As the father of a flock of eight children, now adults, there are
times when I go through a mental checkup to stack up the pluses (too
few), versus the minuses of my prowess as a dad.
Images of rich family experiences and my fatherhood role are inevitably
added as the days go flashing by ever faster. These are renewed at
reunions where slides and videos are displayed. Or it may be just
digging down into a mother lode of photos, loose and in albums.
I haven't seen much in the way of these images in family archives
lately--it can whip up nostalgia-- but I do have personal recollections
galore and they remain fresh as the last hour. I'll elaborate on a
--The numbness and wonder in gazing at our first-born son, after hours
of labor for my wife, Nancy, and thinking, "That's the last time
I'll put her through that!" Seven more babies followed.
--Walking with reluctance from a hospital emergency room in which
a son is being sutured to close a deep arm cut (en route, tourniquet-bound,
he had asked shakily, "Dad, Am I going to die?"), while
he shouts for me to stay; but doctors won't let me, and I feel like
--watching three kids in their weird, white gowns prepare for tonsilectomies,
and several days of liquid diets.
--dousing a child reluctantly in icy bathtub water to bring down a
--the wailing that accompanies inoculations and visits to the doctor
--gratitude that my kids could have the Salk vaccine to ward off a
feared polio that had afflicted a sister and sister-in-law, and Franklin
--holding the hand of a small girl in intense pain with colitis; and
recollecting it again when she prepared to bring her own baby into
--anxieties pervading as the time approaches for each of my own children
to come into the world, and a new round of concern with grandchildren.
--a son with a grotesquely infected and swollen arm from a fall from
a rickshaw into the bacterially-laded soil of Bangladesh; antibiotics
do the trick and before long he is breaking his arm in a fall from
a rope swing.
--advice on ridding small mouths of loose baby teeth, and the many
dimes deposited under pillows in "tooth fairy" trade.
--the shock of discovering a teen-aged son's pot pipe, hidden with
some banned ingredients in an airconditioning duct in his room, inspiring
seizure of the contraband and a stern lecture. Either that worked
or he found a more secret hideway for his cache, but thankfully the
--perched in the passenger side and attempting to mask fear as a young
one makes the first foray into traffic with the family car, and the
insurance premium soars.
--curbing negative emotions and seeking understanding and tact when
a teenaged son totals a treasured Chevy Caprice Classic by flipping
it upside down, crushing the too and fleeing in panic. Anxiety is
succeeded by complete relief and prayers of thanksgiving upon realization
that he and three other teenagers have miraculously escaped serious
injury. The car becomes incidental; you just buy another and soon
the errant novice is driving that.
--the gut-wrenching near-paranoia as an airliner hits an airpocket
over Italian mountains, dropping hundreds of feet, as confusion reigns,
passengers scream and luggage tumbles from overhead bins. Attempting
to remain impassive and courageous, you assure your kids that it won't
happen again. But it does, and you wonder whether your credibility
has run out.
--walking with the family at Jim Corbett Park, in India, where live
tigers stalk the jungles and elephant grass. An animal growls; your
skin prickles; you pick up two rocks and form a rear guard to herd
your charges to safety, sparking a funny story. The big question,
laughingly renewed during the years, is: What would you have done
with those two puny rocks if it really was a maneater?
Church Attendance: Follies and Fun:
--the near-panic of meeting services deadlines (especially with five
females) and having too much pride in such shining faces and beautiful
--a Catholic mass is suddenly disrupted by tittering as a mischievous
son plants a large paper sign, requesting prayers, on the back of
his oblivious mother as she marches forward for communion.
--stuffing a pew at a crowded mass with ten bodies and trying to keep
everyone quiet during the solemn moments.
--wielding a black belt with a light hand on the appropriate section
of a son for getting out of line--a-one-and-only application that
resulted ever afterwards in the kids' facetious warning, "you'd
better watchit, or you're gonna get the black belt."
--pressed by a son to visit Corbett Park, but electing to work instead,
and remembering his admonition, "You're going to regret that
later." And I have, especially at a time when he underwent death-threatening
--interminable periods outlining the facts of life with adolescent
boys seemingly fascinated with every word, spurring illusions of newly-discovered
teaching skills about biology and anatomy. This is ultimately dashed
by realization that it was probably mostly stale news. I was SO glad
my wife could brief the girls, for I wouldn't have known where to
--the homework syndrome; history and science, especially new math,
which had your number.
--Thanksgiving dinners, where fun and laughter abound, along with
the thankfulness that wells up as you gaze at a sumptuous spread and
the happy, anticipating faces around the table that make the feast
--the many birthdays, and especially Christmas, with lights and candles
and gifts, important moments often captured on film for family archives.
--camping, swimming and picnic trips, after which the irritating memories
of mosquitoes, ants and sunburn strangely fade, but the images of
togetherness and people in love with each other continue to glow.
--fishing expeditions; extricating worms from damp soil dug out the
night before; unsnarling lines and reels; baiting hooks and trying
to keep them from fingers and eyes in a cobweb of wild casting.
--skating and sledding; snowball wars and making forts and snowmen
during winter blizzards.
--playing games: marbles, cards, tennis, golf, football, kite flying,
catch, tiddly winks, tag, hide and go-seek.
--Little League baseball, the thrill of a line drive off a batting
tee, a scratch single with a man on third, or simply throwing out
a runner at first from ten feet away .
--basketball games with your sons until they start outscoring and
--performing mild lawn acrobatics such as cartwheels on sultry summer
evenings when energy renews after a long work day--and then the lineup
for the bath ritual.
--drilling youngsters in the fine arts and intricacies of bike riding,
with dad puffing alongside after training wheels are discarded.
Extra Special Times:
--skipping from bed to bed at evening prayer time, with the supreme
satisfaction--and sometimes relief--of the goodnight kiss, peace in
the household and a quiet chat with your wife before cheery, dancing
flames in a fireplace.
--proudly attending graduation ceremonies at various stages of the
life of the intelligentsia: eighth grade, high school, university;
wondering about the next stage for the cap-and-gowner, careers and
the regional alert for a mate.
--the surprising strength of the family bond (and disastrous telephone
bills) as the network widens from local to coast-to-coast and even
international, with the support of e-mail.
--through God's grace, children becoming born-again; faithfully converting
intelligence, leadership abilities and loving, generous hearts into
support of church, community and needy individuals in and out of the
--daughters and daughters-in-law, molding into marriages and largely
raising their children in an atmosphere blessed with the eternal yardstick
of the Bible and Christian, rather than hedonistic world, values.
--sons and the husbands of my daughters, displaying fatherhood gifts
that I feel I can not duplicate, but from whose example I learn constantly.
--the wonder of the new generation of tiny blondes and brunettes that
has come along and have aroused a feeling of deja vu--only this time
And while on that subject, I refer not only to the expanding dimensions
of joy and adventure that we enjoy through the mingling of our grandchildren
in our lives, but to the expressions of affection, security and fascination
in the world around us, which we are capable of communicating to them.
I tried to exemplify this in some verse I was inspired to dispatch
to a winsome newly-born brunette, and as to why I chose that particular
season to put it down on paper, I haven't a clue. Writing of the beauty
of life, which her fresh eyes would observe down the road, I outlined
the power of a sometimes angry nature and some verbal snapshots of
what can follow:
Apprehension flees with the storm,
Replaced with a surging heart;
Freshness, joy, well-being, birth,
As the rainbow bows across the seascape,
Its spectrum a Joseph's cloak against
The departing low; head down, racing seaward.
Marvelous stars will perform: the sun
Painting high over rouged hilltops;
Throbbing colors on dawn's cloud puffs;
The cluster of the Milky Way,
An infinitesmal patch in the sparkling glory
Of a pulsating winter sky.
The soft sheen of moonlight
Rimming the trees on a graceful night,
Paving a narrow silver dreamway,
Directed at you across the sea.
A rose to make you a lover of flora,
Its crimson fragrance will hold you fast;
Wilder sprays will dance purple and yellow
In their bud-cradles in a mountain hollow.
A gentle breeze will whisper you to sleep,
Slipping through families of fir and pine;
Rippling across ripening prairies of wheat.
The voice of a singer or beauty of words
Will raise a prickle on your skin,
And you'll harken for them again and again.
Quiet conversations with a close friend;
A book well-written to the end;
A boy's kiss and a lover's charms,
A child limp and trusting in your arms.
A superlative experience for me, in regard to living up to my expectations
as a dad, are the unexpected love letters that arrive, and not just
on Father's Day. I refer to rhymed lines such as these from Bonnie:
"It seems we never tell those we love how much they are appreciated;
we feel somehow that if they knew, we might feel depreciated. But
now that 24 years have passed since I became your daughter, I think
it appears to be the time when perhaps I ought-er. You've been an
inspiration to me, though I'm sure you couldn't have known, through
your words and actions, the many seeds you've sown."
For one Father's day, Tina wrote, "There never was a better dad
in the whole world." Sure, it's undoubtedly exaggerated and quite
untrue, but very welcome and warming just the same, because it eases
the sense of my shortcomings.
I take a great deal of satisfaction in the way my children have turned
out, and their faithfullness, loyalty and love for us and their siblings,
which is so palpable. An example is Tim's birthday greeting: "Wish
I could spend it in India with you, Dad. I'm glad you raised all my
brothers and sisters. I'm proud of every one of them. I can't wait
to see you. Happy cake day."
One Christmas time, Michael sent us a great letter at a time when
we were far away and missing everyone tons . Gifted with words as
he is, and with his loving and sentimental nature, he noted that his
thoughts were with us "at this time of year when the festivities
begin and we realize how much life and our loved ones mean to us...especially
when we remember back to the time of the huge turkeys and joyous family
He continued: "Greedy brats we were then, waiting to demolish
the packages that concealed our playthings from sight. But you vainly
tried to make us realize that Christmas is also the Christ Child's
birthday. Those were happy days at Rensch Road (Amherst) and Nutley
Street (Vienna, Virginia) and finally looking back on our last Christmas
together...I remember (that) morning with all the shining faces reflecting
the light from the Christmas tree bulbs, each waiting impatiently
for his turn to open the carefully chosen present. And I, home from
college for our first Christmas reunion in two years, expected next
to nothing because there were so many others, but got so many expensive
things that I felt I had to protest. But then Mother said, 'I only
wish it could have been more.'
Surprising how much one can remember at a time like this, and how
much one can forget."
Another Christmas time, Mike sent all on-line family members an e-mail
greeting from Fort Worth, Texas, where he was celebrating the holiday
with daughter Katherine, and her husband., David.
"Basically," he wrote, "I really wanted to reflect
on God's providence on our family. We've had our share of medical
emergencies, scares and attacks against the peace that God promises.
And yet we have been so remarkably blessed and protected that I find
myself waiting for the other shoe to drop.
When that time comes for all of us, and it will, I pray that we
will look back on our lifetime of love we share, and that we will
be confident that He cares for us no matter the outcome.
"The power of God is amazing, and it is personal as is the choice
to follow or wallow. There is a cost in putting off thinking of our
inevitable fate and drowning our fear in pursuit of what the world
"What better time is there to assess what we have and what we
hope to have than Christmas. I wish for us all peace, joy and shared
love for another year, but I also wish for a renewed desire for us
to share a deepened commitment to the things of God instead of the
things we want to accomplish on our own. I think we tend to believe
there will always be time to get the God thing happening, but time
does run out. I'm banking on us all being on the other side...Pray
for me as I pray for you. I love you and Merry Christmas."
What could I add to that but a resounding "Amen!"
Another wordmeister, and creative lyricist and guitarist, is David
(Mike, son-in -law Don--a talented artist to boot--and Tim, are also
gifted guitarists, with Jeff more into drums and jazz). One Christmas
got emotional--or as Jeff aptly describes poignancy, it makes "my
heart hurt"--as Dave sang "Golden Years."
I recall the golden years,
We was all one;
Back there in Buffalo,
When the times was on the run.
Started in a little early,
One or two wasn't enough;
Eight growin' souls later
They took a moment to catch their breath.
Pulled up the roots on heritage
For something on the road,
And on the strength of their marriage
Pushed through the hard times with their load.
Old man workin' three jobs
To hold his family's ground;
Taking the heartaches from his woman,
Holding fast to keep the bottle down;
Slippin' into dinner,
Spewin' out the puns;
Raised our eyes upwards,
Seekin' solace above from Someone.
Ma, she fought for the haircuts,
Worked hard for the new bluejeans;
"Get the lawn cut without cussing;
"Don't make a scene."
Yeah, but underneath was the lovin'
That she passed freely around;
Especially after dinner
When her heart held her spellbound.
They're both kickin' back now,
Not really rockin' slow;
Seekin' a different meaning,
Watching us grow and go.
When they laughed you could feel it;
When they cried sometimes,
It made you want to touch them
But they concealed it.
'Cause all their lives they were lookin'
For the right way to make it.
Think it's their right, Lord,
Give 'em some time, Lord.
And I'm goin' back to find
What it was I left behind;
What's been missin'
In this life of mine.
It's a love so big it'll swallow you;
A caring so huge it'll follow you;
Carryin' you away, drawin' you to stay;
Drag you back, right where you belong.
Through the changes that mold us,
And through them that take their toll,
They bless us with something to believe in,
Squeezing the love right out of their souls.
David and MichaeI have not only love but music in their souls. They
have excellent voices and I take great pleasure in frequently hearing
them perform this heritage song on tape. It has meant so much to us
and other family members. Nancy and I feel so privileged to have so
many loving, gifted kids.