Rock Steady Dad

Rock Steady Dad

It was like I had been kicked in the gut by a World Cup player. My abdomen was screaming and I couldn’t turn in any direction.

I felt cold (why are hospitals always cold?), and must have mentioned it to someone in the room, because the 49-year old man at the end of the bed was gently putting socks on my feet and tucking blankets around my legs while telling me a story in his soft bass voice – that one voice that always soothed me more than any other.

I don’t know what he was talking about, exactly. My eyes were growing heavy. But I was faintly aware of a smile on my face.

“Jim – I don’t think she’s following you,” said my mom.

“That’s ok,” said Dad, looking away from me for just long enough to give Mom a grin and a nod. He continued in a lilting sing-song way. “It’s not the words that I say that matter. I’ll go on talking like this for as long as I need to.”

It was January 1995 and I was lying in New York University Hospital after an emergency appendectomy. I was 22 years old, 8 months out of college, and living in New York City when I was gripped with acute stomach pain that mystified doctors for three days because I failed to have the normal appendicitis symptoms. (That’s a whole ‘nother story. Since NYU is a learning hospital, let’s just say we all still wonder if they’re keeping my appendix in a jar somewhere, filed under ‘bizarre cases.’)

My folks had been divorced for more than a decade. Mom had driven 100 mph from Philadelphia the day before and Dad came up by train from Washington, D.C. that morning when I was in surgery. I will always be grateful that after their divorce they could come together gracefully whenever necessary for the sake of my sister and me.

I can count on my dad to be a voice of calm when I’m upset, fearful, or hurting. He is like a shelter in the storm – a steady presence who knows that a willingness to listen and sympathize is most often the first thing people need to make it through a tough time.

Dad and me. New Orleans, 1991.
Dad and me. New Orleans, 1991.

He’s ready to serve – ready to help – and in the most self-effacing kind of way. He’ll happily do whatever is needed for whomever asks. I’ve seen him spend hours patiently fixing broken appliances, detangling necklaces, and running small errands because he knows it will make life easier for the family he loves. He doesn’t need the flashy job that would garner applause from others; he’ll do the one that’s most necessary, no matter how unglamorous it is. And he’ll do it with a grateful, loving heart.

And that’s really the point of this post.

Today is my dad’s 70th birthday. I knew it was his birthday when I woke up this morning. I mailed his gift to Texas earlier this week, and I plan to talk with him today. But he isn’t a guy who demands attention in any sort of way. He’d never in a million years ask you to throw him a party. And we’ll hopefully be getting together in the next couple months.

So – to be totally honest, I forgot this birthday was a milestone.

70 years. Seventy decades of being the rock that so many people who love him rely on, and KNOW they can rely on because he is the most dependable, good-hearted guy around. The kind of guy who deserves a standing ovation, and is probably the least likely to get one.

Dad – today I just want to thank you. For being the father I could always count on. For being there. For doing what was necessary, whenever necessary, for me. For being someone who loves without limits. May your reward in heaven be spectacular, because God knows we all fall short of loving you enough here on earth.

Holy Moments – Day 29 – Impossible!?!

Sunday night my husband and I were visiting with old friends. Our conversation covered a wide range of topics, as it always does with this particular group. The topic of college football came up for a very short time, and I had a fleeting thought…

‘A part of me wishes I’d gone to a bigger school – one big enough to have teams with televised games – so that as an alum, I could be a fan.’

It’s a thought I’ve had before. Not something I dwell on. I truly loved my college and my educational experience. Those were some of the very best, most formative years of my life. But still…

I almost said this thought aloud, but at the last second, I felt held back.

“No,” said the whisper, so quickly I barely perceived it.

‘But there aren’t many of us around,’ said my internal voice.

Again, quick as a flash, “It’s your story.”

I’ve heard this whispered refrain before – a reminder that there is nothing wrong with where I’ve come from, and that my choices and the lessons I have learned from them make me who I am today.

But still, don’t we all have these silly, niggling, petty wishes that mean nothing in the grand scheme of our lives? Or even on the small scale? I’m not even a sports fan, for crying out loud! I know almost nothing about football or basketball; I’m drawn to the camaraderie. I’d just like to wear a sweatshirt for a place people have heard of – a name I don’t have to explain.

All of this brings me to today, and the play date I’d arranged for my youngest son and one of his kindergarten classmates, a boy I’ll call Jack. We’d seen Jack and his parents at Mass for years. Years. And the boys had sized one another up from the time they were toddlers. It was nice to see they had become friends in school.

I got to talking with Jack’s parents when I dropped my son off at their house. Our prior exchanges had been very pleasant. They seemed like a peaceful family.

We had already established that the two ‘dads’ had both grown up in Philadelphia. Jack’s dad’s cousin had been in my husband’s high school class. Pretty nifty. We quickly discovered the two dads knew some other people in common because of work in DC. Also cool. And we knew Jack’s parents had met in college. So, today, at a natural point in playing “getting to know you,” I asked,

“Where did you guys go to school?”

“Dickinson College??”

“I went there!!”

He had answered like a question, of course, assuming I wouldn’t know the place. And I had responded in a tone like, ‘What?!?? Impossible!?!! That’s MY school,’ as if no one else in the universe had gone there. Because truly, that’s how it feels sometimes when your college has only 2,000 students.


We all stared at one another in bewildered amazement. We got right to the details. We’d graduated two years apart, and I was in France when they were freshmen. Our time on campus only overlapped one year. And – they were athletes. I was not. In a tiny school, we had missed one another. But still. Incredible.

And now our young sons are friends. They brought us together. Ha! More smiles.

Most people look at this situation and think, “Oh, what a nice coincidence.” But I don’t believe in coincidences any more. I used to, until I started to view my life with less cynicism, and more wonder. I opened myself up to the possibility that I was not the One in control. The possibility that there is more – more than I can see – going on behind the scenes of my every day. And when I leave myself open, when I view life through the eyes of faith, dazzling days are just handpicked, or rather – Hand-made, and handed right to me.

imageDickinson College. Indeed, it is part of my story. A thread, a small school, in the fabric of my life. And He who creates, sees, hears, and notices EVERYTHING, even the petty thoughts of my mind, decided to make my day by showing me that He can weave together even the tiniest of threads, the ones long gone from my daily activities, to make something new.


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