On our second day in Argentina, I had a discussion on a bus with a lovely young Porteno who wanted to know all about our trip. When I explained to her that Tom had taken a year off from work to devote solely to the family and our travels, she was amazed. “That’s not easy for a man to do,” she said. “Most wouldn’t be willing to make that kind of sacrifice.” She may be right, but fortunately for me, my life is filled with men who would walk to the ends of the earth and back (one of them now actually has!) to serve their wives and children. Role models for boys are few and far between these days, now that pro athletes are felons and rock stars and actors vacillate between rehab and divorce court, but my boys have their own all-star lineup who teach them that being a man is much more than building muscle mass, conquering the workplace, and collecting toys, whether they be sports cars, electronics, or season tickets.
Many of my earliest memories center around the men in my life–playing in the park with my Grandpa Henry who died just days after my second birthday; picking tomatoes and riding the lawn tractor with my Grandpa John who will turn 90 later this year; riding the shoulders of my father who taught me all about sports and took me to every type of sporting event possible–Navy basketball and Oriole baseball games when we lived in Maryland; Saints football, Jazz basketball, NCAA Final Four games, and team motocross when we moved to New Orleans. As I grew older and my interests evolved away from sports and towards dance, history, and travel, my dad found ways to support me in my new pursuits. While working a temporary job as a hospital administrator in Saudi Arabia, he sent me a telegram congratulating me on my first big ballet recital and had my mom give me roses on his behalf. When I begged to go on school field trips to Mexico and Germany, he and my mom found ways to finance them, even though the timing was difficult. When I “needed” to travel 200 miles to Natick, Massachusetts to pick up a dress for a summer gala at Saratoga Springs, he chauffeured me back and forth without question so I wouldn’t be too tired to attend later that night. Always a history buff himself, he filled me with a fascination for the past and made sure I visited every Civil War battlefield between Maryland and Louisiana. He was my constant companion at countless Mardi Gras parades and introduced me to the wonders of rollercoasters as we visited amusement parks up and down the Eastern Seaboard and throughout the Gulf Coast states.
My dad recently told me how happy he was with my family. Frankly I think he’s still in shock that I ever married much less had four kids. While certainly I share some of the credit, my dad and I both know it is Tom who is the magic in our family equation. Shocking both me and my loved ones, my Prince Charming swept me off my feet when I was a 21-year-old college senior and hasn’t put me down since. He is my best friend, my fearless defender, and my personal life coach. On this trip he has both literally and symbolically carried this family. I view his backpack, a red behemoth that normally weighs about 30 kilos (66 pounds) fully loaded, as a metaphor for his role. That bag represents the weight of the world that he carries, the burden he bears on our behalf. Artificial hip and all, he has toted that thing across six continents so we can be comfortable.
Tom is not only the guy who carries all our clothes but our provider and protector as well. He shops for food, fights with cab drivers, and battles endless technological glitches on our behalf. He teaches the little kids math, the big kids life lessons, and me the importance of perspective. He leaves little doubt that although the world is big and waiting to be explored, we are his universe and all he really needs (although an iPod full of audiobooks and 10,000 songs doesn’t hurt).
Tom is no fluke of nature, but the product of his parents, about whom I’ve already waxed poetic in a previous post (they thought it sounded like a eulogy). Nowhere will you find a man more devoted to his wife, children, and grandchildren than Grandpa Lou. Though we have a lot of fun at his expense–just ask him what he said when the chicken bit him at Thanksgiving Point or how much fun he has ordering at the Wendy’s drive-thru for us–he is an anchor to his family (not to mention a jungle gym for his grandkids) and the object of our endless adoration.
Down in Florida, my stepdad, whom we lovingly refer to as Mr. Bill, dotes over my mother like she is a queen. Retired and limited by medical conditions, he cooks (you should try his meatball sauce—to die for), cleans, and volunteers in her kindergarten classroom, all to ease her load and brighten her days. One of his favorite weekly activities is helping her students with their Accelerated Reader tests which require him to read a book and then verbally quiz them on what he’s read. If he doesn’t show up for his regular visit, the kids start to beg for him.
In a century when priorities are easily confused, dedication seems outdated, and good men are hard to find, my life is brimming with them. The kids and I want them all to know that we are grateful for them and better because of them. Thanks for being our heroes. Happy Father’s Day!