Dear Papa

Over the past few years, I’ve written a letter to my Grandpa Hoffer around the date of his birthday. It occurred to me that my other grandfather, Papa, has also significantly impacted my life. What follows is a letter to my mom’s dad, my Papa. I include it on the blog this week because his birthday, July 5th, is smack dab in the middle of summer, and summer is often a time when leaders slow down and take stock. 

I hope this letter encourages you to remember your past. How has it shaped who you have become today? And how can you honor your past in your leadership going forward? Above all else, I hope “remembering” recharges you as it has for me. 


Dear Papa, 

I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking about what I might write to you. To start with, I miss you. Since you passed in 2005, my life has changed in so many ways — it feels like a lifetime ago. Yet, when I think back to our time together, the days of yesteryear are precariously close. The only plausible explanation for this feeling is that my fondness for those days goes deep. Those days shaped the man I have become. 

When I look at my three kids, I can’t help but think how much you would love them! I imagine you watching baseball late at night with Will and me. He has somehow inherited your love for sitting quietly and watching baseball. I‘ve told him (more times than I can count) that he has inherited this love from you. Like you, he is willing to put team allegiances aside to celebrate good baseball. I have also told him that you were the only person I knew who saw Babe Ruth play in person. His eyes always grow wide in amazement. 

Meanwhile, Ben eats like you — which means he eats everything, something I’m sure you’d be proud of. I have taken him to a few Cubs games this year, and he has demolished the buffet in our seating area! Ben has such a curiosity for life that I am sure he would tire you out with questions. He specifically wonders about your war experience. You would appreciate the gentleness of his soul. 

Sadie is something else entirely. She is tough, sweet, and a princess — all in a matter of minutes. As you would be able to tell quickly, there is a reason her middle name is Jean. In fact, I call her “Momma Jean” when she is barking orders at her older brothers. But most of all, you would love her hugs. There’s nothing like them on this planet. 

As the years have rolled on, I have always remembered our long Evansville summer days, with their oppressive heat and occasional thunderstorms. I am reminded of lunches we had at Don Mattingly’s restaurant, followed by our movie of choice at the theatre next door. I cannot remember many of the films we saw, but I always felt like those days were the best. Especially when we somehow got to sit inside the boxing ring at Don Mattingly’s! 

I recently gave the boys some of my old Don Mattingly baseball cards. I cannot describe how much I missed you at that moment. 

I’ll never forget one of the last serious conversations we had in your garage. It was the summer of 2004, and I was trying to figure out what to do with my life. You patiently listened to me as you smoked your pipe. I went on and on about all the potential paths I could go down, and I asked you what I should do. You just looked at me and said something along the lines of, “Ah, I am sure you will figure it out. Work hard, and your parents will be proud.” I was admittedly annoyed that you did not give me any kind of concrete guidance. But now, all these years later, I realize the wisdom in what you said. Sometimes the simple approach of working hard clears the path to which path is best. You knew that a person’s identity isn’t found in a particular path but in the ethics of the person on that path. 

Your identity will always be Papa to me. You were steady, consistent, loving, and fun.  

What I would do to have one more dinner at Evansville Country Club with JJ, you, and Sarah. 

Oh, how you would enjoy meeting Sarah. 

I miss you.