How to swallow a live goldfish and other stories I tell my Son about his Grandfather

My Son is almost two years old. My Father never met him and that’s a goddamn shame. My Father loved babies and kids and they were drawn to him, his warmth and willingness (uncontrollable desire) to be goofy. Despite his constant back pain and substantial 6’4″ frame he would get down on the ground, rolling around, playing along with whatever silly reality existed in that moment.

suicide grief father daughter

A few weeks after his death I was having dinner with a few friends of his who had two small girls. After dessert the 4 year old and I went into my Father’s office to look at photos and she asked me, “are you sad because your Daddy is dead?” It was the most appropriate sentiment anyone had said to me since he had died. Most people gave uncomfortable, almost inaudible grunts of apology and whatnot accompanied by little eye contact and zero honesty. Hers was a simple question devoid of bullshit or uncomfortability and it meant so much to me. I told her, “yes, I am sad because my Daddy is dead.” She then told me, “I’m sad too because Mr. Jerry is dead. I miss him.” She was 4 years old and had summed it all up; he was dead and we missed him. She taught me a very important lesson in mourning, keep it simple. This is especially true when it comes to suicide which can make grief so much more complicated with feelings of anger, confusion, betrayal, abandonment and resentment. Small children haven’t even begun to view the world or their own emotions in these complex terms. Which is exactly why I tell my Son all about his Grandfather, I want his to be a familiar name, face and legend of sorts.

My Father’s presence will be especially missed when my Son gets a little older as his Grandfather could dad father clown prankster goofyhave taught him all sorts of awesomely icky boy tricks like blowing snot rockets, flossing ones nasal cavities with spaghetti, balancing brooms or any other random object on your nose, making lit cigarettes disappear into the palm of your hand and swallowing live goldfish. I grew up thinking it was normal to have a Dad who had a potato gun which we shot off at night just to scare the neighbors, a sport coat with sewn in magic tricks to embarrass me in front of friends, a taser which he once challenged himself to use upon his own arm (there being no one else present to accept such a challenge), a vast collection of knives, swords and other assorted weaponry both decorative and functional as well as a baby octopus in a jar of formaldehyde. Between his weirdness and my Mother’s obsession with The Rolling Stones (her collection so impressive it has won awards at county fairs, and you know that means something) it was kind of like growing up in a twisted amusement park complete with the geek, the freak and the cannibalistic vermin (my very own contribution; hamsters which ate their young).

Our home is much more tame, quite boring actually; no whoopie cushions, no animals in jars and a complete and total lack of Mick Jagger’s skinny ass. We will not be swallowing live fish or putting pasta up our noses but I will tell him all about his eccentrically endearing Grandfather and his wacky antics. Inevitably one day my Son will ask how he died and I will answer him honestly and wherever this conversation takes us I will remind him that a persons death must never define their life.

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2 Comments

Filed under I am a Mother, Memories of Dad

2 responses to “How to swallow a live goldfish and other stories I tell my Son about his Grandfather

  1. Kimberly Sanders-Smith

    So glad you’re writing again. I enjoy reading your stuff, even when it’s tough. Especially loved this one with photos of Uncle Jerry and lots of happy details. Thanks.

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