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“The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice.” (Prov 23:24)

Dear family and friends,

My proudest moment as a dad came yesterday after living in the hospital for 2 straight days while our 2 year old son George heals from meningitis.  If you don’t follow Kendra on social media, (post 1, post 2, post 3) you might not be up to speed.  It’s been a long few days, and George has some recovery time ahead of him, but he has improved.

He truly woke up for the first time in days, spoke to me, listened to two story books, could identify a chicken in one of the books, had Italian ice for breakfast, took a couple sips of soup, and collapsed exhausted after all that activity.  They needed to change his pain medication later in the day, so he went through some tough hours in the afternoon.  The new one was working as of press time, and he was resting better again.  We don’t know how lucid he’ll be in the morning.

The proud moment came when my two teenage boys came to the hospital after Saturday morning baseball practice.  This was the first they had seen him since they left for school on Thursday, when George was in bed with mom and seeming under the weather.  They had not experienced his miserable moaning and thrashing fits, where he would wake up and just roll violently from one rail of the hospital bed to the other, moaning in pain.  But they walked in, and were confronted with his suffering.

They went over and began singing to him.  Kendra posted a video here.

This video is at the end, when they’ve gotten him to fall asleep.  But when they started, things were a lot more sad, stressful, and heartbreaking in the room.  They soothingly sang family favorites to him – The Marines’ Hymn, Erie Canal, I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad, and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.  After several songs they had him settled down, and then he drifted off to sleep.

Through the teen years, we’ve experienced some “Wow” moments, when it has felt like all the work has paid off.  This was the latest one, and by the way, we’ve got some pretty great teenagers.  So it’s not as though the Wows are all that rare.  In the first episode of the podcast I do for dads, I talked about our goal of having a family culture that could flip the typical narrative about the teen years on its head.  We have aimed to have teens who are generous servants.  This brief event yesterday struck me as a capstone.

We have two questions that serve as adages in our family, and which the kids have heard thousands of times: “What can YOU do to make our baby happy?” and, “What are you doing to help our family?”  With the way they just took action, despite the shock of seeing the state of their brother, it felt like those lessons clicked in the way we had always hoped was possible, though we never could have predicted that it would all come together in a toddler’s hospital room.  They took the situation over from two exhausted parents and made it better.  I believe that my realizing (and, really, it’s more accurate to say “being reminded of” – it’s not as though I’m just figuring this out about them) this about them has a deeper significance for me in light of my own illness.  I don’t worry about that much in life, but leaving the family without a dad because of stupid cancer – I worry about that.  I worry less when I see strong men who can do – who WILL do – what I would want them to do without having to be told.

Can I tell you about another moment that might now be in second place for proudest moment?  I’ve slept in the hospital the last three nights (barely left the hospital since Thursday night – It’s now Sunday afternoon), and so I had he privilege of being the only one present when George woke up this morning.  I had a little dialogue with him:

“Do you want to wake up, George?”
“Yeah.”  (Only because of the Meningitis Exception Clause in Dad’s Rules of Manners and Civility did I not say, “Do you mean “Yes,” when you say, “Yeah?”)
“How are you doing, George?”
(croaking) “Good.”

I asked him if he could smile.  He actually tried.

Tough guy.  What. A. Tough. Guy.

It made me think of Lone Survivor when they’ve dived off cliffs multiple times, are grievously wounded, pursued by countless enemies, and realize one of their guys is still up there.  They ask each other if they’re “good,” decide that they are, and resolve – impossibly – to go back up the cliff to rescue their buddy.  There’s no way they were “good.”  They just had the will to be “good.”

In no one’s definition could George have been considered “good” this morning.  But there he was, telling me that he was “good.”

George’s situation has gotten me thinking again about the nature of suffering.  It’s one thing for a knowing adult to choose to be a better Simon of Cyrene.  But George can’t really make that choice.  He has no idea what’s going on.  It has made me think again about the current age (I’ve mentioned its loneliness in a few posts – here’s one, and another, and another).  I think there are a lot of people (adults) suffering and they really don’t know why.

There is very deep Catholic theology on suffering, and I believe that it is compelling and true.  It involves uniting one’s suffering with the Cross, viewing it as a gift, and embracing it and offering it as a prayer – again, hard for adults to just pick up and do and for toddlers to understand at all.  Here’s a thought if you know someone struggling with the meaning of suffering: you might start with Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search For Meaning.”  It makes clear the profound impact that finding a purpose for living can have in the most horrible of situations.

I decided that this is one of the best things we can do for George in his suffering – give him a purpose, such that he can understand it.  We can have the face, voice, and touch of someone who loves him there whenever he wakes up.  My hope is that he can understand the love of his family as a purpose of life, in his own 2 year-old way.  I think he can.  Seeing him drift off to sleep, a more comfortable place, to the sound of his brothers’ serenade seems like he must have been feeling safer and more secure.  In fact, one of the doctors pointed out that our singing, chatting, and reading aloud were bringing his heart rate down to a better place, even when he was struggling with pain at the very same time.  Wanting to stay where he’s loved and protected – that’s a purpose.

As we always do, we had a family celebration of the Marine Corps Birthday – first time in a hospital.

The cake is actually an official requirement when Marines celebrate The Birthday.

A few years ago, the kids started making me pink cakes for the Marine Corps Birthday.  They got the last laugh after hearing me always say things like “It takes a tough guy to [drink out of a pink straw / wear a pink shirt / write with a pink pen] and not get beat up.”  The first time they sprung the cake on me, it was iced with an entire paragraph that said, “It takes a tough guy to eat a pink cake and not get beat up.  Happy USMC Birthday!”  They were so proud of it that it became an instant family tradition.

For several of the kids, it was their first time seeing George since he was admitted to the hospital.  Getting to visit George, all gather around his bed, talk to him, have cake in the ICU breakroom – all of it gave us purpose.

With fortitude and prayers for you,