Father’s Day isn’t always about our fathers. Sometimes there are other people in our lives that deserve recognition, such as grandfathers or uncles or a special family friend that may have taken place of our real fathers. This is something I had written to my grandfather for Christmas in 2000 and was asked to read it at his funeral. I tweaked it up a bit so that it was up to date and I could share it with others.
To My Papa
I remember my Papa very well from when I was a very small child. He would take me on walks to the railroad tracks and teach me about trains. I would get excited about watching a train go by and we’d wave to the engineer (a big word Papa taught me) and pump our fist up and down for the engineer to blow the train’s horn. We would walk along the tracks and he’d teach me about the little rocks that came from boulders of granite. Sometimes I would take a few rocks home with me because I thought the sparkly silver on them was pretty. Other times, Papa would give me pennies to leave on the railroad tracks and we’d retrieve them a few hours later after the train had squashed them into oblong-shaped pieces of copper.
Papa had a story for everything. He often walked with me through the senior citizen’s park where they lived and introduced me to all of the people he knew. He would later tell me about each person and how they met. Usually on our walks, Papa would call out words for me to spell or he’d teach me new words, such as hydrant and bicycle – both big words for a five-year-old – and explain in depth how a fire hydrant is used. Papa was very big on education.
I remember when I was really little, about three, Papa would have me sit on his lap and tell me different stories. Fortunately, Papa had a tape recorder and I still have some of the old tapes he made of his storytelling. The Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs, and The Big Bad Wolf were the three that I remember most. He was good at telling stories to children because he could change his voice to mimic each character, and his body language and facial expressions revealed a little bit of actor in him, too. Papa thought he had one of the greatest singing voices around, and being a kid, I thought so too. He frequently sang and recited poems, many times making them up as he’d go along. I always asked him to tell me more because he always made me laugh.
Papa often took me to the park on the river where there was a playground. He would push me on the swings and I would say, “Higher! Higher!” but he was afraid I’d fall out if he pushed me too high. Then he would push me on the merry-go-round and I would say, “Faster! Faster!” but he was afraid of getting me sick. He was always very protective of me.
My Papa used to play silly games (sometimes at inappropriate times to my grandmother’s dismay) at the dinner table. Grandma kept a vase in the middle of the table, and Papa would hide his face behind it from my view and we’d play a dinner table game of hide-n-go-seek. He couldn’t fool me once I grew tall enough to see over things. Papa enjoyed another game too – this one I call magic face – because he would move his hand up his face and have a huge smile; then he’d move his hand down and have a big frown. This used to entertain me for hours when I was very young and at shorter intervals as I grew older. Papa’s games at the dinner table didn’t end there. Probably one of the worst, but funniest things he did to entertain was sitting the dog in my grandmother’s dinner chair and feeding her dog bones. It was a good thing Grandma had a sense of humor, too.
Papa always had a good sense of humor, sometimes to my embarrassment when I became a teenager. He would do things in public, like in a store, in which he pulled his pants all the way up to his chest, turned his hat backwards and walked like a monkey. (Now imagine running into a schoolmate at the same time.) My friends from high school still remember the 20 questions Papa would drill each of them before we were allowed to leave the house: “How are your grades? What do your parents do for a living? Are you planning to go to college or join the military? Do you smoke cigarettes? What’s that say on your shirt? Why do you wear your hair like that?” One wrong answer and he wasn’t so sure he wanted me around them. I now understand where he was coming from.
In 1979, Papa gave me a smooth stone. It was nothing out of the ordinary, but I have kept it all of these years as a reminder of my grandfather and the wonderful memories that he has given me. But it doesn’t take a stone to remind me of Papa. Not only did he teach me about rocks and boulders when I was a small child, he taught me very valuable life lessons, such as honesty, integrity, commitment, and service to the community. Each time I am confronted with life lessons, I remember the things that he taught me. “Do the right thing,” he would often say. Those are the things that no matter what, no one can take away from me and are ingrained into who I am today. This is what being a father or grandfather is all about.
I salute you, Papa. Even though you have been gone for six years, I still want to say Happy Father’s Day.