Category Archives: Dad Stuff

Two Months Later

It was two months ago today that my dad went home.

I thought of him a couple of nights ago.  My wife, kids, and I were gathered around our living room praying our nightly family rosary.  Dad was so incredibly devoted to the rosary.  I can still hear his voice as he would come to round us up each evening.  “Rosary time!”  It had a particular sing-song tonal quality to it.

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The astute observer will note the resemblance to the Garden State…  Dad would get the humor here.

And of course, today is St. Patrick’s Day.  My father was particularly fond of his Irish heritage.  I remember when I was growing up and he would go into the deli to get his morning papers after daily mass.  Seemed to me that each year on St. Patrick’s Day he’d emerge from the store with a green-colored carnation pinned to his lapel.

So on this day, in honor of Patrick, in honor of Dad, and in honor of the Blessed Mother I will ask that any of you who read this offer a rosary for the souls in Purgatory.  If you understood that sentence, you’ll know what to do.

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Dental Sprite Skeptic

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This girl’s going to be the death of me.  I haven’t pondered what “drastic measures” means but I’ll get there.

Strange Dream of the Century

I would hazard a guess that about half of my readers are not quite familiar with my attitude regarding titles for various blog posts.  So, for the both of you (I round up), here it is in a nutshell.  I firmly believe that a good title will write a good post.  That being said, there’s no accounting for many of my posts…

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As you can see, it’s a stock pic.  Dad’s, though, was pretty much the same.

Yesterday morning the most bizarre thing happened.  It was Sunday and the four of us all woke up in plenty of time for the 8AM mass in our parish.  This is unusual only because we typically rush to the 10AM and if we’re really tired (and feel like punishing ourselves) it’s the noon mass.  If we have to go to the 5:30PM mass on a Sunday we see it as penance for the sin of laziness for that is the mass with the “teen choir”.  Enough said.

My wife thought this was going to be a great day because we now suddenly found ourselves at home, having already been to mass, at 9:15 with a whole day open wide in front of us.  The only flaw in this thinking is that some of us were so tired from having been up so early that he (I) drifted off toward a nap.  And a most pleasant nap it was too.  Until…

I Had A Dream

No one really knows how these things work except God so I won’t attempt to explain it.  At some point during my less-than-an-hour nap I found myself sitting in the drivers seat of a car that was parked at a curb in a familiar-looking location.  I recognized the car right away.  It was the last Buick my dad had owned.  He liked Buicks.  This was a dark blue 1994 four-door Century and I found it strange that the car looked so much better than the last time I saw it sometime around 2008.  It almost appeared to have come right off the assembly line, it was that pristine.

I looked out the window and saw my passenger coming across the street.  Somehow I knew I would be driving someone.  It was my father.  I was fairly surprised considering he’s been dead for over a month.  But I didn’t let that bother me too much.  In fact I either thought the following or said it outright in my dream: “This will be fun!”  He was dressed sort of how I remember him with a black woolen overcoat over his suit, a tweed fedora, and carrying a folded newspaper.

He got into the backseat of the car on the drivers side and Started unfolding the paper.  None of this was strange to me.  He owned the fedora I was seeing.  He did the folding thing with his paper in such a way that I could copy it move for move, it was that routine.  The only things that were a little off were the overcoat (I don’t remember him ever owning a black wool variety) and the fact that I was driving him.  He had let me drive him places but not normally in his car.  If we took his car anywhere, he’d drive.  The other thing that surprised me was how healthy he looked.  He wasn’t any younger than his 80 years at the time of his death.  He was just not “old” looking.  I took note of the fact that he was not rail thin.  He looked much like I remember him from around the time he retired.

Turning to my passenger I said “So, how are things?” to which he replied “Good,” while glancing at his paper looking for the crossword.  It was at this point that – even in my dream – I knew I was dreaming.  I figured I’d have a little fun with the old man.

“So,” I asked him rather coyly, “Where’ve been you hanging out these days?”

My father didn’t even look up from the paper.

“You know that,” he replied.  There was a hint not of pride in his answer but rather of matter-of-factness as if to say “you know where I am because you have faith.”

“I know, Dad.”  And I couldn’t resist needling him once more.  I mean how often do you get to spend time with your dead father just the two of you?  I had one more question.  I asked it with full knowledge that he had received an Apostolic Pardon.  Click the link if you don’t know.

“Did you go right in?”

Almost getting a little bothered at this line of questions, again for the seeming lack of faith, he said “Of course!”

Again I added, “Yeah, I know…” before struggling to find the next thing I’d want to ask him knowing I could wake up at any moment.

“How’ve you been?”

That seemed like a stupid thing to ask and a question I had already asked at least three times in different words.

“Well,” he said, “your mother is upset with me…”  And here’s where it just got plain weird.  “Because I never thanked her for a pair of pants she bought me a few months ago.”  “Well, Dad,” I said, “Why didn’t you thank her?”  His reply was classic.  “Well I meant to, I just didn’t get around to it.”

They say all good things must come to an end.  At that moment my phone – the one in my the hand attached to my very real unconscious body lying on the couch – rang.  I knew it was over.  I opened my eyes and looked at the screen.  It was my mom calling.

I shared this story with her.  She laughed.  “I’m very happy to hear that,” she told me.  It turns out that she had bought him some new clothes a few months ago.  My father was very particular about the clothes he wore.  “I never thought anything of it,” she said, “but I was a little annoyed that he didn’t even try them on.”  You see, at that point in his decline bouts of confusion had begun to set in.  He would sometimes get dressed in ways we were not used to (for a man known far and wide for his natty appearance).  These pants, it turns out, were made by a company that had started to save costs on production by, of all things, shortening the zipper.  For Dad, this simply would not do.  Also, he couldn’t distinguish whether they were navy or very dark gray and it was hard to match them to his shirt.  For the record, they are black.  I know because they hang in my closet and I’ve worn them several times.  And the shorter zipper is a bitch.

Dad, I don’t know why you chose to speak to me or to use me to get that message to Mom; but I’m sure glad you did.  Do it again!  I’d love to chat some more.  Maybe next time I’ll actually get to take you for a spin in that old Century.  Until then, as always, I love you.

A Memory of Dad

This afternoon I was having a moment of great fun with my students.  Some of you aren’t shocked.  One of the reasons I know teaching is in some way my vocation is by how easy it is for me.  I mean that as in it never seems like work.  I love my kids and every day brings truly great joy and really fun times.

In this particular class I was talking with the kids, going around the room.  The lesson was on coming to understand the conscience as the seat of judgment.  I mentioned my Dad as having among the best judgment of anyone I’ve known.  This is significant because I had just told them that the grace of God made present in the sacraments enhances our ability to judge effectively.  “Dad went to mass every day, kids,” I said.  [I’ve got to get back to that.]

Something strange happened.  While I was talking about him I began to feel like he was in the classroom with us.  That’s not too unusual for me.  I’ve always believed in the strong presence of those we’ve lost still in our lives.  But I began to wonder a few things.  He never saw me teach.  Actually very few of my friends have.  It’s a shame, really.  I’m pretty freakin’ awesome at it.  But it’s strange for me because I remember how he taught.  He was not a teacher.  In fact, he didn’t suffer most teachers well.  The man was a genius though he lacked the patience to express what he knew to those of us who were not on his level.  I still fear numbers because of how he corrected my math homework as a kid.  “What the hell did you write all those extra numbers on the page for?” he’d ask.  “Well, um, Daddy, Sister said that’s how you carried the, um, extra num” — “Can’t do it in your head?!”  In truth it was funny and I certainly learned a few things like how to frustrate him when I wanted a laugh.  Sitting at the piano one day I asked if he wanted me to teach him how to play.  The conversation ended with “What’s the matter, can’t play both hands together?!”  Of course I said it in a much more innocent tone than you’re imagining.

But Dad always admired those who could do things well, especially if he could not.  He was never envious, just impressed with good work and, especially, with good performances.  Don’t you know I taught one of my best classes ever this afternoon.  I wanted him to see how good I was and wondered if he’d be impressed.

I mentioned a “memory” in the title and almost forgot to write about it.  Driving home from work, still thinking about Dad, my mind wandered to an incident from years ago.  I was 23 years-old, laid up with a bad back and the accompanying paralyzing sciatica.  I spent weeks on the couch in Mom and Dad’s living room, awake all night and asleep all day thanks to the painkillers I was taking.  Some days, I’d be awake for a few hours in the early afternoon, though, and these were the worst times because everyone was out and I had no company.  I had dozed off one day, kind of depressed about a lot of things.  When I opened my eyes I saw my father sitting on the couch next to the chair I was on.  He never sat in that room for anything.  He had noticed me sleeping and had decided I needed him nearby.  He had even gotten us each a dish of ice cream.  He must have known that would wake me up.  You see, he was also looking for company.  There was a game show on the History Channel and he had no one to watch it with – or at least no one who would give him a challenge.  I felt better for a while.  We sat together and shouted out answers about WWII at the screen.  I think I even “won”.  Who can’t carry the one now, old man?!

I don’t know why that memory has always stuck with me.  But I’m glad it has and I’m very glad I thought of it today and I wanted to share it because maybe it will make you glad as well.

Another Anniversary

Two days ago we celebrated the 35th anniversary of my twin sister’s passing.  I say we “celebrated” yet I did little more than treat myself to a few hundred extra calories.  But that’s part of a new bulking diet and I’ll write more on that in another post.  Those calories, by the way, came from sprouted grain wheat bread, natural peanut butter, and hard boiled eggs; not exactly a trip to the Dairy Queen.  In years past I actually celebrated the day with more festivity.  We’d go out to dinner at least.  But times are different and after shelling out quite a bit to cover travel expenses for Dad’s funeral, a low-key remembrance is fitting.

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Like father, like son. Harvey’s old man in the late 1950’s (age 21?) and Harvey in 2009 (aged 31) Dad switched to a pipe not long after.  I guess that’s one way to be more like him.

Today was the anniversary of my brother’s passing.  That would be my older brother Owen who was six when he died as a result of the same house fire that claimed my sister.  There’s one more in two days and I’ll cover him then.

Imagine, if you will, what that week was like for our family.  Put aside for the moment the absolute tragedy and shock of losing your home and all your worldly possessions in the middle of the night (not to mention the trauma of how it went down).  Now imagine you’re a relatively young couple with an enormous family.  My parents were in their early 40’s.  For Dad it must have been hell.  Before the fire’s even out your wife is lying critically injured from a jump out the second floor window, your children are being loaded into ambulances to be dispersed to multiple hospitals in the area, your house is gone, it’s cold, there’s snow on the ground, you’re in your boxers because that’s what you went to bed in.  And you’ve just realized that your four year-old daughter is dead.

If ever there was a case for daily mass, this moment proves to me where the man got his strength.

Two days later with your wife and many of your children still in hospitals being treated for broken bones from being tossed into the snow from the second floor porch and while you’re planning a funeral for your child, your six year-old son succumbs to the smoke inhalation.

As with my twin, I have no memories of my brother.  Years later I did use his middle name for my son (and to honor the pope).  Yet, he is the brother I always wished I’d gotten to spend more time with.  He was the next closest sibling to me in age (after my twin).  Thinking of all this three and a half decades later I’m completely in awe of my father.  When my kids get sick I freak out.  I can’t imagine losing either of them, let alone both.

Do you know what Dad did?

He planned a double funeral.

These are my first conscious memories.  Standing in the funeral home I remember the thousands of people who came, and to the church for the mass.  I remember it was Catholic Schools Week and the principal of the parish grade school halted whatever activities were scheduled.  Close to 700 children in perfect uniform in the church with us.  I remember a procession of priests that, to me, seemed to go on forever.  The Benedictine abbot from my father’s alma mater, I think, was there.  I’m sure one of my siblings will correct me if he wasn’t but I remember seeing a mitre.  Coincidentally, I think this is where my love of Catholic schools was truly formed and to this day it is my life’s work.  I remember things like the drive to the cemetery with a line of cars stretching well past where I could see.  And I remember feeling like this was huge, like my life was completely different now.  And I remember gray skies, light snow, and cold.  And from their grave I could see the Twin Towers and I was a twin and that was cool.

He never talked much about it.  It’s a wonder the stress of that week didn’t kill him outright.  The thing is that he was a man.  He was an honest to goodness, genuine man; without swagger, without false machismo – the kind of man we used to hear about and read about and see in Frank Capra films.  He wasn’t soulless, he wasn’t a robot.  He cried.  But he knew and lived his faith.  These two were safe and supremely happy.  The rest of us needed love, protection, and support.  Who had time to wallow, though that wallowing was more than deserved.  The fact that he lived another 35 years is a testament to his faith.

And I’ve realized I need to be more like him.  I need to return to mass every single day without exception.  I need to provide more for my family.  I need to show my children what true strength is.  From my dad I learned that it involves a healthy dose of having a lot of fun with your kids.

There’s a reason for that.  Dad used to say (especially in the last few years):

“Some men invest in their retirement plans.  I invested in children.”

Well, I started out talking about my brother’s anniversary and wound up talking about Dad.  Please forgive me for these posts of late.  I certainly don’t intend to be morbid or to depress anyone.  I walked into a friend’s classroom the other morning before school started and he was crying.  “Why’d you do that?” he asked, almost angrily.  Turns out he was reading my last post about my sister.  “Do you enjoy making me cry?”  Sidenote: if I told you he’s also the trainer-friend I’ve mentioned before then you can imagine it was a kind of payback for the tears I’ve shed that I’ll never be in his shape.  But I never want to make people cry.  “Some men can move heavy weights around,” I said.  “I guess I can move words?”

Truly I am celebrating the beautiful lives of the people in my family and I do rejoice for them.  I’m also realizing so much more now that he’s gone how very special a man my father is.  And I’m seeing now so acutely just how much I’ve wanted to be like him.  And for now I’ll stop writing.

The Other Half of Me

I couldn’t let this day go by without pausing to wish someone very close to me a happy anniversary.

35 years ago today, my twin sister went home to heaven.  Although I have no real memories of our short time on earth together, the bond between twins is very powerful and I know she has been with me in spirit all this time.

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One of the few pictures of me and Teresa.

Now she has a long-expected visitor with her.  I imagine the moment Dad breathed his last and his soul entered the heart of his Creator that the first thing he did was to behold the face of his little girl.  What joy that must have been for both of them!  She, along with my three brothers, have waited patiently for him in a place where there is no time nor space.  They welcomed him home as if no time had passed.  I imagine whatever the spiritual, body-less equivalent of a young, vigorous Daddy running toward his children and wrapping his arms around them is; he did it.  He had faith all these years on earth that he would be with them again.  It’s strange to me that all of these things happened around the same, dark, cold time of year.  The five of them now have anniversaries within weeks of each other.  That’s nice in a way.  We on earth can saunter through their remembrance of their lives all at once.

Thinking back on this particular day I remember the last time I saw Dad.   When I leaned in to give him a kiss and say good bye I whispered “Tell her I said hello.”

I know he did.  And I know that joyous reunion is going to go on in heaven for as long as eternity will allow.

And I am happy for them.

My Dad and Auntie Mame

What a strange day in a strange week…

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Broadway!

It all started over the Christmas break when I had a bit of free time and two kids who were eager for their free time to be filled with fun stuff.  With my son, it was easy.  We built Legos together and I made incredible progress in my effort to read to him the Chronicles of Narnia.  We’ve had great fun and we’re now on the fifth book.  With my daughter it’s a little harder.  She seems to be obsessed with different things, girl things, little girl things.  As I am a full-grown man I find it harder to relate.  Do you know how hard it is to fit a 6’2″ jacked frame (had to throw that in there) into a seat at a tea party when the chair is barely off the ground?

So during one of my many trips to the library to return one Narnia book and pick up another I came across a DVD of the Lucille Ball classic movie-musical Mame.  It’s got singing.  It’s got dancing.  It’s got elegant costumes.  It’s got drinking and sauce and spice and Bea freakin’ Arthur.  I checked it out, brought it home, and made a movie night of it.  And thank God I was right.  My little girl loved it – especially Bea Arthur.  The next day she said to me: “Daddy, my favorite was Mame’s best friend, the one who talked like a man.”

In fact it was a lot of fun.  We even checked out the non-musical, earlier version starring Rosalind Russell – Auntie Mame and watched that.

The thing is that we’ve also been dealing with Dad’s death.  I don’t mean that we’ve been going through stages of grief or that we had anything to occupy our time regarding planning his funeral or calling insurance policies in.  No, we found ourselves driving from Dallas to Newark and back inside of a week.  It was in the car that we actually watched Auntie Mame.  Sure beat looking at Arkansas (although it is a remarkably pretty state).

Tonight, as a surprise to me my daughter had given me tickets for the both of us to see a concert version of Mame at the lrving Arts Center, our local playhouse.  Normally I don’t mention real names in this blog but this deserves a mention.  She was so excited.  This morning she woke up and proclaimed it “Mame Day”.  I, too, was excited.  My sweetheart has become my theater buddy.  Since I no longer live a stone’s throw from Manhattan and since my wife is more into movie theaters than Broadway houses I relish that my daughter enjoys accompanying her old man to a show here and there.  And we have lots of fun.  Usually during intermission I buy her some souvenir from the lobby and myself a drink.

And then came the downer of the day.  Sweetheart got sick.  She actually didn’t want to tell us she wasn’t feeling well for fear she’d miss the show.  We noticed, though, and called her out on it.  My well-intentioned wife asked me if the theater might be able to switch our tickets to another performance.  Knowing how these things work I knew it would be a fool’s errand but I had to at least try for my baby.  Since the box office was already closed for business I decided to drive across town.

Along the ride I thought of my dad.  He enjoyed the theater.  More importantly he would do anything for his girls.  They looked up to him and he simply adored them.  I found myself talking to him.  “Dad, help me out her…  I can’t disappoint my little girl.”

I parked, walked into the lobby, and went to the will-call window.  To the older gentleman behind the counter I said:

“My wife bought our seven year-old daughter and me tickets to tonight’s performance.  Unfortunately she’s crying her eyes out at home right now because she’s sick.  Any chance we might be able to possibly transfer these tickets to a different night?”

I said this with a bit of breathlessness because I really didn’t believe he’d do it.

Well… not only did he do it but he did it with such kindness and decency!  He even gave us better seats!

You can’t convince me my father had nothing to do with that.

I turned to the man and said “You know, in New York this NEVER would have happened.”  He looked at me.  “We do things a little different around here.  I have a daughter myself.”  And I’m glad they do.

The rest of the night may have been spent cleaning up after a sick child in a bathroom but we were pretty happy about it.  My dad came through.  My daughter thinks I’m a hero.  And for Mame Dennis, it will still be today tomorrow.

I also have some tales of working out and such but I’ll posts them soon.