Three men and a malamute, all with cheesy red cowboy hats, gathered for food, fellowship and more food at my house; why not, my wife Patty was behind the wire and I had the time. The self described, Red Hat’s, “Damaged Cargo Division,” were all united by gender, heartache and history. These rock solid friends stood by Patty and I when our elevator of life was headed down.
Others quietly disappeared when Patty was front page news, not these men. They joined Chili, our loyal Malamute and me for laughter and decompression. Our male version of Red Hat meetings provided solace amidst crushing stress. It is said that imitation is the best form of flattery so hey, we’d be Red Hats too! What a bunch of rebels! In hindsight, it was simply a support group. These guys were supporting Patty and I. They were there no matter what. Chili was in for the ride, but Mike and Rod, they had a choice. Have you ever been faced with that situation? Am I in or am I out? What did your conscience say? In hindsight are you proud of those decisions? Unfortunately we lost Mike in a motorcycle accident June 2013 and Chili had to take the big nap; those were events.
Our “Damaged Cargo Division” crew all believes in the Lord, has a great sense of humor and care for Patty. We talked fishing, food, faith and our respective life journeys. The truth never got in the way of a good story. Tall tales flourished and so did the unconditional support. Mike was the proud father of a Navy Seal; he had a restless intellect and could hold his own debating anybody on pretty much any topic. The depth of his biblical knowledge was breathtaking plus his cooking skills were good, really good.
I have been friends with Rod for 40 years; we have slogged our way through divorces, deaths, cancer, career changes (mine) and the incarceration of my wife. As tennis partners, we could hold our own, but as cooks, it’s pretty ugly. In the interest of full disclosure, I have the edge by never having had a kitchen fire as a result of my cooking. Rod is a successful business owner, an Eagle Scout, loving father and grandfather. The man is always moving. As a friend, he has never failed me, never. As a joke, Rod bought those dorky red cowboy hats for a dollar at some farm sale in Iowa, the rest is history.
Anticipating Patty going to prison for a couple of years, Rod asked me one day, what can I do for you? An amazing genuine question when I think about it. My response? Check on me every now and then and see if I’m alive. He did, calling and checking in faithfully, almost daily; as a guy, I’m not used to that. Rod took a lot of flack in the process, but he was there, rock solid.
If you are in the predicament I faced, with a wife in real trouble and everything closing in, support is good. I don’t mean hosting touchy feely misty eyed gatherings where you nibble on scones and fret about Face book. For some men, real sharing is selected, very guarded and on a need to know basis. It’s the way it is. Humor, food, insults and exaggeration are essential ingredients to an informal support group of this nature; throw in a big dog and it works. The best listener was probably Chili, through no choice of his own. Support is good, as long as it is healthy support; trust me, you just can’t do it alone.
When Patty’s situation was blowing up, I clearly recall asking another good friend of mine, whose advice I respect, is there any support group for a guy in my situation? Response: no, you should start one. Having neither the time nor energy to lead anything that self care initiative died. So I chose a few good friends, walked the dog nightly, did excessive yard work, tried to stay fit and went to church when I could. The alternative was drinking, drugs, chasing and gambling. Despite the healthy choices, I still was angry, edgy, emotionally isolated and very guarded for a couple of years.
The bottom line is our weary little Red Hat gang all believe in God. It was an underlying core value that was just understood and accepted. When I went to church, I sat alone in the back row, soaked in the worship music, listened to good sermons and then went home to soldier on for another day. Trust me, this is not pity, it just is what took place. To this day, when Patty and I walk out of church and pass the back row, my heart aches for those sitting alone. What’s their story, their burden, do they have a spouse behind the wire? Very few talked to me at church, which is why I reach out to those in the back row. Jesus certainly would.
Amidst the insults, tacky Red Hats and cheap pizza, I was blessed with the support of these good men, it made a difference. If you haven’t had your spouse in the slammer, it is hard to really get your head around the experience, but it’s tough. If in fact you do have a spouse incarcerated, please know that reaching out is not weakness. You will never go wrong trying to save your marriage and your health. If your friends mock you for attending church, refusing to hit the bar scene or for admitting you could use some help, they don’t get it. Even worse, they don’t truly care; not cool but God cares.
My advice? Sitting in the back row at church is OK. Talking to your dog, that’s also OK. They know how to keep a secret and are an unconditional listener. Carefully chose your friends, laugh and confide; it’s all healthy. Make no mistake; these are all survival moves that most people won’t understand. But, when your spouse finally comes home, you want to be there; you want to be able to look in the mirror and say, “yup, I did the right thing.” Thanks to good decisions, good friends and Jesus, I did just that. If I could do it, you can to.