I worked my way around the frame, finally landing on his eyes. His eyes. His look. I was having a staring contest with a passport photo from 1971. It was my idol and his portrait from some 40 years ago kept making me feel like a timid, confused puppy.
I stared at his picture, trying to comprehend him, a man I know so well – I think. My grandfather. Papa. His mass, his presence exuding from this simple photograph overwhelmed me. I don’t know why.
His sharp expression, matched by his crisp attire, blasted confidence. He’s a World War II vet, a B-17 pilot, a husband, a father. He’s the man. Thick tie, wide lapels, broad shoulders, a stern look, calm demeanor. Collected. He knows he’s the boss, but he’s not trying to boast. He’s not trying to do anything except get his passport photo made. It’s just how he is. Timeless.
He inspired his grandson to live up to his likeness, an adoring image you’d think maybe the kid made up in his head, but probably not when you see the photograph.
He was a tough, gritty, passionate, smart man. A husband. A leader. A guy people talked about for years, even if he hasn’t been around for a while. A man whose friend’s children know his name and admire him. Everyone around him is proud.
And now, he is frail, forgetful, tired. He shuffles around and naps and needs help getting out of his chair, but he is still alive. Very much alive. Laughing, joking, moving, living, but I don’t think the 94th birthday he had on Tuesday was his goal, nor was his 93rd or his 90th. I think making it through the war to his 23rd was though.
He lives up to everyday, meeting it the best he can, just like he has for the past nine decades. He’s seen plenty death. He’s not afraid of a good time or of the perils of life. He wasn’t scared then and he isn’t now. He still laughs a lot.