A father for Father’s Day

Maybe I am just one of those unexplained mysteries in life. Maybe because I always wondered about my biological father. Maybe that is why I have been so lucky in my life having two “fathers”.

My sons’ father is the best father and grandfather I have ever seen.  His unconditional love, his self-sacrificing dedication and his ability to keep giving and giving can not be denied.  I believe that the word, “no” is just not a word to him.  He has always said “yes” to the needs of his children, and for that matter to me as well.  Fathers like Rocco are rare, but I know there are a few out there. For instance, my son, Rocky is a dad like his father.  He has the same inner ability to love his daughter so completely and unconditionally. As she grows, I hope she realizes more and more how very wonderful he is and how dedicated he is to her.

My “dad”and my “brother” raised me to be a person who is true to herself, kind to others, and to care about the world around me. My “dad” passed when I was sixteen years old.  My brother is still the one I look to for answers.  Whether or not he reaizes it, he is still the one I depend on.

Today I want to tell you about my brother, Tommy.

If one could picture the life of a person when they were a child and to realize that what they have been through is no life for any child, then they would know that the man I know as Tommy, who came out of that life better and stronger, is in itself miraculous.  They would know that this wonderful man is the most selfless, loving, hard-working man that was ever born.

It was a tough life when my brother was a small child.   His father was an alcholic and the venom from this sickness took its ugly poison out on my brother and his siblings.  Without going into too much detail, let me suffice to say Tommy took the brunt of that venom.  It became so bad that for a time his mom sent him to live for awhile to her sister so he could escape the onslaught. When I was born Tommy was ten years old.

I turned seven when I first started to notice who it was that was nurturing me and making sure I had everything I needed, like food, clothing and shelter. Tommy was now seventeen and graduated High School.  He was also the protector for my “mom” and me.  Ever since he was able to work he made sure our mom and me were taken care of.

Life wasn’t all bad. He was also a prankster and a loyal friend.  Some of the funniest episodes I ever heard were about the pranks my brother would pull on his family, friends and co-workers.  When our sister, Joanie passed away at the age of twenty-nine from complications after brain surgery to remove a tumor, she left two small babies behind.  One was two years old and the other was six months.  While their dad had to keep working, my mom took them in to live with us in our six room tenement apartment in Park Slope.  They spent Monday through Friday with us and their dad took them on the weekends.  Tommy immediately took on the role of dad to them during those days and had always taken that role on for me.  Yes, our siblings helped as well.  There was after all, eight of us altogether. I was the youngest.  I recall Tommy taking us to the World’s Fair in Flushing, Delancy Street in Manhattan for clothes, and to the local theatre for movies, etc. If we had any treats or toys it was Tommy who bought them. When the boys turned seven and five, their dad remarried a wonderful woman named Eileen. Together they brought the boys to live with them, of course, leaving us left us with  heavy hearts because they were more like brothers and sons to us.  Years later we now know that it was best for them to leave and have a life with their own dad and stepmom.  However, I was still there and Tommy became more like a dad to me than ever and when “daddy” died, it was Tommy who pulled me through just as he did when we lost “mommy” and then did the same when we lost two more of our sisters and our niece. He pulled me out of so many childhood and young adulthood mistakes. He helped me when sickness befell my baby boy, he helped me when I thought I would sink from financial disaster. I cannot recall one time in life good or bad when Tommy wasn’t right there, or just a phone call away.  He is the one constant in my life.  The person to whom I owe everything.

By now you must have surmised why I chose to write this Father’s Day tribute to my wonderful brother Tommy.  There just isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of him or even talk to him.  He has always been my confidant, my advisor, my father in every sense of the word.  Even though I am a grown woman, wife, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin, friend..none of those titles would have been possible without Tommy in my life.  He is officially “my brother” but everything he has ever done for me is something a great dad would do.  So I want to tell him Happy Father’s Day and that even though he chose not to have children of his own, he has helped raise and has given to all his sisters, nieces and nephews so very much that the title Father belongs to him.

He never truly gets the recognition and appreciation for everything he has always done from his heart, so this small tribute is my way of saying thank you with all my heart for being the best real Dad I never really had.

Happy Father’s Day, Tommy.

And that’s the Way I See It, here in Brooklyn.

K

 

 

 

 

It Takes A “Special” Man To Be A Dad!

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Special is defined in the English dictionary in this way: unusual or better; held in esteem; reserved; made for specific purpose; arranged for specific purpose, etc. In accordance with that definition, my dad was a very “special” person. Today May 4, 2016 is the 47th Anniversary of his death.  I was sixteen years old.

Complex; complicated; misunderstood; unstable; loving; self-educated. My dad had a disease known as alcoholism. As mean as he could be when he drank he could be just as kind and nurturing when he didn’t.  I often thought of him as two people in one. His need for alcohol was always present, although it lessened in his later years. I came into his life when he was forty-three years old. I like to believe that I made a difference in his life at that point. Members of my family have told me that he was crazy about me at the instant of my birth. My memories begin when I was a small child. Naturally, some of those memories are not good. I would rather focus today on the memories of Dad that have stayed with me my entire life.

The most poignant memories begin with Dad and me watching television in our tenement living room. I would sit on the floor, he in his favorite chair. On the screen before me was always a movie starring either John Wayne, James Cagney, Busby Berkley Musicals or Fred Astaire with Ginger Rogers. My Dad would tell me all about the stars in those movies and we would often sing along if it was a musical. When we weren’t watching television, he would work with me on my homework assignments and every day he would “assign” me the jumble puzzle printed in the Daily News. I was always praised and rewarded if I got the jumble words correct. In those days, many students went home at lunchtime. I was one of them and for lunch my dad would prepare grilled cheese sandwiches cooked in the waffle iron, or heat up Franco American spaghetti for me. On Fridays he would add a fish cake or fist sticks with the Franco American spaghetti as the side. He always tried to make lunchtime fun for me. After school, I would often sit at his feet as he told me stories about his adventures in the military or advised me about the importance of education and the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. I always thought he was truly a smart man. Even when he wasn’t sober, there were things that he said that remain with me. When I first heard the words he said, my thought was that he was a very selfish person, but as I got older I realized the words he used were quite filled with real wisdom. He would always say whether drunk or sober, “Me, Myself and I , first comes me then comes you, capital R capital O capital N.” Today I realize that he was saying a person needs to care first for themselves before they can take care of others. It wasn’t a selfish statement at all,  instead it was the most sage advice I ever received.

My Dad as complicated as he was, was truly a special man and if he were here today, I would thank him for all those times he was there for me and for all the times that he made me feel like the “special” one. My hope is that after all this time his spirit is at peace now.

That is the Way I See It here in Brooklyn!

 

K

JOEY Remembered

January 28, 2016….the first Anniversary.

It was one year ago today that Joey passed.  Another sad day to mark in our memories.  Losing our loved ones through death seems to happen sooner and more frequently in this stage of my own life.  I still miss the Joey I once knew and the memories of what Alzheimer’s did to him in the end are forever embedded in my mind.   Unselfishly I know God was merciful to finally bring him home, but selfishly, I still think about how much he is still needed by so many.  Joey will always be missed and we will forever remember him.

I am reposting this blog I wrote about him right before he passed and remembering how fortunate I was to have had him in my life for all those years.  Rest in peace Joey.

Last time I wrote about my brother-in-law Joey was July 10, 2013. Today I am very sad because Joey is now at the very end of his life and I will miss him.  His struggle with Alzheimer’s has been a long hard road, especially for his wife, daughter and grandchildren.  Everyone else who has the privilege of knowing Joey will also feel the pain of his passing because he will no longer be here in any form, so it is for our own feelings of loss that we will share in this sorrow.  You see Joey has touched so many people in his lifetime, some he may have known about, while others haven’t realized until now, just how much he gave to them.

Joey was never boisterous or even talkative, but I remember his smiles and his laughter.  I can still hear his corny jokes in my head and even though I didn’t want to laugh, I couldn’t help myself.  I can see him making faces when my sister would tell one of her “stories” as if we shared our own secret about them.  I can remember my own children and some of my nieces and nephews telling me stories about Uncle Joe and the way he either taught them something or shared a trivia knowledge with them  which made them appreciate him all the more. I remember him liking sports and family dinners and vacations.  I remember how much he liked to laugh.

I know how he adored his daughter and grandchildren and would move mountains if he needed to in order to protect and care for them. I know how much he loved my sister, his wife and would spoil her without  hesitation or remorse. I know how kind, generous and solid he was as a man and a person whom anyone would be proud to know and call a friend. I know how the world will miss a soul as good as his.

I have to be honest and tell you that I have prayed for God to take him away from his pain lately.  To allow him to leave this earthly life of struggles, misery and anguish in a dignified and peaceful way.  I know now that my prayer is being answered and this wonderful human being will go peacefully into the night free from fear and worry.  When his spot in heaven is prepared and ready God will finally bring this loving man home.  I hope my sister and niece will be able to rejoice in the knowledge that this great man was in their lives for so long and his life was full and all their lives were blessed despite this awful disease that afflicts so many. I know I feel blessed that Joey was in my life and a part of my family.  I know I will love him always and never forget his goodness and kindness.  I will miss you very much Joey, but I know, I truly know you are going to a better place. I know one day we will meet again and when we do it will be as if you never left.

And that is The Way I See It, here in Brooklyn!

K

Lessons in Life

You cannot run from your past. No matter how deeply your mind’s self-preservation hides those experiences. Doesn’t matter if they are good or bad, happy or sad. Those memories of the past are still there. Every once in a while they get triggered.

A recent family issue has brought one of those memories to the very forefront of my mind. All of the feelings I had arose right along side those memories and they hurt no less today than they did back then.  Doris’ birthday is July 7th and there is not a day that goes by that something or other makes me think about her, but none are more conscious than on her birthday.  She left this world on February 27, 1982.  Five months shy of her 47th birthday.  Her death was not an easy one.  Her life was not an easy one.  Yet, her kindness, her intelligence, her beauty never diminished until the very end.

My sister Barbara and I flew to California that week in February of 1982, trying to prepare for the worst.  We received a call from her significant other and her son telling us that she was dying from liver disease and if we wanted to see her we should fly out immediately.  It wasn’t until we arrived that I found the real reason for the calls.  They needed me to sign off on her death.  She was on a ventilator. Her body deteriorating to skin and bones.  Her once vivid red auburn hair now a dull grey.  Her eyes so full of life and promise now gazing far away as if she could see something none of us could.  My heart was so heavy seeing her lying so helplessly in that hospital bed and Barbara, I am sure felt the same.

Here is where my past comes back to haunt me.  Since the age of 13 I knew Doris gave birth to me, but I didn’t know her as a mother, only as a sister, but that is another story for another time.  It seems that the doctors in California needed consent to turn off the ventilator.  They were telling us that her brain was dead and that the machine was breathing for her.  I couldn’t bring myself to admit that.  She just looked at me.  She gestured for me to come down to her mouth so she could say something in my ear.  I couldn’t really make out what she was trying to tell me, but I had a deep feeling inside that I knew without the use of comprehensible words.  She thought I didn’t know how much she loved me and how she loved her two children just as much.  I could see it in her eyes that she didn’t want to go, but had no choice now.  Same as most of her life she had no choice but to make the decisions circumstances presented to her.  How could I, knowing this turn off a machine that kept her with us?  I just couldn’t do it.  I had to consult with the rest of the family.  We had just lost “our” mother in December of 1979, how could we now be expected to lose Doris as well?  It couldn’t be this way.  There had to be another answer.

For five brutality hard days we stayed in California.  Everyday calling home to Brooklyn to report on any progress she had made, but there wasn’t any. She remained the same and seemed to be melting away before my eyes.  She never opened her eyes after that first time when we arrived.   She was sleeping I kept telling myself.  Just in a deep sleep and soon she would wake up and we would remove that machine then and she would breathe all by herself.  The doctors kept bursting that idea everyday.  Her significant other and her two children were also of the same consensus.  They kept telling me I had to let her go.  She was not there, her brain was dead.  I had to sign off on papers that would shut off that machine and agree to DNR orders.  She had no will so I didn’t know her wishes.  All I knew about her was the things she would tell me during our phone calls.  She was a drinker so she would call me in the middle of the night and talk to me for hours about her life and dreams and her hopes.  She would tell me her concerns about her young daughter and her pride in her son.  She would beg me during those calls to watch out for them, to protect them.  I could never really make that promise because our lives were so separate, although I have tried in the past to mend those fences, it just was too torn down to salvage.  So her wishes for herself never arose in those conversations.  She was very unselfish by nature and would never think of herself first in any instance.  So those thoughts were with me as my sister and I walked through Doris’ life in those five days.

We met her friends, we saw where she lived.  We did things that she would have done on a normal day in her life in California.  After a few days, we were able to get a clearer picture of her and how she lived.  Her life wasn’t perfect, but then no one’s life is perfect.  She was, however, surrounded by love and as far as we could tell she was happy for the most part.  I found comfort in knowing that.  Finally, the fifth day in California had come and I could no longer delay the decision I knew I had to make.  The family back here in Brooklyn didn’t want to give her up, but they couldn’t see her.  Back then we didn’t have the same technology we have today.  It was my word and Barbara’s word that they had to rely upon.  After confirming with doctors one last time, I signed the order to remove the machine and a DNR order.  Within an hour she was gone.  It was just the machine keeping her alive.  It didn’t matter how I felt or anyone felt, her body and mind were finished on this earth.  The disease decided for her.  I still have no doubt that if she had the choice to live on she would have, even though most of her past was painful.  Somehow I know she never really forgot those painful past memories and experiences, but for a short while she found a way to live with them instead of resisting their constant power over her will, hence her drinking problem.  I could say “if only” forever, but it won’t change what was or what is.  People would say she brought it upon herself.  I will tell them they are wrong.  Her past brought it on her.  Things that she lived through from a very young age haunted her short life and even though she was smarter than most women I know, she just never put herself first and that in the end destroyed any chance she ever had of a full life.

The decision I had to make that day changed my life forever.  It placed a crack in my heart that has never healed.  She was my invisible support system.  Her words of advice no matter how seldom she had a chance to give them to me were chosen wisely and I listened.  Her love of life, her passion for new things, her love of people are my legacies from her.  How could anyone think the decision that was placed upon my shoulders to shut off the machine that kept her breathing was an easy one for me?  Something that profound is never easy on anyone who has the responsibility.  The most important part to remember though isn’t what we need or want, it is what the person would want. If Doris would have been a vegetable with the machine, she would have wanted to turn it off and I know that.   Her quality of life was gone a while before she wound up in the hospital because the disease was eating her alive.  Trying to save her would have been easy, letting her go was the hardest thing I ever had to do.

Today I sit and I watch as another family member is going through a similar heartache.  My heart aches for them.  I know, I really know that they can’t see beyond the need they have for the person to remain alive and I hope that it will be okay for everyone involved.  I hope that the person isn’t suffering as I believe they are and that the person’s family will find the courage and love to let the person go one day soon.  It won’t be easy to do and it will hurt beyond recognition.  It will, however, also be the most unselfish act they could ever perform. It will also be that memory that stays hidden in the mind, where it resides so that your life can continue and where along with all the other memories it only gets triggered on occasion just so you never really forget or escape from the lesson in life that it taught you.  So happy birthday Doris.  You are not forgotten.  You are forever imbedded in our hearts.  Your life was worthwhile and your soul lives on.

And that is the Way I See It here in Brooklyn.

K

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Happiness

Everyone wants to be happy.  It’s more than an adjective or adverb, noun or verb.  It’s an actual feeling.  It’s hardest to do when you are a young adult because all of the troubles in the world are on your shoulders. However, if one would learn to push the negative out and allow the positive side in, I am willing to bet that happiness will start to infiltrate the soul and before you know it…you will find yourself …happy!  For me, I can jump-start the process of feeling happy by listening to music….happy, uplifting, danceable music!  Maybe for others it would be a movie or perhaps a book, or maybe just a smile from a fellow human being.  Whatever the start is pay heed to it!  Follow it through.  Allow yourself the luxury of feeling happy.    

I decided to be happy even though another year has gone by and I am no better nor worse than I was a year ago!  As I reflect upon my life these days (which I always seem to do around the date of my birth) it becomes more and more apparent that although I have had trials and tribulations, as most of my fellow human beings, for the most part I have had a good life up to now.  A GOOD LIFE, now that isn’t something everyone can say.  As I think back and see my childhood, my teen years, my young adulthood and now, I have had the support of family and friends always in one form or another.  The people I have met have kept my life in perspective.  My life is enriched first and foremost by my family.  I have a terrific family.  Sure we are all a bit nutty here and there, but no more so than most.  My life is enriched further by my friends.  I have made so many wonderful friends.  Sure they are all a bit out there at times, but those are the times that make me laugh the hardest!  So I have concluded that people really do create love.  

Even though it’s about to be my birthday and people tend to be a bit nicer when it’s one’s birthday, I have to honestly say that most of my birthdays have been memorable and happy.  Yep, I said it …happy!  It’s actually a euphoric feeling when one decides to be happy.  It isn’t the same as when something makes you happy.  It isn’t the same when people wish you happiness, either.  It’s more of an inner peace.  A gift to yourself.  Choosing happiness in the face of adversity, choosing happiness in the face of illness, choosing happiness in the face of poverty, is truly a unique and rewarding feeling.  Truth be known, only you can do this for yourself.  Happiness is the one true choice a person can make for themselves.  All it takes is a decision to be happy.  To look at the sadness that surrounds you and the awful things in the world that you can only pray will change and decide that you will do your part to better it by first caring about those things and then do something about them with a happy outlook.  I decided that I can’t change things as I would like them to be, but I can accept them and I can make a difference with every word I write and every smile I give.  That is how I choose to make a difference and give the gift of happiness by being happy.  I have heard through the years that when the person in the household who keeps everything together is happy than the whole household is happy.  Same applies to the person on the job or anywhere.  If that person is happy everyone is happy.  I have tried it and I know firsthand that it works.  Happiness is infectious!  So infect people with happiness wherever you go!

So Happy Trails! Be Happy Together! Smile!  Act as if your life depended on it, because actually it does!

And that’s the Way I See It, here in Brooklyn!

K

My Beloved Wanda

My Goddaughter, Shanell Nekiia stated to me tonight,

“Kathy your girl left this earth yesterday”

With those words came a shock of disbelief, until I heard from her sister, Roxanne who confirmed what I was afraid to face, my beloved friend Wanda passed away from a heart attack on January 30, 2014 at the age of 59.

I am still shocked and I feel her gone from this earth and the sadness overcomes me. Never again will I be able to hear her laughing at my shenanigans. Never again will I hear her childlike innocence over a secret I shared with her. It was as if I shocked her with each adventure of mine that I revealed to her. No I haven’t traveled the world or climbed any mountains, but every little thing in my life that happened and I told Wanda about it, I felt like the most well-traveled outrageous woman ever, sort of an Amelia Earhart or an Auntie Mame, and she made me feel so great! When I was troubled or worried it was Wanda who made me laugh with her and all of a sudden everything vanished and it was funny. This blog tonight isn’t about me though, it is meant to be about one of the most amazing women I have ever known.

We met when we were in our twenties. We both worked at New York Life Insurance Company in Manhattan. Never in a million years did either of us think we would wind up as bookends. She a proud African-American woman and me a Caucasian mutt (Irish, English, Scottish and French) woman. Both of us were considered middle class at this stage of our lives, but we knew poverty and were trying to overcome it. Neither of us believing we had so many things in common. We did though, the more we talked the more we knew we were extremely similar in every area, we bonded from those discoveries and we stay bonded throughout our lives. We trusted one another. We never judged one another. We shared all those intimate details without hesitation, laughing through the other’s shock at our behavior at times. We were similar to two of the “Sex and the City” girls. A bit out there, taking risks and trying almost anything at least once. I can only remember two times in over 35 years seeing or hearing Wanda cry. She didn’t cry in front of people, she tried to show toughness, but her niceness always shined through that facade.

Even though there are a dozen of antics I could reveal, I choose not to divulge them, because I know my friend wouldn’t want that and I will respect her. The two of us couldn’t help but hang out together once we realized we were almost the same person only of a different race. Our friendship grew despite the disapproval and jealousies of our other friends. It was our fault though and we knew it, but still couldn’t help just hanging out together every chance we got. We still loved our friends, we just couldn’t share all the things Wanda and I shared with one another without feeling judged. You see Wanda and I just simply accepted each other and neither of us ever judged each other or anyone else. We never talked about others and how they were or what they did. We just simply were friends. We met each other’s families and they became our family. We met each other’s boyfriends and future spouses. We went to each other’s weddings and childbirth. We suffered together through breakups, sicknesses and accomplishments.

As we grew older we stopped seeing each other, each of us involved in our own worlds of marriage and motherhood. However, we never kept out of touch. At least once a year we would talk about what was happening in our lives, we would catch up as if we saw one another yesterday. We would always remember one another’s birthday. The only regret I have is that I was one of three Godmothers to her only daughter, Shanell and I didn’t keep up with Shanell. Not because I didn’t want to, but because my circumstances through much of my life, didn’t give me the privilege of choice. However, I have always been proud of the honor Wanda bestowed on me from the moment she asked me and I still feel that honor. Wanda knew I felt this and always understood why I couldn’t demonstrate it as I wanted to, she never held it against me and always updated me about Shanell. Wanda loves Shanell and her granddaughter, Nekiia with all her heart and of this I am positive. Wanda was always Wanda. She never changed in all the years I knew her.

She was very ill the last few years, but told me recently that she had her numbers under control, except for her sugar. That was always fluctuating because, like me she was addicted to soda. In the last three years, I tapered off the soda and replaced it with bottled water because like her, I developed diabetes as well. She was on medication, I came off medication but still have fluctuating numbers. Wanda couldn’t escape her need of soda, it was just stronger than her willpower. I understood. Now she is gone from a heart attack. I don’t know what happened yet and I’m not sure what led to the attack, but it doesn’t matter. Right now the only thing that matters to me is that I live in a world now without Wanda. My Wanda the funny, bubbling, secretive, caring, genuine, magnificent Wanda. A true friend, a real friend, a best friend a woman with substance, humanity, and heart. She was brave when needed, strong when needed, subdued when needed. She had wisdom beyond her years. She had love as great as Venus and conquered whatever hate she felt long ago. If it seems as if I am exaggerating than you didn’t know her. She was a humanitarian, a wonderful loving grandmother, a loyal and trusting friend. I loved her ever since I got to know her and I love her still. How I will continue in a world without Wanda being in it is beyond my thinking. I cannot imagine it. She kept me grounded. I had no fear, no mistrust, no doubt when I was with her no matter if we were live, online or on the phone. She exuded such a positive, welcoming aura that no secret was too secretive, no wild or risky act was too risqué. She was so accepting of all of it.

She also was fiercely protective of her loved ones and would be stern when she felt it was necessary. She was stubborn and class conscience, she would let you have it if she believed she was right and you were wrong. She was just like every other mom I have ever known, taking care of her family the best way she knew how. She will be missed beyond any of these words, but I needed to write them. I wanted the world to know that Wanda left her mark. That she is still loved beyond words. The world and I lost a precious human the other day and all I hope is that she is in a place where she is pampered, protected and pain-free. Wherever she is they are lucky to have her.

Wanda I love you, I miss you and I wish you rest in a peaceful and comfortable place. You will always be my beloved, trusted friend.

And that’s The Way I See It here in Brooklyn.

K