Farfar (fɑˌfɑ) noun.
Danish for paternal grandfather.
From Old Norse fǫðurfaðir, literally “father's father”.
July 15th, 2020: I’m leaning on my porch this morning, and I see Mr. Simon strolling by on his bike. He’s a friendly old man; he used to take me out on his sailboat, and I had a cute little summer romance with his granddaughter a few years ago. I wave and crack a half-smile.
“Just a beautiful day, isn’t it?”. Mr. Simon says to me.
“Yeah Mr. Simon, it really is”.
It was a beautiful day — quietly radiating sun, wind rolling the grass in mesmerizing waves, and that perfect Maine waft of salty sea breeze filling my nostrils. Farfar had just passed away 10 minutes earlier, and I had been sitting on my porch crying. A thought passed my mind:
I hope I can die on a day as beautiful as today.
Farfar was a man of complexity, a time capsule of the hardboiled, post-Depression, cigarette smoking spirit of the 20th century. He was a photographer for the Miami Daily News, a hotshot marine pilot in the Korean War, a cocky captain for Delta, and a father of 3 rowdy boys who perfectly embody their father’s “work hard, play hard” mentality. Farfar lived unapologetically, spent and gave away his money without ever letting it control him, and found the smallest and most particular ways to savor the fleeting moment. With busted knees and bad cataracts, he’d ride bikes rustier than sunken ships like it was an afternoon treat. He drank, he cussed, and he let everyone have a special little piece of his mind when they hovered around for just too long, but he also had a distinct capacity for softness you don’t normally see in the proud men of his generation.
Years after he lost memory, I would sit quietly with him at the kitchen table, unsure if he knew I was his grandson or thought I was the bellhop at his favorite layover. I would catch his time-weathered, electric blue eyes, and, in a fluid, careful motion, he would wink at me. He winked at me a lot, and every time it was the sort of well-placed gesture that wraps you up with a warmth even a perfect summer’s day can’t quite capture. He would wink, and we’d share a short exchange:
Farfar would ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”.
I’d respond, shouting to reach Farfar’s bad ears, “A surgeon, I suppose. What about you, Farfar?”. I’d ask jokingly.
“I don’t want to grow up at all!” (He was as witty and sharp as ever).
We’d laugh, and the laugh would linger and transform into loving smiles, and those smiles would linger and transform into a peaceful, tender silence. Farfar might not have recognized me then, but he truly appreciated my company, having someone to sit with, read with, eat with, and laugh with. Above all, in those small moments, I was Farfar’s friend, which is the kind of love that feels so meaningful when it comes from someone you’ve looked up to your entire life.
Everyone in my family has a story about Farfar, and everyone tells those stories mimicking his full-bodied, velvety voice. Tales of him teasing neighborhood kids, coming home with bags of discount t-shirts from the bargain store, or finagling the price on lobsters better than any pawn star are a dime a dozen. On a walk with my dad, we ran into one of Farfar’s old neighbors. When Dad broke the news to him, he gave us his condolences, shared some more distinctly Farfar stories, and departed with a final, epitomizing thought:
Paul was friendly; he was bright; he was just a nice guy.
Farfar lived, and I mean really lived, chasing clouds and beaches and thrills and smiles, and in these last couple of months, you could just tell that there wasn’t one part of his life he truly regretted. Rather than mourn his passing, we should celebrate a life fully realized, chockfull of determination, family, love, and grit. Personally, I can only hope to die as complete and fulfilled as Farfar, well-traveled, wholly loved, and at an age where life doesn’t seem so surprising anymore. I want to work like Farfar worked, I want to fight like Farfar fought, I want to laugh like Farfar laughed, and I want to wink just like Farfar used to wink.
Farfar may be gone now, but the spirit of a life as uncompromising as his lasts long after you pass away. The people that survive Farfar, three brothers, nine grandchildren, and anyone that had the pleasure of befriending him, will carry his vitality with them forever, and they will pass it on for many generations to come. Though the heartbreak of Farfar’s death still aches, one simple idea will always comfort me: Farfar is up in the clouds now, and it’s where he belonged his entire life.
Fly high, Captain Farfar. I love you. Your grandson, Perry Jr.