Sunday, June 1, 2014

10

Ten years ago, I became a father. More importantly, I became a father to this tiny, little peanut with a full head of dark black hair and studious hazel eyes that made me melt from the first moment they opened.
 
Kendra Marie, your first decade unfolds in my mind as some of the best years of my life. Although I'm happily impressed and beyond proud of your growth and all you've achieved thus far, I will shed a few tears for that little bundle that grew before my very eyes and turned into this willowy vision of beauty and unabashed joy I never anticipated.
 
I was a mess through most of your first year. I worried sick about every little thing that might get in your way. I read so many parenting articles, and loved being able to get you anything I even thought you needed. For all my worrying, you were never a risk taker. In fact, most of time I held you close to me, you stared at me while sucking your little thumb into a prune until you fell asleep. You laughed most of time you were awake.
 
You discovered TV early on and through your first three years, Jojo and Goliath and Dora the Explorer were your passion. They were soon replaced by the Wiggles and Barney, and although I couldn't stand the little songs, oh how I loved to watch you enjoy them.
 
You said very little, but never missed anything. Mommy taught you the love of singing and dancing and music became a huge part of your life.
 
I hoped to help you discover the love of books, and soon I'd read Dr. Seuss to you every night I could.
 
You were a fun little toddler. Never too much of a fuzz unless there was a good reason. Mischief wasn't a part of your personality although when you did, it was epic.
 
Before pre-school, you became a big sister. I never would've expected the way you loved your little sister. You've been patient, nurturing, and often come down to Amber's level just to keep her happy. You are the best big sister a kid can have.
 
I could go on and on telling you stories of your first days in school, your summers in the pool, the way you simply asked to have your training wheels removed, the many pieces of art work you created, the crafts you messed the house with, and more than anything, your incomparable
 sense of humor, your joy and love of laughter, the gift of your voice, and your humble attitude, your understanding, your compassion, your penchant for favoring the underdog and for carrying yourself with such natural elegance only to make a goofy face, as though reminding everyone around you never to take life so seriously.
 
You've made being a father easier than I ever expected.
 
You're bright and inquisitive, but never reckless.
 
You cheer those around you and put everyone you care about before you without hesitation.
 
You're intelligent and pretty without letting it go to your head.
 
You've grown into a lovely girl and it's a bit of a shock to find you at the grownups table more and more.
 
Somehow, with a steady diet of nothing but pasta and bread, you've grown so tall and that serious, studious attitude you displayed as a toddler has carried through the years, making me think you're older than your years in mind and spirit.
 
But you're ten years old today.
 
Ten.
 
When I hear you sing, when I see you smile, when I see your friends greet you with a warm embrace, when I hear you chatter about your day, when I know you dream, my heart swells with a unique kind of pride I've never felt over anything in my life.
 
The next ten years of your life will be years of growth. You will slowly find the kind of person you want to be, and I thank God for granting me the chance of walking next to you as you advance down the road of life.
 
What an adventure you've been, my little girl. You've taught me as much as I ever hoped to teach you, and I will always guard and defend our relationship as father and daughter though forever relishing our friendship.
 
Happy birthday, my Kendra Marie. When it comes to express what it means to me to be your father, mere words fail me in every known language.
 
But suffice to say that as I look through the pictures that tell the story of the little baby that transformed into the girl before me today, my eyes fill with tears of unnamed emotions that restore my faith in the universe itself. You are my validation, my motivation, the source of my strength, and I love you like no parent has ever loved a child.

Dad


  

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Lesson in Courage

Dear Amber,

   I could not get the image of you falling off your bicycle out of my head. All I could think of as I raged my carelessness is how I could have reached out in time to keep you from falling down into the woods. I'd cut down every single sapling and tree and clear the entire lot if it could make the scrapes on your arm disappear.
   Somehow I kept from sobbing as I cleaned your wound and I can't get your cries out of my mind. I thought, "she was doing so well and now I won't blame her if she won't ride her bike again."
   I reluctantly agreed to taking off the training wheels but you shocked me when you kept your balance and rode, a big triumphant grin upon your pretty little face. 
   How quickly fortune can change...
   The following morning, I checked on you, changed your dressing and we looked at your booboo. You stared with mild fascination while I was dying inside and yet, despite the pain, the sting of the peroxide, the discomfort of the gauze pad stuck to the blood from the seeping wound, you asked when you could ride again.
   I was stunned.
   Horrified.
   Immeasurably proud.
   Sometimes, important lessons are delivered by the smallest among us. Courage comes in many forms and none ever strikes me as deeply as when I see it in your determined little grin.
   Had you told me you'd never ride a bike again, I would've acquiesced without a fight. But instead, you taught me a lesson in courage.
   In life we fall and suffer some bloody wound and at times, we allow the pain to paralyze us. 
  Despite your age, you're becoming one of the strongest persons I'll ever know and I can't thank you enough for what you teach me. You've brought much laughter to my soul. Your resilience has been nothing short of inspiring through everything we've faced through this past year. I thank you, my little girl, for this lesson in courage, for teaching me to look past the fall and ahead to improving. I can only pray you learn from me as much as I'm learning from you, my little Amber.
   Love you always,
   Dad.

Monday, February 11, 2013

6th Birthday

   Feb 13, 2013
   
   Amber Gabrielle, my little Ambina,

   Much of the little girl you'll always be to me, remains in that one-of-a-kind grin. The glow from your smile is a beacon that sets my compass where it needs to be regardless of storms.
   My writer's mind will run away as fast as you fly when I play the monster, growling behind you in my attempts to tickle you. The little squeals along with your giggles mark the soundtrack to the best parts of my life, the most animated ones, and the most endearing ones.
   You're still a ball of lightning, your own storm system, merciless and devastating when you don't get your way. And yet, docile, noble, and sweet when everything is one with your world.
   I wish I could claim I'm the source of your unparalleled strength.  I'd love to be the one whose willfulness you inherited. In six short years, you are so much of your own person, Mommy and I ceased to wonder what we did to end up with you in our arms, and question what's in store for us as the years come and go.
   The February that brought you to us was not so dissimilar from today's. It was a stormy Valentines' eve when I rushed Mommy up to the hospital, and you showed the lack of patience that's made you famous even then. You wouldn't wait for Valentine's Day, asserting the fact that you will do everything your own way, surpassing only the high expectations you set upon yourself. 
   You inherit your good looks from your mom, but your eyes are the same ones I see when I stare in the mirror, although yours glint with wonder, sparkle with mischief, and widen with curiosity as you gain new understanding of the world around you.
   Your pranks and sense of humor sometimes make me throw my hands up in the air, but there is no withholding the waves of laughter you so easily evoke. I'll make it a point right here to thank you for each time you made me tear up from laughing so much.
   You seldom fall victim to my teasing. Candy and chocolates don't stand a chance when you're around. You'll draw such joy out of a popsicle in the dead of winter, and Dr. McStuffins and the Octonauts rank high on your list. But given your one liners, straight out of Jesse, Shake It Up, and Austin and Ally, it's clear you're ready to leave a few things behind. Thanks to you, my iPod's been filled with Taylor Swift and your boyfriend's band, One Direction, whose lyrics you sing contentedly while wearing your Monster High headphones...
   This year, your smile got me through some of the darkest times we've had to face as a family, and reminded me that home is where I hear your little voice; where I sit to lay your head upon my chest so I can cradle you against me, lamenting how much you've grown; how you will go on growing, in size, smarts, and strength, into the big girl you long to be; the strongest little girl I've ever known. 
   
   Happy Birthday Babygirl.

   Love,
   Dad


Monday, December 17, 2012

Tighter...

   Kendra and Amber,

   Today, I held each of you tighter than I've ever held you before.  I kept your heads tucked against my chest and I couldn't utter a word.  
   And you asked me why...
   You asked what was wrong...
   One day I'll tell you about today, but not at this moment.  
   I couldn't tell you that I feel shattered.  I couldn't tell you that my mind keeps painting horrid images of what those last moments might have been in that school.  I couldn't tell you that my heart is  torn to pieces for the parents who'll never hold their kids again in a sleepy little town; a town whose main claim to fame, had been the beautiful giant flagpole on Main Street until today.  
   I couldn't tell you about today...
   Today, I'll tell you that twenty-six candles will burn through the night.  Each one silently telling the story of the souls they represent with their flickering flame; twenty beautiful kids and six heroic women...  
   I ask myself, where did we go so wrong that now we send our kids to school like we send men to war, hoping and praying they return unharmed, but somehow accepting we'll lose some along the way?
   Holding you tight in my arms is the only moment I'll be at peace.  That's why I'll hold you tighter today...and every day, while telling you how much I love you, how happy I am to watch you grow, even as bitter tears consume me at the thought of what happened today, so close to home.

   Dad

originally written on Dec 14


   
     

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thankful Every Day

  Dear Kendra and Amber,
  Today is Thanksgiving Day.  We will gather around the table, surrounded by family, enjoying the togetherness and warmth I've always wanted for you.  But I don't need a special day to thank you both for how incredible you've made my life.
 We didn't celebrate Thanksgiving where I come from, but we never lost sight of what was truly important.  I can't speak for everyone else, of course.  But I know what it was like to go without water or bread for days.  I know what it was like to clean and shine  old shoes because new ones were out of reach.  I know what it was like to walk into a toy shop, and leave empty handed.
  Although these paint a bleak picture, and were not enjoyable in the least, it did teach me to appreciate what I had, and work hard for what I didn't.  It's easy to fall into the illusion that we can have anything we want; that we should have everything we want.  
  When adulthood pulls the blinders off, you look around and see children have no food, and many people have lost everything, and you wonder how you could've been so blind?  You quickly realize that the term "good life" is one of the most relative concepts in existence.
   But why am I telling you all this?
  When I asked you what's your favorite toy, neither of you had an answer.  At first I was happy you couldn't choose.  It told me that you are two lucky kids who have a lot of toys.  Later, it made me sad that you were unable to deem one of those special.  
   Taking things for granted is an enduring human trait.  It's fairly impossible not to do it, especially in times of plenty.
   I'd love to take that old school stand and teach you certain lessons, but I'm far too in love with your smiles.  I may be wrong in doing my best to spoil you. I may be wrong in doing all I can to shelter you from harsh realities.  I may be wrong in thinking you're too little to have a bitter taste of life.  I may be wrong...
   So I'll say this:
  Kendra and Amber, be thankful for what you have.  Be thankful for each today that grants you the opportunity to make a better tomorrow.  Be thankful for the advice of friends.  Be thankful for the love of family.  Be thankful to have each other, for your laughter, for your soft bed, and more than anything, be thankful for your health.
  Be thankful for the chance to dream, and for living in a land where you can make those dreams happen, not just today, but every day.
  Be thankful that your childhood is an eye of the hurricane life can be, and know that no one can enjoy its safety forever.  Grow strong so when you reach the high winds, you know how to stand and what to hold onto. 
 Today is Thanksgiving Day.  We will gather around the table, surrounded by family, enjoying the togetherness and warmth I've always wanted for you.  But I don't need a special day to say thanks.  
   I'm most thankful for each second I get to spend with my little girls, for you inspire me to write wise advice I vow to follow.
   
   Dad
  
  

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Sweet Grandma

 
   "Dad, I can't wait to live with Sweet Grandma!" Amber exclaimed, anticipating our upcoming move back to Connecticut.  
   "I know!" Kendra added.  "It's going to be so fun!  I love Sweet Grandma!"
   Sheri and I don't really know when the girls decided that her mom would be referred to as "Happy Grandma" while my mom became "Sweet Grandma", but it seems entirely apt.  
  I thought about this for a while this morning after a midnight shift.  I remembered I was about to get married when my mom and I drove eight hours and she told me her entire life story, giving me a glimpse of the woman behind the title.  I got to know the girl she once was, the woman she became and I've never looked at her the same way.  Since then we've been closer than ever.  She became so much more than Mom that day.
   One day, I will write her story but I think I'd like to learn more so when I do, I can do it some justice.  In honor of her birthday, I figured this is a good start...

  Dear Kendra and Amber,
 
   58 years ago, a little girl was born to a humble young couple.  Her name is Ana, and she was the first of this couple's three little girls.  She was still little when her daddy went to heaven, and her grandmother took care of her so her mom could work.  Ana grew up into a bright and kind little girl guided with strict discipline from what we now call the old days.  When she was a teenager, she was reunited with her mom and blossomed into a young woman who despite her unique beauty, remained as humble as ever.  At sixteen she met a good guy and three years later there were married.
   Ana realized her dream of having a baby at twenty years of age, for she did not want to be too old when her children became adults.  Throughout the next eighteen years of her life, she dedicated herself to her son and daughter, carefully shaping their character, nurturing their spirit, and guiding them to make the best decisions possible.
   Her lifelong dream of one day living in the United States had been in place since she visited Houston when she was twelve. She brought up her kids to the sounds of The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Elvis, The Temptations, Al Green, and many others that you both happen to know today because of how much I play their songs when we are driving.  She talked to her kids about JFK and Jackie; she smiled and pointed at that pretty flag on top of the American Embassy, and taught them what it meant.  She also taught them to respect their elders, to kneel upon entering a church, and to value the warmth of family and good friends.
   Ana also brought up her kids unafraid to dream.  She encouraged them to pursue every goal with determination, and to look at the future with hope.
   Her strength saw her family through seven tough years that culminated in her dream coming true.  Her children would grow up in America.
   Ana overcame many challenges and embarked on a career in healthcare.  Her motivation to go on, to learn, to do well was her children, who were at first lost in their new home.  She went to great lengths to hide her own fears and regrets, infusing her home with optimism and laughter.  Her efforts were not in vain, and she watched her kids grow into adults who always enjoyed her complete support.
   This wonderful woman is one of the best people you, my little girls, will ever know.  Her voice may be soft and gentle, but never doubt the immensity of her strength.  Her eyes shine with mischief, but they'll pin you in place when you need to hear an important piece of advice.  She may be short in stature, but she is larger than life in every aspect. She is the lady who takes you in her arms and pours her love and adoration over you.  She is my mom.  She is your Sweet Grandma, and I know you'll both be blessed to learn from her as much as I have.  I know how she has a way of making you into the best person you can possibly be.

   I love you both,

   Dad   

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

OUR Independence Day...



Dear Kendra and Amber,

   There's something special about this particular 4th of July.  It's not the fireworks awing you little faces.  It's not the grand finale when the booming of the explosions echo across the landscape as we wish our nation a happy birthday.  It's its meaning to us as a family.  This is the last 4th of July I'm not there with you, uttering the oohs and aahs with the rest of the crowd.  In fact, these are the last weekends we can't do anything as a family because I'm working.  These are the last nights I won't be there to tuck you in.  
   I know how difficult it is for you to see us packing things away in anticipation of the move.  I know the anxiety you feel at the thought of starting over at a new school.  I know the heaviness of your little hearts at the thought of sharing the last days with the friends that you've made.  For taking you away from this once comfortable zone, I won't ever be able to express how sorry I am.  
   I hope one day you realize that this upheaval is taking place with the best of intentions on our part as parents.  Sometimes, it takes a drastic change that may leave a scar or two, but which ultimately will be worth making in achieving a better life.  That, my little girls, is what this great nation is really about.  
   Every transition is a major uprooting of what was once comfortable and familiar.  It demands great courage and much acceptance.  I wish I could tell you something more soothing.  I wish my flawed brain could come up with words that will give you a moment of clarity, a sparkle of hope that will dry those tears of yours as the Big Move draws nearer.
   When I was a kid, I knew there was this huge change coming in the horizon.  I felt each of those seven years and when the day came, I felt like you.  I cried at the injustice of leaving my friends behind.  I was petrified at the thought of going to a different school, a different place where even the language was unfamiliar.  It was not an easy transition by any means.  


   

   Every event was a rocket flying high into the sky and exploding in a scintillation that blinded me for a few seconds as the roar of the explosion shook my core.  At its worst, the transitional period was just like that seemingly unending stream of lights in the sky, bursting in majestic, colorful flashes, accompanied by the sizzling and whistling, and punctuated by the echoing booms.  And once it was done, when calm returned to the heavens, I looked back at the experience with the same wonder I had for the extinguished fireworks.  The reverberations will cease.  The blinding light will diminish.  The smoke will clear, thus marking the end of another transition in our lives and we'll go on to make our new home a comfortable home, a safe zone where we'll continue to grow as a family.  
   Kendra and Amber, my girls, I will prove to you that a house is just a building, a shell without a soul, and we are that soul.  It's a family that makes a home, and that's where we'll be soon.  Home.
   Despite the endless tasks that must be accomplished before the move; despite the overwhelming notion of starting anew, I look forward to sharing our lives with Grandpa and Grandma.  You are both going to learn so much from them.  I look forward to kissing your little forehead each night without fail.  I look forward to planning a weekend getaway, and knowing nothing will get in the way of those plans.  I look forward to sitting with you at dinner each and every day, sharing the events of our day, as a family.  
   So, when you look up at the sky and applaud the grand finale tomorrow while I'm at work, don't be sad.  Celebrate with the rest of the crowd and wish our beloved country happy birthday.  
   And between you two, Mommy, and me, let's celebrate OUR Independence Day, and look forward to our new life.  I promise I will make it worth your every little tear.
   I love you always,

   Dad.