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Four is Too Young to Drive!

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“Papa?”

“Yes, baby?”

“Can I borrow the keys to the death star?”

“What’s the death star?”

“Mama’s car.”

“Death star, huh? I don’t know; do you have a license?”

“Yes, I have an inter-galactic drivers license.”

“Oh, yeah? That sounds impressive! Can I see it?”

“No, pa. It’s indivisible.”

“You mean ‘invisible.’

“That too.”

My four-year-old grandson, Brendan, didn’t get to borrow the car like he wanted. Sadly, I explained that putting the booster seat behind the wheel might let him see out the windshield, but it wouldn’t allow him to reach the pedals. He’d have to find another way to see Phoebe, his girlfriend.

Conversations like this are among my favorite things in the world. I love the innocence and imagination of children, and I’ve spent many happy hours with my grandson reading, playing games, and just talking with him. My father taught me long ago that time was the ultimate gift from a father to a son, or a grandson. He used to say, “You can buy a kid everything in the world, but all they really want is to feel loved and to be paid attention to.” He was a believer in the face-to-face, heart to heart talk, in truly listening to what his son was saying and providing honest answers.

Among my most cherished memories of my father are the times we simply sat and talked together. My dad told me about my grandfather Clarence who died long before I was born. He told funny stories about my aunts and uncles, and if I listened closely there was a lesson in most of dad’s stories. He never stopped trying to teach me, and to his credit I never really stopped listening to him, even when I was a hardheaded, wild-eyed teenager.

A lot of people remember special toys or their first dog or cat from childhood. What I remember, what I treasure, is the warmth of my parents’ home; the love of two people that had been together for many years and still appreciated each other; my father’s gentle laughter at something my mom would say, the glances they shared that said more than words, the simple joy of loving each other every day, good and bad. They set an example for me.

My mother passed away after a long and brave fight with cancer in 1998. She and my dad had been married for fifty years when she died. I’ll never forget watching my father during that last heartbreaking night with my mother. Knowing she had very little time left, he refused to leave her side even for a moment. He sat next to her, holding her hand, talking softly to her, stroking her hair, trying to love her as much as he could in the last moments of their life together. My mom couldn’t speak, but she would squeeze dad’s hand as he raised hers to his lips.

When my sweet, funny, charming, wonderful mother breathed her last, my dad’s hands shook as he held hers to his face. Dad said, “Mary.” I’d never heard more pain in a single word. I felt as though I were intruding on something so beautiful, so deeply moving between them, that even a son couldn’t understand or appreciate. I had lost my mom, but my wife and children waited outside the room. My dad had lost much more. The love of his life was gone, but even in his pain he reached out to take my hand as well, to reassure me.

Time is our most valuable asset. We can’t buy more of it and we can’t regain what’s lost, but we can make the most of it if we make the effort. My dad taught me the simple joy a boy can feel just by being with his father. It’s a lesson I remembered when I became a dad in the Fall of 1980. I spent a lot of time with my children as they grew, and I’m so glad I did. I couldn’t give them much in material things, but I gave them everything I had every day. It was time well spent.

I’m a Papa now, and somewhere in my world of death stars, inter-galactic drivers licenses, puppies, scraped knees, and a rough-housing grandson, the spirit of my parents lives and is cherished.

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