Posted by: Little Miss | November 19, 2007

Of Fathers and Grandsons – Part One

Fourteen years ago today my father passed over. I don’t say he passed away, passed on, or died, for in his human life he had a strong and indomitable spirit. I know that today, as I remember him and as I am about to be introduced to my second grandson tomorrow morning, his spirit is very much alive around my family and me.

My father was an alcoholic. But I never saw him drink. He sobered up when I was six months old and lived to have 32 consecutive years of sobriety without a relapse. He used to say he was allergic to alcohol – any time he drank he broke out in spots: Chicago, Detroit, and Los Angeles.

My father lived a wonderful life. He was the third son of an accomplished photographer. He had two older brothers, eleven and twelve years his senior, who were very famous in their own right. One was Princess Grace’s private photographer and the other was a World War II Flying Ace who was also a test pilot for the first McDonnell-Douglas DC10s. I sometimes think that perhaps his brothers’ accomplishments and fame might have made my father feel as if his achievements were less than noble or remarkable, but he would have been quite wrong. My father was an accomplished musician, actor, post-Korean War veteran, a self-financed Stanford graduate with a political science major. Among many notable business victories, he was highly successful starting a direct marketing business in France in the early 80s- so successful his partners literally locked him out.

But that’s not what made him remarkable. At least not in my eyes, or in those of his closest friends and his widow. He was a wonderful parent, husband, and friend. One of his friends refers to him as a spiritual giant. He was wise, tenacious, strong, had a healthy sense of humor and love of adventure.

When I was less than two, my birth mother ran off with my father’s AA sponsor. This was absolutely devastating to my father, naturally, and he fought hard to keep my two older brothers and me during a time when single parenting was rare, let alone by a man, and my birth mother was trying to farm us out to her relatives. My father gained custody of three toddlers, all in diapers at the same time. Plus he worked a full-time job. (And I wonder where I get my stamina from?)

My father used to say frequently that the worst things that happened to him always turned out to be the best things that happened to him. Had his wife not run off with his AA sponsor, he wouldn’t have met and married the woman who adopted me, who I know as my mother. He used to laugh about it later saying some sponsors will go to any lengths to keep their sponsees sober – even if it means running off with their wives. My father’s alcoholism was another example of this theory. He met my mother in AA. She now has almost 50 years of continuous sobriety. Together they started many AA groups and I can’t count the number of people who I meet who still remember my father and the positive impact he left in their lives.

My father gave me a great childhood, but he was far from over-indulgent. He saw to it that I got every opportunity possible. As a child of two or three, he used to read The Night Before Christmas to me every night until I memorized it and began reading before kindergarten. I got private schools, ballet and swim lessons, piano and violin lessons, singing and diction coaches. He played guitar and sang with me, he taught me to sail, and he took us all across Europe and we saw endless castles, tulips, and French Riviera coastlines – all before I was 14. I traveled from London to Madrid with my school at 13, to Germany at 15 (alone) and received an excellent British and American education.

When I was 16, being around my father was one of the last places I wanted to be. I was sixteen, and it went with the job description. I wasn’t a nice sixteen year old either. I was mean to my mother and my father. During one tirade, I told my father he was a jerk. In response, my father waited a couple days and handed me a letter. In this letter, he humbly and sincerely admitted that I was right. The letter was full of advice about how hard it was to determine where the line should be drawn between providing opportunity and over-indulging a child. He felt perhaps he wasn’t raised to be a parent, and that raising children took the wisdom of Solomon, and “Solomon, I ain’t.” And he signed off saying, “I may be a jerk, but I’m a jerk who loves you very much.”

I was the jerk. And my father did have the wisdom of Solomon. When I became pregnant at 18, he stood by me. I remember at one point he told me that he may not always approve of my choices in life, but he always approved of me and would always stand by me. He never faltered from this. I have passed on this same steadfast love and philosophy to my own daughters.

My father’s wisdom, humor, and attitude pervades every part of my life, every action I take, and much of his wisdom I apply to my life today. From his example, I’ve worked hard to define the line between opportunity and over-indulgence with my own children.

But tomorrow, I’m going to over-indulge – in my daughter and son-in-law as they deliver their second son, and their last child. My new baby grandson and my father’s great grandson. And my father’s spirit will be all around us, laughing, smiling, and winking.

And now I’d better get some sleep, for it sure feels like the Night Before Christmas.

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Responses

  1. What an incredible man your father was, and how beautifully this was written. No wonder you’re such an amazing person– look at the example that was set for you.

    So…today’s new baby day. Your new grandson is awfully lucky to be born into a family with such a great heritage. Congratulations to all of you!!!!!!!

  2. Congratulations on your new grandson. What a wonderful tribute to your dad. I had tears in my eyes reading about your rebellious 16. He was indeed a wise man.

    Thank you for sharing.

  3. MBMQ: He was incredible, thank you. One of a different era of men. Maybe that’s why I’m still single – my standards in men are pretty high. LOL. But I know there are plenty like him still around, I just don’t circulate enough to bump into them.

    I am so happy about little baby Evan. And my baby, Cindy Lou Who, is all grown up and has her own lovely family.

    Penoybalut: Thank you so much. I will post my part II soon, but my work and family are interrupting my precious writing time! LOL.

  4. By this time, your grandson will already be here and from the sound of things, you carried your father right along with you in your heart to help welcome him into the world. It was a truly wonderful and heart-felt post! Thank you so much for sharing.


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