Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Few Good Men

My husband is the best husband in the world.

And I will remind myself of that the very next time I discover his nose hair clippings in the bathroom sink.

It’s no accident my sisters and I married good men. This last Monday, as I watched my brother-in-law Brian and my poised sister greet the streaming family members and friends attending Brian's brother's funeral, I thought what a smart girl my sister Deb was to marry such a lovely man. We were all smart to marry lovely men. But then, we were raised by a good man.

Dad was 6 ft. 7 in. tall with shoulders as broad as a table top. When Mom died, he tried very hard to fill her shoes and become both father and mother to ten kids. But it was rough going at our house for a while.

Without ever raising her voice, Mom somehow delegated jobs all around and kept our home humming with an easy, careless grace.

Then she was gone.

Without her gentle guidance, we floundered.

Dad, who gradually let little home repair jobs slide, nevertheless seethed in irritation when he thought we weren’t holding up our end.

"Brick by brick!" became his familiar mantra for the way his ten children were demolishing his home.

One Sunday morning after Mass, with all my siblings crammed into the old brown station wagon, Dad suddenly took a long route home and pulled into the driveway of a strange house, to the surprise of my brothers and sisters. The roof was missing shingles. On the porch sagged a decrepit old sofa on which the owners of the house lounged in the warmth of the sun and gazed in lazy interest at the strange family parked in their driveway.

"This is where we’ll be living," Dad said solemnly, "after you kids decide you're finished wrecking our house."

My brothers and sisters, horrified, slid low into their seats. "Take a good look!" Dad ordered, oblivious to the curious faces of the residents on the porch.

The irony of these lectures presented by Dad in such dramatic fashion was that he could barely remember to change a lightbulb himself.

Every night, he herded us all into the tv room. Lonely for our beautiful mother, Dad’s chief consolation was reclining in front of the television set surrounded by his ten kids. But it was a risky business for all of us to be huddled in that room together. The broken latch of the tv room door, which Dad never did get around to repairing, posed a big problem. If the door was knocked shut, we were locked in. And inevitably, someone always forgot and shut the door.

"Dammit!" Dad swore. "Why can’t you kids leave that door alone?"

The only way out was to remove the screen from the tv room window, lower one of the little kids outside, and have him run inside the front of the house to unlock the tv room door which, fortunately, could be opened from the other side.

One time, somebody knocked the tv room door shut, but all the outside doors were locked.  We were not only locked IN the tv room but OUT of our house.  We sat around and sang "I Had a Dream, Dear" in four part harmony until my brother Rick came home from work with his keys and freed us. 

Through the years, the old house was coming apart at the seams. But Mom must have been watching out for all of us when she sent Kris. Several years after Mom’s death, Dad met our wonderful stepmother, and she managed to restore order to his life once again. But in the intervening years, Dad muddled by as a single parent.

If home repair wasn’t his strength, his devotion to us certainly was. Profoundly aware that my younger brothers and sisters were feeling bereft without Mom, Dad ratcheted up his nurturing skills. With great gentleness, he ushered my little sisters through puberty and sat down with each one of them to have "the talk." One day, when Terri was laid low with cramps, Dad rushed out to purchase the necessary sanitary items and several brands of pain relievers besides.

As well, when we got older and endured breast biopsies, Dad suffered right along with us. Distressed about my first bad mammogram report, I realized I couldn’t tell Dad about it.

"Cathy," he called me after my biopsy, "why didn’t you tell me?"

I wept. "I’m sorry, Dad. I was upset, and I didn’t want you to be upset, too."

He was silent for a long time. "Babe," he finally said, "I’ve got broad shoulders."

Dad always made us feel safe.

I miss him.

My husband John reminds me of Dad. Although different in many respects, John is just as devoted to his family as Dad was to his.

This last Friday, John accompanied me to Omaha for my doctor’s appointment and even followed me right into the examination room to hear what Dr. Montag would say about my slow healing incision.

"I think we’re going to be okay," she smiled reassuringly. New tissue was at last growing beneath the wound, she said, and more surgery wouldn’t be necessary. After a few final instructions, she and Erin, the P.A., departed, and I smiled in relief.

"Let’s go shopping and buy you some new clothes," John said. "We’re celebrating today!"

I hugged him close. "Thanks for being so good to me, Johnny."

He hugged me back. "Don’t you know I’d do any thing for you?" he murmured low in my ear.

He would, too.
Just like my dad.
And I’ll remember that the very next time he eats the last piece of cheesecake.