A year with and without

One year ago my best friend and mentor, coach and confidant, leader and educator, pastor and life coach passed away. Also know as Oscar Smith to some, and Papa to many, his absence has been hard to accept at some times. At others,  I feel like his enduring spirit and incredible skill for sharing his love with others was never lost. The knowledge that he isn’t physically here to laugh and cry with is accompanied by a gnawing sorrow, but through the faith that he shared, it is comforting to know that at any time, his spirit is available for a heart to heart.

This past year has been one full of incredible changes for my family.  Papa’s passing was a big change, but it was because of his example that the others were made possible.  On September 6th I joined forces with some of the globe’s finest Brand Builders at Procter & Gamble. Had it not been for the example that Papa had set for me throughout my life, I am sure that I would not be fortunate enough to be doing the things I’m doing.  On December 17th I graduated from Northern Kentucky University with a Master’s Degree in Business Administration. Papa was a vivacious supporter of education, and without his contribution to the clamoring that came from my support corner I doubt I would have ever made the decision to attempt graduate school, let alone actually graduate.

Most importantly to me, and especially in context to the lessons Papa taught, Noelle Christine Knapp, our daughter, was born on December 4th. Papa was an incredible father and grandfather and it was in part because of his example, that I have always wanted to become a father and eventually and grandfather, myself. I have always loved kids and had always dreamt of the moment when I could call one my own. Julianne and I have been enormously blessed with Noelle in that she has an incredible spirit and personality that I know includes the even temperament and spectacular will that Papa would have adored. I am often very saddened by the fact that Noelle never got to personally meet Papa, but she will know Papa. The impact that he has left on those who did get to meet him always seems to bleed into the interactions that those people have with Noelle. The radiant smile that my mom, known to Noelle as Nana, shares when we ask if she wants to hold Noelle is so full of the love that Papa shared so willingly. The goofy faces that my dad, known to Noelle as Papa Knapp, makes to conjure a smile in Noelle is full of the joy that Papa wished for every moment. The laughter and lightheartedness that Daniel, Katie and Abby (Uncle and Aunts to Noelle) bring to every occasion are indicative of the caring that Papa provided to all.

I still vividly recall the first imagined thought of Papa that I had when I heard of his passing. It’s one I often recollect when I sit down to dinner or reach for jacket or sweater:

Papa walks through the pearly gates, which happen to look a lot like the back door of the little home that is now[was until recently] occupied by Daniel, Katie, Abby and friends, wipes off his hands after a hard day’s work, eats a wonderful meal with Nana and all of the friends they’ve shared, reaches into the cookie jar for one of Nana’s chocolate chip cookies (which now taste even better than he remembered), sit’s back in his chair with a toothpick, puts on a flannel shirt and demands that someone turn up the heat because, “It’s freezing in here.”

There have been other times that I’ve had vivid and palpable conversations with Papa. One such occasion was a trip I made to “The Creek” or cabin as many know it. I was left with a free afternoon and not much work needing to be done so I took a quick trip down pulled the canoe onto the creek and paddled for a couple of hours in a warm afternoon sun in early June. It was just the kind of day that we would have spent at the creek as kids.

Before I got into the canoe I walked around the cabin a bit,  picked up some sticks from the yard and asked Papa if he wanted to come for a ride. When I did make it onto the water I carried on as if Papa had actually joined me. We chatted about life, about work (as this was often his favorite subject), and about fatherhood among other things. He didn’t have to physically be in the boat with me to offer his advice.  Anyone who knew Papa well could have a very similar conversation and know exactly what Papa would say when asked any number of questions. We’d also be able to tell you what questions Papa would ask.

“How’re things,” he’d say. “You gettin’ along alright?”

After your response and follow-up question of the same to him he’d almost breathe his answer of  “Oh, I’m fine. Just fine.”

Then he’d ask you how work was, and he’d casually add (at X company, right?) to make sure he was still fully aware of what you were doing. He’d maybe let out a quiet whistle upon hearing a story or give you his always relevant advice that “it’s all about who you know.” He’d also be very likely to tell his infamous story to highlight the importance of treating everyone with respect and keeping your temper to yourself.

Our particular conversation went much like this until we got to “The Ripples.” The ripples (pictured below) was where Papa would always take us to swim after a hard day’s work. It was then that we got to talk about something that we’d not talked much about before: Fatherhood. This conversation was new, less about memory and more about being able to actually listen to Papa. It was such an amazing conversation where he offered incredible advice about the importance of discipline, the need to encourage hard-work and the value of rewards for disciplined hard work. More importantly, however, was the need to show and tell your love through your teaching and through your own disciplined hard work.

stopping at the ripples to skip some rocks during my conversation with Papa.

Papa was and still is a great teacher.

I love you Papa, and I look forward to our next conversation.

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1 comment so far

  1. Nikki on

    Very well written, Keith! I enjoyed it and he is definitely missed.


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