for my father

Helmut Georg Waltrapp with his cousin in Germany (1942)

He was born Helmut Georg Waltrapp in Germany in 1939 as the world around him was burning, and several years later, his mother grabbed him and rushed him off to the forests around Bamberg to hide from the coming Americans. The rumors were such, they knew they could expect no mercy. Yet it was a wonderful American military family—the Ellingtons—who would befriend my father, and eventually bring him to the US as their adopted son, George Ellington—the name he would later bestow upon me.

With his beloved wife, my dear mother, Dora (2007)

In America, my father moved to California when his father was stationed at Fort Ord near Monterey. And when the Ellingtons moved back to Virginia, Papa stayed in Salinas, where he had met my mother, Dora. He adored her. He still does, years after her passing. He still blows a kiss to a picture of my mother every night before going to bed. Together they created such a joyful, nurturing home, and made sure I believed in myself. Their love and their faith in me enabled me to grow up excited for life and love, to be the first to attend college, to become a teacher, and to travel back to Germany and to Scotland, from which the two sides of my family derived.

Papa and I in Utah (2001)

Throughout my life I have known him to be nothing but strong and clever and caring and infinitely kind. A manual laborer all his life, he proved himself to be the smartest man I have ever known, always eager to learn new things and to share his happiness and laughter with others. If I have any skill at all in parenting—I would even argue that if I have managed to achieve anything of value at all with my own life—it is because he was my role model. And he still is. Happy Father’s Day, Helmut Georg Waltrapp. Happy Father’s Day, George Elwood Ellington. You are my hero. This is a wee verse I wrote for my father some years ago.

Father and son together again at my wedding (2015)

never have i known
a man who so deftly
blends the honest love
of his noble heart
with the potent vigor
of his indomitable frame

a man who composes
with sweetest care
tales of vibrant life
and fantastical creatures
striving to tend those
trembling in need

i have passed a lifetime
struggling to elevate
myself beyond my dull
and common being
so that i might find
peace in who i am

yet my greatest feats
pale in comparison
to the life he has given
for those he loves
and for his ever eager
and child-like voice

my highest honor—
my dear and beloved
father, George—
lies in the fact that
i am and will always be
your adoring son