My grandfather and I couldn't have been more different. Separated by 64 years, he was a staunch Republican, me a loyal Democrat. He was a patriotic veteran of World War Two and I a former partisan Capitol Hill staffer. We were never particularly close; and to say that he was stubborn would be an understatement. But, he was who he was -- and made no apologies for it. Unfortunately, he died just about a month shy of his 97th birthday earlier this year having lived a long and richly filled life.
Both of my parents died my senior year of high school so my grandparents were really among the few left in my life. I may have been living in California, but Long Island was my second home. While growing up, every summer my brother and I would board a plane to spend time in Syosset with Sophy and Arthur -- my grandparents. Then it may have felt like the longest three weeks of any summer, but those windy fishing trips, afternoons at Jones Beach and dinners at Friendly's have shape my life.
As I grew older and moved to the East Coast for graduate school and my career, it was easy to visit them. At first, I was pulling into Lewis Lane every few months. But, as my grandmother got sick, I made the trips more frequently. My grandfather was relatively in good health, but watching his wife progressively get worse worried him. For the first time, my grandfather took care of her -- paying the bills, organizing the household and even cooking. For a company man of the 1960's, this was a true role reversal.
Sadly, my grandmother passed away during the summer of 2008. I was out in Denver working on the DNC, so after the closing speeches, I hopped on a plane to New York. My grandfather was now alone -- and while his intention was to outlive her, he constantly feared what was next. It was then I decided to be there more for him -- and the trips to Long Island turned into once every five-to-six weeks. I took care of paying the bills and ensuring his last years were spent on his terms in his own home. On my weekend visits, he would talk about growing up in Brooklyn, getting married and serving in the army -- each story underlined with life lesson about the present. They were interesting, historic and most importantly, inspiring. He had accomplished a lot during his long-life and his stories were emblematic of that.
In his nineties and alone, he looked forward to my visits telling his live-in aides that
Kristofer is coming ... my grandson will be here soonI honestly looked forward to seeing his face when I walked through the door. He would look up like he was pleasantly surprised, cracking just a small grin; but I knew deep inside it was the highlight of his week.
His health quickly started to fail -- he was walking and talking less despite a hearty appetite. On an afternoon during one of our visits, he asked me to take him for a drive through Oyster Bay -- a town transformed since he and Sophy first moved to the area. Driving down the long curvy streets, there would be another story about years past with a new teachable moment.
My grandfather and I may have been miles different, but the life lessons he sublimely taught me have made me the person I am today. His gitty anticipation for my visits with lunch at Red Lobster followed by our dual haircuts at the local barber was time cherished by us both. It may be sad to say, but I didn't fully realize this until he was gone. In many ways, my grandfather had more of a profound effect on my life than my own father.
On Father's Day, I salute you, Artie, and fathers and grandfathers everywhere for being who they are and making an impact in their own special way.
Follow Kristofer Eisenla on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kriseisenla