Warts and All

[Note: My younger daughter, Brianna, who is often identified as my LYE (Lovely Young Editor), was married on 5 August 2017. For those not aware, this means I now have two sons in-law named Michael.Below is the speech I delivered to Brianna and her husband Michael.]

First of all, I would like to thank EVERYONE who came today to celebrate this wonderful event; as well as those who are with us in spirit today. As you celebrate the event with us today, WE celebrate YOU!

It would be VERY cliché for me to say that it has taken me nearly 26 years to get to this point today. The truth is, this is not my first wedding rodeo. In 2004, I had the privilege of attending a wedding where my daughter, Shayna, was a bridesmaid. My heart was in my throat. It was not because the bride was so beautiful; Although, she certainly was (and still is). [By pure happenstance, I was facing said bride when I said that.] But more because, when I saw Shayna walking down the aisle with a bouquet of flowers, I realized I was getting a preview of my future. Talk about a smack in the face moment. BAM!

Fast forward 8 years later. There I was; walking Shayna down the aisle. I KNEW that this event would repeat with Brianna. I just didn’t know WHEN (or with WHOM).

It has been said that, for a woman to meet her prince, she must kiss a lot of frogs. To that end, over the years, Brianna introduced me to a frog or two (in various stages of amphibian  development).As a typical Dad, most were regarded as mere tadpoles encroaching upon my pond. So, when young Mr. Graney leapt into my pond and shook my hand, I am sure he said something to the extent of: “It’s nice to meet you”. I’ll be honest, all I heard was: “RIBBIT!”

I gave him the usual round of Dad interview questions: Do you have a job? Do you have any kids? Do you have an arrest record? With each question, he would look at Brianna as if to ask: “Is he joking?” Brianna would stare back at Michael as if to say: “NO! He isn’t!”

While I DID pay attention to the way Michael behaved in my presence, what has stuck with me since I have met him was an incident I am not sure he knows I witnessed. He was visiting with Brianna at the house. My grandson,Taelor-James, was being a typical 2-year-old (at the time). By the time, Taelor-James went to bed it was clear by Brianna’s facial expressions that Taelor-James had challenged Brianna’s patience. My baby girl was WORN OUT by her baby boy. You could see it in her eyes and in her disheveled hair (that she was ready to tear out). As Brianna plopped onto the couch, Michael stared at her and said: “YOU look WONDERFUL!” With a simple, sincere compliment you could see Brianna’s stress simply melt away from her spirit. It became another hit you in the face moment. BAM! Those two young’uns are  IN LOVE. My daughter is in love… WITH A FROG.  And, the frog croaks his love in return. How deeply you ask? KNEE DEEP (Sorry, I couldn’t resist).

It was clear as day that Brianna had found her prince. Not long after, the engagement ring came. Once again, I was hit in the face. BAM! My daughter is engaged to a man named MICHAEL. Déjà vu! As amusing as that coincidence, I know, beyond doubt that just like the Michael that came before him, he would move Heaven and Earth for my daughter. Even MORE important his bond with my grandson is nothing short of awesome.

Michael, forget that you have been blessed with a tremendous gift that comes in a bundle: Brianna and Taelor-James. That gift comes not from me but, from God Himself. I know that you won’t squander that gift (lest you get thrown back into the pond.

Brianna, when you were just about a year old, you were in the hospital at a time when you were just learning to walk. One day in the hospital, you walked right into my arms and hugged me tightly. Today, I walked you toward the arms of your prince. Since that day in the hospital, I knew that I was eventually going to have to let you go. It’s not as easy as I have made it look.

I’m not sure you two understand the magnitude of what has transpired today. Someday though, mark my words, it will hit you in the face. BAM!

Michael, welcome to the family pond. You are now part of a bigger circle – WARTS AND ALL!

Congratulations and blessings to the two of you.

 

Karaoke Night: The Microphone Is Yours

I am sitting here this weekend and my mind is taking a great roam down memory lane. Sometimes, it is a pleasant stroll. Other times, it is a painful run that does me good in the long term but, in the moment, is nothing short of unpleasant. I think I will at least try to start in the former category.

In the fall of 1985, I was serving as a hospital corpsman in the US Navy in South Carolina. I lived in an apartment off base with two other corpsmen. I was not quite 20 years old and, occasionally, my roommates and I  had two primarily goals: have some laughs and have some fun. Sometimes, in the pursuit of such laughs and fun, I could be a bit of an immature troll but I never truly meant any offense or harm.

One night, we had a party and invited a few friends from the hospital. One of my roommates was soon accompanied by his girlfriend. I had seen her a few times before. She had big, permed hair (it WAS the 80’s) and a noticeable “Yankee” accent. She was a few years older, divorced, and had three kids (Jennifer, Melinda, and Stephen) who were occasionally seen running around the complex (especially when the ice cream man showed up).

Everything was going nicely this evening. Not a lot of people showed up for the party. The moment came when I started to introduce my roommate’s girlfriend to my date. I then realized that I didn’t actually know her name. You see, among her other features, she had a somewhat prominent nose. It wasn’t freakish, just prominent. So how did I address her prior to this awkward introduction?  I normally called her “Pinocchio”. Like I said, I was a bit of an immature troll. She enjoyed me squirming in the awkwardness and then introduced herself to my date: “I’m JoAnn.”

I would also come to find out quickly enough that JoAnn had something else very significant in her life – Type I diabetes. This meant that, several times a day, she was poking her finger with a small needle (to check her blood sugar levels), then using a syringe with another small needle to inject insulin into her body (to keep the “balance scale” of sugar and insulin as even as possible). Many times her sugar levels would become very unstable which would result in a several day stay in the hospital.

Life, as they say, goes on. Within the next year, I was out of the Navy. JoAnn and I had kept in touch and eventually become a couple. Well, let’s be honest, I stole my roommate’s girlfriend (another immaturely trollish decision). I had relocated to Atlanta after my discharge but would occasionally drive to South Carolina and visit with JoAnn and her three kids (with whom I had also bonded). It was quite an adjustment sometimes being barely 20 years old, barely into adulthood, and being in a relationship with an older woman with three kids. I would still make jokes about her nose and comments about “generation gap”.  JoAnn, on the other hand, loved the occasional discomfort I would feel about clearly being the youngest adult in the room.

By early 1987, JoAnn accepted a civil service job in the Atlanta area. 5 months later, we were married. I was still adjusting somewhat to post military life. Things would get rocky over the next year. We relocated to Western New York (where JoAnn grew up) partly as a means of giving our life together a fresh start. I was a Southern fish out of water. Over the next two years, we would have two more children in our lives and a house of our own.

Unfortunately, as it happens to many, we would divorce a few years later. I have since re-married and our kids have grown.  Things would get tense over the years but in the end, we learned to adapt. JoAnn would occasionally babysit my two younger kids (Brianna and Caleb) while my wife, Renee, and I were at work. We would share in the joy of seeing several of the seven children (in total) grow up, graduate, get married, and have children. I served as pallbearer for both of Joann’s parents at the times of their passing.. When my mother passed away, JoAnn was one of the first people to call me and extend her condolences. Whenever Joann and I had occasion to share each other’s company, she would be very quick to tell me (and everyone present) how much she enjoyed my writing and tell me I should have my own column.

Of course, nature of the beast that is diabetes, the hospital stays would get more frequent and more severe with every passing year. Joann had many close calls. Most recently, I was notified by my older son that JoAnn had a severe heart attack. My wife and I visited Joann several times at the hospital over the following weeks. Early on a Thursday morning, my older daughter called me. Her voice began to crack as she said: “I don’t have great news, Dad.” Joann’s heart grew tired and she passed away. I stood there in the hospital as the kids I had watched grow into adulthood said goodbye to their mother. I know that feeling all too well and would not wish upon anyone. The last thing I said to her before I left was: No more hospitals! No more injections!

One of the things that all of us who gathered at the hospital remember and cherished about JoAnn was that she loved to sing. One of the kids even joked that there was surely a karaoke machine in Heaven just for her. I would ask this of anyone who reads this and can relate to someone they know who struggles with diabetes. Please consider a donation to the American Diabetes Association (https://donations.diabetes.org/) to fund research efforts to find a cure. If you do make that donation, please also consider singing your favorite song out loud. After all, karaoke is for all to enjoy.

Joann, Thanks for the memories, your support of my education (and my writing), and your willingness to co-parent with Renee and me. Most of all, thanks for putting up with an immature troll with a warped mind. The microphone is yours. You pick the song.

From Henrietta Town Hall to the Commencement Stage: Part Two (What’s Stopping You?)

 

Hello, Folks! Well, I once again have another college semester behind me. I promised myself that I would do more blog writing once the semester was over. Admittedly, I got caught up in some other stuff over the last few weeks. Nevertheless, here I am again. I have truly missed sharing my life with you all.

I am sure that many of you who have read my pieces previously, you noticed the words “commencement stage” in the title. Yup, it’s another graduation piece. I know some of you are taking some pause at this. Yes, I have written commencement pieces for two kids who have graduated high school, a daughter who has graduated college, and a wife who graduated with a Bachelor’s in 2013. After all of those graduations, I know you are wondering who it is that’s graduating this time. Well, folks…I AM! To add icing to this proverbial cake, MY WIFE IS GRADUATING TOO (IN THE SAME CEREMONY)!!!! That’s right!. My college studies have been completed. My wife and I are having our commencement on 12 June 2016. We are both graduating from Empire State College. I have completed my Bachelor’s degree in Organizational Communications. My wife has earned her Master’s degree in Social  and Public Policy.

I should clarify that my wife and I didn’t exactly plan to attend college at the same time. I began pursing my bachelor’s in 2010. In 2012, as my wife was nearing the end of her Bachelor studies, we moved to our current home. I was dealing with the logistics of the move, part time college, and full time work. Juggling it all was a bit much to say the least. After some personal reflection, I decided, with my wife’s support to drop the classes I was taking and take the rest of the semester to settle in from the move.

Fast forward nearly 18 months later. My wife had graduated with her Bachelor’s degree. Things were settling in our new place which included our adult son and daughter plus a grandson who was born in 2012. I figured this was an opportune time to discuss with my wife my return to finishing my Bachelor’s degree. After all, I had stopped in 2012. 2014 was around the corner. Then, my wife dropped a bomb.

Try to picture this. I am sitting in our living room. I am talking with my wife and was literally within seconds of uttering my next words to discuss the subject. Before, I even got a breath out, my wife said: “I’ve been thinking. I should go back to school and get my Master’s degree.” I was floored. I sat there, like a deer in the headlights, not knowing how to respond. When my wife asked what was wrong, I explained that I wanted to talk to her about returning to school myself. Without hesitation, she asked: “What’s stopping you?”

I expressed concerns about us both studying at the same time and the toll that could take on our quality time together. She reminded me that we were already doing that when I halted my studies in the first place. What can I say? My wife had once again shown herself to be someone with amazing insight.

We did encounter a few bumps in the road during the course of our academic journey (as life is known to provide). We were blessed to see, not just one, but two of our kids get married. We have welcomed a grandson into the world. We have watched our daughter battle the onset of rheumatoid arthritis.  We have endured the heartbreak of several funerals. In November 2015, I had a mild stroke. Less than a month later, my wife had spinal fusion surgery which brings a slow but worthwhile recovery.

A couple of these bumps hit so hard that it delayed my wife’s graduation. Like I said, it never occurred to us that we would be in the same commencement ceremony. It just happened that way. We dealt with life’s proverbial lemons and made the lemonade as potable as possible. I can say, with no undue modesty, that I don’t think my wife and I are particularly any more special than another other married couple. Some couples just go to the movies together. We went to college.

In closing, I want to first address my lovely queen, Renee. Baby, you and I got married 22 years ago. We have reared kids to adulthood. We are blessed with a grandson. This commencement you and I are sharing together is one of the most amazing bonding experiences I can ever hope to share with you. I am so proud of what you have accomplished. Even more, I am blessed to have you by my side as I pursue my accomplishments.

Lastly, I want to ask my readers. Do you have a venture you are considering? Are you looking to pursue a higher education for yourself? Are you looking to make a career change? What are the obstacles that you see? In other words, as my wife so insightfully asked: “What’s stopping you?” Bumps in the road WILL come. Detours will happens. The thing to remember is…it’s a detour…NOT a stop sign.

 

 

A tradition of 6, 12, and 27.

[Note: My son was married this weekend to a wonderful young woman. Below is the speech I delivered at their rehearsal dinner as I handed down a family heirloom]

I have spent a lot of time thinking about this moment, I find that I have become one of those parents who uses those same clichés that all parents say as they watch their kids grow up and get married: “Where did the time go?” or “Why, I remember the day he was born as if it were yesterday.”  Well, the reality is that it didn’t just happen yesterday. I have a full head of gray hair and some store bought teeth to attest to that. A somewhat long period of time and a series of events have lead me to the moment where I stand here and address my son as he is about to marry the love of his life. As I think about some of these events, 3 numbers keep coming to the front of my mind: 6, 12, and 27. 6, 12, and 27…seems like a bit of an odd grouping. Bear with me for a moment while I explain.

When Tom was 5 years old, I let him hold one of my guitars. It was a Steinberger copy that had a small square body. I figured it would be easier for him to hold than my larger bulkier acoustic. Tom strummed that guitar to the point that he wore a blister on his thumb (which his mother wasn’t very happy about). Still, you could see the fascination in his eyes. The same fascination I had with guitars when I was his age. This is where the first number appears in the bonded world of my son and me: 6 strings made Tom’s eyes light up.

Over the next few years, Tom would learn a few chords and tolerate his father’s noodling a bunch of random notes, licks, and chord progressions. Then he was about 14, I gave him an acoustic guitar that I had owned since my father gave it to me when I was about the same age. This is when the second number really began to show up: 12. Tom was finding joy in learning different ways to manipulate 12 notes. Even today, if you watch him closely you can see the same fascination. 6 strings and 12 notes. Tom and I don’t always see those 6 strings and 12 notes in the same way which is fine because I didn’t always see those 6 strings and 12 notes the way my father does either. Nevertheless, Tom, my Dad and I remain strongly bonded by them or to quote Hank Williams, Jr.: “I am very proud of my Daddy’s name although his kind of music and mine aren’t exactly the same.”

Fast forward a few years later to 1993. Renee and I got married. This is where the third number comes in: 27. I was 27 years old when I was presented with a wedding gift from my father. My father had a late 1930’s Gibson L-00 acoustic that he purchased from Gruhn Guitars (a legendary dealership down in Tennessee). The same numbers that bond Tom and me also bond my father and me: 6 strings and 12 notes. I then realized another bond between Tom and me as he is about to marry: 27 years. My son is 27 years old. This meant we not only have a marriage to honor but a family tradition (thanks again Bocephus). So, I found a vintage guitar to give to my son. Thankfully, I still had an old guitar case that tom loaned to me to hold this vintage guitar. So to honor a tradition my father started, I present something old and the return of something borrowed. It is my pleasure and my honor to present Tom with this gift that represents 6 strings, 12 notes, and 27 years that will continue to bond Tom and me together.

Tom, I hope this brings you as much joy as my father’s guitar brought to me. I love you so much and I am blessed to be sharing this moment with you and Christy. Congratulations!

[On the left is Yours Truly. On the right is my newly wedded son with the vintage Gibson he now owns]

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Praise Her from the Rooftop (But Watch Your Mouth)

Often in my writing, I tend to throw a quotation from a historical figure, or an old friend, or my Dad. I have been recently been reminded of two that I have had to utilize in a way that I did not anticipate in nearly 16 years of marriage:

  • “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” – Abraham Lincoln.
  • “A fool uttereth all his mind: but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards.” – Proverbs 29:11

For the past two years, my wife has been involved in an exercise regimen at a local fitness center (actually a “wellness center” but I won’t go down that bunny trail again). Like many, she has fallen off the proverbial horse only to get back on and kick it harder. She has made tremendous strides and I am very proud of her. The problem is that with every milestone she hits, the muscles of my restraint are tested to the breaking point.

It all started innocently enough today. My wife comes home from the gym…umm…fitness…that is…wellness center. She then goes into her post-exercise ritual. She pulls at the elastic waistband on her gym clothes (or is it wellness center apparel?). She stretches the waistband about a foot from her body. At this point, she reminds me that when she first bought those pants, they fit like a tourniquet and made her eyes pop out like she was Marty Feldman. Next, she steps on the scale. She screams with the enthusiastic glee of a schoolgirl watching her favorite teenybopper star on TV. Now, I am no proverbial fool. I will not disclose the reading. Let’s just say she has lost more than 50 lbs. and it shows.

So far through these rituals, I believe I have acted with kindness and support. That was until she whipped out two more items: a “Body Composition Profile” and a tape measure. She begins measuring various parts of her body and recording the results. She begins to measure her waist and asked me to read the measurements. I began laughing because she was using the metric side. I pointed this out to her because I didn’t really want to state that her waist size was 124. Unfortunately, the laughter wore on my restraint. She asked me to read the measurement of upper arm. I looked at the measurement and said “Lessee now, if you carry the 6….” She then asked me to surf the net for a body mass index (BMI) scale. I asked her if she needed standard, metric, or Kelvin. Mind you the question made no sense and it got dirty stares from my wife and daughter. Nonetheless, it made me laugh. I gave her the reading from the BMI scale. She then recorded this result in her Body Composition Profile. Her girlish joy returns as she read the profile’s results: “I’VE GONE FROM BEING OVER FAT TO FAT”. Now, I am trying to be supportive but I cannot control my laughter. I try to picture the average husband looking his wife in the eye and saying the following: “Baby, you look great. This week you’re fat. At the rate you’re going, you’ll just be fatter than average in two weeks”. Such an utterance can only lead to the husband winding up in the doghouse. The dog will glance at him and ask “So, what are YOU in for? I chewed up her running shoes.”

In the end , I managed to get through this ordeal without my wife thinking I was a cretin. It is with this in mind I address husbands worldwide. Gentlemen, if you wife takes (or has taken) such a venture, be supportive and encouraging. The trick is in being careful about HOW you support and encourage. I’ll leave you with a final quote from Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part One: “The better part of valour is discretion; in the which better part I have saved my life”.