This past Monday my Pops passed away. He was 81 years of age. We often called him the “medical miracle” in light of how he just kept trudging along despite a host of medical troubles. He was a tough man and he was a fighter. Yet for all that, nothing quite prepares you for the finality of death. And while we knew it was time for him to go, nothing readies your heart for the emptiness you feel inside and the idea of not seeing someone you love alive again on earth. So for that reason and for my own heart’s sake, I wanted to write a little tribute to the man who was my Pops.
Often in families there are a host of unresolved hurts and ideas about how a son or daughter should have been treated. And it seems, no matter what you may have thought you did, there will always be some aspect wherein you likely fell short. I don’t offer this to point towards my Dad’s deficiencies for I have learned by now that all of us are simply doing the best that we can. Families contain a thousand variables and pressures, circumstances and difficulties unique to every family. Who are we as children to accurately define the narrative? A child cannot possibly be aware of the things that are going through their parents hearts. The job of parents is often to struggle so the child doesn’t have to; a reality that may escape you until you have children of your own. And when it comes to training about how to be a good parent, all we have is the manner in which we grew up compliments of our parents following in the footsteps of their own parents. For this, there can be no criticism, only abiding love.
My dad was a man of few words. And often perhaps, as a lover of words, I didn’t hear the things that I thought that I should hear. It wasn’t until I got a bit older that I began to learn that not all of us share the same love language. Sometimes you have to recognize the love being shared in different ways. My Dad, probably in light of not growing up with much money, spoke the language of love by the things he could give to you. He often cooked exotic meals from a variety of cultures as a token of his love and reveled in the happiness it produced as you devoured it. I sometimes think the satisfaction of a full tummy represented warmth and love to him. When I was young and increasingly demanding about the things I needed to have, it never dawned on me the sacrifices he made so that I could have the popular shoes or a football jersey. For as long as I could remember, he always had two jobs; his day job and a part time gig. As a child you may not consider what another person is going through to try and make you happy. When you remember your parents, remember that and make sure your love abides.
I carried some bitterness towards my Dad for quite a few years. In hindsight, I am ashamed of that. But, I finally got past it all when I made it about him instead of about me. I began to see his humanity and being a parent myself, recognized the challenges we all must face. I stopped expecting him to be something he was not and instead let him be who he was. I forgave him for his lack of warm expressions and looked to be a source of that warmth for him. I loved him for who he was and for his generosity in raising a child that wasn’t his by birth. I marveled at how he chose to do that for me and made me a part of his own family. I always wondered why I looked a little different. And now that he is gone, I wished that I could tell him again how much I loved him. Shortly before his death, he got it into his head that I was put out with him for some reason. So, he told my Mom in front of me that he wanted her to buy me a ring and that it needed to cost one thousand dollars. I offered that he never had to do that for me and that I was not upset with him at all. But, I got your message Pops and I sure love you too.
I am proud of my Dad and what he did for himself and for our family. I am proud of the life he made for my Mom. She has more gifts from him than she can count, all given in the language of his love. I am profoundly thankful for the things he taught me. He taught me that it was my job and my job alone to make sure my family’s needs were met. He taught me that no-one gets a free pass. My dad had a habit of saying no to every request. At first this used to bother me and I would scurry away in defeat, that is until I learned to go past his default response and ask again. Man, I could have gotten a lot more stuff as a kid if I knew that was what was going on. Pops also had some quirks that we all remember too well. He loathed the sound of crunching potato chips and so we learned quickly to soften them up a bit (smile). He was not politically correct and may have even been the black Archie Bunker. We always looked around to see who else heard what he just said. He often decried the use of cigarettes and pointed to their ill effects on your health, despite only smoking for a year or two in his twenties. I would often say, Pops you may have COPD but it aint from smoking, you didn’t work hard enough at it for that. He also had some favorite sayings. His favorite, “Wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which one gets filled up first.” We were never sure if that was a way of saying you don’t get anything from wishing or that you could expect some shit, but whatever the case we all recall it with great fondness. My Pops was just a classic, a throwback from a hardworking generation gone past. I don’t think I ever heard him complain about going to work.
Well now he is gone. What we wouldn’t give to eat some potato chips in his presence, to her him shout, “no!” or to listen to those same old jokes we had heard a hundred times. What we wouldn’t give to have him back. I sure loved you Pops and I never told you that enough. If there is one takeaway from what I am writing today it’s that you should love and treasure your parents; the people that just keep on loving you no matter what you do. Remember they share in your humanity and can be real stinkers at times just like you. They don’t always know the right way to do it and they are simply doing the best they can. Resolve the hurts in your family and for goodness sakes forgive. Those people most close to you who we all tend to treat the worst, are in fact, the most precious. Love them. Help them. Be there for them when they get old.
Thank you for indulging me today and I hope this will still be “just some good thoughts…”