Remembering Dad

Blogger Jessica Kosa and her father, Tom McGrew in 1986

This guest post is by Jessica Kosa, IBCLC

Some things I often wish my father had lived to see:  1) His grandchildren.  2) the 2008 election.  3) the Internet.

Dad passed away in early 1995, at the age of 53.  He was a man who loved to tell stories, loved to roughhouse in the swimming pool, and loved to do magic tricks.  He would have been delighted with his six grandkids, and vice versa.

Dad was a politically complicated man – a disillusioned liberal turned Reagan democrat, full of pronouncements that used to drive me nuts.   As a teenager, I campaigned for a series of decent but uninspiring candidates, and Dad once told me it made him sad.  He described the idealism and excitement of the Kennedy campaign, and said he wished there was something like that around for me.  I scoffed at him – I was already cynical about politicians, and assumed I would always be choosing the lesser of two evils, not inspiration.

In 2008, I finally got it.  Dad grew up in a racist community – when he joined the Peace Corps, he was told by his own father not to come home with a Black wife.  He’d have been fascinated and thrilled to watch his home state grapple with, and ultimately welcome, a Black president.

After the election, Dad certainly would have reminded me once again that even the most inspiring politicians need to be closely supervised.  He often said, “We believed in JFK, and he got us into a war.  Our mistake was in not standing outside the gate screaming at him until he lived up to his promises.”   That part, I understand now, too.

Dad got his first PC when he was recovering from his first surgery.  He’d never been a technophile, but the advent of computers excited him.  His first project was a BASIC program that taught the computer to politely welcome him by name, but respond to any other login with “Yuck! We don’t want you! Go away! Yuck!”  He was one of the first to join the dial-up bulletin boards that preceded the internet.   When he was healthier, he had gone biking every weekend with friends.  When that wasn’t possible anymore, the boards were a perfect social scene.

I was in college when email arrived, and we started to email regularly.  That doesn’t sound surprising, but here’s the thing:  Dad was a difficult guy.  I was a teenager.  For many years, we rarely spoke without pissing each other off.  And so once I left home, we rarely spoke at all.  Email changed things.  It was easy, brief, and low key.  His political commentary arrived in small doses, and felt less overbearing.  He was now provocative in an interesting way.

He sent me funny anecdotes, and I started to appreciate his storytelling gift.  I still don’t pack for a work trip without remembering the time he traveled out of state for a court appearance, and discovered too late that the dry cleaner had switched the pants on his two suits, leaving him to argue his case while wearing brown pants and a grey jacket.  As his medical problems escalated, his humor kept pace.  His emails described quirky or idiotic hospital incidents, and he gleefully recounted the times he told off young residents who got it wrong.  When medication caused him to retain so much water he couldn’t put his shoes on, he signed himself Barefoot Aquaman.

At his wake, several people approached me and explained that they’d never actually met my father, but knew him from a theology discussion board where he was active.  One woman said,  “It’s so hard to explain, but it’s a really intimate way to know someone.”  Dad would have thrived in a time when online friendship is so common it requires no explanation.

In 2000, when I was pregnant with my first, I discovered an online discussion board where I made internet friends of my own.  Some I’ve since met in person, some not.  From them, I learned tricks of the mothering trade.  Because of them, I had conversation available when I was housebound with a winter-born baby.  From them, I first learned of the 9/11 attack, and we mourned together, and debated our country’s response.  With them, I found shared values in people with very different beliefs, lives, and politics.  Much is made of the internet’s potential for incivility, but it also offers connection, commonality, and real bonds that are honest and, yes, intimate.  I get it now.

If Dad were alive, I’m sure he’d have a blog and a twitter feed. He’d love Facebook.  The chance to comment at will on everyone and everything would be entertainment enough.  But the chance to have a daily window into the lives of his grandchildren, to play farmville, scrabble, and chess with them, and above all to show off their pictures to all his friends – for him, this would be heaven on earth.

Jessica Lang Kosa is a board-certified lactation consultant in private practice in the Boston area.  You can visit her site at, find her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter @motherfeeding.

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