Happy Birthday Dara


Men truly grasp their masculinity once a daughter enters their lives. My journey towards complete maturity initiated precisely thirty-six years ago today with the arrival of our daughter, Dara Maria. Until that moment, our son had occupied the core of our existence. His birth, a wondrous occurrence, had reshaped our lives, altering my perception of divine love and the responsibilities of parenthood.

During that era, the absence of gender reveal festivities and advanced technologies left us without any clues about the heartwarming gift that graced our lives on the afternoon of August 10, 1987. We had pondered names for both a boy and a girl. ‘Dylan’ was reserved for a boy, while ‘Dara Maria’ awaited a girl’s arrival. As fate would have it, Dylan never joined us, but Dara Maria did. She arrived petite compared to her brother, exuding a serene demeanor. Unlike her brother, she peacefully slumbered through the nights, initially nestled in a bassinet beside our bed, then in a crib adjacent to our room, and eventually in her pink-adorned space.

Sibling rivalries and disputes over toys emerged. As did debates over her allegiance to a National Football League team, Our son ardently supported the Buffalo Bills and insisted that Dara align herself with the Kansas City Chiefs. She forged friendships within our neighborhood and later at school. A participant in street hockey games with the local boys, she willingly accepted the “permanent all-time goalie role.” Excelling in both academics and athletics, she graduated third in her class. The school superintendent crafted an award exclusively for her, recognizing her exceptional achievements.

Her departure for college arrived too swiftly, and the void her absence left in our daily lives was keenly felt.  A father’s affection extends equally to both sons and daughters, yet the bond between him and his daughter is unique. Frequent journeys to her college ensued, introducing us to new acquaintances and guiding us through fresh locales and dining establishments along the picturesque Erie Canal.

The college years were a tapestry of intellectual achievements, culminating in Dara’s graduation with Summa Cum Laude honors, boasting an impressive 3.97 GPA. Her educational path led her to graduate school at St. Bonaventure University, where she continued her exceptional streak with a perfect 4.0 GPA.

Amidst this period, she made her way to Buffalo, cultivating fresh relationships and forging new connections. The notion of her life in the “Queen City” initially evoked apprehension within her parents, yet Dara’s own experiences gradually dismantled our preconceived beliefs regarding urban life and safety. Additionally, she embarked on a teaching vocation, transitioning from her initial role in First Grade to becoming a reading educator for middle school students.

In due course, her path intertwined with Shaun’s, and their bond flourished, eventually culminating in a splendid wedding ceremony at Christ the King Chapel, nestled within the serene grounds of Canisius University.

After two years, Dara and Shaun gave us the gift of Edison, gracing us with his arrival on his mother’s 30th birthday. This addition seamlessly wove another thread of delight into our family’s narrative.

In unison and during times of separation, we navigated the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. A revelation came our way approximately a year ago—news of impending fraternal twins. We embraced the wait with hope and patience, curious about the new dimensions these tiny newcomers would introduce to our familial tapestry. The eagerly anticipated moment arrived in March of this year when Emmet and Mae entered, bringing their precious presence and further enriching our lives.

Happy Birthday! Your presence and boundless enthusiasm for life and love have brought about a profound transformation in our lives. With love, Dad.

Gratitude for the journey

I’m thankful for the last ten years of my life, which have been a journey of discovery. From the dark days of depression and uncertainty, I have come to a place of purpose, joy, and connection. Through writing I have found a passion, and I am proud to have had my work shared with others. I have also found ways to give back to my community, serving in places like Meals on Wheels and the local food pantry. I am also the President of the Chautauqua Cattaraugus Library Trustees, and a prostate cancer survivor. Most of all, I am blessed to be married to my wife for forty years and to have two children and five grandchildren, with two more on the way. Today I am grateful for all the blessings in my life.

Summer thoughts

Most of the folks who are virulently anti LGBTQ are unsure of their own sexuality. I’ve found gay people to be twice gifted with unique contributions to make. Indigenous people in the Americas referred to gay folks as the people of two spirits.

Taking away a woman’s right to choose is also profoundly wrong. Imposing your narrow religious beliefs on the rest of us is fucked up.

The real existential threat facing our world is climate change. If you aren’t concerned about that you ought to be. I’ll be long gone when the worst happens but our children and especially our grandchildren’s lives will be cut short by a mass extinction happening within the next 100 years.

There is a middle way

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a wonderful book about a subject that I know very little about. Now, having read the book I know a bit more. It’s every parents wish that their child have a happy life and being gender non-conforming must be terribly rough on the parents and children. Too much of our life and society in general in this country is about either/or when life itself is really about both/and. I recommend this book to everyone young and old with a passion for learning more about people. I especially recommend it for anyone involved remotely in education. This story covered a range of emotions for me. It was a mix of both laughter and tears. There is a middle way and acceptance is the key.

Remembering Theo

Yesterday marked the two year anniversary of the birth of our third grandchild. Theo Joseph was the light in an otherwise dark year that marked by the sudden death of his grandfather Joseph Driessler due to cancer. But then Theo died in his mother’s womb and the family was devastated. Seeing those you love ravaged with grief is not easy. I can remember joining the family members in the birthing room and looking at little Theo lying still in his crib wrapped in a blanket. His cherubic face will be with me as long as I live.

Remarkably Mandi and Devin have chosen to remember Theo Joseph in a number of unique ways. They joined other parents as members of the Star Legacy Foundation. They kept his footprints and and created a beautiful ornament of remembrance that hangs on their tree at Christmas. Loss of loved ones is never easy but rather than run from it they have embraced their loss and in the process have helped others to do the same.

In November 1963 my sister Mary Patricia was born. She lived only a couple of days. My Mom and Dad said she looked like me. We have no pictures nor other mementos of Mary’s time with us. A headstone marks her burial in the cemetery in a plot next to my father. A few weeks ago Devin asked me when Mary was born and I didn’t know. I called my sister who told me that Mary was born on November 15, 1963. Thanks to the example of Devin and Mandi I’ll be remembering Mary Patricia in a new way and especially on her birthday.

Yesterday Devin and Mandi had a family sledding and tubing event that marked the birth of Theo Joseph. Thanks for their wonderful example. Theo was truly a gift from God as his name implies and his memory will always be with us.

Happy Birthday Dad

Today is my Dad’s birthday. He’d be 94 today. Born December 3,1926 at his childhood home. He was the last of five children my grandmother had. She lost two of those children to still birth. Dad was nine year’s younger than his brother Wendell and six year’s younger than his sister Virginia. He was by all accounts spoiled as many “babies” of families are.

I’ve got pictures of him as a child living with my grandparents. Most of my recollections of Dad’s childhood as he saw it came from stories he shared with me as a young man growing up. We share the same first and last name and many of the same looks especially in adulthood. His stories nearly always painted a comic and tragic childhood that was marred at times by my grandparents squabbles.

Dad graduated high school in 1944 and enlisted in the US Navy. He went to recruit training at Great Lakes IL and later radio school in Chicago at a junior college that the government had taken over during World War II. Eventually he shipped out to naval base San Diego where he contracted rheumatic fever. That illness saved him from deployment to the Pacific fleet and perhaps harm from the war. He convalesced at a naval hospital in Corona CA and was eventually honorably discharged hone in 1946.

Like many returning GI’s he got a chance to enroll in college. He was admitted to the University of Buffalo Dental School eventually graduating in 1952. It was while he was a student there that he met my Mom who ate dinner at the same boardinghouse he lived at. They fell in love and were married in 1951. I came along fifteen months later followed by three siblings one of which died soon after birth.

We had a good life together marred at times by Dad’s bouts with depression. Back then very few people understood depression as they do today. Though undiagnosed I believe Dad was bipolar. When he was up he was great but when down he was miserable and violent at times. We all suffered but I think he suffered the worst as he was truly remorseful for his bouts. I know that he loved us very deeply though at times his behavior belied it.

Being most like him we frequently clashed especially as I grew older. At one point I moved away from the house for a week or more after one of the more violent outbursts. Relief came when I graduated high school and enrolled at college. Dad frequently demeaned me growing up. He told me that I would never rise to the professional ranks like he did. That’s quite damaging to the psyche of a younger person but now as a much older adult I can see that this was borne of his own severe insecurities. His frequent attacks on my integrity left me more determined than ever to excel.

Like him I got drafted and decided to join the US Navy where I served as a hospital corpsman eventually rising to the rank of third class petty officer in less than two years. I was named Command Sailor of the Quarter at one point thanks to the relentless drive for excellence and perfection. I got some leave after graduating from Hospital Corps school and had made no plans to visit my parents who were living on the west coast. I got a phone call from Dad begging me to visit and I’m glad I pocketed my pride and took the trip. I spent a week with Dad and Mom in northern California where they lived. It was the best week Dad and I had as adults. Then it was over and I was returning to the east coast and a new duty station. I can still remember that morning standing in the departure area of the Eureka airport. We embraced and he told me how much he loved me and how proud of me he was. I told him I loved him too and then turned and walked to the aircraft. I had a huge lump in my throat and tears welled in my eyes as I looked out the window of the plane toward Mom and Dad in the terminal.

Little did I realize then that would be the last time I saw him. He died after a short illness five months later. His life was cut short at forty-six. Time and therapy has healed the wounds and I forgave Dad long ago. I think of him often. I see him in our children. I walk by his childhood home often. Our children attended the same school he did and graduated from there too. Happy Birthday Dad!

The Executive Officer Wants to See You

I had been at work a few hours taking care of the neonates in the newborn nursery at the Dispensary of Naval Air Station Albany GA. I was working the afternoon shift and as I recall I was getting ready to take the infants out to their mothers on the OB ward. That’s when the charge nurse gave me the message that the XO wanted to see me. I was concerned. What could the executive officer want. I put on my gown and left the ward and headed to the office where a US Navy Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman was seated waiting for me. I entered the office not knowing what to expect. Try as I might I cannot remember his name but I remember what he looked like and what he said. “Watkins, I hate to be the one to tell you this but we’ve just received word that your father died today.” Though the news was a shock it was not entirely unexpected as Dad had been ill for a number of years.

The senior chief told me I didn’t have to finish my shift and that I could return to the barracks immediately. I told him that I’d finish my shift. He instructed me to go to base personnel in the morning and they would be processing my emergency leave and travel orders. He told me not to hesitate to call him should I need additional assistance. I returned to work in shock but the infants whom I cared for ministered to me that evening. I had last seen my Dad in March. We had spent a fun week touring Northern California, eating salmon, going to the Samoa Cookhouse, going to a basketball game with my sister. In fact it had been the most fun I’d had with Dad in years. It all ended too quickly. We had made plans that when I was released from active duty in a couple of years I would come to California and enroll at Humboldt State. Now, those plans were dashed.

The next morning I went to base personnel and they had all my paperwork in order and soon thereafter I was on a plane headed home for my father’s funeral. My plane was late getting into Hartsfield International so when the Albany flight landed the airport personnel took me and my bag and drove us to the waiting Eastern Airlines jet that would take us to Buffalo. I remember my brother picked me in Buffalo and drove me home. It was all surreal and yet I remember it like it was yesterday and it’s been forty-seven years now.

Dad was only forty-six when he died. That seems very young now. I will always remember our last morning together and how he hugged me and told me he loved me. I told him, “I love you too.” Then I turned and walked toward the waiting Hughes AirWest turbo prop that took me towards home. Though he’s been gone these many years he’s never far from my memory nor is this twenty-sixty day of July when I recall once again that afternoon in Albany and the kindness of the executive officer, the nurses and fellow corpsmen and dental technicians and the infants who comforted me.

Breath of life

It’s that season in the United States when some folks roll out the “real Christian” card and it’s usually around a woman’s right to choose. I hope most folks choose life. I’m glad my Mom chose life. Even with its ups and downs it’s been a great life. That being said I do support a woman’s right to choose. There are many who assert that life begins at conception and while that may be their belief I believe that life begins at first breath. I used to work in labor and delivery forty some years ago while serving in the United States Navy and babies had to take their first breath. Some babies had difficulty and required extra help and we were there to assist them. Breath is the miracle of life. All living things breathe therefore breath is life.

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. — Genesis 2:7

Mom’s Birthday

Tonight we’re celebrating Mom’s 87th birthday. It’s the day of the week when we can assemble the family. Mom’s actual birthday is Wednesday, November 6. She came bouncing into this world in 1926. She’s seen a lot in her life. I often marvel at all the storms she’s weathered and with grace too. She lost her Dad at the age of four and moved with her Mom and brother to live with my Uncle Bill and his family. This was in the days before social security. Seven people living under one roof with just one bathroom. That was in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York. Mom went to parochial school where there were over forty students in one classroom. Upon graduation from high school she won a scholarship to D’Youville College in Buffalo, New York. She made the commute in those days on the New York Central which is now Amtrak. It was eight hours from home. She made the transition to college life well and excelled. She graduated from D’Youville in 1947 Magna Cum Laude and then was admitted to Fordham University where she received a Masters in Mathematics in 1948. She returned to Buffalo and D’Youville College where she taught for few years.  After returning to Buffalo she met my Dad who was a student at University of Buffalo. They got married and eventually settled in Western New York.  She worked alongside my Dad in the dental office until his health began to wane. Then to make ends meet she returned to teaching in 1970. Dad died in 1973 and she was left a widow with almost none of the rights women enjoy today.

Mom provided a home for my brother, sister and I and she did so on a teaching salary that was less than $8,000 per year. She never complained. She has always been an optimist.  She remarried in 1980 to the love of her life and was treated to fourteen more years of a great marriage to a wonderful man that we all called Dad.

She became very active in the community and served on the Arcade Library Board, The Wyoming County Hospital Board and has been part of Delta Kappa Gamma for over forty years. She’s a member of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. She’s been active in her church and frequently takes communion to those who are unable to make it to the Eucharist. Every weekday following Mass Mom can be found at the local McDonald’s with other women of St. Mary’s Parish in Arcade, New York talking about their faith and the community in which they live.  I love my Mom and I’m proud of her. Happy Birthday Mom!

40th Anniversary

I’m sitting at Dunkin Donuts across the street from St. Bonaventure University. Today began with yoga, a short drive from Franklinville to the St. Bonaventure University Chapel and a chance to gather one last time with friends and classmates from this year’s Franciscan Institute. Earlier when first awakened I remembered that it was on this day, July 26, 1973 that my my Dad died. He was my namesake and just like all fathers he left an indelible imprint on my life. I still remember the jingles and metaphors that he told me. I remember too the last time we held each other and told each other, “I love you.” Sometimes I wish we had one more day, one more hour to catch up on all that’s happened in the last forty years. I know that’s not possible but if I close my eyes and imagine I can see him and I replay that hug and kiss from over forty years ago in the Eureka, California airport just before I turned and walked toward the plane. The lump in my throat is much less than it was but the beautiful memory remains. I see Dad every time I look at our children. I see him in Devin and Dara. I see him in my brother and sister. I see him in my niece and nephews. I see him and hear his voice in the hills and foothills of Franklinville and the nearby Allegheny mountains. I can hear his laughter every time I think of one of the many limericks he taught me as a boy. He is with me always and though I can no longer touch him he continues to touch me. I love you Dad and I always will. Peace!