We’ve been very sad around our house this summer. In July, my wife’s father died. It occurred suddenly. He went into the hospital for tests on a Tuesday, and by Friday he was dead. Yes, we’ve been sad, and because much of this issue of MAN! magazine concerns fathers, putting this issue together has not allowed us to hide from our grief by working.
It seems that we all are, in some way, mourning for our fathers, but grieving my father-in-law’s death is different. Because Chuck Adams was a generous, adventurous, open, loving man, my wife and I have experienced a large measure of joy in our grief. I knew Chuck for only seven years. Most of the time he lived 200 miles away, so we saw each other only six or seven times a year. Three years ago, he and Winnie, my mother-in-law, moved within 20 miles of us so they could be closer to my wife, their only child, and to our son Will, who is now five years old. From that time on, I had the pleasure of seeing him once a week. He loved driving his truck, so we never knew when he and Winnie might show up.
Imagine. In this society, a thirtysomething couple who enjoys, even looks forward to, seeing her parents every week. But that’s the kind of parents my wife has, the kind of man Chuck was. From the day I met him, he made me feel accepted and respected as a man, but in a kindly, low-keyed way. I teach English in a community college, so he liked to tease me and call me “professor.” I had the feeling, however, that very little was expected of me “in the real world.” All I had to do to keep his respect was to love his daughter and treat her accordingly. A couple of years later, our son joined our family, and by the way he loved that grandson, I knew he had raised his expectations. Now to keep his respect I had to love my wife and my son.
To him, careers were fine, something that one should take seriously — Chuck had risen fairly high in the government bureaucracy as a safety engineer, and when I received a promotion to mid-level administration, he bought me a briefcase — but for Chuck, one’s family was where life really took place. He was a happy man, but I never saw him happier than the times he would crawl around on his knees and jump from behind a door to scare his grandson or the time he presented Will with a set of homemade bow and arrows, the arrows tipped with pencil erasers, or the times Will would find that extra piece of candy deep inside a pocket.
One is tempted here to tell stories, as his brothers and his in-laws did around the house before and after the funeral: tales of his eating eight pieces of pie at a country reunion or of gracefully indulging his mother-in-law; tales of nights on the town with his brother or of his love of driving on the open road. I am tempted to discuss the joys of playing golf with him or going to a ball game, or how I asked him last December to read Robert Bly’s essay for MAN! on the naive male because I wanted to know if as a 76-year-old man he had known any young men who fit Bly’s description. He replied that, yes, he knew one — himself.
But the story I have to tell is that of the last gift he gave me. It fell to me to tell my son that his grandfather, his Pop Pop, had died. My son knew that Pop Pop was in the hospital, that he had had a heart operation, but he thought, as we all did, that his Pop Pop was getting better. I picked my son up from day care. We put our seat belts on; then figuring it was wrong to delay and “wait for the right moment,” I said that I had to tell him something. “Pop Pop died today.” My son took it straight in, and I saw 20 emotions wave through his body, through his innocent face. The last was a shred of denial, “Did he really die?”
“Yes, son, really, just about an hour ago.”
Then he looked at me so intently, examining every part of my face. “Are you crying, Dad?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Because I am very sad that Pop Pop died, and I will miss seeing him and talking with him very much.”
“Me, too,” said Will.
We all miss you, Chuck. You always encouraged Sharon and me in creating this magazine. More, you lived the values that we are trying to live by. This one’s for you, man!