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A Grand Dad

by J. Lee 28 days ago in grandparents

How one man single-handedly shaped my whole life

Image received from: https://www.calendarlabs.com/holidays/shared/fathers-day.php

Before I knew what trans was, let alone that I was trans, you could easily say that I was a Daddy’s Girl. Except for one small fact- I didn’t consider myself someone who HAD a dad until after I lost him.

My biological father has never been in the picture, and from an early age, I wasn’t too keen on my step-father either. However, I always had one Dad who was there for me from day one: my Grandpa.

My Grandfather and I, 1997

For the first four and a half years of my life, my mother and I lived with my grandparents. So, when I say since day one, I literally mean he was there in the hospital when I was born, and was always there for me since. We became practically inseparable as we were wrapped around each other's fingers. And now, whenever he comes up in conversation with my family, it’s always mentioned how much like him I am. If I’m honest, all of my best and favorite qualities I get from him. Most of my favorite memories are with him, too.

Thank you, Grandpa.

I was always a quirky kid, and definitely had some weird thoughts, interests, and processing patterns. He never seemed to question them though, and rolled with the punches as they came. I was very in my head, quiet, methodical, and very smart. And no, I’m not just saying this for my own benefit.

After infancy, when I was a toddler and young child, unless there was a big problem, I didn’t make much of a fuss. If I didn’t like something, I didn’t do it, unless I was trying to make someone else happy. I didn’t complain much about normal kid things, like not wanting to try a food, or go somewhere. I always tried it or found a way to find beauty in it. Now, if it came to food and I didn’t like it after trying it, I would refuse to eat another bite of it ever again. But, I did always try it first. If we were driving somewhere, I always stared out the window in awe, taking in the scenes around me.

I also had an explanation for everything. It was usually made up, like a story or a whole imagined world, but they all made sense in context. I didn’t just have an imaginary friend, either. No, I had a whole imaginary Realm of my own, with its own language and everything. Y’know, normal kid stuff, but to the solitary max.

Then came the different thought processes, specific patterns, and more… quirky quirks.

For instance, when I was three, I had a Tickle Me Elmo, as Elmo was the only reason why I watched Sesame Street. As it happens, the batteries died in the toy, so my Grandpa, the dear man that he was, didn’t think twice about changing them. However, when I saw him open up Elmo and remove his insides (the batteries), and Elmo no longer moved (because his batteries needed to be changed), I thought he killed Elmo in cold blood, right before my very eyes.

I refused to have anything more to do with Elmo, and 21 years later, I’m still not a fan.

I could also pick out patterns in everything, so much so I could almost instantly tell if something had changed, no matter how small. As I grew older, my mom got married, and I had to live away from my grandparents, it became a game for my grandfather to see if I could figure out what changed since my last visit- if anything- and how long it would take me to find it. Sometimes it was more obvious, like the jelly stick-ons on the window and fridge, new counter tops, a haircut, or a new television. But other times, it was a lot smaller. Maybe my grandma got another crystal figurine (I think there was only one time I couldn't figure out which figurine it was, but I had it narrowed down to three), or he rearranged just a few of the stamped golf balls on the wall.

Wanting to learn everything I possibly could, my grandfather helped teach me from a young age. As a 1-2 year old, I slept with books instead of stuffed animals. I began learning to read at the end of age of three, and immediately after that, my grandparents supplied me with early learning workbooks. Most kids my age didn’t want to spend all that time with their nose in books, especially workbooks, but I loved it. I blew through them at such rates that it was nearly pointless to buy the smaller ones. Go big or go home! Get me the 1-300 page set that was 2-4 years ahead of my age group, please!!

If I didn’t quite understand something from the books on my own, or I had more questions than the book had answers, I always asked my Grandpa. He was great for many reasons, but for educational purposes, he was one of the best teachers I ever had. He could figure out ways to explain things in about 3-5 different ways if it wasn’t clear enough, make tough subjects comparable to things he knew I enjoyed or understood well, and was phenomenal at always making complicated subjects make sense to a little one.

My Grandfather and I, probably summer 2001

As I got older and entered middle/high school, if I had questions- particularly with algebra- and he didn’t know the answer, he would search how to do the math and then teach me. I grew up more in the technological age than he did, but he was always better with a computer or phone than I could ever dream.

For example, I was having a particularly hard time with absolute integers, and why there could be a l-1l and l+1l, but no l-0l or l+0l. All of my answers were off, and I just couldn't grasp the concept. After trying to explain for a good 15 minutes, and it all going over my head, he turned to the internet. Here, he found that the ancient Romans never considered 0 to be a number. As such, its creation later on was more of a placeholder than a number. Being a placeholder, a starting point between the positives and negatives, it couldn't have a distinction itself. In absolute terms, it couldn't be positive or negative because, frankly, it didn't exist.

Somehow, when nothing else made sense, this did. For that particular section, most of my results were right from then on.

Being a kid that loved patterns, knowledge, and figuring things out, there was a lot of stuff my Grandpa and I did together. He was an avid puzzle lover, Sudoku player, Minesweeper master, and spider solitaire savant. I spent my life helping him with them, and while I enjoy these things myself, I doubt I’ll end up with hundreds upon hundreds of completed puzzles in my rafters. But, when helping with puzzles, my favorite part was always putting in the final piece. To me, it was like when I finally understood a new subject, and it all just fell together and click! Made sense.

So what did this absolutely beautiful man do? He always saved the last piece for me to complete, even if it would be a week before he saw me and could start a new one. And as we began that new puzzle, opened the box and started separating the pieces by inside, outside, and color, he always told me a fun fact about the puzzle’s subject.

-Seven US presidents lived or were born in log cabins (a puzzle of a snow covered cabin on a frozen lake)

-Otters can store small rocks and food in ‘pockets’ near their armpits (a puzzle with otters playing in a river)

-Wolves have small webs in their toes (a wolf shaped puzzle with over a dozen wolves roaming/living in different scenes)

-The University of Michigan Wolverines played their first game in Michigan Stadium in October 1927 (Michigan Stadium puzzle)

-A baby unicorn is called a sparkle (Unicorn shaped puzzle with other unicorn scenes, that we later glued and hung in my room for 4-5 years)

The list goes on for miles.

This type of knowledge wasn’t exclusive to just puzzles, though. Anything and everything that he had information on, he gave it to me, and I drank it in by the gallon. Sometimes these lessons were more about getting through life, such as how to tell distance when you have no depth perception. Tying a tennis ball to the garage door, he taught me how to use the shadows and geometric angles to see how far away I was when inside of a car- which was vital when I started to drive. He was the only one who could teach me to parallel park, because he was the only one who knew how my brain worked.

He taught me how to be a good situation evaluator too. Oftentimes, being so methodical and pattern particular, I would get so wrapped up in the small details that I would lose all sense of time, space, and reality. The big picture no longer became the picture; every individual piece became the Image itself. This applied to things like our common interest in puzzles or Sudoku, but also in daily life like cleaning tasks or art projects.

I would often get overwhelmed in the details, in figuring out where and how to start. I would see a pile of clothes I needed to put away, and see each article as its own chore. I could have a great idea for a drawing, but each feature was its own task, so I would stare at the blank page unsure how to start, or once I did, how to make the pieces fit together.

He taught me the magic of stepping back, of looking for different angles. If I was stuck, at a dead end, frustrated, it was time to take a break. “Sometimes, you need to look at things with fresh eyes,” he’d always tell me. And sure enough, almost every time, it worked. Whatever problem I was having, wherever I was stuck, after taking a break, or stepping back and looking from a different angle, I could find the problem and carry on.

Over time, it got to the point where I didn’t always even need to take that break. I could tell when a situation was getting difficult, and could start evaluating it from different perspectives and points of view (both literal and metaphorical). This then played into issue mediation, seeing the details in the whole picture from many different angles, and how they all fit and work together. Like him, I’d like to think I turned into a pretty decent listener and problem solver.

My Grandfather and I, 1998

My grandfather also taught me his love for sweets. His sweet tooth was hungrier than anyone else I knew, and was famished any time of day. For breakfast, we would usually sneak a bit of dessert we had with (and or after) dinner the night before, or, failing that, some of the cookies that were always on the counter.

With his morning coffee, if the treat were cookies, he would always dunk them in his hot drink rather than milk. When I was around five or six, I asked why. Didn’t the coffee make the cookie taste weird, especially if it was something like a mint Oreo?

Apparently not. According to him, the drink itself didn’t matter with the cookie. It could be milk, coffee, water, or even orange juice for all he cared. The point was to get the cookie just damp enough to melt in your mouth, but not so soggy that it fell apart in your cup. A second or two in the hot coffee did just that, and didn’t seem to change the flavor of the treat itself.

I can't speak for water or orange juice, but I can attest that the coffee doesn’t seem to change the taste of the cookies much, if at all. Now, at age 24, if I decide to dunk my cookies in any sort of liquid, it's probably going to be coffee- screw the milk.

We also loved everything to do with the weather or the night sky.

Whenever there was a storm, you could bet that we would be out there on the porch, sitting in the chairs we had placed out there for such the occasion of what I liked to call Weather Watching. We would watch the rain pour down in sheets, see the trees move in the wind, watch the lightning light up the sky in flashes, and listen to the thunder roll across the land.

I was very young when he taught me to count how far away the lightning was. From the moment the sky flashed a brilliant light, start counting the seconds tick by. When you hear the thunder rumble in your ears, stop counting, and divide by five. That’s how many miles away the lightning struck. In many cases, at least in our temperamental Michigan weather, it also meant that the general area where the lightning occurred was probably getting the worst of that particular storm cell, where there could be several cells per storm.

If it were snowing, I stayed out much longer than he did. I loved winter and snow with a passion, while he wouldn’t have minded it so much if it only landed on the trees and grass. Since it didn’t, he claimed it wasn’t snow, but a different four letter S word. Nevertheless, we often sat in the tranquil silence provided by the softly falling snow. Sometimes we would comment on the size of the flakes, if it was light and fluffy, wet and dense, or thick and sturdy packing snow. We particularly loved doing this at night, when the quiet stillness produced nothing but peace as many remained nestled in their homes, or snuggled securely in slumber.

“Did you know snowflakes are porous?” he once asked me as we stared out into the snowy night sky. “That’s why it’s always so quiet when it snows. The snowflakes have those 6 sides, so there's lots of space between the ice crystals. It absorbs the sound.”

We also just loved looking at the night sky. He used to call me his Moon Child, since I was always so fascinated by the moon in any and every phase. I also loved the stars, especially in the soft glow they created in a fresh blanket of midnight snow.

Whenever there was an astrological event, we always watched it together. Lunar eclipses were, and still are, my favorite- especially when they occur in the winter. However, we both loved solar eclipses, how the stars' placement shift during different seasons due to the earth’s orbit, trying to find and name different constellations and main stars or clusters.

One of my favorite factoids he told me about the stars and constellations was the fact that they came in families. Some constellations that appear close together in the night sky are grouped together, such as the Hercules, Orion, and Perseus Families. This always gave me comfort, knowing that even the stars had families they could relate and belong to. They didn’t have to be alone in the vast, ever expanding space of this particular universe.

He also taught me some more practical knowledge, like some simple tricks to get picky vehicles to have a chance at functioning again. My Grandma’s old car, which ended up being my first vehicle, was a bit finicky to say the least. The bugger had a nasty habit where after parking and being left alone for a smidge, like a store run, the steering wheel would lock and the key wouldn't even go into the ignition properly. Funnily enough, the solution? Rock the car back and forth. Just put your weight into it, and make the vehicle move front to back for a few minutes. Sure enough, every time, it worked. Once, this even happened to a friend’s car, and I was able to get it up and running in no time thanks to this handy method.

There was also a neat way to help jumpstart my rather reluctant to function starter. Just giving it a few taps with a blunt object, like a hammer or even the butt of a screwdriver could get it to come back to life. Well, that was, until the alternator decided to fail and take the battery with it. But that’s another story, where this blessing of a man, in his dying breaths, saved me for one of the last times on this plane of existence.

Over the course of 19 years, my Grandpa taught me a lot of fun, interesting, and necessary facts about life. But the one thing he didn’t teach me was how to live without him.

Grandpa, thank you for being my Grand Dad.

My Grand Dad

December 23, 1941 - February 12, 2016

Gone for now, but never forgotten, and always missed.

J. Lee
J. Lee
Read next: Understanding the Effects of Addiction on the Family
J. Lee

French enthusiast, non-binary trans person, artist, writer, lover of animals, space, and the right for every living thing to experience their existence authentically.

Pronouns: they/them (English) iel (French)

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