Category Archives: Dad Stuff

Having Run the Race

In a few days I will mark the passage of one year since my dad died.

 

 

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Remrandt’s Apostle Paul (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Just writing that sentence made me feel a little weird.  My father remains the finest man I will ever know.  Not only did he give me life but he took care of me.  For the 39 years I had him on this earth with me there was never a time when I didn’t know in my heart that he cared for me.  Through my childhood he raised me, provided everything I needed and many things I wanted.  He gave his advice, though not always in a sit-down “Son, we need to talk” kind of way.  In fact, we never had a conversation like that.  He taught by example.  I never heard him complain, not even once, about a solitary thing in life.  We laughed one night at dinner a few years back when he made a comment about not liking pot roast much because Mom had been serving it for dinner almost every Sunday for years.  He was happy with the life God gave him.

But one year earlier the light seemed to go out of his life somewhat.  He was old.  He was tired.  And he had just been dealt a terrible blow.  In October of 2015 my oldest brother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  I still hate that term.  My parents watched as their son, who had lived perhaps not the most exemplary of lives, literally came home to die.  Thirty years earlier they had lost three children in a terrible tragedy.  Back then Dad didn’t have time to grieve.  Now, he couldn’t help himself.  No parent should ever lose a child.  To lose four…  I can easily forgive him for coming to the conclusion that it was his time to let go as well.

My dad was fond of a passage in Paul’s Letter to Timothy.  “I have fought the good fight, I have run the race, I have kept the faith.”  When he died these words came back to me.  The man was a fighter, stalwart in his faith.  That’s what he taught me.  I remember in the day or so after her died printing a copy of that passage.  Mom had asked me and my niece to read at his funeral.  I was honored to read at this mass.  My dad had been a lector for years when I was growing up.  From him I learned my love not only of the Catholic faith but of what was his passion – the liturgy.  I remember so many years, day in and day out, before I moved away where I would go with him to mass every day and later as an adult when I would take him with me.  I, too, am a lector and I think of him every time I read at mass.  My niece, a young girl of 13, had been reading at daily mass – the mass they’d take Grandpa too – for a while and I know how much he loved to see her read.  But something happened.  When we got to the sanctuary, she asked me where the reading was.  I mistakenly mentioned that it was in the book.  Instead it was in my pocket.  She read a different reading.  It was still very fitting but it wasn’t 2 Timothy 4:7.

I had to make this right for him.  At the cemetery I mentioned to Mom what had happened and asked the priest if my niece could proclaim that reading there at the grave.  She did.  Somehow it seemed more fitting here.

The last words spoken in the presence of his earthly remains were from his granddaughter and I know in my heart she was speaking them of him.

“I have fought the good fight, I have run the race, I have kept the faith.”

My dad impressed upon me the solemn duty of an Irishman to attend wakes and funerals.  “It’s just what we do,” he had said to me before.

And as if to show him I had learned his lesson I stayed behind with the funeral director as the last man, his youngest boy, until my father’s casket was lowered to his final resting place.  I dropped the rose from my lapel the fifteen feet or so and watched as it landed squarely on his coffin.  I was kneeling in the dirt as I said good bye to Daddy.

Other than the impending anniversary, I don’t know why this memory is haunting me at the moment.  I still talk to the man every day.  Typically I blurt out “Dad, help me!” with one of my many crises.  I’d like to believe he’s working overtime to obtain for me whatever particular grace it is I’m seeking at the moment.

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Dad doing a crossword.  He did one of these every day for decades.  I learned to love crosswords from him.

He was an amazing guy.  Anyone who’d ever met him loved him.  He was funny, smart as a whip, and incredibly loving and kind.  His family was his world.  And my mom…  She was the sun, moon, and stars to him.  There is one thing he taught me that I think I actually get right most of the time.  I learned how to love from the both of them but I learned how to treat my wife from him.  I never saw them go anywhere where he didn’t open her door.  He laughed with her.  He thought she was the most beautiful creature God ever put on the earth and he was always happy when he was with her.

In a few days I will board a plane and travel to see her and to celebrate and remember a remarkable man who gave me life and taught me how to fight, to run, and to keep faith.  I can’t say I’m much of a fighter or a runner and I often feel like despairing; but he taught me what to do.  The reason I was a teacher for so many years was because he first taught me.

As we draw near to that day, I will carry him ever more in my heart remembering the lives he affected and how much better we all are because he fought and ran and kept the faith.

God bless you for reading this far.  Say a prayer for my family if you would be so kind.  And say a prayer for me.  40 years from now if even one person could say of me that I kept the faith I will die a happy man.

Oh, and I started running again.  I’m 40, I’ve got a major spinal problem, I just quit smoking after 22 years, it’s cold, and I suck at running but I’m doing it.  Dad is probably laughing.  But perhaps I’ll be able to say literally that I’ve run the race.

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She’s Amazing

Believe it or not, I do not like to write about my wife very often.  It’s not that I don’t love her or think the world of her.  I certainly understand more than most husbands the imbalance between myself and her.  My dad didn’t dispense marriage advice to me often.  He just lived the life of a dutiful husband.  He placed my mom on a pedestal, adoring his “child bride” for the 60 years of their life together.  The way he treated her – loving, honoring, and truly cherishing her – was more than enough for us to see what being a husband and father meant.  But he was fond of saying, whenever the subject came up, that “all women marry beneath themselves.  They marry men.”  And it’s certainly not that he thought ill of his sons, simply that he recognized the inherent beauty, dignity, and grace of woman.  Let’s face it.  Men are brutish, boorish, and hairy until a woman graces us with her presence.  Even then, we’re still pretty hairy.  But it is in the instant that a young man discovers a woman who’s taken an interest in his potential that he radically alters his life to become the “man” God always wanted him to be – a strong, providential, gentle, patient, and loving man capable of raising a family.

No, I don’t write often about my beloved for the same reason that I never mention students by name and I use my own photos rather than images grabbed from the internet.  The people and places involved in the re-telling of my life never asked to be the subject of a blog!  While it is true that I can talk about my life all I want, I am always mindful of crossing the line and exposing someone who might enjoy some of the privacy the entire human race enjoyed before the online world took over our lives.

That being said, I have to relay something the wonderful Mrs. Harvey did for me today.  A month and a half ago I resigned from my job as a school administrator.  I had worked so hard and long for this opportunity.  But when the moment came, not too long into this job, and I realized it wasn’t working out, I decided it was time to move on.  The past few weeks leading up to my last day have been strange for me.  I’ve had very little to do but show up.  When I wasn’t at work I was starting to get depressed.  You see, I’ve never been in this position of having no prospect or idea of where I’m going to wind up.  I’ve been reflecting on lack of marketable skills other than teaching which I think is impressive but most people think of as a joke.  In fact, I think I want to go back to teaching but it’s mid-year and there aren’t too many teaching jobs available.  I’ve struggled with self-doubt, lack of confidence, and a feeling that I had failed – not just myself which would be tolerable enough but also the woman I vowed to give my life to and the children she’s given me.  And through it all she’s been so gracious to me, encouraging me, helping me to see the situation for what it is, and doing it all without losing her mind.

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Don’t laugh at the diet tonic.  I like my gin and I don’t want all the extra carbs.

So today I finished up at work and drove home.  When I walked in the door my wife and kids were out running errands.  As I opened the door from the garage I noticed a large gift basket on the counter in the kitchen.  This basket was filled with, well to put it gently, booze.  Knowing my wife’s tendency to purchase such baskets at gala auctions I almost walked right past it.  But then I stopped and read the card.  It read something to the effect of “I’m so excited to start this next chapter of our life together and I love you.  Now drink up.  You’re on vacation!”

I’d like to think that I could ever be as amazing as she is but I know that’s not likely.  I will spend the rest of my life searching for a way to make her as happy as she makes me.  In the meantime, I’d better do as the lady says…

Cheers everyone!

True Love

This afternoon I had occasion to drive a few blocks away to pick up my daughter from a friend’s birthday party.  I didn’t feel like going because a cold front had moved in and it was windy and it’s Friday and I’m tired.

I got to the house and knocked on the door.  I’ve done this before.  It usually goes down like this.  A frazzled mom answers the door, half-crazed from running after a house full of little kids all afternoon entertaining them with crafts and games.  She might have frosting from a cake she slaved over smeared on her shirt.  She invites me in to “wait while I get her” before disappearing somewhere into the frenzy.  I wait around twiddling my thumbs for five to ten minutes until my daughter appears and tells me she’s just been having so much fun she NEEDS another five minutes.  I give in and wait around a while longer.  The whole process take an hour or so until I’m back at home watching the news.

Today was different.

The mom answered the door right away with a very little girl in tow.  The young lady couldn’t have been more than 2 or 3.  Her mom had no cake smear and did not appear the least bit stressed.  “I’ll get her for you,” she said as she calmly walked toward the kitchen with a smile.

Before I had time to wonder if I had stepped onto the set of Stepford Wives the little girl who had been following her ran toward me with open arms and the biggest smile.  Her head was slightly cocked and tilted a bit downward yet she was looking right into my eyes.  She ran toward me so fast I didn’t have time to think. about what was happening.  She threw her arms around my legs and said “Hi!” as she gave me the warmest hug.  And she almost didn’t let go.

I knew right away that something was different, indeed something was special.  This little girl has Downs Syndrome.  I don’t know why that should occur to me or even enter into what I’m describing except that I was immediate aware of how much the problems of my own world don’t matter and how much love, true love, this angel was showing to me at this moment.

In an instant my heart stopped as I was caught up in the moment.  She was so immensely filled with joy and happiness and it was all because I was there.  I can’t recall anyone ever greeting me like this before.  She took my hand and made me stoop down to the piano bench sitting next to us.  She motioned toward the bench.

“Do you want to play for me?” I asked  “Yeah!” she said and she scampered onto the bench.  She played so beautifully for someone who can’t play.  I know because I play; so I offered to play for her.  I stood behind her stooped over the bench so I could touch the keys, my arms encircling her.  She put her head back on me and looked up as I played.  She didn’t touch the keys, just listened lovingly as though I was playing the most beautiful piece ever written.

And she loved it.

And she loved me.

And I love her.

My daughter came around the corner and I had to say goodbye to my new friend.  She smiled and waved and gave me another hug.

God is so good to give me just a moment of His love and that family is so blessed to have such a treasure.

May you also be blessed to experience His love.

A Debt of Gratitude

Miss me? Don’t answer that. Instead, say a prayer or two for me. I could use them right now. But enough about me…

A few weeks back a friend of mine was going out of town for a week. He posed a request to me. 

“Could you pet sit for us?”

I didn’t even honestly know he had a pet.

He doesn’t.

His little girl has a bunny rabbit. My motto is, if it doesn’t jump into your lap showing the affection of a hyper caffeinated child, it ain’t a pet. Also, if the slightest noise can cause it to have a heart attack and die, you might want to consider a dog. 

But we had a bunny when I was a kid. OK, we had about ten bunnies over the years. After Mom accidentally cooked Thumper I would have thought we’d learned our lesson. More on that later. 

Lepus: Latin for messed up.

Maybe it was the way he asked. He seemed genuinely embarrassed. He’s a pretty manly guy – the kind who exudes confidence that he could take on anybody in a brawl he’s that well built. To observe  this jacked dude lower his head and almost whisper the question “Think you could, um, take care of my daughter’s rabbit while we’re gone?” was quite comical. If it were up to him and he had zero regard for his little girl’s blatant admiration of her old man I think he’d let the critter starve. 

But I have a little girl too. More to the point I have a friend and here he was asking me a favor. 

Of course I said yes. And I meant it. The fact that I’m only writing about it now indicates how it truly was nothing to me because I was just helping a friend and fellow dad. 

And Fluffy and I had some good times. For a week straight I’d drive over, let myself in, watch some Cinemax, toss some hay at the rabbit, drink their wine, and leave. After five days I realized they don’t have cable and don’t drink. Once we got that straightened out I stated going next door where I encountered an emmaciated bunny. Also Cinemax has some weird titles. Fluffy and I frolicked together in the yard. I read him a few bedtime stories. Wilt Chamberlain: My Story seems to be a favorite. Every night without fail as I was putting the book down Fluffy would roll his eyes and say “Eh, I’ve got better numbers” before crawling into my lap and saying “I love you Daddy! and drifting off to sleep in my arms. 

Tonight I stopped by my friend’s house for a few minutes. It’s nice to catch up. We live a few minutes apart but see each other very sporadically. As I was on my way out the door he handed me a paper bag. “Just a little thank you for taking care of the furry little guy.” How did my brother Paul enter into this?

It was a bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin, and a big one at that! It was totally unnecessary but I accepted with great delight. He then added the compliment that he could tell I’ve been working out. Before you get all “that’s weird” on me, know that this man has borne the brunt of my insane desire to get in as good shape as he is for years. That compliment was very much appreciated. 

So, children, learn this lesson. When a friend asks a favor always say yes. Who knows? There might just be gin in it. And if you’re lucky you might just have a good friend who knows you like gin (and who understands how insecure you are about your body compared to his). 

They Took My Boy Away

I haven’t had the will to write these past few days.

That’s because they took my boy away from me.

True he may not have been legally mine in any legal way.  But from the moment he walked through the door from customs just three weeks earlier, Sylvester was ours.

Sadly, my will to keep him as my adopted son was not strong enough to evade the hand of time, tide, and that damn exchange program.  Apparently the terms were something along the lines of “you take him for three weeks then he goes home”.

Vicious.

Now we are left childless except for the two children I fathered biologically and who live with us and are the light of our life.

Alas, poor Sylvester.  I can only imagine the horrors in your Salamancan soul as you boarded that plane and headed for… New York?

Wait, what?

Son, listen, I know you’re becoming a man and all that but I am your father and I don’t recall giving you permission to run off to the Big Apple like some common tourist.  Now I see how it goes down.  You and your “group” are going to “sight-see” and then what?  They’ll coral you up and shove you on a plane and send you back to Spain.

OK, it sucks.  We really enjoyed our time with him.

A few nights before his departure I took him along with a friend and his two sons and my real son to a Rangers baseball game.  Gee that was fun.  He said baseball is his favorite even though he never gets to see it in Spain.  “Didn’t I tell you, Sylvester?  Texas connects us.

The night before he left we took our Sylvester to our favorite barbecue pit.  Once again, our growing boy’s eyes popped out of his head.  “So much food!!” he said, his English clearly improved from his first day in our home.  The thing is that on the way to the restaurant he insisted he wanted to pay.  Something about us having been too kind to him and him wanting to return the favor.  I said something like “It’s OK, son, you’ll have plenty of time to take care of American Daddy when I retire” but he wouldn’t hear of it.

Texas barbecue isn’t cheap and I’ll leave it at that.

So the next morning came.  He spent the night before packing.  He even asked for a scale, convinced that his suitcase would be overweight.  He’s lucky he wasn’t overweight after how we fed him.  Only the best of Texas for my boy!  I got up early and drove him to the airport on my way to work.

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My babies in front of the great State Capitol of Texas

He looked up at me as we were saying our good-bye’s in the terminal.  “Three weeks ago, was happy.  Today is sad.”  I gave him a card for his impending birthday.  We had stuffed some cash into it to make up for his kind gesture the night before.  “No no no,” he said.  “I cannot take this.”  I looked him in the eye and said “Son, I know there comes a time when every man thinks he can tell his father what to do.  He’s grown up.  He can take care of himself.  I know you’ve got a deep seated need to prove yourself in the world.”  His English wasn’t good enough yet to understand lines from after school specials.  I finally said “Trust me, they only take American money in New York.

Speaking of New York I was happily able to reassure him that he’d have no problem finding someone who spoke Spanish in Manhattan.  Granted it might not be good Spanish but he’d understand.

And like that my little bundle of joy was gone from my life.  They grow up so fast and abandon the nest.  We’ll certainly miss him.

And as I was wondering today if he’d even remember us I got a text from my Spaniard.  It read simply:

“I am home.  New York was huge.  I cannot find Dr. Pepper anywhere in Spain.”

Don’t worry, son.  We’ll ship you some.  American Daddy’s got your back.

Teaching the Boy Idioms

I’ve just wrapped up a three day out-of-town conference.  My new boss graciously offered that I take my wife and kids with me.  I had fun hearing all about work-related things while my wife and the gatitos had fun swimming, touring, eating, etc.  In the evenings we reconvened for a late dinner and family time.  One of my kittens, the adoption-in-waiting Sylvester, already seems tired of Texas heat.  When asked if he wanted to swim one evening his response was “Um…  Maybe.”  And that maybe sounded very much like how he says no.

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Sylvester and his new sister (don’t mock me) light a candle and pray for American Daddy

Not sure what image of Texas in summer they gave him at the orphanage airport but it’s kind of what we do in Texas in July if we’re anywhere in sight of a concrete basin filled with chlorinated water.

The conference ended this morning and we decided to take our new addition to the family to a place that is sacred to all Texans.  No, it’s not that Czech gas station in West that sells the little danish-type pastries (though that’s probably on the itinerary for the return).

We took our Sylvester to the Alamo!

When we got out of the car I began to explain to the boy that San Antonio was founded by Spaniards and was indeed once part of Spain.  He seemed interested.  Mildly.

As we headed down the street toward the Alamo itself my young man held his right forearm aloft in the late afternoon sun.  He held it right next to mine.  I tan very well and from late April until November I resemble George Hamilton.  Sylvester looked back and forth between our two arms for a moment and proudly remarked with his trademark Madrilene smile:

“I am becoming black now!”

To which American Daddy promptly replied:

“No.  No, you’re not,” as I quickly glanced around to make sure he hadn’t said this in earshot of any actual black people.

Then I had the joy of explaining the subtleties of color nuance to my exchange son.

“See, Sylvester, this is called tan, not black.”

“But, it is very similar to black man, no?” said he.

Before we hit the Alamo, perhaps we’d better visit the Civil Rights Museum first.  Otherwise this adoption might be in jeopardy.

How strange that just three weeks ago I wasn’t sure I even wanted an exchange son.  No we can’t imagine our world without him.

Raising an Exchange Son

My little bundle of alegría is getting bigger every day.

Nearly two weeks into his stay in our life forever, Sylvester – that’s my foreign exchange son – is already holding his head up on his own, walking erect, and babbling.  He might be expressing high level thoughts in a language not my own.  Who can say?

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One day we will teach you all about where you came from, son.

It dawned on me while I was brushing my teeth tonight that I should have asked him to call me “Big Daddy” as I called my father before me.  That would have been nice.  I suppose there’s still time; though he is growing like a weed.  He’s already over 5 feet tall, the little gremlin.  Someone got fed after midnight…

I’m already planning next year’s “Gotcha’ Day” festivities.  My wife says we may have to move them up to sometime in the next week.  “He has to go home,” she says.

“Honey,” I replied, “this is his home – his forever home.”

She mumbled something about delusions and international law.  I reminded her about our “passports and .45’s” discussion of the other day.  Ooh!  And my son, the biological one, picked up a nifty fu manchu-style fake mustache the other day!  I’ll bet one of us could use that at some point.

Our neighbors next door host a family get-together every weekend.  We sometimes walk out onto our porch late on Saturday night just to hear the authentic music and smell the grilling of fish.  Our neighbor on the other side calls it their “la familia parties”.  He says it with the thickest Texas accent and it sounds quaint.  We don’t mind because it’s all family and I think it’s neat to see how they celebrate that.  I’m from a big family too and we like to party.  What an unusual world we’ve brought you to, Sylvester.

Last Sunday my wife asked him how he could possibly sleep with the mostly mariachi-sounding music in the driveway outside his bedroom at 3AM.  “It’s OK,” he said.  “Maybe they are Mech-ican?”

Indeed, son.  He’s already learning so much about culture.

Took the lad to the batting cages yesterday.  He’s never swung a bat before but he did the old man proud.  Once he got into the swing of it (no pun intended; and note to self: begin working in more Dad jokes) he really knocked it out of the park.  Also note to self: stop using baseball metaphors when talking about baseball.  After a fastball came screaming down the line from the pitching machine, my little Spaniard knocked that mother back to the black hole it came from.  “Yay Sylvester!  White Daddy is so proud!”

Maybe I’ll get him a gun rack for his next birthday.