Still Waters Run Deep

My father-in-law was a thoughtful and loving man. He was more comfortable as an observer than a participant in most situations, but when he spoke it was always worth my while to listen. I’m more of doer and a talker (too much of a talker, according to some) and I was often humbled by his quiet wisdom.

We lost him last week. And I’m certain that the angels welcomed him to heaven.

Pop was a father, grandfather, great grandfather and father-in-law. Nothing made him happier than being surrounded by family. We are all better persons for having had him in our lives.

He grew up poor in Southeast Missouri. He lived a hard life as a kid. He earned pocket money killing rats in the cotton and watermelon fields as young boy. He lived in his grandparents’ home when his mother couldn’t afford a place of their own but he never complained about his upbringing. He never voiced any regrets. He was grateful for all that he had in life.

In many ways he was ahead of his time. Unlike many men of his generation men he wasn’t afraid to do what was considered “woman’s work” and he often did the grocery shopping, would clean the house on occasion, do laundry and could prepare a meal if necessary.

He enlisted in the Air Force and then had a 40 year career with American Airlines but he never forgot his humble beginnings. What I remember most is that he never uttered an unkind word about anyone. He never looked down on anyone. It didn’t matter where you lived or what you looked like, he accepted you as you were. I never once heard a racist or anti-Semitic word or phrase pass his lips. He truly believed that all men and women were created equally. And he lived his life that way.

He taught my wife how to be a person of dignity and more importantly how to afford dignity to others. Since his passing she has wished that she had asked him more questions – about his life as a boy; his time in Korea in the Air Force; his love affair with her mother; his career; his grandparents and great grandparents; his hopes and his dreams. But if she had been able to ask all those questions, I know in my heart that he would have likely shrugged and said, “I have no regrets. I’ve lived my best life. And as a bonus I got you as my daughter.”

Pop would have done anything for any of us, but he didn’t like being fussed over himself. The night he died we let him get some rest. His health had been declining rapidly and he had had a fitful time the night before. We went into another room and reminisced about happier times. When we went to check on him the second or third time, we realized he had found his way home.

Our son commented later about Grandpa not wanting to be hovered over. He said, “It was just like him to sneak off while no one was watching.”

And so it was…

Peace,

Denis

I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7

“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

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

Faking Fatherhood

I became a father at twenty-three. To say that I was clueless would be an huge understatement. Not only did I not know what I was doing, I didn’t think I needed to know anything. Within five years we had two more kids. My knowledge of fatherhood had not increased. I pretended to comprehend the magnitude and seriousness of fatherhood with it’s wisdom and overwhelming responsibility for nurturing and molding young minds and bodies. But I was just faking it.

Don’t get me wrong. I was knee-deep in diapers and feedings and bath time rituals and nighttime prayers and all the rest. I was a hands-on dad. I wiped up puke and dealt with tantrums, and frantic searches for lost pacifiers. But didn’t know any of the “important stuff”. How could I be a father when I could barely take care of myself? When I tucked those babies in at night I prayed for wisdom. I prayed for patience. I prayed that I wouldn’t screw things up too badly. But I was just faking it.

Then came the school years with sports and science projects and Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts and all the rest. The kids had homework that I couldn’t possibly do. They played sports that I couldn’t have played as a no-talent, last-to-be-picked-for-a-team kid. I went on Boy Scout camping trips that I hated. And I just kept faking it.

Years flew by and the kids grew up and became adults. Off to the Air Force. Off to college. Down the aisle. I sighed (and cried) but I put on a brave face and big smile and faked it. They weren’t ready for what was coming their way because I hadn’t done my job. I hadn’t prepared them for adulthood. And I just kept faking it.

family

Faking it big time!

Now I have grandkids and I’m still faking it – the wisdom part; the knowledge part; the Fatherhood expertise part; I still fake all that. But the love; the love is real. And LOVE is amazing because it makes up for all my other shortcomings. Love lets me fake all the rest. And so I began faking it the day that baby boy was placed in my arms. Because love is all that really ever mattered.

And being a father is the greatest gift I was ever given. Turns out that you don’t have to be worthy, or brilliant or patient or knowledgeable, just loving…

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)

A Rich Man

My best friend’s Dad recently passed away and last Saturday there was a Memorial Mass celebrated for him. He died on his 88th birthday after a long and full life.

When his children eulogized him, they each said that he was guided by his faith in God and his love of family. As a child I witnessed this first hand. He was a prayerful, patient and kind father who always put his wife and children before himself.

My best friend and I have known each other since we were seven years-old. When we were young ALL parents could and would discipline ALL kids. If you were in the neighborhood you were EVERY parent’s child. And growing up it seemed that I spent more time at my friend’s home than my own. During our formative years my friend and I did normal boy stuff. We weren’t bad boys, just boys that sometimes did bad things. Each time his Dad discovered our misdeeds, he would gently counsel us and we would promise to NEVER repeat our mistakes. Of course we often failed but he never lost his temper; never raised his voice. His disappointment in us was devastating enough and worse than any corporal punishment that might have been doled out. We would resolve to be better boys in the future. And again, when we fell short of that goal, he would once more lovingly remind us of our failures. I will never forget his patience with us and I would like to think that his example helped make me a kinder, gentler dad with my own kids.

His daughter recalled a time not too long along when their entire family was on float trip. They were all laughing and singing and having a great. Of course their Dad was in the center of it all surrounded by his children and grandchildren. As they were floating down the river, a stranger came beside and called out to him, “Hey Mister! Hey Mister!” “I don’t how much money you have but you’re the richest man I know!” What an amazing testimony. What a life lived to it’s fullest. He witnessed to all of us. Even strangers.

He was a rich man indeed. Surrounded by the love of his family and blessed by God beyond his dreams. Who among us wouldn’t treasure those riches?

Peace,

Denis

Fathers, do not provoke your children, so they may not become discouraged. Colossians 3:21

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

Lessons Learned

Years ago when we were living in Wisconsin I occasionally volunteered at a homeless shelter and a soup kitchen in one of Milwaukee’s poorest neighborhoods. During that time our younger son Blake was a teenager, and as with many teenagers, there were the usual sullen and angry moments. Life was unfair. His teachers were unfair. We were unfair. There was a lot of unfairness. I grew tired of his sulking and decided that I should show him some real unfairness up close and personal. He would come with me the next time that I volunteered at the soup kitchen.

When we arrived at the church we joined the other volunteers, some from our own suburban parish, and others from city parishes, and still others from rural parishes. We were all there to do God’s work – to serve the poor; to feed the hungry. We began with prayer and then were given our assignments. I was to dole out a (not too generous) spoonful of green beans to each person; Blake was to clear and wipe tables.

As our “clients” came through the food line and settled into the battered folding chairs and worn cafeteria tables in the humble church hall, I realized that Blake was also sitting down. What was he doing??? He was supposed to be serving the poor! He had an assignment to clean the tables. I asked another volunteer to take over my bean-serving job for a moment so that I could have a word with my son. How dare he? I was going to set things straight! I was going to make this kid understand he was there to serve others; to stop thinking solely of himself for a change!!!

When I approached him full of arrogance and self-righteousness (after all I had been serving the poor for months now) I was determined to teach him a lesson in love and compassion. Instead I came upon Blake and an elderly gentleman having a conversation. Blake was talking to this man; really talking and listening to him as well. It occurred to me that while I had been dutifully dispensing food all these months, I had never taken the time to speak with anyone. I barely looked folks in the eye. Was it my embarrassment because I believed that I had so much more than they? Or was it my shame because I couldn’t face the reality of living in a world where so many have so little?

Now I was the one being humbled. I was the one learning about God’s love. My son, my beautiful son, taught me that I had been missing the point. I had been feeding bodies but he fed this man’s soul. He showed he cared. He gave him dignity. He loved.

Beneath his snarky teenage exterior beat the heart of a true Christian. Blake was being Christ to others in a way I had never considered.

All grown up now (Blake, tto)
All grown up now (Blake, too)

And I’m still thankful for the lesson he taught me that day.

Peace,

Denis

Family Matters

Recently while waiting for a flight, I saw my cousin at the airport. She was headed to Texas to visit her sister; I was on my way to New York on business. We hugged and kissed and exchanged the usual pleasantries and then we both went our separate ways. But I was changed a little by that brief encounter. As I boarded my plane I recalled fond memories of our childhood and our shared experiences and I realized once again that family matters. I thanked God then and there.

FamilyLivingPictureWe’re all born into families. Many of us marry into families. Others of us are adopted by families. Some families are small. Some are large. And it’s all relative (pun intended).

Our need of family intrigues me. We need to belong. We need to be part of a group of individuals that share a common bond; common link; a common ancestor. This need to band together is primordial. We gather as one. One people. One tribe. One purpose.

I’m certain that there are people who like to live alone. Hermits perhaps or cloistered nuns. But most of want to live with others; to share our lives with others. We need to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. And families seem the perfect way to do that. The shared experiences. The shared traditions. The shared memories. The shared joys and sorrows. That’s what makes us family. That and our love for one another. In our caring for and being cared for by family we see God’s love in action.

Families are not just biological creations. Some families are individuals not joined by birth or marriage but joined by love or common cause. We become family by giving of ourselves to one another. We become sisters and brothers through our need for one another. We lift each other up; we carry one another’s burdens; we celebrate one another’s victories; we laugh together; we cry together; we pray together.

Recently I experienced the amazing love of family when my mother-in-law passed away. My wife and her brothers came together to support my father-in-law and to carry one another through the most painful of times. Their tenderness for one another and their love needed no words; no grand gestures. It was just pure and simple and profoundly beautiful. I have never been prouder of them or prouder to be a part of them.

Of course there will likely be many sad days ahead. Grief slips in and attacks us when we least expect it – a song, a photo, a favorite food, or some long-forgotten memory can trigger an emotional overload. Our loss can be truly disabling. But we trudge along and we cherish our memories and get busy with caing for one another. And we adjust. And we adapt. But we NEVER forget.

And this is why family matters.

Peace,

Denis

Hope

Tragic. Horrific. Unimaginable.

These are just a few of the headline words used to express the shock and dismay of the merciless attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday morning. Children massacred – it’s still almost too painful to contemplate but I try to understand; to make some sense of it. But I cannot comprehend the hate so virulent in one individual that he would commit the most despicable crime against the most innocent of victims.

As a citizen I am outraged. As a parent and grandparent I am shaken. As a child of God I am broken-hearted.

HandsThere’s a part of me that wants to “put it away”; to not talk about it; not think about it. I would like to tell myself that it happened far away and was random and can NEVER touch me or my precious grandchildren. But as I write this, the tears stream down my face thinking of those grandfathers in Connecticut that won’t get to hold their grandsons and granddaughters on their laps again; who won’t hear giggles and see sweet smiles. Who will never again get another tight squeeze around the neck or a precious kiss on a craggy old face.

Today at Mass our priest asked us to lift up those families in prayer. He implored us to be THE PEACE that we can be in our own families; in our own communities.

I can’t undo the hideous attack that was perpetrated on those children in Connecticut but I can be an agent of peace. I can deplore violence. And I can defuse anger and hatred in my own life. I can try to love as Jesus taught us.

Won’t you join me? Let’s mend broken relationships. Let’s try to ease the pain of others. Let’s stop buying music, movies and video games that glamorize violence. Let’s ask our members of Congress to actively work on real gun control legislation. Let’s stop reacting to violence with more violence.

There is hope amidst the horror. And as we enter into the fourth week of Advent in preparation of the Christ Child, let’s truly create some peace on earth.

Peace,

Denis

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7