“Dad” – the best honorary title I’ve ever been given

It’s Father’s Day. The day that Hallmark invented because men were feeling a little left out because of all the Mother’s Day hoopla. It’s true. The dollars spent on Father’s Day pale in comparison to what we fork over on Mother’s Day gifts, cards and flowers. Of course, mothers deserve more respect and reverence (and stuff, I suppose) if for no other reason than enduring childbirth. I was in the room for a couple of those. I’d take a double hernia any day!

Still, dads have some tough stuff to do, too. As dads we change our share of poopy diapers and mop up puke and wipe away tears. Some of us taught our kids how to ride a bike or drive a car. Some of us have instilled great wisdom in our young charges. Some of us are models of virtue, faithfulness, patience and courage. But most of us are just trying to make it through to another day.

Did you ever take your 13 year-old daughter swimsuit shopping and have to examine in detail nearly 100 swimsuits all of which “weren’t quite right”? Or have to sit through your 9 year-old’s ‘Parent-Teacher Conference’ and listen to Junior’s litany of sins while realizing that your kid is smarter than this teacher? Or did you ever have to fish something out of the latrine at boy scout camp that your son couldn’t manage to hold on to, and find yourself screaming, “Why the hell did you have that in here in the first place!” These experiences are not for the faint of heart. It takes a real man. It takes a Dad.

I’ve been blessed. God has chosen me to be a Dad. Somehow with limited intellect and no training or background in child development I was able to plod through this journey of fatherhood. My efforts were, at best, questionable and my mistakes as countless as the stars. Still my results were beyond my imagining. Three amazing humans walk this earth that I have the joy of calling my children. They are loving, caring, capable people who you would be better for knowing. So if a dumb-dumb like me can pull off a feat like this, there is hope for all of humanity.

Being called Dad is an honor and it is one that I treasure with my whole being.

Happy Father’s Day to all dads, stepdads, foster dads, mentors, and men who make a difference in the lives of children.

Peace,

Denis

Take My Hand

“Take my hand.” It’s such a simple phrase. It can be delivered as a command. Many times with my children and grandchildren it is imperative that they must ‘take my hand’. It guards against danger – traffic or crowds or unfamiliar surroundings. It can be offered as a gesture of kindness or friendship. Please ‘take my hand’ and I will help you along the way over rough terrain or an uncertain future. It can be a request. ‘Take my hand’ and help me, steady me, hold me, give me strength and the courage to continue on.

For me, it has mostly been an expression of love. ‘Take my hand’ and join our souls. Walk with me on this journey of life.

I have been blessed beyond measure. I have a wife of 45 years who is still the light and love of my life. I have three grown children who amaze me and challenge me and love me as much as I love them. I have five grandchildren who fill my life with love and joy and laughter; they give me hope for the future. I have friends and family who give tirelessly of themselves and bring balance to my life.

Each of them – all of them, have held my hand; have strengthened me; have pulled me up from the depths of despair. They have held my hand in times of joy and sorrow. We have clasped hands in times of immeasurable happiness. I have felt their heartbeats pulsing through my own veins. They have rescued me from mundane annoyance and incomprehensible pain. All of this by simply ‘taking my hand’.

As a child I held my parents hands. Whether crossing the street or being consoled, I felt protection in that hand. I was rescued from fear and uncertainty with the simple gesture of having my hand held. Now with aged fathers, Deb and I often find ourselves holding their hands. The roles have reversed in a way. The protection that our Dads’ afforded us is now being returned by steadying old hands that need support, tenderness and guidance.

I believe in a higher power. I believe in a God who has brought these loved ones into my life. I know when they ‘take my hand’ it is God’s hand holding mine. Each of these people is bringing Christ to me.

My prayer is that I can be allowed to be Christ to them as well. God rescues each of us; sometimes we just need a hand.

Peace,

Denis

Red Rover

“Red Rover, Red Rover, send Denny on over…” 

I remember as a child playing “Red Rover” with my cousins at my grandparents house. Because we were Catholic and growing up in the ’50’s and ’60’s, there were always a lot of us. Having 45 first cousins didn’t seem exceptional in my little world. Games that required a large group of small kids were pretty easy to play at Grandma and Grandpa’s. The object of “Red Rover” was lost on most of us. Certainly it was lost on me. I think we were supposed not let someone break the line or maybe trap them when they attempted to break the line. Perhaps there were no rules or we made them up to serve our purpose. Anyway, we would laugh and capture or repel one another or whatever we thought we were supposed to do. And we would do it over and over again.

1920283_10203140571134940_7189401573547634534_nWhen I think about those days of long ago, I realize that my cousins were my first friends. My cousins were my first peers. They were the ones that would laugh at me when I burped or farted or peed my pants or picked my nose – good peer pressure. I’m still thankful for their encouraging ridicule. Thanks to them, I am (nearly) socially acceptable.

My cousins were also my first partners in crime. We laughed when we heard our uncles and dads talking and some of them would use cuss words. Their cussing was pretty mild compared to today’s standards but we thought it scandalous and hilarious. On occasion we would “pretend smoke” our candy cigarettes and try out some cuss words. We were not allowed to play in the corn fields or in the beans or in the tomato plants but we could be persuaded to step foot into the forbidden zones when the adults were otherwise occupied. Grandpa always said to leave the barn cats alone, but at our own peril, we messed with them. These were not sweet little house kittens. These were nearly feral cats whose only goal in life was to keep the mice at bay. Picking one up would usually result in scratches and bites. The fact that the barn cats were “forbidden” made them that much more enticing. 

I’m still close to many of my cousins. Three of us are the same age (which I suppose happens a lot in big families). We still laugh and play together. We three still use some cuss words now and then and although we’ve given up candy cigarettes, we enjoy an occasional adult beverage together. Our lives are simultaneously different and the same. Being connected to one another in love and friendship makes the months and years between our get-togethers seem merely like days. And being together makes us feel like kids again.

10478692_10202593128809224_3266273771514063748_nMy cousins were the ones who taught me that belonging is important and necessary. We belong to one another – we share a history. Somehow I think God is mixed up in all of this. God decided we belonged together. For better or worse, we are family. 

I hope that there is a heaven. And I hope that if I’m fortunate enough to be there at the end this life, my cousins will be calling out, “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Denny on over…” 

Peace,

Denis

 

 

Saint Denis

Today is the Feast Day of St. Denis. He is the patron Saint of Paris and France and headache sufferers.

I’ve always been happy to have Denis as my saint’s name because he’s kind of a maverick and a tough guy. According to legend Denis was Bishop of Paris in the third century and was martyred by beheading. He is said to have picked up his own head and walked six miles, preaching a sermon the entire way. Also Denis is the patron saint of headache sufferers, frenzy and strife. This is not surprising considering that six mile trek while carrying his own severed head!

St. Denis - Outside the Madeline in Paris (depicted with head intact)

St. Denis – Outside the Madeleine in Paris  (depicted with head intact)

Of course I admire the “saintly” saints who prayed and fasted and gave up all worldly possessions to follow Jesus’ call. We all love the saints who lived simple lives and made tremendous sacrifices for their faith but there’s something about a guy that’s got Denis’ spunk. I mean even the biggies like Francis and Theresa and Patrick and Clare didn’t carry around their own heads post mortem. So in my book Denis is a saint to emulate. Not only was he tough but he was cool. Let’s call it grace under pressure – extreme pressure.

 

St. Denis

Our grandson as St. Denis last year during All Saints’ week at school

Last year our grandson Noah chose to be St. Denis for the All Saints’ celebration at school. This morning he’s doing one of the readings at mass. Holy Noah (AKA St. Denis).

My Aunt Gene used to send me a ‘Saints Day’ card on Denis’ feat day and I will miss that again this year. When Alzheimer’s took it’s grip she forgot about Saint Denis and was sometimes a little fuzzy about who I was, too. But she’s the one who first introduced me to the saint who shares my name. And I have always taken a certain amount of pride (is that a sin?) in the fact that my patron saint was a badass who defied his Roman persecutors!

I’d like to think that Aunt Gene and Denis are in heaven having a conversation about that fateful day in Paris so many centuries ago…

Peace,

Denis

Honor Your Father and Your Mother

My parents are old. 89 and 91 respectively. That might even qualify as really old. Of course my idea of “old” changes with each passing year.

One of the commandments (I know it’s in the TOP TEN) tells us to honor our parents:

Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land the LORD your God is giving you. Exodus 20:12

mom dad 12-1-17Those are nice words but it’s not always an easy task, this honoring of your parents. Anyone with elderly parents will likely understand. At times it seems as if the roles have been reversed. My parents need more attention. They need more help. They need more understanding. They need more advice. They need more patience. They need more love. Their needs remind me of when we were raising our three children – always needing more than we had to give. And us always “running on empty” just doing the best we could.

Don’t get me wrong. My parents are doing very well for their ages. Remarkably well. And this may be part of MY problem. I still need to be “parented”. I still need their advice. I still need their attention. I still need their patience. I still need their love. And I don’t want to let go.

Recently Mom has had some health issues but she should be fine. Still her recovery at eighty-nine is not like it would have been 10 or 20 years ago and she is frustrated by this. The fact is: she has “Senior Citizen” children that expect her to live forever because she’s always been strong, healthy, active and alive. It’s selfish but it’s true. We need her to be our Mom not the other way around. Just the other day my Dad asked, my wife, Deb if she thought there was life after this life. It’s a startling question but when you’re ninety-one I suppose mortality is often on your mind. Another fact: Dad we don’t want you to leave us. Not now. Not ever.

But reality being what it is, I know that our life here on Earth cannot go on forever. I also realize that I am going to likely be facing some tough times ahead with my parents as they continue to age. Many of my friends and cousins have already lost one or both of their parents. Deb lost her Mom nearly 5 years ago. And none of us is ever ready to let go.

I will honor my parents them by giving them their dignity. I will honor them by helping where I can. I will honor them by “backing off” when I should. I will honor them by allowing them to make their own decisions. I will honor them by respecting their wishes and trying to be patient. I will honor them by remembering that THEY ARE THE PARENTS even if it seems at times that they need to be “parented”.

And I will do the best I can.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

Getting My Just Desserts

The expression “getting your just desserts”, that which is deserved or merited was originally “just deserts”. Because most modern English speakers are unfamiliar with that old sense of desert, the phrase is most often understandably written just desserts.

Capture.PNGGrowing up with a mother who is half French meant that we were treated to dessert with every meal – cakes, pies, cream puffs, cookies, brownies, puddings, whether it was deserved or not. What lucky kids we were! Sweet, rich, delicious, fattening desserts were just part of our life. Eating dinner (or lunch) was really just an exercise in getting to the reward of dessert. It wasn’t until I was nearly grown before I realized that our family was unique. Sadly not everyone had homemade desserts with each and every meal. Ever sadder, some folks didn’t even have store-bought dessert! Why not??? I still can’t understand nor explain that anomaly.

When my wife and I were first dating I was invited to her home for dinner. Her mother prepared a beautiful meal. After dinner I was asked if I would like a cup of coffee. Of course! What else would I drink with dessert? Coffee was prepared and poured and then nothing. Nothing. No mention of dessert. No inkling of dessert. No dessert. We talked. I was even offered a second cup of coffee, which I gladly excepted, hoping it would prompt the serving of THE DESSERT. But still nothing. And then the strangest thing happened. Dinner ended. Without dessert! I remember thinking that Deb’s mom was going to be really embarrassed later when she realized that she had forgotten to serve the dessert. I sheepishly mentioned this to Deb later in the evening and she said, very matter-of-factly, “We don’t usually have dessert.” I was astonished and then I really questioned whether we should continue dating. What kind on family was this? Were they Communists? Or some weird religious sect? Were they allergic to deliciousness? What in hell would make people “usually not have dessert”? Not even the store-bought stuff?

All these years later when I reflect back on this it makes me keenly aware that we all have expectations. I’m often anticipating something to happen the way I want it to happen – the way I think it should happen. I expect someone to behave the way I want them to behave – the way I think they should behave. I’m waiting for that dessert that may never be offered. And herein lies my disappointment and frustration. I’m so programmed to “the way it ought to be” that I sometimes miss the joy of new experiences. I’m so conditioned to “following the rules” that I miss the adventure of an unexpected journey. Opening myself up to new ideas and new places and new people doesn’t negate my life story. Instead it enriches me and gives depth and adds greater meaning to the traditions that I hold dear. So often I am certain that I don’t deserve something better (love, joy, happiness) that I stop trying to achieve a better life. I stagnate in my self-loathing and self-pity. But I know that there is more and I believe that the best is yet to come.

Perhaps “no dessert” all those years ago was my just desserts. After all, look what I gained in the process. By the way Deb and I have been married for over 42 years now and she converted. We are a dessert-with-every-meal family.  So I guess we both gained something on this journey together.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

Full of Grace

Anna9Nine years ago the most wonderful thing happened. My granddaughter Anna entered this world and captured my heart. Nothing has ever been the same since.

Anna has an old soul. She has the gift (shared by few) of being able to walk into any room and sense whatever is needed by those around her. She gives herself completely. When she is with you nothing else matters to her except being in that moment. Whether she’s playing with friends or helping her little brother or just “hanging out” with her grandparents, she takes the time to listen and truly engage in the game or the activity or the conversation at hand. She is thoughtful, polite and loving.

Anna has a mighty spirit wrapped up in one tiny nine year-old body. She laughs big. She plays hard. She prays deeply. And she loves unconditionally. I am humbled by her kindness, amazed by her generosity and honored to be her grandfather.

I see my daughter in her love of laughter, her desire to excel in school and her need to be the family peacemaker. I see my son-in-law in her inquisitiveness and in her joy of learning new things. I see my wife in her deliberate approach to life; always stopping to “smell the roses” and never wanting to be hurried along. She shares her other grandmother’s artistic ability and love of nature. And me? Well she may have inherited some stubbornness and perhaps a talent for writing.

I believe that Anna will do great things in her life. Truth is, she already has. On more than one occasion she has afforded me a glimpse of heaven. And it’s a beautiful thing. You know, the name Anna means “full of grace”. I suppose nothing else really needs to be said.

Except happy birthday and I love you!

Pawpaw (Denis)

“Children’s children are the crown of the elderly” ~ Proverbs 17:6

 

Hope Is Still Alive!

Last week my 8 year-old granddaughter said, “My friends at school say that President Trump is going to build a wall around Mexico.” “Pawpaw, does that mean you can’t go to your office in Mexico City anymore?” “Or if you go there, you won’t be able to come home?”

anna-meNot exactly sure how to explain the situation to her, I said, “No Anna, it means something different.” I told her that I would be fine and my friends and work-mates from Mexico could still visit here. My words seemed hollow and I could see the fear in her eyes and felt certain that my explanation fell short of reassuring her.

Fear. What an ugly experience. And now, so many are living in fear. Fear of deportation. Fear of being denied immigration. Fear of separation from loved ones. Fear of banishment. Fear of death.

What about the fear of terrorism? Fear of unknown or unwanted persons who could do harm to our nation; our cities; our homes. Do we build walls and create borders and more restrictions to keep out anyone who is deemed a threat? And what is the criteria for exclusion? Religion? Skin color? Language? Dress? Who decides?

I think of my own great-grandmother who made the perilous journey alone from her homeland, at only thirteen years of age, to build a better life for herself. My very existence depended on her acceptance into this great nation. Today because of her lack of education and inability to prove herself worthy of finding gainful employment, she would doubtless be denied access.

How can I have hope for a future that seems so dismal? How do I tell my beautiful granddaughter that her unbridled love and pureness of heart may not be enough to cure the evils of this world? I can’t. I won’t.

I need her to believe that good conquers evil; that justice is for all; that hope is still alive. And I will follow her example by loving without question and always looking for good in everyone. I will pray, not just for my friends but for my enemies as well. I will stand up for those who can no longer stand. I will speak for those who no longer have a voice. I will fight racism and sexism at every opportunity. I will respect ALL life.

And I will face another day. A better day. Hope is still alive. I know this because Anna tells me so, without ever speaking a word.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

Boy In A Hurry

Today is our grandson’s 6th birthday. Noah is always in a hurry! Whether he’s running through the backyard or cruising on his bicycle, or racing across the swimming pool or sliding into home, he is always “full speed ahead”!noah-me

That was even true on the day that he was born. It seems like it was yesterday that our daughter Bess was at her last prenatal appointment. While waiting to see the doctor she was pretty sure she had gone into labor. They examined her and sent her straight to the hospital at about 3:45 pm. Two hours later a nurse looked in on Bess and said she would be back in 30 minutes to check her progress. When the nurse returned to check, she lifted the sheet and said “And…we’re…having a baby!”

Just that quickly, Noah was born at 7:06 pm, September 20, 2010. He’s been in a hurry from the start.

I thank God for giving us a healthy boy who can run and run and run. I’m grateful that “he’s the fastest__________________________” (fill in the blank). He’s a dynamo who seems to move a little faster everyday. But some days I wish he would slow down. Sometimes I just need him to “put on the brakes”. I want him to climb on my lap. I want to hold him in my arms and kiss his sweet face. I want him to be “little” for just a little while longer. There are days when I feel desperate for Baby Noah. I want to tell him to please not be in such a hurry to grow up. To savor this time. To be patient. To hold on.

But today is not about me. Noah’s life is his own. He’s six today! And he’s in a hurry to run marathons and climb mountains and conquer this world and create beautiful moments and memories along the way.

I realize of course that I don’t need Noah to slow down as much as I need to catch up. And God willing, when I’m too old to run alongside him, I hope that I’ll still be able to cheer from the sidelines as he hurries past.

Happy Birthday Noah!

I love you,

(Pawpaw)

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…