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.

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.

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.

Warming House

In the past couple of weeks I’ve found myself volunteering at The Warming House. It’s a soup kitchen in downtown Olean, New York run by University Ministries of St. Bonaventure University. As a recently retired person I’ve found ample opportunity and time to help brothers and sisters who come to dinner each day. Some I know, while others are strangers. The Warming House is staffed by students and folks like me. Food is donated by the local community and provided free to our guests who find their way each day to our door. A half dozen years ago I had the chance to volunteer at St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia, PA. The Warming House is not on the scale of St. Francis Inn, but it provides all who come there as hosts or guests with an opportunity to share a meal and some love. I’m grateful to the University and it’s ministry that has provided this blessing in my life.

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!

Love your neighbor as yourself

The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31

These are word easily read but not easily practiced for me. They are words whose point I missed for much of my life and to this day I have difficulty loving and caring for myself. I frequently put myself down. It is a false humility, a pride in reverse that invites me to think less of myself. Today I was having a field day judging myself harshly because something went wrong. We were reimaging computers, dozens of them, when suddenly I realized that we needed an older version of Internet Explorer installed. Immediately my gut began to churn, I stopped living in the present moment and instead began to recriminate myself and pity myself. Neither of these is healthy activities. When I engage in this mindless behavior I also violate the principle of ahimsa. For many years I have admired Mahatma Gandhi and the principle of ahimsa, but it was not until I began to practice yoga that I realized that “non-harming” applies to self too! Tonight following dinner and in the gathering twilight I began with a forward bend, downward dog, mountain and a couple lunges. I began to return to my breath and to love and care for myself as yoga teaches us. Once again I saw the union between this ancient practice and my prayer life. I lift my eyes and my arms toward heaven and touch the cosmos and feel the warm healing energy flow in my body and spirit. It is in these moments that I sense a connection with the cosmic Christ, the alpha and omega of the universe. God is love and he expects us to love each other and ourselves too. As C. S. Lewis says, “humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.” There is a divine paradox in that axiom.

It’s not just about technology

I use technology every day. Who doesn’t? We all flip on electric lights, Many of us drive cars. Others ride buses. Some of us have cell phones. Some of those phones are “smart” phones and others are “feature phones. Some people have PCs and some have Macs. There’s an emphasis on 21st century tools and 21st century schools. Will students be prepared to use this tool or that tool? How can they truly be prepared for college or the work force unless they know Microsoft Word or use an iPad or an iPod? What are the skills that they really need to be successful in this day and age? There are the same 26 letters and the same 10 digits now as there were forty or fifty years ago and there are a nearly infinite number of combinations and permutations of those figures. 

We emphasize Common Core and the NETS standards. We’ve got students who get benchmarks and schools that achieve AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) and teachers who are evaluated by APPR and test scores but we’re falling apart. We’re coming apart at the seams. Never in the last 40 plus years have I seen our country so stressed, so divided. Never have I seen schools, teachers, administrators, students and parents so stressed as they are now. 

So what do we need that’s way more important than high tech and high standards? We need heart. We need compassion. We need community. We desperately need community more than at anytime in our past. Without community the rest is just waste and consumerism. Jargon and bandwagons can’t prepare us or our children for the 21st century any better than community. Without community we cease to exist. We break down into warring fragments. 

Instead of iPhones and iPods we need I love you’s. Instead of text messages we need touch messages. We need people who can connect at the heart. We need people who can be present to each other. Wherever you are whatever you are doing make sure that you tell the people you’re working with or teaching with that you love them. Tell your children and anyone’s children that you love them. Love builds community and that is what we need more than anything else. 

Love and tolerance

Today I received an email message that was a wolf in sheeps clothing. A hateful message masquerading as a national security issue. I replied by asking the person not to send anymore of these missives. I welcomed uplifting messages but asked to be excluded from the prejudicial messages. I received a response that excused the message as coming from an ex-military and “strong” Christian.

Hatred is anathema to the message of Christ and it’s an un-American value too. Perhaps my early exposure to religious and racial intolerance has sensitized me to these sorts of messages. I hope that we can move toward a more inclusive society and country. We are all members of the same human family despite our apparent differences. It is paradoxically our differences that make us stronger as a country and as a society.