Father, Teacher, Friend

He made them a fortress on the wood line, on a broken oak from the storm two years ago. Hobbling on the knees that caused him so much pain. He cut most of that tree, a little each day. Rolling the trunk chunks to fit under the corners just so. A look of pain in his eyes but a smile upon his face

He goes to work each day, EVERY day, without complaint and always/only for his family. For 18 years. Without fail, without expectation of grander dividends.

He goes to the school plays, graduation ceremonies, family outings and fishing trips despite his desires to escape the crowds. He throws the parties and sings the songs even though he’d rather find a quiet mountain to stand on.

He holds his children when they cry and picks up his babies when they reach for him, all while hiding the pain in his back. 

He teaches our children to fish. Teaches them to defend themselves and others. He shows them how to make cookies, pie crust and pasta, even when he’s been up all night tossing and turning. He sows the seeds and teaches our children how to make them grow.

*****

Bravo, thank you for the days, months, years, of being present in our children’s lives. Thank you for the life lessons, momentous occasions, small moments, and life you have helped to provide for our seven children. Each one of them have the best of you. You never hesitate to stand up for them, and give them what we didn’t have most years of our lives…a father. Loving, playful, hard-working, hilarious.

Happy Fathers Day my love. 

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For Just One Day…

I don’t remember the last Fathers Day I spent with my dad, but I’m imagining it was great. He would have oohed and such at the silly things we’d made for him. He would have made a drink to celebrate the occasion, and by 3pm would’ve needed a nap. I can’t remember the name I gave him for writing in my blog, but his real name was Edward. To all he was Ed. That tall and lanky man with a beautiful laugh and snarky attitude. He never met a screwdriver he didn’t enjoy and he never met my two youngest children.

When I was very young Ed made me a swing set, and I remember him lining up nails, laid on their sides so that I could hammer on them with my favorite whittled stick.

Once, when my mother was away, Ed decided to make us a treehouse. Using just one nail for each piece of wood leading to the planks that were to be our fort, and my insistence on climbing up first – I got to the second board and slid/fell/smacked my way down. Scraped and bleeding Dad picked me up. Holding me close he ran inside and with mom not there to nurse my wounds, he tried to take the pain away. My brother sat in living room, watching as Ed gave me wet hand towels to dab the cuts, while he warmed up spaghetti-o’s. When that didn’t take the sting away dad gave me a Popsicle. A banana Popsicle. That is a tradition in our house nowadays. Cut cleaning and cold treats make for easy bandaid placement. 
Once when Ed took us camping it rained so hard that the military surplus tent collapsed from the weight, and we had to sleep in the old suburban. My brother and I, in our matching baseball jackets were just terrified by the darkness. Dad was our comfort, and gave us a flashlight and chewy watermelon candy to ease our fears. 

We use to visit old cemeteries with Ed. He loved the history, and reading old headstones, and pulling weeds away from a final resting place. One day I will do the same for him.

(I look up as I type this, and in our yard is a five point buck. He’s a beautiful specimen. I think to myself that perhaps Dad has sent him for me. The deer is staring at me. The dogs, for now, don’t smell him. I wonder if God sent the deer, reminding me that He’s never far, always with me.)

My memories of my Father Ed, though mostly faded, tattered by time and a life taken too soon by alcohol and depression, are with me here. They are in my heart, my mind. And though I try to focus on the good there is a very small part that feels that twinge of pain about all he missed, I missed, we missed as a family. 

I chose to share his name here, with you, my friends/family, because today I miss the speghetti-o’s, and I miss his smile. I wanted him to meet all my children and take them camping, build them a tree house, make them laugh. But really, I want him to call me Honey again. I want him here.

I love you Dad. Happy Fathers Day.

A Daughters Heart

 

 

There is a child in my daughters class, who every day comes through the door dressed like a model for a department store. Popped collar shirts, masculine jeans, skater shoes…the most expensive of accessories.

The bell rings and his shoulders fall. His discomfort fades away and this beautiful child is – at least until the bell goes off to head back home – no longer the boy his surely loving parents dress him to be, but ‘Linda’…a snarky and at times confident child. Just one of the girls.

My sweet Birdie has sat me down many times to let out the built up frustration she feels on behalf of Linda. Whether this child’s parents even know, how come they make who she feels is obviously more comfortable as a her/she/girl/young lady, dress and act like a him/he/handsome young man. My daughter asks why he should have to pretend to be someone she’s not, while little Birdie has always been allowed to be Birdie.

My daughter does not like the tight, high-riding and/or low cut girls clothing. She does not enjoy bling and glitter, bows and girly-ness. Her wardrobe, much like mine was at her age – is filled with boys clothes, shoes, accessories. Nike football shirts, athletic pants and shorts, basketball shoes. She has one dress, which she has worn once. It wasn’t forced, she wanted it and so I bought it.

While trying to help my little girl (with the over-sized and often overly sensitive heart) understand Linda’s life, and the choices we make to be happy, the wise and wonderful mom in me realized something. My daughter is amazing. My daughter has managed to grasp and master what we take charge humans often find ourselves struggling with – acceptance. Whether of ourselves, others, circumstances, happenstances. She gets it.

 

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(While there are a host of ‘issues’ surrounding this ‘subject of debate’…I’ll cross my t’s and dot my i’s as they find their way to the paper, but not before.)

*****

I try not to be a drop in what I feel is an already overflowing cup of unsolicited opinions/advice, but I just want to say that with everything going on, going wrong – I am not worried or afraid of Linda’s miraculous friendship with my daughter.

I am fearful of war.

I am heartbroken for each human being that dies because they are starving.

I pray that those who are lost will be found, free, happy.

I do not pray that God changes someone who finds solace in being who they feel they’re meant to be.

 

*I am a Christian, and I’ve read the Bible. I’ve also lived, lost, learned along the way.*

 

I love my children, and as long as I’m living and beyond I will love them. If I can love my children then I can love your children. If I can accept my children’s desire to be who they choose/need to be, well then I can do the same for yours.

This isn’t about what I want but what makes my children/our children feel whole. I don’t understand it. But I’m not afraid of it, of change. I’m not afraid of a difference of opinion either, but I’m afraid for those human beings that are cast aside because they choose to live. I’m just one person I know. God has taught me that if nothing else, He’s saved me to share His love. He fought for my life through addiction, homelessness…and I’ll be damned if I’m going to be the one to cast a stone at one of HIS greatest gifts…another human being. A life worthy of existence. All unique, all loved, all beautiful in his eyes and therefore in mine.

 

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Sticky Boogers & Tea Time…

Boogers. Life is filled with boogers. Boogers here, there….everywhere.

As a mom they are a tell tale sign of many things, germs and crusty faces, colds, teething, allergies. Even my dog gets boogers on me. Every morning. Because he snorts like a pig at my comings and goings, and he’s huge…so are his boogers.

I have a long and hateful relationship with said boogers. I find them all along my journey of life with anxiety. Big boogers like weekend trips, dental work and my health. Small boogies like laundry, dishes, diapers and of course…boogers.

I love my family. I love that I have dogs, a cat and many many children. I enjoy my life. I don’t enjoy the boogers that crust it up. Or slime all over it.

Current booger on my mind presently…my husbands job ending in 9 days! 9 fracking days. Nine. That’s two more days than kids we have, days of the week, and minutes until my little humans hit the pillow. What the actual f$@k are we gonna do???

(In my mind to lighten the load I often say things like this:
‘Holy food-stamps Batman! Jobless in 9 days you say????
Yes Robin, in 9 days we turn in our shark repellent and catchy phrases for unemployment checks….’)

But under that I’m all but beside myself with contemplation about needed future dental work, stocking up on laundry detergent, dry food goods and the tissues required for handling this enormous booger of a problem.

How did we get here you may ask?…Taking a line (or many?) from a fave fellow blogger I will tell you…

***If we were sitting and drinking tea (because coffee is now a no-go…) together I will probably shed a quick tear. Then tell a story about my hard working hubby and how he got screwed by a national bank chain on his contract. In February he was told they were extending said contract with the full/promised intention of finding him a full time position with better benefits, vacation, the works. March 1st rolls around and the bitches rolled over/went back on their word. Bastards.
As we sip our tea, I’d shed another tear, and then maybe you’d ask if he’d been applying anywhere…to which I would lovingly sigh and tell you he’s been having phone interviews for weeks, a few in-person meet and greets but to no avail. That’s when if I’m blessed (and I’m sure I am because I’m with you) you will hand me a Kleenex to wipe my boogers. They’d be the soft tissues with lotion because that’s what good friends have when their friends are in crisis mode.
I drink my last bit of tea, you will smile with a look of love/pity/loss of words. Hugs are given and I leave to cry in my beast of a mini-van the whole way home.***

So, just as I ponder on the end of the official cold season, the reprieve before allergy season hits me, I am blowing into my store brand tissue, red-nosed, and overwhelmed. Damn the boogers of my life. Thank the Lord I know this too will pass, and if nothing else, I can always trade in my kids Pokemon cards for Kleenex money.

Funerals and Fatherhood

Mr great-grandmother was the first dead person I remember having the pleasure to meet. Her hair was beautifully quaffed, much like the Donald’s, a little less orange. Her hands rested peacefully upon her abdomen, nails done with care. Her makeup was classically simple. Beautiful.

I walked toward her casket with my aunt, who was the ‘scary’ one. Head down so as not disturb her (my aunt) but I couldn’t wait to see inside that casket. (I was 4 or 5 years old.) Looking her over one side to the other, I touched her hands, the collar of her blouse, and buttons. Then, without thinking (obviously!!) I poked her eye, but not too hard. Yuck. Then her lips which were painted for the occasion. I wasn’t afraid. I wasn’t clinching my fists, not one skipped breath. My aunt on the other hand was beside herself. She pulled me back to our seats, squeezing my hand until I almost cried. We got home and she ritually washed my fingers, cut my nails, and smacked my ass with all the gusto she could muster. Though I may on one hand have deserved such discipline, on the other I didn’t. I was after all, my fathers daughter….

******

My father Thomas was a hard working man, always early and never more than a call away for those in need of his special touch. Thomas was a funeral director. Throughout my childhood he worked in the business of dealing with death. In his own youthfulness, he drove the town ambulance when the dead needed their final ride home, eventually going to mortuary school, then honing his skills at prominent funeral homes where we grew up. When I was 8 or 9, he bought out his employer and finally had his own business. Two funeral homes, along with a partner, who he loved like a brother.

It may seem odd, perhaps morbid to some that I so loved being with my dad at work. Most of my precious yet fading memories are of spending time with him, watching the patient and loving care he showed to those who had been dealt such a terrible loss, and watching his gentle respect for the deceased. I learned much watching the way he interacted with both sides of life. Humble and intentional, always the gentleman. A man of profound integrity. His employees were our family. Birthdays were celebrated there, fireworks on the roof, bonds that remain to this day.

The building itself was brick, and not like today’s buildings that are quickly raised. It was a work of art. Old, with looming shadows and majestic window frames with ivy that grew over most of the walls. My favorite time to gaze upon it was in the morning as the sun rose to greet the day, that golden hue bouncing off the dew that had gathered in its ivy leaves. It shimmered as though jewels had been placed in each crevice.

My brother and I would wander the halls. He loved the elevator, I did not. Even for me, it was too much. ( I always thought of it as a slow descending box to the depths of hell…fire and brimstone. Of course, it was just the basement.) My dad and brother would set out early in the morning, coffee with the guys, then if the sun was out it was right to work…wash the hearses, then sweep the garage while they dried in the sun. I was more involved in playtime. Racing with the casket carts, and with the garage floor so clean…those carts would literally fly. So fast that they were often out of control. Thomas never got angry unless there were people there making funeral arrangements, visiting their loved ones who’d since passed. There was a little fridge with soda, which we often raided as we ran amuck.

As I grew older, my fathers chosen profession became an embarrassment and I often found myself the butt of cruel jokes. Kids daring ‘the dead girl’ to take them along for a first hand account of death in all its doom and gloom. Asking if I ‘saw some dead guys guts.’ They assumed I liked dead people…and in comparison to the their own need for teenaged brutality, I did. A person in a casket has found their peace, their suffering has ended. The kids that tore me down were selfish and longed for me to feel pain. My dads funeral parlor offered sanctuary…none of the teenagers who bullied me followed me past the corner it stood on. They weren’t worthy, and frankly too chicken shit to follow.

I did have a friend that came in a few times, timid and always stiff as rigor mortis. She was very close to me until she wasn’t. After staying the night and my brother having bothered us all day…she had spit the largest ball of phlegm, through the screen of his window, directly ON HIS FACE. Acting like it was no big deal she walked away laughing. My little brother began to cry. I was beside myself for him. How could she? Repulsed I did what any middle-school aged girl would have…acted like I didn’t care and plotted my revenge. A few weeks later this friend walked with me to dads office, and knowing he wasn’t there I nudged her down the hallway to a viewing room. It was dark, and I told her to step inside while I looked for him. No one could wander the grounds except me or my brother, I told her. Convinced of my honesty she stepped inside. I pulled the accordion style door closed with a quickness, and turned the light on……

A scream unlike anything I’d heard came from the depths of that girls soul. Immediately I turned on the light and pushed open the door. Down the hall she went, hands covering her cheeks, sobbing. (Inside the viewing room was a VERY well aged man, in his 90’s with his casket open.) Out the door she ran, never to return…to where I’m still not sure. We never hung out after that, but I still had my honor. Nobody spit on my brother but me. Period.

In my adult years it became a place to reminisce. My father sold his funeral homes, choosing instead to finish living out his life with a vodka bottle as his best friend. I would stop in when I was visiting just to see the place. Maroon and chalky brown carpet eventually was torn out. Beautiful paintings were gone. Desks and chairs swapped out for newer models. Many of my fondest memories…gone but not forgotten. Turning the door knob to a life without, but never over.

The last time I went to the funeral home, still with my fathers name on the sign, was for his funeral. He was dressed in his go to gear…work shirt, red suspenders, notebook and pen in his chest pocket. His hands rested on his chest. He was peaceful, handsome, clean shaved. We drove 36 hours with kids and dogs to be there. The book lay out for mourners to sign. The coming and going of so many lives he had touched, now coming to show him the same respect he willingly gave, over and over, for all of them. It wasn’t traumatic. It was far from uncomfortable. It was home. I kissed him. His forehead, his cheek. I rested my hands on his. I said “Hello Daddy. You’re home again.” My brother had followed my fathers footsteps, and in true form, was there to greet me. We both knew it was a perfect ending to his life. To be where he was at his best. My eyes met with my brothers and in that moment everyone in the room melted away, my heart swelled with pride. Eyes filling with tears I realized, he had become his fathers son.

******

In His Time

Mon père, mon ami

This hand, it shakes
For it longs to be held
This heart, it aches
For in the darkness, I sit alone
These eyes, they are blind
For my soul has begun to fade….

 

My father was a good man. Strong and steady. As a small child I saw him as a giant among the trees. Ever present, ever abiding. He was the very best of my world. My father gave me joy, laughter, wiped my tears, forgave. As I grew older he became the ephemeral sense of normalcy and a glance of what was. When I went from child to mother, he was the man who loved my son, who taught him to ride. When he grew old, he was the slow fading daylight…

My father was an artist, much like myself. He was a carpenter, painter. My father loved the world around him. The stars, the mountains. He loved calligraphy and use to sit and sketch with me. He created things that were useful, things that were cherished. I imagine that what he created in this world is also what he most longed to feel himself. I remember how much he loved to laugh, and in every way wanted us all to laugh with him. I have yet to meet a man with his work ethic, or his desire to help bring dignity to those no longer able. He saw the worst of humanity and chose to bear the burden of its emotional cost with bravery, but alone.

My father died in a hospital, family by his side. My brother called me to let me say goodbye, holding the phone to my fathers ear. I said a prayer with my father, and he let out a sigh. (In my heart I tell myself that he heard me, and more importantly…God heard him.) I tell myself that he knows it’s me. Like any good daughter I told him I was going to be okay, that I could do it without him, that he could go. Knowing he was suffering, in extreme pain, made his death acceptable, but far from easy. He had died of renal failure, complications after a partial leg amputation…which was secondary to end stage alcoholism.

I continually rehearse in my mind what I will tell my children as the anniversary of his death approaches. (He was never to meet our two youngest.) They hadn’t seen him for several years prior to his passing. The last visit we’d had with him was just too much.

We arrived in the morning, after driving the last 600+ miles, with three kids, our daughter was just starting to walk. We went inside. I wanted to let her roam around on her own, and dads house was less cluttered than most. We walked into the kitchen and I heard this popping, grinding sound beneath the soles of my shoes. I let my daughters feet touch the floor, and looked at what I thought was rice. Maggots. Maggots covered the kitchen floor. Trash piled into corners. Mold and vomit everywhere. The short of it is that my father could care for himself no more than a dog could let itself out to piss. I was livid. As l looked at my father, wasted away, no longer strong and steady, I was broken. I was angry and had a desire for vengeance well up into my throat. I turned to my husband. He knew. He saw it. I remember wondering if he heard my heart breaking.

That night my husband did the one thing for me that means more than all the rest of it. He picked up my father, holding him as if he were a child that was sleeping soundly. My husband carried my father to his bed, and with such love, such tenderness, laid him down, tucking him in. He made sure his legs were just so, body just so, blankets just so. Kissing him goodnight I asked if he needed anything, then I spent all night cleaning, scrubbing, bleaching, repeating until the filth was all gone. I scrubbed until the tears stopped falling, the anger became sadness, sadness to understanding.

In the morning I kissed him on his cheek, and on his forehead. His eyes…so sad, so hollow. I told him I loved his so very much. We drove away and I knew, I knew I would never see him alive again. I lived too far for weekend or even monthly visits, and for the sake of my family, and for the way my father deserved to be remembered, I chose to shield my children from the disease that had taken their grandpa. My heart couldn’t bear for them to see it ever again.

I miss the father of my childhood. I long for the days of watching him prune his flowers, mow, paint. I miss the steady arms, the voice over the phone. I miss hearing him call me ‘honey’ and chatting about the weather. I miss the man that died long before his body figured out he was gone. I prayed for years that he would stop drinking, and he did. For a short while, because he was in a hospital bed, he was sober. He was different. Frail, broken, reserved…but he wasn’t drunk.

I had let go of the anger I felt toward him long before he died. I learned not to take it personally when he would call me up cussing at me, sometimes thinking I was someone else. I do blame people, but not him. I use to blame myself for not doing more, not calling enough, not moving home. I blame the people that bought his fucking vodka. I blame the people that chose his money over his beating heart. I blame the people that set his bottle next to his chair…because he could no longer make it to the kitchen on his own. The chair he pissed and shit in…alone. And yes, I know it was a choice, but there was a line that blurred and it became a disease. It may have taken him, but it does not define him.

And so, as every anniversary draws near, I gaze into the mirror, and remind myself that my pain is for selfish things, that my fathers love doesn’t die with him, and that my children will know the very best of him. I raise my children with love and admiration for my dad, as well as the understanding that his death was preventable. They know the costs and don’t want to pay.

Even in the midst of loss I have learned. And as I look at the stars, I am reminded of all the love he gave, and cherish that little bit of heaven.