Category Archives: Family

Bedtime Stories

I read to my kids at bedtime…  Most nights.

I’ll admit that a lot of times I’m too tired and I simply dial it in.

Tonight was one such night.

Having entertained some friends this evening, it was past our bedtimes when I decided to drop the hammer.  “KIDS GET TO BED!”  I shouted (in my mind).  You see, friends, I’m tired as hell.  I’ve been up since 5:45 this morning, running all over the place for work.  The only person who’s probably more tired than me is my wife.  She took them to the pool for an hour while I managed to grab a nap this afternoon.  Still tired.  That nap earlier?  I fell asleep with an episode of Unsolved Mysteries playing on my laptop.  The last thing I remember is hearing Robert Stack say “Before she disappeared, she was a woman with many friends and a good job…”  I blurted out something to the effect of “Many friends?  And not one of them told her about the atrocity that is her hair?”

I said I was tired.

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No, we didn’t read anything THIS exciting. Also, I love this shot from “Airplane!”

I really do love reading to my kids.  They’re 8 and 10 years-old now.  So, necessarily the books are getting more in-depth.  For the girl it’s Quantum Life: The Story of Max Planck and for the boy it’s Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae.  Got to start them young…

My daughter and I just finished what has become – thanks to her willingness – a new tradition in our family.  I completed The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe with my little darling.  I had read it last year with my son.  With him I went on and read all seven Narnia books.  With her?  I’ve noticed that she’s a bit more cerebral…  Case in point: while reading a section to her the other night she stopped me mid-sentence and said “Daddy, when did Lewis die?”  “November 22, 1963, Sweetheart,” came my reply.  Yes, I do know his date of death off the top of my head.  Hint: he died the same day as JFK but it was completely overshadowed in the news.  Completely ignoring my savant-like grasp of trivia (which hurt) my daughter then proved to me that her brain operates very differently from most people.  In fact, her brain operates a lot like mine.  “Daddy, then who wrote this book?”  I explained to her that Lewis had written the book.  “But it’s so neat,” she said, “almost like it was typed.”  “Well, sweetheart, it came off a printing press.”  “Wait, Daddy, they had them then?!”  “Babe, we’ve had presses since the fifteenth century.”

When I unpackaged it with her (for I never let an opportunity to teach pass me by) we discovered together that, absent the certain knowledge that printing presses are instrumental in producing mass printings of just about every book on the planet my daughter made the logical assumption that someone must have typed each of the pages in her book.  Since Lewis wrote the book she assumed he had typed the pages in her book.  Huh.  Go figure.

For my son we’re starting another classic.  I’ve never read this one so it should be interesting for both of us.  Last night we started Dickens’ David Copperfield.  What an uplifting endeavor and a beautiful way to end a day which sees me already falling asleep by dinner.

Actual line from the first two chapters: “Please Mr. Murdstone, I pray thee, don’t beat me!”

I really miss the days of Corduroy.

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Inspired

Tonight I feel particularly inspired for several reasons.

For the past three weeks I have been inspired to visit Our Lord in Adoration more.  This is something that should require no prompting.  As a Catholic I certainly believe Him to be present in the Eucharist.  Our parish offers daily Adoration.  Seems like a no-brainer, right?  That is, unless you’re me.  Yes, I have been working like a dog the past few months, putting in long and sometimes unusual hours between two jobs.  Outside of that I like to make my priorities my family, my health (in the form of working out), and rest.  It is foolish to cut God out of that equation.  I have been using the time in the car while running jobs for an increase in my prayer life.  A five hour drive to Houston, for instance, yields many rosaries prayed.

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It’s a Catholic thing…

But a few weeks ago I headed to church on a Monday night for some quiet time before the Sacrament.  I knew that a friend of mine would be there as well and was hoping for a chance to say hi.  We hadn’t properly caught up in a while.  We did get to exchange a greeting afterward.  It was what I saw while in the chapel that inspired me.  Here was a man, about my age, with young children, in the chapel, not there to see his friends but rather to lead his family in prayer.  Discipline.  That’s what it takes to be a leader like that.  I could end this by saying “he’s got it and I don’t.”  But I know I could have it too if I just committed to do what he’s doing.  It’s doesn’t just materialize.  It has to be acquired through practice.  It’s just like building a strong body.  I may have mentioned previously that this friend has that part down like nobody’s business.  It’s easy to see how he could transfer that discipline to other areas of his life.

I’ve been going every Monday for just a half-hour, bringing my copy of Sheen’s Life of Christ with me to read.  Next step: I want to start bringing my kids along too, though I’m sure they wouldn’t be nearly as quiet and reverent as his.  In time, perhaps, they will learn.  And he probably didn’t even know he was being used by God to inspire someone else to come to Him.

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Both of my friends crossed paths.  The one friend’s puppy assaulted me while I was doing an ab routine trying to get jacked like the other friend.

I also just returned from a trip to Colorado where I was inspired by another friend.  I got the opportunity to spend a good deal of time with him (we’ve known each other since college) and his teenage son.  The interaction between the two of them was so wonderful to see.  He’s a great dad and his son’s a good kid, too.  What I saw was a man filled with patience, humor, good cheer, and love for his wife and kids.  He works harder than I do yet still found the time to 1) hang out with me, 2) cart his kids around town, 3) act like a human ATM when they came at him asking for money, 4) mow his lawn, and 5) teach his son about caring for their new puppy.  On the dog front, the “puppy” is a 15 week-old St. Berdoodle.  Yep, you read that right.  The thing was one giant fluffy ball of energy.  She was only missing the brandy keg.  I thought of my own dad while watching these two (and the pup).  I returned home inspired to be more “present” to my kids and to do it with more of a smile.  I hope his kids appreciate how awesome their dad is.  And I bet he didn’t even know he was being used by God to inspire someone else to come to Him.

Finally I was inspired late last night.  While waiting at the airport in Denver for a flight that was delayed over four hours I encountered a man wearing a tank top.  I at once determined that no matter how big or defined my arms get, men should always have sleeves on their shirt.  There’s just something dignified about it.  I was inspired to good fashion.  Now I know that man definitely had no clue he was being used by God.

The “Average” Collector

My godson who lives in the Capital Region of New York State just published his very first blog post! I was honored that he asked me to look it over for him. It hardly needed any edits. I’m very excited for him (and a little proud too)!

For context he’s a numismatist and wrote this piece for the website of American Numismatic Association. I hope you enjoy and share.

The Myth of the “Average” Collector

Catching Up

The astute reader (and the other one too) will note that I have not posted in a long while.  So here’s an update.

When last we spoke I had taken a job through a friend of my wife delivering lab mice safely from the airport.  The job ramped up in the past week in terms of busyness despite the fact that the largest air carrier of animals (including lab mice) suspended all animal deliveries.  It seems they not only killed a few dogs but also sent one or two to the wrong locations.  When Fido lands in Tokyo instead of with his family in Rochester people tend to get upset.  In any event, I have been working from about noon until midnight and beyond the past week.

I started teaching again.  The small Montesorri school my children attend found themselves in need of a teacher.  For some reason they thought of me.  Desperation makes people do desperate things.  Every morning from 7:45-11:45 I drive my kids to school, enter the building, and then proceed to teach.  My daughter is now my student.  She rather enjoys this.  I get a kick out of it too.

I haven’t worked on my book in a while.  For some reason writing is hard for me these days.

I am four weeks from completing the Body for Life challenge.  I’ve seen some slight changes which is a good thing.  The jury is still out on whether I will achieve the chiseled look the program promises.  All in all, though, I have been fairly healthy and I can’t complain about that.

My former trainer ran into me and gave me a book.  “It reminds me of you,” he said.  The book is called Living with a Seal.  It’s about a multi-gazillionaire who wanted to get shredded as an answer to a mid-life crisis.  So far, it sounds like me except without the money.  My acquaintance assures me that the humorous way in which the author presents his training sessions reminds him of the stories I used to write about him and me.  Again, the difference is the money.  I was always positive that if I had the means to pay someone what it would take then I could reach my goals.  But cash does not replace motivation.  The funny thing is I’ve always been motivated.  I’ve just always lacked the means to figure out what needs to be done.  There’s a lot of “micro” stuff that someone in training has to pay attention to.  Eat this specific amount of this type of protein down to the gram.  Work out in this particular way (don’t deviate at all) at precisely 5AM after one cup of black coffee.  You get the picture.  The former trainer still looks great.  It was nice to see him again.

Amazon Prime has been offering some real doozies under their “classic TV” section.  On Saturday morning I watched three episodes of the 1988 incarnation of Family Feud with my kids.  I figured it was safe.  And who doesn’t like Ray Combs?  The first question he asked the contestants was “Name something people think they’re better at than they actually are.”  Like lightning one contestant hit the buzzer and yelled “sex!”  I’ve always tried to be honest with my kids.  My 8 year-old daughter turned to me and said “What’s sex?”  “I have an idea, kids…  Who wants to watch Mr. Ed!?”  “But what’s sex,” she said again?  “Sweetheart,” I replied, “Let’s watch a little more and see the other answers first.  And she never brought it up again.

So tomorrow morning, at the start of week 9 (out of 12), I will get up at 6, get my black coffee, not workout since I’ll have the best of intentions to do that in the afternoon, get back into bed, check the news, look over my checkbook, pet my sleeping Russell Terrier, get up, get dressed, get the kids to school, teach for four hours, drive medical deliveries around the metropolitan area, chat with my new friends at the airport, not pick up mice, squeeze in that workout between jobs, and get home far too late to eat dinner or kiss my wife and kids goodnight.  I didn’t want to be out of work but I wasn’t hoping to be chest-deep in it either.  It’s all good, though.  Easter is coming.

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.

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.