Today my day started at 4:30 am in Green Bay, Wisconsin. I repeated my all too familiar routine these days: took a fast shower, packed my bag and headed to the airport. Today I was headed to my favorite place: home. I had only been home four out of the last sixteen days, and three of those at-home-days were spent being in bed sick.
My first flight from Green Bay to Minneapolis was uniquely boring. Once on the ground in Minneapolis, I grabbed a coffee and called home to check on Gabe, who was now sick with what I had been recovering from. I snapped a few photos for my #AirportsOfAmerica project and found my gate for my flight to Atlanta.
I did my airport-ritual of looking to see who I will sit next to, which is another blog altogether. I waited for my zone to be called and then joined the noisy, cattle call of people shuffling through the gate.
When I arrived at my row, I happily saw that the two spots next to my aisle seat were already taken by my travel companions…YES! I had timed it correctly. I would not have to get up to let them in. A younger woman was fast asleep against the window. An older man was in the middle seat wearing neatly ironed jeans with a sharp green cardigan. As I moved into the row, he looked up and said hello. I responded, but experience convinced me to keep quiet if I wanted a quiet flight. I sat down and unpacked my computer, pulled out my headphones and checked my iPhone to see if I had an update on Gabe.
Rex: “I’m Rex!”
Me: “Hi Rex, I’m Justin!”
Rex: “Oh, Wow. What’s your last name Justin”
Me: “Well, as much as I know you want it to be, it’s not Bieber! It is Brackett!”
Rex: “I like Brackett better!”
Me: “HA! “Me Too!”
Rex: “I see you’re married.”
Rex: ”Marriage is amazing, right?!”
Me: “It is a lot of work! More than anyone could have told me.”
Rex: “What’s not work son?”
At this point, I knew we would be chatting a while I so put away my computer and headphones. Settling in for a plane ride and chat with Rex.
Me: “So, where ya going?”
Rex: “You know I’ve not been on one of these things in 20 years.”
Me: “A plane?”
Rex: “Yeah!” … “You got kids, son?”
Me: “Yes Sir. My Son Gabriel is seven and my daughter Rylynn is four!”
Rex: “Do they know you lov’em?
Me: (laughing a little) “Yes sir they do!”
Rex: “That is good.”
As the plane took off, we moved a little closer, so we could hear each other. I found out Rex was 82 years old and a retired engineer. I found out he was married, trained dogs for fun had three kids and seven grandchildren.
Me: ”So Rex, where ya going?”
Rex: (Pulling a hanky out of his shirt pocket.) “Sorry!”
Me: “Don’t be, you OK?”
Rex: “No, not really. See, I’m going to my 18-year-old grandson’s memorial service.”
Me: “Oh Rex, I’m really, really sorry.”
Rex: “Would you like to see him?”
Me: “Your grandson?
He pulled out a folded photo from his shirt pocket. The photo was a younger Rex, with a handsome guy with the same jaw and eyes as Rex, who looked a little older than Gabe.
Rex: “That’s him; my Justin.”
Now there is a knot in my throat just from the thought of it.
Me: “He looks like you, Rex!”
Rex: “He, well … Justin, … killed himself last week.”
Now I’m fighting back tears.
Me: “Rex I’m so sorry! Truly.”
Rex: “Justin, 10 years ago his dad and I got into a fight. The outcome was my son said I would NEVER see my grandson again. I never did.”
Me: “What was the fight about?”
Rex: “Doesn't matter now, other than the cost of me being right, cost me, my grandson… If I would have just admitted I was wrong… I guess a real man admits when he is wrong!”
Me: “You just admitted it to me, that makes you a real man Rex!”
Rex: Now crying and patting my hand: “You have no idea how badly I needed to have you sit here today!”
Me: (Now crying like a baby): “No, I needed you here Rex…”
Real Men Admit When They Are Wrong
Rex and I chatted for the next forty minutes about life. He recounted stories of the day Justin was born, and of the time he took him fishing. Rex told me about Justin’s battle with depression and his amazing need for acceptance, which Rex had learned from his other children. He also told me more about the fight he had with his son. It was all over the use of a family vacation house.
Rex was going to the memorial service uninvited, to say he was sorry to his son and to admit he was wrong, for having to be right 10 years ago and for not saying so sooner.
I told Rex I would be telling his story here. He told me he would love to know that someone could gain something, some insight from his loss.
As Rex and I parted ways in the Atlanta Airport, Rex hugged me, like I was his grandson I think. Then looked me in the eyes, “when you write your story will you tell them, tell them, ‘Being right is good. But not at the cost of lost relationships and loss of life, Real men admit when they are wrong first and quickly.’” I promised him I would.
Rex hugged me again and walked away to his next gate.
I stood there in the middle of the Atlanta Airport, trying to pull myself together. At a loss. Train wrecked. I started to walk slowly to my next gate, thinking about my time with Rex, thinking about how many times I’ve had to be right, and what it cost me.
What about you? Is it time for you to openly, honestly admit you are wrong about something?
Be a real man and admit you are wrong.
Start to restore a relationship today by being a bigger man, a real man and admit you are wrong.