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Dancing with Dad

May 1, 2012

I have always marveled over the parenting job that Grandma Beanie and Grandpa John did for all seven of us. I tried to emulate them but family sizes, circumstances, outside pressures and tragic occurrences, times, ideas and ideals were different, so there is no measuring stick we can use to compare. We only hope that we have given our best when our children have grown into adults.

I can’t count the mistakes I made, and I heard Grandma Beanie and Grandpa John say the same thing many times. I know they made mistakes; I remember some of them. I don’t idealize your great grandparents and am telling stories of things that actually occurred. Of true importance are the things that your great grandparents got right. They were amazing. They put a solid foundation under each individual they were building, and a home in our hearts that was always there when the world seemed just a little too big.

We endured, sometimes tearfully, hundreds of conversations over the years about attitude. Grandpa John’s booming voice spoke of it at least a couple of times a week with regard to whatever was going on at the time. Anything we did wrong was part of the wrong attitude. Often, things we believed as young idealists were part of the wrong attitude to a reactionary Air Force veteran, and we needed to prepare ourselves for a protracted fight if we wanted to hold on to those beliefs. We had to prove our case over and over again. Even then we sometimes found our beliefs on Grandpa John’s wrong, or bad, attitude list. Even our clothing made the bad attitude list.

The arguments often went far into the night, and I was one of the worst about arguing with Grandpa John. Many of the arguments could have been avoided but I would bring it on, time and again. I knew just how to do it. Grandma Beanie didn’t like that very much, but I did. I loved arguing with him. I had points to make. I loved arguing that although I understood his almost divine belief in taking exclusive care of what he called me and mine, there was a larger world out there, and we were all members of the human race. We had a responsibility to others.

He would argue and argue, saying that me and mine were the only things for which he was responsible. But his circle of mine grew larger with each passing year. When I chuckled and told him he was full of baloney and that he created his mine from most of the people he met, he informed me that those he decided to add to his mine were not my business; their additions were his prerogative. They did not change a single part of his attitude.

He was right; it wasn’t my business. I just liked to argue with him, to keep the dance of our conversations going from topic to topic, from year to year. We did agree on some things, but over most topics, we bucked heads. We bucked hearts. We were alike, yet neither of us could see that we were arguing with our mirror image, our mirror soul, even down to sharing the same birthday. Wasn’t I a great present for him?

We did see it long before he died (and long after many family members and friends called me his clone—and yeah, we all knew that clones are always the same gender), and we still continued the same dance. It was our dance. It was challenging. It was fun.

Our arguments changed over the years, becoming less testy and more philosophical. Growing up causes that, on both sides.

Sometimes we would stop arguing and sing, or dance for real. Grandpa John loved to stiffen his back until it looked as though his spine had turned to steel, hold out his right arm stiffly with his elbow locked in a semicircle, and with his left hand at the ready to receive the hand of a lucky lady, he would hold me, Aunt Linda, Aunt Cindy, or Grandma Beanie gently yet firmly around the waist. He would then lead the dance, and we would allow it. It never occurred to him that we might not allow him to lead, and that is one topic none of us ever argued. It was altogether proper that he should lead, and respectful of a wonderful man that we would not argue those fleeting moments that meant so much to him.

I still grow, and still dance in my head, and I hope that things about which you and I disagree in the future will contribute to growth for both of us, as they did for my dad and me.

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