He Didn’t Have To Be

Yesterday evening, as I was watching a movie [1], I received a phone message from my mother telling me that my stepfather’s stepfather, or my step-grandfather, depending on how you look at it, had died from cancer just a few days shy of his 90th birthday. Although doubly removed from blood relations with him, I did have the chance to get to know him over the course of my life, starting from about the age of six or so. While I have not been able to stay in touch with him directly—only indirectly through my mother and stepfather—for a few years, ever since he moved back to Pennsylvania to go into a nursing home a little more than ten years or so ago, a fair amount of communication went on indirectly between our complicated family. As my stepgrandfather, John “Jack” Martin, was a good man whose life in many ways has been an indirect but no less worthwhile influence on my own, I feel it is worthwhile to write about him, even if I do not feel I knew him well enough to write an obituary for him, as is my habit concerning deceased relatives [2].

It is important to mention first how he and I came to be related at all. Jack Martin came from what may politely be termed a very difficult family background. He was a veteran of World War II on the Pacific Front, and when he returned from war he married a somewhat high-strung and sensitive and melancholy woman who was already with child in difficult circumstances. This child was my stepfather, born in October of 1946. The two of them would later have several children together, all of whom were given names that started with “J.” The family lived in Eastern Ohio, in the Canton area, when my stepfather was born, and some years later they moved to a small town off of the Ohio River near Pittsburgh where a great deal of the family still lives, educating their children at least in part in Catholic schools. I met him around the age of six, when my mother and stepfather first became very close friends while my mother was separated from my father. Perhaps my first successful prophecy was predicting their marriage, which would end up taking place almost a decade later, but that is another story, and not mine to tell. I met Jack when he was already about 60, and was retired with his second wife (whom he had married after becoming a widower) in Lake Wales, Florida, not too far from where I grew up in the next county over. During my teenage years and early adulthood as well, I spent a reasonable amount of time visiting them, despite the fact that the drive was a bit more than an hour each way.

One of the more obvious qualities of Jack Martin was his immense generosity. For one, he was generous enough of spirit to open his home to my mother when she was a woman separated with her husband with two fairly small children (aged 6 and 4 at the time) who were quite high spirited. Not all adults, particularly of his age, are patient with the hyperactive nature of such small children as my brother and I were. He enjoyed the outdoors, and showed us his boat in the lake next to their retirement complex, when he and his wife weren’t smoking cigarettes, which was often enough. His generosity showed itself earlier in life, of course, when he was openhearted enough to raise a son who was not his as if he was, something that not all men are able to do. Later in life, when he was moving to a nursing home, I had the opportunity to use his car for a few months while I was finishing up coursework in Concrete Engineering and Urban Geography to complete my undergraduate requirements after finishing ABC. He also left his library to us, an act of generosity which has not only provided excellent books for me to read and review [3] in his beloved fields of sports history, military history, and political history (all areas I love to research as well), but also aided my own development as a historian [4]. This is an act of generosity that deserves appreciation.

Although he was not a man who spoke much about his personal life—he was not one to brag about his military exploits, and was modest and diffident about receiving a great deal of personal attention—he was a well-spoken man who had clearly read deeply and thought deeply. If he was not someone who it was easy to feel close to, given his personal and emotional reticence, he was a man of great patience of spirit, well able to put up with others without being easily offended. He had lived a difficult life, and carried scars from all kinds of traumas, and yet he did not lash out in anger against others, but accepted his life as best as he was able, fought to preserve his memory in the face of the ravages of age and disease, and treated others with kindness and respect. He enjoyed long conversations about deep subjects, and enjoyed others who were as serious-minded and unpretentious as he was. Mostly I remember my times spent with him to involve a bit of eating and a lot of talking, which is probably how a lot of people would remember me as well. He made plenty of mistakes, but he was humble enough to admit them, to apologize for them, and to try to move beyond them, a good example to set for other people who, like him, blunder out of terrible backgrounds and the wounds that come from deep suffering. Yet despite this suffering, he was a man who worked hard to make others comfortable and to be gracious to them. He was a good example to my stepfather on how to be a good stepfather, full of love and respect for little people regardless of their parentage, showing friendliness widely, and living a life that was admirable in many ways. One only wishes that such a kind man would have been able to live a life that was kinder to him.

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/08/21/straight-outta-whitewash/

[2] See, for example:


[3] See, for example:



[4] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/04/28/the-military-historian-and-the-fog-of-war-a-case-study/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Christianity, History, Love & Marriage, Musings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to He Didn’t Have To Be

  1. Thank you. This really means a lot. He thought highly of you and recalled your conversations often–especially the political ones. Still waters run deep.

  2. Pingback: Funerals Bring Families Together | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Beauty Among The Ruins | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: The Funeral | Edge Induced Cohesion

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