A Teenager Among Us.

Dear Aidan,

Happy birthday! Hard to believe you’re a teenager today. Though now that you are taller than me, maybe it shouldn’t be that hard to believe. As I look back on your life so far, I am filled with immense pride and joy. After all, it is somewhat ironic. For the first part of our marriage, Mom and I never really considered having kids. It wasn’t for us. Or so we thought. Thankfully, over time, our opinions changed. And, while there was definitely a time when we couldn’t imagine ourselves as parents, it’s certainly safe to say now that we couldn’t imagine ourselves not as parents. We are so thankful and blessed for the joy you and Erin have brought into our lives.

And it’s those moments, Aidan, or at least some of them, that I’d like to share with you for your birthday. For the next few minutes, I want you to read about moments in your life that I remember well — for whatever reason. And, I’ll try to tell you what those reasons are as we go through the list. Sometimes the reasons are obvious. Sometimes not so much. In honor of you reaching the teenage years, I’ve got 13 things to share with you. It certainly could have been a longer list. So many options! But, alas, because you turn 13 today, I thought that was a good number to start with. Here goes!

  1. I saw an ad in the paper today for the “Day out with Thomas” event down in Essex. It brought me back to your early years so quickly! How you loved Thomas the Tank Engine! We watched the show all the time! We took you to Essex to see Thomas years ago. And, Aidan, you loved to build tracks. We had so many of the engines and so much track. (We still have them, in fact, because Mom refuses to let them go!) You would take such good care of those engines, lining them all up in so many different ways. Just like you would build tracks. You would always try to use all the pieces we have (and you usually did!). There was a period of time where track was set up in our living room for months on end. And, to be honest, sometimes I wish we could take out the track and build one — just like we used to do all the time.
  2. When you weren’t building tracks and running engines, you were working on puzzles. If the floor wasn’t covered with track, it was covered with puzzles (and sometimes both!). Sometimes you would have 10 or 12 puzzles out, completed and decorating the floor. The ones I remember vividly were the state puzzles. You learned your states by doing puzzles. That was always fun to watch. Even now, when you work on a puzzle, your brain just works differently than mine (in a good way!) You may not know this, but I’ve always been envious of your ability to solve puzzles.
  3. I love the holidays with you. And one of the main reasons why is our manger set. You know the significance of that in our family, the fact that it’s more than 50 years old. You know how much it meant to me when I would work with my Dad on putting it together every Christmas. For the past few years, you’ve always been a great helper — especially bringing the wise men closer each day. However, this year, you really took to it in your own way, setting up so much of it with me just watching. You knew what you wanted to do, and it looked great. How could I complain? You never met your Papa O. That frustrates me so much. But, what makes me happy are little things like working on the manger that help to establish that family connection.
  4. Speaking of family connections….I’ll never forget how much you used to protect your sister when she was a newborn. No matter where we went, you had your big brother radar on — in a big way. You’d be walking with Mom and me and someone would come up to the stroller to get a peak at your sister. You had other plans for those people. That’s because you would cover Erin in the stroller and not let anyone see her. Yes, it was rude, and we had to work around that, much to your chagrin. But, despite that, as I think back on it, those moments, for me, really show how much you cared about your sister then — and still care for her now. I know you don’t like to show emotion (if at all), but you have started to show her more respect and love through your actions. And for that, we are grateful.
  5. Staying with the family connections theme for a bit, I used to smile so much when you’d come to the cemetery with me when you were younger. You were so good there. Not only would you help me set up baskets at family graves, but you would also often fix the flags on the graves of veterans. And, you would also straighten up memorial baskets on other graves, too. I think you know the importance of the cemetery to me, so it gives me great pride when you help now, and when I think back of you fixing flags and baskets when you were much younger.
  6. Music has become such a part of your life. In fact, I think it’s appropriate that you’re playing in a concert tonight on your birthday. That trumpet is such a part of you, and I so love to hear you play. It’s been a pretty amazing journey to watch you progress so quickly in such a short period of time. I’ll never forget your first solo, Aidan. It was during the Christmas concert held at St. Pat’s. You performed When the Saints Go Marching In. And you were flawless. What you don’t know about that night is how much stress I was under — first of all because of the strike situation at work and secondly because my godfather was dying. It was a very hard time for me. But in that moment, at St. Pat’s, I was beaming with absolute pride and could forget about all the negative going on around me when you stood up and absolutely nailed your first solo!
  7. The next two memories are about music, too. That’s what happens when it takes up so much of your life. The next solo you conquered was at the school Flag Day ceremony later that year. Sister Regina asked you to play during the ceremony organized by your fourth grade class. And play you did! You did five songs, all while being the center of attention as the entire school population stood around you. It was an absolutely amazing moment for you, Aidan, one I still think about quite a bit as you continue this journey with band.
  8. Fast forward to seventh grade, and we are absolutely amazed (and proud!) when you are asked to join the high school marching band. Mom and I didn’t know what to expect, and we’re not sure you did either. This was new to all of us, but you took it and made it such an important part of your life. You practiced so hard, and we were introduced to an amazing new culture, so much so that I can’t imagine not having band in our lives. I remember the moment from this year that made me the most proud. I bet it will surprise you because, in fact, it was a time when you weren’t even playing your instrument. At your home competition, you were chosen, as a seventh grader, to be one of the escorts for a visiting band. You did so with such pride and confidence. I know, I got to see you up close when I was working the gate and you brought the band to the field area. Nobody would have known you were in seventh grade. That’s part of what I’ll always remember, that and how you carried yourself that night. So impressed.
  9. And while you are already getting yourself familiar with life in high school, you know how important your time is at Sacred Heart School. When I think of you at SHS, I often think of Sister Regina. I know how special you were to her — and I know how special she was to you. She relied on your help so much. And you were always there to help her in any way possible. That’s such a commendable thing. When she needed something done, she came to you, just as many still do, but it was Sister Regina who first, I think, really got you focused on school pride. I know it was sad for you when she died, but I also know she made such an impression on you. I have no doubt you will always carry a part of her legacy with you.
  10. Because of all the work you did for Sister Regina, it has led me to jokingly refer to you as the Mayor of Sacred Heart from time to time. Obviously our whole family is involved with the school, but it’s clear how much the teachers rely on you for help. Mom and I hear this all the time, but we also see it when we are at events and you are always one of the last kids there. You are always focused on finding a way to help clean up or do something to make the school a better place. St. Michael’s was such an important part of my life, Aidan, that it gives me great pleasure to know you care so much for Sacred Heart. Sending you there was probably one of the best decisions Mom and I have ever made.
  11. Speaking of Sacred Heart, it’s been fun to see you involved as an altar server at church. You have become the go to man when it comes to this! You seem to serve all the school masses, and you always do such a great job at regular Sunday masses. It’s clear to Mom and me that you take great pride in your work. You’ve trained your sister and helped others learn more about it, too. We love hearing your interest in serving special masses like First Communion and Graduation. And your knowledge has paid off a few times when you’ve known where some things are at church that Mom and I didn’t even know existed! You are valued and respected there, and it makes us very proud.
  12. Things haven’t always been easy for you when it comes to health stuff. While you have been blessed with overall good health, you’ve endured so many appointments surrounding your allergies and asthma. You’ve had more ear infections and cases of bronchitis than anyone should ever have. You’ve had two sets of stitches and an operation that you don’t remember. And, a few years ago, you were incredibly sick during the Easter season that required a not so pleasant trip to the ER and your first experience with a suppository. Through all of that, no tears. Just one tough kid.
  13. Tears, however, are the focus of this last memory, Aidan. You probably are thinking I’m crazy to end this with a memory of you crying. But, I can’t help it. I have never been as proud of you as I was during that moment. It was just about a year ago. Mimi O passed away. She had been sick for a while. You knew that, and I think you understood it. I can remember you sitting next to her on her couch and helping her with iPad. She loved you so much. I’ll never forget, before you were born, Mimi O and Aunt Lynn drove to Backus in the middle of the night because they were so excited for your impending arrival. They ended up going home for the night and then coming back the next morning. Mimi O was so excited to meet you. And, when she passed, you were strong — until the funeral. As you know, I was a mess, crying virtually all the way through the service. I was so thankful that you cried. I felt you had been holding things in. You weren’t letting go any of your emotions in any way. And then, at the funeral, you were overcome. I was so proud of you. That took great strength to show that side of you. To show that your feelings were real. We tried to talk to you a few times about how you felt. You were never interested. But, at that moment, you showed us. And I’m so glad you did. Don’t ever shy from your emotions, Aidan. They help determine who you are.

That’s the thing about this, Aidan. You aren’t a kid any more. You are an incredible young man that gives us great pride every day. Sure, you give us frustration, too. That’s part of being a teenager. We understand that. You’ve asked a lot lately why Mom and I are interested in certain aspects of your life, and why we care about certain things. As we’ve told you, it’s because we care about you and we love you. All of these moments, all of these experiences, help build not just who you are, but who you will be. So much is ahead of you. So many experiences await you. So many opportunities. I can’t help but be excited for you and whatever adventure lies ahead.

Until then, Mom and I will be right here. Always ready to help you, support you and love you. Happy birthday, buddy!

Love,

Dad

 

 

 

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An Unexpected (and very pleasant) Surprise

It’s been a while, eh? Yup. Sure has.

This story is worthy (at least I think it is) of a return to the blog. So, well, here goes.

Here we are in early February, and, well, surprisingly I didn’t write anything January 30 — the 12th anniversary of my Dad’s passing. It’s been sort of a tradition here at I Got Nothin’ that I’d write my annual letter to him — usually complaining about how much I missed him and how his death has affected me and all that. And, for the record, I do miss him. And, well, yeah, it affected me. Maybe just a bit.

But, none of that this year.

No visiting the cemetery on his ‘anniversary’ either. First time in a while that I haven’t done that. I’ve been recently, though, so it’s not like I’ve abandoned that practice.

I made the choice to not write the letter. I made the choice to not go to the cemetery. One little Facebook status was all I did that day. And that’s a good thing. I promised myself that I wouldn’t force the anniversary of his death on you — and, more importantly, on me.

I remember him a lot. Did I need to have the specific day to ‘publicize’ him to my friends (or, even, myself)? Because, if I ever have to do that again, strangle me. I’m not saying I’ll never post another letter that I write to him. What I’m saying is that I was in a decided pattern of behavior around his death (as well as Tim’s). That’s a pattern that I wasn’t growing very fond of. It was the all-consuming pattern. Not so much a fan of those.

Besides, my going in the opposite direction, by not forcing the memory, by just letting things be as they are, well, I discovered that good things do happen.

Just like they did today. Honestly, this is one of the most touching moments that I’ve had about my Dad since his passing. It might not seem that way to you. Or, maybe it does. I don’t know. And, it’s one of those ‘it doesn’t really matter’ moments. It affected me. And for that I’m grateful.

Here’s the story…and I’m already apologizing to you for the length of this. It’s not a short story.

So Aidan is a second grader at Sacred Heart, the Catholic elementary school within our parish. Erin goes there, too. It’s a great place for them. And, after spending my entire elementary schooling in a Catholic school, I’m pretty happy they are in one now.

We are just wrapping up an annual celebration of Catholic Schools Week. It’s primary goal is awareness. But it also does some fun stuff for kids and families to get involved. One of those things is what made today special.

The local Catholic high school, St. Bernard’s, hosts an annual art show during Catholic Schools Week. Each year, they solicit art projects from area Catholic elementary schools and they are then displayed in  a true exhibit space within the school. It was very cool to see. And part of the reason for that is because Aidan had one of his projects selected for display.

Because the show is in the school, I had called ahead to check on whether or not it was possible to come by late in the afternoon. The art teacher called me back and said he would be there late, so no problem at all coming toward the end of the day.

A student led us down to the gallery room and, after a bit of searching, we found Aidan’s picture — a really cool snowman image. I’m not sure where he gets the talent from, but it certainly looked good to me. While we were in the room, the teacher walked in and welcomed us and asked if I was the one who had called earlier in the day. Nothing fancy in the conversation. At least not yet.

He was just telling us about the show, how he enjoys getting the elementary schools involved with the high school. That sort of thing. Then he told Aidan that he went to Aidan’s school as a kid, so that was neat. And that he still lives right across from Aidan’s school. So very slowly a connection was being made here — at least unbeknownst to me.

At one point in the conversation, the art teacher, who is clearly still passionate about what he does, stated that this was, in fact, his 40th year at the school Forty! And that’s where it clicked.

Not because this man has been doing this for 40 years (but, um, wow!), but because I wondered if he might possibly have known my Dad.

How would he have known him? Well, some of you probably don’t know that my Dad was, first and foremost, an educator. He taught elementary school and then moved into administration and, for a time, he served as assistant superintendent of schools in the Norwich diocese where St. Bernard’s is located. In fact, he was very involved with St. Bernard’s early on and had worked closely on a variety of projects there.

I wasn’t sure if I should bring that up, though. I mean, this guy has been teaching 40 years. Imagine the people he’s met over the years. And, well, Dad left that job in the mid 1980s. I didn’t want to ask and be told no. Nor did I want to ask and get a tepid response and think he was just being polite. So, I didn’t say anything.

As it was time to leave, the teacher said he’d walk us back to the front lobby of the school. I didn’t think anything of it, because it was quite a walk with some twists and turns. Besides, we were still chatting about a variety of things.

As we went down one hallway, there was a huge portrait of a former bishop in the diocese — a bishop that I had known because of my Dad. Ah, I said, I know him. I met him a long time ago when my father worked for the diocese.

And that’s when I could tell the teacher did know my Dad. “I thought so,” the teacher said. “And that’s why I wanted to walk you out. I recognized your name when we spoke on the phone and I wondered if maybe you were the same family.”

“That’s us,” I said.

The teacher told me that he remembered my Dad. And then he did the coolest thing. On our walk, he took us to the chapel within the school.

He went on to explain how two statues in the chapel were only there because of my Dad. That these statues had been in another school and somehow ended up at the administration office where he worked. And at one point, in discussing needs for the chapel, my Dad mentioned these two statues to the teacher and, well, that was that. So now, as you go in the chapel, the statues are still there.

Even though he said he had known my Dad, I wasn’t quite sure what to say or how to react — until I heard this story. He definitely remembered him. He definitely remembered this story. It wasn’t like he was just being polite.

He also knew my Dad had passed and made reference to that a couple of times. I thanked him for sharing the story, that it really meant a lot to me to hear something like that — particularly something so unexpected.

And then he said something that really got me — that really made this an emotional homerun for me.

“Because of those statues,” he said, “your Dad has left a lasting impression that is with us every day.”

He sure has.

For me, this was huge. It helped me understand that, yeah, you don’t have to force memories. They will come. And it’s not just me that has them. Other people remember my Dad, too. I lose sight of that sometimes. Make that a lot of times.

But, seriously. I didn’t sign up for this today.

No, we were just going to an art show.

We were just going to find a picture of a snowman.

Turns out we found a whole lot more.

And I’m really glad we did.

 

 


One Proud Parent

There are times, let’s just say, when this parenting thing is hard. Very hard.

Then there are times, let’s just say, when this parenting thing is cool. Very cool.

This post is about one of the cool times. It’s about a five-year-old who did something so cool (at least to me) that I’m not even sure he understands just how cool of a thing he did.

Aidan has always been fascinated by cemeteries — not really sure why. He just has. Knowing that his Uncle Tim and his Papa O are in a cemetery has no doubt given him a better understanding of the entire death ‘process.’ And, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing.

He came with me to the cemetery on my father’s anniversary. It was freezing cold, so he stayed in the car while I went out and said a quick prayer. I didn’t want to bring him, but he asked some great questions and it was a way for us to connect. So I’m glad I did.

One of the things he asked was who else I knew in the cemetery. I told him I knew a lot of people. He pressed for more information. I told him that the next time we were over at Mimi’s house and it was warm enough, that I’d take him back up and walk through with him and point out the families that I did know.

Sunday, we were over in that area and as we were driving away, he said, “Dad, is it warm enough for the cemetery today?”

Not really wanting to go at that moment, I said, “It’s not that warm, buddy. Why don’t we go another day?”

“But, Dad,” he said, “I want to go now.”

And here’s where he got me.

“I want to meet all the people you know.”

Gulp.

So, to the cemetery we went.

We spent an hour there. He knows my dad and brother’s stones. But I showed him my grandparents’ stone. I showed him the resting spot of a childhood friend who died at age 20. I showed him stones that were ready for the people who haven’t died yet, including my aunt and uncle.

I showed him stones of neighborhood families that I’ve known for more than 30 years.

And then he showed me something. He showed me how much he understands. He showed me how much he gets it. He showed me how much he understands this stuff — even at age five.

How?

Well, even though it was the last day of February, there were still quite a few Christmas baskets out adorning a number of graves. Because of the wind, many had blown over or been blown away from the stones.

Aidan went around the cemetery and fixed more than 50 of these baskets. He made it his mission to make sure each basket was placed properly — and with respect — in front of its respective grave.

I couldn’t believe it as he went from stone to stone, row to row — literally spending 30 minutes fixing these baskets.

I was completely touched watching him do this with such interest and — more importantly — such care and respect.

“Aidan,” I asked, “why do you think people put these baskets here?”

“To remember their friends?”, he asked.

It was good enough for me.

So later in the day when he was running like mad all over the house and pushing his sister around and testing our patience with every word out of his mouth, it was hard to believe that he was the same kid who did something so respectful, so special and so appropriate just a few hours ago.

But, he was. And during that moment in the cemetery, I was, well, incredibly proud.

Making dad proud.


Another Aidanism

So there was a parade in our house tonight — one complete with two drummers making circles through the living room, dining room and hallway.

One of the drummers was simply wearing her drum — and nothing else (well, except shoes).

The other drummer pondered this for a minute and said:

“Erin, if you were in a real parade and you were naked nobody would smile at you.”

Oh, he’ll learn.


Don’t Block the Light

So yesterday had the makings of a really great day.

I know, listen to me! But it’s true.

Remember the crying at work episode? Well, while you don’t know the whole story, isn’t that enough? The good news is that the people that were upset with me had a meeting with my bosses. Things were smoothed over. Enough to the point that they called me immediately after that meeting and invited me to lunch to “mend fences and clear the air.”

I was nervous. But it went well. Very well. So much that the relationship is still alive and has a chance to grow. The keys? Honesty and humility. And no defensiveness. That last part is the trickiest for me.

And, someone I work with actually commented that I seemed to be in a much better mood lately. Wow. That was both a good thing and a bad thing. I guess I have been showing some signs…but I guess I also have started to turn it around.

I feel like I have. I feel like looking through that long, dark tunnel that there’s a speck of light there that I haven’t seen in a long time.

At least until last night. And this morning.

Had the worst night sleep I’ve had in a really long time. Why? Not totally sure, but it had something to do with an absolutely ridiculous dream that actually made me get up and go check something in our basement (don’t ask).

Then, Aidan was off the wall this morning — making our hour together a complete and utter challenge. When you’re in the midst of that, it’s hard to focus on that he’s probably tired, still fighting some sick stuff and probably nervous about school today. It’s easy to think about after the fact, but not always during the process.

And, have a meeting in just a bit with someone that I have a very hard time communicating with — and that’s something I need to work on. Thankfully, have a colleague in the meeting with me who can read me and will give a sign if I’m heading down a wrong path. Good to have a battle buddy with you.

A little nervous about later today. Appointment with a different counselor (easier to say this time!). Remember the new therapy thing I mentioned last time? Well, first session today to see if it’s going to be a good option — and I believe it is. I want it to be.

And tonight, well, I step back to 1876 to do something I absolutely love. It’s a time for a 100 percent escape from modern day and focus on some simpler things.

Sounds like a great concept, doesn’t it?


Another Aidanism

It’s been a while since I’ve posted.

And it’s been a while since I’ve had one of these.

So we’re driving to school this morning. We get there, and while we’re parking, I ask Aidan if the boy at the door waiting to get in is either Geno or Vinnie — because I can never remember.

His response, and this is a direct quote:

“Dad, that’s Vinnie. Geno’s bangs are much different than Vinnie’s.”

“Oh really?”

“Yeah, Dad.”

Good to know.


Finding Faith Isn’t Easy — The Church Edition

So I’ve written abou this before. But in that case, it wasn’t so much about religion as much as it was about cancer.

This time, it’s about religion.

Why?

It’s not just that we didn’t go to church Sunday (while it’s tough with kids, we are somewhat regular). It’s more that I didn’t miss going to church this Sunday. Or any other Sunday.

At all.

This is part of my self-diagnosed mid-life crisis. (Yup, I’m having one, by the way.)

I should miss it — shouldn’t I? Or, it’s not even so much that I miss it. It’s that when we do go, the only time I seem to walk out of mass with interest is when I know the Knights of Columbus are holding a pancake breakfast in the hall.

Something is missing.

I mean, I’ve told you this before. I was an altar boy. I’ve been a lector forever. A Eucharistic minster, too. Heck, I even ran the parish council for a few years. Throw in eight years of Catholic elementary school and I’m destined for saint hood. Or not.

I’ve told  you what I like about the Catholic church — the tradition and the mystery. I love the concept of the mass and how it’s structured. However, recently, I’m just not getting enough out of it — if anything.

And that bothers me.

Of course, take a look at a couple of the church’s big issues — capital punishment and abortion. Yup, I’m all for the death penalty. And, ladies, it’s your body. As far as I’m concerned, you get to choose what to do with it.

It’s not like those are some minor issues that I’m disagreeing with. Throw in my support for gay marriage and, well, send me to hell right now.

Because of my beliefs, some would say I have no business being in the church.

Can’t lie and say I’ve never thought of that. But the question that always comes up in my head — if not the Catholic church, where?

The other question is — why am I thinking about this now?

Well, can’t lie. Death (and cancer) certainly have a lot to do with this.

I’ve had enough happen in my life alone to question my faith — let alone what others I know have had to deal with.

And, I should say, questioning faith doesn’t mean I don’ t have any. I do. Or at least I want to  have it.

It’s a quest to find some sort of spiritual comfort. Where does it come from? How do I get it? And, then, if I do get it, what the hell do I do with it?

I believe in a higher power/authority. Ok, yeah, I believe in God.

Is God a he? A she? A what? Doesn’t matter. I believe that there is one — regardless of who or what it really is.

Where I have the problem is figuring out why God wants to mess with not just me, but with others.

OK, if there’s a lesson I’m supposed to learn because of Dad and Tim, could I just know it now? Hasn’t it been long enough? Yeah. It has.

The kids are baptized. Aidan goes to a Catholic school. Sure, my experience was a great one. But, honestly, one of the main reasons he goes is because they provide after-school care. Of course, part of my hope is that Aidan going to a parochial school will help his behavior and attention in church. We’ll see how that goes.

I say prayers with the kids every night. And, I also say my own prayers every day. Not always at the same time. Not always in the same place. But, bottom line is they get said.

Heck, I’m a godfather — three times! I do take that responsibility seriously. I mean, being selected by key friends and family — well, it’s simply an honor.

But, that doesn’t mean I’m without question — because I’m not.

And, yes, I’ve read The Shack. An amazing work. Read it if you haven’t. Did it change the way I think or look at things? Not really. But it has inspired conversation. And conversation is always good.

I have a lot of questions. A lot of issues.

To some extent, I don’t want to wait any more for the answers. I know I have to. I know I can’t get the answers to some of the questions now — and maybe not ever. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want them. Because I do.

I also, to some extent, believe in the power of prayer. Not so much that it can heal the sick, per se. But more so that it draws people closer — in a different way. And in that sense, it provides comfort.

When Dad and Tim died, I know people were praying for them — and for me. Did that do anything to help them? No. But it certainly did something to help me.

When Mom had her bypass in January, people were praying then, too. Did it help her physically? Maybe it helped her get through the surgery, but the complications persisted for quite some time, so hard to accept that.

But, again, what it did was bring comfort — to mom, my sister, my brother and me — at a very difficult time.

Again, it takes people with a shared experience/interest and brings them closer. I don’t care if it’s prayer or something else, any time that happens, it’s a good thing.

So where does this leave me?

Beats me.

Will I start getting more out of mass? Was I really ever getting anything out of mass? Honestly, I think the answer to both of those questions is I don’t know.

I love to argue — er, debate — religion. Always have. My Dad and I were famous for our ‘conversations.’

I would often take the opposite side of an issue just so I could disagree with him and argue points against him. It was that much fun. Kind of our thing.

I always promoted the notion of doing good things, of being a good neighbor, of going to church on a regular basis.

Dad was never for that. Nope. “Michael, always be careful with this one,” he’d say.

“Why’s that, Dad?” I’d respond.

“Because, Michael, no matter what you believe and what you think, one thing is very clear — religion is a very personal thing.”

I realize now, more than ever, how true that is.