When I think of fathers, two men come immediately to mind--my grandfather and the poet Philip Booth.
My grandfather will be eighty-three in September and he's had a pretty rough year. His mind isn't what it once was and his frustration with his cognitive state is in some ways decreasing as his recognition of the problem lessens. His memories are disappearing rapidly, but the one person he always recognizes and is always happy to see is my kid brother. Whenever I call out to the house to talk to my grandmother and my "gramps" answers, we have the same conversation. Have you seen that boy? Isn't he something. And he tells me about the latest athletic feat accomplished by my talented sixteen year old brother and if I could see my grandfather, I'm sure he would be glowing.
He is the greatest father I've ever known, maybe he wasn't for his own children, but he has more than made up for it with his grandchildren. When I was playing softball, I can't think of a single game my grandpa missed. He was there on the nights when I'd go four-for-four cheering just as loudly as the nights that I'd pop out to the center fielder every time. The one and only season I played collegiate ball, my grandmother was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease and my grandfather never left her side. The game just wasn't the same.
Perhaps my greatest memory of my grandfather is a daddy/daughter night he attended with me when I was eleven. He stepped up when my own father wouldn't that night and he's stepped up every single time I've needed him to in my twenty-four years.
For everything my grandfather has been for me, I look at him with an immense amount of appreciation for the young man my brother is becoming and the man I know he will grow to be. He doesn't get out as often as he used to, but he has been there to see my brother play basketball, baseball, football and most recently wrestle. I know he's been there because I usually get a phone call telling me exactly how wonderful the boy was by a grandfather that couldn't possibly be more proud.
The reason I mention the poet, my favorite poet, Philip Booth in the same breath with the man more or less responsible for the fathering duties in my young life is because of a poem Booth once wrote for his daughter. "First Lesson" grabbed hold of me upon first hearing it and it has never let go. Booth, like my grandfather, suffered from Alzheimer's Disease in his final years. I once wrote a letter to Booth, only the second fan-type letter I've ever written, thanking him for that poem and thanking him for being the father behind that poem. I never received a response from Booth and upon his death, I learned of the Alzheimer's and knew why. I now know how Booth's children and grandchildren must have felt as a once vital part of their life left them mentally before his time here was complete.
Two men, two fathers, and today I can't help but think of the similar paths, similar struggles--the one having finished, the other just beginning--and I'm just thankful on this Father's Day that they both have had an impact on the person I am.