We called my dad Pop. We loved him and looked up to him, but he was not affectionate. We knew better than to seek that from him. However, he really came into his own when he became a grandfather, and we called him Pop Pop. By then, he had mellowed. As a father his highest praise had been, “What’s the matter with that?” which we translated into “Good job!” but, for me, it never felt like the praise I was seeking. In contrast, his grandchildren knew him as the “gamer,” who was always ready to play. When I moved back home to New Jersey after my first husband died, my daughter, Stacy, was only 16 months old. She adored her Pop Pop, and could not wait for him to come home from work. She would run up to him and say, “Pop Pop, fwing me!” and he would happily oblige, grabbing her hands and swinging her back and forth between his legs.
He also would tease her at the dinner table, throwing a paper napkin at her, so of course she had to throw one back. He would grin and she would giggle until finally my mom said, “That’s enough, you kids.” For Stacy, he was the man in her life, and she felt comfortable crawling into his lap, something we five kids would never have done. We sought solace from our mother, who accepted us just as we were.
During the ten years before I remarried, Stacy and I traveled home to New Jersey from North Carolina for all holidays and for two weeks every summer. Stacy and Pop Pop spent hours playing, inside and out. She loved all the games they played, mostly board games, and became the gamer she still is today. A favorite game was Clue; one time she caught him moving his token through a wall instead of using the door. He never lived it down that he was caught cheating in Clue!
After I married Jerry, we moved to northern Virginia, and continued to travel often to see my parents. We also vacationed with them and played golf together. My dad was an excellent golfer, right into old age. He excelled at every sport he tried. His most notable sports achievement was winning the title of Badminton Champion of the state of Rhode Island in 1939.
Stacy always remained close to her grandparents. When she was beginning her career in Raleigh after graduating from college, they moved to Myrtle Beach, about a three-hour drive from her. She visited them often, and we spent all our holidays with them. Pop Pop developed dementia during that time, and my mom had to take care of him. He would enter every sweepstakes that arrived in the mail, and would buy things he didn’t want or need, thinking that would enhance his chances of winning. Mom had to learn to intercept the mail before he could get to it. He always said he wanted the money to give to his kids.
As my dad deteriorated, my mom became increasingly anxious about caring for him. One day she called me and said, “Daddy’s acting strange.” Jerry and I were living in northern Virginia, at least an eight-hour drive away. All my siblings were even farther away from them. Feeling frustrated that I could not help, I told Mom I would call Stacy. After I did, Stacy left immediately for South Carolina and spent the night with them. She called me to say that Pop Pop was fine and all was well.
We kids knew that the situation with my parents could not continue as it was. Stacy volunteered to move to Myrtle Beach to take care of them, but my mom quickly squelched that idea. “You are not going to give up your life for us,” she said. My older sister, Marilyn, living in California, had been trying for years to get them to move close to her. She stepped up and took charge. Marilyn and her daughter flew to Myrtle, held a yard sale and packed up the old folks to move to California. Mom protested that she didn’t want to move so far from all her other children on the east coast, but Marilyn knew she was the one who could take care of them.
“You know their best years are behind them,” I told Marilyn, and she understood what she was getting into. Pop Pop, now called Poppy, was 89 by then, and Nanny 84. The following year, we all flew to California for a family reunion to celebrate Poppy’s 90th birthday. He lived another five years, and died in his sleep.
Remembering my dad, I am sure he had a lot to do with the woman I became. I was shy and insecure when I ventured out into the world, a bit of a dreamer who never wanted to be anything but a writer. I think Pop saw himself as a molder of his children. He wanted us to try harder, to be better. When you are a kid, you think every family is like your own. Probably a lot of dads were as emotionally unavailable as my pop, critical and slow to praise. He did the best he could, as we all do. In the end, we loved him, and we all turned out okay, each flawed in his or her own way, but living life and loving each other.