An Unimagined Success

by A Manly Guest Contributor on June 22, 2012 · 35 comments

in A Man's Life

Editor’s note: This is guest post from Marcus Brotherton. It originally ran on Men Who Lead Well (

How many times have we hoped for a specific type of success, only to have it elude us? We dream of being an Olympic sprinter, a prize-winning surgeon, or a writer of the great American novel.

But try as we might, the specific type of success we long for never comes.

Sgt. Joe Toye, one of the original Band of Brothers, fit this profile. The hardscrabble son of an Irish coalminer, Toye was a promising athlete, excelling at both boxing and football. But Toye’s father died when Toye was in 7th grade, and Toye needed to drop out of school, go to work, and help feed the rest of the family.

He would never become a professional athlete. That dream was dead.

When WWII hit, Toye volunteered for the elite paratroopers and became a squad leader, a go-to organizer who always got the job done. He dreamed of a long-term career in the military, and he was just the type of man the Army was looking for.

Whenever the company commander needed a volunteer, Toye was first on the list. Volunteering for these missions required extreme bravery, but when called, Toye never hesitated.

Once, his company was pinned down in ditches outside Neunen, Holland. Their British tank support was being annihilated. The commander needed to find out what he was up against. He looked around, spotted Toye, and said, “Joe, I need a live prisoner.” Wordlessly, Toye left his squad, crept into no-man’s land, and came back with a prisoner from the 107th Panzer Brigade.

Everything changed one wintery day in Bastogne. During a barrage of intense shelling, Toye was hit badly. He was evacuated to a hospital in London where his leg was amputated below the knee.

His military career was over. Another dream was dead.

After Toye came home, life was never the same. Toye was a big-hearted family man, but he also floundered in life. He drank too much. He fought. He struggled with nightmares from the war. He divorced and remarried. He drew some disability because of his missing leg, but not enough to support a family. He found work sharpening bits in a steel mine, where he stayed for more than 20 years until he retired.

Once, Toye remarked to his son that he didn’t feel like he had done much with his life. None of his dreams had ever come to pass.

Along the way, however, something unforeseen began to unfold.

Toye’s youngest son, Jonathan, was born with a severe birth defect. The son was mentally handicapped and couldn’t walk, talk, or feed himself. The boy’s condition hit Toye hard. There was no way a working family could care for the boy on a daily basis, so the son was placed in a home for special needs children, about an hour away from where the Toyes lived. Toye tried hard. He visited his son every chance he could.

After Toye retired from the steel mill, his handicapped son became everything. Each day, Toye spent hours with Jonathan, feeding him, cleaning his messes, talking with him, telling him he was proud of him.

Caring for his son became Toye’s life.

Jonathan wasn’t supposed to live much longer than childhood, but Jonathan had tough blood in him. Years passed. Toward the end, Toye’s goal became simply to outlive his son.

Jonathan died at age 32, three times longer than anyone thought he would live.

A year and a half after his son died, Joe Toye died too.

How strange: although we strive for a specific kind of success, it may never come. Instead, unexpected opportunities appear in our lives. Call these chances for unimagined greatness. Windows for living well.

“The point of life is not to just get by,” wrote St. Paul of Tarsus. “We want to live well, but our foremost efforts should be to help others live well.”

Using that criterion, I’d say Joe Toye was a tremendous success.


{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Christian Crouch June 22, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Great article. What an inspiring man!

Quick question: where does the closing quote from Paul come from? I’m a Christian and pretty familiar with the Bible, but I’m not familiar with that line at all.

2 Steve June 22, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Another great thought. Thank you gentlemen for all your thought provoking blogs, I feel like this site has helped me become a better man husband and father to be.

3 Tyler June 22, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Christian, I believe it’s a paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 10:23-24.

4 Jberry June 22, 2012 at 4:13 pm

I have never heard that quote either, and I have studied Paul and his life for years.

5 Harrington June 22, 2012 at 4:21 pm

Wonderful piece. I’m not afraid to say it made me a little misty-eyed.

As far as where Paul’s quote is, are people really not aware of Google search? Here is what I found in less than 5 seconds:

I do not believe it is manly to pose questions before trying to figure out the answer yourself!

6 Marcus June 22, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Tyler is correct. It’s taken from Eugene Peterson’s modern paraphrase, The Message.

7 Jberry June 22, 2012 at 4:30 pm

1 Cor 10 doesn’t go to verse 224. The Message is not a reliably translated version as it is more written as something easy to read.

Plus the first part isnt even in the message version. Maybe it shouldnt be in quotes.

8 Chy June 22, 2012 at 6:22 pm

I think you guys might be missing the authors point. Unless of course, the purpose for which you strive is to be a petty right-fighter.
It might be more enjoyable in the future to absorb the story and try extract the message.
“Forgive and forget” -jesus christ. That one time. On a hill. 8675309

9 Chy June 22, 2012 at 6:28 pm

Crap! I forgot an apostrophe. Please don’t reem me over it.

10 Chris Butterworth June 22, 2012 at 6:49 pm

As the father of a son with special needs, I get a little teary and a big sense of … pride? proudness? … towards the other folks out there who do so much good to make lives better for those who can’t always do it for themselves.

Good on Old Joe Toye. And good on the AoM team for sharing.


11 Brad June 22, 2012 at 9:02 pm

Joe Toye’s generation was chalk full of heroes, role models and successful men – on and off the battlefield.

12 Native Son June 22, 2012 at 9:11 pm

Sir, calm yourself. IWhat you have is a mere typographical error. I checked the cited website. It looks like it was supposed to be 1
The spirit of the paraphrase appears to echo the wording. Incidentally, the original wording varies somewhat depending upon which translation on is reading. Peace.

13 Brad June 23, 2012 at 12:24 am

Harrington, I agree. A man searches for the answer himself first, before simply asking others. Yet, if he receives an answer from others, he still searches for the answer himself, knowing that others are often wrong. Not searching is handing over power.

14 jeff June 23, 2012 at 1:20 am

Joe was a selfless hero and a good father. It’s sad that we are led to believe our life’s success is due to the money we make and the material possessions we obtain in life.

15 Kingsley June 23, 2012 at 3:05 am

Toye and his love for his son reminds me of Frankl and his experience in the concentration camp. The psychologist remarked that life’s purpose is to positively accept and rise above the challenges one faces, contingent to what life had to “lift and drop on your plate” – a will to responsibility. Truly inspiring post.

16 Allan Williams June 23, 2012 at 6:43 am

Certainly I would never want to experience what Toye experienced…he didn’t either.
He is the quintessential hero.

17 Jules June 23, 2012 at 8:19 am

What a great read. Gives me hope for my life & situation. So glad i saw this today. Thanks for putting this out there mate.

18 David June 23, 2012 at 9:29 am

I’m learning that I’ve wasted a lot of time figuring out how I can find something extraordinary to do. Really, I feel I should be focused on doing the ordinary well. In this way, I serve better and perhaps encourage more. Joe’s story is inspiring to me because caring for a boy who couldn’t speak and had a trach for only 5 years (before he was fully healed) was heavy duty service… particularly emotionally.

19 Terry June 23, 2012 at 11:08 am

As a woman who feels that real men should be honored (especially since there are so few of them in this era of self-indulgence), I will comment on this article, which I enjoyed reading. This is an amazing story of inspiration, determination and heroism. I stand in admiration of Mr. Toye’s efforts to overcome the challenges that life threw his way. Sometimes, in this life, there are those of us who are good people, who behave ethically, who behave morally, who help others, who are highly intelligent, who are attractive, who have advanced degrees, who, in short, seem to have everything that it takes to become a success in life, yet we are always struggling and just trying to get by. We don’t seem to get where we know we should be or to get the “lucky” breaks that some people who have none of our good qualities get, and who, in fact, are selfish, unethical and machiavellian, seem to get. Some obstacle always rises in our way, regardless of which paths we take or even when we change those paths. Nonetheless, the aim in life is to persevere and to outwit the challenges. Mr. Toye seems to have been one of those people, yet he tried to overcome life’s challenges, and he did just that, in his own way.

For those of us who have a child with a disability, especially those of us who have no family, trying to stay alive as long as possible to take care of our child is the single most important goal that we have. Caring for a disabled child, getting him ready to lead as independent, safe, ethical and moral a life as possible, and guiding him to the right path, is a monumental success in and of itself. At times we may feel sorry for ourselves, we may feel that we have no life, yet at other times we recognize that to have such a child is a privilege, an honor, and that when breakthroughs occur, it is a very special feeling that is worth the sacrifice. Hollywood should make a movie of Mr. Toye’s life as the representative of those of us who toil through what seem ordinary lives, yet whose lives, in reality, are far from being ordinary.

20 Josh June 23, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Great read. I definitely needed that.

21 Marcus Brotherton June 23, 2012 at 6:26 pm

Terry–thank you ever so much for your thoughtful comment. Best to you and your situation. –MB

22 Gell June 23, 2012 at 9:38 pm

I usually like AOM’s articles. This article on success was horrible. What is the article’s over arching statement? “It could be a good idea to live and not die?”

23 Mr. X June 24, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Inspiring; yet somehow very sad. It reinforces that life is fleeing and disappointing.

24 Buzz June 24, 2012 at 1:11 pm

Enjoyed the article Marcus. I have had the opportunity to work with many special needs children with my wife who is a Special Education teacher. These children offer some of the greatest joy and success in teaching and life.
To Gell, you are correct. You can interpret this article as: “It could be a good idea to live and not die?” I would imagine the article on Shackleton, Eisenhower, and others could be read that way. I would hope the overall message would be Sgt. Toye eventually found success in the last place he thought he would, success as a father.
To Mr. X, you too are correct that life can be fleeing and disappointing. In many ways we have more failure than success in life. Very few make it to the big leagues, become 5-Star generals, or have an AOM article written in our honor. My dad didn’t, I probably will not, and chances are none of my kids will. But I can promise you my father, myself, and my children will all change people lives and make this world a better place in the short time we have and in the small corner of it we inhabit.
Sgt. Toye found success as a father. I hope we all want success in that.

25 John June 24, 2012 at 4:21 pm

Excellent article!

26 Benjamin Ionescu June 24, 2012 at 10:31 pm

Who can experience the same kind of tragedy and denial that he did, and take it so toughly and still love his son with all his heart like he did and care for him meticulously. I don’t think I could… this article makes me think that I’ve been handed an easy and pleasant life.

27 Ian June 25, 2012 at 10:29 am

It’s people like Toye who hold the world together. Not everybody who keeps standing up when knocked down gets a statue.

28 Jim Weller June 25, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Two things

1. You have to listen to “Something To Be Proud Of” by Montgomery Gentry. The lyrics match this theme perfectly.

2. You should follow the “Detours” shows on, a Radio Show in Alaska. Sometimes life is crazy and these are archetypical stories in that vein.

29 Bryan June 26, 2012 at 12:24 am

@ Harrington, every man at some point has to learn that sometimes a question is asked, not so much to find out a fact that wasn’t known, but to raise a deeper issue for consideration. In this case, the question was whether the quotation was actually representative of anything that St. Paul actually said.

Not too long ago there was a world without google in which a question could be asked that had no quick answer. In that world real men put their minds to analyzing real questions.

30 Bryan June 26, 2012 at 12:40 am

I should add though, Marcus, great article. It’s a good lesson in what truly makes a great man. Men with that kind of greatness are few and far between.

31 Claude June 26, 2012 at 12:36 pm

We need more media folks distributing more stories like this. We get down because of our failures in our careers, or in business, or because someone else has a bigger car or makes more money.

This story is an example of how those things don’t make a meaningful life and its actually pretty easy to do something great.

32 Bobby June 26, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Fantastic article. Thank you!

33 Alex June 28, 2012 at 4:25 am

I have a daughter who is severely mentally and physically handicapped and whose life expectancy is between 8 and 16 years (she turns 7 on July 1st this year). I often feel left behind by peers because I have decided to devote more time to family and less to work (though I’m hardly unsuccessful, just self-limiting). I found this article inspirational because it shows success can be defined outside of monetary and material gain. It also made me feel less alone in my decision.

34 Marcus Brotherton June 28, 2012 at 10:23 am

Alex, when I receive comments like yours, I silently remind myself that’s why I write in the first place. Thank you so much. I wish you and your family well.

35 Zac September 28, 2012 at 9:29 pm

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