Saturday, June 15, 2013

As a new father, I appreciate my Grandfather's level head even more

Gumpy and I napping when I was six weeks old.
Four years have passed since Gumpy passed away and there are few, if any, days that go by without me thinking about him even for a minute.  Unable to sleep on the eve of my first Father's Day, happy memories keep occupying my thoughts.

Our trip to Idaho is one of those memories. Specifically, after the first four hours on the road, my sister and I began a rotation as trip navigator in the front seat of the 1984 four-door, extended bed Chevy Silverado with a 454 big-block engine, pulling a 30 ft. Carrie Lite fifth-wheel.  We would be responsible for reading the atlas and suggesting routes, finding gas stations that could accommodate our rig, even calculating how many miles per gallon we were averaging so we knew how many miles we could eat up before our next stop.

When we would get to our destination for the evening, I was on trailer leveling duty.  By the end of the trip, I knew exactly how to level the trailer on many different surfaces and how to guide Gumpy in backing the truck up to hitch the trailer back on the truck so we could get back on the road.

I look back on that trip now and immediately think of two things.  One, I wish I wasn't an angst-filled teenager who's father had just left the family a few weeks before the trip.  We stopped at so many amazing places, like the Crazy Horse Monument, Dwarshak Dam, Yellowstone National Park, the Cowboy Hall of Fame and Wall Drug among many, many others; that I didn't appreciate at the time because I was focused on feeling sorry for myself.

Two, I can't help but remember just how much trust Gumpy gave me.  Or at least it seemed like he did. I remember reading through the owners manual of the truck, trying to determine if one tank of unleaded gas would kill the engine because we were having trouble finding leaded gas coming down Lolo Pass into Idaho from Missula, MT.  While I'm sure he knew exactly what he was doing, he let me do my research and consulted me before making the decision to use the unleaded gas so we wouldn't be stranded.

As I approach my first Father's Day as a father, what I appreciate most is Gumpy's consistency on that trip. When I would pout or sulk too much, he would replace me in the front seat. When it was my turn to navigate, he would consult with me and accept my council.  When it was time to set up the trailer for the night, he would always inspect my work after letting me give it my best shot. He wore the same belt with the horse standing on his hind legs with the fence running behind it on the belt buckle whenever we were on the road.

As trite as some of the memories might seem, and as cliche as this might sound, in a time of my life full of questions and uncertainty, his consistency was a rock I could lean on.

I am thankful for the example Gumpy showed me of how to be a compassionate, consistent father.  And I'm thankful I have the opportunity to prove what I learned from him.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Little habits convince me Gumpy and The Kid would be great friends

Sleeping at Mudgie's.  
A few weeks ago, my wife asked me how Gumpy would like The Kid.  I answered that I know he would be happy for us for becoming a family and happy for me because he knew how important becoming a father is to me.

I wasn't so sure about how he would act around her.  I know he would love The Kid, she has a smile and a hug that could melt even the hardest soul.  But babies weren't his specialty.  There is the family legend that he tucked my mom's teddy bear in for the night instead of my mom when she was just a few months old. 

Instead, his brother Vernal was the family baby whisperer.  Since Gladys asked, her question has stayed in the back of my mind.  I'm now convinced Gumpy would be head over heals for The Kid and appreciate the way she reacts to situations given her age.

For example, she loves a good rib cage massage.  In case you've never heard of a rib cage massage, the concept is pretty simple.  You yell, "RIB CAGE MASSAGE" then pat the ribs of the nearest kid or dog.  As a kid, I would run up to Gumpy when he yelled the magic phrase and throw my arms up in the air, gritting my teeth to absorb the massage.  My dog now hears it and occasionally stops long enough for me to get a few pats in.  The Kid hears it and starts humming because she finds the sound of humming and a light pat on the rib cage to be hysterical.  Gumpy would be infatuated with giving her rib cage massages!

The Kid and Gumpy could also agree on naps.  He had an amazing gift for being able to nap anytime, anywhere and he would be out for a few hours with a gusto most people only achieve in the middle of the night.  My Uncle Jim showed my sister and I how to tie his chest hairs into knots without waking him up during a trip to Ludington, which provided endless hours of mirth.  

I wish the kid could fall asleep like Gumpy did, and I'm sure the staff at her daycare wish she could too.  Where she is similar to Gumpy is her ability to stay sleeping regardless of what is happening around her.  We took The Kid to the Detroit Food Bazaar last Christmas and she fell asleep in the car, only to wake up a few hours later as we were on our way home.  I was reminded of her super sleeping powers on a trip to Mudgie's Deli, where she fell asleep in the car and stayed asleep despite the noise and bustle of a busy restaurant.

Gumpy had a little tune he would whistle whenever he was walking.  I don't know what song it was, I don't think he did either but it was something he enjoyed whistling.  Sometimes when I'm missing him a little more than usual, I'll start whistling that tune.  I've done that in front of the little mimic otherwise known as my daughter, just to watch her purse her lips and blow out to try whistling herself.  My grandfather would have loved watching her mimic whistling and would have encouraged her to keep trying, especially because it usually devolves into The Kid trying to make fart noises.

I'm thankful to both Gumpy and The Kid.  He modeled being a father and she makes me think about him more often because I want to tell her all about him.  I truly am a blessed man.    

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

An unwelcomed trip to the Cleveland Clinic

A few weeks ago, a friend told me his grandfather was going for surgery in a few days.  He didn't really have the vacation time booked to travel the 500 or so miles to be there with family during surgery.  And, being a Midwestern family, he wasn't told until a few days before the surgery.  Sticking with the Midwesterner theme, he was also told not to worry about it and that he would be told if he needed to worry.

I was immediately thrown back to Gumpy's surgery to fix his heart valve that had developed a kink in it.  Surgeons at Sparrow Hospital felt surgery would be too risky, but a specialist a The Cleveland Clinic was certain the operation could be done successfully.  Preparations were made for a lengthy stay in Cleveland, as he needed plenty of time before and after the surgery to run every test imaginable and to ensure post-op success.

At the time, was going through the beginning stages of a divorce and had started a straight commission sales job a few months before, so cash and time were at a premium in my life.  While Gumpy eschewed the typical Midwestern behavior of not telling loved ones what was happening because he didn't want me to worry, I still couldn't be with him the day of his surgery.  And he told me not to take any time off work because he knew my financial situation.

It was a heartbreaking day but frankly, I don't know what I would have done at the hospital that day anyway.  Having appointments to focus on that day was the distraction I needed.  As it was, Ema is great at upholding the time honored Midwestern ethic of not telling anyone anything because you don't want to burden people, so I knew I wouldn't be getting many updates anyway.

When I was able to visit, my sister and I split the cost of gas, which was an incredibly helpful gesture at the time.  I was able to spend quality time with him, while he was awake and while I could do things to help him.  In the end, it worked out just fine, but it was an agonizing day nonetheless.