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My Tribute To "Pappy"
My Tribute To "Pappy"
I didn't always call him "Pappy". When I was a little boy, he was "Daddy". When I thought I was all grown up, he became "Dad". Then the day came when I was in my early thirties that he called me up to see if I wanted to get together, and he said, "Hi, this is your Pappy!".
He was in his early sixties then, and the name stuck. It suited him.
He was born December 9, 1920 in a small snowbound farmhouse near Spencer, Iowa. His father was both a farmer and a Pentecostal evangelist, and his mother was a sweet, loving woman who held the family of six children in her tender arms.
Pappy was actually the next to the youngest child. He was only nine years old when the stock market crashed at the beginning of the Great Depression. Following his calling, my grandad eventually took the family to Kansas, then Oklahoma, both farming and planting little churches. They weren't rich, but they had food, shelter, the bounty of God's love and their love for each other.
During the Great Depression, they all had to work very hard to survive. Because of that, it was 1940 when my father finally graduated from high school. He was a very smart man, and he wanted to be an engineer--but there just wasn't any money for college.
So, he joined the Navy--because, he said, "I wanted to see the world". Then he laughed, and said, "Little did I know what I was getting into".
Indeed. On December 7, 1941, Pappy was at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked. His twenty-first birthday was spent digging trenches on the beaches with a busted kneecap, which he got from jumping off of an airplane wing where he had been trying to shoot at the Zeros with a machine gun--until one came strafing for him.
As a Chief Machinists Mate, Pappy was on aircraft carriers in the Pacific, both repairing and flying planes, and he was at most of the major naval battles there. He was there when the Kamikazes came to commit suicide by crashing their planes onto American ships. Somehow, he survived. He never would tell me very many stories about that experience, because he was proud but not arrogant.
After the war, Pappy used his Navy skills to become a machinist for aircraft maunfacturers. In 1951, he met my mother, and I was born on August 17, 1952 in Monrovia, California. She was a few years younger than him, and she had a five-year-old son from a previous marriage.
Something happened--I don't know to this day exactly what--but my parents got an annulment, of all things, and before I was even two years old Pappy had custody of me and he moved us to be with his parents in Kansas, and then three years later we all moved to Tulsa.
I grew up thinking my mother abandoned me, even though Pappy would never say anything against her. It wasn't until I was twenty that I learned that he had deliberately hid us from her. The day I learned that, I went to his house to visit, and my father was crying. Except for the funerals of his parents, I had never seen Pappy cry.
He told me what he had done. He also told me he had contacted my other grandparents, and asked them to relay a message to my mother that he wanted to try to make amends by flying me to wherever she was so that we could meet.
She refused, on the grounds that it would be too painful for her after all those years of trying to make contact with me, and then trying to forget me. Besides, she had another new husband and more children, I suppose.
I forgive you, Pappy. I forgave you then, and I will always forgive you. Even after you were gone from this world, the papers you left behind gave me no clues as to what really happened between the two of you. I can only imagine, because you never remarried for the rest of your life. You were still alive when I tried to track my mother down, and learned she had died in the early nineties from breast cancer, after having been married several more times and having many children. I saw the stricken look on your face when you heard about that.
I just wish you had told me WHY, Dad. I would have listened to you. Why did you have to take it to the grave with you?
My grandparents were wonderful people who helped to raise me with values and honor. They taught me about God, about their simple faith, and they LIVED their message of love and forgiveness right in front of me. They "hated the sin, but loved the sinners" with all of their hearts, and they would do everything possible for their fellow humans without being asked. Sadly, they both died when I was a senior in high school.
Pappy provided financial and emotional support to my grandparents. He worked hard to provide for us all. He was in aerospace as an inspector of machined parts, mostly on government contracts, so when he worked he worked a lot of overtime hours. Unfortunately, government contracts got him laid off quite a bit, too. He helped build the Lunar Excursion Module for the first moon shot.
He paid for all my grandparents' bills and special needs when they both got old, and sick--especially my grandfather who went through three years of agony before he died. He held my grandmother up during that time, and helped her through it. She died of a broken heart just six months after my grandpa died. The rest of the family tried to help here and there, but they were relieved someone was there full time to do what needed to be done.
He had to work a lot of nights, so he missed out on some of my childhood milestones. Still, he gave his time to me whenever he could: when I was little, he played Santa; when I was older, sometimes we would play gin rummy together, or he would let me "help" when he was building something. He paid cash for my first car--a 1966 Mustang that only had 200 cubic inches and a 3-speed on the floor (I loved that car!).
He built a lot of things. He also read Shakespeare and Plato and Descarte and Thomas Jefferson. He tried to teach me about common sense and curiosity. He taught me that a man's word was his bond, and he showed me that standing up for what is right is the only way to live, no matter how unfashionable it seems to others. He taught me to value hard work, honesty, integrity and family love.
No, Pappy wasn't perfect. He had quite a temper, which he manfully struggled to control--usually successfully. He had no patience for liars, cheats and thieves, so when someone tried to make him compromise his integrity at work, he often tore them to shreds with his words. He could be highly opinionated, and he didn't mind speaking his mind, either. Some people didn't like that.
He wasn't afraid of anyone, even if he was only 5'8"--in fact, when he retired in Tucson, he used to go on long walks. People would sometimes honk and yell at him when he was crossing the street, as he strode along quite vigorously with his walking stick, complaining that he was in their way, even though he was legally in the right.
He would give them the finger, and invite them to "dance"! I told him to quit that because I didn't want him to get shot, but I doubt that he listened to me.
Like many men of his generation, he wasn't great about showing his more tender emotions--but you always knew they were there. As he got older, he tended to show them more.
He had a great sense of humor. He knew how to play guitar, and he could sing. He didn't do that much when I was growing up, but he is the reason I took up my guitar and became a songwriter.
The man was SMART, too--and extremely well-read. If you wanted to disagree with him, you had better bring logic and facts to the table, instead of emotions and insults. He didn't mind if you disagreed with him, so long as you knew what you were talking about. He didn't suffer fools and buffoons lightly, and calling him names neither hurt his feelings nor changed his mind. If anything, those stunts just made him laugh--and then he'd show you how an INTELLIGENT man delivers an insult!
Throughout the years of my adulthood, as I stumbled through life and struggled with alcohol, Pappy gave me nothing less than unconditional love. He was always there for me, no matter what--with love, words of encouragement, advice and tangible help when I needed it. He spent his declining years saving money to leave to me--in spite of my protests--because he loved me more than anyone else on Earth.
He had no way of knowing that my second wife would take advantage of both him and me, and steal his hard-earned gift for me. It was only about $125.000.00, but the point is that he scrimped and saved for YEARS to leave it to ME, and she took it.
That's not strictly true; he did see her for what she was, towards the end, but by then there was nothing he could do about it.
I won't go into all the details of my second marriage here; I said a lot about it in my blog post "I'm Better Now, But Still...". Suffice it to say that when I got married in 1996, Pappy had just turned 74. My second wife had two little girls, and since I'd never had any children of my own, I fell in love with the whole package. A family!
Eventually, we bought a house and encouraged Pappy to move in with us. In truth, he supplied the down payment for that house, while we supplied the monthly payments.
Oh! You should have seen him with those two little blonde-haired, blue-eyed girls! Some of my fondest and funniest memories are of watching him have rubberband fights with them. He actually went out and bought wooden rubberband guns, and large bags of rubberbands. Watching him hide behind corners, ducking and weaving and firing at them, was both hilarious and heartwarming.
Those girls adored him, and he adored them.
Meanwhile, I was a drunk. Yes, I worked and brought in money, but I was still a heavy drinker. My wife, on the other hand, was a spend-a-holic. She also yelled and screamed at the girls a lot. Poor Pappy was right there, wanting the best for all of us but unable to do more than offer humor, love and financial aid.
Finally, in May of 2000, I went off to spend two years in DUI prison (fortunately, I never physically harmed anyone). Pappy held the home together, even though he was seventy-nine years old. My wife stopped working, his health started to decline, and she just sponged off of him and his money. All the while, she and I were both claiming to have turned over a new leaf and become Christians. One of us meant it, and it wasn't her...
I know it broke Pappy's heart to see me go to prison. Even so, he believed in new beginnings, and he encouraged me in every way he could. He also saw my wife for what she was: a woman who was incapable of real love; a woman without an ounce of forgiveness in her heart; a woman who believed that the sweat off of other people's brows belonged to her.
Pappy had learned delicacy and restraint over the years, so when he came to see me he would only hint at what he knew: our marriage didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of surviving. He told me to hang on to my values, and to not give up no matter what happened between me and her. He told me to have faith in God--something he had personally struggled with for many years, but had finally come to embrace in his own way. (He didn't care for organized religion and churches, but he believed that God is real).
In the Summer of 2001, Pappy's health began to dramatically fail. He died in hospice on September 10, 2001--eight months before I was due to be released from prison. I was allowed to go visit him at his hospice bed one day before he died--in an orange jumpsuit and chains. He was mostly comatose, but he knew I was there. When I first came in the room, he roused himself up to look at me, and I knew he still loved me with all of his heart. Unfortunately, that was all Pappy had left to give to his son. He could not speak, and he lapsed back into his coma.
Still, I know he heard us as we sang some of his favorite hymns, and I know he heard me as I thanked him for being my father and for loving me so much. I know he heard me promise to take the gift of his love and make a better man of myself.
Occasionally, he would spastically raise his arms, his only way of letting us know that he understood. The girls cried, I cried. My wife pretended piety, because she had already begun her campaign of theft and deception long before: there was cash and signed blank checks just waiting, and me still a prisoner so that I could not prevent her...
Around 7:30 PM that night, his sister called him. The nurses held the phone to his ear, and by his reaction they could tell that he knew it was her, and he could hear what she was saying. She spoke her love and goodbyes.
Fifteen minutes later, Pappy died. He waited for me, and then for her, and then he let go of this life.
Pappy, I am so sorry that I caused you so much worry throughout your life. You gave everything you had, both to me and for me. I wish I had been a better son to you. I wish I had lived up to the high hopes you had for me and my life.
Thank you so much for all of your love, wisdom and support. Thank you for teaching me about what REAL honor means--something that many of the people who will read these words cannot understand. This is not such a wonderful world anymore, Pappy--but then, when was it ever?
I know this is an odd place to write this tribute, but it is where I spend a lot of my free time. You were never a prude, so somehow I think you'd understand.
I miss you, Pappy. There are some days when I wish I could join you right now--but I know my journey here is not quite finished. I hope and I pray that you are at peace, and that you no longer worry about me. You deserve that. God knows, you did everything for me that you could, and my failings are not your fault.
God bless you, Pappy. Thank you for being my Dad!
6/19/2006 9:18 am
Jim what a great tribute. Pappy would be honored. you both are blessed to have each other.|
6/19/2006 11:56 pm
Thanks for your comments, Terry and Thomas!|