My grandfather, whom I called Gapaw, was a leather worker in his spare time. When new rolls of leather would come in, he would spread whole skins wide on the living room floor and let me roll and play all over them to flatten them out since they had been rolled for shipping. I would lie on my back for ages, wiggling happily, soaking in the smell of fresh leather that in the skillful and weathered hands of my grandfather would turn into keychains, belts, and Bible covers. I wouldn’t be content until I’d rubbed my cheeks on every inch of that sweet, pale brown smoothness. I traced the silky edges against the rough carpet, which was so pristine after its regular steam cleanings that my grandmother wouldn’t let me have apple juice in a Care Bear glass in the living room.
The leather seemed like something magical. It was potential made tangible, the stuff my grandfather’s dreams were made of. Knowing that I was helping in some small way by working the leather after its long journey to my grandparents’ house, knowing that I played a teeny part of his beautiful works, made me happy. Having the opportunity to be silly and loved and important all at once made me happy.
Gapaw just sat there watching in his maroon velour recliner, crossword puzzle in hand, a smile on his face which was so worn with age that it was as soft as leather. He let me be happy, equally thrilled that I was so happy. It was a simple moment. Yet, even now, I can remember how important that happiness felt. It wasn’t that this moment was supposed to bring us joy. There was nothing contrived about it. There’s no script or prescribed plan for such a moment. It simply made us happy, and that made it so earnest and true. Even at age 6, I felt how special this happiness was right down to my core.
Rare are the people whose happiness brings you a joy surpassing even their own. Rarer still are the people with whom you can share a happiness feedback loop, with your elation sparking the other’s happiness, which then increases your own in turn.
The friendships I have that grew from such a loop never fail to leave my heart radiating joy. However, I have yet to find this in a romantic setting. I hear it exists, but I suppose it’s not something one can seek out. I can be on the lookout, but if I hunt, I’m convinced it just won’t happen right. Someday I will find someone who will be happy at my joy at being silly and loved and important, and whose happiness will make me every bit as happy.
I used to look to other people’s romantic relationships to find models of what I wanted out of love. As time passes, I realize increasingly that I don’t want what other people have, even when it seems pretty great. For one thing, understanding other people’s romances feels a bit like trying to explain how something really delicious tastes. You can get the gist of it, but the nuance and the magic are lost in translation.
Instead, I know what tastes good to me, or rather I know what are the flavors I most crave, what’s important to me from my own relationships with my friends and family. You taught me the wonders and nuances of integrity, compassion, earnestness, enthusiasm, and joy. More than that, you have taught me what to expect and request from others, what I do and don’t want, how I like to be treated. You showed me how to value myself, and in turn, what I want others to value in me. You have raised the bar for me again and again.
As I navigate the world of dating and love, I’m grateful for such little moments that have taught me what I want. Someday maybe I’ll find a romantic love that will reflect some of the things that you’ve made so dear to me. Maybe that will be on Tinder. Goodness only knows.
But whether love comes my way or not, the smell of leather takes me right back to that moment of love, joy, and pure happiness, and for now, that’s pretty great.
Happy belated Fathers’ Day, Gapaw. I miss you heaps.