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

Come To The Water

baptismWater gives life.

Our lives begin in water. Water makes up 60-70% of our bodies. Water covers 70% of the Earth’s surface. Plants need water to grow. Fish need water to swim. Animals and humans need water to drink. Human beings can survive for weeks or even months without food but only days without water. Water is essential for life on Earth.

Water destroys.

Flooding devastates homes, crops, and at times kills human and animal life. Flash floods can develop in just a few minutes and without visible signs of rain. Drowning in the United States is the second leading cause of death in children 12 and younger. Tsunamis and tidal waves can wipeout nearly everything in their paths.

Water fascinates.

Most people are drawn to water. Swimming pools and water parks draw millions everyday. Water fountains, pond pumps and sprinklers dot our landscapes. Ocean-front and lake-front properties are sold at a premium. We spend precious vacation time getting to beach destinations just to play in the water. Boating, skiing, canoeing, kayaking and various other water recreations vie for our time and money.

Yesterday, as our youngest grandchild Ainsley was being baptized, I was thinking about how basic water is to our human existence; how ordinary; how necessary; how miraculous.

It’s fitting then that Baptism requires water. Through the waters of Baptism we are born to new life in Christ and sin is destroyed. After Baptism we live the rest of our lives fascinated by God’s unending power to transform our lives. Baptism isn’t a one-time event. It’s an invitation to “play in the water”. To immerse ourselves in the love around us. To refresh ourselves when our journey becomes burdensome. To cleanse ourselves when darkness overtakes our spirit. The life-giving water of Baptism never leaves us. It remains essential for our life on Earth.

cousinsMy prayer for Ainsley is that her life will be filled with love, peace and joy. And that she will always know that she has been strengthened by the power of that baptismal water. We have all been blessed by having experienced it with her.

Peace,

Denis

Ainsley, I hope you find your wings. Love, Pawpaw

 

 

 

Family Values

In our family we have a saying: “Who said it, Anna or Nana?” That’s because our 7 year-old granddaughter often says things that sound as if they’ve come directly out of my wife’s mouth or vice-versa. Example: Upon getting new earrings, “I believe that perhaps emerald has been my color all along.” Or after an exhaustingly long and fruitless shopping day, while being reminded that we did in fact find one of the sought-after items, “But that wasn’t really a present for me!”

I’ll let you decide who said what. The point is that these two often express themselves almost identically. It’s funny and adorable and baffling. Is it possibly hereditary? Or is it learned behavior? What makes a 7 year-old want to be like her grandmother? And what makes a grandmother (at times) behave like a 7 year-old?

Anna NanaSeems mysterious but I believe it can be explained. In the truest sense, these are family values. Not the “Traditional Family Values” which is often a religious or biblical distortion with a thinly veiled political agenda. True family values are the things that your family or my family value. It’s not a list of rules that we’ve been told to follow. Our family values come from our hearts and souls.

In our family we value love above all. “I love you” is a constant in our home and nothing sounds sweeter. Respect for one another. The right to disagree without being disagreeable. Caring for one another. Lifting each other up in times of need and allowing others to carry us on occasion. Joy. Laughing first and foremost at ourselves and sharing laughter, good times and fun whenever possible. Tears. We cry for one another. Our hearts break when one of us is suffering and when one of us cries the others can taste the salt. Honesty. Being true to yourself and being accepted by those who love you as you are. Prayer. We pray for peace, compassion, understanding, gentleness and courage. We thank God for our blessings and our strength in times of hardship.

So if Anna acts (and talks) like Nana or Nana acts (and talks) like Anna, it’s only because they mirror the love that they have for one another. And reflect our family’s values.

Peace,

Denis

My Sister’s Mother

My sister and I have sort of a running joke. Our 86 year-old mother sometimes acts her age and complains too much about her aches and pains or obsesses over the sad state of our world today. She will ignore what her own physician says but will follow the advice of Dr. Phil or Dr. Oz. Her hearing is not as good as it used to be and conversations can be exhausting. We often lose our patience with her, call one another in exasperation and ask, “Have you heard what YOUR mother said today?”

Mom and meAfter all, Mom has always been young, proud, beautiful, strong, well-informed and quick-witted. WE CAN’T HAVE HER ANY OTHER WAY. Such is the challenge with aging parents. Mom took care (takes care) of us, and now we struggle with the heartbreaking reality that someday soon we may need to take care of Mom. It’s life’s cruel joke. Mom, who bandaged our knees, held our hands, kissed away our tears, solved our problems, needs us now more than we need her. Perhaps she always did.

Mom and kayI think about my own children and grandchildren and how my heart aches at times when I hear of their misfortunes or disappointments. I think about how my heart soars when I hear about their triumphs and accomplishments. But mostly I cherish the simple times; the quiet moments; the unspoken love we share. Surely Mom must feel that way, too.

As Mother’s Day approaches, I will continue to ask God for patience and a gentler spirit when dealing with Mom. I will try to show more interest in what’s happening in her life and remind myself that she is still relevant. I will listen – REALLY LISTEN – and I will let her take care of me (even if it means worrying about something that doesn’t really need worrying about) and I will try to take care of her the best I can.

Mom and MeMom deserves more than our love. She needs us to be present: right here – right now! She deserves dignity, respect and kids who will let her be a little crazy (?) at times. Maybe we’re the crazy ones. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure my sister might be.

Peace,

Denis