Perfecting Christmas

I grew up with images of Sweet Baby Jesus being born on Christmas day. Sometimes I’m nostalgic for those days of innocence: Jesus’ and mine. In the comfort of my suburban home, I imagined all good girls and boys had the same kind of Christmas to which I was entitled. I was taught that Jesus was born poor and in a stable but, I had no real understanding of poverty or homelessness. Our Christmases were gloriously predictable: Santa would come; cookies would be baked; dinner would be plentiful; family would gather. And plaster Baby Jesus was perfectly happy to stay tucked away in his manger with Mary and Joseph dutifully at his side while we opened our presents.

While playing with my new toys, I would give an occasional nod to Jesus. We would attend Mass and sing our carols and I knew that Christmas was about the birth of Jesus. But my world was small and my understanding of life beyond my family, my neighborhood, and my parish was limited. And I liked it that way. There was security in the bubble that was my young life. Mom and Dad and my brothers and baby sister were all I needed. The messy stuff; the scary stuff; the life outside; was more than my little mind could (or would) comprehend.

Then it happened. I grew up. Life got messy and sometimes scary, but I held on tight to my need for perfect Christmases. I wanted everyone to be happy. “Jingle Bells” would be blaring from my cassette tape player. Reality would be put on hold. As a newlywed I found Christmas to be another opportunity to share our love but with the added stress of finding (and affording) that perfect gift. When our children came along, I tried desperately to give them the Christmas of my youth: warm, secure, loving, with plenty of gifts and a dash of Baby Jesus thrown in for good measure. And we would routinely go in debt to make darn sure that happened. Because no one could be disappointed with a less than perfect Christmas!

They say with age comes wisdom. I’m not sure if that’s true. I think more accurately “with age comes the same mistakes over and over”. And sometimes if we’re paying attention or we get kicked in the head we might actually learn from those mistakes. You can call that wisdom, I guess. At least that’s my wisdom experience.

I mean no disrespect to anyone who needs the image of Baby Jesus at Christmas. I love babies and I think it’s remarkable that our Savior was born an infant. However, Jesus’ humble birth sends a message that for most of my life escaped me. As I’ve aged, I’ve come to the realization that Christmas comes to everyone, not just the happy little families gathered around their tree. I will always cherish my childhood experience of Christmas, but as Christians we are called to have a preference for the poor, the marginalized, the forgotten. “As followers of Christ, we are challenged to make a fundamental ‘option for the poor’—to speak for the voiceless, to defend the defenseless, to assess lifestyles, policies and social institutions in terms of their impact on the poor”. I have some work to do.

But here’s the good news: Jesus comes for all of us! What I need to constantly remind myself is that Christmas comes whether we’re celebrating a beautiful Christmas liturgy or working the graveyard shift at a convenience store. Christmas comes whether the gifts under our tree are beautifully wrapped and plentiful or if they are being given to us by a volunteer at the Salvation Army. Christmas comes if we’re enjoying a sumptuous feast with family gathered or sitting alone at a soup kitchen. Christmas comes while we’re holding our sweet-cheeked grandchild on our lap or holding the hand of a loved who has just received a devastating diagnosis. Christmas comes whether we are celebrating new love or mourning the loss of our lifetime companion. Christmas comes with giggles and joy and with tears and heartache. Christmas comes.

I still strive for those perfect Christmases. The ones where everyone is happy and well fed and sufficiently gifted and loved beyond measure. But now I know to also look for Jesus in the less fortunate circumstances. I try to find Christmas in the hurried shoppers, the beleaguered parents, the refugees searching for a home, the lonely neighbor, the recovering alcoholic, the estranged family member, and that old man that I see in the mirror.

So, my prayer this year is that wherever we find ourselves, we are still able to shout the Good News. Jesus is born! Our salvation is at hand. Whether you’re in a high holy place with a glorious choir singing Alleluia or handing out “Toys for Tots” to children in need; if you are “on top of world” or find yourself lost in despair, hoping for better days to come or pining for days gone by, I hope that Jesus (or whatever/wherever you find comfort at Christmas) touches your heart and lifts your spirits.

May your Christmas this year be perfected by His love.

Denis

The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today a savior has been born for you.”

The Only One

Sometimes I feel like I’m the ONLY ONE. The only one who gets the joke; who knows the score; who sees the absurdity in a given situation; who uses correct grammar and knows the meaning and proper use of the word exacerbated, which is often how I feel. Being the ‘only one’ can be a lonely place. Why isn’t everyone as intelligent, well-informed, and confident? 

Of course, when I think about it (and pray about it) I realize how self-important and misguided I am. At times I choose solitude because I really want to be left alone; to not be bothered by the opinions and needs of others. It’s easy to be uncaring when you remain aloof.

Do you suppose that John the Baptist (the crazy, animal skin wearing, locust eating, hermit) thought that he was the ‘only one’? The only one who knew what was coming? Was he skulking around in the desert because he was disgusted with the callous disregard of others? Maybe. Or did he think that wandering around alone in the desert was a great way to get his message out? I don’t know. But as we prepare for the coming of the infant Jesus at Christmas, John the Baptist reminds us that there is something else coming. We must prepare for the change that Jesus creates; in our world; in our church; in ourselves. While I may feel like ‘the only one’ that is exactly the opposite of the message of hope, peace, love and connectedness that Christ brings to us. I am admonished by the Gospel message.

I need to join humanity. Get dirty. Pay attention. Get involved. Make a difference. Lend a hand. Carry a load. Love. These are not things that I can do alone.

I believe that when I open my heart to others, Christmas will come. In the meantime, I have some valleys to fill and some mountains to tumble. I know that my own arrogance, pride and ‘only one-ness’ need to be made low. And my heart and spirit could use some filling up and straightening out right now.

Then and only then, will I be truly worthy to hold the Christ-Child and be able to encounter Jesus in everyone I meet.

Peace,

Denis

A voice of one crying out in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” Matthew 3:3

Holding On and Letting Go

My daughter shared that on her family’s recent trip to the Grand Canyon her 11-year-old son became concerned with her welfare on one of the trail hikes and took her hand. She’s not sure if he thought that the steep incline might be too challenging for her or if he was worried because she was battling allergies or perhaps, he thought she might be frightened of the heights. Regardless, he held her hand. This is something that this 11-year-old boy doesn’t normally do in public anymore. He’s too big now and too vulnerable to 5th grade peer pressure to be seen holding hands with Mom.

A few weeks ago at church a woman who I know needed some assistance. I know her in the “from church” sense of the word. I know her name and that she was recently widowed and that she had been a teacher years ago, but I don’t really know her well. Still, we’ve always spoken to one another in the polite ‘have a nice day’ kind of way that casual acquaintances do. Lately she has acquired a walker and on this particular Sunday, I helped her retrieve it after Mass. That simple gesture was repaid by a smile and a grasp of my hand and squeeze from her old bony hand. It was a sweet, warm encounter. I wondered as she scooted off how much she must miss the touch of her beloved late husband’s hand.

I lost my Mom nearly three years ago and there is not a single day that goes by that I don’t think of her. Usually, they are happy thoughts and fond memories of the times we shared. Sometimes, I feel the ache of her absence profoundly; I feel her loss in my heart; in my soul; and in my physical being. On those days I am comforted by the memory of one of our last times together. A week before she died, I stopped by to visit, and Mom was on the sofa in the family room. Her pulmonary fibrosis had gotten the best of her that day and she was listless and breathless. We sat side by side on that sofa and she put her hand in mine and we sat there in silence. No words were needed. I remember feeling like a young boy once again being comforted and reassured that Mom was going to be okay. There I was trying to take of her and instead she was taking care of me.

Holding on and letting go.

My grandson held on to my daughter on that canyon hike as she was struggling to let go of the baby boy who is no longer there. He let go of his fear of being seen holding hands with Mom. She is comforted in knowing now he will always take care of her while is she busy also taking care of him.

My friend from church is holding on to her walker and letting go of some of her independence. She is forging ahead in a life without her spouse. And she is blessing those around her who offer her small kindnesses.

My Mom gave me a such a beautiful gift on that day on the sofa together. She gave me hope and peace. As we were holding on to one another she let me know without words that it was time to let go.

And here she, is still taking care of me…

Peace,

Denis

Back to School

Our daughter is a second grade teacher. She loves to teach. And I suppose unless you love it, you shouldn’t do it. The pay is meager and the challenges are plentiful. Still, she is a joy-giver and has an indefatigable spirit and those kiddos will someday remember her as someone who mattered. Because in her classroom they matter. She makes learning fun but she reminds her students that what they do and how they do it is important. School is important and so are they.

Truth is, she’s been teaching her entire life. She taught me how to be the dad of a daughter – which can be pretty daunting for us slow-learners. She taught her brothers a thing or two along the way. And of course her husband and children are devoted followers. She teaches; we learn.

Seeing her welcome her second graders this year brings back thoughts of classrooms long ago. Remembering my apprehension each school year of who my teacher might be and worrying that I might have forgotten EVERYTHING during my summer of freedom from the classroom. What would I do if I couldn’t remember arithmetic or names of the state capitols or something? I remember I would pray to Saint Jude, patron of hopeless cases, for a day or two before school started and somehow miraculously I could write my name in cursive after my summer hiatus.

As an adult I fondly remember favorite teachers; Miss Boerding, my second grade teacher who had a beautiful smile and always smelled nice and was patient and loving. Sister Leandra, who insisted on good grammar and penmanship and told amazing stories, which may or may not have actually been true. Miss Pfaff, geography teacher who instilled in me my love of travel at an early age. Sister Thecla, my high school drafting and graphic arts teacher who was a hoot and made her classes fun while we worked our tails off trying to meet her standards of excellence. Sister Fidesta, high school algebra and geometry teacher who was a force to be reckoned with but always had a twinkle of kindness in her eye.

I’m thankful for my many teachers. When I correct someone’s grammar (in my head) while they’re speaking or become frustrated with their improper sentence structure and lack of punctuation in an email I thank Sister Leandra. As I cringe while someone says, “I’m going down to Wisconsin” (and they’re not coming from Canada) I thank Miss Pfaff. When I study architectural drawings and work on designs for my job I thank Sister Thecla. When I have to be tough but remember to also be kind I thank Sister Fidesta.

Of course, I’ve had countless teachers outside of the classroom as well. My wife is a tireless teacher who has yet to give up on me. My Mom taught me how to pray. I have a workmate who leads me through the perilous journeys of our data system whenever I am lost. I have friends who teach me by their love and devotion and our shared experiences. My grandkids teach me how to operate some of these gadgets in our house that are apparently necessary for survival today. How many remote control devices must one have?

In or out of the classroom I’m always learning. And most days it’s good to get back to school.

Peace,

Denis

Saints and Angels

Below is a text exchange I had today with our teenage granddaughter. “Teenage granddaughter”. I still hold my breath a little when I say those words. That tiny baby girl who I held in my arms just moments ago is a teenager. But today I got a glimpse of the woman she is becoming: strong and smart and loving and faithful.

Here’s our exchange:

Me: We honor Mary’s parents, Anna and Joachim, as saints. We celebrate the joint feast day of Jesus’ grandparents on July 26th. Their love for one another and for Mary is an example to us of how God calls us to live. They also remind us to honor our own grandparents and to thank them for the blessings they have passed down to us in love. Happy Feast Day Anna! (I have to admit that part about honoring your grandparents was blatantly self-serving but I sent it anyway.)

She: I am greatly blessed to have you and Nana as my grandparents and today I am especially reminded of that. I love you.

Those words: I am greatly blessed… and I love you.

Just when the world seems to be too much to bear. Just when I’m not sure if I’m even fit for humanity. Just when I can’t seem to find a kind word or a kind thought, there she is. My girl. My teenager. She softens my roughness. She calms my restlessness. She looks past my ugliness. She ignores my mean-spiritedness. She digs deep and finds the love and beauty and truth that I sometimes keep buried deep under the angst of everyday living. But she finds it! She lifts my spirit and she soothes my soul.

And I am greatly blessed. And I am loved.

Peace,

Denis

What, why, when, where, how?

We have two of our granddaughters, aged 5 and 7, staying with us for three weeks this summer. It has been a lot. A lot of fun. A lot of laughs. A lot of ice cream. A lot of laundry. A lot of love. A lot of questions.

You forget sometimes when you are an adult to ask questions. I mean we already know everything anyway, right? What is there to learn? We’ve been there and done that. We stand by our convictions and our restrictions and God help anyone who tries to get us to open our eyes (or minds) to new ideas or experiences. And please don’t make me learn anything new. My brain is old and tired and full.

Sadly, there is a loss of fascination and wonder as you age. And I am guilty of not-wanting-to-know-anything-else! Ignorance is bliss. I don’t have to be responsible for anything if I don’t know how my irresponsibility contributes to the pain or suffering in our world. I believe in God (most days) but there was a long stretch during the Trump administration that made me doubt His (Her) existence. So much hate. So much darkness. So much divisiveness.

But my granddaughters are full of wonder. They ask questions about EVERYTHING. They force me to think about the whys and wherefores. They force me to take off my blinders. Their innocence and joyfulness and energy reminds me that I need to be more mindful of my responsibility as a human being. Their curiosity rekindles my need to better understand what is happening in my neighborhood, my church, my country and my world. I cannot afford to be a silent bystander when there is so much to be done. There is such a need for compassion and love in this world and I can do my small part.

On those days when I curse my fellow humans and stick my head in the sand I will try to remember that my granddaughters desire a better future. I must stay hopeful and faithful. I must keep asking questions. What can I do to help others? Why is there so much hate in our world? When will we learn to love one another? Where can I find hope and strength? How do I improve myself, my neighborhood, my church, my country and my world?

Nadia Bolz-Weber wrote a prayer that includes: “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Deliver us from the inclination that we do not have evil in our hearts. Deliver us from religious and national exceptionalism. Deliver us from addiction and depression. Deliver us from self-loathing. Deliver us from self-righteousness. Deliver us from high fructose corn syrup. Deliver us from a complete lack of imagination about where you are in our lives and how you might already be showing up. Deliver us from complacency. Deliver us from complicity.

As I read her prayer I realize that I too need to be delivered. I need to be delivered from my self-assuredness and pride and I need to start asking some questions. I need to ask the ones that are especially hard to ask – like where is God in my life? I need to learn to be patient with myself as I search for those answers. I also need to let go. I need to stop carrying the weight of anger and resentment. I need to unload those obstacles that consume so much of my energy and brain activity. Then perhaps I can wonder and wander. And maybe even carry someone else’s load for awhile. After all, isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?

Peace,

Denis

The link below will take you to Nadia Bolz-Weber’s complete prayer

https://thecorners.substack.com/p/sunday-prayers-october-25th-2020

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

Remembering To Laugh Along The Way

Today is our wedding anniversary. It might have been predestination or providence or happy coincidence but somehow we met and fell in love. Deb and I started out laughing (mostly she at me) and we haven’t stopped laughing since. There is no one funnier and no one who “gets me” more than she does. The rest is history or rather our story. We were married and we never looked back.

We had no idea what lie ahead in 1975, which may have been a blessing in disguise. We somehow managed to find our way, one step at a time, one day after the next. Usually our plan was “There Is No Plan” and we just dealt with whatever came our way. I don’t recommend it for the faint of heart but so far it’s worked for us. Laughter has helped. And patience. And respect. And love. But we always remember to laugh.

Our journey has had it’s ups and downs. But the downs have been few. We raised three amazing children or more accurately: they raised us. During those days of cribs and diapers and preschool and science projects we usually laughed at our mistakes and prayed that they would create no permanent damage to our children’s physical or mental health. Somehow we all survived and still laugh about some of the funnier moments: Having to explain to a 2nd grade teacher that when our son told his class, “An eagle landed on my arm in our front yard!”, he was just using his imagination and we weren’t actually animal trainers. Or the time when our daughter felt the need to correct her 1st grade teacher’s vocabulary (a trait she still possesses) because, “It’s pronounced pretty, not purdy!” To this day we still call that teacher Miss Purdy. Our baby boy provided most of the laughs but I will forever remember the time that he threw himself on the floor of a department store while having a complete meltdown because we refused to buy him a tiny trench coat. He cried and screamed at the top of his lungs, “But I want to look like Inspector Gadget!”, the cartoon detective. Prying him off the floor while he was wailing, “You’re breaking my little arm!” proved to be less humorous at the moment, but we laughed as we ran out of the mall. Those memories still make me chuckle.

Later a new job offer moved us out of state. What a blessing our years in Wisconsin would turn out to be. Great schools; great neighbors; great friends. We survived the teenage years. Of course, laughter was a necessary ingredient in our survival. Our youngest child took us on some unexpected journeys along the way. Turns out, he was smarter than most of his teachers and certainly smarter than his parents. Ultimately our kids grew up and became adults. Along the way Deb and I tried our hand at adulthood too with limited success. We mostly stayed on the “No Plan” plan and stumbled along in blissful ignorance.

After 11 years in Wisconsin we had an opportunity to come back home to Missouri and took the chance. It was a bittersweet moment: leaving two of our children at the University of Wisconsin, and leaving friends we had come to count on plus a home we loved, to return to our roots. But coming back to family and life-long friends was another blessing in this life we share. The ensuing years would bring great joys and much more laughter. Greatest amongst our joy are our five beautiful grandchildren. Who knew all those years prior that our daughter would find love in Wisconsin and gift us with two of those grandchildren? They along with their cousins provide much of the laughter in our lives today. An added plus is that I’ve been able to recycle many of my old jokes for a new audience. I’m certain that the older grandkids laugh out of courtesy these days, but hey, laughter is laughter. I’ll take it any way I can get it.

Work once again provided an opportunity for a new adventure and in 2012 we lived in England. We often found ourselves laughing at our hapless efforts to carry on as ex-patriots. Our misuse of the language, our driving skills, our tiny washer/dryer and the eccentric neighbors and shopkeepers all offered countless hours of laughter. I’m sure we supplied many a laugh to those who encountered us along the way.

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Through it all, Deb and I have remained partners, friends, lovers, and two of the funniest people that I know. We have a saying in our house, “Funny Trumps All!” Of course not everything is a laughing matter but even in our darkest hours we have found something to make us laugh. On her deathbed my Mom made us laugh by telling us that although she would miss all of us, she certainly wouldn’t miss Donald Trump. It was her last gift to us all. She took all the sadness out of the room with that simple sentence. Once again she was the Mom who knew just what we needed. I’m sure she’s looking down on us now and laughing at some of our antics.

46 years ago when Deb and I made our vows there were promises to love and honor and to stay together in sickness and in health. There was no mention of laughing. And yet here we are, still laughing all the way. They say that laughter is the best medicine. And I would add that nothing is healthier than being able to laugh at yourself. I suppose God has given some of us more opportunities to do that than others.

A true blessing is having someone to share that laugher. Happy Anniversary – Deb (thanks for all the love and laugher!)

Peace,

Denis

Respecting Life

As a Catholic Christian I have a responsibility to respect life. Lately I’ve been thinking about what respecting life means to me. Not “Respect For Life” the pro-life mantra with all of it’s political implications but respecting life; the life we’ve been given and the lives of others.

In 1996 when our daughter was in high school she had the opportunity to be a foreign exchange student. At sixteen years old she traveled alone to Santo Domingo, Ecuador and lived with a host family for the summer. Her hosts welcomed her as part of their family. She attended school with her sisters, joined in family events, was never allowed to walk the streets alone without her brother’s protection and was completely immersed in life in Santo Domingo. During her time in Ecuador, she and several other international students spent a bonus week in the rainforest. They rode an antiquated bus into the jungle, slept in hatched huts, encountered huge snakes, fought off marauding monkeys who would snatch food from their picnic tables, and experienced a life most hadn’t realized even existed. Part of that week also involved meeting indigenous peoples in order to appreciate their culture.

Because this was before the days of smart phones and texting and easy access to the internet we were able to only receive one fax and two phone calls from our daughter during her time abroad. Needless to say, when she arrived home she had much to share.

I remember vividly her telling us about her experience in the rainforest. Her best friend was over and our daughter was sharing her photos while describing in detail everything we saw. She mentioned how they had all been offered a drink of some concoction from a wooden bowl. I believe it was considered a blessing or sign of hospitality. She took the vessel and held it up to her mouth but she didn’t swallow. Pretty discerning for a sixteen year old. She was respectful but cautious. (Her mother’s influence should be credited for that gracious maneuver). When we looked at the photos of how the people were dressed (and undressed) and had painted their faces. Her friend exclaimed at the top of her voice, “Oh my God, I would stare!”

Those two girls, at sixteen, respected life. My daughter concerned by what might be mixed in that unknown concoction, nonetheless was respectful enough to accept the gift given. Her friend’s reaction to the native Ecuadorians unusual costumes was only an embarrassed, “I would stare!” Neither girl expressed disgust or hatred or fear of a different life. They were respecting life. A life so different from their own but deserving of dignity and respect. I was so proud of those girls then and I am proud of the women that they have become. They are both mothers now and they are raising their children to also respect life. And they are changing our world. One works in immigration; one works in education.

In a interview in America Magazine on October 1, 2020, Jeannie Gaffigan said, “My faith, family and Catholic education have given me the belief in the innate dignity and worth of every single human being. Human life is sacred, and all humans have equal value. Of course, this means it is wrong to intentionally take a human life under any circumstances, but it is also wrong to disregard human life through racism, unjust social and economic structures, providing inadequate access to health care, wantonly harming the environment, abusing or neglecting anyone—a child, a mother, a father, a grandparent, an immigrant.”

Our daughter and her best friend were also given a Catholic education and faith and love of family was instilled in them as well. I can’t take too much credit for the amazing person that our daughter has become but we did teach her to respect life.

So here is my prayer; here is my hope. That one parent will teach one child to respect life. And our world can be transformed one child at a time.

Peace,

Denis

I Am Who I Should Be

When I was in high school, I was 6’-2” and weighed 120 lbs. soaking wet. My parents’ friends and some family members would often ask if I played basketball. The assumption was of course that because I was tall and skinny, I should be a natural on the court. The truth was that I had the coordination of a newborn giraffe. Come to think of it, I kind of looked like a newborn giraffe. I doubt that I could have run down the court without tripping myself. So, no I was not a basketball player. But folks thought I should be.

When my wife and I got married we were young and had no idea of what might lie ahead. We were a couple of small-town kids in love and that seemed like enough to get us through. Lots of people felt obliged to tell us that it would never work out and that we were making a big mistake. Of course, it wasn’t easy, but our love survived and thrived. I was (and am) happy to be married to this amazing woman, even though people thought I wouldn’t be.

When we had children, I tried to be a “hands-on” dad. I could change diapers, burp and bathe babies, read bedtime stories, dry tears (sometimes my own), and all the rest. My wife was the true nurturer, but I was no slouch. I did everything she did (except breast feed) and I believe it made me a better daddy and a better man. Other men, I knew at the time, questioned why I would be so involved in what they believed should have been my wife’s job. Even my own father wondered why I was so wrapped up in all this baby business. The kind of dad he was – that’s what he thought I should be.

As our children grew, I stayed active in their young lives. This “hands-on” dad would be faced with challenges in child rearing. Three teenagers each with different interests and divergent paths at times felt overwhelming. With prayer and patience (mostly the prayers were for more patience) I did the best I could. Once, another parent questioned why I wasn’t “helping” my son with his science project. The implication was that he would do a lousy job without parental supervision. When I replied that I didn’t want to do my son’s work and I would rather see him fail on his own than succeed with me covertly completing the science project, the other parent thought I was dead wrong. A few years later our other son decided to dye his hair bright green when he was in high school. I remember a parent asking me why I would let him do that. I shrugged and said, “First of all, he didn’t exactly ask for my permission and secondly, I was only disappointed that he didn’t dye it blue, which is my favorite color.” These people didn’t think I was the father that I should be.

When our only daughter got married, I was an emotional wreck on the inside. I loved her fiancé and was certain he would be a good husband and I knew that we had raised a strong, intelligent, confident young woman. Still, I could only think about the baby girl that I had held in my arms and I wasn’t sure if I could get through her wedding day without being a blubbering idiot. I prayed and asked God to give me strength. I didn’t want anyone to mistake my potential tears as unhappiness or displeasure in her decision to marry. Thankfully I got through the day with a smile on my face and not one tear fell (at least not from my eyes). Later at the wedding reception folks marveled at the fact that I wasn’t crying. They all thought that I should be.

Now that I’m a grandfather, people mistake me for an old conservative. Maybe it’s because I live in a bastion of conservatism – in my county Republicans often run unopposed for elected offices. I can’t be the only white-haired old guy who is also a progressive. Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have white hair and they’re not wearing MAGA hats. I’m certain there are other men my age who consider themselves feminists. Surely other 60-somethings want humane treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, the end of discrimination against minorities and women in the workplace, dignity afforded to those in LGBT community, effective gun control legislation, protection of our environment and the abolishment of capital punishment. I find myself often silent in social settings – not wanting to be offensive and trying hard not to be offended. My friends know me (the real me) but it seems at times that even they don’t think I’m who I should be.

I guess I’ve spent my whole life not quite meeting other people’s expectations. I’ve never apologized for not being who or what others thought I should or shouldn’t be but at times I’ve been sheepish about it. Sheepish – not in the shy or embarrassed sense (“Oh please don’t tell anyone that I changed a diaper last night and that I voted for Jimmy Carter”). But sheepish – in the following blindly along with the other sheep. (“I don’t like your racist, homophobic, xenophobic blather, but I’m just going to nod and walk away without challenging it”). Shame on me! Because that’s not who I think I should be.

So, I pray. I have a small faith group that I meet with monthly. My prayer partners help me put things into perspective and remind me to rely less on myself and more on God. My wife keeps me grounded and loves me more than I deserve. My kids constantly astound me by being even more generous and loving as adults than I ever dreamed possible. My grandchildren are the jewels in this crown of goodness called life that has been bestowed upon me; none of which is deserved but is nonetheless cherished beyond measure.

Sometimes I still feel like that newborn giraffe – clumsy, frightened, ridiculously ill-equipped to take even the smallest step but somehow I trod on.

Perhaps that’s exactly who I should be.

Peace,

Denis