How You’ll Know Him

Dear Danny,

It was a bright, warm August day – much like this one – 6 years ago when we said goodbye to your Papa.

August 2, 2011.
You do not remember this day for what it was, if you remember it at all.  You were a month away from turning 2, a wild cacophony of sounds and behaviors, and were completely incapable of processing either his illness or his ultimate death.

Unlike most of what you don’t remember about your Papa, I am grateful that those last days are not held in your mind.  He was too young to be leaving us.  Your Daddy was too young to have to learn to live without his Father.  You were too young to know that it was Tuesday, let alone that it was the day our lives were changed forever by a phone call early in the morning on a hot summer day.

2010:  Dinner with your Grandpa during a snowstorm.
Your Papa was an absolute mountain of a man, both in physical presence and in spirit.  His heart was so generous that you could feel as though you had known him your entire life from one conversation.  He was so cool that you could know him your entire life and still be floored by a new story from his spectacular collection of experiences.  He was always, always working – so stubborn was his determination to provide and protect.

He would never allow the “now” to become the “forever”.  He was a man who took a tremendous risk to change his entire life for love of his children and never looked back.  A man who never saw a single obstacle as unmovable; who never saw a hill he wasn’t willing to climb.  Even to the very end.

He went down swinging, but cancer is not a fair fight.

2009:  You and you Grandpa at your Baptism
His burdens were large enough to cast a shadow, but his love was strong enough to keep everyone around him in the light.   In many ways, we still feel that light all around us.

And though I know you were not even 2 years old when that light burned out on Earth…I’ve always hoped that you could feel it, too.

2013:  you and your Dad at Riverbend Park.
One of your favorite things to tell people about your Daddy is that he is a teacher.  You love to visit his school and visit with his students.  And, now that you have your own awesome music teacher at school for perspective, you are more aware than ever about how your Dad spends his days.   You will always remember this about him, I am absolutely certain.

What you would not remember, though, is the winding and difficult path that your Dad took to this career.   His time in school was difficult and indecisive as he was derailed from his dream to become a music teacher.  He had been so sure of his calling when he started school that his decision to veer away from education left him with a profound sense of loss.  When he graduated with his music degree, he continued to work in office jobs that did not suit him because those jobs were how the bills got paid.  He would work all day at a desk and then escape to other jobs at night, accompanying and directing.   Right before you were born, he saw an opportunity to make more money (that we desperately needed) in a job he was certain to despise and he took it.  A year later when that awful job disappeared from under us, he became a Stay-At-Home-Dad overnight; a role that he was in no way prepared to step into.  We survived by his continuing to work – taking you with him to choir practices and camps and meetings.  He survived by going back to school – writing papers during nap time, attending online classes well into the evenings after you and I had gone to bed.

It was another bright summer day not long before your Grandpa died when we found out your Dad had landed a full time teaching job – his first dream, his calling, and what will become his life’s work.

And when I think about that story, and any number of the hundreds of stories that I could tell you about your Daddy, the unforgettable man that was your Grandpa doesn’t seem so far away.
2015:  You and “Papa Bear”, reading.
You see Danny, I spent a lot of time trying to keep Papa’s memory alive in your heart and mind.  I dismissed the Psychologist that told me that memories follow the development of language, and that kids don’t usually start to really hold long term memories until they have words to put them in perspective.  I ignored friends and family who gently reminded me that you were 23 months old when he died and, even without other challenges, that’s awfully young.  I got out the pictures every night, told you stories and played videos.  You slept with the bear made from one of Papa’s favorite shirts.

And 6 years later I can finally admit it.  I know you don’t remember him.

But, I have made my peace with that because of the man I know you will never forget.

2011: you and your Dad
Your Daddy is an absolute mountain of a man, forged from day one in generosity and strength by the mountain before him.   He is so loving that he can make any one of his students feel like the only one in the room; he is so strong that he can hold them all up at once to be the best they can be.  He is always, always working; so stubborn is his determination to provide and to protect.  He is never satisfied until he has given his best to everyone who needs it.

He has never allowed your “now” to be your “forever”, this man who took a leap of faith to change his life for love of his children – for love of you.

Your Daddy carries the best of your Papa with him in every moment of every day.

1978:  Your Dad and your Grandpa.
Maybe that is why now, 6 years later, even without Papa here by your side…I see him in you.

I see his mannerisms in the way you fold your hands in your lap when you are listening.  I see his fire in your eyes when you are frustrated that someone doesn’t understand you, or wants you to calm down before you have had a chance enough to be mad.  I see his passion in the way that you instantly connect to music and adapt to technology.  I hear his joy in your voice, in the way that you talk with so much excitement it is almost laughter.

I see his spirit in the methodical, literal way that you approach your relationship with the church and with your God.  In the way you make your way to the soundboard every Sunday, climbing up into the booth like Zacchaeus, trying to catch a glimpse of Jesus.

We miss him every day, Danny.  And when I catch these flashes of your Grandpa in you, I realize that it has never really mattered if you remember everything about him or nothing at all.

Our faith tells us that we can have hope.  Because you know Him, our holy and loving Father, I know that you will see your Papa again someday.
But Danny, because you know your Father, you will have known your Papa all along.

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