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Grandpa's Swingset

© 1999, by Lisa M. Roberts

To inspire me as I work, I surround myself with bits and pieces of encouragement that decorate my home office and beyond. There is the artwork of my four children, taped haphazardly on the wall behind my desk. There are special thank-you notes from visitors of EP tacked on the windowsill directly behind my monitor. There are books written by colleagues and contacts that line the office shelves.
But there is no other work of inspiration as monumental as the swingset in full view of my home office window. To me, it is a testament of faith that reaches beyond time, distance and generation. It grounds me at the same time it pulls me forward, through every season, through every day.
I remember the morning my father began to build it. Two years ago this spring, he pulled up my driveway with a load of lumber on top of his car. As my mother and I unloaded packages of food, clothes and other what-not that always arrived with my parents during their bi-weekly, three-day visits, my father unloaded the lumber and tools he had brought for this day's work.
As custom, my dad labored from early in the morning until late afternoon, with breaks only for glasses of water, and everyone stayed clear of his way. Only once, before getting started, did he call anyone towards him. "Where do you want it?" he asked me, his eyes illuminating with possibility. We then began a lengthy discussion on the logistics of the backyard -- the nearby trees, the view from the street, the proximity to the house. But ultimately the location was made based on my ability to keep an eye on the children as I worked in my office and they played outside.
Relatively speaking, the job was a breeze for my dad. He had twenty years of construction work behind him. He had built two homes: one from scratch, in the Pennsylvania Pocono Mountains, and the other in Long Island, after his year-round home nearly burned to the ground. He was also every relative and friend's favorite renovator and handiman, finishing basements for one, turning attics into bedrooms for another. He applied his innate sense of architectural design, practical hands-on knowledge and playful imagination to every project. And throughout my life, there seemed always to be another project before him.
That day my kids and I watched as the sticks of wood became ladders to climb up, beams that held swing chains, and a gate that formed a forte. By evening, four pairs of legs and arms were swinging and pushing and twirling, in a celebration of life and love and joy that only children with a Grandpa like theirs could arouse.
But my father had only one year to watch his grandchildren enjoy the swingset he had built for them. On the eve of Father's Day last spring, he was hospitalized with a severe shortness of breath. We all thought that he fell ill because he had been consumed in a whirlwind of physical activity just two weeks before. This time last year, his Long Island home had been due for an exterior paint job, and from early in the morning until late afternoon, day after day, he had climbed his well-worn ladder to prep and then to paint the entire house. When that job was completed, he took a break for two days and drove himself and my mother to the Poconos to give that home a final coating too. Feeling drained and overworked at sixty-seven years old, he thentook his old ladder and broke it into pieces, knowing he could never take on the job of exterior house painting again...
But as it turned out, it was not overexertion that he was suffering from. Only a few days after Father's Day last year, our family was delivered the fatal news that my father had "malignant mesothelioma" -- cancer of the lining of the lung, caused by his persistent exposure to asbestos thirty years ago when he was in the construction business. There would be no more projects, no more labor, no more work of any kind. In a matter of weeks, his lungs and legs would fill with water, and it would become an extraordinary effort just to walk across the room to brush his teeth.
Days before he died, and not knowing that he would so soon, my father wrote a letter in his recliner chair that he was by then confined to. It was addressed to his brothers and sisters (he was the youngest of nine, all but one still alive) and their children, who were gathering at our annual family reunion. To me, his letter represents an inner strength that matched -- in fact has always surpassed -- his physical.
To My Dear Family and Friends,
I want to thank you all for your constant prayers and deep faithful support. I know that through all our prayers, together we can achieve God's wishes, whatever they may be. "Thy will be done."
I ask you all to keep up your prayers and support. I need all of you to help me through this time in my life. I promise that if you continue to pray for me, I will hang in there until my very last thread of hope.
I love you all very much and leave you to ponder on one of my favorite gems.
Your Brother, Your Uncle and Your Friend,
"I Believe in the Sun
Even When it is Not Shining
I Believe in Love
Even when I am Alone
I Believe in God
Even when He is Silent."
(--Author Anonymous)
Today, when I look out the window and see my children's swingset, I am filled with a faith of my own. I believe that the love for both work and family canmerge to create wonderful things. I believe in pursuing the line of work that God calls me to, even if it may somehow put me at risk. And I believe in my father's love, his presence and his sparkle of possibility, even if I can no longer see the projects he is working on now.

Lisa Roberts is the mother of four, owner of The Entrepreneurial Parent, LLC and the author of How to Raise A Family & A Career Under One Roof: A Parent's Guide to Home Business (Bookhaven Press, 1997). Copies of her book are available for purchase at EP and through Amazon.

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