Most distinctive about my father-in-law was that nearly all his speech consisted of short, loud, angry bursts pertaining to food, drink, or the ridiculous salaries of professional athletes.
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Let’s be Frank. No, really, I mean it: Let’s see what it’s like to be a frank man named Frank, who is also my father-in-law. Frank is a hardworking family man, but he often speaks his mind without giving a damn, for which I (sometimes) envy him.
It was more than two decades ago when I first met my future wife’s sharply dressed, highly cologned father who worked on the assembly line at the local Ford plant. (I later learned Frank was a former shoe salesman, and even though he wore grimy overalls on the line, he always dressed in a full suit and tie, drove his spotless Ford to the factory, changed on-site, worked his shift, put the formal garb back on, and drove home. “No need to look like a pig,” he often declared.) Most distinctive was that nearly all Frank’s speech consisted of short, loud, angry bursts pertaining to food, drink, or the ridiculous salaries of professional athletes.
I first experienced Frank’s frankness when the subject of what he wanted for Christmas arose at a family dinner. Frank burst into the conversation with his nearly bald head turning red and his thick index finger pointed first at my future wife and then at her sister while he bellowed, “You get me socks, you get me underwear!” Then he resumed his chewing frenzy and the daughters went on chatting.
Back then I was a college boy on my way to graduate school, so Frank and I did not seem to have much in common. But we have spent countless hours together since then, and many ethical situations have popped up. Our very different responses to these quandaries often reminded me of the contrast between situational ethics and absolute values explored in my graduate courses. Here are some examples:
Scene 1: Upon entering our room at a questionable hotel, we discover the toilet seal broken and an enormous turd in the bowl.
Situational Son-in-Law: Cringes and laughs, but then goes to main desk to have a discreet conversation about the problem.
Absolute Frank: Explodes with anger, storms down to main desk, and repeatedly hollers through the lobby, “THERE IS HUMAN WASTE … IN THE TOILET!”
Scene 2: At the start of a four-hour bus ride, a very smelly passenger sits next to Frank.
Situational Son-in-Law: Would have endured it while breathing primarily through mouth.
Absolute Frank: Whips out peppermint extract and smears a liberal amount under his nose like a seasoned mortician—right in front of his malodorous neighbor.
Scene 3: At a hardware store, we seek nails for the shelf he claims I need in my house. But an employee is already engrossed in a conversation with another customer.
Situational Son-in-Law: Waits for employee to complete his conversation.
Absolute Frank: Stalks toward the alarmed worker yelling, “Nails! We need nails!” (Inexplicably, Frank is in blue scrub pants, a white T-shirt, and a fedora in this scene.)
Scene 4: On the way home from the hardware store, we have to wait an extra minute for an elderly woman to finish pumping her gas.
Absolute Frank: Bellows, “That’s right lady, we got all goddamn day!”
Situational Son-in-Law: Is surprised by Frank’s venom, since we do in fact have most of that goddamn day to finish our project. Also is relieved the windows are not open, so the slow-moving lady can’t hear Frank’s outburst. Also is quietly amused that the lady seems to move even slower after Frank’s frankness.
Scene 5: During a drive-thru safari, my young daughters scream with fear and start to cry.
Situational Son-in-Law: Tries to console his crying kids and exit the safari quickly while fretting about his car insurance.
Absolute Frank: Stares down a bison, roaring at both his grandkids and the animal: “What are you afraid of?!”
Speaking of dubiously ethical safari, it always ends with the need for a carwash. And over two decades into my relationship with Frank (and his series of spotless Fords), that is what he now wants for every birthday/holiday: “Get me carwash coupons!” But he only wants them if they include a “carwash guarantee,” whatever that is. No need to drive around like a pig, I guess.
While I don’t envy having all those carwash coupons, there are many times when I do envy my father-in-law’s ability to be, well, just Frank. In fact, most people find his candor refreshing, though some don’t. Feel free to be Frank whenever you like. Absolutely. Just beware: there could be some fallout.