As a child, I grew up hearing my paternal grandfather, Roy, described by friends and relatives as the most God-like man anyone had met. My grandfather was generally embarrassed by these remarks. Our ancestors had come from England and my grandfather was a man of modest means who easily did for others.
He drove widows to church and did their tax returns. Grandpa anonymously bought groceries for struggling families he barely knew. He kept our neighborhood kids in ice cream every summer and lent whatever he had to anyone who asked — money, car, lawn mower, you name it. He wasn’t the most talkative person and yet he spoke to everyone, no exceptions.
As their first grandchild, I was very close to my grandparents. When I had my stroke, it pained my grandfather and he had difficulty being in my hospital room. When they visited me several times a week, he’d give me a quick kiss, bring me jokes, cartoons and funny stories to read, and leave me with my grandmother. In the hospital lobby, he’d listen for hours to the ball game on his transistor radio. Though their drive home from the hospital was nearly two hours, he never pushed my grandmother to leave. Over many months they often spent the entire day with me; working around appearances from my doctors, tests and therapies. My grandfather supported my grandmother’s way of caring for me and found ways to manage his despair.
When I was newly paralyzed, I tearfully asked my father, Ron, who lived with his wife in New York City at the time, how I was going to survive with a disability. I was 19, had just returned for my second year of college and had been dumped by my longtime boyfriend. My father Ron was fairly uncomfortable having this conversation with me. My question was profound and I was very emotional. After selecting his words carefully, he told me that I had a good head on my shoulders and that I would figure my life out. I remember longing for him to tell me that he’d take care of me, that I was still pretty and I’d find another boyfriend and put my life back right side up. My father Ron conveyed to me that he didn’t have my answers. He trusted I did.
My step-father, Jim, came into my life when I was 11. He’s the kind of dad who wrestled on the floor with his five children, asked each of us to describe our day in detail and listened to almost every word and truly revered all of the homemade gifts we ever made for him. When I had my stroke, my dad Jim never missed an opportunity to hug me and remind me of my dreams. When I wanted to drive by myself to Wayne State University in Detroit for night classes, he was cautiously worried. He never told me not to do it. He knew how much my studies meant to me and helped me get my car in shape, found me a CB radio (there weren’t cell phones then) and made me promise to call him when I got home to my apartment or if I needed anything. From day one of my paralysis, my dad Jim never let me forget that I was still me.
Bob patted the back of his king-size walnut dining room armchair. He asked me to sit at the head of the long table. In his usual spot.
This was 1980, my first holiday dinner with Bob’s entire family. For the past five months I’d been dating his youngest son, Tom. As I self-consciously moved into my appointed spot, everyone stood smiling and waiting behind their chairs. Bob then took the chair to my right. His wife’s seat was across from me at the other end. As the meal commenced, all of us recognized that Bob had just shown Tom and I that he truly supported our growing relationship.
These four very different men, my fathers, showed me their love in a variety of ways. They were their better selves when I really needed them to be. As a result, they helped me become who I am. I didn’t fully know that then. I certainly do now.
Susan Odgers, a resident of Traverse City for the past 26 years, has used a wheelchair for 37 years. She is a faculty member at Northwestern Michigan College and Grand Valley State University. She can be reached via the Record-Eagle.
Hall of Fame
Congratulations to the 158 senior high school students who are among those eligible for graduation diplomas and/or certificates of completion from the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District. A big thank you to all of the professionals and families helping students with various disabilities succeed in the Adult Work Center Program, Adult Community Education Program and 5th Year Senior Program.