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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
Amazingly, I’m not here to write about death. Does that mean you’ll stay? Hope so. But, whatever. I mean, they are my words.
But it’s your choice?
Still here? Good.
You might learn a little more about me tonight. Why?
Well, for some reason, I’m feeling ridiculously sentimental tonight.
That’s OK, right? Wait. Why am I asking you? Of course it is. Remember, my words.
(But I am glad that you are reading them.)
So, this sentimental thing. I’ll try to explain.
Maybe it’s because we took the kids trick-or-treating tonight in my old stomping grounds. We’ve done it for the last few years, but something was different about tonight. Not sure what it was. It’s great to go there because my sister and her daughter join us. Or, we join them since they live in the neighborhood now. And I think that’s part of it. That we’re giving the kids a memory they’ll look back on in the years to come. Lord knows I’m looking back on it. I remember going to each house in the neighborhood. Who gave out the best candy. Who pulled pranks. Who kept the lights off. I did this year after year with Steve, Steve, Gary, Tim, Pete and Tim. Just great memories. The neighborhood was alive tonight. And what was even cooler about it? Coming home, signing on to Facebook and seeing other people comment about how great it was there tonight, too.
And, in terms of making connections there between now and then. Well, it happened at two houses. One is still owned by the family that I’ve know there forever. Though instead of the parents handing out the candy, it was the kids. And by kids, I mean, they were my age. And one of the two works where I work now, so that connection continued. And then another house, next to the house I played at the most growing up…well, the people that live there now? One of them works with me now, too. So it’s kind of like the old and new coming together. Only I didn’t know she lived there until tonight. Makes our next conversation an easy one. Good times tonight. Great memories.
Why else am I feeling sentimental? Maybe it’s because both my mom and my nephew have hard incredibly hard months medically — yet both are home. Where they belong. Neither are 100 percent, but each is getting stronger by the day. And, well, that alone is a good thing. I’m done asking for good vibes. For now. I’m just thankful to all who shared them. And, well, I’m just thankful they are both home. We’re the closest non-closest family you’ll ever know. And what I just wrote right here, well, that means a lot. Good times tonight. Great memories to come.
Hmmm….still want another reason? Well, I just read a friend’s blog tonight for the first time in a long time. This is a blog I used to read every day. Heck, this is the blog that made me start a blog. I miss this friend. She and I don’t talk as much as I wish we still would, but I think she knows that we’re always connected. I’m hoping we have the chance to get together for dinner some time soon. Because I want to hear more of her stories in person — and not just in a blog or a vlog. I think I have the connection with this person that it really doesn’t matter how long we don’t talk — because when we are together, it’s always easy to talk. Simply put, she’s the little sister I never had. Ready for dinner when you are.
More? Of course there’s more. I mean, when I get sentimental, I get sentimental. It’s all in, so to speak.
Well, I’m going to see two of my closest friends this weekend with a trip back to Marist. I’m wishing another friend could be there, but alas, that won’t work out this time. What I really wish — at times — is that another person could be there. But I’m not sure that’ll ever happen again. I don’t think about that person much, but when I do, well, it’s just a sad situation. What I’m most glad about is that I have some amazing friends and I’m looking forward to walking campus, going back to check out the places we lived, admiring how much the place has changed and realizing how much we really haven’t changed that much since we first got to know each other back in (gulp) 1988.
What else? Well, I’m digging my new job. Totally digging it. Of course, it’s not really new anymore. Not after having been there for more than a year. But I’m really enjoying it and starting to make my mark a bit — or so it seems. At the same time, there’s one part of my old job that I really miss. So much so that I’m doing it again this holiday season. It’s not part of my old day-to-day job, it’s completely separate and doesn’t interfere at all with my current job — or I wouldn’t do it. But it’s a way for me to get back to something I loved doing for eight out of the last 10 holiday seasons. And I heard tonight that a lot of people are looking forward to having me back. That works for me. First ‘meeting’ is 11/7. And, honestly? I can’t wait.
Ok, we’re getting to the end, but there’s still a bit more. We had some family pictures taken a couple months ago and they just came in this week. A huge package arrived at the door and out they came. First really good shot of the family. First really good shot of Renee and me. Two awesome shots of Aidan and Erin. At one point, when I was struggling what to pick out, the photographer said, ‘think of what photo Aidan and Erin would want hanging in there house some day.’ Great perspective and it, well, made it easy at that point. They are lifestyle shots — all of them. And, well, it makes me think we’ve developed a nice little lifestyle here.
The last reason why I’m feeling this way — or at least another good reason why I might be….my birthday is tomorrow (or today, depending on when you are reading this). I’m turning 42. Every day. Every step of where I’ve been has brought me to this place. And you know what? It’s a good place. I haven’t always realized that. Maybe haven’t always appreciated it as much as I should. Maybe have been distracted by things beyond my control. But, at least I realize that now.
I’ve got family. I’ve got friends. I’ve got the best health I’ve been in for some time.
Yeah. It’s good. It’s real good.
So thanks for being a part of it. Seriously. I don’t always say it (yeah, that again), but I think it. A lot.
So today is my father’s birthday. He would have been 77.
But I’m not writing about him. Not now. Maybe not later. I mean, well, eventually. But this won’t be a birthday post like I’ve done in the past. Have I thought about him today? Sure I have. A lot, actually.
But I’ve also thought about other things in my past — and that’s what brought my here. Maybe it was on a whim. But so what. I’m here. And, well, apparently, so are you.
(Thanks for that, by the way.)
The inspiration for this post came from a strange thread on Facebook that started with an innocent comment about a friend’s interest in roller derby. She commented about another friend who would make a dynamic player. I made a comment that, even now, the two of them would kick ass.
I know that doesn’t sound like much but it then led to a look back at the roller rinks of southeastern Connecticut and southwestern Rhode Island, under 21 nights at a couple of now defunct establishments and old-school top 40 radio.
What do these things have in common? Simply, they are institutions of my childhood and early teen years. So, by default, they have an automatic place saved in me. A place where I can always go and pull out some fabulous memories — just like I do about my dad. But, as I said, I’m not writing about him.
So, those of you that grew up in and around Pawcatuck, maybe you’ll appreciate some of these things.
Since I started this thought with roller rinks….let’s start there.
Remember Galaxy when it was down at the beach and Roll-On America in Groton? And of course Wes-Skate in Westerly — Friday night sock hops, anyone? Now Galaxy is in Groton, ads are on the radio and I want to take the kids there. I never could shoot the duck, and I’d probably kill myself trying now, but forget the socializing nights as teenagers, remember the birthday parties and school nights roller skating — because there were a lot.
Maple Breeze. Do I have to say much more than that? I drove by today and was saddened. I went to the auction of when they sold the place — just to see whose hands would be on the property, knowing they’d never do it justice. I went to the property auction, and, as a result, have two special things in my garage — the old clown face and the golf ball sign that says, “Don’t Bounce Me.” On a perfect summer night like tonight, it was the place to be. Mini golf, go karts, bumper boats, water slide. And friends. Always with friends. Aidan and I were mini-golfing in North Conway this week and all I could think about was wishing I had the chance to take him to the best course ever.
There was always music playing at Maple Breeze. Always the local radio station. Maybe it was Fun 102 or 102.3 The Wave. Maybe it was RI104 before it became WRX, 103.7. Or, maybe it was the grand-daddy of the day — Q105. I have an affinity for the Q since I interned there and, most recently, was on the morning show a few years ago with Franco and Nancy and then Nancy and Shawn. But, the point is, more than a few of you reading this had red and yellow Q105 bumper stickers on your bedroom door or car.
So as some of you know, I went to St. Michael School. And, not sure about you public schoolers, but whenever there was an SMS school function, we always — and I mean always — ended up at Bee Bee Dairy in Westerly for ice cream. An equally good pizza place now, but each time I go in, I think about a Bee Bee Dairy sundae.
And speaking of St. Michael’s…Saturday morning basketball league at the Pawcatuck Junior High School Gym. St. Mike’s, West Vine, West Broad, Deans Mill Green, Deans Mill Gold. Great coaches and refs and great stuff for us kids. Even cheerleaders for the girls. Every Saturday morning…two games. And the gym was packed. Or at least I remember it that way.
Nothing could be written about sports in Pawcatuck without mentioning Pawcatuck Little League. I’m a little biased. Ok, a lot biased. I practically grew up there. I have immense feelings for the place and the people who made it into arguably one of the top complexes in the country. Gibson. Knowles. Lenihan. Walsh. Crowley. Cray. Seriously, I could go on and on, but I won’t….I’ll miss too many people. It makes me crazy to go to my own Little League now and see what it is compared to what I had growing up. If I ever moved back to Pawcatuck, that would be one of the reasons. Call me crazy, but it’s true. I remember the boys team that won the district and you’d think they had won the World Series….I remember the girls teams that were good enough to win the World Series. I remember all of it. It’s just a part of me. And always will be.
Back to St. Michael’s for a bit…how about the summer festival? Another institution growing up. Are you kidding me? Charlie LoPresto and family making fritters in the corner. Bingo in the other corner. The white elephant booth. Charlie Shea calling, “put a dime down, win a dollar. put a dime down win a dollar.” My first gambling experience at the dice wheel where they’d sweep losing quarters off the board into rain gutters. The putting green contest where a prize was a free pass to Maple Breeze. The moonwalk when it was there. Pony rides on the convent lawn. And fried dough. Oh, the fried dough.
Wilcox Park and summer pops. Seriously, remember when it all started? Remember the glow sticks you’d get? Remember how early you’d have to get in the park?
And speaking of the park, remember McCrory’s nearby? You could go in and get popcorn — and everything else.
What about Besso’s on the bridge? A must stop before every movie to get penny candy when it was still just that — a penny.
And after the movies, you’d go to McDonalds. I mean, what else would you do? Of course, if the show was at the United, you’d be happy if you could sit in the balcony.
And the United was close to China Village — a mainstay for ‘special occasion’ dining.
So many memories. So many things to talk about. I mean, I didn’t even mention Rosalinis. I didn’t mention Thanksgiving Day football. I didn’t mention Del’s Lemonade. I didn’t mention “Smiley” working at the DQ. I didn’t mention the Westerly Community Credit Union holiday hoops tournament. I didn’t mention the wall. I didn’t mention the pavillions.
It doesn’t have to be mentioned to be important. In fact, it doesn’t have to be a significant event in your life either. It just has to be something — that when you look back on it — it makes you smile.
I apologize for typos and the ‘rush’ of my writing here, but the inspiration was there to get down a few thoughts and, well, that’s just what I did.
What I really hope is that some of these memories trigger some positive thoughts for you. I am blessed to have grown up in a very cool part of the world with a lot of very cool people around me. Some of them are still around me. And some of them aren’t. And often times you don’t think enough about the ones that are still around until they are gone. But it’s when they are gone that they can sometimes have the greatest impact on you.
Happy Birthday, Dad.
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.”
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.
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.
So in one of my last posts, I put the question to you — what would you like me to write about? What would you like to know?
Well, a new reader asked a pretty amazing question. She challenged me to share something I haven’t shared. Or, she said, ‘tell me what moves you.’
What moves me? Heck, I’m not even sure what that means exactly. So, in order to answer it I suppose I first need to be able to define it.
To me, something ‘moves me’ if there’s an emotional reaction or deep feeling associated with someone or something.
The ‘movement,’ of course, can be for the emotional good or bad. It just, I suppose, depends on the situation.
So, with that loosely described definition, let’s take a look at some of the things (in no particular order) that do, in fact, move me:
Music. I simply can’t imagine a life without music. I’m not a singer — or at least not a public one. I can’t play an instrument, but the impact music has on me is sometimes even hard for me to explain. I associate songs with people, moments and just about anything. Certain songs spark certain emotions. And that will never change. Yes, I love Bon Jovi. But it’s so far beyond that. I love just about any kind of music. I have ‘high school’ songs, ‘college’ songs, people songs, driving songs, thinking songs. I love songs that mean something — for whatever reason. It could be a classical piece, it could be a country song, it could be a commercial jingle. It doesn’t matter. If it impacts me in any way, it becomes a part of the soundtrack of my life.
Words. More specifically, well thought out emotional and honest words. Written or spoken. Either way. Doesn’t matter. Fact is, words are powerful. For some, it’s easier to write than it is to speak. So what. Fact is, emotions are coming across — regardless of how they are delivered. Is it easier to hide behind the keyboard? Maybe. Heck, I’m even guilty of that at times. Is it ideal? No. But, if that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes. Good writing is such an art. An under appreciated art. You don’t always know good when you see it, but you certainly know bad — and that can move me, too — but for all the wrong reasons.
Friends. Can’t live without the support of my friends. I mean, how else do I say it? I’m not one for a huge group of friends. I’m much more of the get close to a smaller number and, well, let them in as far as they want. Those that want in, well, those are the ones I hold close. Those are the ones who let me in in return and the give and take is just fabulous. Friends that I’ve known since first grade. Friends that I’ve known since college. Friends that I’ve known for only a few years. It’s not how long you’ve been friends. It’s about what you’ve experienced. And with mine, well, I’ve experienced a lot — and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I just hope some feel the same about me as I feel about them.
Water. Not the drinking kind. The ocean/river/lake kind — with preference given to the ocean. I’ve been around water my entire life. Growing up by the ocean, going to college on a river, working by a lake. Now working on a river and back by the ocean. So much comfort in the water. A place to go when quiet is needed and thinking needs to be done. I can still see the exact spot I used to go to in college when I needed to be myself. Forget the iPod, didn’t exist then. I’d take the walkman with an Elton John tape(!) and just go sit by the river and think. I got engaged by the ocean for a reason. There’s just something mysterious and comforting about the water. And the best time of year to go to the beach? Now. Haven’t been in a while. Time to go explore.
Family. Be it my kids, my wife, my mom, my siblings, my relatives. Doesn’t matter. Family is important. Don’t forget that. It’s easy to do sometimes. Think of the holidays and what do you remember? Family. The best part of a holiday meal isn’t the turkey or the dessert. No, it’s the rehashing of the same family stories you’ve heard over and over. Stories that have shaped your life. It’s the kids — when after a long day of battles, a simple exchange of please and thank you can do wonders.
So, there are five things that move me — in one way or another. Mostly for the good. This isn’t as easy as it seems. It challenges your own emotions to think of important things that can have an impact on your life — and why. I’m sure more will come up, and, if they do, perhaps I’ll add them here at some point.
In the meantime, thanks to my new reader for asking the question.
And now I ask the same question to all of you.
You now know some of the things that move me. So tell me, what moves you?
I’ve been thinking about this letter for some time now. And, honestly, even as I type these first few words, I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to say.
I mean, what are the perfect words to ‘celebrate’ someone’s anniversary? Because, Dad, as if you don’t know, today is the 10th anniversary of your death.
So much has been going on, Dad. I’ve really struggled during the past few months. More than that, actually. And, well, I’m finally at a point where I feel like I’m making progress — and then this day happens. And this is where I’m torn. The old me says this is a sad day and it should be sad and that’s just the way it is.
Dad, the new me — well, the new me says I should be celebrating all of the good and all of the happy that is between us as a way to honor you on this day.
Can’t I do both? Can’t I be sad and remember happy things at the same time? That, to me, seems like the only solution right now, Dad.
First of all, there’s just something about 10. It’s like a big number just hanging out there to remind me vividly that, yes, you, in fact, have been dead for a while. I don’t particularly like any aspect of that — let alone having some number become an authority on something. And, really, that’s what 10 is right now.
It really doesn’t matter if I hate 10. I should, actually, hate all the numbers, Dad. Because any number associated with you means you’re gone. And, well, that’s the part I’m still not a big fan of. You know. The part where you are gone. To some extent, I have finally accepted it and dealt with it. But, in another sense, not so much. Or, well, maybe the not so much is other stuff in our relationship. That I’ve learned to be OK with the dying part, but it’s the other stuff that I’m not so excited about.
In terms of that dying part, the biggest thing that still irks me is that I wasn’t there, Dad. You’ve heard me talk about this before. I’m sure you’re sick of it. Heck, in a way I am. I know now what I would have said to you. First, I would have been mad at you — mad for leaving me, for leaving us. But, I also would have thanked you, Dad. For all that you did for me. And for us. For teaching me — only in your way. So subtle, yet so obvious. For trusting me. For giving me freedom to learn — and to fail.
I would have told you that I will never forget certain things about you, and about us. Countless hours at the little league field — so many memories there. Helping you out at the pool. Picking out a Christmas tree. Setting up the manger. Playing games on the TV room floor. Watching the Celtics. Getting a pizza at Famous. Making fun of your sport coats. Sharing laughs. Lengthy ‘discussions.’ Super cookies. Card tricks.
See, Dad, I would have told you those things because they, for the most part, are my holdover. It’s what I remember about you — about us. Simple stuff that nobody else will probably understand. And, well, honestly, I like it better that way. Nobody has to understand. Nobody except us.
I still think about the letter you were going to write. The nurse said you had plans to write each of us a letter. I think about what you’d say all the time — hoping that you share some of the same memories I do. That those little things stick with you like they stick with me.
And then I hope, Dad, that you would have said you were proud of me. It’s such a simple thing. And, you know, even though we aren’t a big affectionate family — in either words or actions — it almost wouldn’t matter for you to say that you loved me. I know you do. I can feel it to this day.
But, honestly, I don’t recall you ever saying you were proud. Maybe you did and it didn’t mean that much to me then. But, for some reason, this is the big one. I’m pretty sure I know the answer. But I don’t want to know it that way. I want you to give me some sort of sign that I know you are proud.
I won’t bore you with all the other details, Dad. I know you’re watching. I know you see Aidan and Erin and how much they’ve grown and discovered. I know you watched over Lynn last week with her surgery. I know you are there. You and Tim, both. Always there, always connected. The tricky part is just figuring out how. I haven’t been very good at that. But I will get better.
So, Dad, today, I expect my thoughts to be all over the map. I expect to be sad. I expect to smile in a way that nobody else will understand. I expect to laugh at some point. And, honestly, well, I expect to cry.
I’m sorry, Dad, that this letter has been all over the place. It’s a great representation of my relatively recent thought process. I know I’ve written more eloquently in the past about certain things. And that’s fine. That’s what was important to me then. This is what’s important to me now.
And the other thing that’s important to me now — is for you, Dad, to know that I love you. But, again, you know that. We don’t talk about it. We don’t show it. We just know it.
The other part? Is that I’m proud of you, Dad. Couldn’t be prouder. Not for just the way you taught me. For the way you helped others. For everything about you.
Please know, too, that I’m trying. I truly am. But it still sucks. You’re not here. And I miss you.
Accept those things you can’t change, and move on.
That what a dear friend said to me today after I sent an email that I wouldn’t be at work for most of the day due to the latest sickness to have found its way into the house. I was frustrated in my email. Heck, I was frustrated in general. Missed work. My daughter sick again. Me still sick.
So much for starting the year off on the right foot.
Yet, the above is so appropriate for me — on so many levels. Not just dealing with the issue of the day.
Let’s just say that when I look back on 2009, I hope it becomes something I learned a lot from — and not suffered a lot from. This head of mine, while still spinning today, was spinning almost out of control in parts of 2009. Things that had been buried for a long time surfaced and are still being dealt with. And, I suppose, they always will be dealt with.
I just want to make sure now that I’m better equipped to deal with feelings, fears and emotions than I have in the past. I’m not out of it by any means, but I’m trying. I really am.
The stress I put on myself has impacted the way I interact with others — family, friends, colleagues. It was a shortly after Thanksgiving when a colleague of mine said to me, “Wow, Mike, you’re in a good mood lately.”
That sort of hit pretty hard. It’s one thing when those very close to you notice something and say something, but at times I put that on the back burner. How could they really know? How could they really see? Well, turns out they did know and they could see. Because when someone who I’m not as close to mentioned my mood, then I was like, Hmmm. Maybe there is an issue here.
I’ve taken some steps I never expected to take in my life. And that’s what I have to focus on now — steps. The journey, not the finish line.
I’ll be candid. With the amount of loss in my life, which as you know has been one of the hardest things for me to understand and deal with — there have been moments where I have focused more on my own death than my own life.
It’s even hard to write that sentence — let alone try to explain it or deal with it. But, if you are close to me, you’ve probably heard me say the following:
“Well, my dad was 65, my brother was 45. That makes the average life span in my family for men to be 55. I just turned 40. If that holds true, I won’t walk my daughter down the aisle.”
Are you kidding? Seriously.
Well, for a while, I wasn’t. Still aren’t.
I won’t lie to you, it scares me. But I need to get off that crutch. I’ve leaned on that too much. Way too much. And I need to stop that.
Not an excuse, but this month is hard — Tim’s birthday and Dad’s 10th anniversary. And I’m trying to find the tools I need to handle some of these feelings better than I have in the past.
More importantly, I need to focus more on the journey to the end — not the end itself.
There are still things to be worked on. Still things to be figured out. And they aren’t minor things.
But, the point is, I need to find my way back to being the person people expect me to be.
No, that’s not right either.
I need to find my way back to being the person I expect myself to be.
And that’s what I’m going to try and do. It won’t be easy, but it’s so beyond necessary. I can’t let it eat at me the way it did in 2009. I can deal with it now, but I cannot be consumed by it.
As I’ve been thinking about this, I was also in the middle of a project. You know that I turned 40 last November — another issue that caused a great deal of stress. One of the ways for me to celebrate? I’m throwing myself a party. It just happens to be next month. Almost four months later? So what.
Point is, it’s going to be a fun party and it’s going to be the party I want — with the people I want. And that’s a good feeling.
Another good feeling about the party? My friend Mike is putting together a power point that is going to kill me. Why? Well, he’s got basically every picture of me known to man — from when I was a year old to just two weeks ago. And, let me just say, I haven’t always been this handsome or fashionable. And, well, if you are on the party invite list, you’ll laugh your ass off at a lot of the pictures. I know I will.
I also know that I will smile at a lot of them and recall happy times associated with each picture.
And that’s the point — collecting these pictures has been a very appropriate exercise for me. It’s given me the chance to do just that — to re-visit the journey I’ve taken along the way. To focus on what’s happened — not what might or might not happen.
To remember things like going with my family to pick out the perfect Christmas tree — something I still cherish to this day. To all of the good times I had in the backyard pool. To school pictures — yup, even including the velour shirt I wore in sixth grade with a dickey underneath. To the many places Renee and I have travelled. To the union of friends along the way. To celebrate the arrival and birthdays of new family and friends — and always remembering the departure of the same. To see myself standing next to people that are so much more than friends.
I suppose now you want to see some of these pictures? Well, it’s the least I can do. Here’s a tease. And if you’re coming to the party, there’s a lot more where these came from. (Invites to the party, by the way, out soon.)
Afterall, I wouldn’t be who I was or where I am today without having taken all of those steps along the way. Each one being so much more than a step — each one being part of who I am.
And that’s what I’m trying to do — to reclaim who I am. Not just for you (though I know you’ll appreciate that), but, more importantly, for me.
And, you know, like my friend said, to accept those things you can’t change and move on.
If I can do that — all of that — then 2010 will be so much more than 2009 ever was.
Is it a resolution? No, it’s not. Because it’s not something for this year.
It’s something for life.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
Here’s Aidan on the first day of school.
Here’s Aidan on the last day of school.
Think he’s growing? This place did wonders for him.
Kindergarten (gulp!) here he comes.