The Secret Club

Every year, there’s a friend who has had or adopted a child in the past year and is celebrating his first Father’s Day as a father. This year Jonathan and GI joined this club.

“Welcome,” I write to them. It’s like joining a club. The day changes forever once you’re a dad. Your relationship with other people, with your own dad, with you father-in-law… they all change as you watch yourself as a father.

I am unbelievably happy for them. As much as I feel for Kim after nearly twenty-one years of marriage, the love I feel as a dad is chest-expandingly huge.

Not everyone feels that way as a parent.

Maybe there’s a secret club that only some parents join. The members are the ones who take time every day to appreciate their children and really see and hear them.

I look at Maggie and instantly see her at different phases. I see her as the child I first held nearly seventeen years ago and I see her in flashes in moments since.

She’s now graduated from High School.

She’s moving out. She’s moving on.

I try not to cling, but I’m not ready yet to let her go. She’s a grown-up and yet she’s still that child in a high chair shoving frozen peas in her mouth.

Her teeth are straight. Her hair is long. Her vocabulary is immense. Her wit is sharp.

She smiles – not really at me but in front of me and I see her as the put-together 17 year-old child she’s become. But I also see that infant smile still there behind the one everyone else sees.

I catch myself.

It isn’t as if we’re about to lose another child. Maggie will just be a few hundred miles away. I can text her. I can call her. I know she’ll still be alive.

But she won’t be here. In a way, she’ll be gone.

Not gone, gone. Not like Elena.

Maybe that’s the issue.

Maybe Maggie leaving reminds Kim and me that we should have three more years before our kids are done at the high school.

Elena would have been the 100th graduating class. We should have three more years of band, athletics, car pools, award ceremonies, late nights waiting for her to come home, whatever…

Kim and I aren’t ready for our final high school graduation to be behind us.

We’re so happy for Maggie. And yet.

It turns out. I’m part of another club. This year Eric joins us. Last year Kenny.

Fathers who have lost a child during the year join our club.

I don’t welcome them. I’m here to support them if they ask. I leave them alone if they don’t. Every father thinks their own situation – their own grief – is unique. Every father is right.

These new fathers may spend some part of Father’s Day at a grave that is so new that there’s no stone yet to mark the site. It’s so tough when the grave is still freshly covered over. It’s even tougher when enough time has passed that grass grows where the hole stood not so long ago.

They buried Eric’s daughter Rebecca Thursday just hours before Maggie graduated from High School.

I went to both ceremonies.

Rebecca died of a brain tumor on her sixth birthday. The family requested that people where purple to the funeral. That was Rebecca’s favorite color.

Purple.

Every rainbow starts with purple. I only met Rebecca once but it will be nice to look up and see her at the beginning of every rainbow.

Her older sister is younger than Maggie was when Elena died. And yet she sung a song to her sister that was loud and clear in front of those gathered to help her mourn her loss.

Eric, the Rabbi, and a preschool teacher all told stories about their “Little Spark”.

Cute, smart, loving, devilish, felt things deeply.

As much as that sounds familiar, it was surprisingly easy to keep my attention on their loss, not mine; on Rebecca, not Elena.

At the end of the service, those gathered stood up. It was like a large purple cloth being shaken at a picnic.

A woman two rows ahead of me turned to her right and hugged one of her children and kissed her on the top of her head. She then turned to her left and hugged her other daughter and kissed her on the top of her head.

I smiled with recognition as my eyes filled with tears.

Thats what members of the secret club do when we see another member.

Published in: on June 15, 2014 at 8:07 pm  Comments (7)  

Graduation

Maggie graduated from Shaker Heights High School Thursday night.

The women wore white. The men wore red.

Speakers reminded them of their common past and the opportunities that wait for them in the future. A graduation ceremony is always about the solid foundation the graduates have been given. The foundation on which they can build.

They’re told to dream big and work hard.

The superintendent reminded them of something I’ve told Maggie about college years. It’s a do-over. You get a chance to re-invent yourself. You aren’t surrounded by people who remember the way you are so you can git rid of habits and behaviors that keep you from being the person you want to be.

It’s taken me a lot longer to realize we get many do-overs in life. Any time we want to better ourselves we can. They are harder than starting again when you leave high school. But it’s possible.

Maggie’s class was the 97th to graduate from Shaker. Between four and five hundred students begin their do-overs now.

What do I want for Maggie?

I want her to be happy.

She’s smart, beautiful, funny, talented, and accomplished. I don’t doubt she can be whatever she wants to be. She can work towards many different careers and be professionally successful.

I want her to be happy.

Maggie observed kidney stone surgery recently. She is thinking of being a surgeon so she asked Manoj, her boyfriend’s father, if she could watch surgery one day during spring break.

She liked it – but it wasn’t bloody enough for her.

Manoj tried to fly home Wednesday night to be home for his son’s graduation Thursday night. The plane sat on the tarmac for three hours before the flight was cancelled. He managed to get onto a flight to Columbus and then rented a car with two other passengers and drove to Cleveland.

I want Maggie to be that kind of doctor. I want her to excel at her work and still put her family and friends first. What a great display of priority from a father to put that much effort into getting home for his son’s high school graduation.

That’s a mentor. A man who is great at his job and respected at work and who loves being with his kids. You just feel it.

During her senior project Maggie spent three weeks along with another student shadowing Charles, a kidney transplant surgeon.

She loved it. She’s more sure than ever that she wants to be a surgeon. Maybe she will be. Maybe she won’t.

In addition to surgical skills, Charles also modeled how to put patients at ease. He coaxed information out of patients that they didn’t know they knew themselves.

A couple of weeks ago, Charles texted Maggie some pictures of an organ from a surgery her performed after he had sent her and the other student home. He was still working.

He then sent a picture of Maggie and Elena that was taken when they were in elementary school.

Charles’ daughters had gone to school with my daughters. His eldest daughter had been a friend and classmate of Maggie’s throughout.

Their elementary school had hosted a 100th anniversary and posted pictures of kids from various years. Charles saw one of my girls and took a picture of it.

He sent it to Maggie as if to remind her that he’d known her since she was a little girl.

He’d always come to school events. We’d seen him at science nights and band concerts. And now he was mentoring her as she observed surgery.

I want Maggie to be that connected to the people around her.

Whatever she chooses to do, I know that she’ll be very good at it.

Mostly, I want her to be happy.

Published in: on June 15, 2014 at 7:24 pm  Comments (1)