Over the Long Haul

I was blessed last month to be invited by our morning and evening MOM’s Groups to speak about marriage. At the time, I wondered what a man in his late 40s could offer a group of mostly young mothers in their first several years of marriage. Then I recalled a conversation with our oldest son Brendan and his wife Becky when they were discerning marriage. Specifically, I remember telling them, “We promise for better or for worse without really knowing what that means.”

It’s best that we can’t see the future. Maybe an unforeseen struggle will derail all our plans. Maybe it’s a cancer diagnosis or the loss of a child, a broken past or hidden addiction. Or maybe it’s the slow-building weight of sarcasm or unsolicited advice, the accumulated slights of day-to-day living in close quarters, or the endless routine of raising a family. Whatever our cross, when it comes, we can either carry it as a burden or swing it as a bludgeon. For better, or for worse.

After 26 years of marriage, I’ve learned that I’m still the same guy. Certainly I’ve changed a bit: I’ve kicked a few really bad habits, praise God, and gained some gray in my hair and beard. But I still have all the same buttons in all the same places, and Jodi still pushes them—for better or for worse.

Continue reading

Mr. Fix-It?

Back in the summer of 2019, my 1966 Ford F-100, Rosa, died along the side of the road between Elk River and home. She was my daily driver to Saint Andrew and back, and it was a sad day when the tow truck operator rolled her off the flat bed to her shady spot beside the garage.

The neighbor boy, watching the action over the fence with the acute interest of a future heavy equipment operator, said: “Best. TV show. Ever.” He didn’t sense my loss.

As of this weekend, Rosa rides again. Yesterday, she joined the parade of tarp-lined pickups and minivans loaded with leaf bags headed to the compost site to remove the leavings of autumn. She stalled once and sputtered twice at stop signs and traffic lights; she also seeped oil from nearly every seal and gasket for the first couple trips, until they swelled and began to hold again.

I told Jodi during our morning prayers yesterday that I knew we had a busy day planned, but I wanted to do at least one thing that I just flat-out enjoyed.

I’m an emotional guy. The first load of leaves choked me up a bit. I had a big, goofy smile all the way home. Rosa’s back!*

Continue reading

Autumn Update

The older I get, the more I repeat myself, so you may have heard this before: I would take six months of October. A half year of crisp, cool, color-filled autumn; about six weeks of snowy white winter between Thanksgiving and roughly New Year’s Day, and the balance a long, blooming spring that turns green but never quite gets hot.

If ever I find the right combination of latitude and altitude, I’ll be gone. You’re welcome to visit.

We’re currently blessed with a beautiful October here in Minnesota. The leaves turned from green to gold, red, orange, and bright yellow in a few short days, it seemed; a thunderstorm stripped the top two-thirds of one tree across the street, but left the others intact, and even a sticky, wet snowfall earlier this week served only to make the color pop before vanishing into the soil before noon.

This morning the rooftops are coated in pale frost, but the ground is wet and smells like year’s end. Indoors, coffee’s in my cup, bluegrass is on the radio, and a whiff of the furnace’s first burnings is blowing up from the registers. It’s gonna be a good day.

Continue reading

Family and Fruitfulness: A Father’s Perspective

It’s getting quiet around here.

This weekend, Emma and Trevor are helping with our church’s Core Team Retreat, so just Jodi, Lily, and I, along with our Airedale Bruno, are at home. It’s a preview of our new reality beginning early next month—our youngest as an only child; we, as nearly empty-nesters.

This situation is not extraordinary. Indeed it is almost inevitable, and certainly preferable to a basement full of adult children without direction or dreams. But both Jodi and I agree that the approaching transition feels different.

* * * * *

In the wee hours of Thursday morning, our oldest son Brendan, his bride, and his two little sons left Bismarck in a plane, bound for Minneapolis, Boston, and, ultimately, Rome. They arrived in the Eternal City early Friday; they will make their home in a convent apartment for 10 months out of 12 for the next two to three years as Brendan oversees Student Life for the University of Mary’s Rome campus.

We hope to visit them this spring. We didn’t travel back and forth to Bismarck often these past few years, but seeing the four of them in person just once a year—and the stark reality that an ocean and two half-continents lie between us—leaves a hollow feeling in my chest.

* * * * *

Tomorrow morning, we take our youngest son, Trevor, to Saint John Vianney Seminary (SJV) at the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul to begin his undergraduate studies and formal discernment of priesthood. In his case, he’ll be less than an hour away, but it seems further somehow. SJV is an island of clean-cut, well-dressed young men living and praying together amid the highs and lows of life on a fairly typical college campus. The young men’s schedule is structured and rigorous; their access to technology—especially smart phones—is strictly limited; their studies are not oriented simply to a career field and a job, but to a lifelong vocational call.

Continue reading

Gofer-Vision, or the Search for the Quintessential Tool

Yesterday I was completing a couple home projects in our basement and reminiscing with our teenage son, Trevor, as I worked. In the course of the conversation, a shared memory surfaced: Once when I was working on a different project (the kids’ treehouse, I think), I sent Trevor to the garage to get the orange carpenter’s square.

“Big, flat piece of steel, like two rulers at a right angle to each other. It should be hanging on the peg board over the work bench. Bright orange—can’t miss it.”

He was gone a long time.

* * * * *

When I was old enough to read the fractions etched into the sides of sockets and wrenches, I became my Dad’s “gofer” (as in, “Go fer this; go get that.”)—and I had an uncanny ability to look squarely at the tool my father asked for and not see it. I could not see something for several minutes straight; we never tested the upper limits of this knack of mine, primarily because the sought item would snap into focus the moment Dad disentangled himself from the drivetrain of the pickup, rolled out from beneath it on the creeper, stood, sauntered over to the bench, and pointed at it, right where he said it would be.

“Oh,” I would say sheepishly, handing it to him. “I didn’t see that there.”

Continue reading