Fingerprints

When my kids were small, I was a maniac about trying to keep the house clean and orderly. I’m sure that they’re all emotionally scarred (but seriously, was it too much trouble to wipe their feet and pick up their book bags?). At times I wish I could turn back the clock and let go of my need for control. Too much time was spent keeping things on schedule; in order; squeaky clean. To much effort was put into finishing dinner; getting somewhere on time; making lists; completing tasks. It must have been exhausting.

Today when one of my grandkids leaves a fingerprint on a mirror or window, I’m hesitant to clean it. I want to save all those precious prints. I’ve mellowed with age.

I realize now that those babies who were entrusted into my care left fingerprints on my heart. No one can ever wipe those away. I became a father at twenty-three. To say that I was clueless would be the understatement of the century. When we left the hospital with our newborn son, whom the nurse placed on my wife’s lap in the front seat of our 1977 Ford Pinto, we drove away not knowing what adventures, heartache, joys, and love lie ahead.

There have been proud moments, important milestones, and great honors bestowed upon my progeny. They are three amazing humans. But the things that I carry in my heart on this wonderous ride called Fatherhood are those tiny “finger prints”. They are with me wherever I go. And will be forever.

Tyson’s baby belly-laughs still ring in my memory’s ears and remind me that laughter is truly the best medicine. Bess’s bedtime ritual, complete with “Dad, I’m glad you’re my Dad” still warms this old heart of mine: “Peeper, I’m glad you’re my Peeper”. Remembering Blake standing on our front porch waving goodbye until my car was out of sight, on one of my too many business trips, still makes me yearn for one more hug and one more kiss.

Back in the day, while I was busy cleaning and wiping away those fingerprints, little did I know that they were being imprinted on my heart. What a gift! What a life! What a love!

Happy Father’s Day!

Denis

Just Keep Swinging

I am often discouraged by the divisions in our church, in our local community, in our country, and in our world. At times it seems the chasms cannot be traversed. We stand at odds. There can be no compromises. No one wins.

Last weekend two of our granddaughters received sacraments of our Church, Eucharist and Confirmation respectively. Special days with special graces granted to these two beautiful children of God. Promises of a life with Christ; a life with a community of believers; a life everlasting. And yet, a shadow of division hangs over our heads. During this most sacred time we are reminded by some in our Church that women and girls are not equal to the task of preaching and ministering to others. What are we asking of our daughters and granddaughters? Blind obedience to a patriarchy that seems woefully out of touch?

This week (again) the political circus in our nation is on display. The right and left seem hell-bent on destroying one another and possibly democracy in the process. Abortion rights and the possible reversal of Roe vs. Wade is dominating our airwaves and social media. The ongoing January 6th Investigation paints many of our elected officials as little more that pawns in some power play for political dominance. Where are our statesmen and stateswomen? What example are we setting for our daughters and sons; our granddaughters and grandsons? Blind obedience to political affiliation at all costs?

Last week I was watching my grandson’s little league team playing baseball on a rainy, cool evening. The boys were struggling with the weather and it was certainly not their best performance to-date. But they were undaunted. They kept swinging. They left the game as losers but their spirits were not diminished. And they remained good sports and respectful rivals. Once again, I was reminded of what Jesus said: “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

So there remains hope. I have a dear friend who is working to help immigrants that have recently arrived in our community. He doesn’t ask how they got here. He doesn’t judge their worthiness. He is not expecting them to share his political views. He is simply being the eyes, the hands, and the feet of Christ.

And I have another friend who is arranging for housing for a young woman who is homeless with a baby. She doesn’t ask how she found herself in this situation. She doesn’t judge her decisions. Instead she offers love, kindness and generosity. She too, is being the eyes, the hands and the feet of Christ.

My friends have overcome the weariness many of us (me) possess with our dysfunctional political processes and lack of understanding by those “in charge”. They are like my grandson and his team mates. Facing what might seem like insurmountable odds, they just keep swinging. In the process they are helping heal the divisions in our church, in our local community, in our country, and in our world.

And once again my soul is renewed.

Peace,

Denis

Finding God In All The Right Places

I’m an usher at my church. Which means I stand at the back of the place like sort of a friendly sentry, making sure everyone has a seat, and keeping the doors open and closed at the appropriate times, always ready to jump in when someone needs something. Mostly it’s just standing and watching. Of course I’m there to worship as well, but my worship is often distracted by the goings-on of others. God and I have a deal – I pay as much attention as I can. As an adult with attention deficit disorder, being an usher is a blessing. And I’m exactly where I should be.

I’m often entertained by rambunctious children and their beleaguered parents. I silently chuckle when the parents have reached their breaking point. Given the opportunity I thank them and their dapple-cheeked delinquents for the distraction, particularly during a dry and dull sermon.

Yesterday was no exception. The Gospel reading was the Wedding Feast at Cana. A beautiful story of Jesus’ first public miracle. A tender moment between mother and son. A lovely reminder that weddings and marriages should be celebrated. Instead our associate pastor took the opportunity to drone on about his command of biblical scholarship or something. I honestly don’t know because his message was completely unrelatable and I mentally checked out. I admit I could have tried harder to listen but it was BORING and so my attention quickly turned to the two young families sitting nearby.

Our little miscreants back in the day

The first family had too many children. They were up and down, in and out and looked completely miserable. Had they asked, I could have told them that after our third child was born we realized we were out-numbered and henceforth out-maneuvered. I’m not saying couples shouldn’t have more than two children but they should be informed that somebody’s hand is not going to get held. And those “STOP IT RIGHT NOW” silent stares in church are less effective if you can’t squeeze the aforementioned sweet little hand. I know this from experience. Our three knew how to make the most of church time by poking each other or fighting over a book about how much Jesus loved them or feigning some discomfort and lying on the pew. Not to mention that their tiny little bladders needed to be continuously emptied. If I had a dollar for every trip to the bathroom during mass I could start my own church.

The second family had two boys (perfect number) and were especially well behaved. Not perfect however as the younger boy had a moment or two where he ‘went all limp’ as if the bones in his body had temporarily been removed. But here is the remarkable thing: The Mom kept her composure. The Dad stayed calm and only slightly noticed limp-boy and recognized Mom had things under control. The older brother, who is also very young, either ignored little brother or chose to tolerate his behavior. Not a perfect family but a family in perfect harmony. Simple and profound. And there for me was the Wedding Feast in Cana. A mother devoted to her son and accepting and supporting his behavior. A marriage of two people who complemented one another. A family who by their love and devotion to one another witnessed to this old usher and gave me a sweet journey down memory lane.

I’d like to think all those years ago that we behaved more like the second family most Sundays but the reality is that we were probably more like the first family. Still, on those rare occasions when we were in harmony I hope someone saw God in our tiny family and realized that we were trying our best and I hope they were blessed by our distractions.

Peace,

Denis

There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.
His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.”
John 2:1,5

Baby’s Breath

2:00 AM and the baby is crying. It requires every fiber of my being to pull myself out of my dream of being single and carefree and childless. When I finally realize that my beautiful wife has finally drifted off to much-needed sleep and is even more exhausted than I am, I rouse myself and stumble into the nursery, There he is. Warm, wet and bawling his little blue eyes out. I change what by now must be the 10,000th diaper and look at that face which is a startling reflection of my own. Why did we do this? What were we thinking?

Shh! Shh! Shh! I plead with the 2:00 AM screamer, hoping that he won’t wake the five year-old and three year-old who will be bounding out of bed in mere hours wanting breakfast and love and attention. I wonder then if the milk is bad and if we have enough cereal in the pantry. I know I’m running short on attention but I remember that I’ve been told (or read in Reader’s Digest or some other scholarly tome) that love multiplies it never divides. And so I trudge on.

I pick up the squaller and cradle him in my arms and I am overwhelmed by the sweet aroma of baby’s breath. That sweetness is nearly miraculous and I am humbled and frightened because fatherhood is a daunting responsibility.  I carry him to his mother’s arms and lie down next to them. Suddenly everything seems manageable. Somehow we will make this work. 

As I dose off to blessed sleep, I think of the young nurse in the hospital, who just a few short months before, was surprised how happy and excited we were when learning that this was our third child. Perhaps she had never smelled sweet baby’s breath or had never experienced the soul-transforming power of a tiny heart beat next to her own. 

Family

1983

Our baby boy was born on the day after Father’s Day in 1983. But that moment; those memories, were yesterday, and today, and tomorrow and will remain with me for the rest of my life.

Peace,

Denis

Saint Joseph and Fatherhood

As a father, I have a strong devotion to Saint Joseph the patron saint of all fathers. My prayers always include my sons and my daughter, as well as my four granddaughters and my grandson. But while asking God to take care of them, I sometimes forget to thank God. So, God thank you for my children and grandchildren!

There is something almost primal about my need to love and protect my children – maybe its self-preservation. Maybe when the first dad (Adam?) crawled out of the primordial ooze we were all pre-wired to protect our offspring in order to make certain our species would survive. Who knows?

What I do know is that my children are the manifestation of the love that my wife and I share. Seems almost greedy – to have a love as beautiful as ours and three remarkable children. And even better: five amazing grandchildren.

Throw Back ThursdayMy happiest and saddest times have been as a dad. My greatest joys and greatest heartaches have come from my children. But mostly joy and ALWAYS love. Being a father is like trying to nail Jell-O to a tree. Sometimes no matter how hard I try – I fail. I say the wrong thing. Or I behave unkindly. Or just forget to let my kids know how much I love them. I take for granted that they understand that they are in my heart so deeply that not a day goes by that I am not blessed by their very existence. They should know, right? Maybe not…

I rely on Saint Joseph to help me. He certainly must have felt ill-equipped, at times, to deal with Jesus. I have been blessed with three incredibly loving, and gifted children. There are times when I know I’m not even in their league in terms of intelligence, ability, and achievement. But somehow God let me have a hand in these beautiful creations, and gave me Joseph to reach out to when it all becomes too overwhelming.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

Fledglings

This spring a cardinal made her nest in the hydrangea tree in our front yard. We’ve been on “bird watch” since I first discovered the nest with four tiny eggs. Momma bird would sit quietly on the nest until I got too close and then she would fly away chirping (actually squawking) until I moved away from her brood.

birdsA week or so ago the first egg hatched, followed by two more the following day. The fourth egg never hatched. I guess, such is nature. At first the three baby birds were just all eyes and beaks and fluff. Always with their necks outstretched, waiting for momma bird to deliver some sustenance. Momma bird would fly from rooftop to tree to ground and back and then do it all over again and again. She would pull worms from the ground and return to the nest only to fly away again in constant pursuit of food for her young.

birdYesterday as I was looking into the nest, two of the babies jumped out! Then on to a branch and then onto the ground. Momma cardinal became hysterical. The squawking and flapping and flying around was startling to say the least. It was as if she was sounding an alarm. And indeed she had. Soon daddy cardinal was on the scene. Both appeared to be searching for their timid youngsters who had taken shelter in the rose and holly bushes in our front garden. They were like tiny sentries on guard. Desperately struggling to protect their young from what might lie ahead. This morning the nest was empty save for the un-hatched egg. The fledglings have officially “flown the coop”.

All this nature-watching has made me keenly aware of how time marches on. We all were once fledglings who had to brave the unknown. Some of us might have jumped from the nest and others of us might have been nudged. Regardless we somehow found ourselves in unfamiliar terrain dealing with the unimaginable.

As a parent I remember feeling woefully unprepared when my son left for Air Force Basic Training. There was so much more that I needed to teach him! How could the little boy who wore Velcro® tennis shoes to kindergarten (because he hadn’t yet learned to tie his shoes) be prepared to defend our nation? When I walked my beautiful daughter down the aisle on her wedding day I couldn’t help but think of the little girl who I had seemingly held in my arms just days before. And when our youngest son left for University my heart ached with a sense of dread that I had become obsolete. Fledglings three!

And there I was, a daddy cardinal squawking and flapping my wings. Frantic and slightly hysterical. Perhaps more afraid of what was coming my way than what might lie ahead for my baby birds.

But time and experience have taught me that those bittersweet “fledgling moments” are just part of the journey. Life goes on. And usually gets better. My kids still need me. And while I don’t need to provide protection from the unknown, I am still called upon for sage advice from time to time.

Capture.PNGNow we have five grandchildren aged 12 to 1. Our beautiful baby Gwen turns one year old today. She’ll have her own “fledgling moments” soon enough as will her sisters and her cousins. I just hope I’m around to squawk and flap my wings as needed when the time comes.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

Kindergarten

This month our grandson Noah will begin kindergarten.

To me he seems wise beyond his years. He believes in God and prays often, albeit sometimes in a slightly selfish 5 year-old way (as do many adults that I know). He deeply cares about others, especially his big sister and his mommy and daddy. Noah’s interests are varied. He loves the outdoors. He plays baseball and soccer. He likes to swim. He likes to climb, jump and run. He also loves playing with Legos and Play-Doh, watching movies, playing board games. He has a very active imagination. He likes books but more than that, he loves hearing stories, especially if I tell him stories about when I was a boy (sometimes they’re even true). Noah loves music and loves to dance. And he laughs – huge belly laughs. He is fun and funny. We call him “Life’s-a-Party-Noah” for good reason. He is physically demonstrative and will gladly throw his arms around this old man and give me a huge kiss on the cheek. It doesn’t matter who may be watching. He loves me. And of course I love him!

Noah Kindergarten

Noah modeling his new school uniform

And so he begins a new chapter in his young life – Formal Education. From this day forward everything will be on his PERMANENT RECORD. I know that Noah will approach school with he same tenacity and aplomb that he tackles everything else. He’s a good team player and is easily coached so I suspect that the order and discipline required in school won’t be too challenging for him. Plus he loves to learn new things. And he’s kind. So he will be good to his classmates and teachers. And there can never be too much kindness in our world. Noah will surely do well with school.

But here’s the thing: Will school do well with Noah? Will his enthusiasm and joyful spirit be enhanced or stifled? Will his teachers expose him to new experiences and new ideas that fill his heart and stretch his mind or will he become bored and restless because of conformity and rote learning? Of most concern to this grandfather is whether or not his spirit will be allowed to soar. Noah has so much to offer and I’m convinced that he will change our world. He’s already changed mine.

I want the universe to open up for him in ways he can’t yet imagine. I want his achievements to be as boundless as his dreams. I want him to travel the world; read and study and explore; make a difference; discover his best self; love and be loved beyond measure. And I hope that someday he is blessed with a boy of his own who will fill his life with light and love.

I suppose that this is a lot to place on the small shoulders of a kindergartener. But hey, it’s Noah!

And I can always tell him a story about when I was in kindergarten…

Peace,

Denis

P.S. Noah, Always stay humble and kind…

Say a little prayer (or maybe a big one)…

Lately our grandson Noah has been having some tummy trouble. Nothing serious but when you’re five years-old a bad belly came be disconcerting (come to think of it, when you’re sixty it’s no fun either). Anyway, his pediatrician has prescribed some over-the-counter remedy which seems to be working. Hopefully soon he will be back to his usual life’s-a-party, happy-go lucky, free-spirited, never-say-die self.

But right now he’s scared. He’s afraid his belly will start hurting again. He’s afraid he won’t be able to play on his soccer team. He’s afraid he won’t be able to make it through an entire day of pre-school. He’s afraid to eat too much or not enough. And he WANTS MOMMY when his tummy hurts! Poor little guy. Poor little mommy.

NoahThis morning he didn’t think he could make it to school. He pleaded his case but Mom and Dad assured him that he would be okay. They offered him a favorite stuffed animal to take for “rest time” at pre-school (which is apparently a common practice for others in his class). The stuffed animal might offer some security and reminder of home but he refused it in a very adult manner: “No thank you Mommy, there are two reasons I don’t want to take my stuffed animal. First, I don’t want germs from other kids to get on it. And sometimes people play with their stuffed animals when it’s not resting time and our teacher doesn’t like that.” Apparently he knows his limitations.

What he did ask for: “Mommy, please pray to God that I’ll be okay today!” And later, “Daddy, please pray to God that I’ll be okay today!” His parents assured him that they pray for him everyday and all day and that certainly he would be prayed for today. Now there may have been a little bit of five year-old drama in that “please pray to God” plea but I prefer to think that Noah believes in the power of prayer or at least finds comfort in knowing that someone is asking God to help him. What Noah doesn’t realize is that he brought God to us today. His reminder that God is with us and will protect and help us in our time of need is the purest form of evangelization.

Of course now I’m praying, too.

Peace,

Denis

Through The Eyes Of A Child

Do you remember the anticipation of Christmas as a child? For me it was always an exciting time. I tried to patiently wait through the Advent season for the miracle of Christmas.

There were some certainties: practical gifts wrapped in white tissue from my great-aunts (usually socks or underwear), Christmas cookies baked by Mom, Christmas Day gatherings at my grandparents where all my aunts and uncles and cousins would be together.

And of course there were uncertainties: would I get the Erector Set® that I so desperately wanted, and the transistor radio like my brother’s (the one that I not-so-secretly coveted)? Rarely was I disappointed.

St. NickI loved Christmas presents but I knew even as a child that Baby Jesus was always at the center of it. We were raised to believe he would come (again) each year at Christmas. We set our crèche under the tree with all the characters (except baby Jesus of course until Christmas morning). We lit our Advent candles each week. St. Nicholas would come on December 6th and fill our stockings with an orange and some nuts, a peppermint stick and one Hershey® bar (thanks Dad!). At school we would pray and sing carols, collect money for the missions and go to daily Mass. My little Catholic world was secure. And there was abundant joy!

It brings me great comfort in knowing that my wife and I carried on these traditions with our kids. Now our grandkids are celebrating Advent and Christmas in a similar way. Of course they are excited about potential new toys but they also focus on the mystery of Christ’s birth and they pray and sing carols and go to Mass. St. Nicholas paid a visit to them on Sunday morning. They light their Advent wreath and wait. They wait in hope and joy and love.

I still have uncertainties in my life: they are more adult now, more complex, more troubling. Often it is hard not to become overwhelmed. Sometimes I feel desperate.

But I have certainties, too. I have people who love me. I have friends who are making our world a better place each day. My children and grandchildren give me hope for our future. So I light my Advent wreath and I pray for change in our world, in our church, in our city, in our home, in my heart.

I know that Christ will come again this Christmas. I wait with my grandchildren in hope and joy and love. And for just a little while I can see Baby Jesus through the eyes of a child. And I am blessed.

Peace,

Denis

 

The He-Man Hideout

I consider myself a feminist. My wife has always been my partner – my equal in all things. I raised my daughter to believe that she could achieve anything that she desired. I have supported women’s rights (equal pay/equal opportunity) in the workplace. I stand firmly against any and all discrimination against women.

And yet I love that my grandson and I enjoy the fun that we can only have because we’re boys.

Noah is big on gender identification. I’m not sure if this is learned or just in his nature. Example: he thinks boys or men should always have the blue clothes/cup/plate/bowl/crayon/toy while girls or women should have the pink whatever. He likes to group men and women separately: “The boys should sit on this side and the girls should sit on that side”. He is very happy when he and Daddy do “just boy things” together.

He loves his mommy and his sister and his Nana and his girl cousins but sometimes a boy just needs to be a boy. Whether that means playing in the dirt or climbing a tree (which girls can do with equal ability – just don’t tell Noah) or pretending to be a super-hero, a pilot, a carpenter or a policeman (again, all things girls can do, too). He just likes being a boy and likes to distinguish himself from the girls in his 4 year-old world.

bubby and meHe and I have a “He-Man Hideout” in my backyard. It’s really just a garden bench but it becomes an airplane cockpit or a super-hero mission control station or simply a hiding place where no girls are allowed (expect his sister who has been granted exclusivity). I’ll admit I cherish our time together on that bench, listening to his imaginative exhortations. He is the MAN IN CHARGE. At least in the He-Man Hideout.

I’m not too concerned that his adult years may be consumed by cigar bars or strip clubs or fraternities or any other all-male enclave. Good parenting and common sense will curb that unlikely possibility. I’m certain that he will grow up to be the thoughtful, loving and respectful man that his father is. He will love women for their strength, intelligence, kindness, and generosity, as well as their beauty (just look at the examples he has in his family).

Still there is something wonderful about being a boy in a boy’s world and I am thankful that he’s let me in on occasion.

Peace,

Denis