I’m 14 and scared to get on a plane. I look back at Papa. He nods to me. I feel better and get on the goddamn plane. It changed my life.
I don’t know how one look from one man has stayed with me for 40 years and long after Papa passed. He went out like a man. When he was ready to go, he physically refused to let them save him.
That’s why it changed me.
Papa was a man, through and through. It was in the way he carried himself. He was a World War II veteran who’d seen action. He quit school at age 12 and went his own way. He’d fought the fight for real. And he won. And he knew it, deep down. You’d look at this rugged individualist who’d fought and won the toughest battles in the most real way – he lived through them: the Great Depression, World War II, a gentleman outwardly, a man of few words who carried the scars of battle on his skin and in his soul. He refused to sacrifice his masculinity to the hippie 60’s, the disco 70’s, and new wave 80’s. He was a real man, and a dem-god to me.
This man was a self-made engineer with no formal education. Yet, he died with 17 patents in his name, most of which were used in the development of assembly lines in factories. When Papa got too old to chop firewood every day, he designed and built his own power log cutter.
A simple nod of confidence from such a man could change the world.