discussion of heroism moved from myths and wars to the domestic and everyday. In the ten years since then, I have arrived at some realizations about heroics in my personal life.
Time warp back to 1975. My parents got married and bought a plot of land and a run-down house in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. They were blue collar and scraped together the money to renovate the house by themselves. Cape was a farming town for most of the 19th and 20th centuries until urban sprawl created a demand for pop-up communities with names like Beautiful Hill or Picturesque Brook. The local high school gained a reputation for quality education and athletics, prompting many families to live there long enough for their children to get a degree before picking up and moving elsewhere. From an early age I saw hay fields and forests around me cleared out for condos. So even back then, the uncertainties of our era crept on my doorstep.
My father has 35 years experience as a public works garage foreman, and he is a wizard with machines. When I was young he would get called into work during ferocious blizzards, and maintained the plow trucks while taking out a road grater himself and scraping down Route 77. He would be stuck there until the storm passed, sometimes for over 48 hours. Because of him, I would imagine, the roads would stay salted and plowed, and the town would be safe for another storm.
At 63 years old today, he is the hardest working man I know.
My mother was a homemaker until I was old enough to stay home alone and not burn the house down. After that, she became a caretaker for an elderly woman. The depth of her work didn’t quite register until I read The Death of Ivan Illych in college. Like the boy who comforts the curmudgeon protagonist because he too would want someone to comfort him through his last days, my mother kept with her ward until the very end.
Considering the treatment of our elderly today, my mother enabled her friend to pass on with dignity.
Both of my parents are also master gardeners. My brother and I lived a life of cycles: plant in the spring, weed and water in the summer, saw up cord wood in the autumn, and plow the driveway in winter on a 1942 John Deere tractor. I studied hard through college and earned academic accolades, had jobs in manual labor since the age of 14.
My parents have been married almost 40 years. They still live in the same house and farm the same land. They were tough when I needed a push, and tender whenever I fell on my face. They are my heroes. Every aspect of their life is hand-crafted, and that inspired me to build a life in a state I still love. If anyone tells me that I remind them of my mother or father, I feel a sense of pride, rather than the disgust seen in popular media.
Over the past three years, I have written a novel and several short stories, published a handful of them, joined an editorial team for a literary magazine, and started a fiction workshop. I moved in with my brother after he endured a harrowing end to a decade-long relationship, during a time when I was the only one who had the power to help. All that happened while I maintained full-time job as a fix-it man for a fancy hotel.
Somewhere along the way, my fellow writers and friends took to calling me “the Captain.” Maybe it means I earned some renown as a steadfast character. Maybe not. We will see. I’m too distracted working on the things I love, just like my brother, mother, and father.
In light of the fractures and challenges 2012 presents, solidarity has become heroic. My upbringing gave me a moral compass and a sense of compassion, as well as an idea of how a good man acts in a time where he faces attacks on his gender as much as masculinity’s degraded reputation.
Today I can shake hands with adversity and look it in the eye. This is my heritage and I respectfully refuse to surrender it, no matter how the world changes. Given what I have seen of among my peers, my philosophy is a fading one–but it is neither weak nor dead, not while I’m still here, wielding the tools my family gave me.
Check out the rest of our “Men and Heroism” section.
The “Men and Heroism” section was run and edited by Dave Kaiser.
—Photo Mykl Roventine/Flickr