Dad's Amazing Native American Artwork: Unbroken Spirit
Missing You for One Year - Loving You Forever
My dad and I loved classic movies. In the last year of his life, we spent hours on the phone and happy times visiting together in the care facility where he lived. He would call me sometimes just to ask me to "Google" a certain movie title. He needed to find the name of a particular actor that he was thinking of. We could talk on the phone for hours and find so much to laugh about. In the last months of his life, he seemed to say he loved me in a more poignant way than ever. Looking back, it seems that he somehow knew that his time was short. But I didn't know on a conscious level. He seemed to be getting better physically, and at least when we were together, his spirits seemed high.
I was totally unprepared for him to be tricked into leaving his hometown of more than 25 years, all of his familiar doctors and caregivers, and most of his family members. I believe that if he hadn't been moved so far away and so suddenly, he would still be here today. But that wasn't meant to be.
Through the years, after I moved away from home, Dad had an endearing tradition of calling me to let me know when a celebrity had passed away. When I was a teenager (still at home) I remember hearing on the radio that Elvis had died. I called Dad to console him, because he loved Elvis dearly. I was really sad when I realized that Dad hadn't heard yet. I felt bad that I would be the one to tell him.
I remember having the strangest feeling about a week after my dad passed away. While walking around at a grocery store, through misty eyes I tried to look at my list in order to focus on things I needed to purchase. A random thought went through my head - that my dad should have called to let me know that Jim Griffin had died. But Jim Griffin was my dad. At that moment I felt completely lost and alone.
Dad Always Made Friends So Easily...
If you are lucky enough to have a dad like mine, you understand how it feels to know that there is at least one person in the world that thinks you are very special. I didn't even realize the extent of the power of his gift to make me feel loved - until he was gone. There's no one that can compliment you or be proud of you like your dad can - when he's got that special gift. My dad had that gift.
My dad got along with most everyone he met. He was in a few different Nursing Homes and Care Facilities throughout the years, and the people caring for my dad always told me how much they liked him. He would do caricatures for friends and roommates. He always made friends easily.
I once thanked a young man - at one of the care facilities - for his help in taking care of my dad. I mentioned my dad's name, and the guy told me to please wait - he wanted to show me something! He quickly dashed off and just as quickly returned. He was proudly holding a caricature that my dad had drawn of him wearing a great fedora hat! When I complimented him on his cool hat, he told me that my dad had liked it too - and wanted to draw him wearing that hat. The guy was in his early twenties. He was clearly impressed with my dad's work and his friendly personality. He told me that he really liked my dad, and his smile proved it.
A Tender-Hearted Grandpa
I never dreamed, when my dad was working on a series of Native American themed portraits years ago, that the song I wrote and recorded to go along with the portraits would become somewhat biographical about my dad too.
My dad had a lot of things taken away from him. Somehow, I think he must have known that he wouldn't have much to leave to me.
But I didn't care. I focused so much on cooking dinners for him, or getting him special treats to take to him in those last few months. I didn't pay any attention to the fact that he didn't have any of his portraits up in his room anymore. I guess I thought he would get them back at some point. I knew nothing of what was going on "behind the scenes."
He loved food - a lot. I think it was his one bright spot and comfort in his later years, yet he was not overweight. He loved to eat - and I loved seeing him happy.
I once took my son to visit him, and per Dad's request, stopped off at Wendy's for the special sea salt fries - getting lots of extra ketchup packets for Dad in the deal. I told the person at the drive-through window, "My dad really likes his ketchup."
I got my son some fries too that day, to eat with his grandpa. Once in a while I would supplement Dad's (what he called) boring meals at the homes. Watching my dad and my son enjoying their fries together is a memory I will always treasure. I'm not sure who got more ketchup on their face. They both seemed like happy kids. My Dad never lost the ability to celebrate the kid in himself.
He could always make me laugh. I know my kids miss his sense of humor too, and the way he took genuine interest in things that were important to them.
My daughter Jasmine didn't expect her grandpa to remember how much her favorite female singer Selena, meant to her. He didn't usually listen to Latin recording artists. After Jasmine told Dad of her admiration for Selena, he would talk to her about shows he watched on the subject of the singer's life, and ask Jasmine questions about her. He loved hearing Jasmine sing Selena's songs and would request them when we went to visit him. She also told me that the last time she spoke with my Dad, he talked with her about a Father's Day card she had sent to him when she was 9 years old. He remembered what it looked like and how much it meant to him, even 11 years later. That kind of thing means so much to a grandchild. Thank you, Dad.
Dad's Many Talents
When it came to artwork, my Dad was a genius. He started out taking an art course in cartooning, then began doing serious pencil drawings for friends. He hand-lettered trucks in his hometown in Southern Illinois, and soon had people coming from miles around to get their trucks lettered by him. Kids would gather 'round to watch his steady hand and mesmerizing style.
He also hand-built miniature cars - actually copying them from the originals as accurately as possible - down to the smallest details. The stock-car drivers that he admired, were impressed as heck when they saw their cars in miniature!
He gave me one of the original models he had made in his teens or early twenties. I treasure this one with all my heart!
Dad had his struggles with Bi-Polar and bouts of depression. It's a common thing amongst very artistic people. Genius is often touched with madness. My dad and I both loved (and discussed) this favorite quote from the Tim Burton "Alice In Wonderland" movie:
Hatter: "Have I gone mad?"
Alice: "I'm afraid so. You're entirely bonkers. But I'll tell you a secret. All the best people are."
My dad loved hats. I loved my dad.
Dad's Native American Portraits
A Project We Did Together:
When Dad told me in 1992, that he was doing a series of Native American themed portraits - I got inspired to write a song with the same theme "Unbroken Spirit" - which led to recording an entire CD. Dad always encouraged me with my music. When he would tell me that he felt bad because he couldn't sing very well - I would tell him that he could sing a lot better than I could draw! That made him smile.
If you've read any of my other Hubs, you'll know that I don't really agree with the concept of "death." Like his mom before him, my dad has found ways to get through from his world to show me signs that he is still with me in mine. Signs. Dad should be good at that. He never became the well-known, highly paid artist he dreamed of being. He did portraits while also running a sign business, "Sign Dynamics."
In the last months of his life, Dad and I were paying attention to spending time together, while someone else was paying attention to tricking him out of most of his life's work - his precious portraits. I believe that justice, probably quite poetically, will one day be served.
After he'd been tricked into moving, he knew he'd made a terrible mistake. He called to tell me so. I sure hated to be right on this one. Dad longed for one last adventure. He'd been treated so badly by someone he'd trusted for so long. He was hurting, and I understand why he made such a bold move. Someone had taken fatal advantage of his fragile mental state. He wanted so much to come home to be with me and my sister. She had also helped to care for him through the years. We both had begged him not to leave. Sadly, the airplane ride, as I had warned those responsible that it would, had done irreversible damage to his ailing heart. He was gone, just 6 weeks after being carelessly moved out-of-state. I've grappled with forgiveness - and forgiveness is the only way. I believe that with all my heart, but in cases like this, it ain't easy.
I hope you enjoy Dad's drawings accompanied by my song. We never actually put them together in a video before. My daughter Jasmine agreed to help me with this to honor her grandpa on the one-year anniversary of his death, July 5, 2012.
Some might say that my dad didn't leave me very much.
I say - he left me everything that is most important. He left me the assurance of knowing that I was loved and cherished by him. What could be more important than that?
I wish everyone could have a dad like mine - the best "crazy" guy I've ever known. I miss you Dad, but I also know you're right here. Right here. Call me crazy...it's okay...the best people are.
Unbroken Spirit - Artwork by James R. Griffin
Heaven Leigh's CD: Faith in You
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