I also know that guy chumps feel unfairly supported in infidelity literature, the assumption being that men are the cheaters, the bad guys.
So I thought I’d post today about good men out there and open the floor for your stories about the good men in your life and family history.
I got thinking about familial commitment recently, not over anything related to infidelity, but over an interesting bit of personal genealogy. I am named after my great-grandmother, Tracy, who wasn’t really my great-grandmother at all. She was my great-great aunt. My actual great-grandmother, Wilhelmina (in the photo above) died in the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, when my grandfather was 6 months old.
My great-grandfather, John E. Green, was left a widower with three small children. In addition to his family responsibilities, he ran his own business and took care of his aging parents. (This was in the days before social security. There was zero safety net.)
It was a time of immense suffering. The flu pandemic was one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history. It killed 3-5% of the world’s population between 1918-1920.
In addition to losing his wife, Wilhemina’s two sisters, Theresa (Tracy), and Dorothy were widowed with small children in the epidemic too. So John Green married one of the sisters, Tracy, adopted her daughter, and financially supported the other sister and her family until he died.
Growing up, my grandfather never knew his mother was really his aunt. He discovered it when he was older, no one spoke about it. He didn’t see his parent’s wedding picture until my aunt uncovered it doing some genealogy research. I don’t know if he’d ever seen a picture of his mother at all, or was curious about her.
But his mother/aunt Tracy was the family matriarch and doted on her children and grandchildren, so much so that my mother named me after her.
So, she’s the one I’ve always wondered about — my namesake. I don’t know much about her other than she made enormous Sunday dinners for everyone, and took my mother to church and spoiled her rotten with sweets and spending money.
Insofar as I ever thought of my great grandfather, he’s sort of this stern background figure. He founded a successful business, an industrialist. The Patriarch.
But recently, I got to thinking of what it must’ve been like to be him as a young man. To lose your wife, the mother of your three kids — so suddenly and so horribly. To lose your two brother-in-laws. To think, they were all just in their 20s, only years away from celebrating each other’s weddings — and now half of them are dead. The grieving children. The financial insecurity.
John Green stepped up to the plate — he merged the families. Was it the evolved merging of today’s blended families with therapy and considered courtship? No. Did he marry for love? Was he sexually attracted to his sister-in-law? I have no idea. He did it to provide for his family — to give stability. His children needed a mother, her children needed a father, and another sister needed financial support. He stuck with that arrangement until he died. They were family.
It was a different time, and certainly those were harder days. But to me, my great-grandfather’s story stands in stark contrast to choices other men make — who respond to vulnerability with abandonment. Who leave, who cheat on pregnant wives, who run off with the mistress, who fail to pay support.
From all accounts, my great grandfather was not an easy man. He was a hard ass.
During the Depression, he pulled my grandfather out of college, not because he couldn’t afford it, but because my grandfather played football. Evidence in his mind that my grandfather wasn’t taking his studies seriously enough. When the Dean objected, my great-grandfather asked him: “So, how much do you make as Dean?” The Dean then told him his salary. My great-grandfather responded, “I’ve got plumbers who make more than that.” And he dragged his son home and made him dig drainage ditches.
Harsh? Absolutely. But the message went down through the generations — know what it is to work. Always be able to support yourself and your family.
I don’t long for the days of paternalism. I could diminish what he accomplished — building a successful business while supporting his entire extended family — by saying that’s was how it was in those days. He could be a patriarch, because women didn’t have the ability to support themselves.
And yet the world is full of stories of men who didn’t step up back then, or died young, and left widows and children in poor houses and orphanages.
When we marry, we make ourselves vulnerable. There’s no getting around vulnerability if you want to be intimate with someone. And some people can step into that, and other’s cannot. Some people can shoulder crisis, others cannot find happiness in a secure, well-ordered life.
For every male chump out there, was a guy who was putting his family first, who was faithful, who gave with his whole heart. Responsible men. For every guy out there who tried to reconcile, is a man who tried in great pain to put his family above his own searing heartache.
Good men exist. Men like the man I married, who didn’t balk at taking on a stepson, at blending families and lives at middle age. Who stepped into a role and wasn’t sure exactly what he was getting, but is still there each day.
And men like my great-grandfather, who lived through a plague and a Great Depression and kept working.
What stories of good men do you have?