When I first met my future father-in-law, well before I decided to marry the wonderful woman I was dating, I was well and truly scared of him. Standing before me was a gruff man, very forthright and rough.
As usual, I immediately formed an opinion of who and what he was. It’s a defect in my personal make-up that this man helped me recognize… and to some degree, change.
That first evening in his house, I became his ‘go boy’. If he needed a fresh beer, I was instructed to go get it, no matter how close he was to the fridge. Later that evening when some aunts and uncles visited, I was instructed to get their drinks as well. At some point, one of Marnie’s aunts quite clearly told me that I didn’t have to do as I was told, and to sit down and enjoy the company. By this time though, I had become accustomed to my new role, and fulfilled it with relish. Hey, I was impressing my girlfriends old man, so it couldn’t be that bad.
Over the rest of the weekend, I was introduced to a unique and varied family, which I have been proud to become a part of. Over the next few years, I learned more of my father-in-law. Some of it through discussions with him, but most of it from the people he called friends, and more importantly, the people that called him a friend. I came to learn that this gruff guy had a heart of pure gold. He wouldn’t, or couldn’t, always put his thoughts into words that we could understand, but if someone needed him, he was always there willing to lend a hand.
When his first grandchild arrived, he seemed to blossom right in front of my eyes. He was a caring and doting grandfather that would do anything for his grandchild. Even if it was against our wishes. The arrival of his second grandchild doubled his apparent capacity for love. If I had to discipline one of the kids while we were in his house, he never failed to show his displeasure with me, and his empathy for whomever was being disciplined. I had to harden my heart a little when he sat on the couch with tears in his eyes while one of his grandkids sat on a timeout.
I was always uncomfortable addressing him. Before my wife and I were married, I didn’t feel comfortable calling him by his first name. The discomfort never left. When the kids arrived, it became easier. I just called him Grandpa, and all was well. I think I called him Dad once. Just once. I regret that I didn’t do it more.
Dad passed away on Thursday, March 21st at midnight. He will be missed more than I can say.
And the lesson I learned? I guess I can sum it up by “Never judge a book by it’s cover”. Instead of letting first impressions form your opinion about people, look at the people that call him a friend. Find out why they call him a friend. And look beneath the cover. Look at the heart of the person, and judge that. For that is where the true person can be found. Look, learn, and then form your opinion of the man. My first impression was wrong, and I am so glad to say that it didn’t take me long to figure that one out.
Love you Dad.