Category Archives: Family

Challenging Myself

As a dad I face many challenges every day. Most of them involve living up to the expectations of my kids, my wife, and God.

Son, not making a fool of himself on the field.

For instance, this evening it’s off to the ballpark where I get the pleasure of serving as assistant coach to my son’s baseball team. The challenge here: until a few weeks ago neither he nor I had ever played baseball. He’s 9. I’m almost 40. The challenge lies in rising above myself and not worrying about the fool I will make of myself on the field. Because you see, this one is all for my little boy.  The reward is great though. He’s getting super good super fast and I’m learning quite a bit about a game I’ve never played. Somewhere in the recesses of both of our minds are visions of the two of us being drafted by the New York Mets. And we’re having lots of fun in the process.

Me, making a fool of myself (and demonstrating what a friend politely called “a natural tennis swing”) at the batting cages.

On the marriage front, I am always faced with the challenge of becoming a better husband. Daily I look around my house and my world and ask myself what I can do to make my wife’s life even marginally better. In the past year alone I have found myself tinkering with my homes electrical system, building props for the play, finally advancing in my career (ūüėČ), and shopping for produce at a farmers market at five in the morning on a Saturday. Every time I’m given a task I’ve never done before I find myself rising above my own fears and coming to realize that because she trusts in me I can do anything for my wife. And we’re having a whole lot of fun in the process.

So this afternoon when I got home from work I decided to challenge myself. Remember the pull-up bar? This one is a challenge to which only I am answerable. After hearing that friend of mine toss out the figure of 25 to 50 pull-ups a day, I decided to reach for the stars. I don’t expect to be as good as him ‚Äď certainly not right away ‚Äď but one cannot hope to achieve great heights without starting somewhere. The challenge is to complete 25 pull-ups within five minutes every day of every week. And of course, as I notice myself gaining strength, I will have to increase that number. A short while ago I just barely beat the clock. Five sets of five pull-ups with a little more rest between sets than I would’ve liked; but I did it. The reward, I hope, will be great.

And I’m having tons of fun.

Mr. Euclid

First, thank you to everyone who has continued to offer their prayers for my family following the death of my dad two months ago.  They mean so much more than you know and I pray for each of you daily.

I want to tell you all that Dad’s been quite active lately, at least in my mind. ¬†Over the past month especially he’s been showing up in my dreams. ¬†As I told me wife today, the dreams make absolutely no sense on one level and more sense than anything I can think of on another.

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Artist’s rendering of a shape

Last night I went to bed as normal. ¬†At 4AM I awoke from the following dream. ¬†My father and I were in a very ethereal setting. ¬†I can actually still envision all of this. ¬†It’s almost like we were on a cloud but it wasn’t that hokey. ¬†We were looking at, really examining, an equilateral triangle that was simply floating in the air in front of us. ¬†He was instructing me on the properties of the triangle. ¬†His words made perfect sense to me and I never liked math. ¬†Dad was an actuary with a savant’s knowledge of all things mathematical. ¬†I distinctly remember him saying (in this dream) as he had many times when he tried teaching me geometry in high school “According to Mr. Euclid…” referencing the Greek father of geometry. ¬†What are you getting at, Dad? ¬†Triangles? ¬†Really? ¬†Is it the Trinity? ¬†I already believe in the Blessed Trinity. ¬†Remember? ¬†You taught me the sign of the cross as a four year-old when you taught me my first prayers. ¬†Were you trying to show me something else? ¬†Are you popping into the dreams of other people too or is it just me? ¬†This is so strange.

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Hairy but solid

Another thing that’s going on (and I really don’t think the dreams are related) is that my Restless Leg Syndrome has intensified. ¬†It’s now gotten to where the muscles in both legs cramp up about halfway through the night. ¬†I get out of bed and, like this morning, leg down to see that my toes are curled and I have to physically unbend them. ¬†It’s painful. ¬†But, I’m getting it looked into. ¬†This morning I’m going for an EMG/nerve conduction test. ¬†I’ve had several of these done before. ¬†Read about one of my experiences with it here. ¬†In the meantime, enjoy this picture of my leg. ¬†It may be the cause of great pain right now but at least it still makes my trainer jealous as all get out. ¬†“Your calves seem to eat everything in sight” he told me. ¬†Trainer? ¬†My offer still stands. ¬†I’ll happily trade you my calves for everything above your waist. ¬†Then again¬†he could just be messing with me…

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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…

buick

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 Рthe one in my the hand attached to my very real unconscious body lying on the couch Рrang.  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.

What I’ve Learned about How to Eat Crow

smartphones

Can’t live without them anymore…

It is quite possible that my multitude of followers (all three of you, and a special thanks to my Mom for finally hitting the “like” button) may have actually read through a recent post detailing my experiences with a broken phone and my feelings of disgust toward the Apple corporation at their horrendous customer service.  You may reference that post here if you’re up for an adventure in righteous indignation toward a soulless conglomerate.

The long and the short of it is that my iPhone 6S+ went to mobile phone hell over a week ago.  First my dad dies and then I lose my cell phone.  God, why have you lead me into this desert to die!?

You don’t understand.  On two fronts, having a working phone is important to me.  The first and what should be most important is that it’s a modern “convenience” we’ve become reliant on as a people.  “You, know,” said my dear wife, “we lived without cell phones for a long time…” as if to imply that I didn’t really need to replace it just yet.  “True”, I thought.  “We also lived without indoor plumbing for centuries,” I said as I took a sledgehammer to our toilet.  Perhaps the circumstances caused me to be a tad out of sorts.  But having that phone has absolved us of the responsibility of lots of things.  For instance, we don’t remember seven digit phone numbers anymore, we don’t really worry should our car break down, and we don’t seem to know how to read a map.  Now, people of my age and up actually do know how to do these things but man that phone makes clearing space in our minds for other things so much easier.  What kind of things?  Well, just the other day I was able to recall the name of the judge in the Anna Nicole Smith wrongful death case.  I was pretty proud of myself too.

trimline phone

I remember these!

Then there’s the professional front.  Look, I’m a popular (if not well-paid, respected by anyone over the age of 16, or likely to advance from my current job ever) teacher.  That little device in my pocket (no, the other one) allows me to tweet, check email for call-backs on administrative jobs I won’t get, and take selfies with the kids because they need me to.  Think of the hundreds of teenagers who’s lives are enriched each day by my iPhone.  Now think of the alternative.  Do you really want to live in that kind of world?  I didn’t think so.

So I took a trip to the Apple Store.  There I was greeted with a “genius” (I still laugh at that term) who’s only advice was that I should purchase a new phone.  My warranty was up three months earlier and I had not purchased Apple Care (the extended warranty).  In my mind: this was not my fault and your product should have lasted.  At the very least I expected some gesture – a small token even – that the company was willing to help out since this was a defect in their product.  But, nothing…

I came home; wrote a nasty, filthy blog; tweeted angrily; and went to bed resolved to live as long as I could without the chains of an iPhone tying my to the grid and the man.  I’ll show them.

OK, I lasted a week.  Again, I was proud of myself.  Larry Seidlin.  That was the judge in Dannielyn’s paternity case.  I almost said Sanders Saul but he was a Florida Justice who ruled in Bush v. Gore.  How silly of me.  Anyway, I was doing quite well.  I borrowed my wife’s phone when I went ride-share driving.  I figured no one was calling back on my outstanding resumes.  Basically, everything was fine.  And then my mom tracked me down on my wife’s line.  “Are you gonna’ get that thing replaced,” she asked, “because I really miss talking with you every day.”  We Facetime regularly, every day since my dad died.  This gave me a bit more reason to reverse my thinking.

But I still wanted satisfaction.  I filled out the Apple Store email survey, still raging with rage (sorry, I couldn’t resist) and fired it off to “Craig”, the manager.  Craig called me (wife’s line since I didn’t have a phone) and left a message.  We played phone tag for the week.  Finally on Friday afternoon I reached him.  I told him again how dismayed I was at his company’s lack of any kind of sympathy for my situation and he basically said “yeah, that’s nice.”

I hung up the phone and vowed never to buy another Apple product, tweeting to that effect and angrily too.

By the way, can you believe it’s been ten years?!  Poor siliconed thing died too young if you ask me.  I understand most of her body is still intact as it was non-organic matter.

And then, I don’t know what it was, but something clicked in my brain.  Although it had never been framed or presented this way and although I certainly should have known, I didn’t connect that the $329 cost of the replacement phone WAS only half the cost of a new phone of the same make.  In other words, it still sucks that I’d have to pay that much for something that wasn’t my fault but Apple WAS making a good-faith gesture to make it right.

Shit.

You know what that means, right?

It meant that I had all of Friday night to drink it over.  Ever hear of a Freudian slip?

By Saturday morning I had concluded that it was time to set things right with Mom, with my students, and with Craig.

But that still left the matter of the 3 bills I’d need to come up with to replace this baby.  See, I’m a teacher and the previous owner of my house chopped down his money tree before he moved.  Bastard.  I hear he had a stroke a few months later.  See, money can’t buy you happiness, or vascular health.  Actually, I had wanted to handle this all by my little self.  My wife does everything.  She’s good at it too.  But sometimes I feel like I want to try to handle crises without having to bother her.  She also manages our family finances.  She really good at that too.  But it means that no matter what, I kind of need to go through her for a purchase of this nature.  Being without a phone for a week left me depressed and in no mood to ride-share so I wasn’t making the money that way.

Shit.

You know what that means, right?

“Hey Babe, do you think I could have a few hundred dollars?…”

“I was just waiting for you to ask,” she said.

So off I slank to the Apple Store.  My plan was to disguise myself so Craig wouldn’t notice me.  When last I was there I had been wearing a tee shirt with guns all over it (it was from the range), sporting a perfectly bald head, looking pretty pumped up after a workout, and a nicely trimmed goattee forming my solid jaw.  You know I’m completely exaggerating this.

Hmm… How would they not recognize me this time?

I dressed like a “genius”.  Solid blue tee, jeans, I had let the beard grow hipster-scraggly during the week, and I pretended to live with my mother.

Like a burglar in a Fosse musical I slipped in the front door and, bracing my back and palms against the wall, I creeped around to the genius bar in the back of the store.  People were staring.  They don’t look when a customer brings a mastiff dog weighing 4,000 lbs into this joint but me they gape at.  “Picking up a replacement phone.  Harvey’s the name.”

And that was it.  Half an hour later I was on my way home and all was semi-right with the world.  I did try to locate Craig to apologize in person but he was busy with other customers.

On the long drive home I thought about how to make this right.  It’s no fun eating crow and admitting you were wrong.  In the end I decided a general message to Apple in a well-read internet presence would catch their attention.  Unfortunately all I have is this blog.  But here goes…

Dear Apple, I’m sorry.  I regret my hasty actions.  I will never stray again.  Please don’t hate me.  Love, Harvey.

And Judge Seidlin never did get his own courtroom show.  Shame.  He was a character.

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.

me dad smoking

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.