He's the Only Hero They Need

I am at the gym and ESPN is on the television in front of me. I see two commentators discussing last night's basketball game and the tussle between two highly-paid and famous players. I see video footage of one of the men taunting the other. He laughs about what he did and steps to the man who tells him to admit to it. He is not a hero.

*     *     *

I am away from the Internet all weekend long, and when I return it is to pictures everywhere of a young punk. Ugly, goofy, red-rimmed eyes from a night of drinking and bad choices. Because of his sports status and white privilege and because both of his parents are defending what he did, he takes no ownership of the horrible things he did to a young woman. Despite his Olympic dreams, he is not a hero.

*     *     *

I am watching the news as I make dinner. Donald Trump is campaigning again. He is talking about building walls and keeping people out and saying misogynistic things. My boys listen to every word. They know he is "not being nice." They know he is no hero. 

*     *     *

There is another shooting on the news. The worst mass casualty since 9/11. The shooter claimed allegiance to an organization which believes it's doing good in the world. He claimed he killed those people because what they were doing is wrong. He is not judge and jury. He is no hero.   

*     *     *

The world needs heroes. My sons need heroes. They need to know that just because someone plays sports and makes millions of dollars, he is not automatically a hero. 

They need to know that just because you pledge allegiance to a religion or movement or political party, it does not give you a free pass to use those beliefs as a reason to hurt people. 

They need to see men acting responsibly and owning up to their mistakes. They need to see men who do the right thing, even when it's hard or hurts their pride. 

They need to know more men like their dad. 

They need to know about how polite he was when we first met. How he treated me like a woman he respected rather than rushing to get "a piece of action." They need to know how he supported and encouraged me in my career, on the good days and the bad. They need to know how he respected my friends and felt protective of me when those friends were being less than friends to me. 

They need to know how hard he worked in school, even though he didn't like it and even when it was hard for him. They need to know that it took him a while to find his passion in life; but once he did, he didn't let anything stand in his way. Not the difficulty, not someone telling him he could never do it, not a cross-country move. 

They need to know that he found a life partner who respected him as much as he respected her. How he considered her feelings in everything he chose, everything he did, everything he said and didn't say. 

They need to know how he planned a future for his family. They need to know about how he unselfishly saved money for us - for them - so that we could have a comfortable life. He didn't squander away his savings on frivolous things. He planned for his family to have a future despite what he may have wanted in the present. 

They need to know how equal of a partner and parent he was. How, when his wife was bedridden for three months, he cooked and cleaned and shopped and cared for her, all while working full-time. How he lovingly bathed his newborn babies and warmed bottles in the middle of the night and changed even the poopy diapers. 

They have seen the way he cares for his home and his yard, mowing and preening and planting and watering even after a long day at work when all he wants to do is recline in his chair. They have spotted him in the crowd at their ball games, in his work clothes, there to cheer them on whether they get the hit or not. 

They have heard him apologize and admit that he lost his temper. They have seen him back up those words by actions, by fixing what needed to be fixed. They have seen him own up to his mistakes and make a change for the better. 

They have seen the way he treats his wife. Caring about the things she cares about, knowing what she likes and doesn't like. Buying her nice things, yes, but also treating her with respect. Being an equal partner in raising them. Being an equal partner caring for their home - cooking, cleaning, and parenting. 

They have seen the way he treats his nearly 87 year old mother. Going to her house and doing tasks for her, taking her to brunch on Sundays, offering her rides when the weather is dicey. Calling her on her birthday. Thanking her for being his mother. 

They have seen the way he treats his five sisters. With brotherly love and respect. He cares about them, he listens to them, and values his time with them. They have seen the way he honors and respects women. The way he talks to them and the way he loves them. 

They need to know the way he treats his patients with kindness, care, and humor. The way he puts them at ease when they are experiencing something painful and scary. They need to know the way he treats his employees, with fairness, honesty, and respect. They need to see what others see: that he is a good man. 

They need to know that he is grieving the loss of his own father and his son. They need to know that men cry and care and hurt and feel and deal with their grief in very real ways, too. They need to know that he has been strong for his family even when he hasn't wanted to be. 

Every boy needs a hero. There are a lot of them in this world. And yes, he could be a pro-athlete, a musician, a politician, an astronaut, a police officer, a religious leader, a neighbor, or a teacher. 

But he could also be very simply someone they call "Dad."


Dear Grieving Parent: It's your story to tell

At the boys' tennis lesson the other morning, I met a lovely couple: a grandma and grandpa who were staying with their grandsons and helping babysit for the summer. We talked throughout the lesson, and I really enjoyed the conversation with them.

At one point they remarked on the size difference between Slim, my twelve-year-old, and Knox, my ten-year-old. Knox is a big boy for sure and Slim smaller than average, but I couldn't help mentioning that Slim is also a twin.

And then it begun - how his brother got cancer and died (it was a brain tumor), how we discovered one morning that he was having a seizure, that he lived for a year after that (but he still went to kindergarten until he was too sick), how I was forty years old and was done with babies but had another one (who reminds me of Joey, by the way), and how the kids at Slim's school are nice to him because they know his brother died.

And on and on and on.

I've always been a good listener. Or maybe just too polite to tell people to bug off. As a result, I often get cornered into listening to total strangers tell me their life story.

Now I am that total stranger telling someone my life story. 

Joey's story.

It's been six years since Joey died. We've been without him almost as long as we were with him, and not a day goes by that I don't think about him or say his name aloud.



Because missing someone never goes away. It never gets better or easier. It never becomes routine. You never forget to do it. You never have to remind yourself to do it.

It's just always there.

The ache in your heart is ever present. It tells you that a part of you is missing, that you will never again be complete. Sometimes you can hush it like a baby; but like a baby, it will just start crying for attention once again.

Your grief is a part of you now. It becomes a story from your life. It's certainly not the only story you have, but it is your story to tell.

Or not to tell.

There are times when people remark to me about my four sons: "You have four boys?! You must have your hands full." And I choose not to tell the story.

But it hurts my heart.

It hurts my heart because I want to scream, "I HAVE FIVE BOYS. FIVE." But only because I so desperately want that fifth boy to be tagging along behind us, helping his brother at the soda fountain at Costco, or offering to push the cart and unload the groceries for me.

I want to see that smile that radiates from his eyes and hear that laugh that's contagious and feel that hug that warms every part of my body.

But I can't.

So I talk about him. I tell his story.

I talk about who he was and what happened to him, not because I want to make you sad or feel your pity; but because it is my way of letting that grief have a voice. It is my way of never forgetting how I felt and still feel.

It is my way of honoring his short life.

I will always talk about him, because his is my story to tell.

I'm sorry if it makes you uncomfortable,

or sad,

or angry,

or scared,

or annoyed.

I get it, I do. It makes me all of those things, too.

But I feel grateful when you indulge me, when you listen to my story, when I can see in your eyes and your heart that you are really listening.

Even if it's the 75th time you've heard my story.

If you are a grieving parent reading this, I want you to know that I will always listen to your story. The first time or the 101st time. It's your story to tell.

Or not tell.

If it's safe in your heart and it feels right there, that's okay, too.

But if you need to let it out, there are those of us who are listening.

Now, and 839 times from now.

Because it's our story to tell. 

You might also want to read some of my other stories about loving and missing Joey:

When Party Games Go Horribly Wrong

Not Broken, Just Bent

Remembering Joey: What I Loved About My Son

My Dear Sweet Joey

Unhappy Crapiversary

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