My Dad and my Mom got married very young. Had me right out of the gate. And then D-I-V-O-R-C-E.
He went to Korea. She went back to Oklahoma.
His family is very close knit and were heart sick when my parents divorced. His parents made a trip all the way from South Dakota to Oklahoma just to see me. I didn't know who they were but I was a sweet friendly little five year old so I sat on their laps and talked to them, I have pictures of myself a little tow headed girl on the couch with them...
When my Dad came back from the war he wanted to see me. But my Mom was getting ready to get married and making a new life a new start and a new family. So my Dad honored that and went on to live his life after getting out of the Army.
He was in Denver a little while but then moved to Sausalito, California. He built a life for himself there. He was a bartender for years and grew to love the people and place where he lived.
I was 12 and by this time my mother was divorced and that guy was well, lets say he wasn't cut out to be a husband or father. My mom was dating some so when the phone rang and this mans voice asked for my mom I was being nosy and said "Who is this please?". I was caught off guard by this man telling me "Suzie, I'm your Dad."
They made arrangements for me to go to fly out to meet him.
I got off the plane and was surprised.
He was tall and slim. I called this his cowboy phase. He was wearing a denim jacket, a cowboy hat jeans and boots.
He had curly blondish hair, and looking in his face I saw
guess who....It was me.
Then he took me to the Cat and the Fiddle where I had my first French Dip Sandwich and then into the hills where he lived with some roommates in a beautiful house down the street from where Joe Dimaggio and Marilyn Monroe had lived.
We walked down to a lake where I threw sticks for the dogs into the water. We went to see Jaws and then to Muir beach I saw and felt the ocean for the first time I was so surprised it was freezing but he wouldn't let me and his dog Moki get in the water because we had just seen the shark movie. He took me to see the giant Redwoods, China Town, Giradhelli Square. We ate Lobster, and Crab, and Escargot ( which he confessed later were snails in garlic butter and I loved) and Duck a L'Orange which was not so good.
The entire time I kept looking at him listening to him and drinking in this life he had that was SO DIFFERENT from mine.
As I got older my Dad and I fought to get closer. I was really mature and could take care of myself so that part was easy. But me being a teenager was not. Because most of the time I talked and acted like I was a thirty year old. Like the time I confronted him about some of the partying and I learned to just take the dogs and leave and go down to the boat slips beneath his house because all the drinking and people were too much for me. I just wasn't used to that free wheeling California bachelor lifestyle. And he wasn't used to having a kid. He was just a big kid himself. So we both were struggling.
Over the years my Dad and I have worked it out. I didnt boss him except at my house where he'd reply "Yes Dear" and roll his eyes dramatically. He turned out to be the best grandfather you could ever ever ask for. He and my son have a relationship that is the stuff of a great novel. The only fly in the ointment is my Dads health has declined over the years AND he lives all the way in California.
My Dads routine surgery landed him in the ICU, hooked up to a vent. He has recently been moved to a rehab center where he is still on the ventilator. He cant talk at all. So myself, his niece Karen and sister Margaret are going to rally round his bedside. The Minnesota family. The South Dakota family. The Oklahoma family. And the rich wealth of California family. The ones he has picked over the years that loved and stood by him through thick and thin.
I don't know what the future holds. I don't know if I'll ever hear him laughingly call and say "This is the Geezer checking in." on my answering machine. I have had to have some tough conversations with my son who prays fervantly for his Grandfathers recovery and we share a box of kleenex and hold each other.
But what I do know is this.
Family is the people who love you when you feel unlovable, who keep calling you back when you leave, and stand up for you when you cannot stand up alone. Who forgive and love and prove in so many ways that you are valuable and important.