Two weeks ago, my husband and I headed out 84 East toward the twist and turns of the Gorge, the Columbia shimmering and the firs stacked along the hills, swaying in a fall breeze, shoulder to shoulder like a church choir. We had a suitcase and a backpack and we were leaving it all behind. By it I mean responsibilities, parenting and worry.
We passed over the Bridge of the Gods, a steel and wood bridge stretching across the river from Oregon to Washington. We drove past the Honey man who sells raw honey and candles out of the hatchback of his ancient VW Rabbit. Then turned left into Skamania Lodge, our destination.
A good friend of my husband's was getting married and had chosen this beautiful spot nestled along the river. The wedding was held out on the green sprawling lawn -- the sky electric blue and a sun so fierce, that they seemed to melt against the thick forests and turn the river a silvery black.
All and all, we had so much fun. To be able to eat good food, dance and laugh without the worry of Sean, was a gift we had been given. No 2 a.m. wakeups -- we could sleep until our bodies felt rested. And for me that was 10:12 a.m. the next morning! The person so gracious to offer this to us was my Dad.
Now this is no easy feat for my dad. For starters, he's a busy man. He still works part-time, he also tutors children in English, he manages to make it to most of his grandkids activities (counting my kids - he has been a grandfather to twelve children and one more is on his way this month.) He is a good and dutiful husband and spends time with friends (still manages to make breakfast once a month with a group of guys he went to Catholic Grammar School with -- Hello? He was born in 1933!!) He is seventy seven years young and luckily he swam out of a robust gene pool (you should meet his 90 year old sister!) and looks and acts much younger than his years.
Not to mention, he doesn't like to fly, his hips get stiff and he's a worrier (I can thank him for that.) But when I asked him he didn't stammer, he didn't say, "Ahhh, let me think about it." He said, "Yes." This gracious, good man said Yes.
When my sister booked his ticket I felt a rush of gratitude. It is no easy feat to watch Sean. But my dad would rise to the occasion. When we picked him up from the airport his eyes were red and tired. He was on Midwest time and it was almost 11 p.m. west coast time. And yet, he managed to light up when he saw the kids and me. Oh and how happy my boys were! They had anticipated this day and now it had finally arrived.
The first day he helped me get the boys off to school and then we went out for breakfast and a long walk. My husband was travelling so my dad filled in and when the kids came home he took them to the grocery store for all of the illegal contraband that they only get when they are with their Papa -- frozen chocolate chip waffles, Corn Pops cereal, Rainbow Go-gurts and Keebler graham cracker cookies. My oldest was a bit sheepish about the splurge but Sean was ecstatic -- he'd been holding out since his summer visit waiting somewhat patiently for his Papa to let him scavenge the grocery aisles.
My dad took us for dinner insisting that I take a break from cooking and encouraged me to have a martini with my meal (it didn't take too much encouragement.) He helped me get Sean ready for bed and he and my oldest stayed up a little later talking and reading.
When my husband came home we made steak and baked potatoes and when Sean seemed sluggish my dad tucked him into his bed. I went to check on them. I saw Sean wrapped in covers in the bottom bunk bed, his head peeking out and my dad, on his knees, gently stroking Sean's hair off his forehead. When my dad turned to me I could see his eyes were wet with tears and he said kindly,
"I want Sean to know how much I love him."
Sean's eyes were closed, the hum of the fan and the violins from his music softened the room.
"I think he knows, Dad," I said and I went back to the table and wiped away my own tears.
"Are you okay?" my husband asked, stacking plates.
"I'm not sad. I just want to remember something really sweet and wonderful. I want to hold onto this perfect memory of my Dad with Sean."
And I did. I still tear up thinking about how tender my father was to my boy. My oldest is easy to love. He is fun and kind and interesting but Sean isn't easy. And my dad has always made every effort to let Sean know how much he loves and cares for him. He calls the boys at least twice a week and he always talks to Sean.
"Papa, what does Jimmy Neutron start with?"
"You get me a Justice League toy?"
"Papa, may you take me to Target?"
"Papa, when's Clare's birthday?"
It's never a two-sided conversation, however, my dad doesn't dismiss how much this actually matters to Sean (and believe me it does). I listen to Sean rattling off his questions while I try to get a few things done and then take away the phone from Sean (it's always a struggle -- "I talk to MY PAPA!")
I usually say,
"Thanks Dad. He really likes to talk to you. And I got a chance to put the laundry away!"
My dad always says, "He sounded great." or "I'm glad I got to talk to him."
He sees Sean as a whole person who has the same wants and needs as my oldest. In my Dad's eyes Sean is not broken but rather a boy full of life and potential. And that means everything to me.
So for this post I give thanks to my Dad. Thank you for sharing your heart with so many. And thank you for loving Sean for the boy he is. Thank you for always teaching me how to simply love free of conditions through your actions as a friend, son, brother, husband, father and grandfather. And thank you for being remarkably kind and good.
Oh, and thanks for flying 1800 miles to Portland and letting us get out for a whole weekend. We really needed it and we couldn't have done it without you.
You rock, Dad. xo Squirt
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