“If we know where we came from, we may better know where to go. If we know who we came from, we may better understand who we are.”
Today’s story is contributed by David Grieme.
There was something missing growing up, in childhood, in adolescence, as a man. I was missing a dad.
Coaches. Professors. Fathers of close friends. There were many important men in my life, but no one really filled the gap my biological father left.
Dad left when I was ten, after my parents divorced. But really, he was “absent” all along. At home, detached and closed. My five siblings and I seemed invisible, an inconvenience. When asked about family history, our grandparents particularly, Dad refused to answer. We were forbidden, in fact, from asking.
And then Arnold “Arne” Böcker entered my life — the father of my wife.
I was an adult when we met, but he became my role model of “Fadder” — and man. He showed me love in how he treated his wife; in how he treated his daughter, my wife. And in how he treated me — like a son.
Perhaps most meaningfully to me, and so unlike my biological father, he opened up and shared his memories, his personal history. It “gelled” on a road trip years ago. This was the father I wanted to be.
My wife, Uli, is German. Arne, obviously, was too. He first visited the United States around 1942 — as a P.O.W. He had been captured as a German soldier in North Africa.
After years in P.O.W. camps, he returned to Germany, his home, but with a newfound love of America. As often as he could, Arne and his wife visited us.
This special trip we flew to New Orleans and drove to every place Arne had spent time as a P.O.W. Clinton, Mississippi. Selma, Alabama. Fort Benning and the peach growing region of Southern Georgia. Reminiscing. Reflecting. Retracing steps.
We could tell how special it was to Arne — deeply so. And he permitted that feeling to be passed on to us, along with his memories. The beautiful, the painful, the everyday. Arne poured out his remembrances, making this one of the most special trips of my life.
I’m proud of my fathering skills today. Uli and I have two beautiful twin boys, Colin and Ian (they’re now eight).
Everything I learned about parenting from my biological dad, I learned backwards. I learned what not to do. As a child, as a teen, as a young man, I repeated the mantra to myself, “I will NEVER do that to my children.”
From my father-in-law, Arne, came the real lessons on fathering:
Being a father meant trusting. Accepting. Sharing love… and history.
It’s never too late for a father to find children to mentor — or for “children” to find fathers. I was 46 when I did.
With my boys today, I share everything I can. I make sure that I am “papa” to them in everything I say and do.
I know little of my own father’s history. But my wife and I work hard to share Arne’s memory (sadly, he died of cancer the year before the twins were born).
The emotional foundation my natural father refused me, I can reconstruct for my boys — with faith in myself … and a few lessons from Arne.
David Grieme is a corporate and transactional attorney with a focus on real estate and lending. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona with his wife, Uli, and twin boys, Colin and Ian.