Save the Best for Last

Save the Best for Last

From Chicken Soup for the Soul Celebrating People Who Make a Difference

Save the Best for Last

We are not put on this earth for ourselves, but are placed here for each other. If you are there always for others, then in time of need, someone will be there for you.

Jeff Warner

My dad spoke softly into the phone. “Are you sure about this?” he asked.

“Yes, Dad,” I answered. “We really want you to move in with us. We all do.”

As I said those words, I flashed back in time to when I was fifteen. I had overheard a similar conversation when my parents invited Nana to live with us. But I was a typical teen—self-centered, self-indulgent, and often just plain cranky. It didn’t matter much to me that Nana became a fixture in the spare bedroom, passing the days sewing a smock or polishing her nails. Her presence didn’t bother me, but to spend hours chatting with her wasn’t high on my list.

I got the impression she felt the same. After all, she never inquired about boyfriends, recitals, or college plans. She never asked why I came to dinner with a tear-stained face, or if I ever resolved the ear-piercing issue with Mom. We simply had nothing in common. Nana passed away at the age of ninety-one. I cried by her grave as I reflected on the few good times we shared when I was a little girl. On her velvet couch, she taught me how to shuffle cards like a pro. In a kitchen that smelled like cinnamon with a hint of musty linen on the side, she served oven-fresh cookies on delicate china. I decided to keep those miniature memories close to my heart whenever I thought of Nana, but why didn’t I have any recent wonderful memories of her? We had lived under the same roof for almost ten years.

I wondered if my children would end up with good memories of a live-in grandparent. Their granddad was eighty-four years old and in failing health. How would they respond to him? How would he respond to us? Would he notice our accomplishments, problems, and daily activities? It wasn’t long before I realized Dad had no intention of hiding in a bedroom. A self-taught man and a communications junkie, he set up his computer in the family office and worked on websites, stayed in touch with friends through e-mail, and absorbed the latest trends on the Internet.

“You should know how your computer operates,” he told me. “Let me show you.”

I explained I knew nothing about my car’s engine and that didn’t keep me from using it. We giggled as we recalled that day long ago when he flipped open the hood of my first vehicle and tried to explain to me how that engine worked. Then Dad shuffled me to a computer chair and instructed me on the inner workings of my hard drive. Dad exchanged home improvement ideas with my husband, talked about tax increases with the neighbors, and often started discussions at the dinner table about the conflict overseas. “We’re heading for another world war,” he stated, and a lively debate over the pros and cons of involvement began.

Every family member from ages nine to twenty stayed long after dessert to hear this lieutenant colonel’s personal war stories built from twenty-six years of Army service. “It all started way back in 1492 . . . ,” Dad teased. We had our own living, breathing version of the History Channel, and even better yet, this historian came with a sense of humor.

On quiet evenings, Dad sat shoulder to shoulder with my college student and shared late-night snacks. “What job will you have after graduation?” he wanted to know. “Will you make enough to support a family?” I was amazed to hear my son open up and discuss his dreams with someone four times his age.

Dad subtly put in his two cents about another son’s hairstyle and lifestyle. “Want a ride to the barber?” he asked, and he wouldn’t take no for an answer. “Why do you watch that junk on television? Watch the news. Keep up with what’s happening in the world.” If I approached my son about these things, I’d get a flippant answer. This octogenarian got compliance without the attitude.

He photographed my daughter’s leaps and twirls with his newly purchased digital camera. “You’re a beautiful ballerina,” he said, eyes glowing with love. Later, he figured out how to e-mail the pictures to her so she could forward them to friends. In a note he copied to me he said, “I’m so proud of your accomplishments. Be proud of yourself.”

Dad and I talked about my youngest child’s lack of self-control. He saw me struggle with her inattentiveness but never interfered except to say, “Her problems may run deeper than you think.” He dabbed my tears and planted kisses on my forehead. I was instantly transformed into a little girl who had been empowered by her father’s tenderness.

Dad offered sage advice or mild criticism, a hug, or an ear for venting problems. We didn’t always agree, but that was irrelevant. What was important was that he chose his words wisely and spoke in nonthreatening tones that commanded attention. So we listened. We responded. It was easy to do. It was Dad’s choice to share our dreams and troubles. He made his concern for us known. He was a participant, not an observer like my Nana.

I’m grateful that history did not repeat itself, even though he was Nana’s son. My children do not yet realize how they’ve benefited from Dad’s presence in our home. He has been with us only two years, but I know our lives have been enriched. And I’m certain the memories they’ll have of this man will turn into lessons for their children one day.

Now Dad’s words are few but always caring and meaningful. As I bring him meals, and he struggles to sit, drink, and even lift a fork, he turns his once bright blue eyes to me and says, “How are you today?” I kiss his dimpled cheek and tell him about the fender bender I had earlier. He chuckles and asks, “You want driving lessons?” Forty years in the future, I may need to live with a daughter or son. I hope I can return their kindness by staying part of their lives, as my father did, and keep life rolling along until the end of the road.

Nancy Viau

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