The Man You Never Knew


I write these words to you just days before what we recognize as the anniversary of your Opa’s passing, this year marking 11.

I do not know if you will read these words when you are old enough to read and understand them, if you will read them after I leave this world or perhaps never read them at all.

As I’ve tried to do on a few occasions each year since Opa passed, I wanted to write something in his memory as a tribute to the life he lived, much of which has been mostly therapeutic for me as a way to handle losing him.

Your brother, Jackson, had only recently turned 3 when cancer took Opa from us. Due to both Jackson’s age at the time and his autism, I don’t know that we’ll ever truly know how much Jackson remembers Opa.

Which means that one of the greatest tragedies of your life is that you never knew him at all.

I am so sorry for that.

This post is just a few of my thoughts on what I believe you may have missed out on by not having him around.

First, know that for the three years of Jackson’s life, the man the world knew as Paul and that I knew as Dad, absolutely loved being an “Opa”. If he were still here today, he would have loved having not one, but two boys to be a grandfather to.

Like you, Opa loved technology. He was endlessly fascinated by what could be done with computers, smartphones and televisions. He would have loved to see your curious mind and the things that grab your attention.

As someone who understood science more than the average person, he would have encouraged your fascination with science experiments and how you are able to bring them to life. He would have challenged your mind to continue and find answers to the questions you think of.

Opa would have been thrilled that you, like so many of us in your family, also take a liking to music. Not just listening to it, but picking up instruments and trying to find the one that resonates most with you. Opa played guitar and bass and he gifted me with his acoustic guitar many years ago that you still see me play. I have arguably written more songs on that guitar than any other instrument. It holds more than just sentimental value to me, it’s part of my own history as well.

He would have encouraged you to keep exploring, to keep finding your beat and your rhythm in more ways than one so that, at the very least, you could contribute the beauty and magic of music to this world (even if it’s solely for your enjoyment).

Opa would have known the ways to get you to channel your intelligence. He would help you understand your curiosity so that the world around you keeps you searching and pondering but forces you to think of not only problems, but solutions as well.

Perhaps one of the greatest gifts Opa gave to me, which he undoubtedly would have shared with you, was the gift of tolerance and acceptance. Opa saw everyone as his equal, no one was beneath him. This went for all colors, all cultures, all beliefs, all backgrounds. He only ever wanted to expand his understanding of who people are, what they stand for and learn, to the best of his ability, to see the world through their eyes and not just his own.

We live in a world that tests those abilities and not everyone will be kind to you (or to each other). Opa would have helped you understand that we don’t all have to be in agreement with one another to have respect for one another, and that respect will get you much further in life than disrespect. This is a lesson which took me a long time to comprehend and appreciate.

Sebastian, I’ve spent much of my life and certainly many years of the last eleven trying desperately to fall into Opa’s shoes only to realize that I was trying to fit into the wrong pair. He taught me to be the best I know how to be at all times. If I do right by his memory, I’ll continue to shower you with the lessons that not only he taught, but the ones I took the time to learn.

Undoubtedly, you have more than just his influence in your world. Much like I grew up with, you have the privilege of a mother and father committed to your best interest. The lessons won’t always be easy to learn, and we won’t always be the perfect teachers, but we will love you through and through.

I was very lucky to have that in my life.

And I’ll spend the rest of my days giving it to you and Jackson as well.

Never forget how much I love you.

And always know that Opa’s light shines through me.