Part of a parent’s job is to make us feel safe. Comforted. Accepted. Loved. Hopefully, this gives us the ability to venture out into the big bad world with little fear.
You did that for me. Thank you.
When I try to visualize your face, I see your smile and your twinkling blue eyes — like we’re sharing a secret joke no one else would understand. “See? Life is funny!” you chuckle. “Isn’t it ridiculous? Let’s laugh about it. It’s gonna be all right, Punky.”
You helped me to always find the humor in life. Thank you.
When I think of the person you were, I remember a quiet, intelligent, loving man who stood up to do the right thing. You always wanted to help others. No matter where their life’s path had taken them or their circumstances. You weren’t scared, you just did it. Actions speak louder than words. You weren’t looking for praise or attention. You did it because it was the right thing to do. You once told me, “Who knows, one day they might turn around and help you when you need it most.” What you put out there will come back to you times a hundred.
You taught me to reach out and help others. Thank you.
You gave me the power of having an open mind, to see all sides to things. You allowed me to discover my beliefs on my own, to keep questioning and learning while always practicing respect for another point of view. You taught me that being gentle to myself and others takes strength. Kindness is more important than being right.
You gave me the gift of compassion, trust and faith. Thank you.
Compassion for others starts within. If you’re not kind to yourself, you can’t be kind to others. You will never resolve negativity you feel with others in your life — anger, resentment, jealousy — until you resolve those issues within your own mind, your own soul. The ability to love myself is crucial if I want to fully love and be open to others in my life.
You showed me to trust in myself. To love myself. Thank you.
Today would have been your 75th birthday. And I know that wherever you are, in my mind you’re still chuckling, calling me Punky, and telling me it will be all right. And I know it will.
Thank you for everything you taught me.
I am the person I am today, I am the mom I am today, because of you.
The cemetery was full of swaying trees and bright sunlight; the dancing rays sparkling within the reds and golds of the leaves. Gazing at the rows of gray stones, I felt a gentle stirring of peace blossoming from within, spreading around me with its warm embrace. I stood alone on a grassy hill and listened to the wind. I wanted to hear the voices of those who had passed on. Those buried in the ground were dust and bones now, their spirits set free a long time ago. Still, I wanted to hear my father. I closed my eyes.
“Hey, Mom!” my son yelled from a distance. “We found him!”
I smiled as I crouched down on the cold ground next to my son. He read the name of the tombstone aloud with excitement, “Ralph E. Stairs.”
“That is your grandfather,” I said with a heavy weight in my voice. “My dad. He died 20 years ago this month.” My fingers traced the dates etched in the granite.
“Wow! So you were pretty young then, huh?” my son remarked, then ran off to the next row of stones before I had a chance to tell him more about my dad; the incredible grandpa he had never met. How could I express what my dad meant to me or the person he was? Will my son ever know? Will I continue to remember?
When I was a young girl, my father was my entire world. The phrase “Daddy’s Girl” originated the day I was born. The man who raised me was an unique dad. He was sensitive to our emotional needs, and he always took the time to be present with me and my brothers. He enjoyed doing things with us, whether it was coaching our Peewee baseball league (I was shortstop), shooting hoops in the driveway, or sitting on the front porch chatting with us on a warm summer evening.
He was a slight man, tall and thin. His personality was one of quiet support, and he was very gentle in his ways. There was hardly a time when he raised his voice to yell and he never laid a hand to spank. He raised us on two things: love and respect. He disciplined us the hard way, by somehow convincing us that doing the right thing was the only thing. It was expected of us. If we dared to screw up (and we often did during the teen years) nothing would be more damaging then the moment our dad would peer over his glasses, sigh and sternly say, “I’m very disappointed in you.” This was the worst punishment we could ever face.
Being his only girl, he went out of his way for me. If I needed a certain piece of piano sheet music, he’d drive with me all over the state to find it. If I had a baton competition two hours away, he’d be there in the stands, his eyeglasses reflecting in the lights. As long as I knew he was there to cheer me on, I could do anything. He was my constant support. In many ways, he was like a mother to me; nurturing, loving and proud. These were the traits my own mother lacked. When I was sick, he would come home from work with some ginger ale and rub my back until I felt better. Every night, I would say, “Good night, Dad! I love you very much!” as he tucked me in. I’d wait for him to say, “I love you, too” so I could close my eyes and safely dream.
During the last years of his life, I was just embarking on my college adventures. I was an awkward, shy teenager, unsure of my place in the world. I began to see my dad as a man, separate from me, with a past of his own. We started to have deeper conversations about life’s pain, sorrows and regrets. When I told him about my fear of leaving home, he discussed with me his time in the Navy, a young man fresh out of the Bronx, full of excitement and fear when he was shipped out to sea. We talked about family and death. His own beloved father, my grandfather, died at 53. He told me how hard it was, growing up poor in New York, having to make dinner with his brother and sisters while his mother worked all day and night as a waitress. Being so centered in my own world and consumed with my own problems, I realized I didn’t know much about my dad’s history.
Now, I would give anything to sit on the front porch with him again and have one last conversation. I would ask him more about his childhood. I would ask him endless questions. What was he afraid of? What made him happy? What did he miss? And did he miss me as much as I missed him?
I would tell him about his grandkids. Did he know that my son loves soccer? And that he has inherited the same gentle, loving, sensitive spirit? Did he know that my daughter is a dancer and loves to sing? Did he know that I met and married the love of my life? Did he know that I wanted him to walk me down the aisle? Did he know that I graduated college? Did he see any of this? Was he proud of me?
Standing at his grave this week, I knew the answer.
I slowly brushed the leaves away to reveal the date: Nov 17 1991. “Hi, Dad,” I said aloud. “Hope you’re doing okay.” I stared at his name and imagined his face again. I could see his blue eyes twinkling at me, the sides of his mouth curving up into a laugh. My dad and I were sharing a secret only the two of us knew. “I miss you,” I added as I walked away.
As we pulled out of the cemetery, I noticed the blue eyes reflecting in the rearview mirror–piercing, knowing, twinkling.
Dads everywhere have long received a bum rap when it comes to their parenting abilities. If past movies or TV shows are any indication, a dad usually falls into one of two categories: a flustered and clueless idiot, not even capable of changing a diaper without tongs, duct tape, and a gas mask or a cold and distant larger-than-life man who works all day, only to come home and hide behind the newspaper with a pack of smokes.
Of course, these are myths, at least most of the time. Dads are worthy of our highest praise and respect (and some harmless teasing, if the situation calls for it). My kids’ dad was once honored to be named “World’s Greatest Dad”. A coffee mug can’t be wrong. He didn’t get this title for nothing.
WHY MY KIDS LOVE THEIR DAD:
He has no sense of danger
When my son was five years old and could barely reach the height limit to ride the Log Flume ride at Funtown by himself (even on his tip toes), my husband thought it was a bright idea to send my sweet dimpled boy (and his imaginary friend, Steve) on the log-shaped Death Trap anyway, conveniently when my back was turned. For the next three and a half terrifying minutes, I watched my son gripping the handrails, grinning from ear to ear, yelling at Steve to “hold on!” As he slowly ascended Mt.Everest, I closed my eyes and prayed that he wouldn’t spontaneously jump out at the top. My son and Steve safely made it down after all, completely drenched and laughing. I shot my husband The Look, ran over and crushed my son with hugs, thinking, Thank God he’s okay! I walked away with a few new wrinkles and, I admit, a pretty cool picture to put on our fridge. And, to my son, Daddy was the hero of the day.
He feeds them crap
On the rare mornings that I get to sleep in, I’ve shuffled out to the kitchen only to find one of my kids halfway through a BBQ potato chip bag or a box of cookies. Their dad usually pretends he didn’t notice they’d somehow dragged heavy chairs across the floor to raid the pantry. Or he’ll shrug and say, “So what? It’s just cookies. It’s not gonna hurt ‘em.” I have my suspicions he’s been taking cues from Bill Cosby’s old 80s stand-up routine: “Dad is great! He gives us chocolate cake!”
He forgets to dress them
Whenever my husband is alone with the kids for any length of time, my kids inevitably end up wearing things out at Wal-Mart I wouldn’t dress my dog in (if I had a dog and even then, I’d still spare the poor dog any embarrassment of wearing a hot pink tutu over winter boots, a tiara, no shirt and a tie). Or he’ll somehow forget vital articles of clothing entirely, such as socks, mittens, a hat and a jacket when it’s minus twenty with the wind chill. “What?” Dad will shrug. “They’re only outside for all of two minutes from the car to the store. The cold isn’t gonna hurt ‘em.” Once again, Daddy = Hero.
He is their favorite toy
My kids have every electronic gadget, loads of Legos, Hot Wheels and Barbies. But nothing tops playing “tickle monster” with Dad. Every night it’s like the WWF match-up between Andre the Giant and the Little People. If it involves my husband being attacked by two giggling hyenas, rolling around the living room floor, my kids are in heaven. Sure, Dad may have to pause here and there for a breath or defibrillator, but he presses on with the head-locks and accidental kicks to the groin because he knows they love it. Dad is The Man.
He loves them dearly and never hesitates to show it
My husband’s arms were the very first to cradle both of my kids after they drew their first breaths. Those same arms and hands rocked them during those endless, colicky nights, changed their diapers, rubbed their backs when they were sick, hugged them close when they had nightmares. He blows my son kisses at the bus stop every morning and swings my daughter up into the air when he gets home from work, covering her in giggly kisses. He is full of love and affection for them and I see their light shine when he is around.
He respects who they are and believes in them
The one thing my kids know for sure is that their dad will be there for them, guiding and supporting them in any way he can. He listens to my son when he cries that a kid teased him at school or when he’s frustrated with a basketball game loss or when he asks, “Why did God make the world?” Sometimes Dad knows the answers and will give some advice. Sometimes Dad will ask them for advice. This, to me, is the most important duty of any parent/caregiver/teacher in a child’s life: to really listen and to encourage a child to discover their true shining inner self and soul. This foundation of acceptance and security will help support them the rest of their lives and shape the person they will become in immeasurable ways. For this, their Daddy is my hero.
This upcoming Sunday, I will celebrate the amazing father my husband has become over these nine years. And I will honor all of the other dads out there doing their best every day to show their kids how much they love them. Even if that means Oreos for breakfast.
Hurtling through space, high above the earth, I felt like the tiniest speck of a pebble floating in a powerful, cold and heartless river. Aimless. Helpless. Lost in the water’s mighty force and silently drowning. I peered out the tiny window to see the twinkling lights of the city below; soothing, somehow comforting. I felt vast and empty, but at the same time full of the universe and the indescribable low hum behind It All softly whispering in my ear: It will be all right. Continue reading “Struggling to Breathe”→