You’re worthy of what they say about you, grandpa. Even if you were never good at taking a compliment.
“A great man.”
“A man of integrity.”
“The greatest man I’ve ever known.”
You would shrug off such praise with pressed lips and scowl, a gentle shake of your head, and a raised hand.
A common thread, though, the word no one neglects in their praise is “MAN.” Because you were such a shining example. Certainly, you were the one who taught me what it meant.
You used to ask me a lot: “Would I lie!?” And my “of course” was as expected as my smile and laugh. Because the underlying question (“To me?”) I never had to ask. And you never had to answer, “Of course not.”
You had an answer for all my questions. Even if the answer was, “I don’t know.” That’s a profound thing for a boy to hear from someone who could engineer anything or debate any topic, from a man whose tales from around the world seemed wildly exotic compared to the corn and beans.
“Grandpa, what does ‘inconsequential’ mean?” I remember asking. I found a middle-schooler’s joy in testing your grammar, a man who bragged about never having gone to college. It wasn’t out of superiority but out of respect. Because you always knew. And you always knew *with style.*
“Inconsequential?” you said. “It doesn’t mean shit.”
You loved your family and expressed it how you could, usually through actions more than words—seldom with a kiss, sometimes with gifts, but more so with commitment. Through vacations to Florida and spur of the moment adoptions or road trips to monuments your kids were too young to appreciate—you committed yourself.
Even when it was hard, when the rest of us wanted anything but to stay, that’s exactly what you did.
You said to me once, during a particularly difficult week of hospital visits and late nights by grandma’s side, “When I say I’m going to do something, I do it. What else is there?” And you let out an exasperated exhale. Not a sigh. But preparation for a deep breath. “A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.”
To me, grandpa, you could not have been a sinner if that word has any real meaning. For whatever your transgressions you repented and repaid 1000 times over. With your commitment, your love, and the way you made everyone around you feel like a friend. Through endless stories about stealing cars, pulling a BB gun on a cop, Sgt. Major Leech, the Zebra Club in Okinawa, RV road trips, grandma freaking out in a dark cave, Florida alligators, bar fights, or Kraus the Mouse.
“Gratitude” doesn’t express how deeply I thank you for everything you’ve ever done and will still do for me. And yet you were somehow always content with a simple “thanks” or a hug or my own expression of love or, when I forget to express it, a mere wave goodbye. You deserved so much more from me and the world. You deserved so much more happiness and freedom and honesty and time, and I regret that I can give but a “thanks.”
But just a few months ago, when we sat on the porch at night telling and re-telling countless stories, you stopped and paused. And you said so clearly and without a hint of guilt: “I have no regrets, Danny. If I had to do it again, I would do everything the same way. I loved my life.”
There is no greater lesson for being a man. Or for living.
Thank you, grandpa. I love you. Semper Fi.