The rain was barely a nuisance on a recent night. Nothing compared to a few hours before, when I couldn’t see across the street. I could have pulled into the parking lot of our daughter’s school and race-walked with her and my husband into the sports banquet. We certainly would have moved faster than the occasional raindrop. Instead, I stopped at the cafeteria door and insisted that my daughter and husband go inside. I would park on my own.“This is what Papa would do,” I told Katie, our 16-year-old.
Dad died in May. Katie and her brother Colin, 14, are plenty old enough to have witnessed his kindness. But their memories must be reinforced, I find myself desperately thinking. Today, on Grandparents Day, I feel my desperation growing. It’s their first without Papa, their first with three, instead of four, grandparents.
Our kids are great—smart, fun, sweet. But they’re typical teens, too. Self-centered. Stubborn. Moody. Dad’s death from lung cancer 16 months after diagnosis plus four rounds of chemotherapy, 12 radiation sessions, two surgeries, 43 nights in the hospital, 36 days in the rehab center and 125 hours in hospice, must result in something motivating, something learned for our teens. So, in addition to providing door-to-door taxi service like I did for the sports banquet, I tell our teens this:
That’s pronounced “el-gee-el-gee-el-gee,” and I heard it weekly as a girl. Dad would say it before he, my brother and I would run errands on Saturday.
Dad would stand in our living room in our small starter house next to the big park and enthuse, “LGLGLG!” Only as a teenager did I discover it wasn’t a word. It was actually short for “Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go!” My dad couldn’t wait to tackle the day, spend time with us and give Mom a break. He had already made us breakfast, either French toast or scrambled eggs, and Mom tea. He did the dishes, gathered his dress shirts for the dry cleaner and finalized the list.
All the to-dos, the grass waiting to be mowed and the jerk boss he had faced during the week (and would have to face again in two days) didn’t weigh him down. It was LG time. I want my kids to know the kind of husband, dad and worker my dad was, and that LG sums up the positive energy he maintained even when he must have been exhausted.
2. Devour Your Crab Legs
Whenever my parents came to visit, we ate Alaskan king crab legs. Dad would go to the grocery store and buy six pounds steamed with a light coating of Old Bay. We’d spread newspaper across the dining room table, melt butter, pour malt vinegar, spoon out cocktail sauce and place crab leg crackers on the table. A roll of paper towels served as our centerpiece. Katie would attempt to crack open and eat a leg or two, as allergic Colin enjoyed his McDonald’s instead. Mom would join him in the less labor-intensive meal. I would do an average job cracking open the crab legs and digging out the scrumptious meat. My more-experienced husband did better. Cracking and pulling, he’d secure 95 percent of the meat.
Dad appeared to place himself at a disadvantage: He’d share his best pieces with Mom, supplementing her fast food with crab each time he successfully released a whole leg in one piece. Even though the sharing slowed Dad down as he temporarily diverted his attention, he still managed to scrape every ounce of his crabmeat from those thick, sharp shells. He was thorough. Strong. Determined. Even in his smallest endeavors. I want my kids to know that and follow his lead.
3. Let Yourself Be Blessed
Dad said “bless you” when we sneezed. Or when we coughed. Or yawned. Or hiccupped. Or farted. Colin says no, we only joked that Papa would say “bless you” if you passed gas. He says it never happened. But I think it did.
Either way, Dad was bless-you obsessed. I’d emit a bodily noise, and he’d say it mid-noise. I would reply “thank you” only if I had sneezed. If anything other than my nose had prompted him, I would get annoyed. You’re only supposed to say “bless you” after a sneeze, I’d tell him, acting like the petulant teen I once was instead of a well-mannered, middle-aged mom. More often, I’d nearly choke holding back a cough, run to another room if I felt hiccups coming on or get a stomachache keeping in gas.
When Dad became too weak to say “bless you,” I was uneasy; my guaranteed, taken-for-granted good wishes were gone. My heart was aching but opening: I was accepting that Dad had never uttered “bless you” reflexively. He meant it and said it with intention.
Weeks later, Dad was gone, yet with us: “I’m going to make a cup of tea,” Katie announced one night, an hour after I was sure she would be hiding in her bedroom for the rest of the evening. “You want one too?” She had listened. At Dad’s funeral, when I had talked about Dad offering Mom a bedtime treat, our teen had listened. Every night after Mom had washed her face, put on her pajamas and bathrobe and found a good show to watch on TV, Dad would appear and ask, “What can I get you?” Sometimes it was ice cream, other times a cookie and, often, just tea. He wanted to bless all of us. I think my daughter realizes this, and I hope this means she has listened to everything I have told her about my dad.
Today is Grandparents Day. If you still have a grandparent in your life, let them know you are listening too.