May 21, 2010

You "Do" For Family

"When you get an exasperating letter what happens? If you are young, you answer it promptly, instantly--and mail the thing you have written. At forty what do you do? By that time you have found out that a letter written in passion is a mistake in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred."
- Mark Twain, a Biography

"An old, cold letter ....makes you wonder how you could ever have got into such a rage about nothing."
- Mark Twain, a Biography

My paternal grandfather is certainly one of my heroes.  In a month it will be four years since he died and I miss him as much now as I ever have. It is still strange to me that he has already missed out on sharing so many monumental events. It is sometimes hard to hear my daughter say that she doesn't remember him at all.

If you show her his picture she can tell you who he is but nothing more than that. Neither of the kids have a clear understanding of just how much influence he had upon my life and why I hold on so tightly to the memories. That is ok, I don't expect it of them.

Lately I have been thinking about him more frequently. Much of that can be attributed to various events that have taken place, some good and some bad. But all of them enough to merit my wanting to talk to him about it. It would be nice to share some of the good things and to get his advice on the trickier items.

I don't have to close my eyes to hear him tell me that it is not smart to let your temper make decisions for you or that you can't screw an old head on young shoulders. Not hard for me to remember him teaching me how to throw a punch or that putting a roll of quarters in your fist is an effective way to add a little kick to your punch.

Grandpa was a character of the first order and a man who understood that sometimes you "do" for family. It is a lesson that I am passing along to my children. They need to understand that "doing" for your family is something that isn't always an option. Things happen and sometimes you adjust your schedule to take care of your siblings, parents, cousins or uncles.

We have conversations about this, the children and I. We talk about what helping out means and why it doesn't always make sense to throw money at a problem. We talk about how actions are important and what that means.

My daughter says that she is not afraid because she knows that I will protect her. Her big brother corrects her and says that "dad will protect everyone, including his parents and sisters." It leads into a back and forth between the two of them about what I will do and whether I would kill people who want to hurt the family.

For a moment I am silent, grateful that they feel this support. Grateful that they announce that they will do the same for me, but not until I really old, maybe in my fifties.

Sitting alongside them I wonder if I need to say more about it. I don't really like this talk about killing. They are right about one thing, I am the guy who will protect them. Jump in front of the bus, run into a burning building or take a bullet. To quote Superchicken, I knew the job was dangerous when I took it.

Of course I'll do it. Just ask my sisters and then tell you that I have spent the last 39 years looking out for them, whether they wanted it or not. Grandpa and my dad bear some of the responsibility for that. Now I can't help it, it is innate this desire to watch out for them.

But it is hard not to feel a little bit badly about this. She is short of six and he is almost ten and they are aware that there are bad people. Before we go to crowded places we have the conversation about being careful to stay together. I rarely say anything about bad things happening. I just say that I don't want them to get lost, but invariably one of them will mention not wanting bad people to take them.

It is a sad commentary, their awareness. Fortunately they don't walk around exhibiting signs of paranoia or fear. They aren't afraid to go out in public, just cautious about who, when and where. Not such a bad thing.

The telephone rings and I answer. I hear my son say that "dad is angry." My daughter agrees and tries to ask me what is going on. My sister is on the line telling me about a situation she is involved in. I am not angry with her and I am not about to share the story with my kids. It is none of their business and there is no reason for them to be involved.

I give my sister some advice and offer further assistance if she needs it. It surprises me a little bit that the kids picked up on my anger so quickly. I ask them what they saw and they tell me that I did that thing with my eyes. I am not entirely sure what that means, but they say that whenever they see it they know that someone is in trouble.

Smiling at them both I tell them that I wasn't angry, just concerned. They tell me that they think I was angry. I respond and tell them that I try not to make any decisions when I am angry because giving in to your temper can help you make bad choices.

The matter is handled and we move onto other things. Later that night I'll think about it all and wonder if I should have spent more time talking with them again about why it is important to help family. Alone with my thoughts I ponder and consider it.

And just before I slip into unconsciousness I think that this is another one of those grandpa moments. Would have been nice to speak with him about it. Can't say that I would have done anything differently, but that's ok. Sometimes all you want is that friendly ear.

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