“Dad, who are the guys in this picture?” Mario, then five years old, asked. He picked up a group photograph of sailors while I was going through family pictures.
“It’s a group of sailors, I think, taken just before they went off to fight in World War II. One of them is your grandfather, my father. You’ve seen him.”
“You mean grandpa is your dad? I didn’t know that. I thought you never had a dad. I thought grandpa was just a good friend of yours.”
Mario’s response surprised me. “You bet I have a dad and he’s in that picture, too. Can you show which one of these men is your grandpa?”
Mario took a look at the picture. “Dad, I can’t tell which one of these guys is grandpa.”
As he held onto the picture, I knelt down beside him. “There. This sailor is your grandpa.”
“What! That sailor doesn’t look anything like grandpa. Why?”
“Well, grandpa was younger than he is today. He’s changed to the person he is now. He’s still my dad though.”
“Are you sure he’s your dad, dad? He sure doesn’t look like you.” Mario took another close look at the picture. “Really, is grandpa your dad?”
“Oh, yes! Grandpa is my dad!”
“Oh, okay,” then he walked away to go play with his friends in the neighborhood. I took the picture, looked at it for a moment and realized that Mario had only seen his grandfather twice in his young life. Yes, he had talked with him many times over the telephone. However, frequent visits, pictures and stories about his grandfather were not made available to him. My son would never know anything about his grandfather—unless and until…
Searching through a shoebox of pictures and other items, we sat down to go through to sort out who this unknown man is as well as stories about his youth as best I knew it. In doing this, Mario was able to see what I looked like as a child and relay stories about our family history.
“When we had enough money, we went to see movies that cost us twenty five cents to get in, fifteen cents for a box of candy, fifteen cents for a big drink, and twenty-five cents for a big bucket of popcorn. We went to the Brookfield Zoo once a year for a dime per person to see new animals and old ones that we liked to revisit. I even went to a Chicago White Sox baseball game. At one of the games I was able to get a foul ball. And here’s the ball!”
I could see the awe and curiosity about having been given early information about his grandfather. To see pictures, touch items and hear the stories whisked me back to a past I had nearly forgotten. I also saw that, my father, like all of us, had both his good and bad sides. I had chosen to relay the best. That he was a well-educated man; a university trained man for a person of color in the early twentieth century, reared a large family and did not walk away from the responsibilities as many men did during my youth. Because of a segregated, racially discriminatory society, my father never reached his fullest potential in the socio-economic world. Like any person, he became frustrated but dreamed of a better world for his children and grandchildren if he could not achieve the American dream.
Once again, I showed him the group picture of his grandfather with the members of his Naval team. “Your grandfather fought the Japanese navy in the Aleutian Island during World War II and helped build the Trans-Alaska highway from Seattle, Washington to Juneau, Alaska. This highway supplied American forces that pushed the Japanese out of Alaska. So that means your grandfather was a World War II war hero.”
“Wow! Really dad?”
“Yes, son. Your grandfather was a World War II hero,” I responded.
Mario picked up the items I had presented him. He looked at me and smiled. His smile reminded me of my father's.
“Gosh, dad. Grandpa was really something wasn’t he. I can’t wait to visit him again. Wow, dad!”
Following a couple of hours of relating information to Mario about his grandfather, he, I believe, knew him a little better and acquired greater respect for his legacy. I felt closer to my father realizing that his many sacrifices made it possible for me and his grandson opportunities denied him for much of his earthly life.
My father died on May 11, 1999 and I believe has gone to be with his Father. From this Father’s Day and every day one lives this life here below, let us remember our fathers and give everlasting thanks for the good memories he gave us to ponder upon. And let us also give thanks to the greatest Father of them all—Our Heavenly Father. The Father Who has never failed us and will never fail us in spite of our sinful ways.
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