I’m not sure when I switched over to calling him Papa.
It was always Ken, my wife’s father. Before that, he was Ken, my girlfriend’s father.
When we got married, he had tears streaming down his heavily lined face. He was signing our marriage certificate, and he stopped, looked up and said, “I’m not losing a daughter, I’m gaining a son.”
And to this day, I have never felt anything less than a solid member of the Carpenter clan.
Papa took care of everyone who was in his field of view. His colleagues at Winco, his family and their friends. There was nothing he woudn’t do to help.
If you were family, that extended to calling him any time you needed him, whether the middle of the night or the middle of the day.
He went above and beyond what you’d expect from any member of your family. As a father-in-law, as a dad, as a friend, as a co-worker, as a human, you won’t find better than Kenneth Ray Carpenter.
He’s our papa.
When your father-in-law is Papa, you can call him up for a tow, and he’ll show up 20-minutes later, check your engine and haul you 20-miles across town to a mechanic or his yard.
He’ll go pick up parts or slip a $100 bill to the mechanic.
I’ve called Papa so many times in my life, I’m not sure I could ever think of not calling him when my dryer goes out, when my car won’t start, when I can’t figure out an angle to cut a piece of wood, when I needed to move across the country.
Papa was my lifeline for more than twenty five years, and today I feel lost for the first time in my life.
It’s been a few years since he was at his stubborn best. Since he would show up with a U-Haul and move us from Montana to Oregon, or from Alaska to Chicago, where he drove for nine days, never once giving me the chance to drive the U-Haul, insisting on paying for gas and putting us up in hotels.
I’m not exactly a model son-in-law. I know that. But Papa never let on. If he judged me, which I question whether he ever had that capability, he never let it stand in the way of taking care of his daughter and his grandchildren.
The thing was, he took care of all of us as selflessly as a human being can. He didn’t spoil us, but he made sure we were provided for impeccably.
When we made it to the US border with Canada, the border patrol asked my father-in-law to open the cargo door, which he did, revealing a fascinating mosaic of belongings pressed firmly and perfectly together.
It’s the result of the jenga master, which we lovingly called Papa. He could pack anything meticulously.
The border guard asked if we had any guns, and my father-in-law laughed, caughed a little and said, “No, it’s my son-in-law, and no, he doesn’t own any guns.”
He was right and so convincing in his conviction, that the border guard smiled at him and let us move along.
As he slowed down in the last two years, I tried to play to his sense of independence, a balance of needing him without requiring him to do the hard work. He liked to be involved, so I took to calling him and asking him for his advice.
Which was always as solid as the physical labor he was so good at.
Recently, I noticed he was grumpier than usual. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t do anything. He was a prisoner of that big chair in the living room, chained by that oxygen hose on his nose.
It was so ingrained in him to help, to lend a hand, to provide for his family, that sitting around and letting us serve him was completely foreign to him in a way that made him uncomfortable.
He took us to all of us favorite places, to see geysers and glaciers and wildlife.
I’ll never forget my first hunt with him. He treated me like the uninitiated grunt I was, but he let me participate and carry out pieces of elk back to camp, though not as many as he did.
I’d love to sit down and tell him that when he looked at me funny after we brought his daughter’s car back with a perfectly concave dent in the side caused by a guard rail that I slid into when we slid on black ice, that I lied to him and told him it was probably somebody backing into the car in a parking lot.
I knew he knew, and he knew I knew he knew, but he didn’t say anything, because that’s the kind of guy he was. And I learned my lesson. But I didn’t get a chance to tell him that. Maybe I didn’t need to.
Papa was and is the most amazing human I’ve ever encountered, and even though I know the loss of him is hardest on his son and daughters, I miss him terribly even hours after his death.
In the end, it wasn’t what he did for me, it wasn’t what he provided, it was something so much greater than I can ever express.
When my future wife was eleven-years-old, her father gave her up for adoption. Several years later, her mother married a man named Ken. Ken adopted her little girl as his own.
So when he said those words at my wedding, that he wasn’t losing a daughter, that he was gaining a son, I took those words to heart, because when Kenneth Ray Carpenter, our Papa, adopts you, it’s for real, and it’s for life.
Thank you Papa, I love you and miss you.