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.



Anna Turns Seven

 On Tuesday Anna turns seven. Seven? Where did the time go? So much about her has changed in just seven short years. She still lets me hold her in my arms but I’m afraid those days are numbered. tunies.jpg

The name Anna means gracious and merciful and indeed she is! She has gone from being a helpless infant into a bright, confident, loving first grader. She’s a big sister who dotes on her little brother. She’s a sweet daughter who loves her Mommy and adores her Daddy. She’s a kind and caring friend who shares her time and attention (and her toys). And she’s a granddaughter who brings so much joy that sometimes my heart aches from the sheer beauty of her little soul.

I want to tell her how much she is loved but she already knows that.

I want to tell her that she has changed my world but I suspect that she knows that, too.

I have thanked God for her each day since she entered our world – with a song in her heart, a smile on her lips, and a twinkle in her eyes.

On Tuesday as she blows out her birthday candles I’ll be making some wishes, too. Here are my wishes for Anna:

  • Even when others are unkind. Stay true to your loving spirit.
  • Dream big. If you can dream it; you can do it!
  • Pray always: with words, with deeds, with your smile, with your tears.
  • Travel the world; have great adventures, but remember to always carry Home in your heart.
  • Never forget how much that you are loved. Especially by God.
  • Dance like no one is watching; sing your song to all who will listen.
  • Question authority; shake things up; make some noise for justice and peace.
  • Laugh out loud. A lot.
  • Be tough but caring. Be compassionate but strong.
  • Be the smartest person in the room but never be arrogant or unkind. 
  • Love without fear. Give yourself to others without regret.

anna pawpawI have one wish for myself, too. I hope that Anna lets me carry her in my arms until old age or weakness makes it impossible. And then I hope that she will carry me.

Happy Birthday Anna. Pawpaw loves you more than words can say!






Haircuts, Handwriting, Handkerchiefs, and Holding Doors

CaptureI consider myself a progressive. I’m a confirmed feminist (my granddaughters are destined for greatness). I also support women in the priesthood, equal pay for equal work, and look forward to the day that we have a woman in the Oval Office. I champion diversity in my workplace while supporting family leave for women and men. Social justice issues (especially as they relate to women) are dear to my heart and I expect that I will ALWAYS lean to the left. And I think that we can all agree that violence against women is intolerable and shameful.

So why do find myself mourning the passing of certain traditional elements in society?

I still go to a barbershop replete with a barber pole, clippers, straight razors, sports & auto magazines, and the same old guys (yours truly included) that have frequenting the place for 30+ years. I don’t need a stylist or a colorist or a scalp massage. I just want to talk about the weather and local sports teams and get a 15 minute haircut.

It also makes me very sad that many young people don’t have legible handwriting. When was the last time you even received a handwritten note? I love email and texting but sometimes I long for a letter or even a postcard, written in long hand (not printed), addressed to me, and actually mailed with a stamp and a postmark! Do they even teach penmanship in school anymore?

I always carry a handkerchief (not for blowing my nose) but to offer to a lady to dry her tears or to wipe a smudge. No sexist implications here. I was just raised to believe that a gentleman should always have a clean and pressed handkerchief. Thanks Mom!

And when did holding a door for someone become passé? My beautiful wife is just as strong and smart as I am and yet I still want to hold the door for her whenever we’re together and would NEVER step in front of her when walking through a doorway. This doesn’t make me gallant and certainly doesn’t imply that she is weak; just loved and respected.

So what does a well-meaning progressive do in a society that seems to be discarding tradition; abandoning manners in lieu of efficiency or mistaken equality; surrendering politeness in an attempt to be first in all things at the expense of others?

I’m not really sure, but I believe that I can still be relevant and thoughtful. I believe that I can support women’s rights and hold a door. I believe that I can embrace technology and still write the occasional note. Who knows, maybe when one my granddaughters becomes president she will ask Congress to consider mandating that penmanship be taught in all public schools.

I will be there to offer my handkerchief to her when they reject her proposal as antiquated and foolish. And then, of course, I will wipe my own tears.



I Fell In Love Ten Years Ago

Our oldest granddaughter Charlise is ten years old today. Ten years! It seems like yesterday that she was born. I suppose all parents (and grandparents?) look back on the day their child was born with feelings of nostalgia and wonder.

Charlise was born a month early and even though Deb made a quick trip to Florida shortly after her birth, I couldn’t get away from work as quickly. We went back to Florida together by the time she was nearly a month old. Of course I had seen hundreds of photos by then but I will never forget the first time that I held her in my arms. It was love at first sight. She was this tiny, beautiful, precious, baby girl. Her skin was so soft that I could barely feel it with my rough hands. She was everything I’d ever hoped for and I prayed that one day I would be a grandfather worthy of such a miracle.

CharliseWell that was ten years ago. Today my girl is more beautiful, if that is even possible. She is a sweet, smart, funny, caring girl who never stops amazing me with the love she shares. I may be prejudiced, but I believe if you met her you would agree that she is just simply a good girl. Every teacher is happy to have her in their classroom. Every coach wants her on their team. Every scout leader wants her in their troop. Every parent is happy for their kid to call her friend.

At times it makes me a little melancholy to think about how fast she has grown. I can already see the kind of adult she will be: Strong, confident, loving, kind. She will make her mark in this world. Her love of others will always be a guiding force and she will surely be successful in all of her endeavors. I hope that I’m around to see the woman she will become. I know that she has some scathingly brilliant ideas!

But that will all have to wait. She’s remains my little girl even though she’s a BIG ten year-old! There are still times when she climbs up on my lap and hugs my neck and I’m carried back to that moment ten years ago when I first fell in love…

Happy Birthday Peanut!





The Lesson I Learned Watching National Velvet

Recently two of our granddaughters spent the night. Part of the requisite for a sleepover is a movie. Usually it’s some Disney® or Pixar® animated “new release” but this time my wife suggested a classic: Elizabeth Taylor’s National Velvet.

What a treat! Not only was it a nice diversion from the usual fare but it is a beautiful film from 1944 that tells the tale of a girl who, against all odds, wins the British Grand National Steeplechase. Our granddaughters were mesmerized. First by the fact that they love horses; secondly by the fact that Velvet, the young girl played by Elizabeth Taylor, was disqualified because she was a girl (only boy jockeys were allowed in 1944). The girls were both delighted and outraged. They know full well that they can do anything boys can do.

My own little equestrian

My own little equestrian

But the message of the film was not lost on them. Velvet’s success in training and racing her horse and ultimately winning the race was what mattered. The recognition and prize money were less important. Velvet loved and believed in her horse and her reward was knowing that together they had achieved greatness regardless of what society deemed worthy or acceptable.

Of course I love my granddaughters but my pride in seeing them embrace a film that is not cutesy or Disney-fied is hard for me to put into words. They might have struggled with some of the British accents and some of the antiquated ideas from the 1940’s but they followed the story and cheered for Velvet and her horse. They both spoke later about how the important thing was that Velvet never gave up on her dream. Pretty profound for a six and nine year-old.

I’m guilty of sometimes dumbing-down stuff for my grandkids. I try to take some of the harshness out of reality. I want every day for them to be all sweetness and light. And I always want them to have rainbows and fairytale endings. But that’s not really such a good idea after all.

The girls taught me a valuable lesson the other night. I know now that they are tougher than I thought. They will be able to handle disappointment and heartache in life because they realize that they are surrounded by love. And they are capable of tremendous compassion. I’m certain that they will be winning their own “championships” someday and that their gains will be in character, faith and love.

It seems certain that there is much more they will be teaching me in the future. I can hardly wait…



Happy Birthday Anna!

Tomorrow our granddaughter Anna turns six. It’s amazing to me just how quickly these six years have passed. It seems like yesterday she was born. And of course it seems like the day before that, her mother was born. Time flies!

AnnaToday we’ll celebrate as a family and then she’ll have a party with her school friends in a week or so. There will be cake and birthday presents and all the rest. Fun, fun, fun!

But this morning I’m feeling a little melancholy. Part of me is desperately trying to hold on to the past. Perhaps it’s more about my own mortality than about watching Anna grow. I just want to scoop her up into my arms and hold on tight. I’m not quite ready for the world to take hold of her innocence.

But alas, she is already of this world! School and friends and scouts and dance and sports all compete for her time and attention. Her influences beyond home and family are plentiful and diverse. The outside world is very important to her now. And rightly so. She must learn to conquer this world as she has conquered my heart.

Truth be known, I am delighted to see her grow in faith, kindness and understanding. I am captivated by this little girl who brings so much meaning to my life. I can see her mother in the poised, thoughtful, and loving young girl that she is becoming and in the happiness that she brings to others. I can see her grandmother in the spunk and spirit she possesses and in the twinkle in her green eyes. I can see her daddy in a smile that warms the coldest of hearts and in her boundless energy.

And somewhere in that lovely little soul I pray that there is a tiny part of me wrapped up inside. Hopefully I possess some infinitesimal morsel of goodness that deserves to dwell inside such a magnificent creature. Just to know that some example of kindness or love that I have shared, has had a small part in making her so special, would fill my days with immeasurable joy. This grandfather stands in awe of her beauty and at times my heart aches for sheer love of her.

Happy Birthday Anna! You won my heart six years ago. I hope that you know it’s yours forever.


Pawpaw (Denis)




Sister Stories

St. Catherine University in Minnesota is inaugurating National Catholic Sisters Week as part of Women’s History Month. Part of the planned events include Sisters telling their own stories.

“In an attempt to record untold stories by women who have served for decades in challenging ministries, St. Catherine is sponsoring a student-led initiative. Students are producing interviews or short films about sisters they know to create an extensive oral history.”

You can read more about here:

I’ve been honored in my life to have heard some Sisters tell their stories. And I have been even more honored by actually being a small part of some of those stories.

Deb with two of our favorite Sisters - Annette & Mary. They visited us when we lived in England.

Deb with two of our favorite Sisters – Annette & Mary. They visited us when we lived in England.

As one of millions that was blessed to be taught by religious Sisters, I thank God for their dedication and guidance that carried me through my grade school and high school years.

As a nephew of three religious Sisters, I thank God for the love that they brought to our family and the remarkable examples that they each gave me. Simple, courageous, faith-filled, loving women – all three.

Some of my very dearest friends are religious Sisters and I have received countless blessings and boundless joy from them. What would my life be like without the vocation and service of these women? Thankfully I will never have to know.

I have three granddaughters and while I don’t know if they will ever become religious Sisters, I do pray that the examples of the women religious that I know and have known will strengthen them on their journeys through life. I hope that they are fortunate enough to hear all of these Sisters’ stories: Courage, compassion, dignity, devotion and love.

What more could I ask for my beautiful girls?



This Week…

This week my wife and I took care of our five year-old granddaughter Anna and our three year-old grandson Noah while our daughter and son-in-law were vacationing in Jamaica. It’s been lots of fun. But we’re a little tired.

In some ways it was like any other sleepover that they’ve had with us. What made this week unique was, well it was a week.

Snow DayWe had to get Anna to school each day and because she attends a parochial school that means drop-off and pick-up each day. Noah had his Little Gym® class on Tuesday and Anna had a dance class on Thursday. She also attended a birthday “indoor pool” party last weekend which required that each child bring a responsible adult. In between there were school lunches to be made, special dinners (featuring kid-approved menus) to be prepared, loads of laundry, homework to be completed, art projects and Play-Doh®, bath time and bed time (complete with stories to be read and prayers to be said). Throw in a “snow day” and we’ve had a pretty full week.

In fairness, Deb did most of the work while I escaped to my office. I did handle drop-off each morning and joined in with bath time, story time and prayers every night and of course playing in the snow was my job, too. And because we couldn’t locate a responsible adult, I attended the swimming birthday party (or is it a birthday swimming party?).

Anyway, I learned three important things this week:

  1. There’s a reason God gives us our children when we’re young.
  2. Even a plain sugar cookie is an “extra special dessert” when you add a shot of Reddi-Whip® and a dash of sprinkles.
  3. And hearing “I love you, Pawpaw” is the sweetest sound in the whole wide world.

Having Anna and Noah for a week reminded me how much work it was and how much fun we had raising our own three kids. And now I just need a little nap…



Living in the Future

I’m probably not alone in sometimes imagining what my life will be like in the future. What may be unique is the amount of detail that my daydreams include. Often when I’m stuck in traffic or on a tarmac or at the DMV, I will time-travel to the future:

Recently I imagined a day when President Anna (my 5 year-old granddaughter who will most certainly be a politician or a Hollywood agent because she can talk anyone into anything – well me anyway – and is a budding ballet dancer) was presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to her cousin Dr. Charlise (my 9 year-old granddaughter who will be an Egyptologist and a research scientist because she reads everything she can find on ancient Egypt and loves reality television shows or books with titles like Extreme Medical Maladies or Abnormal Sea Life) for discovering cures for cancer, heart disease and boogie fever – which has seen a resurgence from the 1970’s while Attorney General Noah (my 3 year-old grandson “Life’s a Party Noah”, race car driver and brother of President Anna, which is how he’ll get the Attorney General gig) and Pope Ainsley (3 month-old baby sister of Charlise who will be the first American Pope – and a woman!) look on. Of course I’ll be there too.

Long before they were President, Attorney General, Scientist and Pope

Future President, Attorney General, Scientist and Pope

Not all of my daydreams are quite this detailed but more often than not, they are. Should I be concerned? I don’t think so. Don’t we all imagine life in the future? Doesn’t everyone wonder what life will be like someday? I assume that it’s just natural human curiosity to try to work it out in our minds; to imagine what is coming so we can be prepared. Certainly most of my preparation for the future will be figuring out how to accept the nearly constant praise for my amazing grandchildren. I’m certain that I will learn to accept it with humility.

Okay, so most of this was written “tongue in cheek” but I do daydream at times about the future and I always imagine that I’m there. I’m not quite so egocentric that I think life won’t go on without me. I know that someday I will die. But I do like to think that I’ll still be there – in spirit, in memory, in the love that I shared. I believe this because all those that have loved me are still here. In my heart, in my soul, and in everything that I say and do.

God gives us eternal life. And sometimes in the quiet stillness, I get a tiny glimpse of what that really means. And someday, well you know…




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.


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…