Category Archives: Family

Harvey’s Mailbag

First, a big thank you to the many of you who sent me messages after my last post.  It is nice to be appreciated for your writing.  For me, it’s nice to be praised for something that was about my dad.

One of my sisters pointed out (rightly so) why Dad would have been laughing at me running.  He was an actuary.  Numbers never lied to him and the more data he could get his hands on the more complete a picture of your impending mortality he could paint for you.  Runners, it seems, tend to die.  Well, if I remember this one correctly, it had something to do with the fact that all human beings die.  In a nutshell, though, runners tended to enjoy a negligibly similar mortality with non-runners (there was always that control group).  In other words, overall, running doesn’t make you live longer or shorter.  But it did correlate with death from (do not quote me on this) an enlarged heart.  Again, there wasn’t a direct cause and effect, just a correlation.  Whatever, I’m going to keep running so I have a way to burn up the nervous energy of an ex-smoker – as in, “What do I do with my hands!?”

Now then, on to the rest of the mail.

Six and half years ago, right after moving to Texas, my wife, in-law’s, and I traveled to Oklahoma one night to see one of my favorite singers – the immortal Frankie Valli.  I then wrote a story about it.  I’m not even going to link it.  If you want, you can find it for yourself.  In that story, as in so many stories I’ve written over the years, I employed a sort of absurdist humor.  For the uneducated or uninitiated, this type of humor is represented by several key hallmarks including series of events that do not follow (often in an extreme fashion, also called “non sequitir humor”), descriptives that are patently false yet played for reality, and a sense that the narrator may in fact be suffering from dementia.  In my story about Mr. Valli, the reader ought to be able to tell a few things.  First, I truly do love this man, his voice, and his contribution to the world.  There is no denying that.  Second, I am using absurdist humor to prop him up.  In other words, at an age when every human on the planet has outlived his actuarily lifespan; Frankie Valli is still making a buck, doing what he loves.

So I received the following comment…

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Takeaway: People read Harvey!

At first I wondered if the person posting the comment was a personal friend of Mr. Valli.  Then I began to realize something…  There is at least one person who read a post of mine almost seven years ago and remembered it well enough to dredge it back up.  In an absurd way, this person just validated my writing.  But let me address the issue at hand because I do not like to stifle criticism.  I’m a big boy and I can take it.  The comment was civil in tone.  Let’s assume that we live in a world in which a guy from Newark, NJ can’t poke some fun at an idol of his who also happens to come from Newark, NJ (which is a pretty awesome place, by the way) and is a gazillionaire celebrity who’s probably seen worse on the pages of Billboard Magazine.  Let’s assume.  Well, then, Mr. Valli and your dear family, I apologize for hurting your feelings.  If you’d ever like to suggest that my writing is crap please feel free.  It’s on me this time.  I promise I won’t even cry.

In the meantime, if you’d like to keep reading I will keep writing.  And Frankie, if you’re reading this and you ever feel like sending me an autographed headshot for my kids (who also adore you), let me know.  I’ll send you my address.

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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.

Family Game Night

One of the things I’m already enjoying about being “temporarily out of work” or “between jobs” or “finding myself” or some other such shit is the sense of peace and calm that has come over me.  A scant six hours after leaving my former job for the last time I endeavored to use this newfound tranquility of soul to my advantage.  Since I didn’t have to worry about answering a work phone, checking email, or trying to accomplish things that I’ll have time for tomorrow I thought a fun family game night would be in order.

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The Commodore (Cornelius Vanderbilt) would be proud. I think Lionel Ritchie would be too

I may have mentioned on these pages once or twice that my children have inherited from me some rather desirable traits such as a quick wit, stellar vocabulary, and devastating good looks.  OK, two out of three ain’t bad.  Armed with these gifts we sat down – Mommy, Daddy, and the two kids – to play a family favorite.  It’s called Ticket to Ride.  The board features a map of the US circa 1850 and lots and lots of “routes” between pinpointed cities.  Along these routes players build railroads by collecting and then distributing cards.  The player who successfully builds the railroads on his route cards typically wins the game except that there are bonuses.  For instance, a player receives a bonus for having the longest continuous railroad.  Why, you might ask, would anyone invent such a riveting game about antebellum transportation?  Clearly Parker Brothers had beaten them to the punch on their original concept – a board game about the triangle slave trade for players 8 and up.

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Can you believe people once traveled by tiny plastic?

About ten minutes into the game I had amassed a handful of cards with different routes on them.  My prospects looked good at completing a transcontinental takeover.  “I’m going to drive the golden spike!” I thought as I approached Salt Lake.  How fantastic…  My wife even encouraged me to use a little known maneuver and collect even MORE route cards.  “Listen,” she said, “You’ve already laid a lot of track down.  It’s very likely you already have completed routes that you could claim.”  Seemed like a good idea.

My son, meanwhile, was studying the map like a champ.  “Daddy,” he said, “I thought you said there was NOTHING in Kansas City.  Why would a railroad go through there?”  Perceptive, that boy.*

Looking across at my wife, my brow furrowed as I saw her suddenly begin to claim route after route in a rapid succession of turns.

“Daddy,” asked my daughter, “I’ve never seen that much white around your eyes!”

“Sorry, sweetheart,” I said.  “Daddy’s just been screwed over by Cornelius Vanderbilt,” I said as I pointed toward my wife.  None of them got the reference.

“Captain of industry?  New York Central Rail…, you know what?  Never mind.”

I looked at my cards.  There was still hope.  Not only did I have a few moves left to complete all of my routes but I remembered that this was only a game.  A game with tiny trains.  On a board.

On her next turn, as I was relishing the sweet taste of accomplishment at the thought of finally connecting Nashville to St. Louis, my daughter metaphorically punched me in the gut.  Placing two cards down she reached across the board and neatly positioned two locomotives between those cities.  Hey, she didn’t know.  She was just doing what made sense for her hand.

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She took my route!

“WHAT!?” I blurted out.  “Uh, um, you sure you want to do that?  I mean nobody goes to St. Louis anymore!”  “But Daddy, they’ve got that pretty arch and anyway it’s my only move left and then the game is over.”

My wife, realizing what had happened, stepped in and tried to persuade our little girl to make a different move.

Nothing doing.

I had to think fast.

“Sweetie, did you watch the news earlier this week?” I asked.

She shook her head.

“Well, it was very sad…”  I proceeded to tell her about the history of train derailments, demonstrating with her Nashville line by toppling her plastic engines off the board.

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Daddy just “derailed” your dreams, sweetheart.  Consider it practice for life.

Unfortunately, she continued the story by insisting that a crane had come in to re-position the trains.  Where did she get that from?  It’s like the time I played Battleship with my son and he figured out I had been moving my battleship.  “What, son?” I asked.  “My ship was under attack.  I would have been derelict as caption not to move her.”

And with that it was game over.

Next time we’re playing Trivial Pursuit.

 

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!

Riff

I’ve been wanting to write again for some time but couldn’t find the energy to get started.  It’s not that I couldn’t find the motivation, mind you.  Every day, countless things come into my life to inspire, challenge, and humor me.  I figured they might have a similar impact on you, too, my faithful readers.

So I went with the old tried and true Daily Post and its writing prompt.  Tonight it is the simple word “riff”.  Here goes…

First I want to ask your prayers for someone who is dying.  It could be anyone.  In my mind he is a very real young man with a family and he will open his eyes into eternal life very soon.  I’ve been thinking of my own mortality lately.  I’ve always been rather fatalistic.  Starting in childhood with the death of my twin sister at the age of 4.  In the past two years I’ve lost my oldest brother and my father.  I think about these pages and the banal things I’ve committed to cyber paper and I hope that my beloved son and daughter will be able to patch together a glimpse of their old man when I’m gone.  My wife already knows me well so I hope she’ll be able to smile when she reads my posts again and remembers the craziness that was our life together.  I love them so much and I’m glad God gave me a brief moment in this life to spend with them.  Pray.

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Pretty sure the car should be up there, not the driver.

Second I wanted to give thanks.  Every day there are numerous things for which we can thank God if we only look around us.  Last Thursday night my 13 year-old Honda died in the parking lot of a Walmart while I tried to start it after a brief shopping excursion.  I could have cursed life for the horror of being stranded in a Walmart parking lot.  Instead here’s what happened.  I called a friend of mine.  “Hey, my car died…” I said before being cut off.  “Where you at?  I’ll be right there,” he said with enthusiasm.  THAT’s a friend.  He gave up his evening to come pick me up, drive my wife to a meeting, take me and my kids to his house so he and I could work out together (motivating me to push harder in the process), lent me his clothes after I used his shower, and drove us home.  I may have looked silly in his duds but I was clean and dry and happy.  Two days later my mother-in-law’s neighbor – who’s legal name is actually Bubba – gleefully accompanied me to the parking lot, changed out the battery with me and then drove with me to an auto parts store to buy a new starter.  Imagine.  The battery and the starter both died together.  How serene.  If only it wasn’t in a Walmart parking lot.  The first friend’s wife (he was already out of town celebrating his brother’s 40th birthday) came with me to wait for the tow truck.  She has AAA and I don’t.  I told you.  I have a Honda.  The tow operator didn’t have a clue what he was doing.  He was in training so it took a painfully long time.  Within an hour of getting towed back to my mother-in-law’s house, Bubba called me to tell me he had worked on it, changed the starter, and it was fixed.  Wow.

Finally, I want to celebrate life.  I’m turning 40 myself pretty soon.  As my brother-in-law, a trauma nurse, once told me “Today’s a good day.  I got out of bed unassisted, didn’t need any help getting dressed.  I ate breakfast not through a tube…”  You get the point.  I haven’t even reached the age my dad was when I was born yet I feel like I’m getting old.  My best friend just turned 40 last week.  He’s an amazing guy.  I always tease him by asking him to give me the “22 day rundown of what it’s like being a year older”.  Truth is he could run circles around me in every way.  But I want to mark this milestone as another year God has given me to serve him, another year with my wife and kids, another year to write.  I think 40 will be fun.  Even if it’s not; it’s just a number.  I’m still going to live regardless of what my birth certificate says.  How’s that for irony.  One of these days I’ll be able to do something spectacular like travel the world or have someone throw me a huge party like all my friends have done.  I should mention here that another good friend did throw me a party recently.  True, he knows I abhor surprise parties.  I just can’t get past the deception that goes into planning them.  A lie’s a lie even if it’s for a good cause.  And I often think that someone would only do something nice like that for me out of pity but I’m still glad he did and I enjoyed myself.  Even if I did enjoy the steak he cooked a “second time”…  But even without those things life is beautiful because it simply is and it deserves to be celebrated.  And that man who’s dying?  His life is beautiful at this very moment because he is one step closer to God.

I suppose I went on a bit of a riff there…  Oh well.

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.