When, at three-years-old, I returned from Nigeria, sick with malaria and suffering from the trauma of being robbed and my mother kidnapped, you protected me and provided me with a safe haven.
As a horrible disease viciously attacked and weakened my little body, you were there to pick me up when I fell. You gently brushed off my bruised and bloody legs and wiped the tears from my face, while swallowing your own heart-broken tears.
At home, I was beaten and abused by a stepfather, who despised my existence, but at your home, I was cherished. Your love kept him from ever defeating me.
At four-years-old, you, gladly, allowed me to paint your toenails during your five o’clock cocktail and paint your face after you had passed out from a long day’s work.
While I was too weak to play sports in school, you took me fishing, rafting, sledding, swimming and snow skiing. You insisted that I could do anything I wanted.
When my father and stepfather refused to financially support me, each year, you invested money in a college savings fund for me, so that I could, one day, fulfill my dreams.
In a society, which taught me that I was only capable of staying at home for the rest of my life, you and Grandma took me to see the world and encouraged me to be everything I could be.
You came to every award ceremony, graduation and concert of mine, and stood with a proud heart and tearful eyes in my honor.
When I converted to Judaism and abandoned the religion with which I was raised, you did not reject me, but rather began to have a profound love and respect for the Jewish people and the state of Israel.
You were at my bedside in Atlanta after five kidney surgeries and tightly held my hand after brain surgery in Israel.
You have given me strength during times of weakness. You have carried me when I couldn’t walk. You have given me support during times of despair. You have protected me in times of fear and vulnerability. You have loved me more than I could ever expect a father to love his own child.
This year, on your birthday, Grandpa, I am grateful to have you in my life and my family. Thank you for holding me in your arms throughout what has been a very difficult and heart-wrenching life. Thank you for filling my heart with love and joy. Because of you, I have never felt the absence of a father, but have rather felt the presence of a wonderful grandfather.