I have no special insight into the question of what’s inherited vs. what’s acquired by virtue of environment, but I note with interest that one of the major traits you and I share is a reticence, bordering on uncommunicativeness, about ourselves.
This is perhaps odd, given that I make my living putting my views on paper, and given your second career, so to speak, as an epistolarian. About those letters, memoirs, notes and more: I can think of nothing I’d rather have from Abby and Molly’s grandfather for them in the years to come – nothing, that is, except for Grandpa himself. But, as you said on the phone a couple of days ago, when you were having a better day than the one before, “there’s nowhere to go.”
Well, maybe there isn’t. I can’t guess what Abby and Molly will retain in memory of their experiences just now. Abby does seem old enough to be forming some lasting impressions. But she’s got a year-and-a-half on Molly, who’s just too little. I’m sure Molly will have a grand time celebrating her first birthday with you this weekend. But I think her real sense of you, and Abby’s as well, will come from your writings. And I think they will be well-served by them.
I’m writing this because there are a couple of things I want to say. It’s a public forum, of course. That’s okay. Neither of us writes things so they should not be read. Oh, I probably have some things to say to you in person also. But that’s for later.
I also could wait until The End and then write up my thoughts. But what would be in it for you? Anyway, you have taken care of writing an obituary for yourself; I’m sure you enjoyed writing it, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy reading it, despite the circumstances. But the task of composing it does not fall to me.
So while we’re both here, let me say, first of all, that you are the most generous man I have ever met. From top to bottom, from the trivial to the profound. From the little extra in the tip for the waitress, to dinner for the guys, to endless gifts not only for our kids but for others.
That’s the material part. Another part doesn’t have so much to do with that as it does with the heart. I don’t think I shall be too specific. But I’m your only child, and it’s been more than 20 years since Mom died, and I understand that I have loomed large in your life, that my accomplishments have been sources of pride for you. And I’m proud of that.
I appreciated the laissez-faire child-rearing you employed during my adolescence, the freedom it granted, and which I abused only modestly. But I understood then, as I understand now, the profound distinction between laissez-faire and indifference, and I never mistook the former for the latter. I think indifference would have led to disaster for me, as it has for so many people who haven’t been lucky enough to have a parent like you.
It has been my great joy in life to give something back to you these past few years. I mean Tina and Abby and Molly. I think I’ve learned some things about family that I didn’t know before. One of them is the dramatic impact of adding a new kid to the mix. It’s just delightful how happy that makes, more or less, everybody around. Abby was the high-pressure kid, of course, being a first grandchild on both sides. By the time Molly came along, we all could relax a little and just enjoy.
And myself, of course, as Daddy – I could be proud and at the same time worried about doing the right thing by the kids, all the while drawing on some hitherto unknown reserve of confidence and conviction that I would do right by my kids, your grandchildren. I now think I know where that reserve of confidence came from, Grandpa. You.
As for the family reticence, yours and mine, we know where that comes from, too. You and I never really have been able to discuss Mom. Perhaps we never will. Time runs out.
But we know what we feel, don’t we? I mean I think we do. That’s a permanent bond, Dad, whether we ever can talk about it or not.