My grandfather is the most incredible human being I know.
Strong. The strongest.
Resilient. So resilient.
Kind. Generous. And radiates so much acceptance and love for others that you can almost see it surround him like beautiful rays of pure love.
As a little girl, I followed him everywhere. Because, he invited me everywhere.
While all the other adults in our extended family were talking, cooking, working, whatever they were busy doing, my Pop was always busy with me beside him or sitting on his knee.
He spent hours telling stories, all set around farmers and talking animals that lived in the hollow of trees. Uncle Tom and Joey the kangaroo. But not just Joey-his whole family.
One day, Pop randomly called to me and said he had something important to show me. My grandparents lived out of town on a large property where my childhood was spent, connecting with the bush, playing in the dirt, admiring my Nan and all she did and hanging off every word she said. Those are the happiest memories of my life.
Pop and I jumped in the car and drove for ten minutes to a paddock. I had no clue what we were doing, but he instructed me to sit quietly and wait. And then, sure enough, a family of kangaroos came bounding out. “See”, he said calmly and with a quiet confidence “There’s Joey and his Mum and Dad and all of his brothers and sisters”.
Looking back, all of Pop’s stories had the same running themes.
Kindness. Compassion. Empathy. Acceptance. Generosity and love.
I was in awe.
I was an intense kid. Hypersensitive, quick to meltdown, ignorant to the word “No” and quietly disobedient. I talked incessantly and when asked to rest my voice, I talked to myself. I did not shut up, ever. I laid in bed late at night, asking my aunt question after question about how the world worked and why people did the things they do. I struggled to shut my brain off and demanded to know the ins and outs of how everything worked and why. I demanded food and drink during the night and so my Grandmother took to packing a lunch box and having beside the bed before I went off to sleep.
Now, as the Mum to children just like I was..I am more in awe of my Grandparents.
My Pop never lost patience with me. Not openly at least.
He never corrected me, or attempted to fix or change me. He answered every single one of my questions as hard and fast as they came and he never grew tired of me.
Not openly at least.
Many children who are on the autism spectrum go their entire lives never being diagnosed. One of the reasons for this is because their parents love and accept them unconditionally and although they are aware of their uniqueness, they are so in tune that they just don’t see their children’s behaviour or their being as ‘different’ to the point of having an explanation or label. At times, it isn’t until another person alerts them to this that their awareness changes-sometimes it’s a teacher, a paediatrician or just a friend or family member.
I share this experience with my Pop, but in a different way.
I had always known my grandfather was around whenever I heard his walking sticks. The sound of those sticks coming down the hallway was one of the best sounds in the world to me and I can still hear it now.
Pop had one leg.
I didn’t even notice.
He was just my Pop. Complete and whole and amazing-to the point where part of me probably subconsciously recognised the difference between he and I, but not to the point where I actually really thought about it.
But I do remember the first time I became aware of it.
Pop and I went for a drive into town one morning and as we parked on the street and got out of the car, a boy I went to school with was staring at my grandfather. I wondered why. I seriously couldn’t work it out..until I heard him ask his Mother “Mum, why has that man only got one leg?!” with exasperation.
I became embarrassed and angry at his rudeness. But more than anything, I was sad. I was sad for my amazing Pop that he would be seen as different and I didn’t want that for him. I didn’t want people to be focused on his missing leg before knowing how gentle, kind, wise and loving he was.
But here’s the thing. My Pop’s response was everything.
He laughed. And to the Mother hushing her son, he reassured “No, it’s alright” with a smile and a wave of the hand.
He then relayed a story about a crocodile biting it off which really excited the boy.
I watched on, in admiration for my grandfather’s resilience, but mostly in awe of his acceptance and aloofness of something that I was deeply affected and panicked by.
When we got back into the car later, he spoke to me about children and how their minds work. He reassured me again, that children are naturally curious and lack the appropriate social skills at times to understand that calling out about his missing leg may be considered impolite.
I could see he enjoyed it. He loved children and found great humour in their approach to life and tricky situations. Their lack of tact gave him a chuckle and I could see, children grounded him. Kept him real.
My grandfather taught me that day about his disability; that to him, it just wasn’t. And that to me, it wasn’t. But he taught me the importance of embracing questions and awareness in others and that showing people who we really are despite the challenges we face is what draws them to us and in turn, creates compassion and empathy.
He is an amazing human being.
Where others may have underestimated him, he excelled. He still worked, drove tractors, helped raise seven children and did all of the things everyone else does. He has survived several heart attacks and surgeries and many other painful life events-in most recent years, losing his two eldest sons.
Which takes me to my next point that reaffirms his integrity and how amazing he truly is.
My grandfather is not only a parent to five biological children, but to two step children and, no one would ever have known. His love for all of them is equal and abundant and never was there a mention of any difference. Not once growing up did I ever hear him make mention of being a step parent-another lesson passed onto me around being a step parent myself.
Everything I know and understand about children and about people in general is influenced by my grandfather. And without even knowing it, that childhood experience with him and the boy, and his openness with others still resonates with me today in my own life, parenting my own children and working with many of your children.
It was many years later after not seeing my Pop that we reconnected. Life moved forward and I grew up and moved away.
It was during one of his hospital stays after surgery in my home town at the time. I spent every afternoon in the garden with him, listening to more stories. But this time around, they were real stories.
He shared past memories with me about his Mother, and painful events during the earlier parts of his life.
And, incredibly, it was during this time that I decided to ask about his leg.
I was 30 and working as a secondary teacher at that point, and had a 10 year old daughter. And yes, it had taken me that long to ask him about his missing leg.
He told me the story and how it had affected him, my grandmother and life in general. It was my first insight into my grandfather as an adult and I was given another perspective of who he is.
An incredible, insightful, generous, accepting and loving human being.
The MOST Incredible, insightful, generous, accepting and loving human being.
You know the greatest gift he has given me?
Faith. Faith in humanity-in the goodness of people. He is the most beautiful example to me of the reality of what exists in good and kind people and for that, I am forever grateful.