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Dad's Amazing Native American Artwork: Unbroken Spirit

Updated on July 10, 2013
"Loving You" Portrait by James R. Griffin             (April 9, 1939 - July 5, 2011)
"Loving You" Portrait by James R. Griffin (April 9, 1939 - July 5, 2011)
Jim Griffin (Dad) and me.
Jim Griffin (Dad) and me.

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.

One of the last cartoons Dad drew for my son - Dad loved the Billy Crystal/Danny DeVito movie: Throw Momma From The Train
One of the last cartoons Dad drew for my son - Dad loved the Billy Crystal/Danny DeVito movie: Throw Momma From The Train

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's Hand-Made Model Car
Dad's Hand-Made Model Car
The Hanna Barbera Album that Dad got for me when I was a little girl
The Hanna Barbera Album that Dad got for me when I was a little girl

Nobody's Perfect

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

"They NEVER heard our spirit break..."
"They NEVER heard our spirit break..." | Source

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

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    • heavenleigh707 profile image
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      Heaven L Burkes 4 years ago from The Invincible Heart of Neverland

      LOVE to you dear Marry! xoxoxox Thank you so much for the kind words for my dad.

    • profile image

      marry 4 years ago

      ThanX for sharing this all gurl :) , such a sweet Man, your dad. LOVE to the daddys who are in Heaven. Unfortunately is NOT every father a Dad :( . Marry XX

    • heavenleigh707 profile image
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      Heaven L Burkes 4 years ago from The Invincible Heart of Neverland

      Thank you so much Deanomax, for your wonderful comments, and words of love for your dad too. It is nice to appreciate them while they are here. I can tell you two have a very special bond. My dad was a "jokester" too - and his laugh is one of the things I miss most. ;)

      I think we truly "grow in" to appreciating all of the things we took for granted about them as a kid. I guess that helps us understand why our kids sometimes do that with us.

      Last night I sang at a performance where I finally got up the courage to sing "You'll Never Know" (just how much I miss you) and dedicate that to my dad. Then this morning here is your comment on a Hub that hasn't had any attention in awhile. It feels like a sign from my dad too. Thank you so much!!!

      Interestingly, we called my dad "Jimmy" quite a lot - and he gave me my birth name spelling of my middle name "Lee." Great coincidence, eh? Huge blessings to your Jimmy Lee's - your dad and son!!! It's great that you give him those HUGS! Many blessings to you!!! Keep Shining. I truly believe that love lives forever. :) I'm looking forward to seeing your dad's caricatures too!!! :)

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      deanomax 4 years ago

      beautifully done...i'm sorry for your loss...i'm lucky to still have my dad, jimmy lee, although he's starting to loose his memory and has to think for a second who i am when i call...his sketches are more characature and humorous,showing his personality, always funny and joking....his art is on my hubpages...i really miss being near him....the love i have for my dad grows as i grow older...i regret not appreciating him when i was younger...and now i hug my son extra hard when i leave for work...his name is jimmy lee too.....II !

    • heavenleigh707 profile image
      Author

      Heaven L Burkes 4 years ago from The Invincible Heart of Neverland

      Thank you so much, DreamSeeker2. I'm so happy you took the time to check out my dad's work! Thank you for watching the video and voting up!

      Much love to you!

    • profile image

      dreamseeker2 4 years ago

      Wow, beautiful tribute to your dad and his art work! : ) Thank you for sharing it with us, along with your awesome video! Voted up and accordingly.

    • heavenleigh707 profile image
      Author

      Heaven L Burkes 4 years ago from The Invincible Heart of Neverland

      So kind of you! I know you're not nearrrrrrrrrrrly old enough, but you remind me of my dad in all the best ways!

      I'm so glad you had a great relationship with your dad too. Those memories sure are comforting. Nobody in the world will love ya like your dad does. :)

      Love, light and laughter to you, sir,

      ~h~

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I had to read this again; this is simply beautiful! I have similar memories of my dad, and they have often comforted me during hard times. Thank you for sharing your dad with us.

      Peace and happiness to you today and all days,

      bill

    • heavenleigh707 profile image
      Author

      Heaven L Burkes 5 years ago from The Invincible Heart of Neverland

      Beautiful BraveWarrior,

      Thank you so much! What a powerful story of your Grandmother! Thank you for sharing here. The stories are very similar, yes.

      It is so heartbreaking when you just "know" something and no one will listen to you. My heart goes out to your mother in her quest to do what she knew would be best for your Grandmother.

      Ah, I just try to realize that the way it works out - is another "best way," - somehow it can work for good. I know my dad's heart and soul were ready to move on too. "Heart and Soul" is the Elvis album I gave to my dad that we listened to together over the phone. I had to fight to get them to let him borrow a CD player - and I'm proud to say I did win THAT battle! One of my fondest memories is of my dad telling me how great that album is. He was saying that nobody could put that much into a song - and make it sound that great. I'm doing an Elvis song at the show on Monday too! ;) I am grateful that Dad worked it out so that I got that back after he ascended. I had written on it "Say Hi to Elvis for me, Dad. I love you forever."

      I surely do empathize with your mother's plight at the time. That kind of thing is hard to forget - how rudely the rest of the family can treat the one who is looking out for the true benefit for their parent.

      Much Love to you - you have many guardian angels!

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 5 years ago from Central Florida

      Wow! The first thing that hit home with me is your thought that had your dad not been moved, he's still be alive today.

      My maternal grandmother, who is part Cherokee and descendant of Stonewall Jackson, was born and raised in Kennett, MO. She had 10 kids who were scattered all across the US. It seemed everyone wanted to leave home but she and Grandaddy. When she was 90 and all her immediate kin was gone, the "kids" decided it would be best to move Grandmamma out to Arizona to live with one of my aunts. My mom protested. She believed moving "mama" from her life would kill her. My mom, being the 9th of 10 was shot down by the others and grandmamma was moved out to Arizona to live with my Aunt Peggy.

      Arizona is nothing like Missouri. Grandmamma was unhappy and out of her element, so one night she decided she wasn't going to wake up when she went to bed. And she didn't! There wasn't a thing physically wrong with her, but her heart and soul were unhappy, so she just decided to go to sleep and slip into a world where she could reconnect with her lost loves!

      K. Now for the rest of your story. Your dad's sketches are absolutely amazing! What grabs me with each one is the soul and emotion portrayed in the eyes. The physical details are amazing, but the eyes! You can see and feel the emotion of each soul he drew! Wow!

      Ok, Heaven. Seeing this, I now know the song suggestions I gave you for your dad's tribute are the way to go. The young Michael. The innocent Michael.

      "I'll be there to protect you. I'll be there to comfort you. Just call my name, I'll be there."

      Love,

      Shauna

    • heavenleigh707 profile image
      Author

      Heaven L Burkes 5 years ago from The Invincible Heart of Neverland

      Thank you so much for your wonderful comment, KatrineDM.

    • profile image

      KatrineDM 5 years ago

      A beautiful, touching hub. Your father was a wonderful person, and will always be for he lives in you, and through you...

    • heavenleigh707 profile image
      Author

      Heaven L Burkes 5 years ago from The Invincible Heart of Neverland

      Thank you Dio. You're making me cry. I wish I'd taken care of him better - but I also know he was so sad that he wanted to go. Thank you for your kind words. (And thanks for looking out for me at key times in my life). I believe my dad is looking out for me now too - and won't let those that destroyed him, hurt me.

      So much love to you, my sweet friend! xo

    • profile image

      Dio 5 years ago

      This is so beautiful honey. What a lovely remembrance of, and tribute to, your father. He was so very talented, and so are you. Unfortunately he didn't have as many people looking out for him as you do, but he was very fortunate to have such a loving daughter.

    • heavenleigh707 profile image
      Author

      Heaven L Burkes 5 years ago from The Invincible Heart of Neverland

      Thank you so much. That means a lot to me. I miss my dad so much. You remind me him - (only much younger of course). ;) Your kind way of encouraging others, and your genuine concern is a wonderful blessing to those around you - and the world at large. That ripple effect really works! :) Thanks again. My dad "woulda" liked you a lot!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Wow! Your dad was incredibly talented! I am sorry for your loss...but...what a wonderful father you had for those years. What great memories, what a fantastic legacy....and his daughter turned out pretty darn special. :)

    • heavenleigh707 profile image
      Author

      Heaven L Burkes 5 years ago from The Invincible Heart of Neverland

      Larry Rambo, Thank you so much for your comment. It means so much coming from someone who knew my dad. I really appreciate your kind words. :)

    • profile image

      larry rambo 5 years ago

      Heaven, thanks for writing this very touching and soulful piece. What a legacy your dad has left us, and I'm grateful that you share his gifts with us. I was very moved by the video and your soaring singing. I echo what Sunshine said: Please continue to share your memories with us. Much love and respect to you.

    • heavenleigh707 profile image
      Author

      Heaven L Burkes 5 years ago from The Invincible Heart of Neverland

      Thank you so much for your comment, Moonlake. No Dad is perfect, but it is nice to remember the endearing things about them. That is a wonderful memory of your dad's concern for you. Thanks so much for voting up. :)

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 5 years ago from America

      Beautiful hub. Love your Dad's artwork and your singing. My Dad was not always the eastiest person to live with but when we were sick he would pull up a chair and sit in our rooms all night watching over us. I think he worried if he walked out we would pass away. I believe my Dad may have been bi-polar. Voted up on your hub.

    • heavenleigh707 profile image
      Author

      Heaven L Burkes 5 years ago from The Invincible Heart of Neverland

      Francesca27 your Aunt sounds wonderful! The stars of yesteryear are my favorite!!! Thank you so much for your kind comment. :)

    • heavenleigh707 profile image
      Author

      Heaven L Burkes 5 years ago from The Invincible Heart of Neverland

      GirishPuri, Thanks so much for your kind comment about my dad's work - and for voting up! :)

    • Francesca27 profile image

      Francesca27 5 years ago from Hub Page

      I didn't have a loving father, however, I have a loving Aunt and I have to look up movie stars from the 1930's and 1940's for her. I've learned much from her about the great movies of yesteryear and will always hold the memory of our star search moments dear to my heart. You did a good job telling us about your talented father.

    • girishpuri profile image

      Girish puri 5 years ago from NCR , INDIA

      An excellent tribute to your father, he was a true artist, God blessed you the best dad, great hub, voted up.

    • heavenleigh707 profile image
      Author

      Heaven L Burkes 5 years ago from The Invincible Heart of Neverland

      Angelme566, Thank you so much! When I say my dad is still "right here," I mean in spirit. He passed away one year ago today. I have so much empathy for you! I love your Hub about your daddy! Big Hugs to you! :) We will get through somehow. I believe your daddy is still with you in spirit too. :)

    • Angelme566 profile image

      Angelme566 5 years ago

      Nothing outstanding write ups for me but those write ups about dad . This hub made me weep and miss dad so much. How great is your dad..Just like mine..but good for you , your dad is still around mine is already up there.

      No other best man in this world but dad , truly you and i were blessed with the best dad , not everybody are given such blessing right ? Let us live with what dad left and taught to us .

      A class A hub , so comprehensive , with a heart..Voted all except funny and shared !

    • heavenleigh707 profile image
      Author

      Heaven L Burkes 5 years ago from The Invincible Heart of Neverland

      Made me cry, Mike. "You carry his soul." I hope so. I hope people can see my dad in me. :) Thank you so much - *still crying*

    • mckbirdbks profile image

      mckbirdbks 5 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Your Dad was a true artist. He may have made a leaving as a sign painter, but his talent is exceptional. You carry his soul, you can hear it in your song.

    • heavenleigh707 profile image
      Author

      Heaven L Burkes 5 years ago from The Invincible Heart of Neverland

      Thank you so much, Sunshine625! Sending healing energy to you too, because I just know we will NEVER stop missing them. So wonderful to have your kind support and wisdom from experience. :)

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 5 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Heaven, Thank you for sharing your dad's journey with us. Your tribute is as wonderful as you told us your dad was. Your video is beautiful. So many firsts when we lose someone, then seconds and thirds. Continue to share your memories and you will be just fine (spoken from experience). Sending you positive thoughts:)