Contributions from important men in my life:
My Papa (maternal grandfather):
- He genuinely loved me, as his first-born grandchild whom he helped raise.
- Scolded it into my brain to always look over my shoulder before switching lanes while driving. Good to check the mirrors too, but people like to coast in blind spots. A life lesson that’s on an infinite loop in my mind and likely saved my tail on many occasions.
- Always made certain my vehicles were properly checked out when I visited and insisted on me toting around various tools, jumper cables, tie-downs, tarps, flashlights, and supplies in my vehicle in the event of an emergency.
- From a young age let me help when he worked on vehicles in doing tasks I could manage, like pumping the brakes or holding the flashlight steady. That let me be involved so I could learn a little without getting in the way.
- Demonstrated the damage alcoholism can do to a family. He quit drinking in 1990, but this also taught the lesson that changes made later in life can’t always rectify what was previously broken.
- Used to say to me, “Sugar, I don’t know what’s wrong with people or the world.” And I heard the pain in his voice, yet witnessed how he was unable to leave the outside world alone, socially-extroverted as he couldn’t help but be (like me).
- He showed that he would protect me, and I appreciated that so very much, because I was young and misguided. He couldn’t protect me much of the time, but when he could, he tried in his own way. And that was a blessing.
- He was the reason I took up smoking, him being the only smoker around me. I wanted to be like my Papa, so I began stealing cigarettes from him the summer before I turned 14. He caught on and one day came in and tossed a carton of Marlboro reds at me (back when they were $16 a carton) and yelled “Now, don’t steal from me anymore!” I can see both the folly and the value in that lesson. I quit stealing.
- Took me fishing many times, though I probably annoyed the hell out of him by chattering too much, but those memories will be cherished forever.
- Took me out to shoot guns in the sandpit.
- Drove my dogs and me out to the local springs to play in the summer months, allowing us to ride in the back of his pick-up there and back.
- I tear up nearly every time I hear Otis Redding’s song “Sitting on the Dock (of the Bay),” because we’d listen to it on cassette in his little Toyota truck while driving around. That and Jeff Foxworthy’s “You Might Be a Redneck If…” comedy. Those were the two cassettes we could both agree on listening to together.
- When I was little, he took me everywhere. He was proud to show me off. He would say “Come on if you wanna go with,” inviting me to ramble around town with him while he conducted his errands. I felt proud sitting beside my Papa in his little truck, playing on his CB radio.
- As an adult, he respected my decisions and left alone the subject of my lifestyle. That allowed us to become close again after the tumultuous teen years.
- He showed restraint throughout my life. There were occasions where he stepped over the line, but overall he did a good job of checking what I know were strong impulses inside him. I was a difficult teenager who obeyed no one.
- Put up with my (ex-)husband.
- Tolerated my gay friends, despite acting weird and uncomfortable in their presence. That was very kind of him to try to be open-minded.
- Aided people and church groups in cleaning out houses on the Mississippi coastline after Hurricane Katrina hit. I personally met one family afterward and witnessed their gratitude toward my Papa. It’s heartwarming that he got to experience that. He deserved to feel good about himself.
- Papa showed me what someone who’s grown up pained can look like. We share a bit of a bond in common due to our mothers, but he had a much more severe and heart-wrenching upbringing. Much more. And it left a permanent scar all over him. Not just his mother, but his father and his stepmother beat him and rejected him and turned him into a slave, all while keeping him from his own loving grandpa. They damn near broke him. I met him in his 40s and observed him until the day he lost the battle with cancer at age 71. I will forever miss him so much. He was the closest person to a daddy I ever knew.
This is an emotional blog entry. It can’t be helped. My Papa was a major star in my sky. He was by no means perfect, but he was ultimately a man who wanted to be decent, to help people, to improve his ways. And unfortunately in a number of ways he served as an example of what I really ought not do. Papa and I shared a lot of parallels, despite most of the rest of our immediate families being a bunch of teetotalers.
Papa had an undeniable impact, but others did as well. Typically completely opposed to the example Papa set. For instance, my Stepdad:
- Finally succeeded in drilling into my head that the economy is amoral. If anything is to be moral, it is we people, we consumers, we employees. But no law or regulation can force the economy to behave morally. Very true. It eventually sunk in, though he argued that from more of a neocon-type perspective, which tripped me up from the start.
- Invited me and my husband to stay with him temporarily when we were in a financial bind toward the end of our short marriage. I was able to stay on for a few more months after my then-husband moved away. Living without rent is helpful sometimes, especially for a 21 year old.
- Offered me challenging feedback and criticisms of my stated views. Frustrating as that has been at times, our email correspondences over the last decade have proven very valuable overall to me.
- Books that he’s recommended or mailed to me. He generally has good taste in what will maintain one’s attention. Fiction or non-fiction.
- Was my earliest introduction to the science fiction realm.
- Exposed me early on to Weird Al Yankovic’s tunes.
- Provided my first real taste of classic rock music, hearing it blare out of his basement office occasionally, learning it was contained in the CD-changer I was only free to touch when he wasn’t around.
- Pushed math as a subject, though unfortunately turned it into a chore when assigned as punishment for violating curfew or whatever. When I was really young he’d tote me along with him to his boring-ass office at the university to be made to sit at a desk and complete math problems he assigned. I remember being maybe 7, sitting there whining about not knowing how to do multiplication and division that he expected me to figure out. But I did learn and excelled for a few years. (Until returning to Mississippi, back before placement tests were allowed—I know, seriously, right?—and I wound up trapped way back for 2 years and gave up on caring about the subject.)
- Introduced me to aquaria, which I turned out to love.
- Appreciated my writing skills.
- Took my brother and me to museums.
- Played boardgames with us regularly.
Father’s Day is coming up, so we’ll just stay focused on the positive.
- Exposed me to the psychology of someone raised up in a strict, Christian-fundamentalist-type household.
- Taught me more about the bible (for critical purposes) than I knew back then.
- Strongly introduced the notion of libertarianism into my life.
- Engaged me intellectually, at least when we weren’t bickering.
- Showed me the reality someone living with juvenile-onset diabetes faces.
- Opened me up to music, particularly old country tunes.
- Advocated feminism (which turned out to be both good and bad for me).
And now the night must come to an end. Bedtime. I’ll try to finish this list tomorrow.