Pardo Frederick Delliquadri, my grandfather on my mother's side, would have turned 101 today. My mentor, my pal, my hero, and the man who taught me to make the greatest tomato sauce you ever tasted, Grandpa Fred had a seemingly unlimited capacity for kindness and (as you can see here) silliness. He would often wake me up in the morning by lobbing sock balls at my bed; and his flair for changing the words of classic songs to something absurd and/or off-color is something I definitely inherited from him, along with his eyebrows.
A first-generation Italian-American, Grandpa Fred was born into a large family in Pueblo, Colorado. He went to the University of Colorado on a full scholarship, worked for the WPA in the late 30s, then got his Masters of Science in Social Work degree from the University of Nebraska. He served as a Lieutenant in the US Navy Reserve during World War II, overseeing port operations in Boston and Panama; after the war, he took on supervisory and directorial roles in the Departments of Public Welfare of Wyoming, Illinois and Wisconsin, all in divisions related to children.
From there, he served as the Dean of the schools of social work at the University of Wisconsin, Columbia University, the University of Hawaii, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and the University of Alabama. President Johnson appointed him as the Chief of the U.S. Children's Bureau at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare; he also served as the U.S. Representative to the Executive Board of UNICEF, and the U.S. Delegate to the Inter-American Children's Institute, and received many honors and awards for his work on behalf of children around the world. Not a bad trajectory at all for a kid who first went to work at the age of eight — shining shoes and selling papers on the streets of Pueblo — to help his struggling family survive.
My wife and I went to see Hidden Figures last night (which we both loved), and I kept thinking about Grandpa Fred through the entire film. Sometime back in the mid-70s, he took me and my sister to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and I think he loved the experience even more than I did; he knew the names and details of all the astronauts and their missions, and clearly felt so much pride in the fact that Americans had reached the moon during his lifetime. He was also deeply proud of the progress that America had made during his lifetime in the Civil Rights arena; in his quiet way, he made very clear to me the contempt he felt for his white neighbors and colleagues in Tuscaloosa who clung to their racism like it was some kind of life raft.
A staunch Democrat throughout his life, Grandpa Fred would have been less than excited about today's inauguration ceremonies. But what would have disturbed him far more than the current occupant of the White House is the cast of venal, cruel and incompetent characters who are using Trump's election as a mandate for undermining and reversing so much of the social progress that we've made since the Great Depression. As someone who cared so much about the well-being of this country's children — especially the disadvantaged ones — my grandfather would have been completely appalled by the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education; and he would have been truly sickened by Paul Ryan's idea that we can somehow "Make America Great Again" by repealing the ACA and leaving millions and millions of American children (and their parents) without health coverage.
Likewise, the notion that white men have somehow been oppressed in recent years by "political correctness" and the extension of equal rights to women, gays and minorities wouldn't have washed with him, not one bit; nor would the scapegoating of immigrants and people of darker skin or non-Christian religions. After all, he and his brothers (and one sister) who served in WWII didn't fight fascism overseas just so it could make landfall here seven decades later.
What Grandpa Fred wouldn't have done, though, is waste time arguing about things like Bernie vs. Hillary on social media, posting snarky Trump memes, or wailing about how he was going to leave the country. No, he would have been about the business of helping our poor and disenfranchised fellow humans (especially the kids) who are going to suffer even more under the boot-heel of this administration. And I hereby pledge to do whatever I can to follow in his footsteps in that regard over these next four years.
I love you, Gramps. Happy Birthday, and thanks for the constant inspiration.