Why We Pay the Toll

We have to save the ones we love. Especially the ones who can’t be saved.

My father, a retired army officer, does volunteer work as a court-appointed special advocate for at-risk youth. It takes a visible toll on him. He complains about it whenever I see him. But he keeps doing it.

He works with young men and boys-- probably some young women and girls too, but he only talks about the young men and boys-- with drug problems, with discipline problems. Whose parents beat them or neglect them or abandon them.

My younger brother died at the age of 27. I couldn’t save him. My parents couldn’t save him. My sisters couldn’t save him. I don’t know if anyone or anything could have saved him. But we couldn’t, and we didn’t.

I know the toll that takes on me. I can only imagine the toll it takes on my parents.

A lot of the young men my father works with probably won’t make it much past 27 either. They won’t die of what my brother died of, which was sudden heart failure brought on by a toxic cocktail of genetic defects, hormonal irregularities, shitty diet, lack of exercise, and being probably 80 pounds overweight.

But a lot of them will die young. Of drugs or abuse or neglect. Of suicide or of just generally being part of a society that doesn’t really know what to do with them. I can only imagine the toll that takes on my Dad. But he keeps doing it.

Because some of them won’t die. Some of them will find a way to rise above their circumstances and make it longer than they otherwise would have, or make more out of the time they have.

And some part of that will be because my Dad was in their lives, despite the toll it takes on him.

That’s how my Dad saves my brother, even though he couldn’t save my brother.

And that’s why, when my Dad complains about the disrespectful little shits he has to deal with, and the ass-backwards bureaucratic systems he has to navigate, and I can see the toll it takes on him, I never ask why he keeps doing it.

Because I know.

And I admire it.