My father was in Florida last week to attend my daughter’s senior art show at Stetson University in Deland. Rachel graduates in May and she decided her art show was more important to have her grandfather attend than her graduation ceremony.
So dad and my stepmother, Bettye, flew in from this year’s never-ending white wilds of Minnesota to a sunny and green Florida. Along with more than a dozen other family members and close friends, we rejoiced in Rachel’s artistic and academic achievements — all connected to Rachel by a lifetime of love as her mother, grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin or friend.
Of all the family in town for my daughter’s show, my father’s attendance was especially welcomed because he has been at my side for the most important moments in Rachel’s life.
When she was just weeks old, dad came to Florida to help me with Rachel and to keep her big brother, Andy, entertained so I could focus on caring for my new baby.
He was back when Rachel was baptized six months later, and again for her first birthday. When my family moved to Chicago two years later, he flew in to help me pack and then drove the family’s SUV with me in the front and Rachel and Andy in the back, to our new home in Geneva, Ill.
Four years later when my family returned to Florida, dad was there again, this time driving one of two moving vans packed with my family’s possessions, and Rachel, once again, in the back seat.
Rachel was in first grade when we resettled in Tampa, and dad and Bettye began their annual spring pilgrimage to Florida to spend a few weeks with my children and me. When Rachel turned 10, she began a reverse pilgrimage to Minnesota every summer to stay with her grandparents and visit her aunts, uncles and cousins.
As Rachel’s interest in art blossomed, her grandfather proudly displayed her paintings and drawing in his home. He is so proud of her drawing of Pope John Paul II that it has become family lore that Rachel drew the pope just for him. No one visits dad’s home without hearing about his amazingly talented granddaughter.
At every important family occasion, dad and Bettye have been there for Rachel. When she graduated from high school in 2010, they were here to see her receive her IB diploma from Carrollwood Day School.
Dad was back again in the fall to visit Rachel in Deland as she began her college career. As Rachel proudly showed off the Stetson campus, I remember him telling me that in a blink of time he would be back for her graduation. I looked at him like he was crazy — Rachel had just left home and four years seemed like forever to me.
Of course, dad was right. It does seem like a blink of time since Rachel and I were at Bed Bath & Beyond filling a shopping cart with “must have” items for her dorm room.
My father, who has more than 20 grandchildren, has the gift to make each one believe they are his favorite. I have always marveled at this, especially with my children who live so far away.
But distance does not matter when it comes to love. My kids feel just as close to their grandparents living 1,500 miles away, as do their cousins who live five miles away.
In fact, at the gathering to celebrate Rachel’s art show, my father told her that it is difficult for him to have a favorite grandchild, but for that day, it was easy. It was her special day, and she was his favorite.
Dad’s visit this year to coincide with Rachel’s art show is especially poignant, because at age 85, it is more difficult for him to travel and get around. I can’t help but wonder if this will be one of his last trips to Florida. It is, after all, much easier for my children and me to visit him in Minnesota than for him to travel to Florida.
I am so happy that dad was able to keep the promise he made four years ago to be here when Rachel graduated from college. We are blessed to have a father and grandfather in such good health and so full of life.
My joy at dad’s visit also makes me reflect that he may not be here when Rachel reaches the next milestones of her life — when she marries, has her first child and gets the job of her dreams.
I am extraordinarily grateful that my dad has been such a wonderful grandfather and has shared in so many of my family’s most meaningful moments. The examples he set about the value of family have taught my children about the strength of commitment, the power of love and the joy that comes from sharing important times with people we cherish.
Published March 26, 2014
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