It’s 9:15 p.m. on Sunday night and our day is not yet done. The kids are in bed, but my husband and I are up waiting for his daughter to get home from work so we can go “work” at my father’s house, getting it ready to sell.
My father died in January of 2008 and we are in the process of settling his estate, which hasn’t been an easy task. It’s been both physically and emotionally draining and we’re ready to put it behind us.
I found this picture in Dad’s garage a couple of weeks ago. I would guess he is somewhere between 6-8 years of age. He looks just like my oldest son, Michael. When I showed it to Michael, I asked him, “Do you know who this is?”
“Me,” he said.
My father had a special relationship with my first son. I was 5 months pregnant with him when my mother died unexpectedly. While I was abosorbed in my own grief, my father was in a stupor for months. In fact, later he had no memory of her memorial service or of his family coming down from Pennsylvania.
I remember the day my father came to the hospital to meet his first grandson. He showed up with my younger brother, Tom. They stayed no more than fifteen minutes or so. Dad was obviously uncomfortable. He looked at the baby out of the corner of his eye as he walked past the bassinet to a chair in the corner. It was supposed to be a happy time for him. But without my mother, who was ecstatic when she learned I was pregnant, it just brought back too many painful memories.
Michael was a colicky baby. I was home with him by myself while my husband was working and going to school at night. (He didn’t quit working until after my leave from work was over.) At times I thought I would lose my mind from all the crying. Dad wanted to help, but the last thing he wanted to do was hold the baby.
Then one day while Michael was crying uncontrollably, I heard my father let himself in the side door. He came up behind me as I was rocking Michael in the recliner and peered over the top of the chair. Michael looked up and smiled at him. It was his first “real” smile. Not the kind babies make unconsicously when they pass gas, but a real purposeful smile. And it was for his grandfather.
Sometime after that, my father started to instruct me on Michael’s likes and dislikes. At times it was annoying. “Jill, he doesn’t like it when you do that,” or, “He’s crying because his feet are cold!” Michael was afraid of loud noises, especially lawn mowers. So when he went through a period of having nightmares my father told me it was because he was dreaming that my husband, Scott, was chasing him with the lawn mower. I laughed when he told me this. Michael was not talking yet, so there was no way to know what he was dreaming about, but Dad was absolutely convinced it was the lawn mower. I warned Scott ahead of time that Dad would probably mention this to him and that he should just agree (which he did).
Michael still talks about his “Papa.” Just the other day I caught him stretching his neck and making all kinds of strange faces. I asked him what he was doing and he said, “I can’t wiggle my ears. How did Papa do that?”
Dad witnessed many of Michael’s firsts, including his first steps and first words. This past weekend Michael went snorkeling for the first time at Peachtree Dive Center. He also rode a bicycle for the first time (with training wheels). My heart swells with pride for my big boy, now six years old. I know his Papa is proud of him too.