By Shelley Viggiano
My youngest daughter toddled over to her grandfather, clutching a pink soft-sided book. “Will you read this to me, Grampa?”
“Sure I will, little darlin’, hop up in my lap!”
I intently watched my father read with animation about fairy tale princesses and magical kingdoms to my youngest daughter. I had seen him do this many times, and it always struck me with the same sense of awe and wonder. Who is this man who is gentle and patient and loves my children so dearly? He was new to me, a stranger when he made his first appearance in the hospital delivery room.
When I was a child, my father was a busy, stressed small business owner. To cope with the difficulties, he developed an addiction to alcohol. He visited bars and he went hunting with his friends to escape reality and, I assumed, to escape from us. Most of the time he was unavailable to my older sister and me, and when he was available he wasn’t pleasant to be with — negative, scowling, with seemingly no joy for life or desire to be a family. In my teenage years he gave up drinking, but it was too late for a bond or close relationship to form between us. Our interactions felt awkward and uncomfortable. I would always feel that there was a distance between us impossible to be bridged. But, I grew to understand that he wasn’t just my father — but also a regular man, a husband, son, brother and CEO. He had problems like anyone else would. He made mistakes, but who doesn’t? I forgave him for being absent many years ago, with the understanding that there was no way he could make it up to me. We just couldn’t go back and live life again.
However, when my oldest daughter was born six years ago, I was astonished by his enthusiasm for her. He always wanted to hold her, and as he gazed down at her, his face would light up. His eyes would crinkle when he broke out into huge grins. He showered her with kisses and hugs, coos, and little encouragements. He spoke to everybody about his special granddaughter, and showed pictures with pride. This experience was so foreign, and it made me realize that there were things I didn’t know about my dad. He loved her passionately, and called nearly every day to check on her and see when he could visit again. As she grew, and then we added a little sister, his enthusiasm for them expanded. Over the years I have seen him patiently read stories, watch cartoons, color ponies and princesses and lovingly wipe messy hands and faces. When he is with my girls, he laughs boisterously, smiles broadly, cuddles, tickles, plays games and beams with pride.
My father and I cannot go back, but the affection and attention he gives to my daughters has made a full amends for his shortcomings as a dad. In truth, it is even sweeter — we both love them so much, we share that bond of pride and devotion. I am healed through the adoration of a grandfather for his granddaughters, who loves the little girl in my heart through his love for them.
Shelley Viggiano loves her dad, and lives in upstate New York with her husband and two children.
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