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Role Model
March 3rd, 2010

There are many people in the world whom we identify as role models.  Many of them are athletes.  Some are government leaders.  Others are astronauts and soldiers.  Others still are people who have overcome incredible hardship.  And all of these people certainly deserve our admiration.  But there is a different breed of role model that this collection excludes.

For all of the attention we pay to people whose stories are worthy of glossy magazine pages, the honest truth of the matter is that they probably influence our lives very little.  We may be inspired as we read about them, or watch their stories play out in front of us in the form of a collection of slow-motion clips, narrated by Bob Costas and accompanied by touching background music.  We may tear up in these moments and stand in awe of these impressive people.  But when we close the magazine or turn off the television, very few of us carry these people around with us afterward. 

Most often the people we carry with us are those whose faces we can see when we close our eyes; whose voices we can hear when we find a quiet moment.  They are people who have taught us things big and small.  They have watched us succeed and fail.  They have shown us what maturity and integrity look like at every turn.  They are the people whose lives have left an indelible impression on our own.

Because I have led a blessed and lucky life so far, I have a number of people in my life who fit this description.  But only one of them celebrated his 90th birthday last weekend.

Steady.  If I had to pick one word that describes my grandfather more than any other, it would be steady.  In today’s world where we flit about, jumping frenetically from one thing to the next, steadiness is a trait that has become increasingly rare.  Today we value speed, multi-tasking, and efficiency.  We do not always appreciate the value that is brought by doing something well or with consistency.  But such quality and consistency are hallmarks of my grandfather’s life.

For forty-odd years Granddaddy was a physician; an internist.  He was an army doctor during World War II.  And when the war ended he started his own private practice which he ran until he retired in his sixties.  Throughout his practice he saw patients in his office, made his own hospital rounds, and made house calls.  He was home in time for supper.  He has gone to church nearly every Sunday of his life.  He played tennis with my father every weekend of his teen years – rain, shine, snow, or sleet.  He took a two-week vacation with his family every summer.  He made double mortgage payments every month until his house was paid off. 

When I was a little girl I did not always appreciate these qualities.  To a child some of this steadiness can seem a little stuffy, even rigid.  He has playful moments, to be sure.  And he is always full of affection for my sister and me.  But the same steadiness he exhibits each day he also expects of those around him.  As kids we knew exactly what the rules were, and what consequences might be handed down if we broke them.  Those consequences were never more than a stern expression accompanied by a few castigating words, but they always did the job.

In my life today I notice the ways in which we embrace and endorse many aspects of our lives that don’t quite measure up.  We have starter careers and starter marriages.  We eat fast food and watch reality television.  We carry credit card debt and spend more than we save.  In light of all this I am especially thankful for Granddaddy and the example he has set for me.  Because of him I have come to value reliability and consistency, and I can see what a life looks like that has been built on decisions that were made, one after another, with stalwart integrity. 

Granddaddy has always been a little bit formal.  But this past weekend at his birthday party I watched him soften a bit.  I worked collectively with my family to create a memory book from years’ worth of photos and stories for his birthday gift.  He unwrapped the book to find a front-cover photograph of himself and my grandmother taken in their front yard in 1960.  She wore a pale blue dress with a belt cinched around her impossibly tiny waist.  He stood in shirt sleeves and a tie with his arm draped over her shoulders.  They were so obviously happy.  As he flipped through the pages he smiled and sighed.  Stories spilled from his mouth as the photos cast fresh light on memories that had grown dusty with age.

It gave me real joy to watch him in that moment.  And it inspired me to more fully incorporate into my life the values that he embodies.  Granddaddy can sit happily today knowing that he has lived his life well.  I hope that I too reach my 90th birthday someday, and that I too will be able to look back over my life with a similar sense of satisfaction.

12 Responses to “Role Model”

  1. Anna Says:

    Gale – I love this post. You have put to words (beautifully) something I have been searching for. Steadiness. What a wonderful example to have in your life. Happy Birthday Granddaddy!

  2. Anne Says:

    What a lovely tribute, Gale. I agree on all counts. In a world where things move too fast, Granddaddy has always been purposeful and deliberate. We have much to learn from folks like him.

  3. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    What a sweet shout-out to your Granddaddy. You are right; when we are young, we don’t value consistency, but it’s a noble trait.

  4. Jane Says:

    What a beautiful tribute to your Grandfather. I wish I had appreciated my grandparents more when they were alive. I miss them so much. Great post!

  5. Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities Says:

    What a thoughtful and lovely ode to a great man. I hope that he gets to read these words as I am sure that they, like that memory book, will mean so much. While that book might be seen as a nod to his past, these words are a celebration of his profound and lasting legacy.

  6. Kristen @ Motherese Says:

    Thank you for sharing this moving tribute to your grandfather. Reading your words makes me melancholy for the memories of my own grandparents, none of whom are still living. They, like your grandfather, were reminders of the importance of constancy and class in a world dominated by haste.

  7. Dad Says:

    Gale – Thank you for this post. What you have observed and so aptly described about your grandfather, is what I have seen demonstrated by him for my 60 years. No, when I was younger I didn’t always appreciate that steadiness and integrity as such wonderful assets, but instead immaturely saw them simply as “stodginess”. I’m pleased that what you could so easily see as a person with a lack of spontaneity, you instead see as role model for steadiness, consistency, and self discipline.

    I, too, hope to someday reach my 90th birthday, and when I do, I hope that IEP can say similarly flattering things about his grandfather.

    Love, Dad

  8. Eva Says:

    Thank you for sharing this with us, Gale. I’ve been very fortunate to grow up with all 4 of my grandparents – all living within a few miles of my house. I was lucky to spend a lot of time with them as a girl, and lucky to get to know them more as an adult. My Grandpa passed away in December, and it has affected me more than I thought it would. Perhaps it has pushed me to re-evaluate what I value and seek in life. And to appreciate my remaining grandparents even more, I think.

    Happy 90th, Granddaddy!

  9. Nicki Says:

    Thank you for sharing these beautiful words with us all, Gale. I do hope your grandfather reads them.

  10. becca Says:

    Beautiful Gale (and I love your dad’s comment too). My grandmother will be 97 this year and as I read your words I realized that steady is also a perfect way to describe her. I suppose it’s a generational thing… they are used to taking it slow, understanding the ins and outs and not rushing through anything. He seems like a fantastic man and I also hope you share your words with him.

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