Everyday Spirituality: Tough Guys and Divorce
Faith: Dropping the Tough Guy Act May Help You Save your Marriage and Avoid Divorce
As a chaplain, I’ve had a lot of titles — especially back in my military days. Navy folks called me “Chappy.” British colleagues called me “Padre.” A Vietnam vet used to call me “Sky Pilot” after the 1968 Eric Burdon song.
However, none of those names compare to what I was recently called at our Senior Care Center. As I entered the center, the recreation director keyed the microphone preparing to make the usual announcement: “We are now ready for our Bible study.” But this time, a slip of the tongue caused a slight variation in her last word, adding a huge difference to its meaning. With the omission of the last letter, she inadvertently prepped this audience of 100 seniors for the appearance of “Bible stud.”
Studs are usually tough guys and, while everyone has been playfully amused with my new title, they aren’t particularly impressed by it because they know I’m not really tough. None of us is ever the tough “stud” we imagine ourselves to be.
The toughness is a costume we don out of our own weak need to be somebody we’re not. We’ve all put on the tough-guy act, especially if we’ve been through a divorce.
I recall one particular late-night meeting with a tough guy I’ll never forget. Walking down the darkened street of a foreign city where I was stationed as an Air Force chaplain, I came across an Army troop playing the tough-guy role with his wife and children. He was one of these guys who thought being a stud meant making “the woman” do as she was told to do.
Just beyond the exposure of streetlights, I heard the wife screaming to be released. While his answer would cause some to blush, it made me flush — with anger.
Playing a bit of the stud myself, I stepped close enough to initiate point-blank introductions. We swapped IDs like playing cards and learned I had the better hand. He was a sergeant and I a captain — a straight beats a pair of deuces.
“Let her go, sergeant!”I yelled.
He let her go but grabbed the children in trade.
“Let them go, sergeant!” I ordered with in syllabic staccato. “That’s an order — a direct order!”
If your military knowledge is limited to “Hogan’s Heroes,” you probably think captains are always barking, “That’s an order!” But the statement is actually very rare. In 16 years with the military, this is the only time I’ve said it, but it worked.
He let them go and before I escorted the couple to separate quarters, I ordered the sergeant to report to my office by noon the following day. I told him if he intended to be a no show, I’d bring this show to his commander’s office. I promised confidentiality only if they reported for counseling.
They both came to see me the next day screaming and threatening each other with divorce and child-custody battles. Emboldened by the confidential sanctuary of the chaplain’s office, they became so venomous that future counseling appointments were scheduled separately.
During the next several days the husband finally began talking about what toughness meant with his “old man” and about the toughness the Army had taught him, which he had transferred to his home life.
Somewhere in all of that, the tough stud broke down and admitted he wasn’t so tough after all. He spoke of sitting in his fifth-floor apartment window night after night wanting to jump. He talked of his failing family life and career. He asked me if there was hope.
I told him it all depended on his willingness to redefine what it meant to be a “tough stud.” He said he was willing.
Eventually, the husband and wife rebuilt their love for each other and to their creator. They pledged a new commitment to the biblical admonition to “submit themselves one to another in fear of God.” Not one submitting to the other as they had been doing, but equally, one toward the other.
They took classes in anger management and sought the support of a faith community. A year later, as I planned my return to the United States, they were planning another child and his promotion party.
I’m not saying that if you drop the tough guy act you can recover your broken or divorced relationships, but I am saying that the tough guy act has no value when it comes to dealing with relationships.
I looked up the word “stud” in the dictionary and, besides the obvious meaning, “kept for breeding,” there is another meaning — “a strengthening crosspiece.”
I’d never seen someone become such a stud as I did the day I saw this husband weeping before his wife and Creator in search of forgiveness. His admission of weakness became the stud — the strengthening crosspiece — of a new relationship. Perhaps using this definition of stud, there is a way to be a stud after all.