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Love, your son-in-law

Love, your son-in-law

By: Ben Smith - June 10, 2024

  • Marriage and fatherhood have their daily challenges, writes Ben Smith. His father-in-law was his manual, there to guide him through it all.

For the last several years I’ve enjoyed writing these outdoor columns each week. And every now and again getting to slip a baseball edition in has been nice. However, sometimes both of those things have to take a backseat. As much as I’d love to be writing about some recent saltwater fishing adventure right now, this week belongs to someone that meant so much more than any hunting, fishing, or baseball story.

Meant. Described as a simple past tense and past participle of mean. For years I’ve told people how much my father-in-law means to me. Saying the word “meant” when I speak of him will take a lot of getting used to. It doesn’t matter how much you think you’re prepared to lose someone you love, the hurt is still there. Even though I know he is in a much better situation at the moment, my own selfishness longs to hear his voice.

I first met Jerry Perry in 2005 in Florence, Mississippi. I’d been courting his daughter for several weeks and she finally saw fit to let me meet her parents. I knew ahead of time that he was a successful businessman in Jackson, and I was pretty anxious on the way up. How was a poor redneck like me ever going to do anything to impress him? And not just impress him, but do enough to keep him from telling his daughter that she could do much better (she certainly could have). 

I walked into their home and received the warmest welcome from this man that knew little else about me aside from the fact that his daughter kinda liked me. All of the anxiety that I felt on the way up seemed to disappear. His infectious personality put me almost immediately at ease. I would have been entirely at ease, but I was still intimidated by Amy’s mother…something that still hasn’t changed over the last twenty years.

Jerry and I hit it off right out of the gate, which seems a little unlikely given our differences. While we both loved sports, he was an Auburn graduate, and I grew up an Alabama fan. Usually that doesn’t mix too well, but we somehow made it work. Over the years we even got to where we could watch the Iron Bowl together without hating one another. As for other common interests, I loved the outdoors and hunting/fishing, and he couldn’t have cared less about them. Come to think of it, during those first few years we really only shared one common bond: we both loved his daughter.

As time passed, our relationship grew stronger. He was an easy guy to love. Witty, caring, and full of wisdom that I tried to soak up the best I could. We’d have discussions about my future in coaching and my intentions of marrying his daughter, but none more important than my relationship with Jesus. I loved to listen to him talk about Jesus. He’d smile so big and his blue eyes would twinkle whenever he’d talk about scripture, which was often. This man loved the Lord more than any other man I’d ever met, and it was evident. 

Eventually, I drove up one day to ask his permission to marry his daughter. Once again, I was riddled with anxiety even though we’d had conversations about it before. And once again, he erased all of that with a giant hug and a gleeful heart. Part of me wanted to ask, “Are you sure?”, because I couldn’t believe how happy he was.  From then on, I became affectionately known to him as “my son-in-law.” Amy and I married on June 19th, the same date as Jerry and Pam’s anniversary. And like their wedding, Jerry’s brother, Bobby, officiated it. It’s something that has always been special to me, which is probably rare for a son-in-law. For whatever reason, it’s just always made me feel closer to him. And closer to him is where I always wanted to be.

Marriage and fatherhood have their daily challenges. I’m not aware of whether, or not, there’s a manual available at the bookstore, but Jerry was my manual. It didn’t matter what the challenge was, he was there to guide me through it. He was the best example of a Christian husband and father that I’d ever had, and though I’ve failed miserably, I’ve tried to emulate him to the best of my ability. I will greatly miss his gentle advice that always seemed to work. I don’t think that I’ve had a single problem over the last twenty years that he didn’t fix armed with nothing more than a Bible verse and a soft voice. 

Jerry loved. That seems such a simple sentence, but it carries a lot of weight. Kind of like in the Bible in John 11 (Jerry’s favorite book of the Bible) where it says, “Jesus wept”. Seemingly simple, but incredibly powerful. Jesus wept because of His love for Lazarus. Jerry loved because of his love for Jesus. I witnessed him love on people that he didn’t even know. Through his work as a pharmacist, he became the hands and feet of Jesus. Never desiring worldly praise for his actions, he loved people because that’s what Jesus commands us to do, and he did it better than anyone I know.

The older that I get the more I understand why Jerry was the way he was. In the grand scheme of things, we don’t get a lot of time here and many opportunities to get it right. He knew this and he made sure to make the most of his time here count. As I held his hand in that hospital room my heart shattered into a million pieces. We’d spoken the day before and shared a laugh, but I knew this would be the last time I’d ever see him again in this life. Tears streamed down my face as I held his hand for the last time. For the first time in our relationship, it felt like it was my turn to comfort him rather than the opposite. I leaned over and whispered in his ear, “Don’t worry about things here, your son-in-law will take care of them.”

About the Author(s)
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Ben Smith

A native of Laurel, Mississippi, Ben played baseball at William Carey University before joining the coaching staff at WCU, where he’s spent the last 16 years. He also serves as a History Instructor in the WCU School of Arts and Letters. During the Covid shutdown in 2020, he began the outdoor blog “Pinstripes to Camo”. The blog quickly grew into a weekly column and was awarded as the #1 Sports Column in the state by the Mississippi Press Association. During that time, “Pinstripes to Camo” also became a weekly podcast, featuring various outdoor guests from around the country, and has grown into one of the top outdoor podcasts in the Southeast.
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