In Australia during high school, I suffered social awkwardness. I had a massive fear of talking to girls and guys my own age. The bullying, harassment, the constant rumors flying around questioning my sexuality became too much, leaving me lonely, shy and hurt. I was pulled out of school, and became home schooled.
By the time my early twenties came around I was living back home, volunteering in a small country church, with little or no paid employment elsewhere. I came from an extremely large, broken poor family, and had no real friends. I resorted to hanging around older people, but something was missing. Loneliness, depression and even fear of community with other guys my own age was a huge deal. I shut myself away from anyone that tried to befriend me out of fear of rejection. One morning, I woke up and thought enough is enough. I went to a passage that meant a great deal to me.
Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6 NASB)
I went in and resigned from the church job that Sunday, and literally one week later something happened. At 7am on Friday I got a phone call from the Royal Australian Navy asking if I would be interested in joining as a sailor that next Monday. I took the plunge and accepted their proposal. That coming Monday, it became official. I swore on the Bible to serve God, Queen and Country, said goodbye to my family and left on a plane with 10 guys from Adelaide, and flew to Melbourne to begin training with others.
Learning to live as one group of men
On arrival, learning to live as “one” group of men was an understatement. As the awkward straight-laced socially inept one, I roomed with 5 other guys my age from all over Australia. They were loose, loud, and funny. For a young awkward Christian guy with a small worldview, I accepted deep down that this was good for me. For the first 5 weeks I struggled, I wanted out. I failed everything fitness related, I even struggled to grasp the concept of what integrity was when I looked around and every one of these guys going through training with me were “educating” me with new colorful words, stories, and thoughts about women. Everything within me screamed to get out of there.
Midway through recruit training I got sick and ended up in the Naval hospital for a week. It was there in the next bed that I met another Christian brother going through as a cook. He was one division ahead of me. I listened closely as he talked about his shady broken past of sexual issues, pornographic addictions, and failed relationships. If this didn’t keep me wide eyed, he stunned me by telling be about his fulfillment in Christ, and how honoring women in his life changed him. He turned to me silently and looked me square in the eye and discussed the importance of having courage in the face of fear, showing boldness even when nobody expects you to. This broke me, cut deep, touching that raw nerve. I remember thinking back to my life verse, “Be strong and courageous.” It was that day talking with this fella and later sharing a drink that I decided to stick with it.
The next day I was allowed back to my recruit class. I asked if I could play catch up by doing remedial sports and fitness every morning at 5am, and then again after classes at 4pm, and again later at night in the gym. I also caught up with my recruit training by doubling in everything. I began to realize my room buddies with all their bravado, language and comradery were actually pushing me harder to go ahead with them.
You are one of us
After each drill instruction class, my instructor and PTI’s were deliberately singling me out for petty little things, asking me to do push ups and sit ups in their office. I first thought this harsh, but I began to notice behind their little smirks, they were actually pushing me harder to look forward, get fit, and loosen up as one of them. “
Ewok (My recruit nickname by some guys because of my big ears and hairy appearance in the shower, don’t even go there…) Ewok… we like you, and expect you to pass, this is why we are pushing you. You are one of us, if we didn’t like you we would have removed you weeks ago.
Like my buddies from the room, these same men wanted me to fit in, and learn what it meant to be a shipmate as part of a much larger ship of men/women. Something mentally began to click. I remember one weekend, I was given “liberty” leave, and some fellas and I decided to hit up the city of Melbourne.
Walking along down an alley one of my mates tapped my stomach, turned to me and said “Dude, there is something different about you. Now, you are walking with your shoulders back and your chin up.” I looked at him and for the first time I realized that I was walking as one of the men and one of them. He was one of the same guys that had my back throughout recruit school. We prayed together, ran together, and went to chapel every Sunday when we were allowed. This guy pushed me, and ran with me to keep me accountable.
For the first time and not the last time in my life, I stood high knowing that I was part of something much bigger.
I remember the day we marched out as recruit school graduates, my ceremonials were pressed white, my hair and face were clean shaven, and every time I looked in the mirror I kept seeing the changed man that came from those men keeping me in check.
After we finished graduating with a roar of cheering, hollering and throwing our lids into the air, my mother and family came running up for an air tight hug. They said the one thing that shocked them was how they couldn’t tell me apart from the others. We all marched as one, looked as one, and marched to the same beat.
Since that day, I never looked back. Although I left the forces and went onto theological training to finish my Master’s degree, the sense of brotherhood, accountability and loyalty to my fellow man has not stopped. These men are still my closest buddies to this day, and although I don’t see some of them often, we chat via social media from across the country and the world, keeping one another accountable. We are as tight as ever. That bond and that feeling of camaraderie you cannot bottle, sell, or buy, because it must be lived though and experienced by facing your fears head-on, taking the plunge together.
I want to encourage you. If you are that guy that is struggling to know what it means to be a brother, or feel part of something, you are not defined by your race, gender, background, social standing, family, or even your lack of friends. Take a moment to look around and seize the opportunity to embrace the man you know you are called to be by facing those fears. If that means becoming part of a fraternity, a brotherhood of some kind in a men’s group, a guy’s church hangout, a fellowship or even dare I say it “a division” (I promise I am not out on a recruiting drive); seize the opportunity, go hard, and go all the way with your brothers, keeping one another accountable. Also, if you are a part of something much bigger, look around. If there is a young man looking like he needs a leg up in life, take stock and run through this thing called life with him at your side, watching over one another. You never know, he could be that lonely, depressed young man that is struggling to know what a brother in life or a brother in Christ is.
I will leave you all with a quote that I wrote and had tattooed on my back shortly after discharging from the services. It says
Valour, Gallantry, Chivalry, Courage, Faith, and Honour. All these are the marks of a man.
To me these also mark the character of a brother looking out for their fellow man. Stay classy fellas!