Will and I went to visit my grandfather’s wife in Yarmouth yesterday. My grandparents divorced when my dad was still a kid, and my grandfather got remarried and started a family on the Cape. He married a wonderful woman named Carol, who I haven’t visited enough since my grandfather died nearly three years ago.
I was never very close with my grandfather, which is too bad because by all accounts he was an unbelievably accomplished guy. He was straight off the boat from Portugal when he arrived in the US at 15. He immediately enrolled in high school and got a full-time job even though he spoke no English. Less than two years later he was president of his class and on his way to a great career.
He became a bigwig with Fleet Bank and then I heard he joined up with Cape Cod Five Savings Bank and singlehandedly saved them from going under a few years back. In fact, one Daddy Files reader who works for the bank, emailed me a while back and told me that he’s a legend there. She told me all this great stuff about my grandfather that I never knew, because “Papa” — as I called him — was too modest to ever brag about himself.
Instead of this legendary guy who seemed to touch everyone’s life, I knew a different man. Not a bad man by any means, just different.
My brother and I were raised in a home where love and affection were dished out in spades. However, Papa was from a different era. He was old school Portuguese, where men did not readily disclose their feelings. Even as a kid I always felt he was uncomfortable with our hugs and us telling him we loved him. Like a handshake would’ve been just fine with him. He and my dad had their hard times too, refusing to speak to each other off and on over the years for I can’t even remember what. It’s always tough when parents get divorced and one of them goes on to have another family and other children.
But still, he took us on nature walks and pointed out plants and flowers. And he was very generous when it came to gifts. Frugality is a no-brainer with Papa’s generation, but he never hesitated to spare any expense when it came to gifts. He worked like a dog his whole life. Even in his spare time he worked hard on recreational projects. Taking care of his lawn was more like a part-time job than anything else, and in fact it’s what he was doing when his heart started to give out.
When he died I hadn’t seen him since he came to my wedding six months earlier.
Yesterday, while taking Will around the house he loved so much, I held him in my arms and walked down the hallway to where a picture of Papa hangs on the wall. I looked at Will, pointed at the picture and said “Buddy, that’s your great-grandfather. That’s Papa.” Will looked at me, looked at the picture, looked back at me and then said “PA-PA!”
Clear as day, he pronounced that word better than anything he’s said so far. He did it again for Carol and she was really moved by it. And so was I.
I’m not sure why it had such an effect on me. Like I said, I was never all that close to my grandfather. I always felt like he was guarding his feelings or holding back. But at the same time I’m very proud of all his accomplishments and the kind of man he was. I’m proud that I was his grandson. And I know this may sound sexist, but I’m glad I had a boy to carry on the Gouveia name which Papa made so respected.
Will is never going to know Papa except through stories and pictures. Yet in that moment, I felt like he knew where he was and whose picture he was looking at. In that moment I felt like there was some kind of Karmic generational string tying us all together, connecting us through the years and even through death. And that feeling only got stronger as we looked through all of Papa’s old textbooks –all in Portuguese of course — from his schooldays in the old country.
I’m sure it’s true with daughters too, but I realized the importance of family and knowing exactly where you come from. I might not have agreed with how Papa handled everything, but he was a good man who demanded respect from himself and everyone around him. He valued honesty and hard work, and those are traits I want to instill in Will.
I know it was probably just Will parroting the word back to me, but when he said “Papa” I felt proud of my family and I felt like those good traits are indeed alive and well in my son. And I hope Papa was watching and listening.