Song Story and Tribute to My Father-in-Law, Elwood Johnson

Elwood Martin Johnson

In this article, I want to talk about three things. First the inspiration behind a song I just wrote called ”The Measure of a Man”. Second, the legacy of my wonderful father-in-law Elwood Johnson. And third, what is “the measure of a man”?  What does it truly mean to live a legacy worth leaving?

The Inspiration Behind the Song

As we were driving from Nashville to Georgetown, Delaware to be part of the funeral services for Elwood, I was reflecting on his life, its impact, and the music we would be sharing at the funeral. Two predominant ideas came to mind.

First, Elwood genuinely loved his family. Especially his grandchildren. What they experienced most from”Pop Pop” was his kind, caring and generous warmth & affection for them. His legacy was the experience of love they felt from him. 

Secondly, Elwood was truly a strong, solid, “salt of the earth”, stand-up type of guy. He was a “man’s man”, and there was nothing he could not do. But his strength was gentle, with no hint of ego. And he worked hard and lived frugally to be a good provider and protector of his family. 

He taught me what hard work was and what true love and devotion to one’s spouse should look like. ~

Lucas Johnson, Grandson

Elwood loved his family well, that’s the ultimate plumb-line of what it means to be a man. These are the main ideas behind the concluding lyric of the chorus:

“The love that you leave, that’s the measure of a man.”  

The Legacy of Elwood Johnson

As I was writing the song, I wanted the song to honor him and tell his story, but also make the text broad enough so that it could apply to others. Since he also loved country music, that was the obvious choice of musical genre.

Every word of these lyrics are true to his biography. 

Elwood was born from a long line of Sussex County Delaware farmers, dating back to the 1700’s. He was physically strong and his hands were large and rough. 

The son of the son of a farmer 
Hands strong and rough from hard labor 

He was a multi-talented craftsman – a maker of things, a grower of fruits & vegetables, and a raiser of farm animals. He taught me how to cut down trees, and how to change the oil in our car.

“Nothing stopped him when he put his mind to it”

He could also be a little intimidating, and one sensed you did not want to get on his bad side.

“On the outside a little gruff, and more than a little tough ”

But he was innately a kindhearted and good man. 

“Inside a heart pure and tender”


Life for my in-laws took a direction they never expected when my mother-in-law Marie was diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease. HD is a genetic disease and about the worst thing that could ever afflict a person. It is the ultimate neurological meltdown, like combining the worst aspects of dememtia, Alzihmers, Lou Gerhigs, and Parkinsons – all at once.  

Over the years as she deteriorated, her condition became increasingly unmanageable. But my father-in-law refused to check his wife into a facility, insisting that she be cared for at home, eventually enlisting home health care providers to assist the family. This required massive effort for many years, but his determination was iron-willed.

Best man I ever met! A true gem!

Amanda S, caretaker for Marie Johnson

The way he stayed devoted to her was heroic, and I learned a personal lesson. By all appearances, Marie was no longer Marie – her personality, her ability to communicate, her ability to move or really do much of anything – was essentially destroyed. But Elwood knew, somewhere inside her physical body was still the soul of his beloved, and he refused to abandon her. Many people would have understandably sent their spouse to an assisted living facility. Mr. Johnson couldn’t, and wouldn’t do that to Mrs. Johnson.

Because a promise you make, 
is a promise you keep  
and that’s how you live 
when that’s what you  believe 

Nothing More Important Than Family

Many times when the family was gathered around, Elwood would say out loud “there’s nothing more important than family, no sir”. He loved his life and having his off spring around him. The last few years of his life he was bed ridden and incapacitated, but he would perk up when his great grands visited and would climb all over him. Even in his limited capacity, they knew and loved their “Pop Pop”. 

“Well there’s nothing more important than family 
Those words are his lasting legacy” 

The Delaware State Senate issued these words in memoriam. 

Be it hereby known to all … the Senate of the 150th General Assembly joins in paying tribute to the life and honour to the memory of Elwood Martin Johnson, distinguished resident of Georgetown. A fine gentleman of many talents,  he was well known and held in high regard through his many years farming, his thirty-six years tenure with Diamond State Telephone Co./Verizon and most especially for his devotion to family and as a good friend to many.

Delaware State Senate Memorial, February 19, 2019

Elwood was a good provider, working as a cable-splicer for the telephone company, and had diligently saved for their later years.

“What he worked hard to provide 
Was more than money could ever buy 
This is how you love selflessly”

Elwood Johnson was not a perfect man, none of us are, but his life and legacy set a standard worth emulating as “the measure of a man.” 

So What is The Measure of A Man?

Worlds and ideas collide. 

Recently I was listening to the podcast of Lewis Howes “School of Greatness”, episode 398 ( where he is interviewing Wim Hoff, a Dutchman known as “The Iceman”, holder of 26 Guiness World Records for “superhuman” feats of endurance. 

Howes was writing a book called “The Mask of Masculinity” and asked Hof, “With your amazing accomplishments, you are someone people look up to. What does masculinity mean to you?”

 To which Wim Hof replied:

“The macho thing, I did it all, I swam under the ice, climbed Mt Everest, climbed Mt. Kilamajaro, ran marathons without training, and many other things. I have exhausted my macho-ness… and I’m going to do more…

But the real value in masculinity is in achieving happiness for your children. Care. Caring and sharing as much as possible. Your masculinity is tested by how much love you are able to spread. Because if you do so, you are the protector, and that makes you a real man. The protector of emotion, of softness, being able to be that … for everybody.” 

I loved how he said this –  “how much love you are able to spread … that makes you a real man.”

This is the standard that transcends culture and background. To spread love and protect those you love. That is the standard set by my father-in-law, Elwood Johnson.

And the love that you leave  - that’s the measure of a man 

[Hear my kitchen table demo here]

This video captured the first draft of a song I was writing as a tribute to my father-in-law Elwood Johnson, and shared at his memorial service February 19, 2019. This was made in their kitchen, family pics on the refrigerator and in the background.

The Measure of Man – Song Lyrics

Verse 1
The son of the son of a farmer 
Hands strong and rough from hard labor 
on the outside a little gruff, and more than a little tough 
but inside - a heart pure and tender 
Verse 2
When he gave his word, you could count on it
Nothing stopped him, when he put his mind to it
but the measure of a man - is more than what he says
cause actions speak louder than words 
Because a promise you make, is a promise you keep 
cause that’s how  you live
when that’s what you  believe
So stand up and do right - the best that you can
And the love that you leave  - that’s the measure of a man
that’s the measure of a man
Verse 3
Well there’s nothing more important than family
Those words are his lasting legacy
What he worked hard to provide
Was more than money could ever buy
This is how you love selflessly
Because a promise you make, is a promise you keep 
and that’s how you live
when that’s what you  believe
So stand up and do right - the best that you can
And the love that you leave  - that’s the measure of a man
that’s the measure of a man
(c) February 16, 2019 Rob & Ivalene Still