Melford Williams, a World War II veteran and tribal leader with the Caddo Nation, raised eight kids during the 1950s and '60s. He died in 1978, and his grandson, Kiamichi-tet Williams, never got a chance to meet him.
On a visit to StoryCorps in Denver, Kiamichi-tet asked his dad, Thompson Williams, about his grandfather.
"He wasn't the biggest guy, but people reacted to him like he was [a] giant," Thompson says. His father was a kindhearted man who wasn't afraid to cry, Thompson says.
"When I was young, I came home one day and I said, 'Dad, I was told men don't cry.' He looked at me and he said, 'Son, that's a lie. If you don't cry, you don't get rid of that poison that's in your body, that hurt, that pain. That's the only way you can truly be strong.'
"That was one of the most powerful things that I've learned from him," Thompson says.
Thompson recalls another powerful lesson he learned from his father at a young age: the importance of kindness.
When he was in grade school, Thompson says, he knew a child with intellectual disabilities. "One day, there was a bunch of us and we started throwing bottle caps at him," Thompson says.
"I picked one up and threw it — it smacked him in the head. I turned around and my dad was standing there. And I thought, 'Oops, I'm really in trouble now.' But he looked at me, tears in his eyes, and he said, 'Maybe I didn't teach you how to look after others. That's my fault.'
"You know, he could've stabbed me in the heart and it wouldn't have hurt as much. I don't know, maybe that's why I became a special ed teacher," says Thompson, who is now the coordinator of Indian education for Jefferson County in Colorado. "He had a lot of lessons that I hold onto to this day."
Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jud Esty-Kendall.