A year ago today my papa passed away and it’s still so hard to accept that he’s gone. I’m sharing out the piece that I wrote when I lost him – a bundle of tears and catharsis.
You know when you’re on the phone with your favorite person in the whole world and you can tell they are getting tired, but you aren’t ready to hang up yet? That’s how it feels to be teetering on the edge of losing someone you love. It’s excruciating. In the three weeks between his cancer diagnosis and his quiet passing, I had the opportunity to reflect on my Papa, his character, and the many things that he taught me.
“I just want the love to last forever.”
That’s what my Papa said when he was asked if he recognized his wife and knew that she loved him. His last days were slipping away and those eight words encapsulated who he was and how he lived for 86 years. He taught me a lot. Mostly, he taught me what it means to be a good man.
A good man protects his people.
Always quick to rally behind us against any perceived injustice, we felt secure knowing Papa had our backs. He was a tough negotiator brokering a deal. He was direct and firm and not above raising his voice if the occasion called for it. He didn’t take anything lying down; he always stood his ground. He was the fiercely protective patriarch of our clan.
He spent most of my formative years waiting in the car for me to leave places, having been assigned to ensure my safe return. In my mind, that’s what Papas did, made sure you got where you needed to go and back in one piece.
A good man listens.
When he wasn’t leaping to our defense, he was a man of few words. He would just sit and take it all in. He was thoughtful. My son declared that his Papa was a genius because he always appeared to be thinking. My son wasn’t the only one who thought Papa was gifted.
He had the gift of being present and letting you feel seen and heard. He wasn’t a rich man, but always gave generously of his time. From dance recital to baseball and hockey games, there was nowhere he wouldn’t go to witness the successes of his grandchildren.
He lived quietly so he could hear us better. He scrimped and saved his words and used them when they mattered. He would deliver a zingy one liner and delight in our surprise. It was noted he passed in the same way that he lived—quietly—without drawing undue attention to himself.
A good man respects women.
He taught me to fish as a child, unaware this would one day make me a badass single mom. He didn’t let the fact that I was a girl stop him from teaching this important life skill, a hobby he enjoyed, even when we scolded him for scaring away the fish when he talked. When I taught my own son to catch his first fish, Papa cooked it up for us so it could be our dinner.
He might have seemed old fashioned, but he cheered me on in every educational and career objective I set out to overcome. I was never just a girl. I was Papa’s girl and he believed in me and was so proud of everything I achieved. I felt like I could do anything, because he thought I could. He respected me as a woman.
A relative recounted the time he was driving home in the wee hours of the morning. A scantily clad woman stumbled across the street, leading to speculation that the lady was likely a prostitute. Papa was quick to leap to her defense. He challenged assumptions made based on how she was dressed. He challenged others to respect women.
A good man isn’t afraid to be tender.
Papa worked with his hands his whole life. He was practical and handy. He could do things; he was a fixer. On nights when I so desperately needed a break to just knit and talk, Papa would dutifully take my baby boy and rock him to sleep. He could always get my son to sleep, those strong hands held my baby tight. It was the strength of his gentleness that stays in my heart.
A good man is consistent.
He and my grandmother had a love that lasted over half a century. They seldom spent a night apart and he took great pride in providing for her and their family. He was unwaveringly loyal. He always believed the best, persevered and never turned his back on us. He was our rock, the consistent man who never walked away.
It was these things that made losing him so hard. He protected his people. He listened. He respected women. He wasn’t afraid to be tender. He was consistent. As I sat there, watching him breathe with difficulty in the hospital bed, I could relate to all the time he spent waiting for me.
The tables had turned and I was now sitting, waiting for him. I listened to his shallow, labored breathing. I was praying on one hand he would continue, because I wasn’t ready to let go. On the other hand, I was aware of his pain and prayed he would stop. I just wanted him to get to the place he needed to be, where he was free of pain, safely.
I’m still not ready to hang up, and I don’t want to let him go. I’m glad he’s not in pain anymore, but I wish I could hear his voice on the phone just one more time. Without him, the quiet is excruciating.
He just wanted the love to last forever and the way he loved us, I know that it will.
This post originally appeared on Good Men Project, having been edited with love by Jeremy McKeen.