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A letter to my grandpa and other fathers of the fatherless.

Know that you simply cannot ever know how much you’re doing just by being around.

A letter to my grandpa and other fathers of the fatherless.
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Fathers Everywhere

We almost bit it, right there on a Minnesota gravel road.

My grandpa had taken me out for a summer afternoon ride on his motorcycle, a Honda, and it had been a wonderful excursion of warm, sunny freedom. I enjoyed the wind rushing past me, how strangely heavy my head felt on top of my neck with the helmet around it, and feeling like one mass moving in unison: me, my grandpa, and the motorcycle.

I was 12, and I’d been going for motorcycle rides with him since I was little, at first in sidecars, and later on (I don’t remember the exact age), on the actual bike. It was always a little scary, but I’d beaten back thoughts of trepidation many times, and nothing bad had ever come of those rides.


I don’t think we were headed anywhere in particular that day. We were just enjoying being alive.

But something happened on the gravel road. I still don’t know what it was. It wasn’t a curve in the road or anything jumping out in front of us, but something just gave way in the dusty gravel beneath the tires and the bike got all swervy. It tilted for just a second or two, and then grandpa got it under control again. We were fine. We were alive.

But I think it scared him more than he let on. We took the truck everywhere for the next couple of weeks.

We were spending the summer together in Backus, Minnesota, that year.

We lived in southeastern Wisconsin  —  he and my grandmother, a few of my youngest aunts, and my little cousin  — in the house he built while he worked at American Motors. But he was retired by that summer, and he liked to go up to his little plot of land in Minnesota from time to time to get away.


My grandpa.

During this particular summer, my grandma put my aunt in the driver’s seat of her trusty car, packed me and my little cousin and my two other aunts in with her, and sent us off to surprise my grandpa in Minnesota during his alone time. Truth be told, I’m pretty sure she thought he had a woman on the side and wanted us to either catch him at something and report back or just throw a wrench in his enjoyment.

We didn’t catch him at anything. We got there, and he was surprised but happy to see us. We all stayed in the trailer he had on the little plot of land. We tucked away in various bedrooms and sleeper sofas, and we spent a week there with him.

I was having so much fun that when the week was up, I didn’t want to go home with my aunts and cousin. If we’d cramped his style at all, he certainly set it aside because he had no qualms about me staying there with him for the rest of the summer.

It’s an amazing feeling, to be welcomed as part of someone’s “alone” time.

For someone you really like being around to basically say, “I can have you around and still be alone.”

To this day, I still feel like that’s the best kind of companionship (and it’s the same kind I enjoy with my kids, too).

We played cribbage and war at a round maple table in the trailer kitchen that summer, a table sometimes covered with crumbs from saltines or ashes from his cigarettes.

I’d pull ticks out of the dog and we’d snuff them out in the ashtray. We went fishing at 5 a.m. on Pine Mountain Lake, with a thermos of black coffee that we shared and canned meat spread that we’d eat on crackers.

We’d bring home what we caught, clean it, fillet it, and pan-fry it for dinner. We’d visit his relatives on a farm and do farm work. I shingled the farmhouse roof with a new cousin I’d met that summer. I learned to shoot a rifle.

We visited his friend who ran an oat-processing facility, and I got to see how whole oats were delivered, and the process they went through to be turned into rolled oats.

He took me, on his motorcycle, to a Chippewa powwow in Hackensack, where I was welcomed to dance. We went to tiny diners in little towns where he knew the locals, and I’d eat delicious, greasy bacon cheeseburgers. Sometimes we’d just sit around and do our own things and not talk much at all. I liked to read, and my grandpa liked to think.

I didn’t have a dad growing up. In some ways, I didn’t have a mom, either.

Lucky for me, my grandparents really stepped in, and my grandpa was the closest thing to a dad I ever had. He was a farm boy from Minnesota who fought in the Korean War, survived, and settled in Wisconsin to work for American Motors, marry my grandma, and have seven kids.

He wasn’t highfalutin, but like I said, he liked to think. He liked to enjoy the quiet and be alone with his thoughts, and that’s something I picked up from him. He was, at his core, a planner and a philosopher. If he was a feminist, he never expressed it, but the manner in which he treated me implied the utmost faith in my versatility and competence as a human being, and I was never coddled, condescended to, or counted out.

I lost my little brother that summer to cancer. That might be the real reason I was sent to Minnesota to stay with grandpa: to keep me even further from the last weeks of the illness.

A couple of years later, I lost my grandma, too. I would have my grandpa for another decade after grandma died, until I was 25.

He’d been sick with emphysema and a broken hip during his last few years, and the doctors didn’t think he would make it out of the hospital alive that time. But he did, and I knew I’d been granted a chance to spend as much time as I could with him.

I’d been so busy before that with two small children, college, and work. But I resolved to find or make time however I could. I visited him on my lunch breaks nearly every day. I brought him his favorite catfish on Fridays. He wanted to quit smoking, something he’d done since he was 10 years old on his farm, and everyone in our family thought he was nuts. “What is the point?” “It won’t help your emphysema at this stage.” “That just seems like a lot of agony for nothing.”

But I understood. Sometimes I felt like I understood my grandpa better than anyone because of all the time we’d spent together. I understood that he knew it wouldn’t help, but he just needed to know that he wasn’t beholden to anything, that he was going out of this world his own man, addicted to nothing.

When I lost my grandpa, it was different than when I’d lost my brother and grandma.

I was so young when those deaths happened. But with my grandpa, I was old enough to know exactly what he’d meant to me and exactly what I was losing. I knew exactly how shaped I’d been by my time with him, and the grief was overwhelming and consuming.

I know now, 10 years after he died, that I was lucky to get to experience that agony and loss, because the alternative would have been having no one to lose.

I may not have had a father, but I had this man — my scrappy, minimalist, freewheeling-yet-planning-ahead grandfather who wanted me around and had confidence in me as a person.

I’m not sure I got a raw deal without a father at all. In fact, I think for me, it went the very best way it could have.

I’m a strong, accomplished woman, a wise mother, a person who thinks she can do lofty things just because she has decided to, and a thinker, a planner. I have never let anyone or anything entrap me or keep me stuck in a phase I don’t want to be in. I stand on my own two feet, and I’ve made a life for myself with these two hands.

Grandpa Loran: Without all the cues about who I am that I got from you, I don’t know that these things would be true today.

For those who are fathers to a person who doesn’t have one — whether you’re a stepdad, an uncle, a grandpa, an older brother, or a family friend — know that you simply cannot ever know how much you’re doing just by being around.

By saying: “I like having you around. You’re good company, and I much prefer having your help to doing these tasks on my own,” you're making a world of difference. It doesn’t take anything fancy, but it really does mean the world to the kid you’re sharing your time with.

Happy Father’s Day, all.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

4-year-old New Zealand boy and police share toys.

Sometimes the adorableness of small children is almost too much to take.

According to the New Zealand Police, a 4-year-old called the country's emergency number to report that he had some toys for them—and that's only the first cute thing to happen in this story.

After calling 111 (the New Zealand equivalent to 911), the preschooler told the "police lady" who answered the call that he had some toys for her. "Come over and see them!" he said to her.

The dispatcher asked where he was, and then the boy's father picked up. He explained that the kids' mother was sick and the boy had made the call while he was attending to the other child. After confirming that there was no emergency—all in a remarkably calm exchange—the call was ended. The whole exchange was so sweet and innocent.

But then it went to another level of wholesome. The dispatcher put out a call to the police units asking if anyone was available to go look at the 4-year-old's toys. And an officer responded in the affirmative as if this were a totally normal occurrence.

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