There is in my home tonight a great excitement that has built. I’ve been doing this teaching thing for a long time but the first day of school (the one with the kids and not just in-service meetings) is always a terrific time for me. This year it’s a bit different. Having walked away from education a couple of years ago this is my first “first day of school” in 2 years. And even though I started working at this school in January it wasn’t quite the same, jumping in mid-year. This year I am the vice principal. This year my nine year-old daughter (she of broken wrist fame) is joining me at this school. This year Netflix will hopefully release season 3 of The Crown but that might just be wishful thinking.
Tonight my sweet little girl and I ate dinner and then began what I hope to be a nightly ritual. We packed our lunches together. I still can’t believe how fortunate I am. All parents are the primary educators of their children. But I get to do it in a very real way. Short of homeschooling this is a great option for me. It combines two things I love – teaching and my kids. I can’t wait to drop by her table in the cafeteria and drop dad jokes on her and her friends. She’s a little nervous but she’s also excited and I think she’s happy because what other little girl gets to bring her awesome dad to school every day?
Speaking of the broken-boned one, we picked up her new eyeglasses today. Before getting out of the car at the ophthalmologist my daughter asked ever so kindly if I could help put pants on her stuffed bear. I don’t even ask anymore. But the cast was getting in her way. I may not be the best dad but I try as evidenced by the picture she took.
The tail has to go through the hole. Don’t ask.
After packing lunch we gathered her uniform and I ironed her shirt and mine. Then she brushed her teeth as best as she can with that cast on and I read her a book before watching her drift off to sleep. This is going to be awesome. My wife and son? They were out shopping, buying us a big bag of fun things to keep in my office like Twizzlers and protein bars. I didn’t see any pony bottles of gin but that might come later.
I got myself a “nun Bell” for recess!
Speaking of my son… I’ve been prepping mentally that I should probably deliver some kind of father-son talk to him one of these days. He’s 11 and it certainly seems appropriate. The only thing is how to do it. I prayed about it and discovered a wonderful (if not someone older) book called Listen Son. The book, written by Cardinal Stritch (yes, Elaine Stritch’s Uncle) in 1952, is a series of conversations between a father and his son. What I like is that it presents the facts in a straightforward way while focusing on the virtues of manliness, chastity, and honor. I can work with this.
Tonight I came in from grabbing a smoke on the porch and son asked “Daddy will you read to me tonight? I don’t care what it is.” Perfect opportunity, I thought. So I grabbed the book and sat down with him. Two things happened.
First, about mid-way through the first instruction my son stopped me and said “It sure sounds like you’re reading a script.” Perceptive, that boy. In fact it kind of is a script. I brushed it off by saying “Yes, son, this is an important topic and I want to get it right for your sake.”
Second, I concluded with the line “remember that what we will discuss is sacred and does not need to be talked about with others.”
For some reason at this point the boy asked “Where’d you get this book.” And without missing a beat and with as much honesty as I could muster I said “Amazon.”
We both immediately burst into laughter.
“A sacred topic brought to you by a minimum wage factory worker,” replied my son.
Since Monday’s post was all about my son I think today’s post should be all about my little girl… right after I relate one additional thing about my boy.
This morning — Tuesday/Day 6 — my son and I did something we rather enjoy doing and that we had previously done three years ago on a trip to the same town. We climbed to the top of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. See pictures below.
Why wasn’t my daughter with us? That’s because she was having too much fun hanging with her new girls. From the moment we arrived she gravitated to the other young ladies and it seems they’ve been having quite the time of it. They all screamed something at each other in some sort of “girl code” and then took off for the beach to paint their nails or something. I really don’t know and I’m afraid to ask.
This afternoon my daughter proved once again how she can probably make me do just about anything. The girls (by now a sizable pack numbering somewhere between 8 and 12 and with no discernible leader having emerged) were looking for something to do. Stepping away from the other wolves girls my daughter approached me as I was walking toward the beach.
Daddy, where’s your credit card?
I did not like the sound of this.
“What do you need it for, Sweetheart,” I asked.
“It’s just that the other girls want to go get iced coffee,” she replied, looking almost forlorn.
I knew she couldn’t care less about coffee. She was having so much fun with her new friends and worries that if they all went off on a walk to the donut shop and she stayed behind she’d be somehow out of step with them. Hey, I get it. I’m kind of the same way. They call it “FOMO” – fear of missing out. It’s why I don’t like to sleep.
Being the awesome dad I am I hatched a better plan. Instead of coffee we’d take all the kids for ice cream. This way no one would have to pretend to like coffee. Who doesn’t love ice cream? We walked to Dairy Queen and enjoyed our treats while my son regaled us with the history of that franchise. He’s been watching YouTube videos on corporate America.
And while we were in that shopping plaza we spotted a place I almost immediately regret having spotted. “Look girls! That place does henna tattoos.”
I suppose there are few better ways (or worse) that a father and his daughter can bind together than getting inked up. And it’s henna. It will wash off in a week. She chose a llama. They’re big right now. Me? Well, let’s just say I was feeling patriotic.
The rest of the day was filled with more pool time, a wonderful dinner, and great conversation with our friends.
My daughter is happy her daddy is so cool. Her daddy is happy his daughter is so happy. The other she-wolves probably think we are both strange and amazing – a combination that cannot be undersold in life.
For Indian ink and happy memories with my little girl I am most thankful. Let’s see what tomorrow brings…
As the Good Lord says, there is no rest for the weary. Actually I’m not sure that was the Good Lord
who said that. I think He said something
about making sure to observe the Sabbath.
Truth be told, there’s nothing wrong with a little rest and, I am also
informed, sleep is possibly necessary for human existence. Although I’ve never been able to verify that
claim it seems worth checking into.
As for me and my house we will see the lop. Only two people in this world would
understand that last sentence. One is my
sister. The other is my dear friend
Kelly. So I am dedicating today’s
installment to Kelly’s son who is a fellow blogger. I’m sure at this very moment he’s wondering what
we did all day Sunday (Day 4). So I’ll
We did absolutely nothing.
Having been to mass last night and having driven over 1500 miles in the
past couple of days, taking in kitschy sites along the way, we thought today
would be ideal to laze about the beach.
I woke up at the ungodly hour of 0800, said my prayers, grabbed my black
coffee, and busted out a new jumprope I had purchased in Alabama the other
day. This one is weighted. A treat for me! After burning through a half-hour of cardio I
showered, put on my 1910-era bathing suit (have to cover myself up), picked out
a boater hat from the closet, and headed down to the beach with my ukulele. Along the way I packed a bag with my pipe,
the Wall Street Journal, and some sarsaparilla ale. Humming Civil War hymns, I gleefully strode
across the sand, found an ideal spot, and laid my blanket down. For the next several hours I basked. Basking is fun with the ones you love.
I mean, come on… The reality isn’t nearly as
interesting. My bathing suit is from J
Crew and barely covers my rather long thighs, there is no pipe. Haven’t read the Journal since my dad died. And the drink in the bag was a tumbler of
margarita. I basked all right. A tiny bit of sunblock to protect my
shoulders but otherwise I took in as much sun as I could. Vitamin D is good for you.
And that’s about it.
By day’s end I had counted both of my kids to make sure they
had made it back in from the beach. We
had a lovely dinner. And, totally not
burned, I went to bed thankful for this time.
God is very good to me. He’s
given me people whom I love and time to spend with them. The overactive imagination? That’s just a bonus.
*You already know that I started out Day 3 by writing about Day 2. Now I am starting out Day 5 (in a manner of speaking) by writing about Days 3 and 4.
We did make it past Asheville last night (or
rather, early this morning) and checked ourselves into a hotel on the side of
I-40. Charles Kuralt once said upon the
completion of Interstate 40 – which runs from coastal North Carolina all the
way to the Central Valley of California – that it was now possible to drive
from one coast to the other without seeing a thing. I fear he was right. That’s not entirely true. Why, late last night I saw stars. No, my wife did not beat me over the head for
blasting the original cast recording of Evita while she was
sleeping. My son, in a way only 11
year-old boys can do, announced confidently that he had to relieve
himself. He did this about ten miles
after I had driven past the last exit with any services for a considerable stretch
of road. Oh well, I’m a guy. I get it.
You don’t really need a bathroom proper in order to take care of that kind
of business. It’s just how God made
us. The only problem was that this
stretch of I-40 wends and winds its way through the Great Smokey
Mountains. It was cut as judiciously as
possible through rocky cliffs. Owing to
that fact the highway engineers “forgot” to install a shoulder. I drove as far as I (and his bladder) could
travel before, mercifully, finding a runaway truck ramp. Out we hopped. I walked him around the back of the vehicle
to afford a tiny bit of privacy (not like he cared) and for some reason I
looked up. The night sky was blanketed
with thousands of stars. We live in the
Dallas area. On a typical night we’re
lucky to see about five stars and one of those is the moon. I also saw a sign that proclaimed bears would
be crossing the road in some kind of pack formation. I feel sorry for the bears, really I do. According to the sign, they cross like this:
a she-bear followed by three cubs. Where’s
the dad? Not doing as good a job as I
am, I should imagine, shepherding my wife and kids across the continent.
Upon leaving the
hotel I did something I promised I would not do on this trip (or anytime if I
can avoid it). I asked my wife to
drive. She’s a fine driver and I
appreciate the help. It’s just that this
is something I can do for her. When I
was growing up I never once saw my dad NOT walk around the car to get the door
for my mom. It’s a car door. Of course she can open it by herself. But he did it for her because he could. And he could because she allowed him the
privilege. Until the last time I saw him
drive anywhere with her, he held her door.
I liked that. But, I needed time
to write so I accepted her invitation to take the wheel. She drove us all of an hour and a half until
reaching the city of Greensboro. That’s
where my niece and her family live.
Right before getting out of the car my wife pointed out that Facebook had notified her of a “memory”. On this exact date three years ago we had also visited my niece on a cross-country drive. Her son was a couple of months old. We had taken a picture of my daughter holding her first cousin once removed. This meant that we would have to re-create the picture. My niece prepared a lovely breakfast for us. Sadly we couldn’t stay long – just long enough to enjoy a meal and catch up. And one of the best parts for me was getting to play with her dog – a lab mix named Leo. I love dogs and I especially love labs. They’re so friendly and seek attention. They also want to be loved and so they go out of their way to please every person they meet. Sound like anyone we know?…
Perhaps the funniest thing of our trip so far happened at this time. I almost didn’t want to write about it but my wife insisted I should. My great-nephew is potty training. It happens. As we were getting ready to head out the door my niece walked past the bathroom door on her way back into the kitchen. As only a parent who’s potty training a child can, she said “Did someone poop?” And before anyone could comprehend her question a certain member of our party who happens to be my mother-in-law replied quick as lightning: “Me.”
Sometimes in life there are pauses. Sometimes these pauses are dramatic like when the Twin Towers fell and we all held our breath for 40 seconds. Time seemed not to exist. Sometimes these pauses are ironic like when we await the punchline of a joke. In either case there is anticipation in these pauses. We know something is coming, we just don’t know what. This was not one of those moments. In fact there was no pause. Her answer was immediate. The pause came after her “Me”. The pause was me and my wife wondering how to process what we had just heard. For a moment we just stared at each other. And then we figured it out. We were to laugh. Look, I’ve never thought bodily processes a good subject for humor. It’s lowbrow and cheap. But her innocence in answering so quickly and something about the moment just made us laugh. Seems she didn’t want my niece to think it had been her potty-training son. I admire such honesty. And I laugh at it.
After breakfast we were back on the road. Remember when I said a trip with us is like trench warfare? So… a half-hour later we stopped. This time our stop was an outlet mall. Unlike the depressing shell of a mall we had seen two days earlier, this one was vibrant. I hit all the shops I wanted to, got some new shorts and shirts. The lady behind the counter at the Old Navy even gave us a 20% discount because she liked the Nintendo-themed shirt my son was wearing. It seems his love of classic video games has indeed paid off. Back on that road. Another hour, another stop. We had promised my daughter we would hit a craft store so she could get a few items to keep her entertained at the beach. I thought the ocean and stuff would have been enough; but it appears not. Ten minutes after entering they emerged with even more crap stuff to stuff into the car.
Finally, we were on our way again. Fits and starts, kids, fits and starts. By the way, did you like my use of the word “wend” up above? Thought so. From the craft store we actually raced to get to our next destination. See, we’re Catholic, if you couldn’t tell, and this being Saturday evening and not wanting to attend the “beach mass” at the Outer Banks On Sunday morning we decided to take our chances on a church in the city of Rocky Mount. We got there with one minute to spare. I ALWAYS wear my best suit to Sunday mass. This time, however, that option was not available to me, arriving with no time to change. The church was interesting. For those in the know, it looked like a typical 60’s parish that had recently been assigned a more tradition-minded pastor. The mass was ad orientem and we knelt at the rail for Communion. This might offend some but I realized over the past five years that I need to go out of my way to exemplify the virtue of reverence in the face of so many Eucharistic abuses. Kneeing for Communion, for me, is the best way to do that. Not a fan? Sorry. But the building itself was quite distinct in that it featured the most bizarre stained glass windows. At one point I looked up to see a purple man-baby looking down upon me. If that doesn’t put the fear of God into one, I don’t know what will.
And now for the “Top Reason to become a Libertarian” section of the post. We drove on from Rocky Mount headed for the Outer Banks. Normally, this is a three-hour drive. Not with us. And not because we took a ton of stops either. I use the Waze traffic app. About fifteen minutes out from mass Waze informed me “Police reported ahead.” My wife and I looked at each other and, noticing two county police cars in the median, remarked in unison: “Police right there.” Lucky for me I was not speeding. Had the cruise control set at the actual speed limit. But that didn’t stop our friends from Edgecombe County, North Carolina’s Sherriff’s Office from pulling out in tandem and trailing me for five minutes. In my mind I went over any possible violations I could have made. Nothing. Why were they doing this to me? We were about to find out because they put their lights on. Being the dutiful citizen I am (and always obeying my federal overlords) I quickly pulled to the shoulder. An officer approached my vehicle. Without ever identifying himself he said simply “Got your license?” I already had it out so I handed it to him (careful to make sure it was my driver license and not my gun license because this isn’t Texas and he has no right to know) and asked “What’s the problem?” “We ran a check of your plates and it came back ‘no record’,” he said. Stop and think for a minute. If I haven’t done anything wrong, why on earth would you run a check of my plates? None of this made any sense. After five minutes he returned to my window and handed me back my license. “You’re good,” he said. “I know that,” I replied. He turned on his heel to walk away and I decided to be a wiseguy.
“Just one thing,
officer,” I said. “Why do they call them
Officer Skippy shot me a look as if I had just asked him to explain quantum physics. “Um, I think… You know? I’m not… Hey Buck!” Here he called to the other officer who had never approached the car. “Buck! Why are they Tar Heels?” Buck mumbled something inaudible. Skippy stuttered a bit and then said “I think Tar Heel was an Indian or something. Yeah, I think he had black feet.” Then he scurried away. The thing is that my wife and I had just had this conversation moments before being pulled over. Thanks to Google we knew the answer and it did NOT have a thing to do with a Native American. I’m not even sure these two clowns were actual police officers or if they were. perhaps they were doing some kind of on-the-job training. Look, folks, be on guard when you drive through North Carolina. The very first speeding ticket I ever got was in the Tar Heel State and the trooper admitted it was because the county needed the money
Another stop. This one at a Walmart for supplies and the world’s smallest liquor store for liquor supplies. Then, with the cruise locked to the speed limit the rest of the trip we drove on toward the beach. And finally, at 11:35 PM we reached our destination. Having seen stars, family, a shopkeep with human decency, an inflatable unicorn raft from a craft store, Jesus, two Andy Griffith wannabes, and a whole lot of coastal flats we could settle into bed. And this dad could give thanks for his wife, children, mother-in-law, friends, health, and safety… and a whole lot of memories.
PS: I need to mention here that my niece and her husband started up a neat company a couple of years ago and I would love to drive business their way. The company is called Soledier Socks. Check them out here and, if you, like me, wear socks consider them for your next purchase.
Dedicated to Annie DeLisle for reasons known to her.
Well here we are again! And by “we” I mean “me” sitting in a hotel room in a strange place, laptop on hand, pictures uploading to the cloud, bizarre canned cocktail nearby, cataloging the day’s memories, and reminiscing about the past – both years past and hours…
By the way, wasn’t it swell of me to start this post with a relatively short paragraph containing just two sentences, the second one ridiculously long and ending with an ellipses? Thought so.
By “here we go again” I mean to say that the very thing that was the catalyst to this blog and the forthcoming book(s) is now underway yet again. All the way back in the summer of 2008 and with a six week-old boy in tow because it would have been kind of wrong to leave him home alone, my darling wife and I set out to take the road trip we had talked about taking since we were dating. Six weeks later we returned to our apartment in Northern New Jersey, the boy now a man doubled in age. For 48 days we criss-crossed the continent reaching the far point of the Vegas Strip. I was a brand new dad and had fancied myself a pro at fatherhood. It’s hard to blame me since I had the best role model. My old man always did not only what was best for us but also made use of what he was good at while doing it. As a result I know every cerebral dirty joke every told. What I was good at (in my mind) was writing. So at the end of day one I found myself in a hotel room in Northern Virginia, playing with a happy infant boy, adoring my life, and reaching for my laptop so I could “pen a few lines to remember the day”.
Those lines exceeded 2500 words.
The next night I wrote another few thousand. And the night after that I did the same. I shared them with my wife who suggested I post them to Facebook where soon enough I had attracted a small army of “fans”. Long story short, I kind of forgot to stop writing. And every time we’ve taken a road trip since I’ve realized what is the bread and butter of this blog – road trips.
So tonight I present to you Day 1 of a new adventure on the asphalt ribbons of America.
Let’s start with the title. Every good story needs an apt title. The purpose of this trip for us is to visit my mother in New Jersey. And since we love my wife’s mother as well and she and my mom are great friends we asked her to come with us. So we’ll have one grandmother on the trip, another on the other side, and a whole lot of fun in between.
The day began shortly before 3AM when I sprang from my bed, dropped to my knees in prayer, grabbed a cup of hot, black coffee, and hit the shower. My loving wife had stayed up most of the night getting the house ready to be abandoned for a month and packing the car. She insisted I get the rest since I’d be driving. It’s a guy thing. It’s literally the least I can do. I imagine myself in days of old, my family in the back of a coach and me on the bench up front driving the horses. I also imagine horses don’t scare me.
A trip with us is like a trip to the DMV only not terrible or disgusting. However it does take all day to go a few inches. I was going to compare it to trench warfare but I thought it was too soon. Our first stop came just thirty minutes later as we pulled into Buc-ee’s. Click the link to look it up. It is pure Texas and pure awesome. I think we accidentally spent a hundred bucks there. Well, not me. I bought a black coffee and did 25 pushups in the parking lot. Off we go…
About two hours later, driving into the rising sun, we crossed the border into the Pelican State (Louisiana) at Shreveport. The kids and my wife slept soundly this whole time. My Mother-in-law Wilma remained awake long enough for the two of us to discover we were both halfway through a rosary (individually) and so we joined forces. Then she crashed. And I drove. Alone. For hours. Don’t feel bad. I got to count all the pine trees in East Texas along the way.
Perhaps it was the excitement of the rushing and mighty Big River but all my passengers seemed to awaken right before we crossed the Mississippi. After a bathroom break and photo op we stopped for lunch at a Cracker Barrel in Vicksburg. I got excited as we pulled off the highway. There, right next to the restaurant, was what looked to all the world like an outlet mall. They do come in handy on road trips for all the articles you suddenly remember forgetting to pack once you’re just out the door. Only this one was different. For starters it was only two strips of stores. And 98% of those were closed. As in, didn’t exist anymore. It was sadder than when my dog died in high school. Thank God for chicken fried steak.
As we barreled across Mississippi I decided it was time to indoctrinate the offspring by forcing them to listen to playing some selections my older sister made us listen to on road trips when I was their age. Linda Ronstadt, Boz Scaggs… I’m sorry. I almost drove off the road. Let’s listen to silence, kids! Silence sounds good.
Finally we crossed into Alabama where the stars fell. Not sure if that’s a tourist slogan or if a radiological waste site is actually contributing to the ethereal glow. It is a beautiful place. Here’s where it got really fun for me as a dad. When I was 12 my older brother had just graduated from West Point. Yes, that one. He set out on a trip to Birmingham to visit a friend from the Academy who had left two years earlier and was graduating from Auburn and he took me along for company. I remember the trip well and not just because my brother decided to make the 1000 mile return drive straight through but because our hosts took me to the Statue of Vulcan. Someone from Birmingham once visited New York Harbor and decided the Statue of Liberty would be nice overlooking their city. Instead they got Vulcan. Birminghamanians are proud of their city’s industrial roots so entrenched in the iron industry. In fact they’re known as “the Pittsburgh of the South” even though that city’s lifeblood was steel. Came up with that one all by themselves. Their history of segregation? Not so proud of that one. But they deal with that in several other really neat monuments. Hey, nobody’s perfect. Vulcan is really cool too. Perched on a very tall pedestal resembling a lighthouse, the deity looks out over Birmingham with an anvil at his side and an arrow in his raised hand. He’s even wearing a nifty apron round his waist. Unfortunately that apron was cut for a transparently smaller man. From the rear and shining on the Homewood neighborhood with the brilliance of a large celestial object is the exposed backside of a well-sculpted dude. God? Demi-god? It’s his butt. I remembered all of this and simply had to take my kids for the experience. Both kids laughed heartily when they saw it. Then we went to the top. My daughter even climbed the ten flights of stairs with me (had to get my workout in) and gleefully stepped out onto the viewing platform at the base of the Statue. Before freezing in terror.
The platform was an open steel grid. Boy was that scary. I had to be brave so she wouldn’t cry. Inside I had three heart attacks. Not figuratively either. Ten stories up and a clear view of the ground below. Maybe this wasn’t such a brilliant plan after all.
Nonetheless we got our pictures and drove on. On our way to the hotel just north of town God must have known I hadn’t closed my exercise ring on my watch. An old woman sat in an old car in the middle of a busy street. She had broken down. My wife said “She needs help.” Good observation. I pulled over, jumped out, and like roaches scattering in a kitchen but in reverse two other people and I ran toward her car, dodging traffic, and pushed her a block to a safe spot.
Finally in the hotel I “did the Dad thing”, even though I was beat, and jumped in the pool with my children. My wife went for food. Krystal’s. Never had ‘em? I’ll tell you more tomorrow. Wilma? She stayed in the room to pray. I needed it – the prayers that is. Later I closed out the day with a Walmart run. I forgot to pack my jumprope. It’s my daily cardio. I start every day with 30 minutes of high intensity jump rope before breakfast and vacation doesn’t change that. How else do you think I can do all this? Prayer? Oh, yeah that too. Made five trips back to the car for forgotten items, and finally cracked open a drink (if you can call it that) with my mother-in-law.
Which brings us to the present. Seems we have some 30 days ahead of us and many more adventures in store. I can’t promise more bareassed statues of Roman gods but I can promise lots of love and plenty of fun and a most thankful heart from this dad of two future saints.
I am sure the vast majority of men (indeed of all humanity) and particularly of Catholic men do not recognize the inherent sinfulness of laziness. St. Don Bosco is famous for chiding the young men in his care to remain physically active. “Laziness teaches us all kinds of vices,” the great patron of youth would say. Of course, he would say it in Italian but you get the point. As a further warning, laziness is enshrined as a capital sin under its more severe form called “sloth”. Also, for those in the know and as Fulton Sheen would attest, it’s pronounced /slōth/. With a short “o” we’re talking about the lazy, three-toed tree-hugger from Brazil.
Do Something, Anything, but Avoid Being Idle
Going back to that theme of doing hard things I had made it my quest to lift hard and heavy and often, to run, jump, and planche forward so that I could be better. I knew that laziness had no part in this plan and that it would, in fact, sink any effort to be more manly (in a truly Christian sense). I became cognizant of all the times I had given up time I could have been doing hard things in order to do no things. And I determined to do more of the former and less of the latter. Besides, I thought, being more active would set a better example for my ten year-old son who’s been exhibiting his share of wanting to “do nothing” lately. Hey, I was a ten year-old boy once. I get it. Doing hard things is, well, hard. But the payoff is huge – huge gains physically and eternal life ultimately.
Over the past year I started to notice myself getting physically stronger. This means nothing except that I would now have a benchmark so I would know I was progressing and progress is good. Stagnation is a benchmark of laziness. I noticed as well that my prayer life was improving. As I forced myself out of bed early simply to deny myself sleep I would use the time to pray. I prayed as I poured my coffee. “Dear God, get this caffeine into me NOW! Amen.” I prayed as I struggled not to get back into bed. “Dear God, the floorboards are so cold. WHY?! Amen.” I prayed as I got into the shower which, thanks to Exodus 90 is a cold shower. “Dear God, Take me swiftly into thine eternal light! Amen.” On that last point I often wondered as to the propriety of praying in the shower. I reasoned, of course (of course), that the Good Lord created me naked so He probably wouldn’t be too embarrassed. But boy was that water cold.
I came to embrace the sacrifices because I wasn’t merely giving things up – time, sleep, my body to the pain – but I was gaining. I gained time with Our Lord in prayer. I gained satisfaction in improving myself and setting a better example. I gained a few lbs. of muscle which was cool. Regarding that benchmark I mentioned, I noticed I was lifting heavier weights. When I started I struggled to do biceps curls with 25 lb. dumbbells. Now I start a “rack run” with 55’s. I feel good. But it must always be seen in context. I drop the weights and thank God I can do these things. I drop the weights and I ask God to strengthen me to protect my children. I drop the weights and realize my big foot was just a bit too far in front of my body. 55 lbs. of iron on a big toe really, really hurts.
Shedding one’s laziness is a lifelong endeavor, at least for me. A year into this mindset and I still fight the temptation, when offered a choice of doing something active or doing something sedentary, to force myself toward the active. Example: I come home from a long day of work (at my first of two full-time jobs) and, having picked up the kids from school, the question is posed “Daddy, will you go on a bike ride with us?” or “Daddy, will you do gymnastics with us?” or “Daddy, will you do flips on the trampoline with us?” What the children are actually asking is “Daddy, will you run alongside while we ride our bikes for three blocks until we get tired and make you carry the bikes and us back home?” or “Daddy, will you move furniture in the living room to put down the mat and do handstands for our entertainment?” or “Daddy, will you bounce on the trampoline while we sit in the middle of it and let your weight propel us high in the air?” The answers are yes, yes, and yes. The reward for this sacrifice of giving up watching the evening news is the joy of spending time with two awesome people who seem to think I’m Joe Weider.
A COMPLETE Idiot
So let’s talk about my progress with calisthenics. You didn’t think I mentioned the gymnastics mat and the trampoline for nothing, did you? About three weeks ago I set out trying the basic wall-assisted handstand. Like my experience with pull-ups about a year ago I knew that this would take a bit of time until it “clicked”. In other words, I had to figure it out by just throwing myself into a flip against the wall until I got closer and closer to actually doing it. When it clicked it would be a recognition in my body’s muscle memory and then I wouldn’t be able to “un-do” it. Think of toddlers learning to walk. They struggle but they don’t give up because it’s hard. And then one day they shed the last bits of their fear – in this case fear of not holding onto anything – and they take that step and Shazam! They don’t seem to ever forget how to walk after that. When I figured out pull-ups it was about figuring out which muscles to activate. And then I got better and better. Pushing past my fear of falling on my head I started tumbling headlong on the mat toward the wall in my living room. What stunned even me was just how quickly I “got it”. Within a week I was able to hold a handstand against the wall for 30 seconds. I’ve been working at it for about fifteen minutes daily the past two weeks now and starting to work in something that resembles a handstand push-up. And as for that trampoline? Here’s where you learn why I called myself out as a complete idiot in the title. Remember Aristotle’s definition of virtue and how it stands in the middle? Sometimes in life we gain so much confidence that we exceed the virtue and head right back into the realm of extreme vice (or in my case stupidity). Two nights ago, with my wife still out of town (she was winding down a week-long business trip) I picked the kids up from school and play practice. I was so enjoying the time I had been given with them that I took them for pizza (meatless, it was a Friday after all). We came home and were joined by my college-aged nephew who goes to school nearby. And then came the shouts of “Daddy! Bounce us on the trampoline!” One of these days I’ll get them to bounce me.
Standing on the springy blue “floor” of the trampoline I heard all kinds of things. I heard laughter. That’s beautiful. I heard music. I had brought a bluetooth speaker into the yard so we could have a dance party. I heard one of the kids implore me “Daddy, do a flip!” On a trampoline I’ve done these flips a hundred times.
But this time was different.
I thought about it. Let’s tie it all together. 1) Sacrifice yourself for the kids. 2) Do hard things and be a man. 3) Avoid laziness like the plague. 4) Make it a prayer.
“God, help me amuse me children and gain strength. Amen.”
I bounced. I bounced higher. I bounced even higher. Then I launched and lurched forward. But something was different. Normally there are only three of us on this thing. Today my nephew was on it too. I don’t know if I was distracted or simply not paying attention. I flipped and did not roll forward enough. I landed on my head. I heard the most ghastly snap like when a person cracks his knuckles. And then I lay motionless for 45 seconds while the kids and my nephew laughed thinking the old man was playing a prank. Finally my nephew was able to hear my gasps. “Help… Me… I… Can’t… Breath…” It hurt like nothing I’ve ever experienced. He cleared the kids out and helped me roll off the trampoline. I could stand and walk, though with much pain, so I knew I wasn’t paralyzed. I’ll spare you the details of the rest of the evening except to say that I took a painkiller left over from my last surgery and rested as comfortably as I could. The ER on a Friday night would not have been able to do anything for me.
The next day I finally decided to go to an urgent care center that only handles orthopedic injuries. I was still in tremendous pain. Because of the previous spinal fusions in my lower back I wanted to insure I hadn’t done anything too damaging. A X-ray revealed a pretty nasty fracture of a vertebra in my mid-back. Turns out the lumbar fusions prevented me from rolling out of that flip the right way, hence something had to give. And there’s nothing they can do for me other than painkillers and rest.
There you have it, kids. Daddy sacrificed his body for your entertainment.
I literally broke my back (albeit this time unintentionally). And believe me, God has given me the grace as a father to know just how to use this bit of information to guilt you guys into a virtuous life. “Son, you won’t take out the trash? I guess I’ll do it… Owwwwww! No, don’t worry, my boy, it doesn’t hurt that bad. It’s just a minor – ouch – inconvenience. Not like I didn’t do that back-breaking flip for you…”
But did I hit the goals? I already mentioned 1) having sacrificed my body. 2) A 41 year-old man with titanium hardware in his spine doing a flip on a trampoline counts as “hard”, so, check on that one. 3) I didn’t say no when they asked me to play with them so I’m good on the “avoid laziness” thing. And I even said the following: 4) “Jesus, are ya’ comin’ for me?” as I lay immobile on the trampoline so, prayer, done.
Sacrifice, Lent, the Passion, and True Joy
When I was growing up I was always captivated by the mosaic of the second station of the cross in our parish church in New Jersey. Jesus accepts His cross. In the tiled image Our Lord is depicted with arms outstretched and an expression of joy as the cross is presented to Him. He looks like a young man who has just encountered the woman he’ll marry and he recognizes the joy of love at first sight or like a parent, separated from a child at birth who is finally meeting that child.
This image of joyfully embracing the cross is the finally piece of the puzzle. Yes, I take physical pleasure in lifting weights and in laughing with my kids and in doing hard things and seeing hard gains. I thought of that image and began to ask God, naked in my cold, morning shower, to help me this Lent. “Father, if You will it, I can be made whole. I am a sinful man and Your Son sacrificed Himself for my salvation. I don’t fully understand what I’m asking but please, in Your mercy, let me suffer with Him.”
On this Lenten Friday, missing my wife, rejoicing in my genetic minions who grow more and more like their old man each day, grateful for all He’s allowed me to accomplish, striving for perfection, hoping in His grace… On this day He broke me. But He broke me because He loves me and He gives me a chance to feel that death I must undergo in order to rise to new life. I won’t overdramatize it; but this hurts. I will now have to sacrifice working out because I simply can’t if I want to heal. I’ll have to devote that time to even more prayer and meditation. I might lose those precious gains of which I was so proud and thus exhibit only three abs instead of six at the beach this summer and then I’d have to embrace humility. And it HURTS.
But I’m sure Our Lord’s back was broken under the weight of that cross and he received it with a smile.
As many of you know I am a writer. I say this with no pride. There is nothing that I did to merit the gift of being able to string words together. My parents and teachers throughout my life helped me hone the skill. More importantly, God gave me this gift. And it is a gift. He gave me the ability to grasp at a large vocabulary (thank you, English language) and rapidly pull together consequential turns-of-phrase with grammatical aplomb and all that jazz.
I first realized I had this gift when I was a boy of about 7. I was always interested in the news, in telling stories. Could explain why I’ve enjoyed some success as a teacher. My dad read a few different newspapers every day. Notable among these were the Newark Star Ledger (before it was a complete leftist rag not fit to line a bird cage) and the paper he called “the best written English language newspaper in the world” – the Wall Street Journal. Side note: I remember well the great satisfaction he got when the Journal published one of his letters once. I guess due to the influence of dear old Dad I decided one day that I would put together a broadsheet, a newspaper of my own.
I decided to copy what I had seen and so I began with a screaming headline. “Headless Man in Topless Bar”. Oh wait, that was an actual headline in the New York Post around the same time. Something to do with a mafia decapitation at a “gentleman’s club”. No, I think mine was more family-friendly. “Bridget A Jerk”. Bridget is my youngest sister. As I recall she had hidden my roller skates on me and I was none too pleased. The second column blared “Mom Burns Dinner – Distracted by Phone Call”. In italics underneath: “Family Safe from Near – Fatality, Pizza Ordered”.
This little gazette had everything right down to a sports section on the last page. The only problem is that I didn’t follow sports that well. I believe I had the New Jersey Devils defeating the New Jersey Nets 105-13. Not bad considering the Devils play hockey and the Nets are a basketball franchise. Weather? I drew a picture of the sun and slapped a number under it with the word “Fair”. Seemed like the thing to do even if that number was 25. I think my favorite part was the obituaries. Dad was a fan of the “Irish sporting pages” as he called them. I may have literally copied an actual obit or two from the Star Ledger into my paper since I didn’t know anyone who had recently died. Imagine the contrast between the “Kids Alright, Pizza for Everyone” coverage on page 1 and page 2 where we read about Diane Distefano of Nutley who died peacefully surrounded by her husband and stepchildren. She was to be laid out at Biondi’s Funeral Home in Bloomfield with a visitation from 2-4 and 7-9 and a mass of Christian Burial at Holy Family the following morning. Donations could be sent to “Reading is Fundamental” because, you know, she was a 1st grade teacher or something.
I was quite proud of my paper. I got great satisfaction writing it all down, formatting it, and illustrating the stories. The one copy I printed was a big hit; but not for the reason I had hoped. It seemed everyone got a big chuckle out of the absurdity of the thing.
And that’s when I realized I could make people laugh if I just placed the right words in the right order and sometimes played dumb a little. I think I got that from my mom. She’s much smarter than she ever lets on.
In high school I began writing more. I had to. I was homeschooled and as if to prove our academic worth to the outside world our assignments were heavy on writing. I guess just like the guy who hangs around the gym with his buddies will eventually start lifting weights and then probably get good at it (terrible analogy, I know); the guy who writes volumes by necessity will eventually take a liking to it and probably get really good at it too. In college, the fun continued as I would write humorous study guides for my friends where I’d drop inane commentary and references. “Greek philo’s… 1) Socrates who’s pupil was 2) Plato (wrote Trial and Death of Socrates) who’s pupil was 3) Ari. who’s pupil was Alexander the Gr. Many theorize th/Ari killed Alex because he had become too good lkng. Ari was insanely jealous.”
Sometimes. I know, my writing has caused people to cry and not always in a good way. Fortunately those times have been few and far between. But for those instances where I went too far and used the gift He gave me as a weapon I am sorry. As I said a month ago: it’s a new year and this is a new blog.
I do take satisfaction in it. It’s like the pride a man gets when he’s mowed his lawn. I go back and read and re-read my posts. I’m half expecting them to have grown and matured.
Speaking of maturing, tonight I got the shock of my life. I started writing this blog when he was an infant. My hope was to chronicle his life (and later my daughter’s) for them. I wanted to give them stories to read as they got older so they would know how loved they are and all the fun we had. He’s ten now and already a young man in every sense. I suspect his voice will drop and he’ll be shaving before I blink. I’m not ready for that (or the accompanying “talk” we’ll have to have). This world is a lot more dangerous than when I was his age. But he knows I write this blog and he’s caught on that I do it for him. He caught me going through the archives the other day and asked me to read him a post or two. Tonight as he was getting ready for bed he said “Daddy, will you read me some of your stories?” I replied “Why, son? You know the plot.” Then he said “I don’t know, Dad, I just love the way you tell a story. They’re funny and you write so well.”
There you have it. Mission accomplished, I’d say. Tonight I read to him a tale of the time his goldfish died and I had to replace it before he caught on. He was five and, oh, the TWO replacement fish were accidentally killed by my wife. He howled with laughter and then he said to me “Your a good dad.” Well son, it’s easy for me. You’re a very good young man.”
Now keep livin’ that crazy life so I can keep documenting it. He wants me to put the archive in a book. Smart boy.
Gifts from God – be they talents or sons… for these blessings I am most grateful and I pray you discover your gifts as well.
*I started writing this post on the feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of writers. If you ever run into a block, ask for his help.
Folks, I got off all that social media nonsense a while ago. Sorry but I'm not on Twitbook, Facepalm, YouHu, WingWang or any of the others. Maybe an event will happen to make me change my mind like Peter and Paul coming down with flaming swords and commanding it be so. Until then, read the blog and if you feel a comment is in order or you feel like sharing a tip or suggestion for a topic, email me at email@example.com.
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