You are one of the most amazing people in my life, and I don't know where to begin without simply saying thank you.
In our small, rural town of less than 2,000 people we were a clan with you as our patriarch. Mom and dad bought the house across the street from you and grandma, while Uncle Jack and Aunt Sue bought the home three-doors down.
As a child, I remember you taught me to stop and look both ways before I crossed the street. I was in always in a hurry. I wanted grandma's homemade apple pie, to sneak a Werther's Original together before dinner without grandma knowing or to hear story-after-story about your childhood.
Looking back, my favorite stories were actually life lessons that you wanted to instill in me without my knowing. To name a few, you told me about selling papers door-to-door for pennies, helping your parents on the farm, uncle Jack's service in Vietnam and how you courted Grandma back when you two were in high school. I could go into great detail on each of your stories, and what each has taught me, but I want to focus on the one that means the most to me: you and grandma. The two of you have been together for more than 60 years emanating nothing but unconditional love for one another. That love continues to be intertwined among our entire family.
I can't look back and recollect a single moment where I didn't feel loved by you or anyone in the family. When I was in preschool you retired and became a school bus driver so you could be there to pick Hope and me up from school. You saved all the money you made from being a school bus driver to take us on our first vacation to none other than Disneyworld! I was about eight years old and it was the first time I could remember leaving rural farm land. I remember being most fascinated by the Disney monorail that shuttled people from the parking lot to the amusement park. It was a futuristic train unlike the freight rails that came through our town.
You also spent your extra money trying to provide small odds and ends we could not otherwise afford. You turned a supermarket end display into a five floor Barbie house for Hope. She didn't want to share it with me, but you made her. I vaguely remember this being an issue in the family because I “should have” been playing with GI Joes. I didn't want anything to do with those GI Joes and you didn't care either. I still got my fix of "boyish" things like playing the used drum set you bought and refurbished for me; baiting hooks with live worms at the cabin every summer and crafting Pinewood Derby Cars with dad in your basement.
During the majority of my youth I didn't truly gasp what being gay meant. I can't even recall the word being in my vocabulary. We rarely watched television, our internet was set at 32K dial-up, my student peers capped out at 64 and being gay had no place in our predominately conservative, religious community.
I do remember always being attracted to other boys. In the 1st grade I taped photos of guys in magazines up in my bedroom. In the 2nd grade I ran from girls that were interested in me. In 4th grade I told a boy I liked him. The latter incident spread like wildfire through my small school and I was left thinking that my feelings were not ok.
One of the biggest turning points of my life came during freshman year of high school. I had my first "girlfriend," although I refused to kiss her or even hold her hand. At Thanksgiving dinner you announced to the entire clan, including our extend family, that you were "…happy that I had my first girlfriend because you thought I was gay." The room went silent. You weren't finished, though. You continued with, "But if you were gay, it wouldn't matter. We all would love you no matter what."
Skip ahead to college when I was submerged on a campus of 25,000 undergrads. It was there that I finally started coming to grasp with being gay. I dropped out of school from anxiety and depression my second year. You knew something was wrong and that's when I told you I was gay. I thought my world was going to end by verbalizing those words, and you only cared about me getting back in school and being happy regardless of what gender I found attractive.
Now that I am out in San Diego you continue to be a pillar for me to lean on. When we Skype on Saturday mornings you ask me how I'm doing at work; if I'm making friends; whether I am lonely. You end every video call reminding me that you love me.
Throughout my life you taught me many things that have helped me become who I am today. As you recently said when we video chatted, "You look like you're getting old. I'll have to start calling you a man now and not my little boy."
Well, grandpa, your little boy has become a man, and he’s embarking on making a positive change. I love you and thank you for everything you have done for me.