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Last night I tried to outrun Father’s Day.  It didn’t work.

I have always been a “Daddy’s girl.”  My father was not just Daddy – he was my hero, my role model, my North Star.  When he died very unexpectedly (anaphylactic shock) in January my brother’s response was “The King is dead.”  It felt that way.  Our childhood had plenty of drama and tumult with our mom’s health issues (of all types) – but Dad was always there, always steady, solid, reliable.

I still can’t believe he’s gone.

So when the calendar turned to June, the grief I’ve been slogging through got pretty thick and murky.  I have been waiting for this month, especially this day, Father’s Day, to pass.

I don’t watch TV so I haven’t been assaulted with ads there, but the radio has been nonstop with “Buy, buy, buy!” messages about this day. So last night, with time on my hands and a heavy heart I decided to outrun it.  Had I felt better physically I would have outrun Father’s Day on my motorcycle, but after 3 days of being sick enough to lose 3 lbs that didn’t feel like a safe or sensible option.  So I hopped in my car, drove up to Country Club Road – my refuge – and then took off on side roads, just pointing Molly Moonroof (my car) north.  North – you know, as in North Star.  So that was the first Dad sighting as it were.  Hmm.

Then I drove by the Scandinavian cemetary (Dad was half Norwegian). When the heck did they put THAT in there – hadn’t noticed that on my rounds before.  Sign for a barnstorming event (Dad was a World War II pilot).  Well, hello, Daddy.

Open farm fields, corn starting to grow, old tractors.  How did I think driving through rural McHenry county was going to be an escape from the guy who grew up in rural Doon, Iowa on a farm?  Even the scent of cow poop, pungent in the early evening, reminded me of our grandparents farm – and Dad.

Decided to make one stop on my outrunning Father’s Day trip.  There’s a little General Store in Greenwood, Illinois that looks like a store from the early 1900s except it has modern food in it.  In fact, it looks a lot like R&L Foods in Doon, Iowa, now that I think of it. I had discovered this store whilst out for a motorcycle run last year, and just recently stopped there while out riding with my good friend Candace.  Last year I bought an Izze soda pop there, but on Thursday, with Candace I discovered they had my favorite candy bar – Bun maple candy bar.

You see, when I was a kid in Ft. Wayne, Indiana Monsignor Manoski, the pastor of our church and thus connected to my school, St. Joseph’s, was friends with the guy who owned the Bun candy bar company.  Every year when we came back from Easter weekend we would have Bun candy bar on our desk. But one year, when we were out at recess on the playground, a small plane flew over the schoolyard and dropped candy all over the playground!  Bun candy bars falling from the sky!

That sense of a benevolent male, watching over me – that never felt like God to me (whom I picture more as a warm, loving chubby grandma) – but it sure felt – and feels – like my Daddy.

I guess it wasn’t my beloved Daddy – or even Father’s Day – that I was trying to outrun, but rather this deep well of grief accompanying his loss.  And my best friend said it best when i called last night for consolation.  She said “Many of us grieve not having fathers while our fathers are still alive.  Father’s Day was problematical for me – how best to honor and celebrate this man who was my father and yet so NOT a father?  But you.  You really DID have the best father in the world, so his loss is huge.  But you can celebrate how wonderful he was and how lucky you are.”

And that is what I will do.

So on this Father’s Day, for all of you who are missing YOUR dads too, I offer this lyric from Bob Dylan:

“I’ll look for you in old Honolulu
San Francisco, Ashtabula
Yer gonna have to leave me now, I know
But I’ll see you in the sky above
In the tall grass, in the ones I love
Yer gonna make me lonesome when you go.” ~ Bob Dylan

Dad with his 4 kids

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I haven’t posted since January 8, despite a vow to myself to post at least twice per week.

That’s because on January 9, my very beloved Dad very abruptly died.  I remind myself that he was spared the vicissitudes of old age, infirmity and a slow decline.  He was 89, but was planning to play golf the next day.  While at dinner with my dear stepmom and friends he had an allergic reaction and a few hours later he was dead.

He used to say to me “Diane, that’s why I get up every morning – because you never know what is going to happen.”  How true, how true!

Tomorrow is Easter and Christians celebrate Resurrection.   In fact, many religious traditions have holidays related to rebirth and renewal tied in with this vernal time of year.

Whatever ones beliefs it is comforting, when faced with the seeming starkness of death, to ponder rebirth, renewal.  Resurrection.

A few years ago, driving down my favorite road with both spring in  Chicago and a new love in my life suddenly appearing after a period of bleakness, a poem came to me.  Having then had a battened down heart, newly awakening, I now take comfort, that having had a death in the family, perhaps, like Lazarus in the poem, I’ll feel like kissing the face of the stars – ready, once more to leap into life.

My father was my north star, and, at the same time, the firmament on which I stood.  I must say I have felt inexorably lost in these three months since he so abruptly was spirited away by that trickster, Death.

So I don’t feel the same sense of awakening as I did in 2009, seeing the daffodils starting to wildly bloom on Country Club Road.

Looking out my window, I see my tattered prayer flags, gaunt and thin and dragging after the winter snows and ice and winds.  I’ve cleared the deluge of cones from around the Colorado blue spruce in my front yard and raked some leaves from the flower beds.

In this liminal time, winter indeed is visibly waning – old, tired, nearly gone.  The days grow longer now, and some days are even warm.

But despite what the Wheel of the Year tells us – that Spring Equinox has indeed arrived – I don’t think spring has really settled in.  At least not in Chicago.  At least not in my heart.

I’m truly not seeking sympathy.  Perhaps forbearance for my long absence here.  Death, like birth, is a part of life.  And all deaths leave gaps, holes, empty spaces (though I must say, I’d not quite known how much empty there can be).

I think the thing to remember, as the Christians remind us this time of year, is that the life force lives on.  That renewal and resurrection can be ours, not in the literal sense of the Gospel story, but in beginning anew.  In affirming life.  In saying yes.  In putting out NEW prayer flags, bright, colorful, ready to be imbued with prayers, hopes, wishes, summer sunshine and love.

And as for my Daddy ~ well, I’ll quote my generation’s poet laureate, Bob Dylan:

“I’ll see you in the sky above
in the tall grass
in the ones I love
You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go.”

He decided to ditch lunch and take us all to Dairy Queen

He decided to ditch lunch and take us all to Dairy Queen instead – the last time I saw my Dad

 

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Happy Mother’s Day to all the wonderful mothers, grandmothers, aunts, stepmothers, pet moms and all who nurture, guide and protect the young – including single or stay-at-home dads who do traditional ‘mom’ duty.

This was my mother’s favorite holiday. If you took Christmas, her birthday and St. Patrick’s Day (she was VERY into being Irish) and rolled them all together, I’m not sure they would have equalled Mother’s Day for her.  As she was dying, I asked her, “Mama, what was the happiest part of your life?”  She replied: “Oh, that’s so easy – when you kids were little.”

Then I asked, “What was the hardest time of your life?”  For a woman who had been ill nearly all her adult life, had several miscarriages and a stillbirth, had endured not only the death of her parents but of several of her siblings including 2 younger ones, I felt there were lots of contenders for this dubious honor.  However, she replied “The day your youngest sister left home, for then my hands-on mothering ended.”

Like all humans, my mom was not a saint.  Just like you and me she had her human foibles.  I told her, that last weekend I saw her alive that she had been a perfect mother.  She, very typically, replied “Oh, Diane, don’t be ridiculous – that’s not true.”

But whatever their human foibles  – and even with moms who truly were ‘bad’ moms – the archetypal role of “mother” looms large.

Some of us are blessed to have more than one mama.  Perhaps a stepmother, as I have (my Dad remarried when I was about 50, so Gloria wasn’t a hands-on ‘mother’ stepmother, but a beloved stepmother none the less).  Perhaps you were adopted and have both a mom and a ‘birth mom’.  Maybe you were raised in a multi-generational family in which your grandmother, aunt or big sister helped raise you.  Maybe your mom is gay and partnered and so you have two moms.  And maybe your mom works or is gone and your Dad is doing a lot of the mothering tasks as well as traditional dad tasks.

A caveat here:  I am not a mother myself.  So I can’t speak at all about what it’s like to be a mom.  But as a daughter, sister, aunt, and friend – I have watched a lot of moms in action and I think the cliché is actually 100% true – it seems to me that parenting is both the most important and hardest job in the world.  Goodness knows I have enough problems trying to ‘raise’ two kittens into reasonable cats!

I hope that all of you moms, stepmoms, birth moms, dads-acting-as-moms, grandmas – all of you who love, nurture, guide, protect and raise children – have a wonderful day. That you feel loved, appreciated and happy that you have children in your life.

And for every sentient human, may you be grateful today for your own mother, for the archetypal Mother energy (Mary, Quan Yin, Durga, et al), for the nurturing and love you have received – from your mom or anyone who made a big difference in your life as a child.

And for “The World’s Tallest Elf” (my mother’s endearing name for herself), for my beloved Grandma Scholten, and for my Dad, who, due to my mother’s illnesses did a lot of ‘mom-like’ parenting as well:  Thank you.  No gifts, cards, flowers or thank yous will suffice – so instead I’ll do my best to pay it forward, being kind to children now as a thank you for all you did for me.

Happy Mother’s Day, all!

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Today I am blessed to be going to the Bar Mitzvah of my young friend Jacob Myers.  I’ve been to one Bat Mitzvah, an adult Bar Mitzvah and now Jacob’s.  I love this rite of passage, marking a moment in time when boys/girls are called to the Torah, called to be men/women in their community.

It’s also coming up on a year since my beloved Aunt Mickey passed and I made the trek out to Yuma, Arizona for her wake and funeral.

And I just booked airline tickets to go to Atlanta in February for a baby shower for my niece Courtney and her husband Nick, expecting their first child in May.

Weddings.  Retirement parties.  Christenings.  When we get to liminal times in our lives – times when we are about to cross a threshold into a new way of being, a new self  – it’s so important to mark the occasion.   And, I think, it’s important to have our tribe with us.  The ‘me’ that does the crossing takes the step alone.  This is most evident with death – and I love Jackson Browne’s lyric that “no matter how close to yours another’s steps have grown, in the end there is one dance you’ll do alone”.  But having witnesses to encourage us, to walk with us up to that limn/threshold is not only important for the one doing the crossing, but for the community.

I’m really looking forward to Jacob’s Bar Mitzvah this morning and honored to be included.  For while I personally, as a gentile, have not been called to the Torah, I HAVE been called to community and to service to God.  And to Jacob and his family.

What rites of passage do YOU have on tap?  How do you feel about them?  I’d really like to know!

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Tangerines and walnuts and Daddy singing.  That’s my Christmas memory.  Let me explain.  Our family took Advent seriously.  So our tree went up Christmas Eve, not before, which added to our anticipation.  We’d go out about sunset and pick a Christmas tree.  Then, while Mom cooked dinner, Dad would put up the tree and string the lights.  While we did dishes, Mom would bring out the box of ornaments, a stepladder for putting on the tree topper.  But first the stepladder would hold our tree-trimming treats:  a big bowl of tangerines and the old wooden nut bowl filled with nuts and a nutcracker.  We’d trim the tree, all the while nibbling on those tangerines and nuts, which, to this day mean Christmas to me.

When we were really little, that would be it – the tree trimmed, we’d be off to bed, to awaken the next morning finding Santa’s gifts.  I’m the oldest, so one year I passed some invisible marker and got to stay up and help my parents wrap gifts for “the little kids”.

As we got older still we’d all stay up and join my parents at Midnight Mass.  It was so awe-inspiring to me.  Our simple church was transformed into something grand, and for that night I felt, so were we.

The miracle of Jesus’s birth was made real here on earth when, in the car on the ride home, my stoic Norwegian-Dutch father would sing!  He would actually open his mouth and sing all the Christmas carols with us, and not only knew all the words, but knew the tune as well!  Our Irish mother was like a songbird, singing constantly, but we heard our father sing but that one night a year.

Then home to open presents (“oh look!  I got my Yogi Berra catcher’s mitt”, says 10 year old Diane; ‘Hey, cool, my own transistor radio” I said at 14).  Dad would stay til we had the gifts opened then he’d bustle off to the kitchen to make us a big hearty breakfast.  Eating breakfast at 2 AM was thrilling to us kids.

 Now we’re all grown and my siblings have children of their own.  Mom’s gone now and Dad’s about to remarry*.  Will he sing on the way home from Midnight Mass?  I don’t know.  But I do know I’ll be having tangerines and nuts on Christmas Eve.
*written in 1998 – Dad and Gloria have been happily married since then.  He says he’s too old for Midnight Mass now – but I’ll ask about the singing.  Happy Christmas Eve everyone!

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Tonight I got to spend time with two darling little boys who are like faux-grandsons to me, six-year-old Michael and his nearly eight year old brother, Thomas.

I was very excited about the evening as I had Michael’s birthday present – one that I’ve been itching to give him.  He turned six about 2 weeks ago and between his mom’s schedule and mine this was the first time I could get over there to give him —— Moon Shoes!  Ya, I didn’t know what they were either – turns out they’re devices you put your shoes into that essentially turn your feet into springy jumping devices.  Perfect for my 6-year-old Tiggerish friend.

We then did a lot of digging in his mom’s garden (with permission, of course – always important to ask Mommy before such ventures).  I thought maybe we were digging to China, as I did as a child (and I always truly believed we’d get there) but turns out we were digging up a hidden Treasure Chest.  For a wiry little six-year-old, given the Northern Illinois clay soil, I would say Michael did a great job. And gosh! There WAS a Treasure Chest, cleverly disguised as a big lump of dirt.  He told me we had to split it open to find the treasures.  So he got a shovel, whacked it in half and then was exuberant.

“Look! It’s GOLD!”  He then took the dirt and crumbled it into our safekeeping secret hiding place (also known as a garbage can) crowing excitedly – look at all our gold!  We’ve got gold!”

So I sang him a John Prine song:

“You’ve got gold
Gold inside of you
I’ve got some
gold inside me too”

And then he sang along, happily creating gold from dirt.

I’m not a Mom.  Or a real Grandma.  And while I’m a doting Aunt and Grand-Aunt my nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews live far away.  Michael and his 8-year-old brother Thomas are two of my major inlets into the wonderful, magical realm of childhood and time with them is both a gift and  a lesson.

Because every day I have the opportunity to turn dirt into gold. All the time.  I just usually see it as “only dirt” and miss the magic.  And when I see the love in my young friends eyes, despite all my incredible failings, I DO believe that I’ve got gold inside of me.  And you know – you’ve got gold, gold inside you too.  Check it out.  And who knows – you may have a hidden treasure box in your garden too – you just never know….

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I got two new kittens last Sunday night – Liam George and Maggie Mae.  I’m learning a LOT from them already:

  • It’s important to play
  • Being able to pay attention is WAY over-rated
  • Gender is difficult to determine in kittens (Liam was Liam, then Maggie, now Liam again….same deal with Maggie)
  • Having company/playmates is fun, but tiring
  • Sleep a little, play a little, eat a lot, poop a lot – it’s a good life being a kitten
  • Life is SO interesting – just look around!  So much to explore
  • Make friends with everyone you meet
  • When you need a break, find a quiet space and take your own time out
  • If you’re truly adorable people will put up with your less adorable traits (like waking them up at 5 am or falling into the toilet and needing a bath)

Some of the things I”ve learned about ME from getting my new feline companions:

  • I seem to be becoming impulsive – first a spur of the moment motorcycle, now spur of the moment kittens
  • Love can overcome my mania for order and peace and quiet
  • Ditto love changing my seemingly entrenched habits
  • It’s good to be a homebody – at least for awhile
  • I have tended to be the one who goes to where my friends are – now, because I have “babies” at home, I’m asking my friends to come to my land – and they do and it’s delightful

Lots of lessons from such tiny beings.

That’s Liam in the close-up and Maggie chasing her “busy balls.”  Sweet!

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