“Hey Papa, how’ve you been?” I asked with my hands in my pocket.
“Oh y’know, surviving as per usual. Trying hard to get this deal. Times are different now with this dip in the price of oil. Can’t even get my feet off the ground. Haven’t taken a salary in over a year. Soon I won’t be able to afford to walk across the street…” he rambled as I looked at the painting over his shoulder. How nice.
He’s a complex man. That’s the first word I’d use to describe him. My grandfather wanted to instil in his children and grandchildren a good sense of work, good money sense and an obligation to post-secondary education. Growing up in harsh times, my great-grandfather worked very hard every day to provide what he could to his two boys. It was always just enough, they had little extra for luxuries like vacations, cars or even restaurant outings. Salt of the earth, my great-grandfather was. My grandfather grew up with a solid understanding of hard work and traditional values. Seeing his father work so hard and earning so little over his life – my grandfather was sure to work smart, over hard and to try and provide all that he could for his kids and grandkids.
So he worked hard. He got an education and had his first child, with his first wife (although they never actually married), while he was working toward a degree in chemistry. My grandfather quickly grew to work for corporations in our city and soon was owning and managing his own company. Between graduating from university and running his own company, he left his first wife. Married twice more and fathered three more children. Being so busy with work, he often exchanged money in place of affection when it came to his children. So long as he provided his children with the necessities of life, he felt he was living up to his personal obligation of supporter. It became apparent to us as children, that he struggled with showing love or warmth toward any of us. I often wondered if it was due to his lack of support and love he received as a child. Strong in his convictions, he hardly wavers on issues of importance and is often down right offended if someone is religious, gay or from a different country or culture. (This I never understood, but I’ve come to accept it as a generational thing).
He was harsh in his delivery on almost everything. He more than once asked me if I was pregnant as a young adult, and then upon hearing that I wasn’t, informed me that I ought to lose some weight. He could never understand my cousin’s desire to pursue dancing full time. “How are you ever going to make money doing that?” He said to her, rolling his eyes. Being covered in tattoos, he despised them and all body modifications. Over dinner he’d entertain me with stories about how I’d soon come to regret my choices and “what would I look like at 80?!”. Soon, dinners were an ordeal, long sleeves to cover my arms up, long pants – piercings must be taken out. He was convinced on more than one occasion that people of middle eastern descent were infiltrating our society and were going to eradicate us on any given day. He was aggressive, and almost belligerent on what he thought to be true.
As young children, we learned early on that certain things were important to him. Early signs of acceptable standards were reflected in his guidelines to be accepted into his will. Education was of the utmost importance. Post secondary education was something that wasn’t readily available to him as a young man, and because of that he was almost militant about his desire for all of us kids to go to university. We were made to understand that not any university and most certainly not any program were acceptable to him. Art schools or technical schools of any kind were a waste of money and an obvious embarrassment for himself. Should we desire to land ourselves a position in the coveted will, we were to choose majors out of the handy, constrictive list:
- Any program that gave you a bsc. at the end of your name
Whew. What a list. Unfortunately for him, more than half of the kids and grandchild (me) ended up in far different circumstances that what he would have hoped for us. (Another story, another time).
Another thing that was really important to him was money, or rather, the illusion of money. Our dear grandfather had (and still does) very expensive taste. As children we were offered lavish trips to Mexico, Africa you name it! For our birthdays and Christmas, we were given cheques for $500-$1000, depending on our age and how generous he was feeling that year. At any given time he’d own 4-5 cars. A city car, a truck, a motorcycle, a sports car and some other luxury vehicle. His house was a reflection of how money talks. A lavish renovation that wound him up in the low $100,000’s was done just the way he wanted it to look. An Italian sink for the main floor half bathroom imported from Italy. Real hardwood floors and opaque granite countertops. Luxury games room with a flat screen TV. He wanted it. He had it. A good chunk of his money (or maybe credit) went into cultivating this illusion that he had it all. And we really thought he did.
Until he lost a multi-million dollar lawsuit. A lawsuit spanning over 7 years and a conclusion that landed him in the paper, grandpa’s cushion wasn’t so fluffy anymore. His hourly sleep every night went down to two hours and wrinkles started to set deeply in the corners of his eyes. Suddenly the life he had built for himself starting slipping away and he was terrified. Us kids starting growing more distant from him. It took me many years to understand that I didn’t want his overbearing, toxic mannerisms in my life. His money and his help came with strings, strings that I no longer wanted in my life. His presence was detrimental to my self esteem and before I distanced myself, I would become scared to tell him about my life because I knew he wouldn’t approve.
So he continues on. Strong and stubborn. I had dinner with him not to long ago. I was in awe to see that he’s softened over the years. The furrow in his brow is not as tense, he laughs more. Despite his edges being sanded down, his eyes reflect a sadder reality. It’s obvious that he regrets a lot of the choices he’s made in life. (Not enough time in the day to tell you about all the different branches of our family). Things he could have done differently. With the passing of his father, I think it really quieted him. In the months leading up to his death, my papa was sure to do everything and anything for his Dad, ensuring a comfortable passing. He moved him into a better facility and provided all the meals and necessities of life. In a way, I think he really looked up to his father, and wanted to do right by him. I know he did the best he could, with what he had. And y’know what? I no longer resent him.
There was a lot about him that I didn’t include as I wanted to keep it relatively short. Perhaps I’ll make it a series, my family is exceedingly complex and if you did take the time to read the whole thing, bless you!