What is Grandpa? Everything.
As I type this I have a photo of my 2-year-old sitting off to the left of the screen. My toddler is the focal point but when I saw it for the first time my eye is drawn to the two men in the background. I have been delaying this write only because I know I’ll tear up. I also don’t know where to begin about a man that means so much to so many. This story is about my father-in-law, Ken. I’ve known him roughly since I was 15. I was talking to my son Luke the other day and started with “I’m going to ask you a question and I want you to think about it before you answer.” Luke is 16 and like teen boys can be, rather silly.
Me: What is Grandpa to you?
Luke: Being quiet for all of 2 seconds says, “everything”
Well there you go. I guess this story can end now. Luke just summed up what is about to take me hours to process and likely shed a few tears while doing so.
I woke up the other morning with my dad on my mind. My dad passed away when I was 21 and it occurred to me that morning waking up that sometime this year I will have been without my dad as long as I had him. I was barely awake and had instant tears. I’ve noticed over the last few years when I talk about Ken to my husband I will refer to him as dad vs. saying “your dad”. The first time I did it I felt my cheeks get warm, I was embarrassed with my slip because we’ve never been the type to refer to each other’s parents as mom and dad. I quickly said, “I mean your dad”. This has been happening frequently and I’m just gonna have to get over it. I’m not consciously trying to refer to my father in law as “dad” yet it continues to happen when I talk about Ken with Dirk. I believe there is something behind my slips. I think when you’ve been without a dad on this earth for a while you really just miss saying the word “dad”.
I was talking with a family member about the photo shoot we had while we worked calves last fall. She thanked me for sharing the photos and I said, there’s more but I’m not ready to share them yet. There are a couple of Ken but I want to write something about him when I share the photo and I can’t seem to think about it without tearing up. She understood without me having to explain any more. A similar conversation ensued with a family friend; she used to ride the same bus as my in law. She was a little girl riding the bus for the first time and was so scared to be with some of the older kids. Ken was in high school and kindhearted to her, when she told me the bus story her voice sounded full of emotion. Ken, Dad, Grandpa may not be everything to everyone but he certainly is meaningful to a lot of people. He’s one of the kindest humans I’ve ever met. He’s taught me patience when mine wore thin. My oldest was just over a year old the first time I noticed Ken’s patience, that’s probably not even the correct word to use in this case. It’s something special that’s for sure. We were at a holiday at a family members house that hadn’t had little people around for a long while. My son kept getting into everything. If he could reach it I kept taking it from him and placing it higher. Somehow he managed to get a pair of nail clippers that I had previously taken from him twice already. I was just about to walk over and grab the clippers from the baby when Ken picked up his grandson and placed him in his lap, he showed the baby what they were for. He pretended to clip my son’s nails and then let my son do the same back to him; he showed the baby that the ends were sharp by taking Colton’s tiny finger and touching the edge. He’s always found a way to make a game out of anything that all his grandkids understand and enjoy. The two sat in the chair quietly pretending to clip nails. I got a moment of peace not having to chase a now mobile baby and my son got some one on one and learned what the clippers were for. He didn’t seem as interested in them after the lesson. Patience is probably not the proper word, maybe just simple kindness and an understanding of what my son needed. Ken has farmed as long as I’ve known him, previously he was a teacher and that is no surprise. He teaches by example, what a novel idea. If you want to teach a baby you give them an example to follow and meanwhile others watching this interaction learn by the same example.
You will not hear him say an unkind word. I’ve recently watched someone try. My husband had an “experience” with a person from our county. The experience was the result of said community member needing assistance and it put my husband in a pickle. Dirk is already up to his eyeballs or as he so gracefully puts it when someone asks how he’s been, his reply: “busier than a cat covered in shit”. So he’s busier than you know what and now his assistance is requested and this isn’t unusual. Neighbors and friends help each other all the time in rural areas, many times we have been on the receiving end. This particular day my husband wasn’t feeling it and proceeds to vent a little to his dad. I’m in the room watching. The conversation lasts a short while as Ken is just dropping off some goodies my mother-in-law Sara has made. The entire conversation Dirk would bring up the scenario and Ken would tilt his head sideways and smile. After years and years around loud farm machinery Ken has lost some hearing so I think just to double check that his dad heard him he repeats himself, this time adding the word “goofy” to describe the person he’s irritated with. I’m watching in the corner pretty amused. Ken replies, so now Dirk knows his dad did in fact hear him but Ken’s reply was very neutral. I’m grinning, I need popcorn to watch this. I’m also witnessing Ken’s grace he’s shown to me it’s just interesting to be a bystander. Meanwhile Ken is smiling and has attempted to change the subject a couple of times but my husband is persistent. Dirk adds more crazy details perhaps so his dad can truly envision his level of frustration. Ken pets the dog and starts talking to our toddler Cass. Dirk adds another colorful adjective; Ken sidesteps and adds a comment entirely benign about the person of subject. Finally the conversation is over and Ken is on his way. As soon as my father-in-law leaves I say to Dirk, well you tried pretty hard on that one. He knew exactly what I was talking about and we started cracking up. It’s the way we all should be. The world would be nicer. How easy is it to get caught up when someone is talking negative about another, especially if you agree?
My husband is a tall man, he towers over me. I feel safe with him. He’s strong, has broad shoulders is incredibly independent and has never been one to follow the masses. I admire so much about him. I have a stash of stories that involve my husband and his tough as nails approach. His hands look like leather; he has scars on his face and broke bones from raising cattle. He’s not a whiner baby. Yet, nothing can make him look more like a little boy as when he’s standing next to his dad You can see for yourself in the photo that Dirk still looks up to his dad. We all do and it has nothing to do with how tall Ken is.