My Grandfather taught me many things. He taught me about integrity, and strength, and perseverance. He taught me the value of honest work. He taught me that listening and truly hearing is the first critical step to understanding what somebody is really saying to you. He taught me that quiet conversation over coffee at a rough-hewn table in an old farmhouse with the fire starting to crackle in the wood-stove, just as the sun is barely painting the tops of the trees on a cool morning, is the best therapy on the planet.
By far, though, the most important thing my Grandfather taught me was that family is bound by acceptance, and not DNA. Genetics are important if you are fighting over a will or you need a transplant. True family bonds are forged from shared experiences and mutual goals. They are tempered with honesty and respect, and sharpened with empathy and fond memories. No blood required.
I have three daughters. The two oldest, Alexis and Savanna, I adopted. The youngest, Madison, shares my DNA. All three of them, however, have one thing in common—they are all mine. I was always their father, regardless of whose genetic material brought them into this world. It may have been awhile before we were properly introduced, my girls and me, but that doesn't change the fact that we are father and daughters, and they are my children, and we are family.
When my father died and my mother remarried, she had Jerry and Julie, my little brother and sister. Grandpa took them in as his own grandchildren. There was never a question of lineage. He didn't care where they came from. He claimed them with no hesitation, none of this “They are my grand kids, but…” To Grandpa, Jerry and Julie were a blessing and they were family, and that was that.
Maybe that’s why I've never understood the little asides that folks toss out there when they are introducing siblings---“This is my half brother…” or whatever. Half brother, half sister, what the hell? They are your brothers and sisters, or they aren't. When it comes to family, there is no half way.
This was one of those life lessons that Grandpa taught me without every saying a word—that true love doesn't care where or who you came from. It will take you in and comfort you, it will warm you when it’s cold, simply because you have worth and you deserve to be cherished.
I don't get to sit at Grandpa's table anymore, but like that first cup of hot coffee on a cold morning, his lessons continue to sustain me.
I have the family to prove it.