'Go ahead and make yourself irrelevant'

In January of 1999, I was 18, young, proud, and thought myself intelligent. Maybe 2 things have changed since then, time, and my “independent” mindset.

Pardon me if this diary seems a bit scattered. I am attempting to process a lot of my thoughts and emotions as the Man that had the greatest impact and most influence in my life passed away 2 minutes to the midnight hour last night. My Grand-Dad was the primary father figure in my life growing up as my parents were divorced while I was at the tender age of 5 and a great distance divided me from day to day interaction with my father.

My maternal Grand Dad (a.k.a, Grandpa B. or Dr. Beckstrom) was by trade an educator. However he will always be known for his gentlemanly qualities, his patriarchal legacy, his historical knowledge of all things in his hometown, his work ethic, and of course his wisdom and charitable nature. His father left him a legacy that he was always happy to reminisce. I hope to do him justice and relate it to the purpose of this blog.

Grand-dad grew up in the great depression, he knew the value of hard work and maintaining a reputation through merit and goodly nature. He always said that they never really knew it was the great depression, because they just worked through it as a family, and the community took care of each other. My grandmother had 12 siblings, they raised chickens, had a milk cow, and worked in a vegetable garden while all the boys pitched in. Grand-dad became a permanent fixture around that home as he couldn’t resist my great-grandmother’s cooking which was passed on to my grandmother. It was something he spoke of with joyful revelry.

As such, he never missed an opportunity to teach a lesson by history. On one such occasion as he was reminiscing about his times at my grandmother’s home. At this time I was the age of 16 and and currently attending driver’s ed to gain the mobility of having a personal driver’s license. On that occasion he turned and told me ‘You know son, when I was your age, I was engaged to your grandmother’… that was his way of relating that you’re never too young to take on responsibility, it was also his way of suggesting that I shouldn’t act like the other 16 year old punks of my generation.

‘Dadsy’ was always one to invite people to come along to his way of thinking in a special sorta way. Knowing my proclivity to argue a point until my opponents became so frustrated that they either clammed up or went about feeling personally abused, he’d gently remind “Justin, you can’t win a pissing battle with a skunk’. Which to me was his way of letting me know that when arguing I should know when its going to do some good, or when I should just avoid the contention all together.

Grandpa B. was ‘grandpa’ to just about ever vagrant neighborhood child or hoodlum that ever dared to clean up enough to sit at the Sunday table and enjoy the best that Granny B had to offer by way of mashed potatoes, gravy, a roast, and various salads, vegetables and deserts. Every Sunday may as well have been a Thanksgiving feast. So pardon me if this seems a little nostalgic… but I always was the lucky one to sit to his left, as Granny B sat to his right. I assume he had me there as I was ‘that one’ that needed the under table kick to the shin, or knee grab, to remind me to be polite and bite my tongue before opening up an unpleasant mood with my unbridled boisterous tongue. That table was a place for all types of discussion that ranged from politics, philosophy, religion, and probably most importantly, it was an opportunity for Grand-Dad to learn what what going on in the lives of each attendant, so he could know just what each individual needs may be. He once told my sister in a time of desperation and self-destruction that ‘there would be no empty chairs at our table’ which was his way of letting the rest of us know through her that Grandpa doesn’t give up on anyone, and neither should we.

Grand-Dad was a lay minister and Bishop in his local congregation for a period of time between 1973-1979. He was respected for his faith and his willingness to serve and give of himself. He fulfilled assignments with dutiful glee and was always willing to pitch in and help. At the same time he was working as a principal at an elementary school in the public school system, as well as going to school for his doctorate in English. He obtained his Ph.D the very day after he was released as Bishop in his lay ministry. He said to me ‘Son, if ever you wish to accomplish anything, make sure you’re busy doing the Lord’s work simultaneously, and it will get done.’ Again, his way of letting me know that faith matters a great deal, and that when we ‘seek first the Kingdom of God, then all these things should be added unto [us]’.

Grand-dad’s wisdom had a far reaching effect in each of us, he was loving, kind, and respectful. He wasn’t afraid to say it plainly, but again did so in a way that made you think twice about the state of ground you stood upon. One such occasion to which my opening paragraph alludes to. As a peculiar 16 yr old, I was interested in national politics. It started in 1992 when my mother showed absolute devastation at the loss of the election for Republicans and re-election for President George H.W. Bush. At 12 years of age, I remember my mother aghast at the thought of Bill Clinton becoming our president (clearly Grand-Dad’s influence had made strong impressions on my mother, which in turn made a strong impression on me).

From 12 to 16 I paid an inordinate amount of attention that any teenager would to national politics and goings on of wars, and rumors of wars, famines, pestilence, earthquakes in diverse places, and of course all other signs that I felt my generation would need to be ready to lead on. I don’t know why this innate feeling took such a hold on my heart, but I believe it was the product of the environment I was raised in.

I remember clearly having a discussion in the fall of ’96 prior to the election. For some reason, I think I had espoused the attitude that Bob Dole was too old (hey I was 16)… At the same time I thought Ross Perot seemed to speak to libertarian principles that I felt were constitutional in nature. I made some mention to Grand-Dad that I think more people should embrace the independent and ditch Bob Dole and the Republican party. Grand-Dad smiled at me and said, ‘Good luck with that’.

2 years later I was 18, and 1998 didn’t bid as well as expected come November for the Republican party. There was not a grand political capitalization for Republicans. In my haughty mind I felt like Republicans deserved the disappointment as I was quickly becoming a libertarian-independent. Grand-Dad volunteered at the senior citizen’s center as a tax preparer. He assisted me with my taxes that year, and the question came up, “Do you want to have $2 donated to the political party of your choice”. I told him ‘no’. He began to explain to me that it didn’t come out of my return and I ought to check it yes for the Republican party. I told him I didn’t care, and that my answer was still ‘no’ as I had developed a dislike for money in politics. He asked me why, and as I explained to him that nobody ought to get money from revenues to support their political agendas, it just seemed to me like they could raise 2 dollars somewhere else, and Republicans especially didn’t need my help. I still feel that way about donating money to a party. However, he asked me why I wouldn’t help Republicans, I told him that I felt like they were too far removed from constitutional principles of limited government and that independents would help steer this country back on track, and I preferred to be unaffiliated with any party. To which he smiled and said ‘Go ahead and make yourself irrelevant’. Which was his way of letting me know that I wasn’t as up on the matter as my suppositions had led me to believe.

There never was a further word in that conversation. It did lead me to questioning the ground that I was pretending to stand upon. Since then I’ve tried to be self-aware of the things I am ignorant of, and to not make assumptions or allow presumption to determine the outcome of my heavy opinions. He has taught me to be honest in my heart, and to espouse the cause that would both align my mind and my heart, and until they are aligned, the matter may not be so etched in stone.

In the last week when he had his first stroke, I attended to him at his bedside for a few days along with other family members. He was still capable of limited conversation, and was quite clear about his simple desires. He demanded cleanliness asking for a shower and for someone to please comb his hair while waiting in the emergency room for diagnosis, this man a fan of the Aquanet product, always had his hair perfectly straightened. He continually asked for a taste of his beloved Diet Cherry Dr. Pepper (to which we were able to sponge a taste at first, but we were instructed that we could not allow him to sip for fear of his receiving pneumonia if the beverage went down the wrong pipe). In one final lesson of personal liberty and empowerment of the will of the individual, Grandad and I found one another alone. He asked for a sip of his beloved drink. I warned of the risk, to which he was willing to take, as I went ahead and snuck one sip of his drink when nobody was looking. I declared, this is our secret grandpa, I’m sure the nurses and the family would run me out and run me down if they knew I was ignoring the doctor’s orders. I told him that I was sorry I couldn’t allow him to have more… In many ways we were connected by mindset, and I believe we both knew his time was limited regardless of any risk. After his parched throat was relieved with his favorite artificially sweetened beverage. He clearly stated to me… ‘Don’t ever apologize for being a good Samaritan’. Which was his way of letting me know that in life, we have simple pleasures, and sometimes it’s O.K. to ‘lighten up’.

I am ever grateful for his legacy and his attendance to my needs as a patriarch, a mentor, a father figure, and most importantly as one who loved me perfectly enough to remind me in gentle ways how I err. I am comforted by the knowledge of the resurrection, and my faith in Jesus Christ, I am most grateful and look forward to the day when I shall be re-united with this great man. And from now until that day, I will continue to espouse the issues and the causes that align both my mind and my heart, and fight the good fight. Conservative in the primary, Republican in the general. My how we learn when we’re willing. Thank you Grand-Dad.