Paternal Auditing





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 few:

Medical File:

--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 a failure.
--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 high fever.
--the wailing that accompanies inoculations and visits to the doctor and dentist.
--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 Delano Roosevelt.
--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 the world.
--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.

Heartbeat Quickeners:

--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 phase passes.
--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 creatures.
--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.
Disciplinary Failures:
--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."

Uncomfortable Moments:

--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 surgery.
--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 begin.
--the homework syndrome; history and science, especially new math, which had your number.
Joyful Days:
--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 complete.
--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 out-jumping you.
--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.
Extraordinary Satisfactions:
--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 family.
--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 it's grandfatherhood!

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 gatherings..."

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 offers.

"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.