Thinking of My Grandpas on Father’s Day

June 21, 2015

Father’s Day is upon us. I appreciate the idea, but I honestly don’t care about a “holiday” designed for my wife and kids to make me feel special. I mean it when I say that they do it every day. My dad knows how much I love him, and I don’t think he cares much about a day of attention either. Maybe it’s just how we are wired.

This year, however, I do find myself thinking about two important fathers that I can’t offer happy wishes to. These are my grandpas — the fathers of my mom and dad. Both have been gone a number of years now. While I had very good relationships with them as a child and adolescent, I didn’t spend much time with them as an adult. I had opportunities, but I was a young (and dumb) man who thought I had better things to do than visiting with my grandparents. What an idiot I was. 

Like everyone, there are things I would do differently in hindsight. I wish I’d been more involved with my grandfathers later in their lives. I should have picked their brains — I have so many things I would ask them today. I understand now that they possessed an incredible amount of knowledge which was lost when they died. Countless memories and experiences were lodged in their heads, but were never documented. Many of these they probably would have loved to pass on, if they were simply asked about them. What I wouldn’t give to sit down and have a beer with these two men today. I think about what I would ask if I were granted just three questions.

For starters, I would want to know everything I could about my parents when they were kids. What did they love, what did they hate, how did they interact with others, what were their idiosyncrasies, were they difficult…were they happy? I would ask this not only because it would give me an idea of my parents’ childhoods and some insight into their personalities today (as well as my own), but also because it requires a long, thoughtful answer, which means I’d get a lot of bang for my buck. I would want to make this conversation last as long as possible, so difficult questions with certain to be lengthy answers would be a must.

Next, I would ask about my grandfathers’ biggest regrets. Hopefully this too would result in drawn out answers, although I suppose they could be as short as “marrying your grandmother,” or worse, “having kids.” I don’t think this would be either of their responses, however. My recollection is that both men probably had some regrets. They certainly seemed to have some demons, which may have been the result of difficult upbringings. Both grew up poor. My dad’s father had a tough early life helping run his parents’ farm. My mom’s dad had a more mysterious (and probably worse) upbringing, the facts of which no one can quite piece together. Despite their childhoods, both became good, relatively successful men. Still, what would they have done differently? This would be fascinating to know now that I am an adult.

Finally, I’d ask for any advice my grandpas could give me. What did they know, that I haven’t yet learned or wasn’t smart enough to ask about when they were alive? What can I do to help make my kids happy, responsible adults? How do I respond when they get into trouble or make major mistakes? What can I be doing now to help myself from one day looking back with regrets? My gut tells me that neither of them would have good answers to this one, but that they would instead suggest something along the lines of believing in my gut instincts. Maybe they would say this even if they had the answers. I suppose that could be an indication of trusting my judgement — and a lesson at the same time.

I would not ask what might be the obvious question to many: what, if anything, comes after death?  It’s not that I’m not curious, of course I am. I guess I just don’t think this knowledge would be fair for me to have now. I’ll find out one day.  

When my three questions were up, I would offer to buy another round, and hope like hell that they had time for one more.  Maybe they would offer additional insight, whatever that might be. Maybe they would ask questions about me or about my children that they never got a chance to meet? I know they would love them, just as they loved me so much when I was young.  Man, I wish my kids could meet them. 

If nothing else, maybe we would just sit in silence, enjoying our drinks. I would study the lines in their faces, their expressions, their mannerisms. I’d pay attention to their voices — I can still hear them in my head, but the sound is fading. I would hope that my mom’s father would tell me a dirty joke, and that my dad’s father would explain something about airplanes. Both would be equally significant to me. Finally, I would tell them both that I love them, something I don’t think I ever did while they were living.

I realize that I’ll never actually see my grandpas again in this lifetime. Perhaps we’ll meet again in some afterlife. Maybe not. As long as I’m alive, though, I will always have my memories. And they are truly great memories. Over time they may darken, but I know will never grow completely black.

I think I might care more about Father’s Day than I realized. It’s a chance to tell all of the important dads in our lives how much they mean to us — even if we are certain they already know. We should be sure to do this as often as possible now, because one day we will only wish we could.

Happy Father’s Day.

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10 Responses to “Thinking of My Grandpas on Father’s Day”

  1. facetfully Says:

    Award-worthy post! I am sharing this one!

  2. facetfully Says:

    Reblogged this on and commented:
    If any father figure you love is still alive, read this! If not, read it anyway!


  3. I’m glad you wrote this, for grandpas are fathers too even if they have passed. Each generation brings that gap where we all change. So it was natural to be caught up in teenage years.
    I knew both grandpa’s well. My maternal one was within walking distance and I saw him every day. I was the odd one who always asked questions. I even asked him about his dad and if he had told him of the Civil War. One battlefield, four miles away was our ancestors home. More than anything else I questioned about my grandparents’ parents and that war. My maternal one would have this sad look on his face and tell me that it would stay in his memories because it was better left alone, too terrible to discuss. My grandma told me many things that he would not, but I never stopped asking questions. My favorite grandpa lay in a nursing home and of all things, at twenty-four I had a date on the night he passed. How selfish I was. I remember so well my date asked if we should go see him. I said no that my grandpa would be there the next day. I couldn’t think of him passing, didn’t enter my mind.
    If you have your dad, then you are so fortunate. Ask him questions now while he is with you. Happy Fathers Day to you.

  4. Joyful2bee Says:

    I have some of the same regrets. I only knew my maternal step grandfather and paternal grandfather. My mother’s father died years before I was born. I always wished I could tell him that I love him and did in a dream one night. Beautiful piece here. Thank you.

  5. Virginia Brunk Says:

    Great Blog Brad! I only knew one of my grandfathers, and he spent his last 3 years in our house while I was an early teen. I called him Bonpapa (French for grandfather), as he was from Belgium. Ever day after school we would play “Jackie” (a European form of backgammon). I loved those times with him and cherish those memories. He was a great man and a fun grandfather. My other grandfather died of polio in the 1940s, well before I was born. He was a preacher, so I have to believe he’d be pretty proud that his granddaughter is now a Christian. (I’ll be honest Brad, I wouldn’t have thought of that if I hadn’t read this post, so thank you for that!) My father died in my early 20s, before I was married and before I had children. We purposely had children right away, 9 months after our wedding came our son, but that was because I wanted my children to know their remaining grandparents. There are so many days I think of my dad and how he would have loved to see and meet his grandchildren. He would have spoiled them rotten! And that would have been okay with me. Thanks again for the reminder of my Bonpapa!


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