Grandpa Tom buys strawberries for blog by DC widow writer Marjorie Brimley Hale
Family & Friends

Happy Birthday, Grandpa Tom

Some people say that I’m the most optimistic person that they know. But that’s not really true. That award should go to my dad.

I mean, sure, he can get all fired up over some story he reads in the news or some call in a Texas football game. He can be grumpy or frustrated. He has other emotions. And yet, my dad exudes a kind of optimism that is contagious. Even when he’s grumpy, he is so joyfully grumpy.

“Aren’t we lucky?” he often said to me as a kid, often in circumstances when I felt bored, annoyed or something that amounted to less than lucky.

“Aren’t we lucky to get to travel to your sister’s gymnastics meet?”

“Aren’t we lucky to live in such a wonderful small town?”

“Aren’t we lucky this grape juice concentrate is on sale?”

Mostly, as a kid, I thought it was silly. I mean, who cared if it had stopped raining while we were on a walk? It was Oregon. It would probably start again before we got home!

But that’s not how it was – or is – for my dad. For him, he has always seen a world so full of hope and promise. Even when life has not been kind to him, he has been able to find a way back to that optimism.

And we have been the beneficiaries of it.

As kids, I knew my dad would always make me feel better when I felt frustrated or upset or mad. I didn’t always show him I appreciated it (what teenager does?) but I knew where to find joy when I needed it. My kids do as well, and this aspect of his personality was critical for their healing in the months and years after Shawn died. “Grandpa Tom is always happy,” Claire likes to say. She knows he isn’t actually always happy, but rather that he seems to have some sort of power that exudes from his body that makes her feel better about everything. It works on me too, and on everyone he seems to meet.

This piece of him makes you believe that the world is a good place.

There have been times when I’ve really had to hold onto that feeling from my dad. Times when I did not think the world was a good place, times when I could not see anything joyful in my future. But I could look at him and I could trust him. He saw that there was still goodness out there, even if I couldn’t see it.

In those times when I felt disillusioned, I never gave up because I could believe in him and ultimately, I could believe what he told me. I could believe that there was hope and joy in my future, and in the future of the world, because he could see it. He could feel it.

And thus, so could I.

Yes, we are the beneficiaries of my dad’s optimism, but by “we” I don’t just mean my family. In fact, I’m sure that those he’s known as patients and those he’s known in our community and those he met for a few hours on a plane – all of these people would say the same thing: Tom Clark is man full of the kind of optimism we all wish we could bottle up and keep forever.

Today is his 75th birthday. He’s with my sister and her two young kids and he’s probably going to spend a lot of the day feeding crackers to toddlers and pushing them on the swing at the park. He’s not going to get to play golf or read a 500-page book on China or watch Texas football. I don’t know exactly what he’s going to tell me about his day, but I bet I know how our phone conversation will go.

“How are you, Dad?” I’ll ask him, as I usually do at the start of our chats.

“I’m great!” he will say. And behind that reply I know I’ll be able to feel his smile. Because these things that he tells me, about the world being a wonderful place?

I know that he means it.

Happy 75th Birthday, Grandpa Tom.