Lilly’s Big Day

Poor Lilly Grace. She was only trying to enjoy a Saturday afternoon in her own backyard. It was the day of her first Holy Communion, a blessing that comes but once in a lifetime. And it wasn’t the only blessing.

The sun was shining, kids like her were being left to their own devices, and no one was guarding the cake. How often does that happen?

On such an occasion nine-year-old Lilly deserved every blessing that the Lord had bestowed upon her. She didn’t deserve to have old Mr. Hennessey trying to ask her questions for his newspaper column.

“I’m going to try to interview Lilly. Is that okay with you?” I asked her mother, Maura.

She is the kind of Yonkers-Irish hostess who makes you feel like you are the only person at the party who matters. She also knows a few Wolfe Tones songs, which earns her a double shamrock in Hennessey’s book.    [Read more…]

The Called Me the Wanderer

I didn’t always have five children and a wife. It wasn’t that long ago that I had no children and zero wives. On TV, they make bachelorhood seem a paradise of freedom and adventure. Not for me it wasn’t.

The missus and me just blew past our fifteenth wedding anniversary—a mini-milestone. Not to be glib…oh, never mind, glib it is…I’d rather be in jail than be single again.

The carefree life of a stallion was never the one for me. In those days I was Johnny Lonelyboy. Maybe you’ve been there too?

My restless heart had an emptiness. No time did I have for religion. I spent many an hour devising my own. It had a liturgy and some saints. It had sacred texts and heavenly hymns.

My way of worship was the wanderer’s way. Bartenders, not priests, prepared the high altar. We lit cigarettes, not candles. Irony, sarcasm, and wild abandon stood in the places where sanctity, grace, and sobriety should have shined.

Things are different now. The cigarettes are all ashes. I have rare occasion to enter a saloon—or even a salon. But you can’t keep me out of the Church of the Four Marks—one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic.

[Read more…]

Doubts About the Program

Scientists keep futzing with the human genetic code. Embryonic stem cells, cloned sheep, lab-grown organs—that’s all yesterday’s news. Today’s medical monster-makers have cooked up an embryo that is half pig, half human.

Call it Frankenstein’s frankfurter.

[Read more…]

Love Among the Artifacts

There’s nothing like a good flyleaf inscription. What a joy to find a salutation from an old friend inside the cover of a long-forgotten book. But beware. You might just as easily find a shout from the grave or the embers of ill-fated romance.

I bought a used paperback on Amazon. The inscription, from the author, was personalized: “Sarah & David! Chapter 10 is all about you!” Sarah and David must not have liked what they read. They unloaded it to me for $3.99.

My mother was always after to me to read. She’d tear her hair out trying to get me interested in serious fiction, poetry, murder mysteries—anything other than the Beatles biographies I loved. My mother wanted her kids to read like she did. To her, books were oxygen. Without them, life lacked breath.

Her imprecations were unsuccessful, at least in the short term. My siblings, however, followed her lead. They developed literary appetites and voracious interests. There was a time when I wondered if maybe my sister Colleen had a problem—book addiction. She’s better now.

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His Talent Doesn’t Come From Dad

Does too much icky-gooey stuff spoil a boy? Some say so, but I don’t buy it. My father tells me he loves me and always has. I never thought it was anything other than true, and fathers are supposed to tell their sons the truth.

My boy likes to draw. He does painting and sculpting, too, but drawing is the main preoccupation. He uses pencils. He does things with them—beautiful things—that I’ve only dreamed about being able to do. I marvel at his gifts, which are evident to me, his father, yes, but I’m not the only one who sees them.

I apologize if I seem boastful. That’s not how this is meant to come across. The boy is eight-years old, still a pup. I harbor no ambitions on his behalf, other than that he finds a way to make the most of his talent. I just want him to draw, draw, draw—then draw some more.

And he does. [Read more…]

The Only List that Matters

In the long, lazy days after Thanksgiving, the lists begin to appear. Composed by little fingers with award-winning penmanship, they are strewn upon household surfaces where the odds of catching an adult’s eye are highest.

Our oldest, Clara, is nearly 13. She is—shall we say—hip to the Christmas jive. She has transitioned into a more-mature relationship with the secular aspects of the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

For Clara, Jesus is the reason for the season. She has no list. Then again, she probably wouldn’t sneeze at an iPhone.

Ten-year-old Magdalena’s list includes a new toy ukulele. This would be a replacement for the old toy ukulele, which a certain head-of-household angrily smashed after it was used as a weapon by a Hennessey who will remain nameless.

We go through ukuleles here the way some families go through cold cuts. There’s no sense in getting attached. They won’t be around long. [Read more…]

Forgive Us Our Trespasses

We mess up. From texting instead of talking to forgetting about soccer practice to losing our temper at the dinner table, we parents make so many mistakes.

This Dad does, anyway.

The kids like to have fruit shakes with frozen berries in the morning. Once, in a sleep-deprived trance, I put a spoon into a running blender. The meeting of steel blades and steel utensil caused a berry large mess. It also caused a bad word to form near my wrist, scamper up my arm, and fly out of my mouth.

Big mistake. I may have gotten away with it though—the three year-old was the only one within earshot, and she’s not that street smart.

Many of my other mistakes have come back to haunt me. How many times have I accused one kid or another of doing something wrong only to have the tables turned? [Read more…]

My Sheep Hear My Voice

I can barely hear what Sally is saying. Her lips move, but she’s covered her tiny mouth with miniature hands. She looks like someone with a secret that she might be willing to confess.

“Did you say something, sweetheart?” I ask, trying hard to conceal my curiosity, trying hard not to lead the witness.

Sally isn’t yet four years old. She has lately been struggling with the arrival of her new baby brother Billy, who has soaked up every excess ounce of attention since arriving home from the hospital.

Fair to say, Sally would like her old place of prominence back. She isn’t above playing games to get it. [Read more…]

Miracle on Perryridge Road

Ever seen a miracle? Five beautiful babies have been born right before my eyes, each bearing my own family name and placed right into my arms. I’d say that’s a miracle. Baby William James—called Billy Boy by some—joined us in July.

The Big Lad came out the same way the rest of them did—kicking, carrying on, and looking like an Irish potato. There’s a family resemblance. Once, I would have said he takes after my dad. Now I have to own it—he takes after me.

The birth of a baby is a beautiful thing, though not without anxious moments. The build-up is intense, like a Cape Canaveral countdown or a World Cup shootout. When the moment comes, the release is exhilarating.

I’m a mush, so I weep. It slays me every time. [Read more…]

No Hiding from the Hardest Jobs

It’s ten minutes to midnight when the thought occurs to me: This is what we get paid for.

Ursula and I are standing barefoot in the kids’ room, dripping sweat and mopping up vomit. These are the final minutes of the Fourth of July. Everyone has gone to bed late, exhausted, and, apparently, undigested.

[Read more…]