My 4th-of-July Thank You

Like every year around the 4th of July I hear a lot about the Fathers of America, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, John Adams. They were men of character, courage, and intelligence. We do well to learn from their example. We should be grateful year round for those who set such a high bar risking everything for others, doing what’s right without faltering in fear of painful consequences (which included torture and death at that time).

The 4th and the remembrance of our forefathers also reminds me to be grateful for all the mentors in my own lifetime. This entry is dedicated to those men of character, courage, and intelligence who I knew as a boy and a young man. Here are three of them.

My own father gave me a strong work ethic and a no-nonsense attitude. He taught me to expect nothing, to earn everything. You want to eat today, you better work today. I grew up courteous and respectful towards others. Complaining was a sign of poor character. He taught and enforced a good attitude, responsibility and accountability. It wasn’t just forced, it was exemplified in a way that felt right. He also gave. He donated, gave of his time, and sacrificed in many ways for others. Today you might call it effective leadership: a strong example with high standards who lives up to his own lessons. He believed in solid character, honesty, and good behavior that came from within. You could say he oversimplified life, or you could say others overcomplicate life. I tend towards saying the latter. He grew up during the Great Depression, then at age 19–20 was a regular army foot soldier in WWII on the front line from Normandy to Berlin. He learned early how to separate what’s important from what isn’t. My father, Ken Coutré, died too soon (1981), but he had a deep and lasting impact on my life.

As a 13-year-old boy scout, one leader influenced and inspired me. He was only about 20 at the time, had long hair and a beard like most 20-year-olds in 1972. But unlike most long-haired 20-year-olds I had met, he understood discipline. He had achieved the Eagle award, and stayed on as an adult to give back to younger boys. He gave me the revelation of the “natural high,” from high adventure, high achievement. It was not the kind of “high” that most were selling, or buying, in the early 70s. He taught that fulfillment comes from effort, that happiness comes from accomplishment. He shined a light of fortitude, initiative, and goal-oriented living that truly strengthened my approach to life and brightened my quality of life. I followed his example and achieved the Eagle award, and his example has benefited me ever since. His name is Doug Shaw.

As a 19- to 21-year old I was an assistant church youth counselor. The youth leader I worked under was both intelligent and down to earth. Most importantly, he was spiritually wise. For the first time, I saw someone in authority who proved his deep faith in his actions, without judgment of others, while never compromising his beliefs or his ethics. I had seen plenty of strong moral images, but with dubious reality behind the scenes. Here was a man with no artificial moral tone or image, yet he shined with integrity, wisdom, and compassion. He exemplified how truth in the heart removes the need for religious artifice. His example changed my understanding of authentic spiritual life. He could give inspiring eye-opening lessons. But he also walked the talk. That was powerful, that stayed with me. His name is Bill Haggard.

Our biggest impact comes from examples encountered in youth. There have been other inspiring mentors later in my life, but these are the main three from my earlier years. They gave me two priceless gifts at an early age—a deeper experience and a higher bar. Fortunately for me, I told my father how much he meant to me before he died. Now I would also like to thank the other two.

As I celebrate the 4th of July I am grateful for all of the men and women of character, courage, and intelligence who make this country great. For me at least, the above individuals qualify in that category.

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