Sunday, June 18, 2017


He was a father.

He was also a son - a brother - a husband - an electrician - a poet - yes a poet - and a very quiet sort of a fellow - definitely an introvert.

He was well loved - easy going - someone you could call on to do a favor. Anything. Anytime - if he could do it - and he could do an awful lot. And when you asked him for help, he would come and do it with a smile and leave you and himself with a great smile as he pulled his pickup truck out of your driveway.

Their  first child - was a baby girl - 6 pounds 6 ounces - named Judy after his grandma. Having a baby would chang his life - as well as his wife’s life - for life.


The changes started shortly and slowly after his wife, Joan, called him at work, “We’re pregnant.”

A tear came to his eye as he stood there after the call.

He said to himself, “I’m going to be a father.”

He was a poet - not published - but he kept a small 9 ½  x 6 inch spiral notebook in the second drawer in his work bench in the basement.

In that note book,  he would jot down poem possibilities.  

He was doing this - ever since his sophomore year in high school - when his poem won the high school poetry contest. It was a total surprise: a poem about the wonderful taste of cold milk and three homemade chocolate chip cookies - from his grandma - Judymom.

After that - whenever he would get an idea for a poem during a game or at school and then at work after he graduated from high school - it went into that spiral note book.

So he was doing this from time to time since he was 15 years old.

Sometimes he would finish a poem - usually after 16 to 20 rewrites.  At first his poems had to have rhyme and a beat - but in time he moved away from that stricture and that structure.

He would borrow books of poems from the library on a regular basis and go through them. Poetry books were usually rather thin books. So it wasn’t that difficult a task  to finish 3 out of the 5 books - before he brought them back.

He studied forms and formats - especially of a poem that he could actually understand.

To him, too many poems were too, too complicated.

He never talked to anybody about all this. It was simply one of those little human, quiet hobbies or endeavors, we all have. They were like electricity in his wiring.

He loved the poems of Carl Sandburg and Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop and Emily Dickinson.  

He was becoming a poet and a father.

While Judy was growing in her mother’s womb, he tried to write at least 4 poems to try to capture his feelings at the time. None were good enough or finished enough to be transferred to his other book - his final product poem book - which he kept in a plastic bag - on the bottom of that second drawer in his work cabinet in the basement. This was a small black vinyl bound book. It had better paper and better hand writing. On the front - it had the title of his book - printed in ball point pen - on neat - perfectly cut - grey metallic duct tape. He entitled his book  -  Milk and Chocolate Chip Cookies. It was named after his first poem - the one that won the poetry contest in his sophomore year in high school.

Now that he was going to become a father he was wondering what image would he use to describe himself - as father. Since he was a big man - 6 foot 5, his nicknames in school were “Bear” and “Walrus”.

He thought: should I think animal?

No. Nope. Neither made any connections in his mind.

Should I think object?

One time there, he was called “Hunk.”

Or then when he worked in a  gas station one summer he picked up the nickname “Hubcap!” because he knew a place where you could get hubcaps - any hubcap. Back then people would lose hubcaps way more than today. People would call or come to him - whenever they needed a used hubcap.

He kept waiting for the right poetic image - the right metaphor - for fatherhood.

After Judy was born - sitting out in their backyard - on the porch - with the new born baby in his arms, he realized that their piece of backyard had no trees. It was empty. He asked different fellows at work, what kind of tree is the best kind of tree to plant around here.

He decided on an oak tree. He found one - tall - thin - about 12 feet tall - in a nursery. And they came the next day with their big truck and digger - and a long, tall,  teenage tree. It was planted in the center of their big empty backyard.  It would take a lot more time to grow - but he was planning on being around for a long time.  

He thought, “I can watch it grow - along with my family.”

He grew. His family grew. The tree grew. It grew slowly through the years. He made sure it got plenty of water and fertilizer. When you have only one tree, it’s quite a responsibility.

After Judy -  came Max - then Audrey - then Patricia. Three girls and a boy.

He was a father.

As the tree got bigger and stronger he loved sitting under it with one, two, three, four of his kids on the grass next to him. Max - their only son - tried climbing the tree  as he grew - but thank God only he - because it could be dangerous.

When Judy, their oldest daughter,  got married at 22, she and dad and mom had to have a picture with her in her white wedding gown - before they went to the church. They had started tree pictures ever since first communions and then confirmations and then graduations and now, he thought, marriages too. Praise God.

In fact, in time, on every special occasion, the oak tree had to be in on the picture.

When a kid got in trouble - or when he and Joan had a fight, he’d go out back by himself and sit under that growing, that knowing,  tree. He'd sit with the loneliness of failure or fight - and then the beauty of forgiveness. Sometimes when one of the kids did some dumb thing - like being arrested for D.U.I. - if you looked, you could see dad outside from the kitchen window all by himself - under their oak tree.

And sometimes he’d have a note book in hand.

Sometimes he and Joan sat out there by themselves - praying for one of their kids - when that kid really needed prayer. Then again, sometimes they would break into prayer - prayers of thanksgiving -  for all four kids - as well as for each other. Family ….

Finally, all four kids were gone - married - moved out - and it was just he and Joan - the house and the tree. He asked Joan if she wanted to move - to a warmer weather place like Alabama or Georgia or Tennessee or one of the Carolinas. 

She thought about that and said in bed one night, “We can’t. You can’t. You’ll miss your tree too much.”

One June afternoon -  when Joan was baby-sitting for Judy's two kids - their first two grand kids, Kevin and Kyle, he went outside and sat under the tree. He had in hand his note pad and began working on a poem he had dabbled in and worked with many, many times. It’s title was “Fatherhood”


Fatherhood ….  a tree -
that started as a small tree,
but before that -  a tiny seed -
but look at me now -
rooted down deep
in the dirt of the earth -
but reaching high,
into the high of the sky?

Fatherhood …. Look at me -
branching - branching out -
arms outstretched -
reaching for the east,
reaching for the west,
reaching for the best?
Look at me!

Fatherhood …. Look at me -
broken at times -
scared and scarred at times -
whispering in the wind
and in the storm -
silent on summer’s hot days?

Fatherhood…. Lean against me?
Feel me growing and growing
always reaching for the stars?
Yet, but, if you stop to sit beneath me,
you’ll hear my thoughts, my memories
and my sighs.

Fatherhood …. To be more than I am….
A tree - each tree - this tree ....
I'd have to die to become a chair,
a table, the cross, a wall, a baseball bat,
a broom, a church bench,  an altar,
a part of a house - part of everything.

Fatherhood…. Now I see
what Jesus learned
in the carpenter shop
with Joseph - no wonder
he was always thinking of
God, our Father. 
Oh my God,  God Our Father,
You are part of everyone and everything.
Why did I ever become an electrician?
I should have been a carpenter.

Under that poem was a tiny note, “Version 14” and then he added another note, “Getting there.”

Shortly after he died - Joan was down the basement. A door knob in a closet upstairs had come loose - and she was looking for a screw driver. 

She found one - but she also saw these drawers in his work bench - which she had never ever opened up and looked into.

Being inquisitive - or was it fate or faith - she just happened to open the second drawer in his work bench?

She spotted a clothes pin clipped half of a bag of chocolate chip cookies. Surprise. It wasn’t chocolate chip cookies. Inside she saw his note book. There they were:  his spiral note pad and his ¾ finished book of poems, Milk and Chocolate Chip Cookies

She took it upstairs - brought it over to his Lazy Boy favorite chair - but she first got a big glass of cold milk and some chocolate chip cookies - and she sat down and began to read his poems.

And yes it had about 7 wonderful love poems just to her. 

And one was entitled, "Tears and Chocolate Chip Cookies," and yes that poem and many others brought tears to her eyes - and she could hear him reading his poems to her.  

Then - after reading both his books - she got her cell phone and called all 4 kids - one by one. “Guess what I found in the basement? It was a gift from your father.”

And then she read to each of their four kids - one at a time  - a poem he had written about that kid.

And all 4 kids they told their families - what their dad - whom they nicknamed - years ago - "The Oak Tree" - what he had left for them in their basement - poems - many of which were written under that oak tree in their backyard.

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