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Count Matthew

February 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Lately, Matthew has been almost obsessed with numbers.  It started soon after Christmas when he kept asking addition problems, like, “Daddy, what is 1 + 5?”  Of course, however, it was Matthews and so it was more like, “Uhm, Daddddy, what is one-uh plus five-uh?”  (We aren’t sure why, for a while, he was adding “-uh” after a number in an almost sing song way to extend the word.)

This soon escalated to him just simply counting, starting with one and going as high as he could.  Often times, early on, about every nine numbers he would stop and say, “Daddy, what comes after 59 (fiffy-nine)?” or he would skip over numbers (one day, he missed every single “7” number between 106 and 198).  In the last few days, he has asked for very little prompts in the counting and has missed very few numbers.  In the process, his overall vocabulary has also gotten better.

That said, when he does start counting, I can’t wait for him to get to the thirties, which he pronounces, “furty-one, furty-two, furty-fee, etc..”  I kind of can’t wait until he makes it to “fee-hundred and furty-fee.” (His high is fee-hundred.)

And he counts all the time…He’ll spend the entire car ride to school counting or I’ll hear him just walking around the house counting.  In the last day or two, he started counting things like steps.

One night last week, he had a rare midnight accident in his bed and with Andrea out of town, I let him sleep in my bed instead of trying to change sheets in the middle of the night.  As we were both trying to fall back asleep, he started counting and we both drifted off rather quickly…It was nice to fall asleep to his sleepy little voice counting numbers.  Very sweet.

Ben’s Super Shop

February 23, 2012 1 comment

The day before the Super Bowl, Andrea gave the boys some large pieces of paper and encouraged them to draw signs to cheer on the Giants.  They did and I believe Ben took my excitement to heart as I hung the pictures around the family room (I really loved them…I saved them after the game was over).  Later that night, we brought the kids to see the movie “Big Miracle”, the one about the whales trapped under the ice.  In it, a boy was selling pieces of cardboard to people to stand on so their feet wouldn’t freeze while on the ice.  On Super Bowl Sunday, shortly after I got the house clean, I think Ben realized that we were going to have a few people over for the game.  Suddenly, he got an idea and quickly went to work drawing and cutting in the living room.

By the time guest had arrived, Ben had set up a Giants Super Bowl shop where he was selling Giants signs, various crafts including snowflakes and paper men, and anything else he could get his hands on.  He put his shop in a prime location where anyone who was going from the family room to the kitchen would have to pass him.  His prices ranged from 10 cents to 10 bucks, but he was willing to barter for candy and other snacks.  He also started asking people to become a member of his store, where if you signed a piece of paper you got some free stuff and a discount on other stuff. He kept this up from about 4:00 PM right on up to 10 PM. Shortly after the Giants won, he began producing Super Bowl Champion merchandise, complete with the Lombardi Trophy.

Walmart and Amazon.com has nothing on this kid.  A slide show of the master salesman’s work, along with their pictures they drew for the Super Bowl.

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A Priest and A Baseball Player

February 17, 2012 1 comment

On Thursday night I learned of the passing of two men that in both different and similar ways had influenced me when I was a teenager.  One did it from afar and never knew of the impact he was having on a 13 year old, but probably understood the potential for that scenario and upheld that responsibility.  The other guided me up close and personally and probably knew of his impact, but would never let on that he knew.

As a rookie fan of the Mets in 1986, I latched on to Gary Carter almost immediately. While the fan in me started emerging in late September of that year, it was the NLCS that would forge that diehard fan I would become. There were other Mets that were having a better series than Gary (barely) and other legends were being born. However, it was Gary that I latched on to. There just seemed to be something about the way he played the game.

That ground ball through Bill Buckner’s legs in Game Six is one of those moments in my life that if someone traveled back in time and caused it to not happen, my life would likely go careening off in some other direction, very different from where I am now. I have always felt that Gary was the under-appreciated hero of that moment. He refused to give up. When nearly everyone else had given up, Gary refused to go quietly and a rally was begun. He literally set that moment up and if that didn’t happen, than I probably don’t bother with baseball. The heartbreak likely would have ended it for me.

Beyond the lesson in faith and learning that as long as you don’t give up, anything can happen, was that I was inspired to do something I had never done outside of a school assignment before and that was to write. I was moved by the way he played that game and the way that team rallied, that I started sitting down and expressing those thought and feelings in writing. I am sure that at some point something else would have come along at some point that would finally trigger this in me, but the fact of the matter is that it was Gary that first inspired me.  Without writing, well, nearly every other aspect of my life is different right now.

And it was more than that one game.  I’d watch Gary for the next four years and he continued to inspire me, even as his career deteriorated and he struggled to hit home runs, he left such a strong impression on me.  He refused to let it get him down and he fought on.  He continued to smile, he continued to hustle and he continued to love the game and this just made me love the game even more, which continues to be woven throughout my life.  From a brief career in baseball to the numerous summer trips with my wife and sons to the minor league games with which we have begun to mark the lives of our kids, baseball continues to be a big part of my life.  A year ago, I began writing a baseball novel and every time I sit to write it, a process that brings me great joy, I continue to think about Gary.  The Kids continues to influence my life.

Fr. Dan Hurley married my parents, baptized their kids and became a fixture in our lives. He was a cherished family friend that shared both the happiest moments of our lives as well as counselled us through some of the darker times. He was an un-waivering rock for my parents and, at times, a lighthouse for their children. He was human and I am sure he had his own problems and own crosses to carry in this life, but we never knew of them. He was too selfless to show those to us.

His visits to our house might as well have been holidays. When I was younger, my sister and I would wait on the street for a glimpse of his car, unable to wait any longer for his arrival. The afternoons with him were spent in laughter as he shared a wide array of corny jokes and funny stories from his life as a Roman Catholic priest. He didn’t hesitate to splash in the pool with us or let us try out new jokes on him. He patiently listened to all of us as we scrambled and battled each other for his attention. He made time for each of us. When the time inevitably came where my parents would dismiss us so that they could talk privately with him, we sulked away and impatiently waited for when we would get called back. I can still picture the cool summer nights spent in the gazebo laughing and talking with him. They are cherished childhood memories.

When the inevitable storm clouds that any family faces gathered, he was there, like Superman. There was a sense that Fr. Hurley would make everything better. I believe that at some point in each of our lives he provided us spiritual support, practical advice or just a sturdy ear to listen. And even when the serious Fr. Hurley was needed, he was always able to bring back the laughter.

Sometime during my senior year in high school, I very strongly felt I was being called by God to be a priest. While I found great comfort in the thought, it brought on some deep conflicting issues for me. My parents suggested that I talk with Fr. Hurley and on his next visit, we went off to the local State Park, found a picnic table and talked. While I don’t remember now most of what we discussed, he told me to take my time with the decision and that, if I did follow through, he would be there to guide me through it. But what he said after that would ultimately have the bigger impact on me. He told me that if I discovered that I wasn’t being called, it was okay…God wasn’t going to turn his back on me.

I went to college a little later that year and by the end of that school year, I realized that I was not being called. This threw my life into chaos as I struggled to find where I belonged in this world and dealing with the guilt that I may have turned my back on God. I struggled with this for months until I was finally able to recall that day in the State Park when Fr. Hurley told me that it was going to be okay if I changed my mind and it brought me the much needed peace that my soul needed. Granted, for years, I still felt I had let Fr. Hurley down by not becoming a priest, but I know now that he understood that I was called for something else. Perhaps, he always knew that my calling would be to fatherhood.

I don’t remember the last time I saw Fr. Hurley and I regret that he never really got to know my kids or see me in my true calling as a father. I believe this is what hurts most for me now, that I hadn’t made more time to write him or visit with him. I guess I assumed that he would always be there, that he would always be around. How I miss him now and how I wish I could hear his wonderful laugh right now.

As I was getting ready to drive out to Long Island for the wake, Benjamin said, “Whoa, your putting on your work clothes?” (my suit…which I actually have never worn to work). When I confirmed that for him, he asked why. I explained that when someone dies you do it out of respect, so I was doing it out of respect for Fr. Hurley…it’s something nice to do. To this he replied, “But he gets to be in heaven.”

And Benjamin is exactly right…while we mourn here on earth, Fr. Hurley and Gary get to be in heaven, the way it should be. They lived full lives…good lives. The type of lives that all of us left behind should live not just for the reward of heaven, but to make the lives around us easier here on earth.  There was no doubt they were a bi part of my childhood and teen years, and while it might be easy to say parts of that died with them, that wouldn’t be fair.  Their passing, while painful and sad has reminded me of how many happy times I had as a child and teen because of them and I find great comfort in that.

I was mostly at a loss of words trying to explain to Benjamin and Matthew why they were seeing their daddy cry for the first time Thursday night and at times on Friday (but they were always ready to give me hugs), but I look forward to a time when I can share stories and videos of Gary with my sons and I can’t wait to tell them all about Fr. Hurley and pass along the corny jokes with them.  And I hope that they will have people in their lives that inspire them they way the Kid and Fr. Hurley did for me.

Big Blue Memories

February 1, 2012 1 comment

The Giants first Super Bowl victory came when I was thirteen and still riding high from the New York Mets World Championship the previous fall. I remember the details so clearly. I remember sitting in the living room of my sisters house during the first half and being nervous about how the game was going. I remember playful trash talking with my sister and brother, who were rooting for the Broncos, but I don’t remember it during the second half. I remember my brothers Pegasus toy from the movie “Clash of the Titans” being stripped of its wings so that it would look more like a Bronco…and then being abused. Eventually, it would find it’s way to my other brothers room, covered in shaving cream. I remember turning on WPLJ a few minutes after the game ended, just in time to hear “We Are the Champions” being played. My brother and I stayed up late that night throwing around a small football in the room we shared. The next morning brought snow and a school delay that we spent listening to the DJ’s talk excitedly and playing a home grown song, “The Giants are Number One…We went to Pasadena and had some fun” (or something like that), played over and over. Such sharp memories.

I was a senior in High School when war broke out in the Gulf. I remember the NFC Championship game far more than I remember the Super Bowl, and even then, the memories aren’t as sharp. Playing football in the shadow of war seemed to take the sharpness of my memory for a game away a bit. The Super Bowl was spent at my friends house with his two brothers (the three of them were among the biggest Giants fans I have ever known in my life) and my best friend, a Jets fan. I nervously paced the back of their den as the Bills made their final drive. I don’t remember actually seeing Norwood’s kick miss, I just remember getting into an ’86 Mets pile with my friends as we celebrated the Giants victory.

I lost a bet with my old coworker and roommate in Baltimore with the Giants third Super Bowl that I have yet to fullfil my obligations. The thing I remember most was watching all three of my favorite teams finish as the runners up in their respective leagues in a nine month period (Mets, Giants and Devils) that year and feeling pretty bitter.

The 1986 Mets changed my life. The Giants first two Super Bowl victories inspired me. The Devils first Stanley Cup picked me up at a point in my life when I really needed it. But the 2007 Giants…words cannot describe. I get tears in my eyes and chills up my spine just thinking about that team. My insides turn like a boy falling in love for the first time. I was a relatively new father, I had a two year old and nine month old son. The Mets failure in the 2006 NLCS and historic collapse of 2007 still seemed to burn away at my soul. I had started a new job just three weeks before. It’s not to say it was a dark point in my life, far from it…just a murky one in need of a distraction.

When the last second ticked off the clock on that Sunday night, Benjamin sat half in my lap, half between my feet, delirious with exhaustion. Like a wild man, I picked him up and pulled him so tight against me that I thought he might pop. I told him that the Giants had won the Super Bowl, and he had no idea. I then hugged my dad and my brother and I don’t think the smile left my face for a week. I still smile when I think of that game (after I make sure nobody can see the tears in my eyes).

Lets face it, there are a million things more important than your football team winning a championship, and sometimes I feel guilty for spending so much of my time thinking about it. And maybe that’s why they feel so important, because, in the scheme of things, they aren’t…they provide needed distractions from work and money and the economy and war and all the other things that can turn days long and murky. And not just championships…any game, win or lose, provides a respite from the things that really do matter and can make those burdens feel lighter (although they can feel heavier when you do lose).

Half my family roots for the Jets and a few of my lifelong friends are Jets fans (I’ve actually been to far more Jets games than Giants games), and every year, I hope that if the Giants aren’t going to win the Super Bowl, that the Jets do. It’s not hope born of pity, but of knowing what it will mean for them. There are few things in this world like having your team win the Super Bowl, and I hope they can one day know that feeling and have those memories forever burned into your mind.

And now for the daddy part of the story that justifies this post being on this site.

Back in August, I wrote a blog post about the struggles of living deep in Eagles territory, two miles from their training camp. I talked about my fear that I wouldn’t be able to combat that influence with my sons and that one day, they might root for that team, which was seemingly putting together the “Dream Team”, destined for the position that the Giants now find themselves in. In it, I wrote how “nothing creates a fan faster than winning”. Yes, I doubted my beloved Giants (but never gave up on them), however, because of this magical run, I may not have to worry about my offspring becoming Eagles fans.  It is the Giants, not the Eagles, proving my premise correct.

All season I tried to get Benjamin and Matthew to watch football with me, but they refused. However, for the Falcons game, I bribed them with some pigs-in-the-blanket and snacks in front of the TV. They started asking questions and laughed at their old man every time he cheered. By halftime, though, they had disappeared to watch Tom and Jerry in another room, and I thought I lost them. However, each time I cheered, they came running and asked me the score. Ben started giving me high-fives and Matthew kept asking who had more points.

The Packers game brought more of the same, more high fives and brought on more questions, including when the next game was. There are a number of different ways that I can drive Matthew to daycare, including one that brings us past the train tracks and a house that usually has a seven-foot inflatable Giant’s player on the front porch. On the Monday morning after the Packers game, I asked Matt if he wanted to see if any trains around and he said, “No, I want to see the Giants guy!” My heart melted…the kid LOVES trains.

During the rest of that week before the Niners game, they both kept asking me when the next game was in the same way that they ask when Christmas. They also asked me to play football with them, with the small Giants football I have.

Last week, as I was tossing that small football back and forth with them, I was suddenly struck by the memory of tossing a Giants ball back and forth with my brother in the middle of the night in the room we shared after Super Bowl 21, because we couldn’t sleep. I was moved by it.

I don’t know what Sunday will bring, but as I have said since the Giants beat the Cowboys, anything else is just icing on the cake. With each win, the icing just gets sweeter. I feel truly blessed for witnessing the magic of 2007/2008 and it feels selfish to wish for anything more this season (but I can live with it). It has been so nice to share this with my children, that win or lose, I think the memories the Giants have given me this postseason will last just as long as the Giants previous three championships.

That said, GO BIG BLUE!