This is my first letter to you, my youngest son, since you came into the world just over a week ago, on July 12th.
Growing up in this house, you’ll need to know about Pat Tillman and Jake Plummer. Both men were Arizona State Sun Devil football players- perhaps the highest calling a young man can achieve. Both men continued their football careers at the professional level right here in Arizona. Tillman would ultimately forgo a multimillion dollar contract and join the military in a sacrificial effort to protect the United States from potential threats. Tillman died tragically in Afghanistan at age 27. Plummer would stick around the NFL for 10 years, attempting in vain to please Cardinals and Broncos fans before retiring to the mountains of Idaho in the prime of his career, and leaving boatloads of money on the table.
As a general rule, people tend to lift up Tillman as a hero, and consider Plummer a bit odd. One thing that is evident is that Tillman and Plummer were incredible friends, and because of this, few have been able to articulate what Tillman’s life and death meant better than “Jake the Snake.” Take this quote from Plummer at Tillman’s memorial:
“I was in the store the other day and I saw PEOPLE magazine, and it had the cover of the 50 most beautiful people in the world, or America, and there was a picture of Pat. It was kind of ironic because I really looked and said, What is beauty? Is beauty a pretty face, a nice smile, flowing hair, nice skin? Not to me, it’s not. To me beauty is living life to higher standards, stronger morals and ethics and believing in them, whether people tell you you’re right or wrong. Beauty is not wasting a day. Beauty is noticing life’s little intricacies and taking time out of your busy day to really enjoy those little intricacies. Beauty is being real, being genuine, being pure with no facade—what you see is what you get. Beauty is expanding your mind, always seeking knowledge, not being content, always going after something and challenging yourself.”
Incredibly inspiring… but I didn’t know how inspiring this eulogy was until you were born. You see, you came into this world in the midst of great tragedy for our family. My cousin, and my oldest friend, Andrew Barnes, was found dead after falling 2700 feet during a solo climb in the Black Canyons of Colorado. This was a man who made 500+ climbs on six continents, who, because of some unknowable mistake, was gone. He was more than an outdoorsman- he was a talented athlete, a gifted artist, a passionate agriculturist and his sense of humor was his sharpest sense. His ability to listen and laugh made everyone feel welcome, and the authenticity and adventurous nature of his stories could make anyone into a good listener.
Andrew was found in the canyon while your mother was in labor. His body was positively identified despite all our hope against the horrible truth of his passing just after you were born. Your mother, despite having met Andrew on only a handful of occasions, had witnessed enough of his life enough to recognize real beauty in who he was, and in turn, gave you your name. We call you Fisher, but your full name is Andrew Fisher Amsden. You are named after a man who never wasted a day, who enjoyed life’s intricacies, who was genuine and always challenged himself. This name is not meant to be a pressure for you to measure up to a legend of a man, but instead, a challenge for us as your parents to ensure we fight to help you recognize how beautiful this life can be.
It’s sad that it took my cousin’s untimely death, who like Tillman, was 27, to see the comparison between the two. Some people in this world just burn out bright, living against the grain, unafraid to make mistakes in their pursuit of a satisfied soul. I have to go back to Plummer’s eulogy to express how I’d like to be able to move forward without Andrew:
“I believe that to really honor Pat, we should all challenge ourselves. No more I’m going to do this or I’m going to do that. Do it. As Pat would say, probably, ‘Get off your ass and do it.’ Why, you ask, should we honor him this way? Because that’s what Pat did his whole life.“
I know Andrew was never a parent, so it’s hard to envision how he would have gone about the great mystery of raising children- but I know he wouldn’t have been satisfied unless he challenged himself to do better daily. That’s what I plan to do with you and your brothers- challenge myself to love you all more and more each day. That is how, besides your name, I will honor his memory.
Ralph, Have you read “Where Men Win Glory” by Jon Krakauer? It about Tillman and is excellent. It really shows what a fine person he was. I continue to love “The Dad Letters”… I admire you so much!
Beautiful words and what a great tribute to your cousin. Pat Tillman is a man I wish to meet in the next life… he set quite an example for all of us still fortunate enough to walk this Earth. Congrats on Fisher!
And one thing that makes you burn so bright is the beauty of words. Please continue to pursue one of your greatest gifts. Always love you
Each time I read one of these, I am amazed at the gift of talent God has given you.