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Inspired by Heroes - My Grandpa

This month, for our Inspired by Song! group contest, the theme is "Inspired by Heroes".  It is appropriate in light of the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks tomorrow.  For me, September 10th has a very special significance as well.  You see, today was my grandfather's birthday.  He passed away over nine years ago, but he would have been 103 years old today. 

I wrote a post about him almost one year ago called "What Makes a Man a Real Man?  Lessons from my Grandpa" that I would like to share again here, in its entirety.  After that, I wrote about the song that I picked.  Sorry it's so long - I have found that when I just provide a link, people usually skim past it.  Thanks.

My grandfather passed away in 1999, and I still miss him.  He was 93 when he died, so there was no doubt that he lived a "full life", as people like to say.  Simply put, he was one of the greatest men that I have ever known.

This is a picture of him holding me when I was about two years old.  It's faded now, and my mom actually took it to be retouched professionally, because she knows how important it is to me.  It is probably my favorite picture from my childhood, because you can see the love he had for me, and me for him.

What was it about him that made him a man of greatness?  Was it his money?  Hardly.  He never had much money, yet he and my grandmother managed to scrape together enough to buy my first two cars for me.  He never once complained about money, although in retrospect they were really quite poor by worldly standards.  I never even thought about it growing up.

Was it his career that made him a great man?  Well, he was already retired when I was born, so I never saw him work for money in the time that I knew him.  He was primarily a househusband, as it were.  My grandmother worked at a dime store until she was in her late 70's.  He had always worked in manual labor-type jobs.  He actually helped to build the old harbor bridge in Corpus Christi, then he worked as an operator for the drawbridge itself.  My mom has told me stories of visiting him when she was a kid, and they would fish out of his "office" window. 

Was it fame that shaped his greatness?  Well, he wasn't well known outside of his immediate family and a few friends, yet he impacted me in ways that I can't begin to describe in the confines of this post. 

Was it a strong education that made him so great?  Not really.  My Grandpa didn't go beyond the sixth grade in school, but he was an ingenious inventor.  He was always coming up with some device to make life a little easier around the house and garage.  He was also able to intuit things about his car that mechanics have a tough time with.  Honestly, I wish I had learned more in that arena from him (I am not very handy at all). 

My grandfather was primarily characterized by his love for us, and by his humility and his strong marriage (64 years).  He met my grandmother in November 1934 and they married less than three weeks later, yet I have never seen a marriage as strong as theirs was.  He was devoted, loyal, sensitive, funny, and I loved him deeply and dearly.   I never felt the generation gap that so often occurs with grandparents, even though we were separated by 65 years.

He used to pick me up from school every day because my mom was working, and we would go to his house and hang out for a few hours until my mom could come pick me up.  Usually, he would make me a grilled cheese sandwich and some homemade fries, or maybe some Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.  Sometimes, when I was really lucky, he would make some homemade ice cream, using the old handcrank machine.  We would talk and watch TV together, (usually syndicated sitcoms like "Gilligan's Island", "Happy Days", or "Andy Griffith").  He took me to soccer practice, and he was just always there....until the day that he wasn't anymore.

One of the greatest compliments that I have ever received was when my mother told me that I was just like him.  She still tells me that on occasion, probably because she knows that emulating him is a goal that I really aspire to in my own life.  At some point, I will probably write about the week that he died, because it was one of the hardest that I have ever experienced, as it coincided with a surgery for my son, who was just five months old at the time.  Those days deserve a post of their own.

What made my grandpa such a "real man" in my eyes was the love he shared and the memories he shaped.  Since my real father was absent, he filled a huge void and truly helped to mold me into the man I am today.  This is true greatness.  We are not defined by the amount of money we make or the number of sales we have, but by the legacy we leave behind with our families and friends.  I hope I can live my life as he did.  He was a real man.

As you can see from my previous post, my grandfather was very important to me and my life. 

I was thinking about songs that remind me of him.  I could have used "Wind Beneath my Wings" easily here, but I wanted something a little different. 

Back in 2003, Luther Vandross released what would become his final CD, "Dance With My Father".  Although I had never purchased anything by Mr. Vandross, the title track hit a place deep within me, so I picked up the CD.  Come to think of it, I hardly listened to any of the other songs at all.  I came across it the other day when I was cleaning my glove compartment, and I listened to this song again.  As always, it managed to elicit tears.  There are multiple meanings for me when I hear the lyrics.  I hear this song as a father of three trying to create memories with my own children, as a boy who grew up barely knowing his biological father, and as one thankful for the man who stepped in and took my father's place, my grandpa.

Enough time has passed that I can think of my grandfather without pain, but I truly miss him.  I have so many good memories of our time together, and if I am half the man that he was, I am a success.  When he passed away, I told my mom that I was never so sure about someone being in heaven as I was about Grandpa. 

So much of this song reminds me of our relationship, even though he was in his late 60's already when my earliest memories were forming of him.  He loved to joke around with me, and play with me, and teach me in a quiet way about what integrity means.  I never saw him lose his temper unless there was a darn good reason.  I just realized that this was a great portrait of "righteous indignation" portrayed in the Bible.  Lest you think he was perfect, I should also mention that he was a shameless flirt, and I almost never saw him talking to a younger, attractive woman without a gleam in his eye. 

He deeply loved my grandmother, my mom, and me, and he left a real legacy behind with his actions and his simple outlook on life and family. 

Here's the song I have chosen to dedicate to my grandfather on his birthday:

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