By Ryan Thomas (as told to the Story Team)
I grew up with a view of what a man should be that can be portrayed as Men’s Health—a magazine that advocates a man should be athletic, chiseled, well-dressed, successful, just desired by women.
And at the same time, my father was man preoccupied with athletic prowess. With that influence, I wanted to be a super athlete, successful, worshipped by women, a hero, and admired by worldly standards.
As a teenager, the disdain I had for my father and his ambivalence towards me, grew. Yet, I still followed directly in his footsteps. I pursued athletic success. And really, my primary objective was to attract women, but that ultimately led me down a path of destruction.
During my junior year in college, my father passed away. He was continuing to pursue extreme sports, and he was killed doing hill intervals on his bicycle. That really kind of rocked my world, because I realized at that time, that I was trying to earn his approval and now that he was gone, I really didn’t have that opportunity. It changed the way I thought about the pursuits that I was after. And in some ways, I really wanted to pursue a life of purpose and something that I could give back to, but at the same time, I was still a pretty broken guy and was still trying to prove myself in terms of Men’s Health magazine or the way that my father raised me.
I began to formulate the idea that I could join the military, because what’s better than the ultimate man’s profession of being in Special Ops in the military? So, I joined the Army as an officer, and became a Ranger, and was deployed several times into combat situations in Iraq and Afghanistan. That really shaped what I felt a man should be. And that was the first step, I think, in God’s journey for me—understanding it’s not just selfish pursuits, it’s now doing something for others that, in a lot of ways, is sacrificial.
One of the other surprising things that happened while I was in the military was I met my wife Tasha. We decided to get out, and got married, and had, ironically, two little girls. I never really realized how selfish I was as a man until those three relying on me and looking to me for guidance, and just how many things I’ve screwed up in the past. God has a funny way of doing that, especially when you have two little girls. I really started to realize that it’s okay… to be more vulnerable, to know that I’m not in control—God’s in control—that God is ultimately the one who is shaping my life and shaping my family’s existence, and that I don’t have it all figured out, and that I, in a lot of ways, need to lean on him.