Let Me Tell You About Him

Posted Aug 5 2017, 5:10 pm in , , ,

When people find out I’m an author, one of the first questions they ask me is why do I write young adult fiction. And I always answer, “Because I want teens to know they’re not alone.” When I was growing up, my reading jumped this chasm from Nancy Drew to Barbara Cartland romance. The only true young adult fiction I knew about was Judy Blume’s and when I discovered her books, I felt like I had friends who knew exactly what I needed. So today, I write about the things that matter to teens. At least, I hope I do. 

That’s why today, I’m writing about death. About grief. Yeah. I know. Nobody wants to talk about it. I don’t either. But we do. Because the ugly truth is our time on Earth is short and goes by fast.  

There are a hundred — probably a thousand — things you hear when someone you love dies. People pray for you. They tell you they’re sorry. They hope the one you loved didn’t suffer. They tell you he’s in a better place and he was a good person and invite you to call them if you need anything and —

Like I said… probably a thousand different things. 

You know what you don’t hear a lot of? 

“Tell me about him.” 

His name was Robert — Bob to everybody, Dad to three, Bumpy to seven — plus two great-grands. But to one — he was Dear

My earliest memory of him was as a little girl. He used to collect the rent from the superintendent of the building in Queens, NY where I grew up. He had a bad knee and wore a brace that used to jingle when he walked. It terrified me! Years later, when I grew up and married his son, I couldn’t seem to remember ever fearing him. 

I just finished writing a book in which music plays a huge role. One of the songs I reference in that book is Simple Man. The lyrics to that song just fit so well when I think about his life. He never went to college or traveled the world. He just did what he had to do to provide for his family. In addition to his fulltime job, he delivered newspapers. In the eighties, he drove a limo. I still have Tom Cruise’s autograph scrawled on a receipt in a frame on my dresser because he thought I’d like it. 

(He was right.)

The years flew by. Our first son came along and my husband said, “I want to name him for my dad.” He and Nanny wall-papered the nursery for us. When our Robert was born, we’d plan to call him Bobby but he said no. “Let’s call him Robbie. I hate being called Bob and that’s what happens to Bobbys after they grow up.” Robbie is 25 now. And he’s Rob instead of Bob because that’s what happens to Robbies after they grow up.

Rob is a motorsports reporter in Charlotte, NC today, and it’s no accident of chance. That love of cars began when he was barely a year old because his grandfather kept a handful of Matchbox cars – replicas of his favorite NASCAR cars — on his dresser. Well before Robbie could talk, he was zooming those toy cars around the floor. There were dozens of trips taken together to Dover Speedway, Riverhead Raceway, and Homestead, Florida. One by one, as the grandkids arrived, he took the time to learn who they were, what excited them, what was important to them. I’ve lost count of just how many outdoor hockey games he shivered through for his grandsons — and one of his grand-daughters. 

When his three children were small, they got to be King or Queens for the day on their birthdays. On that day, the whole family did whatever the birthday child asked. My husband’s request? To watch the airplanes. So the family would drive to the airport at LaGuardia and watch planes take off for hours. 

My husband works at LaGuardia today, as an aircraft mechanic. 

Once we had a child of our own, I learned what a holy terror my husband had been. There’s this story about dinner one night when he was small. I’m not entirely sure what horrible behavior led up to this, but somehow, his father turned an entire glass of milk over my husband’s little blond head. Whatever it was, he never. Did it. Again. 

He was a quiet, steady man. Slow to anger, but when he was angry –duck and cover. But when he loved, he did it so you knew it.

You knew it. 

Remember when the special edition quarters came out for all 50 states? He slowly and quietly began saving those quarters for each grandchild. Every Christmas, the kids got their quarters until each kid had all 50. My sons still have theirs. 

The years blurred by. They retired and moved to Florida. And even so far away, there was always contact, always a presence. My son started a fantasy NASCAR league — both his grandparents joined it and had their own little competition going. 

Competition — oh boy, is that a trait in this family! 

Family Game Night is a serious thing. 500 Rummy, Phase 10, Skip-Bo, Clue, Apples to Apples — we have a dozen different games we’d play in large groups until we couldn’t see straight anymore. And as much as we knew he loved us — when there was a game being played — he taught us that there are no free rides. You play smart, or don’t play at all. There were quite a few games when little Chris left the table crying. But today, adult Chris will be the first one to kick your ass if he picks the right card. On the last time he visited our house, we played Skip-Bo. There were six of us playing — my husband and me, our sons, and my husband’s parents. Like most card games, the more players you have, the harder the game gets. At one point in the game, Bob turned to my son and said, “You’re giving me BUNK! Nothing but BUNK!” 

Rob grinned wide because beating Bumpy at any game had by this point become a badge of honor. So I’ve been calling Rob “Bunky” ever since to mark the occasion. 

He and I shared a love of books. At every visit, he accidentally-on-purpose left his book behind for me. Young adult fiction wasn’t his thing. Yet he bought my books. Every single one of them. 

After his girlfriend broke his heart, Rob and I were talking about his fear he’d never find anybody who’d love him. I wondered if he’d start sleeping his way through his college class and he said “No way. I don’t play with girls.” Now, I’d love to tell you he learned this from me. That something he read in one of my books made a deep impression on him. But no. Rob told me, “I learned how to treat women by watching how Bumpy treats Nanny.” (For more on this, read this blog post.) And I’m happy to tell you Rob has found a girl who loves him as much as he loves her. 

He didn’t have much — but what he did have, he shared completely. Unconditional love exhibited by his quiet, steady supportive presence that let his family grow up and become exactly what (and who) they were meant to be. That reminds me of something funny — at one of our Christmas gatherings — and we number eighteen now, my mother-in-law said, “This is all because I said yes!” True, but my father-in-law ASKED first. 🙂 

There are so many sentiments online…I found this one and wish I knew who to credit because it’s just so true. 

I'd give anything to say hello again. You never know when they won't be around anymore. They can be gone in a blink of an eye. No regrets!

I said I was writing about death. About grief. 

Hmm. I was wrong. I wrote about a life. A really incredible life. Those he left behind are happy and honored to tell you all about that life.

Don’t be afraid to ask. 

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3 Comments

Comments

3 responses to “Let Me Tell You About Him”

  1. Brian G Parker says:

    Beautiful. Sad, Wonderful. Thank you for this. All the best to you and yours, here and beyond.

  2. Susan says:

    That was absolutely beautiful, Patty!

  3. Leslie says:

    The post IS beautiful. What a great way to celebrate your father-in-law’s life.