My father-in-law, Floyd, passed away last week. He was fighting lung cancer, but God graciously gave him a quiet and peaceful passing to heaven.
Floyd was not like the men I grew up with. Freud would have called them “repressed.” Emotions were for women and children. “Don’t cry” was not a suggestion, but a command. If a bull trampled you in the pens, you were expected to get up, dust yourself off, and say, “Bring the next one.” If someone noticed you bleeding, you said, “I don’t feel a thing” or “Shoot, that ain’t nothing.” A man was expected to be in control.
The same rules applied to positive emotions. If you had a good crop and your neighbors congratulated you, you just shrugged your shoulders and said, “God’s been good.” If your son got into Vet School, you told him “Good job.” That was praise enough. A wife of one of these men complained he never told her that he loved her. His response? “I told you I loved you when we married. I’ll let you know if anything changes.”
This upbringing, I suppose, had its advantages. There were not many complainers or whiners. On the other hand, these men would start to boil up like a pressure cooker whistling off steam. Something would break inside of them. Then the steam would come shooting out. A deacon would run off with one of the sopranos in the choir; a cowboy would lose his temper and fight somebody; or the quiet man who worked with his hands would turn into an alcoholic. Taciturnity extracts a price.
Floyd was not like the men I grew up with. He was the first man I ever meet who felt free to express his emotions. If he was angry, you knew it. If he loved you, you knew it. If he was proud of you, everyone knew it.
It took a while for Floyd to warm up to me. Facing the marriage of my own daughter, I understand this now. No father believes any man is good enough for his precious girl. Gina and I were married three years when he told me he loved me. This was a significant leap from telling Gina he loved her; and was a step up from “I love you both.” Now, it was personal. I was 29 when he told me he loved me; he was one of the first men in my life to openly declare love. He was not afraid to say it first and put his feelings out there. He kept telling me he loved me for the next 30 years.
He would also tell you if he thought you were being stupid. He once told me, “If you ever leave that church in Sumter, I’ll personally come down and whoop your (term referring to large section of muscles located below the back and above the legs).” He did not believe in repressing his feelings.
Best of all, if he was proud of you, he would tell you and everyone else. Granted he exaggerated. In his hometown of Gaffney, he would tell people my church was largest in South Carolina (it isn’t) and we baptized thousands (we haven’t), and people were lined up at the doors of our church (the doors to the restrooms between Bible Study and Worship). My mother-in-law once told me, “I know your father died when you were young and your step father was a quiet man, but I believe Floyd is proud enough of you to make up for them both.” She was right.
Floyd was not afraid to admit he was afraid. After his cancer diagnosis, we had several conversations about him fearing death. He was sure of his relationship with God; he knew he had accepted Jesus and his grace. He was simply afraid of the unknown and he wasn’t afraid to admit it.
Emotion run amuck is not a good thing. I saw Floyd learn to temper his temper and control his passions. But he kept telling us he loved us and was proud of us.
The lesson Floyd gave to me was to tell people the real you. Tell people you are angry. Tell them why. Tell people you love them. Tell them why. Tell people you are proud of them. Tell them why. Tell people you are afraid. Tell them why.
We live so much of life pretending to be all put together. How much healthier would we be if we learned to share what’s really going on? How much healthier would our relationship with our Heavenly Father be if we were simply real and honest about what was really happening to us?
The lesson Floyd taught me? It’s okay to be real. Thanks, Floyd.