My grandfather died when my father was 5 years old. Things weren’t good in pre-war Germany in 1934, my grandmother living in Protestant Northern Germany with 2 small children was under pressure to remarry a good Catholic. She did, a proper gentlemen stiff and formal.
War raged thru Germany, at the height he and his 2 sisters were shipped separately to the countryside to live with strangers, away from the bombs. After the war, my father wanted to adventure about, live by his wits, wasn’t much in Germany to hold him there. But his step father demanded he stay and he did, at least for a while. A few years later a big fight ensued and my father took off for Canada. A new start.
He didn’t see his family again. Too mad at them to make up and too proud to call for help. Stubborn German. It wasn’t easy, my father with poor English was at one point part of a crew roving the countryside repairing telephone poles. But slowly he made his way, got married, found a good job and had his own family which included me and my brother.
My father was proud of his heritage and talked often about Germany and his boyhood life. For us, kids, it was like listening to an adventure show about some foreign far off place. He dutifully wrote his parents each week. At Christmas and birthday, my brother and I each received a short greeting note in the mail written in beautiful script handwriting.
I also asked my father why he never went back home or at least called. He always responded it was too far, too expensive and we were poor. A telephone call? How do even begin a conversation after 20 years. I thought a simple “hello” might be a good starting point.
In high school, I grew tired of the farce and worked a summer & fall to earn enough money to buy my father an airplane ticket to Germany which I presented to him at Christmas. I told him to go get me some new German stories. He was truly touched.
I was pissed though about the whole situation. How could my grandparents not want to see their grandchildren or their son for that matter? So I wrote my grandparents a long letter basically telling them in straightforward English what shits they were and as far as I was concerned they simply didn’t exist. Nonetheless, they needed to kiss & make up with their son who I was sending over to them.
After a few weeks, my step-grandfather sent me a long letter professing horror at the tone of my writing from such a young man and how disrespectful I was. He said as a courtesy to me “he wasn’t going to tell my father”. 30 years later I still have his letter. About this time, my father was explaining that the grandparents couldn’t come to the airport to meet him, too far away, too early in the morning. I had no idea of the logistics, Germany looked like speck on my map, but it sounded like bullshit to me.
Damn. I wrote yet another letter to my grandfather, basically tell him in no uncertain terms that it was impolite not to meet my father at the airport after 2 decades and failing that he could expect me to be the next person to step off the plane. I explained that if he had thought World War II was bad, to get prepared, I was going to be a whole lot worse.
So on a crisp April morning at 7 a.m. as the plane landed in Frankfurt, my step-grandfather waited patiently for the arrival of my father. Due to the distance, my grandfather had boarded a train at 4 a.m. to reach the airport on time. The reunion was wobbly to start, but it soon found a footing. My father and brother visited my grandparents several times after that and my father has a close relationship with his sisters once again.
I never met my grandparents, they both died within weeks of another some 5 years later. F*ck ’em.
We get wrapped up or encumbered in our own processes and self imposed barriers. I manage to results. I don’t give a shit who you had to kill or how much broken glass you had to crawl across. I only care that you made it to the finish line.
I get pissed at myself periodically for failing to manage myself. The answer to most problems usually is quite obvious. We just don’t like the answer, so out come our processes and barriers to prevent success. What tactics you use to accomplish your goals are almost immaterial. All the strategy in the world can’t help you if you never execute.