It’s OK. Men Cry
Anybody that gets to know me knows that I'm a fairly emotionally cold individual. It's not that I don't care, it's just how I was raised. Emotions are for the weak, and feelings are something real men keep bottled up inside. My father is that way. His father was that way. My mom and sisters are pretty good at hiding their emotions too. The cycle continues. I say that because I haven't been able to carry on the family masculine tradition this past week. We'll traditionally just keep shoving the feels deep down inside until they come spewing out in the most random moments of the day. I really don't suspect anybody reads this, and my job is to post two of these blogs each day, so I might as well jot down some thoughts just to get them out of my head and make myself stop having these feels.
Earlier this week, my big extended family lost our collective Uncle Eddie to covid. Everyone feared him catching it since he had health issues that would make it especially dangerous for him, and after a short battle, he was called home to his final destination.
Now, we're not the closest knit family in the world. At least I'm not close with, well, any of the extended family. My mother and sisters are apparently closer. It's goes back to that emotionally cold trend. But after hearing the health updates for three weeks and ultimately reading that text message about his passing, I stayed strong. My mom was inconsolable. She even said that losing her brother was worse than losing her parents.
This day in age, people reach out in social media and spew their thoughts and stories. That's what facebook is for anymore isn't it? So across my feed comes stories from both people I'm related to and people I'm not sharing their stories about Eddie, memorializing him and coping with a big loss. You see, Eddie really was a larger than life dude. He was the fun uncle that taught all of us nieces and nephews how to ride motorcycles, and he always had motorcycles for us all to ride. He was the guy that always started the family sing-a-longs. The stories he told were those we'd all remember, and when he talked, everyone listened. Mostly because he was loud and if he was talking, he wouldn't let you get a word in edgewise. Reading all of the stories made me think about my own Eddie stories. I have a bunch of them, and most of them are pretty hilarious, but those are for me. Those are my moments and memories that I'll keep for myself. That being said, the one memory that keeps jumping into my head at random moments throughout the day, giving me the vapors and such, is something I think every man should hear, for it makes us better men.
Let me set the tone.
I think I was thirteen years old when I first went to church camp. Eddie had been taking his family there for years, and I don't know how it popped up on my moms radar, but she drove me down to join in the fun. It was fun. The boys dormitory was like a military barracks. Army surplus bunk beds and no air conditioning on a piece of land in the middle of nowhere, Faxon, OK. The toilet stalls didn't even have doors on them. By day one, I knew this was gonna suck.
The week went by like you'd expect. Lots of little churchy devotionals intertwined with awesome activities of fun. One day there was a 300 person water balloon free-for-all fight. Another day there was a massive DIY slip-n-slide down the hill next to the mess hall. Each night, we all gathered at the impromptu stage area and did little talent-show type follies. Some performed, some sang, some played guitars... Looking back, it was a blast, but while I was there, those moments of fun were interrupted by moments of sadness. You see, I grew up in an oil-industry family. We moved around the country so much, we were all we ever had, each other. The Five Kelso's versus the world. My sisters were my best friends, and in my thirteen years, I'd never even spent a single night away from them. I got homesick by day three.
One evening after supper, I don't remember who suggested it, but I walked up to the office to call my mom. So I walked up there, opened the door, a there were at least twelve other kids sitting there waiting to make a call home just like me. I remember feeling disappointed that I couldn't call just yet. I had to wait my turn. So I sat there stewing in my own sadness.
I took a seat at the end of the line and began waiting, but as every sad kid made their phone call, my own sadness intensified. You know how seeing someone cry can make you want to cry too? That kind of thing. Eddie had walked up there, maybe to check on me, I don't know. Now I can't remember if I ever got to make that phone call home, but I do remember the walk back across that field from the office.
I don't how far we made it or what he we were talking about, but I do remember at some point my voice cracked and turned into that little whimper. You know the whimper, the one where you can't talk because if you do, you'll let those emotions out and start bawling. That's when this Eddie moment happened. He put an arm around my shoulders and stopped walking, turned and looked down at me right in the eyes and said "It's OK JC, men cry. I promise, the moment you let it out, you'll feel better" and I did. I straight up ugly-cried for however long it took, and you know what, I felt better. To lighten the tension in true uncle fashion, he cracked some joke. I laughed and smiled, and we went back to the evening follies. I didn't miss my family anymore because it suddenly clicked, he was family.
Fast forward some twelve years later... In a moment very unlike me, I called my dad randomly in the middle of the day. I was still at work. I never call home before dinner, let alone while I'm still at work. He says my eldest sister has had a medical emergency while traveling around the state for her job, he and mom are headed to Enid, and he hangs up. She's instantly admitted to the hospital, nobody knows what happened, and nobody has any information. One of The Five is in trouble, Kelso's assemble!
This is back in the day of printed work papers and I literally dropped whatever was in my hand and walked out the door. Enid is a few hours drive, but I hit the highway and never looked back. I got there about fifteen minutes after the hospital closed to visitors, they found out what happened, they were treating her, but the odds were against her. Dad walked down to the parking lot and told me to go home, there was nothing I could do. Since Enid is so close to my hometown, I went there. The next day, all of us are in that waiting room the moment it opens. One by one, my mother takes my sister and I back there to see her. We didn't know if that'd be the last time or not, it was emotional, but you wouldn't know it by looking at us. Cold emotional distance, remember? You have to be the strong one for whoever is standing beside you.
Hours passed, my sister and her husband went home, in walks Eddie. He's there to help and offers whatever he can for mom and dad. They talk in the corner, I sit quietly awaiting any news from the doctor. I'm not sure how much time had passed at that point, time slows in moments like that. Eddie looked at me and said "I'm hungry, lets go grab a bite to eat." I told him that I wasn't hungry, to which he replied "I didn't ask if you were hungry, I asked you to come get a bite with me." So I went.
Eddie loves Braum's. The man can't eat enough Braum's. And you might just have to take my word for it, the burgers were delicious back when they were still 1/3lbs. I ordered mine, he ordered his, we played chicken over who was going to pay for the food, and we sat down to eat. I don't remember what he was saying at the time, the man talks all the time. With so much heavy stuff going on, at some point anybody would naturally just tone him out... that's when my emotions started to well up in me. I remember setting my burger down and pulling my hat down to cover my eyes and I just sat there. My head hung low, just looking at a blurry burger trying not to show my unmasculine emotions.
This is where that other Eddie moment happens.
All of a sudden, this massive banana-hand touches my shoulder with a little squeeze, and he says from across this crappy Braum's booth table "We've talked about this before JC. It's OK. Men cry. You'll feel better the moment you let it out." and I did. Two days of worry and unsure life-and-limb emotions came pouring out of me, and you know what? I felt better. Instantly.
It's a good life lesson I think should be shared with every man. Sadness and crying may be things society says we shouldn't experience, but I'm telling you. It's OK. Men cry. You'll feel better the moment you lift whatever is weighing you down off your soul. That's what I'm hoping for anyway. I don't think I've shed more than a single sad tear since that afternoon Braum's trip, but I've cried at random intervals at waivering levels of intensity throughout the last few days remembering small little Eddie moments like this. His words still comfort me. I just let it hang out in the privacy of wherever I am. In the truck, at home, in my studio, anywhere. The least I can do is offer his comforting words to someone else who might need to hear and remember them as you go through life.