Dear Grandfather

After my maternal grandmother passed away, I wrote this post almost immediately. So naturally, it was more viscerally emotional, as I was brushing away tears while typing.

I had a very different relationship with both of them. When I went next door to visit after school or on the weekends, Grandmother would get down on the floor with me to play Rummy or Uno. She taught me to shuffle playing cards by spreading them out on the floor and moving my hand in a circular motion on top of them, then collecting them back from the pile and having to get them back into the right position to be dealt. She would let me run around upstairs, going from the spare bedroom where’d I play on their stationary bike, through her bedroom to the attic stairs, where an unending supply of pennies in an enormous tin was waiting to be counted (thanks Amy for the reminder about this). When I got bored with that, I would wander up into the attic to explore hidden treasures until she called me back down. Before I returned home, she would give me a hug and say, “thanks for visiting.”

When Grandfather was home, he would almost always be found sitting in his chair in the corner of their living room, doing a crossword puzzle from that day’s newspaper or reading. If I stayed late enough or came after dinner, sometimes we’d watch Jeopardy. The other times I went to visit was to borrow one of his encyclopedias for a school project. He never asked what the project was about, but always let me spend as much time as I needed looking through his personal library.

The other place we would spend time together was in the basement of my parent’s house, where he had a small space set up for his workshop. I was always fascinated by his tools and would sneak down there by myself just to look around. I knew never to touch anything when he wasn’t there (except an occasional screwdriver when I was feeling brave). Sometimes there were projects in various stages of completion on his workbench, so I would inspect them to admire his handiwork. Other times I’d see drawings or just some tools laid out in preparation for his next project, which was always something someone in the family needed. But my favorite memories were when we worked on something together. Again, he didn’t say much but gave instructions when needed.

Once, I had to build a derby car to race against other boys at my church. He helped me build an awesome car, then I decided to paint it green and put puffy Eagles stickers all over it. Inevitably, the stickers created so much drag on the car that it couldn’t even make it to the finish line. I remember being upset that he hadn’t told me what would happen or keep me from putting the stickers on the car. But when I got older, I realized he wasn’t concerned with the outcome of the race. He enjoyed helping me do what I wanted and encouraged me even when my erroneous decisions drove me to certain failure. He understood the importance of letting me make my own mistakes, and not to fear them but to learn from those experiences.

When he was well into his eighties, he helped me put in new flooring in our house. Even though he couldn’t get down on his knees as easily or remember exactly all the steps in the process, we were able to figure it out and get everything done. During this time, he gave me a few of his tools by simply leaving them there and saying he had no need for them anymore.

When I got into writing and recording music in my teenage years, I knew he didn’t approve of the type of music I was playing. He never told me that himself; it was always second-hand information. Someone would say, “Grandfather doesn’t like drums” or “He doesn’t approve of dancing.” But he and Grandmother always came to my school concerts and sporting events, as well as similar events for all of my cousins. I always felt special knowing I had more than just my parents and siblings in the audience like most of the other kids.

Even though he was very traditional, he wasn’t afraid to try new things. I remember him asking me one day to accompany him to Best Buy and pick out a computer. He gave me the advice, “buy the best you can afford once and you’ll save money in the long run. And you’ll have better equipment.” He was eager to learn how to use his email and eventually we even helped him set up a Facebook account.

I see a lot of myself in him. People said he was quiet and I always wondered if he was deep in thought, and what or who he was thinking about. Or maybe he was sitting in peace, totally relaxed, simply enjoying his life.

Looking back, I wish I had asked him more questions. I wish I had gotten to know him better. I wish I had learned more from him. I wish I felt closer to him at times when I was younger, and again when he was much older.

But I know he was satisfied with his life and proud of his family he cherished so much. Perhaps my favorite memory of him is when we went to my youngest sister’s college graduation out of town. We all stayed at a bed and breakfast the night before, so we ate breakfast together with a few other families who were there for the same purpose the next morning. A man asked Grandfather about his family, and he told them how many children and grandchildren he had, and how most of them still lived close by and visited him often. The other man responded, “Wow, you are a very lucky man!” I looked over at Grandfather as he said, “Yes, I am” and could see how proud he was in that moment.

13 Things

Since my oldest daughter is turning 13 today, I wanted to give her some advice that will help her throughout her life, avoiding modern-day cliches whenever possible.

1 – On Truth

Life is hard. As you get older, it will continue to get harder. The best way to make it not any harder for yourself is to always tell the truth. Ironically, the hardest times to tell the truth are also the times when it’s the most important. I can’t envision the exact scenarios you will find yourself in where you will need this advice, but I can guarantee you will find yourself in those situations sooner or later. Telling the truth will make you a trustworthy person.

2 – On Kindness

Be kind to people who don’t deserve it. I’m not saying you should let people walk all over you or abuse that kindness, but be generous to people who are less fortunate than you – with your money, time, and resources. It will never be wasted.

3 – On Bravery

Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do.

4 – On Perfection

No one and nothing is perfect. Art is never finished or complete. Do what makes you happy and try your best. Learn something from everyone you meet.

5 – On Individuality

There is only one “you” and you’re it. Only copy other people when you’re learning a new thing, then find your own way. No one else can be you. Even though you are a tiny speck on a tiny, spinning ball flying through a tiny galaxy in the universe, you are a part of everything that happens.

6 – On Confrontation

If you learn how to resolve conflicts with others without ruining the relationship, you will be better at it than almost everyone. Then, you can write a book about it.

7 – On Money

A job is just a job. If you get to do something you love and get paid for it, great! But if not, do the best you can and you will learn something from every job you have. Learning the value of hard work has been a valuable lesson I learned at an early age. Save as much as you can and learn to get by on less than you make.

8 – On Hobbies

There’s probably nothing more important for your mental health than finding things you love to do just for fun. These things will change over the years, so don’t be afraid to try new things. People will judge things you like based on their experience with that thing, so don’t let anyone convince you not to try something that might seem weird.

9 – On Laughter

What someone finds funny is one of the most fascinating parts of their personality. Find someone who makes you laugh and who you make laugh, and you’ll have a lifelong friend – maybe even a spouse.

10 – On Family

Families come in all shapes and sizes. Yours will probably look different from most. But, the bond of family we have tried to create will hopefully give you a few lifelong companions. You won’t always get along with everyone, and you don’t have to.

11 – On Friendship

Some friends will come and go. You will find them in unexpected places and times, often just when you needed that person to come into your life for a specific reason. You only get out what you put into a friendship. The people I’ve considered my best friends are the ones who offer to help without expecting anything in return. Be that friend.

12 – On Love

It’s difficult for most people to know if they will love the same person their entire life. What makes relationships so hard is people are always changing. If someone breaks your heart, don’t let that stop you from loving someone else. Find someone who treats you as their equal by giving their whole self to you and give your whole self to them.

13 – On Beauty

Our society judges women on their appearance. How you look determines, in many cases, your worth and value to other people. But, it should not determine what you think of yourself. Don’t compare yourself to others, and don’t let what anyone thinks of you, or even what you think of yourself, stop you from pursuing your dreams and goals.


Not In Love Anymore?

[pictured above is my Grandfather and 12 of his great-grandchildren.]

Last weekend I was watching “The Notebook” on TV.

By myself.

My oldest daughter (known for saying whatever is on her mind at all times) walked into the room, noticed what I was watching, and commented, “Why are you watching this kind of movie? You’re not in love anymore!”

What she meant, as she continued to explain, was that Aileen and I were already married, therefore I had no reason to watch a romantic movie. I reassured her I was in fact very much still in love!

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Wonder Woman

She is smart. She is strong. She is compassionate. She is brave.

She works tirelessly during the day, taking care of our four rambunctious children. She gets up in the middle of the night to feed the baby. She has changed countless diapers, washed millions of dishes, and even fixes clogged drains and changes light bulbs.

She watches dance performances. She reads books. She braids hair and ties shoes. She prepares meals and feeds the little ones. She kisses boo-boos and puts on band-aids. She sings to them and plays peek-a-boo. She bathes them, brushes their teeth, and puts them to bed.

She is a shoulder to cry on. She gets squeezed, scratched, and bitten.

She rocks the baby and holds her for hours until she’s asleep for the night. Then she starts all over five minutes later.

She posses a love of animals and all living things and passes it on. She is a scientist with an endless appetite for knowledge. She spends her days teaching her children, answering an endless string of questions and encouraging even more. She teaches math, biology, grammar, astronomy, history, reading, writing, politics, languages and countless other things. She has taught our children how to crawl, walk, and run. She keeps everyone safe.

She researches, plans, and organizes activities. She takes pictures and shares them proudly with her family.

She takes an interest in others and asks questions. She loves talking about things she is passionate about, especially her family. She listens, she laughs, and she cries.

She stays up late preparing for tomorrow to do it all again, and wouldn’t have it any other way.

She does a thousand other things I can’t remember…or don’t even know about.

She would say she is not perfect but she’s perfect for me.

She is a wonderful woman, and she is my best friend and wife.

Your Story is Worth Telling

This is what I’ve been telling myself for the last week and half while I’ve stopped publishing daily blog posts. I haven’t stopped writing, but after a few family sicknesses and other life-distractions, I lost a bit of motivation to share anything with the world.

I have also had a bit of difficulty finding enough clarity to write something sensible and organized. Even today, I don’t feel particularly confident in my ability to communicate, but decided to push through it and get something out of my head.

Today I read a few fascinating stories about women in technology. It’s something I care about because of my four daughters who I used to hope would find something interesting about the digital world so we could share a common interest. But after seeing the reality of these stories in today’s world, I’m not sure I still do.

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