This weekend, we are honoring the great men in our lives. Check in through Sunday to read about some of the wonderful lessons they have taught us.
There’s an incredible photo of my grandfather laying on the bed just days after I was born. He’s feeding me as though it is the most normal thing in the world that a 65 year old man would be taking care of a newborn on his own. That’s how I was raised, and in spite of all of the adversity we faced, adversity this man weathered and watered down to protect me, I would not exchange a single moment with him for a calmer time elsewhere.
My grandfather was, is, and will forever remain at the center of my heart and my life. He is the man above all men to me, and the human I most want to be like. He was my only parent growing up and has taken care of me since his passing in ways that would prove unbelievable if there weren’t tangible proof of their existence. Everything decent and good in me stems from his deep love and commitment to giving me the best possible internal foundation he could before his departure and I am honored to call him my grandfather, father, mother and best friend.
On this Father’s Day, I am honored to share a few of the many lessons he has taught (and continues to teach) me in my life.
1 | Your word is your bond.
My grandfather was known for being a man of great integrity. He was where he said he would be and did what he said he would do, and if you were not that kind of person, you didn’t have his respect. Without his respect, you had no bond with him. He would simply “put up with you” (but only if he had to). His adherence to this rule was so strong that he once insisted on calling me from ICU after he told me he would call me at 11:30 on a Saturday morning before being admitted into the hospital. In a world where adults constantly lied to me and left me alone, I appreciated the fact that I never once had to question whether I could count on my grandpa. I could and I did every moment of my life and he never failed me. The last time I saw him, I was 13 years old. He was at the dining table, upset with himself. I asked him what was the matter and he explained that he had promised to send my degenerate father a check. I was so angry to see him upset after all he had been through and I responded, “Grandpa, don’t be upset. Who cares? He doesn’t deserve it and will only use it to drink anyway.” He looked at me very seriously and said something I have remembered all of my life: “Brenda Lynn, your word is your bond. It’s the only thing you have, and when you give it, you honor it. It doesn’t matter what someone else does, it matters that you do and what you commit to doing. It’s the backbone of your reputation and once you lose that, you have nothing.”
2 | You only have so much time and then it’s gone… forever.
I learned this lesson the hard way the day my grandfather died. That day, I woke up and it was all over, and by “it,” I mean my life as I knew it. I was suddenly alone in this world, quite literally. But what hurt more than that was that I would never again be in a live moment and see the face of the person I loved more than anyone in the world. I would never again hear the wonderful voice of the only person who cared about me at that time, and I could never again run into his loving arms because he was never again going to be there to protect me. I would never sit on his lap, share a candy bar, take a walk with him in the woods, go fishing with him, or be surprised with a pretty Sunday dress. I would never say I love you to his handsome face and kiss his cheek, and he would never respond with “I do you too” which is the phrase I have ached to hear since the last time I heard it. It was a devastating and abrupt loss that left me with a very strong understanding of mortality. It finally made sense what he meant when he told me me, “time waits for no man.” It also didn’t wait for a little girl who had more questions to ask and so much more love to give. I learned to appreciate people and love with all of my heart every single day. I gush to my friends and maybe go overboard, but no one will ever wonder how much I loved them when I am gone and I will never wish that I had said how I felt should someone leave here before me. There is a peace in that.
3 | Human interaction and nature are life’s greatest luxuries.
Through my grandfather, I learned to “sit and visit” with people I care about. This is what he would refer to socializing as. My grandfather was very social and really enjoyed being with people and having good conversations. He loved to cook and eat with large groups and he would often tell me how much more meaningful that was than going out somewhere. Our life changed dramatically when we lost our home when my father skipped bail. I was 5 and grandpa was 70 and we had to move into the small trailer that he purchased for us to take fishing trips with. As my grandfather had only a small pension and social security, we did not have money to go out and do things that some of the families we knew did. Still, we were very rich. My grandfather taught me to appreciate the beauty in a long walk with someone you love, a .50 cent mint and chip ice cream cone from Thrify’s, the gorgeous element of surprise in receiving a freshly cut rose and smelling it after it was baked in the sun, going for a hamburger after church and the big reveal of an Easter dress after a special trip to Sears.
4 | Manners and education will open doors that nothing else can.
Every person who ever spoke to me about Mancie Herring said similar things: he was an exceptionally great man who carried himself with dignity, he treated everyone with respect and he was very wise. Oh, and the ladies always mentioned how tall he was, with a “thick head of hair.” I relayed this to him once as though he ought to know they were talking smack, but he just smiled gently and told me not to worry about what anyone was saying and to eat my dinner. He was a man who taught me not to eat food in front of people unless I was able to share it. He opened doors for others. He shook hands with men and tipped hats to ladies and he insisted that I refer to my elders “Mr., Ms. and Mrs.” from a young age (this caused me quite a funny and frustrating exchange with my boss, Barton Biggs in my 20’s). I was never to ask for something without a “please” or receive something without a “thank you.” My grandfather would always tell me, “I am raising a young lady. You will be educated and you will have good manners and that will carry you where you need to go.”
5 | No one is better than anyone else.
Though raised by a humble and somewhat stoic man, I have always had my sights on bright lights and the more glamorous life. I watched classic movies and fell in love with Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth and Bette Davis. I would talk about them as though they were goddesses. Before I could float any higher into the clouds, he would tug on my dress (I only wore dresses) and bring me back down to earth. “Girl, stop with that nonsense. We all put our pants on one leg at a time. Stop idolizing human beings.” In the same vein, he never looked down on anyone and was very serious about equality. He once stopped taking me to a church because “it’s not diverse enough.”
6 | You’ve got to let some people go or they will destroy your life.
I have been very open about the fact that my father was the most violent and abusive person I have ever known. My grandfather, grandmother and other family members (all elderly by the time I was born) had their lives torn apart by his antics. Either robbed, beat up or verbally abused extensively, they lived at the mercy of his behavior and their well-meaning but misdirected hope that he would change. When my grandfather was dying, my father walked into his hospital room and asked for $300.00 and then didn’t show up for his funeral but told me that they would not let him in and cried on the phone as though it was true. Thinking about this over the years, I learned that some people are just toxic and drinking their poison every day will destroy your life. It doesn’t matter what delicious drink they mix it with or how much you love the person serving you, it will kill your chance at happiness.
7| Love will never end, but grief needs to.
When I was a little girl, we brought flowers to my grandmother’s grave every Sunday. My grandfather spoke so highly of her that I felt jealous of her and even cried that she died and got mad at the doctors for not saving this beloved woman that I could not remember but loved deeply as an extension of how much he loved her. I understood this when he went to join her. He’s been gone over two decades and there has not been a single day when I have not thought of him multiple times. I had to learn to separate mourning and love. I worked hard to celebrate him and continue our new way of communicating and sharing instead of sobbing about the transition. Today, I speak to him freely and there is not a day I don’t tell him that I love him or feel his love around me. I don’t know if there is a heaven, but I know there is love and it creates a ripple effect in this universe so powerful that the winds blow a little harder and the sun shines a little brighter when I walk and whisper “I love you, Papa.”
8 | You’ve got to be your own person and make your own way in this world.
My grandpa grew up one of 11 on a farm and didn’t get along with his father. He shocked the family and left home at 16 years old. He went to work on another farm where, in addition to serving as a field hand, he worked around the house. One of his duties was to help watch over the owner’s two little daughters, something men did not do back then. He told me the experience showed him that family was not just people you were related to and it made him “certain he wanted a little girl when he was older and married.” After this experience, he finally got the attention of my grandmother (whom he had long adored). She was four years older and eventually saw the kind of man he was when his brother, who was engaged to her sister, Vyvian, passed away. He would invite my Aunt Vyvian out to the movies and into town with my grandmother to help to cheer her up, something both women and their families appreciated. When she moved to California from Arkansas, he decided to follow her, and apparently, though both from conservative families, even lived together before they were married. To do these things in the 20s, 30s and 40s tells me that grandpa was his own man from the very beginning.
9 | A strong work ethic is the expectation.
By the time I was born, grandpa was retired, but he was always volunteering and working on some house or helping to clean and work on the church. He was a foreman in a fiberglass company for most of his life and, from what I read, a very successful and beloved boss and employee. My grandfather instilled an appreciation for doing my part and the joys that come from putting in a good day’s work and having my name on it. He was a very generous man and we benefited from the generosity of others, but he was not a fan of people who just stood their with their hand out. He taught me to work hard for everything I wanted and needed.
10 | In the end, it’s the human being you are that matters.
The people who knew my grandpa spoke and speak of him as though he was one of the greatest men to ever live, and of course, I believe he was. He died so poor he could not pay for his own burial, and yet, the people keeping me got $100.00 each month to pay for my food and clothing while he struggled. While on this earth, he created a legacy of dignity, respect and love that not only impressed all of those around him, but left an impression on me that, I hope, will make me half as wonderful as he was.