Women’s Equality Day

Today is “Women’s Equality Day”. At my house that’s everyday. I suppose I’ve been blessed to have had some extraordinary women in my life, not the least of which is my best friend and soul mate, Debbie. We’ve shared (equally) in good times and bad. Carrying one another or being carried by the other as needed. Our life together has proven time and time again that she is my equal. She is simply unafraid. She is love and pure joy but she is also tough and resilient and relentless when necessary. She has taught me that tears don’t make you weak and laughter is truly the best medicine (especially when you need to laugh at yourself). And she has instilled the same spirit and strength and humor in our daughter.

Of course I’ve known and loved many other strong women. In fact, I believe that in my family the female role models are the ones that stand out as leaders.

women's equality dayMy Mom runs the show at her house. She will be 87 this year and remains in the know about politics, current events, style and fashion trends. For someone not afforded an education she is smarter than most women that I know and Dad knows not to mess with Mom.

My three aunts, Lucida, Noel and Gene Marie, were Sisters of the Most Precious Blood. These were intelligent women who were well-traveled and well-educated, not something to be taken for granted by women born in the 1910’s and 1920’s. They were teachers, administrators, catechists, and persons of authority.

The stories of my great-grandmother Elizabeth are legendary: Coming to this country alone at thirteen from Germany. Marrying and then raising her young family alone after my great-grandfather died. I’m told that she was tough, stubborn and a force to be reckoned with.

My three great aunts Marie, Minnie, and Liddy lived together in the family home that became the base of operations for all Wilhelm family gatherings. Aunt Minnie was a business woman – the County Nurse’s secretary. And she was well-respected in our hometown. I remember walking downtown with her many times and people would greet her very politely as “Miss Wilhelm”. I was always so proud to be with my Aunt Min!

And then of course there was my mother-in-law. She was a tough lady who fought for justice and looked out for the underdogs in our world. She was fiercely loyal to those she loved and protected her children like a lioness. She taught her daughter that real beauty requires confidence, kindness and a sense of humor. Jackie never went down without a fight. I’m not sure if you can “raise hell” in heaven, but if you can I’m sure she’s leading the charge.

Finally there are my four beautiful granddaughters. They each have so much to offer. I can see into the future because of them and I want it to equal and fair.

In the many decades since suffragists organized and mobilized, countless advocates and leaders have picked up the mantle and moved our Nation and our world forward. Today, young women in America grow up knowing an historic truth — that not only can they cast a vote, but they can also run for office and help shape the very democracy that once left them out. For these women, and for generations of women to come, we must keep building a more equal America — whether through the stories we tell about our Nation’s history or the faces we display on our country’s currency. On Women’s Equality Day, as we recognize the accomplishments that so many women fought so hard to achieve, we rededicate ourselves to tackling the challenges that remain and expanding opportunity for women and girls everywhere. ~ Barack Obama

I’m proud of the women in my life and I am a better man because of them.

Peace,

Denis

 

Acting Like Her Mother (but it’s not really an act)

How many times have you heard someone say, “She acts just like her mother.” or “He behaves just like his father.”? Usually it’s intended as a compliment or a recognition of some admirable trait. Sometimes during marital discord it could seem like an accusation, “You need to stop acting like your father!” The accused might then respond, “Oh really?” “Why don’t you stop acting like your mother!” But that’s another blog post…

bess annaToday I’m writing about how much some kids act like their parents. This “acting-like” behavior is not just genetic imprinting. I believe it’s a learned behavior. I’ve seen it in adoptive families. We all model the behavior we learn as children. Our parents (good or bad) are our first teachers. As adults most of us have experienced the sensation of opening our mouths only to have our mother’s or father’s words come out. It’s almost as if we lose momentary control and someone else takes over – if not our thoughts, definitely our words. Sometimes with regret but always with a sense of astonishment, we hear the words once spoken to us as children and now we are actually saying the same things and WE CANNOT STOP IT.

Fortunately for most of us this is a pleasant experience. Our daughter has a daughter who is her “spitting image”. Not only do they look alike but at times their behavior is startlingly similar. Anna acts so much like her Mommy that my wife and I often chuckle to ourselves. Our daughter Bess is not always amused, but I know that it is a good thing. Bess should be grateful after all, if Anna is half as good a daughter as she is, her life will be blessed. Bess and Anna don’t just look and act alike. They laugh the same way and at the same things. They share some of the same fears. They react to surprises both good and bad identically. These two have a spiritual and emotional connection that allows them to sense one another’s feelings. As the saying goes, “When one cries, the other can taste salt”. What a gift to one another.

Of course, I suppose it is a little disarming to “see yourself” so clearly in your own child, particularly those parts that you least appreciate. But it is a double blessing for me to see my beautiful daughter wrapped up inside my beautiful granddaughter.

God has given us a glimpse of immortality with all this ‘carrying-on’ as our parents before us. I just hope that the next time I “act like my Dad” I remember to thank God for that gift, too.

Peace,

Denis

P.S. Here’s a song that all mothers can sing to their daughters ~

 

 

Husband. Father. Son. Brother. Friend.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve known my son-in-law Travis for twenty years. We met long before he even knew that I had a daughter; let alone that he would one day marry her. He was the (very young) computer consultant that the company that I worked for at the time had hired. Funny thinking back on it now, I couldn’t have imagined then that he would ever be part of our family. Or that I would love and admire him as much as I do.

But that was then…

T & DToday he is a man who deserves to share the life he has made with my beautiful daughter (something that I once thought no one would EVER be worthy to claim). Travis adores my daughter. And he is loving, patient, and kind to his children. His example of faith is a witness to us all. And he has taught Anna and Noah to know and love God. He is always the first person to lend a hand and brings his tireless energy to even the most difficult tasks. Plus he is fun and funny!

Husband. Father. Son. Brother. Friend.

Wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God, my God. Ruth 1:16

Peace,

Denis

 

Mom

Mom, I love you. And Mother’s Day seems like a good day to thank you for all that you’ve done for me.

I'm sure I was listening then...

Mom & me – circa 1955

Thank you for giving me life.

Thank you for teaching me about God and how to pray. Your example of faith lives on in your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Thank you for loving Dad (and by the way, he adores you, too). I also appreciate that I inherited your energy and sense of humor – even though Dad thinks he’s the funny one (and we all know he’s not the fast one).

Thanks for throwing or kicking a ball, running bases and always joining in whatever game was being played in the backyard.

Thanks for being a good cook and for always having a dessert with every meal. Also for never making me clean my plate as a kid – your mantra “just take one more bite” saved me from some otherwise torturous mealtimes.

Thank you for always keeping a clean house and having clean kids (even though we often resisted your nearly constant need to wipe our messy hands and faces).

Thank you for being a ‘force to be reckoned with’. At 85 years young you can still work circles around the rest of us.

Thanks for laughing so hard at times that you cry. And for crying when you are sad, hurt, or heartbroken (and for allowing us to cry with you).

Thank you for teaching me how to do addition in my head – no one can do it as fast as you!

Thanks for teaching me how to drive a car, too and for never losing your patience with me while I was struggling to learn.

Mom & me

Mom & me – circa 2014

Thanks for staying beautiful and up-to-date in your appearance and attitude. I’ve always been so proud to be seen with you Mom.

Thank you for loving Debbie as much as your own daughter. And for always saying that you couldn’t have picked a better daughter-in-law yourself.

Thanks for loving our children and always making time at Gram’s house special for them. Two words: blueberry muffins!

Thank you for always keeping a toy box in your sewing room. And for letting the grandkids and great grandkids sometimes take a toy home.

Thank you for being you. And for surrounding our family with your love.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Peace,

Denis

 

 

 

 

 

 

If The Prodigal Son Had A Sister…

FULL DISCLOSURE – THIS IS A REPEAT. Today’s Gospel was the story of the Prodigal Son and I decided to repost this from September 2011…

I have two sons and a daughter. The sons both live a distance from us – one in Wisconsin and one in Korea. The daughter lives nearby. We see the sons (if we’re lucky) a couple of times a year. We see the daughter (and we are lucky) several times a week.

When we talk (Skype) with the sons, it’s usually about important upcoming events and significant happenings – weddings, births, travel, careers, etc. When we talk to the daughter, it can be mundane – what’s for dinner, aches and pains, the weather, etc.

It occurred to me recently that perhaps our daughter might sometimes feel like the older brother of the Prodigal Son. Needless to say, she’s here day-in and day-out listening to our latest complaints and answering our latest requests – always supportive, always cheerful, always ready for more. When “the boys” come to town it’s cause célèbre. And she often helps plan and carry out whatever festivities take place. By contrast, when she comes to dinner, she’s expected to set the table, help prepare the meal and clean up afterwards. Hardly seems fair…

Lucky Dad with Best Daughter in the World

But fairness is never part of the equation. Bess (our beautiful and gracious daughter) has inherited her mother’s gift of charity. She seldom thinks of herself first. She wants EVERYONE to be happy (and cared for, and well fed, and loved, etc.). She always gives of herself and she rarely expects anything in return. Her cheerfulness is contagious and she makes others happy by just being around her (again – a gift from her mother).

She’s here. She’s available. She’s constant. And I know that they say (whoever they are) that familiarity breeds contempt. But in our case it seems to me that familiarity creates family. We are family. And I need my daughter. And I hope she knows how much I love and appreciate her. I try to tell her in lots of small ways because we don’t have big celebrations for her and Travis and their children. We just have small celebrations and familiar and comfortable times together. And for me those small intimate gatherings are almost always more meaningful than the grand events planned for our sons.

And because of who she is, I doubt that Bess has ever resented her brothers or felt pushed aside when we “slaughter the fatted calf.” But just in case, she should know:

My (daughter), you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. ~ Luke 15:31

Peace,

Denis (Dad)

Thankful

Yesterday our granddaughter Anna brought home a worksheet from Kindergarten. It had a picture of pumpkins and a turkey which she carefully colored and a ‘fill-in-the-blank’ that stated:

thanful for NoahNoah is Anna’s 3 year-old little brother. At times he can be a pest. He will sometimes destroy a work of art or un-puzzle a puzzle or disrupt a tea party or throw a baby doll across the room or otherwise torment her. His behavior will likely produce a shrill “Noah!” But Anna loves Noah and Noah loves Anna. And she readily forgives him.

This love that they share is fostered in the love that their parents have for one another. Caring for each other is what my daughter and son-in-law do; it’s what my son and daughter-in-law do; what they model; what they teach. And the lesson is being learned. Loving parents create loving children. And somehow I think that Deb and I started this love fest.

I am thankful, too! Not just for Anna and Noah but for parents that are teaching their children to love one another. Thankful for forgiveness and second chances. Thankful for constant reminders that this life is precious and we are gifts to one another. Thankful that childish squabbles and petty differences can be resolved when we remember that our love for one another triumphs over all. Thankful that anger and resentment will cease when we forgive those who have wronged us (and when we forgive ourselves, too).

I am humbled by the profound and simple love that Anna and Noah share. For me they reflect God’s grace and beauty. To me they are examples of what is to come in heaven.

12-1-X2

Love! Joy! Peace!

The challenge for me of course is loving and forgiving my brothers and sisters. Not just my siblings – that’s easy. But this belief in God is troublesome. If we are all God’s children then we are all sisters and brothers. Ugh! That means that I have to love and forgive all the jerks and losers in my life. Not only that, but I have to love and forgive all the jerks and losers in all of creation! I suppose I could begin by not referring to them as jerks and losers. And of course I desperately need to receive some love and forgiveness, too.

So this Thanksgiving I will thank God for the honor of witnessing the love between a five year-old sister and her three year-old brother. I’ll try to learn from their beautiful example and attempt to be thankful for EVERYONE. And I will thank God for the forgiveness received when I mostly fail. I suppose I might learn to love someone previously deemed unworthy of my affection. Or better yet I might be loved by someone who finds me unlovable.

I’m happy to take my miracles in small doses…

Peace,

Denis

Francis Gives Me Hope

Pope Francis certainly has the attention of the press. And much of the faithful. And me.

He has shown himself to be a humble man willing to embrace the poorest amongst us. He has bucked the traditionalists who wanted more theological dogma. He has exasperated the Church hierarchy while they are busy telling us what he meant to say. Francis keeps shaking things up. Today’s interview in America Magazine only serves to further frustrate his critics.

“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.”

Read the whole article here – http://www.americamagazine.org/pope-interview

For several years now I have felt cold, distant and isolated in my Church. Far too long I have felt marginally Catholic (or not Catholic at all). The cultural battle within our Church has divided communities, parishes and families. Instead of joining together in prayer and worship we are often focusing our time and talent on divisive issues. Who is worthy? Who is authentic? Who really belongs at this table?

But where is the charity? Where is the compassion? Where is Jesus in all of this?

When I listen to Pope Francis words, “Without hope, we can walk, but we’ll become cold, indifferent, self-absorbed,  distant and isolated” my hope is once again restored.

And with HOPE my faith is being restored.

Pope FrancisMore powerful than Francis’ words; his love for all of God’s creation and his humility should be an example for us. Ultra-conservative Catholics are in an uproar because he hasn’t devoted enough attention to church teaching on abortion, contraception and homosexuality. Instead he has made poverty and social justice a priority. He is embracing all of us not just a select few who seem obsessed with dogmatic allegiance.

“This Church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people.”

I want to belong to that Church; the one that “throws the doors open” and welcomes us all. A ‘big tent’ Church that has room for saints and sinners. I want a Church where my daughter and granddaughters will be given the same dignity and opportunity as men.

Francis gives me hope…

Peace,

Denis

Daughter

In her book Bossy Pants, Tina Fey writes a prayer for her daughter. Part of that prayer:

“Lord, When the Crystal Meth is offered, may she remember the parents who cut her grapes in half. And stick with Beer.”

Dear Daughter,

I just want to take a moment and thank you for sticking with beer. Many times I think to myself (and sometimes say aloud to your mother), “We need to remember to thank our daughter.” So here goes:

Thanks for being the ‘middle kid’ between two brothers who sometimes made your life hell but mostly made you smart, strong and well-equipped for dealing with immature jerks in your adult life.

Thanks for being every teacher’s favorite student (and no, you were not a suck-up! No matter what your brothers might have said).

Thank you for having a spirit of adventure and a love of travel and for being a foreign exchange student in Ecuador. ¡Y el español es excelente!

Thank you for not becoming a statistic at the University of Wisconsin (even though we both know it was a “party school”).

Thank you for not dressing ‘slutty’ and for never getting your neck or face tatooed. And for not piercing anything other than your ears.

Thank you for marrying someone so much like me that we often share the same stupid jokes (sometimes simultaneously) and because I know he’s the only man who could love you as much as I do.

Thank you for our beautiful grandchildren. And for grounding them in love and peace and joy. They are your spirit and light!

Thanks for dragging your husband and children to England just to see your Mom & Dad when we lived there.

Thank you for your faith in God and for sharing it so beautifully with your students but mostly for sharing it with your own children.

Thank you for letting me spoil your kids with stuff sometimes (but mostly with love).

Thanks for being enough like me that you’re funny and self-confident but mostly like Mom so that you’re loving and generous and kind.

Thanks for always stepping up, standing in, speaking up, and lending a hand (and sometimes a shoulder to cry on).

Thanks for making family a center of your life and for loving your grandparents, aunts and uncles, siblings, and cousins.

Thanks for your many friends who can always count on you (and for allowing them to become my friends, too).

Thank you for “needing to be home” and for making home a place where I want to be, too.

Thanks for letting me be your hero when you were a little girl (Daddy’s need that). And for being my hero now.

Love,

Dad

Parenthood

The trend today is to ALWAYS make our children happy (at all times; at any expense). Recently I encountered a young family at Chik-fil-A® (I don’t agree with their politics but they serve a great chicken sandwich and my grandkids love the place!) who were cajoling Junior into eating his nuggets with the promise of ice cream and the indoor playground – so far so good. But when Junior was presented with the ‘free book’ that came with his meal, he threw it at the beleaguered mother and screamed, “I don’t like this one!” The frazzled father promptly promised to stop on the way home and buy him a different book after he had his ice cream and play time. I then promptly gave my grandson a ‘don’t even think about look’ while he was taking all of this in.

Now I’m compelled to share my wisdom as a service to all young parents out there (even though my own children would likely tell you that all their scars are emotional). So here in no particular order are my Rules for Parenting :

  1. Stop trying to be the perfect parent; they only exist in your mother’s imagination.
  2. It’s easier to negotiate with a terrorist than a two-year old.
  3. Don’t try to be your child’s friend (be a parent; it’s more rewarding in the long run).
  4. When doling out punishment, don’t flinch; once they see your weakness they won’t let up (give up, shut up) until you cave in.
  5. When they’re old enough to walk, they’re old enough to pick up their toys.
  6. Stop buying them so much stuff; love is free and it’s worth so much more.
  7. Be silly sometimes; be serious when you must.
  8. Pray (even if you’re just praying for sanity).
  9. Pick your battles; no child ever died because he didn’t clean his plate or take a proper nap.
  10. Reasoning with a preschooler can be like trying to nail JELLO® to a tree; it’s okay to just say NO (and mean it).
  11. Close your door; give yourself a TIME OUT when things reach the boiling point.
  12. Remember who the adult is and behave like one.
  13. It’s okay to be angry; kids can sometimes really piss you off. (But use your inside voice when you’re angry).
  14. Go outside; get some exercise and breathe some fresh air (and take the kids with you).
  15. You don’t ALWAYS have to have all the answers; it’s alright to say, “because I said so; that’s why!”
  16. When in doubt trust your instincts; my parents did and look how well I turned out.

Peace,

Denis

Funny Trumps All

In our family we have a saying, “Funny trumps all!” We’re a family that likes to laugh – a lot. In fact it’s hard for me to remember a day that I haven’t shared a laugh with my wife of 37 years. Sometimes we’ve even laughed through our tears. And Deb has taught our children and grandchildren the joy of laughter, too. Of course it helps that we’re all very funny as well. Or at least we think we are. Okay – we are!

Sometimes the need to be funny can be a challenge. Because I come from a family that tells jokes at funerals (my dad) and will make faces when you’re trying to have a serious telephone conversation (Deb and our ill-behaved children). And then of course there’s the deadpan sarcasm (my mom) and the dry sense of humor (my sister-in-law Pat) which at times leaves you wondering if it’s really a joke and that perhaps you shouldn’t be laughing.

And we find situations funny all the time. Our humor is not sophisticated. We will laugh at your jokes (even if we’ve heard them or told them before). We will laugh if you stumble and fall down. We will laugh if you fart. We will laugh at the absurd (like a waitress that has giant “cotton candy” hair) or the mundane (like the way my father-in-law ALWAYS warns us to look out for “the crazies” out there – who are the crazies?). We will laugh at spills, mistakes, mispronunciations, missteps, goof-ups, and someone who has missed a belt loop.

But mostly we laugh at ourselves. And that is the healthiest laughter of all. Being truly funny means understanding and embracing your own foolishness. There’s something disarming about laughter, especially when the laughter is at your own expense.

And remember that God must have a sense of humor, too. If you don’t believe me, take a good look in the mirror first thing in the morning.

Nothing feels better than a belly laugh

So when it doubt, laugh! Laugh out loud. Laugh a lot. Giggle. Snicker. Guffaw. Snort. It feels good and is good for you. I believe a good laugh can clear the cobwebs from your brain. It can ease your burden. Dull your pain. Lift your spirits. And lighten your load.

This being funny thing has successfully been passed down through the generations. My grandkids are funny and they know it. Once when our granddaughter was being scolded (I’m not sure what her offense) our daughter told her “Anna, you are not funny!” Anna responded with a wry smile, “I’m a little funny.” And the scolding ended.

I suppose that funny does trump all.

Peace,

Denis