My Father, Myself

By Jane Bokun

I was one of the caregivers for my father during his last days where he was either mad at me or saying, “you’re treating me like a king.”

It was hard and frustrating, and I kept saying, “We have to get someone else, or we have to put him in hospice in a facility. But in my head and those of my brother and sister, we heard, “if you put me in a home, I’ll kill you” as my father said all the time.

All things come to an end, and he did die just when I thought I couldn’t take care of him anymore.

At the well-attended funeral, my brother, nephew and niece wrote beautiful tributes to my father. My niece’s really resonated with me. It was about how my father knew almost no rules. I too, feel like I’m like that. I’ve taught my own son, “if you walk into a room with purpose, no matter if you don’t belong there, no one will stop you.”

With that, here is my niece, Lauren McDonnel’s, essay about her grandfather, my father…Rest in peace, I know you’re skipping the rules up there.

This is a photo of my father in the middle of his granddaughters. They are Kristen Szafranski (left), Brooke Pospychala (middle) and Lauren McDonnel (right).

I would say that my Grandpa was a lucky man. Married to the love of his life for 65 years. Got to witness all his children graduate from college. Got to witness all 6 of his grandchildren graduate from college. Got to witness his children get married and also had the opportunity to witness 2 weddings of his grandchildren. Got to meet his great granddaughter and watch her go from just a happy little cuddle bug, to crawling, to walking, to running around babbling and laughing all while getting her hands into everything. While trying to contain a toddler stressed me out, seeing the pure joy on his face while watching her was priceless.

So yes, as I said before, I would say that my Grandpa was a lucky man. Not only was he lucky enough to experience all of life’s milestones, he also genuinely walked around with luck always by his side. The rules did not apply to him.

For instance, when I was little, he would take me to the East Chicago Library where they would have a little reading camp for kids. Every week, every kid was supposed to bring in snacks to share with the class. And all but one kid did that. Can you take a guess of who that kid was? Instead of giving me a box of cookies to share with the class, Grandpa would come in and take a box of cookies and walk out. No one from the staff confronted him or said anything. And when you would ask him about it, he would respond with “I thought they were free to take?” The cookie burglar did not stop there. It was years later, but while Grandma was being treated for cancer at U of C, there was a little café on the floor that sold little snacks and drinks. Right by the cashier there was a huge cookie display. Every time Grandpa would walk pass the cookies, he would take one. Would he pay? No. Just took it and walked back to my Grandma’s room. Again, no staff person confronted him or said anything. But when we caught him in the act, his response was, once again, “I thought they were free to take?”

When I was applying for jobs, no matter how many times I would explain the interview process he would roll his eyes and shake his head. Then I would hear the story about how he never interviewed for a job. He just one day picked up a broom and started sweeping and the next week a paycheck was given to him. Then I would roll my eyes and shake my head and tell him “if it were only that simple”. And I would get the headstrong response “don’t listen to those SOBs, just walk in and start doing the job!”

During their move back to Indiana from Florida, Grandma and Grandpa had to take the written driver’s exam to get their Indiana licenses. Grandma was nervous as hell when it came to taking this test. She had me quiz her all time up until she took that test. I would quiz her and while I was doing so, I’d ask Grandpa if he wanted to study with us. He would just swat his hand and say “nah, I don’t need to study. I got this.” Yea he had it alright. But then again, anyone wouldn’t need to study when you turn the driver’s exam into an open book test. You heard that right, leave it to Grandpa to walk into the DMV to get the written driver’s exam and sit down, pull the booklet out of his jacket, and take the test right then and there, all out in the open. Once again, no one confronted him or said anything. He turned in his test, clearly passed, and walked out with his new license. Grant it, little did the DMV know that they just gave a driver’s license to someone who thinks the rules do not apply to them. I say this because Grandpa was notoriously known for not stopping at stop signs when there were no cars around. One day while driving though the typical stop sign, a cop caught him in the act and pulled him over. When asked why he didn’t stop at the stop sign, Grandpa replied, “what’s the point? There weren’t other cars around.” Flabbergasted by his response, the cop told him he was right and let him off with a warning. A WARNING!

Grandpa was always lucky when it came to the stock markets. Yes, he lost a few times depending on the economy, but for the most part I would say he did fairly well in stocks. So well that I like to think his luck somewhat brushed off on me when I had to “play the stocks” for a high school class. It was a finance class I had taken, and within this course you were to pair up in groups and each group was given X amount of fake money to do as we pleased with stocks. Even though this was all fake trading and investing, there was still a possibility to win actual cash at the end of the course. Knowing how good Grandpa was with the stock market, I quickly went over to his house after school and explained to him what I would be doing in class. Without even finishing up how the class works, Grandpa gave me a list of stock options to “invest in” right away. So like a good grandchild, I logged into the fake investment site we used for the class and purchased all the stocks on that list. He would monitor my fake portfolio as if it was his actual portfolio. He monitored it so much that he would call me on when to sell and when to buy. And it didn’t matter what I was doing he would call and call and call until I picked up. One time I was in a calculus test and felt my phone vibrate. Who was it? You guessed it, Grandpa. I ran to the bathroom to answer the call. Immediately it was Grandpa telling me that I needed to “sell gold NOW!” For as crazy as it was for Grandpa to be into this fake investing project, it did pay off. My team ended up being top 50 in the state of Illinois and we won some actual cash! My teacher was all excited as he never had students rank so high for this project. He came up to my group and wanted to know our secret. My group looked at me and I looked at my teacher and said, “my Grandpa”.

I know we can all go on and on with stories about Grandpa. And at the end of the day what you are going to get out of those stories is damn he really was lucky and he did not let the rules apply to him.

Now onto October 3rd. There’s a lot of history on this date for me.

October 3rd, 2007 – Baba passed away

October 3rd, 2015 – Ben and I get married

October 3rd, 2022 – I lost my last grandparent, Grandpa

Looking at this day, and the events that happened on it, I have to joke and say, “Ben and I sure know how to pick a date!” But in all seriousness, I do see one thing in common within all these events. Love. Yes, death is sad, but as the sadness fades, and death anniversaries come year after year, we don’t dwell on the sadness of it all. We dwell on how much we loved and still love that person. We dwell on how much that person loved us. So just how we celebrate wedding anniversaries with love, we celebrate death anniversaries with love too. It’s a sad time now because we are trying to cope with not being able to physically see Grandpa anymore, but just as he loved us with all his heart, we will always continue to love how he did and carry his love forever in our hearts.

October 3rd will always be a day of love in my book.