James Anthony Ellis
Editor, Legacy Magazine
Paul Mack had a decision to make.
And, though it was subtle, it was a big one.
It was a choice that would influence his life, his son’s well-being and the way in which he held himself in this time of post traumatic injury. On December 13, 2022, Mack’s 17-year-old son Colyn would be having eye surgery to clear scar tissue. And this triggered Mack as he recalled the surgery and the similar sentiments from a surgeon when he himself had eye surgery in April 1999, the result being the loss of his eyesight.
How would Mack – a 52-year-old MDI member of the Canadian Region – respond?
Would he allow his PTSD, concerns and fears cast a shadow over his son’s experience? Would he allow doubt to creep in, potentially influencing his son?
Mack’s laser surgery in 1999 was designed to repair a detached retina, and though the surgery was considered a success, his initial birth defect had caused too much damage, and he lost his eyesight anyway.
“I’ve had to learn to live with it since I was visually impaired since birth,” he said. “I’ve adapted to society’s response from early on. It would have been harder if I lost my eyesight after initially having 20/20 vision. But it still was very hard for me.”
After two years of denial, Mack accepted his blindness and got a guide dog in 2001. When Colyn was born in 2005, Mack knew there was a 50/50 chance his son would have a similar genetic condition of coloboma, or missing eye tissue.
Even with a milder form of the condition, Colyn needed surgery at the age of 8 to improve his vision with a special lens on his left eye. For the December 2022 surgery, some scar tissue would need to be removed.
Mack was on point and handling the situation from a centered place … until the doctor made one familiar remark.
“When the doctor told me the procedure was more about keeping it from getting worse, that’s when it triggered a flashback of my own experience. My doctor told me the same thing for me, and it failed. i was afraid the results were going to be the same for Colyn.”
Though his son’s surgery was different, the trigger was there and Mack was faced with the choice of spiraling into post traumatic fear, or stepping up in faith and strength.
What decision did he make?
Mack knew he couldn’t let his son down. He couldn’t let himself down. He would have to be the father, the man in command. He would have to lead the way and hold the highest context possible. He knew his job.
“I had to separate my feelings of a scared little boy who had been through this before and the role of a father. I had to choose between being a vulnerable man and being a dad,” he said.
With the support of his men’s team and other family members, Mack moved fear aside and focused on Colyn and the job he had as a leader. Holding a context of “supporting my son,” Mack got to work on coordinating the logistics, including transpiration and aftercare.
“I got a lot of support. I didn’t need any practical advice from my team, I just needed to know they were behind me.”
Mack decided that it was more empowering to ask his son what he believed he needed rather than giving advice or offering empty reassurance.
“The entire experience was therapeutic for Colyn as well as myself. By empowering him I was empowering myself at the same time. Having Colyn offer his own ideas helped him feel more in charge of his own fate.”
And the result of the surgery? Yes it was a success, and though it is too soon to know if the eyesight will improve, the scar tissue was cleared and the process did support the condition from getting worse.
The real story here may not be about an eye condition, childhood fears or past painful experiences, but rather the choices made by a father who so loved his son that he would move his own fears aside and focus on the job he was born to do.