Role Model Redux
February 27th, 2012

I wrote this post two years ago, right after my family all got together to celebrate my grandfather’s 90th birthday.  It was early in the life of this blog, and back then I was still a little unsure about posting publicly and had only shared the blog with a few people.  I wanted limit my exposure at the beginning until I got my legs under me.  My grandfather is a tough critic and I wasn’t quite ready for his feedback.  Unfortunately that meant that he didn’t see this post when it was originally published.

Now my grandfather is a regular reader of this blog.  And, for the record, he has been nothing but supportive.  Today marks his 92nd birthday and I thought it an apt time to republish this post so that he might have an opportunity to read it.  Granddaddy, I hope you have a wonderful birthday.  I love you.

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.

4 Responses to “Role Model Redux”

  1. BigLittleWolf Says:

    This is lovely, Gale.

    I remember that awhile back Lisa Belkin asked who our parenting role models were, particularly in the media, and I couldn’t think of any. (Long gone are the days of “Father Knows Best” and so on.)

    And I think in life it’s becoming increasingly difficult for us to identify role models in the public eye, for any number of reasons. But if we have familial role models for certain aspects of character or behavior, perhaps that’s even better. Your grandfather, for you, for example.

    I know that my maternal grandmother was a role model of womanhood for me, not in every way, but in many ways that were essential.

  2. Anne Says:

    I love reading this and thinking back on his 90th bday celebration. What a fun and special event. You capture our granddaddy so well, Gale. Happy birthday Granddaddy!!

  3. Jeff Says:

    Gale – Thank you so much for this. I’m not sure whether it makes me feel more fortunate for having your granddaddy as my father, or you as my daughter!

  4. Kathryn at Good Life Road Says:

    A really wonderful story Gale. We can learn so much, from that generation in particular, and I love to think about those values you describe so well. My Grandmother had them too in her own way, and the sense I had of her as a steady and safe harbor feels very much to me like what you describe here. So much flitting about, so much hurry, so much lack of cohesiveness easily pervades our own generations lives. I think we would hugely benefit ourselves and our babies by holding close some of these treasures of wise, gentle living that our grandparents have to teach. Happy happy birthday to your Granddaddy!