*Thanks to Danielle and Chris Tanner for the beautiful video.
The first man I ever loved was your Grandpa. He was born October 16th, 1935. He was the most loving man ever, and not because he was my daddy. If he was just someone I had met, I would have loved him all the same. Many people did. I spend so much time trying to figure out how to explain him to you. My one wish is that you could have known him. How wonderful he would have been with you. How much you would have learned from him. If I can pass any of that to you, I will spend my life trying. Trying to be the role model he was to me. Trying to influence you the way he influenced me. Trying to love you the way he loved me. He was a beautiful person.
I was a daddy’s girl, but it goes much deeper than that. I guess it really started at the tender age of 5, like you are now, and my daddy was diagnosed with cancer of the lungs and lymph nodes. It was the 70’s and cancer research had really just begun. I think it did something to me deep inside to know that my daddy was so sick. I think I knew he might die. He was selected to participate in a new experimental treatment called chemotherapy at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He left home and I didn’t see him much. Next thing I know we are moving to Virginia so he can be near his family because he only had months to live. They had done all they could do for him at the hospital. So we waited. And we waited. And he kept living. I think I felt that every day he was alive was a gift. I got my daddy after all.
So there was a connection that I can’t quite explain. I can think of a thousand words to describe him, but they don’t seem quite enough. Yes, he was kind and gentle. He was humble and generous. He was courageous and sensitive. He was funny, yet a thinker. But he was so much of these things. He never talked about himself or anyone else. He never complained. Ever. He never got mad. I never heard my dad yell. He was always simply positive and full of love.
He owned a little convenient store. Nothing fancy. Actually in a not so nice neighborhood, but he loved that store. He loved his customers. And they loved him. They loved him dearly. See, he took care of them. When they didn’t have money for food because they had to pay rent or fix their car, he gave them whatever they needed. Sometimes they paid him back, sometimes they didn’t. But he didn’t care either way. He wanted to help. He put a pool table in the back room and the kids would stay there all the time. He was like their daddy too. The entire community loved him.
I remember so many special things about my dad. Things that I didn’t realize were special at the time. Like how he’d come home from the store and bring me a roll of SweeTarts. Or how each night he’d count his daily earnings from the store on a tv tray in front of his chair. And how he loved to have his head scratched. We had a deal. I’d scratch his head during the tv show and I’d get a break during the commercials. (This was before Netflix.)
I remember how I just loved to talk to him about anything. It seems like whenever we went anywhere, dad and I would find a little spot to sit. Like at family reunions, or when visiting others. We were both quiet by nature and didn’t participate in much of the activities. Even when I returned home to visit, I remember many nights just sitting on the sofa talking about nothing. But that was everything to me.
I remember Sundays at church. He always sat on the back left pew. And at some point during the service he’d offer me a mint. He never sang the hymns and he always cried during prayer. Afterwards we’d go sit in the car and wait for mom.
I remember how he used to always ask me, “Who do you love?” And even though he knew my answer and I knew he knew my answer, I always played along. Sometimes I thought it was so corny, like how I do the same silly things with you, but now, as a mom, I get it. That’s all he really cared about – that I loved him. He just wanted to have some fun with it.
I remember when he was recovering from a back injury when the lawn mower flipped over on him. He had to stay in bed for awhile. I would come home from school and we would watch the soap opera General Hospital together. He was really into the drama. We would make our predictions and figure it all out.
I remember how when I was in quiet thought he’d say, “Penny for your thoughts.” What I now love about this, is the realization of how much he truly cared about what I was thinking about. He wanted to know what was going on inside my head. Not to be nosy, but to connect with me. I catch myself doing the same thing with you. When you’re quiet, I just want to see what’s running through your little mind. Lovingly curious.
I remember how he always winked at me. Anytime we were sitting anywhere, he’d catch my eye and give me a wink. I always thought that was so cute. So sweet. If he couldn’t catch my eye, he’d say, in a very particular voice that I can still hear today, “Hey, Kiiimberrrlyyy…” and when I’d look, he’d wink.
I remember his crazy dancing in front of the tv. He would squat and place his hands on his knees and then move his hands crisscross from knee to knee. He thought he was so cool. And so did I. We would laugh.
I remember him saving up all year to take his summer vacation. He loved the beach. He’d sit on the balcony or under the umbrella with his drink. He didn’t have to be doing anything. Just there. He was so peaceful and calm.
I remember our trips to the horse race track in West Virginia. He loved the races. We would sit side by side and he taught me how to study the horses. When I tried to pick one based on the name that I liked, he explained the statistics to me and not as if I were a child, but he talked about complicated columns of numbers as if I were an adult. Then we’d go place a smart $2.00 bet. Yes, this Christian first man, loved to bet! We talked about what we’d do with our winnings, which were never much at all, if any. The real joy was taking the time to make intentional selections and then watching our horse race like a champion. It was a thrill and he taught me that life is exciting when we think about what we do and purposefully make choices.
I remember Sundays at the bowling alley. He was a serious bowler. He had been on a bowling league before getting cancer and he had trophies because all he knew how to bowl was strikes. Me, on the other hand, only bowled gutter balls. He prepped me every time it was my turn. He guided me with instructions about how to hold the ball, how to move my arm, and how to line the ball up using the arrows. But to my disappointment, I most often went into the gutter. He never got frustrated with me. Every time I was up, he started all over again like it was my first time. I wanted a strike so bad, but not for me, for him! For him because he worked so hard trying to help me. He was always patient with me.
I remember when I was in Kindergarten and I couldn’t tie my shoes. At his store he made me a practice board from a piece of a Sunbeam bread box. I thought it was the coolest thing. I practiced and practiced and before I knew it, I was tying like a pro.
He was innocently funny, which made him all the more charming. Like the time he was at the mall with mom and he saw toe socks. He thought they were gloves and said, “That’s just crazy. They know nobody’s fingers are that short!”
Or like the time I wanted a pair of Guess jeans. I asked if I could get a new pair of jeans and he said, “Sure. What kind?” I said, “Guess.” He said, “Jordache.” I said, “No. Guess.” He said, “Gloria Vanderbilt.” I said, “No Dad. Guess is the brand. Guess jeans.”
Or like the time he walked down the sidewalk at home one morning on his way to the store and mom stepped out the door and asked him what pants he had on. He said the ones she had laid out. Well, come to find out he had put on the ones she had laid out for her. He just laughed and said he thought they felt a little funny.
He always put on silly hats or made funny faces. It was more funny when he did it because he was such a quiet, private person. His humor just kinda slide out of him and gracefully spread out to others.
He liked to predict what was going to happen in movies or better yet, he always claimed he had already seen whatever movie we were watching. When I would tell him it had just come out, he’d respond, “Well then I’ve seen one just like it.” Whatever dad. He had a playfulness about him with everything.
I remember his dreams. Oh, he loved to dream and I would join right in with him. We’d sit and plan what he could invent or what new business venture he could start. He had a table by his chair and in his table he kept his legal pads. We’d sketch out our new home we were going to build or the pool we’d have put in. None of these things ever happened, but we had ideas and he taught me to value my ideas. We dreamed big and when we dreamed, we really believed it was possible. He had a vision and that vision made every day new. Every day I really thought was the day something big was gonna happen.
I remember how he always had a positive outlook. I had so many screw ups. I made so many mistakes and stupid choices. But not one time in my life did he make me feel anything but special. I would ask him what he thought. I would want to know what his opinion was and he always told me, “Do whatever is going to make you happy.” He never shared his opinion because he wanted me to think for myself and above all, be happy. At the time, I thought ok. That’s nice. But now, as a parent, I respect it so much. All I want for you, is for you to be happy. And there will be times when your happiness will not be my decision or my choice. And you will not always do what I want. At that time I hope I can be the parent my daddy was and put my happiness aside in order to put your happiness first. That’s hard to do. But I learned from him that in the end, the way real love works is – if you’re happy, then I’m happy. Real love doesn’t demand. It inspires.
I remember how our first dog Byte loved him! Whenever he came to visit, she stayed right by his side. And she was not a social dog. She actually didn’t like anyone. But she loved my daddy!
I remember so much about my daddy, but every day that passes without him, I’m afraid I lose some. I miss his positive vibe. He brought clarity and goodness. I catch myself imagining what he would say or how he would react. I do this, so I can keep learning from him. So I can keep growing as a better person and as a mom. While people might see his gentle, quiet ways as weak, I see them as nothing but courageous. He had everything going against him, but made everything go for him. He had compassion for others no matter what the situation. I don’t know many people who can really do that. He lived honestly and proudly and with his whole heart. If I can be half the person he was, then I will be a good mom.
I have nothing but good thoughts when I think about my daddy. I can’t help but smile. One of the best things he taught me was how people should act every day. He was the perfect role model and thanks to him, I found the second man I ever loved…your daddy.
I think of the man you will grow to become. All the lessons I have learned from my daddy are helping me and guiding me every day with you…the third man I ever loved.
As his birthday draws to a close, I think of him. I think of him every day. But today I think of his life. His beauty. His tenderness. I think of his triumphs and his struggles. I think of what the world was like with him in it and what it’s like with him gone. I’m happy. I’m sad. I laugh. I cry. I think of all I’ve learned from him and how much I need him now. How much you need him. I think of how lucky I was to have had him for a dad. And my greatest tribute to him, is to be that kind of mama for you. I’ve got some big shoes to fill, but you deserve it. I will do my best. After all, I had a great role model.
I love you too much.