He told me to just stay in New York. Grandpa probably only had a few hours left and I wouldn't make it in time. But that wasn't the point. I needed to be with my dad more than I needed to say goodbye to my grandpa. The thought of him watching his father die without any of his children by his side was just unbearable.
As his oldest child, I had done my share of not listening to Dad when I should have, but this was one of those times when I knew he'd understand my small act of rebellion was really an act of love. I booked my flight to Tampa where Grandpa had made his home, near strawberry fields and majestic trees draped in sad, Spanish moss that swayed in the Florida breeze.
My dad's journey to my grandpa took longer than the couple-hour flight from his home in Oklahoma. It started about 25 years prior when he realized he wanted his children to have a relationship with their grandfather, although he had not had one himself. My dad's parents divorced when he was very young. The Army lifestyle combined with unspoken heart breaks that often lead to poor decisions, left my dad mostly fatherless. Life in Lexington was a struggle as my dad's mother never remarried. The Southern belle with no post-secondary education but a whole lot of pride, worked hard to provide for my dad and aunt. Even still, my dad recalls that a glass of milk at supper was a luxury so his mother would water it down to make it last longer.
A few years ago my dad showed me and my brother the mountain trail he climbed during his rocky teenage years outside of Lexington. He never understood why his dad didn't want to know him. With tears in his eyes he told us that when he climbed those Kentucky hills, his insecurity was left at the base. At the top of those rocks, he felt special. Untouchable. Victorious.
I don't know what it's like to doubt the love of your father. That has never been my journey. My father vowed to be a different man to his seven children. From age five to 35 he has carried me. At first, it was in his arms. Later, it was in his belief that I could accomplish anything. Now, it's in his pride that I did accomplish the dreams he helped set sail.
My grandfather got a second chance at being a good dad. He remarried and had two more beautiful children who have become my kindred spirits. They each stood by my grandfather's hospital bed squeezing his still warm hands. The sheets wet with their adoring tears, feeling the same way I do about my father. But they weren't the only children in the room weeping over the wonderful memories made with my charming and unforgettable grandpa. My dad fought to get his own dad back. And he did. My grandpa learned to love his first-born the way my dad deserved to be loved all along. Seated next to my dad in the hospital room watching his tears make trails on his face, I was overcome with gratitude because I realized, there is no expiration date for redemption.
After my grandfather passed, we made our way to the beach to trade sadness for sunshine, if only for a day. Digging my toes into the sand, I overheard my dad tell my brother on the phone that I had been strong. Strong for him. He'll never know how much it meant to hear him say that. It's a running joke that I'm the emotional crybaby in the family. I think people often mistake my tears for weakness, but I want to tell them that sometimes my love is so brimming over, these salty rivers have nowhere else to go.
My dad has done so much for me, that to hold his hand and his heart in mine as he watched his father pass, did not require incredible strength. Really, it was just the least a grateful daughter could do.
Uncle Tony, Aunt Monica, me and Dad. Taken at sunset at the home of my grandpa not long after he passed. We let him know he could leave, because with each other, we were in good hands.