The Manly Thing to Do

Because the Society is about relationships, I want to share a life lesson with my Society friends. As Society members, we pride ourselves as being “family” and have developed close bonds with each other. However, in a business setting, we are often guarded about expressing our feelings for each other. The purpose of the article is to emphasize a simple message: “Never pass up an opportunity to express your feelings to someone you care about.”

I recently lost a dear friend, Fred Riffle, who was my best friend for 62 years. His passing was not unexpected, but it was painful just the same. It struck me how rare it must be for friends to stay close for such a long time without life’s changing circumstances causing them to drift apart. In preparing for my comments at his memorial service, I came to a profound observation. Here it is: It takes a very long time to develop a life-long friendship, and you have to get it right the first time, because there are no second chances or do-overs. Luckily, Fred and I got it right.
Fred and I met while playing high school football as sophomores and, over the course of 62 years, we went from close friends in high school to best friends double dating Lynn and Sharon, the young ladies who would later become our wives. After marriage, we shared the growth of our two families and everything else that made our lives unique. Being together on New Year’s Eve became a tradition that started in high school when, as dating couples, we would go to dinner and a movie. Thereafter, the couples would alternate hosting a party to welcome in the New Year. Our New Year’s Eve tradition continued, and I estimate that Fred and Lynn and Sharon and I have spent New Year’s Eve together at least 55 times.

Fred passed away on August 2, 2015. A week later, I spoke of our friendship at his memorial service. As part of my tribute to his memory, I recited a poem that I had written in 1989. In conversations with friends and relatives at the reception following the service, I learned that my comments about the background leading to my writing the poem held some importance to them. I also discovered that his close friends and relatives felt Fred was very special in his willingness to always give them a big hug and tell them that he loved them, because Fred was not always that outgoing.

His brother-in-law, Art, spoke of how he and Fred had radically opposing political opinions and often had heated debates. However, without fail, at the end of every visit, debate or no debate, Fred always insisted on a big hug and would tell Art, “I love you, big guy.” I asked Art if Fred had always been that demonstrative. Art answered, “No, but he has been so long that I can’t remember when it started.” I suggested to Art that it started in 1989 and told him why I believed that was the year that Fred changed.
My friendship with Fred had many special times, but in 1972, when we were in our mid-thirties, one defining moment, actually lasting only a few seconds, that stuck in my memory for a long time. Seventeen years later, in 1989, when we were in our early fifties, Fred had an accident that threatened his life. This close call with mortality changed Fred from being very reserved about his feelings to being more expressive toward his friends and relatives. In fact, after his recovery, he never missed an opportunity to tell us how much he cared about us. I learned at the reception that Fred’s willingness to openly share his love was recognized and deeply cherished by other family members. It was Fred’s new-found openness about his feelings that encouraged me to write a poem about that seminal moment that took place so long ago in 1972. I called it “The Manly Thing To Do.” At Christmas in 1989, I gave Fred a copy of the poem. Since presenting the poem to Fred, I was occasionally asked to recite the poem on rare occasions when we were all together. Prior to his eulogy, the last time I recited the poem was at the dinner table this past New Year’s Eve.

It took a near-death experience for Fred to change from a reserved, introspective person to someone who generously shared his love with friends and relatives. What a precious gift to be able to have that second chance. He will always be remembered as that outgoing and loving person. Since 1989, I’ve also learned the value of sharing my feelings, hence the writing of the poem. My sincere hope is that you, the reader, are already in that good place where your feelings are easily shared. Here is the poem that describes that special moment in 1972 when Fred and I were young and our emotions were so reserved.

The Manly Thing To Do

Many years ago, when Fred’s father passed away,
I attended the service on that very solemn day.
When the tributes had been spoken, and the hymns had been sung,
The service was over, but I knew Fred’s pain had just begun.

As I left the chapel, my emotions trying to unknot,
I saw Fred approaching me from across the parking lot.
In his time of sorrow, he had come to shake my hand,
And thank me for coming—seemingly in full command.

But when I saw the anguish in his eyes, somehow I knew
That a simple handshake was not the thing to do.
My heart went out to him, and wanting some solace to convey,
I put my arms around him and wished the pain away.

And, for just a heartbeat, he returned my embrace,
Then quickly pulled away, afraid of losing face.
We were young then, and so full of macho pride
That our deepest feelings we felt we had to hide.

But in that fleeting moment, a bond had been created.
A bond that would last a lifetime—even if left unstated.
We are older now, and wiser, at least I hope that’s true,
We can look back upon our lives, our decisions to review.

Because of others gone and the words we left unsaid,
Simple words like “I love you” that were spoken only in our head,
We now celebrate our friendship, and drink a toast or two,
And when we greet, we hug, because it’s the manly thing to do.


  1. Virgil:

    You are a true Renaissance Man!

  2. Exceptional thought provoking article and poem! Thanks so much for sharing!!!

  3. Virgil, thank you for sharing this wonderful article and poem.