Teach Your Children Well

A few months ago, I sent the following letter to the children of my three brothers and three sisters. The letter is self-explanatory. The response from my nieces and nephews was overwhelming. Readers may comment at the end of this collection, and I will make the comments available to all readers as they come in.

Dear Niece/Nephew,

I am writing to you in hopes that you will be able to contribute to a collection of stories about my brothers and sisters who are your parents, aunts, and uncles. I am certain my siblings would enjoy seeing each other through their children’s eyes. This is where you come in. I have listed a series of prompts that may help you. There could be one prompt that you really want to respond to in your submission or there may a prompt that leads you to another topic. You may need no prompt at all, having wanted to say something about your O’Dea parent for a long time.
I am asking for submissions of any word length, but a minimum of about 100 words. I will compile the submissions and put them together in a printed format for distribution to my brothers and sisters. I will also have this compilation available to you online.
Please send your submission to me at sboland3@cox.net or send it to me at 4236 Battery Road, Virginia Beach VA 23455.I am asking that your submission be in by 1 April (extended by request to 15 April and then 30 April).
Prompts
What did your mother /father teach you about parenting?
What was the nicest thing your mother/father ever did for you?
What is the best advice your mother /father ever gave to you?
When were you most proud of your mother/father?
What is the most remarkable achievement, in your opinion, by your mother/father?
If you had to choose one adjective to describe your mother/father, what word would it be and why?
What is your fondest memory of time you spent with your mother/father?
What has your mother/father taught you about growing old?
What is your favorite story about your mother/father that you like to share with your own children?
What did your mother/father teach you about marriage?
This is an opportunity to do something memorable for a fine group of people. I hope you can make the time to participate. I look forward to receiving your submissions.

Bessie Clemenson on Art and Bobbie

I am writing about Dad, but I want to start by saying that the greatest thing Dad ever did for me was marrying my mother. The second greatest thing my father did for me was giving me eight siblings.
Last night I was reminded of my father as I took a long, slow walk on a crisp April night with my two daughters. Caroline and Bridget were in a passionate argument. They went back and forth and I found myself getting drawn into their argument, trying to figure out how to fix it. Fear crept in, “what if this argument never ends?!?” I was reminded of an argument that stands out in my catalogue of sibling fights.
Robie had a new duvet cover that was mixed with my new brassiere in the wash. How I loved that bra, and Robie loved her duvet cover. The two pieces were mixed together in a way that one needed to be destroyed to save the other. I do not remember who won and I will never forget my fatherʼs quick response, “thatʼs what I call a booby trap!” What I felt in my fatherʼs reaction to the situation was release from the argument, and it was not because of his work experience in conflict resolution, or even his status as a seasoned parent after mediating such sibling arguments over two decades. What stands out in this argument, is that Dad never seemed to doubt the inevitability of reconciliation, and the certainty of our love and support for one another.
The most time I spent with my father was during the sporting years-from age 16 and through college. During this time my father taught me how to be a good spectator, and that there was absolutely no question that he had my back! As a spectator-my father would show up in a tweed suit, hands in pockets, and he behaved like a gentleman. There was one exception that stands out. I was being heckled by a spectator. It was painful, because I felt ashamed for being aggressive on the basketball court. In the second half, the man stopped his heckling. I mean not a peep escaped his mouth. Our small town bus driver, Fred Grout, chuckled as I got onto the bus after the game because he was aware of what was behind the cessation of heckling. I later learned that my father approached the man, and in a low voice he said “you heckle my daughter one more time and I will break you f______ nose.”
Dad taught me to pray. In high school, after confirmation, the religious education class dwindled to 3, maybe 4 students (including Peter and I). I remember the content of some of those classes but the memory that stands out is Dadʼs passion for teaching our class the Prayer of St. Francis. To this day-I rely on his pneumonic and find his persistence in teaching high school religious education to this small group quite remarkable. I was reminded of this last night when I made a comment about the beautiful white capped mountains in the background, “let’s just stand for a moment and take 10 deep breaths.” My younger daughter, Carolineʼs response was, “Oh great, out comes the Hippy, Boulder Catholic!” So if I had to choose one phrase to describe my fatherʼs approach to sharing his faith with us I would use “resilience.” Despite years of derision, eye rolls, and even requests to stop-Dad has never given up on sharing his faith with his kids.

Tricia Clifford on Maureen

Maureen Feeney knows how to have fun. There is very little she will say “no” to. When I was younger, mom always knew how to jazz up a boring time. I was feeling “sick” one day in the third grade and I wanted to stay home. I remember it so clearly because instead of making me sit on the couch, she told me to “get dressed because we were going to the duck pond.” I wore my favorite yellow sweatshirt because it was a sunny day outside. We had ice cream, fed the ducks and played on the monkey bars. My mom took a photo of me hanging upside down and to this day, it is one of my favorite childhood photos.

In later years, my best friend and I would tell my mom “We are bored, what should we do?” Mom would come up with the best ideas. “Only boring people get bored” would be her response and she would rattle off about ten ideas. Fun ideas. One of our greatest works of filming came from that: a show we called Choosing Sides where we would act out the right and wrong decisions a teen can make in their everyday lives. We made about three episodes and Reenie was the cameraman. We had a blast doing this with her.

On another occasion, my best friend and I were hanging around and my mom said, “Anyone want to go to the shore with me? Come on, let’s go!” We jumped immediately at the idea. A night at the shore? With mom? YES! Mom had borrowed the key to Aunt Lizzie and Uncle Morgan’s Sea Girt home and we stayed overnight. It was an overcast day with little to do because it was off season. Reenie found countless things to occupy our time like flying kites on the beach, taking pictures around town and going to the Saloon for dinner. We had a blast and yet again, the photos taken that day are some of my favorites.

Birthday celebrations at Houlihan’s, Indian Trail Club, graduation celebrations, makeup tutorials, shopping jaunts, pool time, St. Martin, Vermont, camp & college visitation, trips to NYC, Broadway Shows, and the list goes on! These are just small snippets of amazing memories that I’ve accumulated over 43 years with my mom.

The beauty of her attitude is bigger than my childhood memories because her happiness and excitement for life is rubbing off on my children, as well. Her grandsons, Liam, Owen & Sean often talk about mom with huge smiles on their faces with funny grandma stories to follow. She’s the best and the most fun human being I know. I love her more than words can describe and I’m so thankful that I was blessed with a role model like Reenie Feeney. I’m a better (and more fun) mom because of it.

Katie Callahan on Tom

Growing up, we had a dog named Jessie, a German shepherd/collie mix. She was a big dog with a shepherd face and blonde fur. Jessie was part of our family throughout my entire childhood, and adored by all of us. She was strictly an outdoor dog, which was secretly hard to me to live with at times. I can remember on many occasions that I wanted to bring her inside and sit with her as I watched TV or did homework in our family room. However, the rule was that she was never allowed in the house.

On one hot summer day in the mid-1980’s, I broke the rule. There were news warnings that day about the oppressive heat, specifically for the elderly and animals. The news warnings got to me – I felt panicked that the heat might be dangerous for Jessie, I could not stand the thoughts of her outside.

I was home alone, so I brought Jessie inside and kept her in the cool family room with me. At first I was relieved with the thought that Jessie must have felt more comfortable inside, but then I got scared because I broke the rule. I was afraid someone would find out, but I was even more afraid of leaving Jessie outside. I was torn. So, my “plan B” was to keep her in the garage, and to clear enough space so that she could walk and run if she needed. I wanted her to feel comfortable and happy there so that she would not want to leave it. In order to free up adequate space in the garage for Jessie, I thought it was necessary to move the car out of it.

I was no more than 12 years old at the time, I didn’t know how to drive a car. That did not stop me from finding the keys, and pulling the car out of the garage to make more room for Jessie. I left Jessie in the house while I pulled the car out of the garage. Once I got the car out, I panicked again. I should not have driven the car. I realized I made another bad decision, so I knew that I had to pull the car back into the garage, and leave it just as it was – no one would know that I had Jessie in the house, or that I pulled the car out of the garage. That plan failed terribly.

As I tried to pull the car back into the garage, I could not line the car up properly – I hit the side of the house. I pulled the car out again, then tried to pull it in the garage – I did this multiple times – and every time I tried to pull the car into the garage, I hit the side of the house. Several attempts later, and seeing the amount of damage that I did to the house (and to the car) I finally gave up.

Jessie was still inside the house – and barking – she was agitated from all of commotion and noise from my efforts with the car. I was in tears. I abandoned the car – half in the garage and half out – and went back into the house with Jessie. I was beside myself for all the damage I did to house and to the car. I was also crushed because I had to bring Jessie back out into the heat, so that when my parents came home and saw all of the damage, they would not be even more angry by seeing Jessie in the house.

I let Jessie back outside and then went up to my room and hid and cried. To my surprise, when my dad got home (not long after I retreated to my room), he knocked on my door, then let himself in. Rather than yelling at me, he asked me why I pulled the car out of the garage. When I explained my thought process and actions of the day, he empathized. I was not punished. He told me that it sounded like I had a horrible day, and asked if I wanted to go out to dinner. He took me out to dinner that night. I will never forget the relief I felt that he wasn’t angry. I frequently think of this incident as I parent my children. It taught me to be patient with my children, to forgive them easily for any acts of poor judgement, and to treat them warmly. Honestly, I am not always successful with this, but I always make the effort, even if it means initiating a follow up conversation after mishandling a given parenting predicament or conflict.

When I think of this incident and my dad’s reaction to it, I am reminded to teach my children that we are all humans and make mistakes, but the way we manage our reactions to these mistakes is critical. When we approach incidents like this empathetically and with a warm heart, the outcome is far more positive and impactful than reacting with anger. It is the moments that we react warmly and kindly to our children when they are feeling stressed, scared or low, that we create a permanent and positive mark in their memory which will hopefully impact their future approach with their children.

Conor O’Dea on Joe and Sandy
When were you most proud of your mother/father?
As I reflect back on celebratory moments such as graduations, marriage, family events, I recognize the strong sense of pride I have for my parents. Such moments of celebration allow me to relate my situation to others and appreciate all that I have in life. My parents’ success instills in me a self confidence that comes from knowing that I can become what they have achieved. However, their success belongs to them. Their achievements are not what make me most proud of my parents. Rather, it is when they take time for themselves to enjoy the success that makes me most proud. After raising four children and dedicating a major portion of their life to parenting, it is exciting to see them enjoy their time together. Whether it is long weekends or extended vacations, the time my parents take for themselves is well deserved. It makes me proud to know they are taking the time to celebrate their success and enjoy the time they have together.

Maggie Morris on Anna

On Valentine’s Day, 2017, I lost my baby boy on his daddy’s couch.

I had exploded with joy when I found out about him.  My quiet wish has always been to be a mother, and to parent together with the person I love. With this surprise came permission to want what I had always wanted, I no longer had to hide it. I wasn’t defective, unlovable, or dried up. I was certifiably female, a woman. There is no feeling like it—pregnancy—this warm loss of control that hugs you sweetly as it takes over your body. This was a kind of joy I had never felt before.

It was as if some invisible gates opened, I belonged. I noticed that some people treated me differently, as though they were much more comfortable with me now that I was on my way to accomplishing a “life event.” This made me wonder – why hadn’t people been so happy for me before? Why hadn’t my other accomplishments meant as much to them?

As I reflected on these things, I also thought of my mother. Throughout my life she repeated how defective and left out she felt for years, as her younger siblings married and made children in a way that seemed effortless. In the 1970s it was far less common to be single, 40-something, with no children than it is now. I felt a deeper empathy for my mom then, as a person, as a woman, as a sister, and as a mother. If anyone in the world could understand the place I was in, it was my mother.

And then, he was gone.

A few weeks after he would have been born, I nearly lost my mother. Her heart broke, literally tearing open, requiring a treacherous operation to sew a new aorta in place. In the ICU with her I felt like a fulcrum between life and death. My mother, 84, had narrowly escaped sudden death, yet my baby never had a chance to live. Here I was, on what would have been my maternity leave, feeding, bathing, wiping, soothing and holding not my child, but my mother. And amidst this chaos, my fiancé and I separated.

My mother’s physical recovery was very slow, but she emanated a serenity and wisdom that transcended her condition. She grew curious and reflective about the twists of our lives, “the great mystery” she called it. “Why are we here, Maggie?” she asked. “What is the meaning of all this?” I was the age she was when she had me. How had my baby died? How had my mother lived? Why did the timing of these things seem so significant, both of us with broken hearts, alone together day after day, comforting and loving one another? What did this mean? Did it mean anything? One day she was quiet for a long time and then said, “Maggie, when you fall in love you give something away that you can never get back, and when that love is gone, that void can only be filled with an even greater love and then, only then, can you really know what love is.”

Claire Judge on Liz
It will be no surprise to anyone when we tell you that one of Mom’s overarching lessons to us is the practice of preparation.

Our family vacations always launched smoothly because of it. Two days before departure, Mom would tackle the laundry. Everyone would be excused from the lunch table to collect all your dirty clothes and send them down the shoot. Mom would do hours of laundry, then fold, then march us up to our rooms with our little laundry baskets full of clean clothes. (Our laundry baskets were actually those Rubbermaid rectangular wash buckets that she personalized for us with a black Sharpie in her sweeping penmanship).

The night before departure, the whole family packed. While Dad pulled luggage out of the attic, Mom would sit on her bed, (and that alone signaled the shift into vacation mode because Mom never sat on her bed otherwise) and with her list (sweeping penmanship again) she would dispatch us to our rooms on a mission to return with “one pair of pajamas.” When we returned, Mom would check it off, and dispatch you for “two pairs of shorts,” (check) then “three short sleeved t-shirts,” etc. Every delivery was placed in your own pile, and the excitement grew as your stack grew.

Let’s admit it, packing for a family vacation is often a stressor for the mom, but not for ours. Mom sat on her bed like a teenager dangling her feet over a dock, totally at ease, almost giddy. Her light-chatting adult talk with dad shifted easily into mini conferences with each of her children over their wardrobe selections then back to adult talk. No sign of tension or strain.

Like packing, Mom had her list for food shopping. The Sunday supermarket haul was, in fact, the result of her plan for the week ahead. Like packing, Mom had her list and would dispatch us to “pick out 6 cans of Campbell’s soup,” or “two boxes of cookies,” or “two boxes of cereal.” Check. Check. Check. Notice, she always let you ultimately decide which cereal and which shorts you wanted. So you can’t say she micromanaged anything, just gave us a nod in the right direction.

And the whole college application process was, of course, equally methodical. First, the dining room table was requisitioned as application headquarters. No college stuff left the dining room, so there’d be no search for a lost piece of paper. Mom’s lists commandeered the entire process: appointments for campus tours and interviews, the follow up calls to admissions officers, application deadlines, essay drafts, the letters of recommendations, the follow up thank you notes, and the SAT dates…all according to a schedule and checked off when done. Mom understood the beauty of the Excel spreadsheet long before Microsoft.

Careful now not to get the wrong impression. Though it sounds like Mom might’ve been a bit militant with her lists and her organization, the effect was just the opposite. We grew up with a tremendous sense of security and safety. Panic and chaos never entered our childhood home. Mom always strove to create a smooth, calm scene so we could relax and either enjoy ourselves (vacations) or get down to the real business at hand (college). Mom’s lists taught us to live proactively, not reactively, to live purposefully, efficiently, thoughtfully, and placidly.

Kevin O’Dea on Joe
What My Dad Taught Me About Parenting
Dad taught me how to love unconditionally. One of my greatest possessions is the very very long list of acts of kindness my Dad showed me throughout my life. I have failed a great many times at a great many things; when I reflect on those moments/decisions/behaviors, what always comes to mind is how my Dad helped me through each situation. Sometimes he offered advice; sometimes he covered the bill; sometimes he referred me to another person better suited to help; and sometimes he didn’t say anything because just his presence was enough. But no matter how magnificent my screw up was, my Dad was always there. He loves me – and my siblings -unconditionally. I will always love him for that, and I will love my children the same way for all my years with them.

Brendan Boland on Susan

I got in to a relationship when I was 18 that lasted through my senior year of high school and in to my freshman year of college. It was my first significant relationship and the other things I’d gotten myself in to before that seemed kind of ridiculous in comparison. The relationship was wonderful while I was in Virginia Beach, but when I went to Boston to start school things took a turn.

During my first semester, I would come home as often as I could to see my girlfriend. I believe my first trip back was a long weekend in October, and it was wonderful to see her. Things were still good. Between that weekend in October and the Thanksgiving break, our phone calls became a little shorter and less frequent. When I came home in November, she said I could meet her at a tapas bar in Norfolk around 8:00pm. When I arrived, I met her new friends Kevin and Luke. Kevin and Luke were both vegans who worked in tech or something and enjoyed artisanal cocktails. I was still underage, so I sat in a tapas bar all night watching the three of them drink artisanal cocktails and talk about people I didn’t know. It was “nice” to meet her new friends, but I was looking forward to leaving this pretentious bar and having some time with her sans her new tech-bro friends.

As we left, I watched her give Luke a drunken hug good night in the parking lot that lasted quite a while. I was starting to think about the brevity of our conversations in a different light. When we got to her apartment, she told me she was exhausted and immediately went to sleep. We had exchanged less than a dozen words that night. We had very little time alone over the Thanksgiving break and she talked about Kevin and Luke a lot.

At some point, I was venting about this over a cup of tea with my Mom. I remember Mom quietly nodding and occasionally furrowing her brow slightly. She didn’t say much; she just listened. I was clearly upset and worried about this relationship that I cared so much about, but Mom just listened to me talk quietly nodding.

Between November and December, I started trying to think of ways to salvage this relationship. For Christmas, I saved up as much money as I could and bought my girlfriend an old violin that came in an old wooden case. She had said once that she always wanted to learn how to play the violin and thought they were such beautiful instruments. I thought this gesture might cut through the hardships of a long distance relationship and bring us back to a better place. I was excited to give it to her and had it on my lap for the entire Amtrak ride from Boston to Virginia (that’s a thirteen hour trip). When I got home, I showed the instrument to my folks. Mom quietly watched as I took it out of the case and calmly said, “it’s beautiful, Brendan.” I caught a quick look between my parents and could tell from their expressions that they thought I was being a bit of an idiot, but I didn’t care.

I didn’t talk much anymore about the ongoing disintegration, but it was just getting worse. To say I was a third wheel at this stupid tapas bar would be inaccurate. Kevin was actually the third wheel to Luke and my girlfriend’s bike. I was just a wheel. A wheel that was too young to drink at this stupid fucking tapas bar. I may have stopped talking about it, but I know it was clear that I was struggling and unhappy. Mom kept her distance though and never pried as I navigated my way through it, but I got the impression that she was over it.

The night I gave my girlfriend her violin felt like a good night. She got choked up when she saw it and gave me a hug like I hadn’t had from her in a long time. I felt a lot of my worries and fears soften and melt away a little. I thought she might know how I felt about her now and we might be okay. My mom stopped us at the door as we were leaving and disappeared around the corner. She reappeared with a neatly wrapped box and said “Merry Christmas” to my girlfriend and handed her the present. Mom stood quietly while it was unwrapped to reveal a beautiful pair of black gloves and a matching scarf. We were both surprised my Mom had gone to the trouble of getting her anything at all let alone something so nice. I remember looking at my mom, a little surprised, and she quietly nodded and smiled at me.

The relationship continued to fall apart. We split up. She moved in with Luke and I had a horrible time getting through it. I eventually got over it, of course, and learned a lot about myself in the process. I wouldn’t change a thing, honestly. It was ultimately a good struggle for me to have gone through. When I think back to that time now though, I think a lot about all the space I had to screw things up; to make my own decisions – the good and the bad – and deal with the aftermath. I’ve watched people I care about struggle through things that seem so clear to me and I know how hard it is to be quiet in those times. To just listen, like my Mom did for me, and let people have the struggles they need to have. To let people find their own answers to their own questions and not presume that my answer is their answer. My Mom knew how to do this, and in her way, she even supported my decisions when I think she didn’t fully agree with them. That Christmas, I was still trying to make this thing that I cared about work. I know my Mom thought it was a waste of time, but she still went out of her way to give something kind and thoughtful to someone I cared about. As we left my parents’ house that night, I saw my mom standing in the doorway waving good-bye. I waved back, and felt very grateful for my Mom and her patience and kindness. I try to bring that same patience and kindness with me today to all of my relationships.

Epilogue

Almost a year and a half later, Mom and I sat on the porch at Battery Road eating a pizza and watching television. I must have just gotten home from another semester. It was early in the summer. The windows were open and I could hear insects buzzing around outside.

During one of the commercial breaks, Mom turned to me and said “Brendan, I did a bad thing.” I turned and looked at my Mom. She had a strange expression on her face and it was clear she felt guilty about something, but I couldn’t quite tell how serious this was going to be.

“What is it?” I said.

Mom paused for a moment and looked back at the television. My thoughts jumped between genuine concern and thinking this was going to be a joke. For a moment, I thought she was going to tell me that she threw my old t-shirts away, but I knew this already. Did she do something to Brian? Why would she tell me that? Did she do something at work? Is dad upset? Is Mom a compulsive gambler? What is she about to say?

“…Well” she said apprehensively, “Do you remember those gloves that I got your girlfriend?”

“Yeah” I responded.

“…Well.”

Mom paused again and looked back at the television. I was growing a little impatient, so I encouraged her to finish the thought.

“What Mom?”

“…They were made out of dead bunnies’ fur.”

There was an extended pause during which we sat and stared at one another. I should also be clear that my ex was a strict and outspoken vegan. She ate no meat, consumed no dairy, used no soaps, shampoos, or conditioners tested on animals, wore no fur, leather, or any other animal product and did not buy things from companies known to use animal products in any way.

“You gave dead bunny fur gloves to my vegan girlfriend?” I finally said.

“I had to do something Brendan!” my Mom said, defensively.

“Are you serious?” I said, amused.

“She was being such an ASSHOLE!!” my mom said defiantly. “I had to do something! I couldn’t say anything to you! You had to figure it out for yourself, but she was being such an asshole! When I saw that violin you got her, I just got so angry because I knew she was being such an asshole and I couldn’t say anything, but I had to do something! So I got those gloves and scarf and I cut the tags off so she wouldn’t know they were made out of dead bunnies and I gave them to her because I knew…”

As my Mom went on and on about how pissed off she was with my ex, my mind flashed back to little things like her quiet nodding, slight furrowed brow, and the look she gave my Dad when she saw the violin. Was that the same expression she had when she cut the tags off of the dead bunny gloves? I remembered Mom’s smile when she handed that neatly wrapped box to my ex-girlfriend. I remembered watching my ex try them on and comment on how soft they were. I felt myself transported back to the driver’s seat that night – my vegan ex-girlfriend next to me in the passenger seat wrapped in a tag less bunny scarf holding a violin case in her bunny-gloved hands. I turned to look back up to the house and saw my Mom, backlit in the doorway of our house quietly smiling and waving us goodbye. It was Shakespearean in scale – the planning, the execution of it, the year and a half of not talking about it. I had no idea. No idea.

“…I just had to do something, Brendan!” My mom concluded and sat quietly for a moment waiting for my response.

I smiled and told my Mom I love her.

“I love you too Brendan.”

And we turned our attention back to the television.

“She was such an asshole,” said Mom again, softly.

Terry Feeney on Maureen and Owen
What did your mother /father teach you about parenting?
I think it is the importance of second chances. Both Mom & Dad were ok with being ok – while “never giving up – don’t quit” was the message, just do your best was the lesson.
What was the nicest thing your mother/father ever did for you?
Too many to say as the nicest. Mom and Dad gave, and continue to give, all of us a great life. I want to give that to my kids.
What is the best advice your mother /father ever gave to you?
“Live in the now”
When were you most proud of your mother/father?
Everyday. To watch parents grind without pissing and moaning is incredible. And this is in hindsight – kids are clueless to the difficulties, but to have clueless kids to difficulties is not easy. It happens when the pissing and moaning is little to none.
What is the most remarkable achievement, in your opinion, by your mother/father?
Raising four amazing kids. Without them there are no 12 amazing grandkids.
If you had to choose one adjective to describe your mother/father, what word would it be and why?
Funny
What is your fondest memory of time you spent with your mother/father?
Vacations – all of them. Skiing, beaches, boating on the Hudson, golfing with Dad, drinking coffee early AM with Mom
What has your mother/father taught you about growing old?
“You can never go back”
What is your favorite story about your mother/father that you like to share with your own children?
Our children hear stories about Mom & Dad everyday – quotes, sayings, anything that reminds us of them we call out. Mom and Dad came to visit us at Kawanhee (Maine) in the summer of 1984 or 1985. They told us we could go do anything we wanted. No brainer, Smalls Falls – slippery rocks and cliff jumping. Kennedys, Feeneys, and friends piled into their Black Lincoln. Getting there required a Ford F150. They made the Lincoln work for us. After hitting a very large rock on the “road” to get there, Dad began muttering curses under his breath. Mom began to whistle some unknown tune. We all sat in the car expecting the trip to be over. To everyone’s surprise, Dad got out and ripped the silver chrome off the side of the car and threw it into the woods. After he got back in the car, he announced: “Chrome? What chrome?” And on we went, Mom’s whistling replaced with laughter from everyone.
Our parents are the masters of surprising us all our lives.
What did your mother/father teach you about marriage?
Marriage is not easy. Sometimes it is best to just shut your mouth. I once told my Mom I loved my teenage years – her response, “no, it gets better”. She was right.

Robbie Lucas on Art and Bobbie
I believe I’m now at the age Dad was when he made a big career change from a lawyer to a judge. This meant leaving his law practice, a beautiful house that his 9 children and wife were so attached to, and a hometown his children had thrived in. This big shift was without drama or looking back. And, at various rates, we kids adjusted. In another eight years, I’ll be the same age Dad was when he lost his judgeship and started a new business. Again, this happened with remarkably little drama or regret. We kids saw a man who was optimistic and industrious through the whole ordeal. It is so reassuring to me that he (and mom) were able to carry on, still raising young kids and already grandparents, in spite of that financial, emotional and professional setback. I think about the wonderful years he still enjoyed after that point and it helps me keep the highs and lows of my career and parenting life in perspective.
During that time when we were living in this new town, Barnet, VT, Dad and Mom invited two couples from the Catholic Church to join them for dinner. They were intellectual, formal people. They never struck me as being fun. I’m not sure Dad’s heart was in it. Dad took charge of cooking the beautiful leg of lamb mom had planned. He didn’t just overcook it, he charred it beyond edibility. Coming up with a plan B wasn’t easy in Barnet, VT on a Saturday night. So Dad made the decision to “go with it”. He didn’t acknowledge the fact that the meat was burned and they got through that dinner party. The next day, Mom described the uncomfortable moments to us, laughing at how Dad had conducted himself as if serving meat fit for a king and describing how difficult it was for the guests to even try to politely cut the hard, burned meat on their plates.
I have a shiny black Ford Expedition with beautiful black leather interior. I haven’t often driven or ridden in a car this nice–or new. The smell and feel brings me back to when Dad bought a shiny, new, black pickup. I think it was a Chevy. I was pretty young when he bought it. I would guess about first or second grade. We were all proud of that truck. But we didn’t have it long. One Saturday Dad used it to do some work on the property and left it parked under a big maple, near where he used to “burn”. We went inside to eat lunch and while eating, one of the boys came in yelling, “Dad! The truck is on fire!”. We all rushed out to the patio where the shiny black truck sat with thick, black smoke pouring out of the cab.
The firemen came quickly and I remember standing with what seemed like a small crowd. As I remember it (and this memory could be shaped by the stories I’ve since heard) the fireman who I was standing next to seemed more amused than worried. Maybe he figured Dad had car insurance and it wouldn’t be a big deal to a family with the material wealth our life at Buck Hill Farm portrayed. I also remember that the conversation about what caused the fire evolved. At first, there was a lot of talk about an engine fire. And reference to a defect that Chevy would be compensating us for. There was a sense of good fortune, this was surely a stroke of good luck that the truck had spontaneously caught fire with no one in or near it. The good luck vibe was gradually lost. I eventually learned the real story from whispers and comments made when Dad wasn’t around. My brothers didn’t need an investigator to tell them that Dad had been burning down in a field by the pond and decided to save the ashes (maybe move the coals?) so he could start a new burn up by the house. I’ve never understood what really happened because although dad is a big story teller, this one never makes his playlist. It’s one we tell when he isn’t around.
The amazing thing is that I think of and tell that story with some sort of pride. The incident is actually comforting to me now. Dad made some mistakes. He didn’t think he needed car insurance back when it was optional. He left ashes in his truck bed. He was often reckless with fires and electric fences. (That could be a whole book of stories itself.) He allowed his brand new, shiny black truck to burn within days of driving it off the lot. But he never looked back. He never whined or beat himself up. He taught us how to recover from a mistake. And is example shows that one mistake, or several mistakes, do not defeat a person or make one a failure. I know this shiny black Ford I own won’t stay shiny or always smell so good and I know I may be in lesser vehicles after it passes through my life. But my love for it is such a happy reminder of a man who once too loved a truck and then moved on.
Dad isn’t just in my mind with mistakes. He’s so intricately connected to my happiest childhood memories of being outside, having freedom and feeling safe. Each season has memories from an amazing childhood, made possible by parents who were so good at making a home. One of my favorite events as a kid was when Dad would make everyone help load wood into the basement. I think of him so powerfully when I’m alone in the woods cross country skiing. His enjoyment of it and his enjoyment of doing things together fueled so many memorable excursions. Back then we had to wax our skis and I marvel at what it must have taken on his part to get us all out there. It wasn’t perfectionism. It was optimism. And humor. Whenever Dad participated there was sure to be laughter. Either in the moment b/c he so often made us laugh, or afterwards because his behavior was always fun to analyze and critique.
When I wake up early and go to feed the chickens I think of my dad. He owns early mornings in my memory bank. His energy and hustle when anyone had a plane to catch a game to get to or a long drive to make have been passed on and as I pack a lunch for a kid or warm up a car it’s with Dad in my heart.
One of the best lessons Dad taught me as an adult is that you don’t always have to confront. Dad and Mom once received a scathing letter from someone connected to one of their children. It could have triggered defensiveness. Or even a counter-attack. Mom and Dad read the letter, put it away, gave no reaction and one week later invited the author of that letter to have dinner with them and other friends. They had a wonderful night and the content of the letter was not allowed to live on. I think of that so often. They forgave the letter writer and the letter writer forgave them. They didn’t try to talk themselves out of the criticisms they had received, instead they behaved themselves out of it.
Now that I’m over the hill, I am so grateful to have an impression of aging shaped by Dad and Mom. They’ve stayed active and continued to have so much influence on everyone in their lives. They’re physically and spiritually vibrant. They live in a simple, comfortable style that I deeply admire. Dad’s vision is giving him challenges but he’s adapting. His peace and acceptance are such a gift.
Brian Kennedy on Liz
I recall one unusual evening while in high school when Mom and I were home alone on a school night. Unannounced, a contractor was at the front door seeking payment for an incomplete job on the house in Tenafly. The contractor had yet to remove the demolition debris that sat in piles in the back yard. It was around 9 pm and the contractor’s wife was there too, but she stayed in the truck, which remained running on the street in front of the house. It was unexpected. This couple appeared to be a little rough around the edges. I don’t recollect profanity but close to it. They wanted payment, and in no uncertain terms, they let us know it.
I remember feeling a bit unsure initially …. Was I going to have to deal with this guy? Thanks to Mom, that turned out to be unnecessary. Mom handled it. There was some back and forth, but Mom did not let it escalate. She really stepped up and calmly explained why payment had not been made and that it would not be made until all the wood piles were picked up and hauled away. I was standing right next to Mom, witnessing her standing up to this unexpected confrontation. He was barking, and we even heard some yelling from the wife, who had some things to add from the truck. Mom did not go to their level. Instead, she remained composed and strong. At one point, the man suggested that I should pick up the wood piles, but Mom calmly, but firmly rejected that idea with “It is not his job … and he is doing his homework.” (I had been watching the Rangers hockey game, to be honest, when this guy knocked).
All these years later, the story sticks with me. I was really proud of Mom’s ability to handle that tense situation with her cool resolve. Mom really showed strength with rationality. She made it clear what the reasoning was for the situation. I’ll never forget it. The best part of my memory was that Mom and I were cracking up together after they left the house without their payment. Mom found humor in it all and that added to my awe in her handling the whole scene. It was not only a great memory, but also a great lesson in how to parent. I hope if my boys witness me handling a similar situation someday, they will be as impressed and proud of me as I am of Mom.

Joe O’Dea on Joe

Do the right thing: I imagine my dad’s moral compass was calibrated at true north from the day he was born, and I’m not sure it’s ever really veered from that position. As teenagers, my siblings and I were often reminded that we were “ambassadors of the family”. It was one of those very predictable comments, yet always delivered in an earnest manner. And whenever we slipped, having to face up to it with dad was a debilitating experience. I can still feel all too clearly the stomach pain that went with owning up to screwing up. We weren’t grounded and privileges weren’t really taken away. The pain of the experience was knowing that dad practiced what he preached, and we let him down. Conversely, we didn’t need to do anything particularly remarkable to make him proud. Simply being good people and navigating through different experiences as best we could always seemed to earn a sincere hug and love and praise.

Getting spoiled by dad: Growing up, we never put too much value on brands or fancy experiences. The cupboards were full of generic branded cereals. I didn’t know what The Gap was until junior high. In college I gave away a Coach wallet, not knowing the brand and because I thought the thing felt cheap. However, every once in a while, an experience with dad was kind of like one of those restaurant menus with no prices. These were never showy or grandiose; they were little things, but they were very special. In high school, I needed a new winter coat for skiing. These were the kind of things I normally did with mom, and I’d get something perfectly good and functional and reasonably priced. But dad took me shopping instead. We went to the Mountain Goat in Manchester and I was basically given the freedom to shop for the coat I wanted. 25 years later I still have the North Face coat. It was red and black and a prized possession, and I still smile thinking about getting it all those years ago.

Car rides: I have a couple particularly lasting memories from car rides with just dad and me. The first was in his red Corvette. Before he had one, he would talk with great joy about the Corvettes of the 1960s and 70s. Then, for a brief time, he had a Corvette, which later became a pool. As kids, we were mostly embarrassed of it. On occasion, he’d drop us off at school and other kids took notice when we clambered out of the fancy two-door sports car. But one time, I remember loving the car. The two of us were on the highway, and suddenly we started going faster. The car had this cool vertical speedometer and digital gauge. I don’t remember the build-up to peak speed, but I remember being blown away when we crossed into the 90s. This was my dad, who wasn’t a rule breaker, breaking the rules and clearly having fun, and I got to go along for the ride. The second car experience was coming home from a basketball game during high school. Normally I would ride the bus, but for some reason I rode home with my dad. We were close to an hour from home when for some reason I put my window down a bit and then it wouldn’t go up. It was winter in Vermont and it was freezing. I had a coat and I was still freezing. Not long after the window was stuck down, my dad gave me his coat. I remember asking a few times, but he wouldn’t take his coat back. I can only imagine how cold he was, though he never mentioned it. Now being a father, I can see doing the same thing. And if it ever comes full circle, I expect to proudly shiver the whole way home.

Tom O’Dea on Tom

What did your father teach you about parenting?
My father taught me to make sure my children know my love for them is unconditional.

He taught me to be independent and to be adventurous and encouraged me to do the same with my children. He always said that my children will learn more by watching me than by listening to me. He emphasized to me that, most of the time, it’s better to let my children fail and learn to pick themselves up than for me to intervene.
One of the best lessons my father taught me to pass on was to take responsibility for my actions and learn from my mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes but not everyone handles them properly, like taking ownership, correcting them, learning from them, trying not to repeat them and moving forward.

My father taught me that life is often difficult and unfair, even for those who work hard, but it can be downright miserable for those who are lazy.
My father taught us not to chase material wealth looking for happiness. If you teach your children to be happy for other’s successes and to work hard for their own, you will have given them part of the keys to self-confidence and happiness.
I vividly remember a discussion with my father after a poor report card in middle school while sitting on the edge of my own made bed. My father sat down next to me and asked me if I did my best. My answer was an apologetic and teary “no” expecting to be scolded. He smiled, put his arm around me and said “ok, next time try harder and always remember that your own “C” is better than someone else’s “A”.
My father balanced being the hardest working person I ever met with being a participatory father so well, that I gave him the best compliment I could: “I pray that my children love and respect me the way I love and respect you.”

What was the nicest thing your father ever did for you?
Drove me to school every day at the end of 7th grade after Danny died and took me to a diner, Hanks Place, for breakfast almost every day for much needed bonding time.

What is the best advice your father ever gave to you?
If you work hard and do your best, things tend to work out.

When were you most proud of your father?
Every time I went to the hospital, whether it was when my father had to stitch my hand up in 5th grade or when I had my tonsils removed the summer after college, and every time in between, all the nurses and doctors made it a point to tell me what a great surgeon my dad was and how respected he was throughout the four hospitals where he worked.
How many people loved visiting hospitals as a kid? I did! Not for the stitches or the surgeries, but to hear how respected and admired my dad was and feeling the pride of being Dr. O’Dea’s son.

What is the most remarkable achievement, in your opinion, by your father?
Putting himself through college and medical school. He could have played football or basketball at Yale, Holy Cross or Iowa but decided on basketball at Georgetown as he knew he wanted to go to medical school after college and that gave him the best chance of achieving that goal. And the most amazing part of that story is I did not know about the other schools and offers until well after college. He never wanted to talk about his athletic achievements because he didn’t want us to have to try and compete with that kind of a legacy.
When his Georgetown teammate and former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was honored at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in NYC as the Georgetown Alumni of the year, with over 1,000 people in attendance, my father, brother, brother in law and I all sat at the head table with Paul Tagliabue. During Commissioner Tagliabue’s speech, with a spot light on our table, he mentioned how everyone on the team admired my dad because of how hard he worked and how driven he was to be a doctor, even as a freshman in college, thus earning the nickname, “Doc.”.

What is your fondest memory of time you spent with your father?
Too numerous to point out but 3 stick out for different reasons:
1 – Enjoyment – The years working and caddying at Concord Country Club were about as much fun as any high school kid should be allowed to have. My father was one of the most respected members of the club and a great golfer. I spent every second I could there working the summers during high school. My brother and I worked in the pro shop, cleaned clubs, pulled bags, gassed carts, caddied and sometimes played. I could not have picked a more enjoyable way to spend my high school summers than working with my brother and caddying every day, which included at least a couple times a week for my dad. I walked around feeling luckier and prouder than anyone in the world because I was Dr. O’Dea’s son.
And then about 10 years ago, we won the Member Guest tournament after we each made numerous unbelievable shots in the playoff. If Hollywood had written the script, no one would have believed it was possible – and anyone who has seen me golf would agree (right Morgan & Walter?).
2 – Pride – Getting sworn in as a Connecticut State Representative in 2013 with my wife, children, father, Uncle Art, Uncle Joe and Kerry’s parents all there experiencing it with me was a memory I will never forget. Continuing the O’Dea family legacy of public service is something that I know my father appreciates and having his brothers there to experience it with us made it that much more special.
3 – Family – my sister’s wedding. My sister married my college roommate and having both sides of the family there along with my college friends was an amazing night. When my father and sister were dancing at the reception, I distinctly remember smiling and watching them dance and then looking around at all of the amazing people that make up my family and friends and I had an overwhelming feeling of happiness and pride – I wish we all got together more often.

What has your father taught you about growing old?
Life is like a train ride, with peaks and valleys. Don’t be too satisfied at the peak or too pessimistic in the valley. Do your best and it will all work out. But don’t wait for the destination to start enjoying yourself, make sure you enjoy the ride.
Dad – you certainly were right – my train ride of life has had some peaks and valleys but boy have I enjoyed the ride! When I stop and look at my family, friends and the life I have, I consider myself the luckiest man on the planet! Thank you! You and mom raised us well and provided us with everything we needed to be happy, and I’m happy!

Meghan Horan on Maureen and Owen
What did your mother /father teach you about parenting?
-always take the high road and do the right thing
-never, ever quit
-how to laugh (hard), how to love (hard), how to be extremely generous, always keep learning
What was the nicest thing your mother/father ever did for you?
-literally gave everything to their four children – time, knowledge, education, endless work ethic, experiences that enrich everything I do as a parent/friend/family member, allowed the children to have experiences/make mistakes/learn
What is the best advice your mother /father ever gave to you?
-have fun and to never say no
When were you most proud of your mother/father?
-every time they had a party or belly laughed
What is the most remarkable achievement, in your opinion, by your mother/father?
-their endless love of education and how they supported all of us to do the same
-how mom achieved her EdD in lieu of lamenting over the empty nest
If you had to choose one adjective to describe your mother/father, what word would it be and why?
-elegant – they are the “total package” funny, smart, beautiful… instead of keeping up with the joneses, everyone kept up with the Feeneys
What is your fondest memory of time you spent with your mother/father?
-anytime we were on vacation…. Especially dad, as it was not easy for him to relax
What has your mother/father taught you about growing old?
-to build your nest with a lot of resources so that you can enjoy and be safe
What is your favorite story about your mother/father that you like to share with your own children?
-stories about Uncle Art making fart noises on the way home from church and Grandpa O’Dea putting him out of the car to walk home
What did your mother/father teach you about marriage?
-to be VERY smart about who you choose to marry and to do it once

Dorothy Leach on Art and Bobbie
With four children, you would think that there wouldn’t be a middle child. Not so. I had three sons over the course of eight years, and then 7 years later, a little girl. Two batches, shall we say. And Patrick James was the middle child of the first batch. Born four years after Seth, and three years before Brian.
And boy, was he a middle child. There was always a struggle going on with our Patrick. Whether it was at the dinner table where broccoli was the subject at hand, or music lessons where the saxophone nearly drove us crazy, or the never ending quest to go hang out at the neighbor’s house where things were more fun…it was a power struggle that never ended.
When Patrick got to junior high school, he discovered a whole new world of fun: baggy clothes. Rap was kind of new, and skateboarding was big, and all the cool kids wore ridiculously flappy baggy clothes that showcased the underwear beneath. It was all about looking like your pants were literally going to fall down.
It was “back to school” time, and I mentioned to my dad that I was taking Patrick shopping for school clothes. I made some sort of comment about the hideous attire that was popular at school, and Dad said: “Get him what he wants.” That was it. Sometimes Dad says too much. But that day he kept it to five words. And I never forgot them. I took Patrick to Colonie Center and bought him the clothes he wanted. I think Dad’s advice that day came from a deep compassion and understanding of what it means to be a middle child.
Raising a little girl after three boys was a recipe for indulgence. I doted on my Elle. She was the apple of my eye and the focus of much of my attention. She had a very good life, but no little siblings. Which was too bad. I tried to fill that void with “opportunities.” Dance, sports, clubs, camps. I was going to make sure she had every opportunity to shine and grow.
It was all very wonderful but overwhelming. I was complaining to my mom one day about Elle not being able to make up her mind. I was so irritated. And Mom said, “Kids these days have too many choices.”
The great thing about Mom is that she doesn’t tell you what to do. She states a truth. And then you know what to do, all on your own. I can tell you that Mom can straighten me out quicker than anyone on the planet. Except maybe…Dad!

Carol Driscoll on Joe
When I reflect on growing up with my dad the word that continuously comes to mind is security. Dad always made us feel financially secure, but more importantly he made me feel emotionally secure, confident and strong. He made me feel secure in who I was and who I wanted to become through each stage.
Dad helped me find my adventurous side because of the security he instilled in me. I knew I could try theater in high school, head to North Carolina for college, spend six months on the other side of the world, go for jobs I may not have been qualified for and ultimately live in Texas. I’ve always known my dad would be there to catch me in case I fall.
Another gift my dad has shared is his faith. My dad’s relationship with God has been consistent and strong. I think of my wedding day. Dad was walking me down the aisle and the sun came out from behind the clouds to shine on us for a moment. Dad wanted my wedding to be in a church and I have always felt that moment of sun was God’s way of telling us he was there on my wedding day. I think it was a gift for my dad.
I will end with one of my favorite memories, which also involves my wedding. To fully grasp the depth of the memory I have to share a story from 15 years prior. Our family was in Florida at a place called Snook Haven. We had spent the day kayaking on a river and decided to grab dinner at the old shack on the property. Snook Haven must have splurged that evening because there was a band. Dad asked me to dance several times and I always declined. Once I hit my 20s I often wished I could go back to my 13 year old self and tell her to dance with her dad at Snook Haven. Dad came to me a couple months before the wedding to ask if we could take dance lessons. I jumped at the opportunity and those lessons in combination with our father/daughter dance will always be one of my favorite memories.

Katie Callahan on Tom
When my children were younger, our bedtime routine involved a story. We read together every night until they were old enough to read “chapter books” on their own. We have a very large collection of children’s books. I have kept all of them (I am a book hoarder). The books from my children’s childhood fill multiple bookshelves in my house. Some of our family favorites include stories with a CD musical companion.

My children and I made very frequent trips to Barnes and Noble when they were younger. They each got to shop for a book and choose one to bring home. As we browsed at one of our book store outings, the book “Puff the Magic Dragon” struck my eye. I was so excited, and even more thrilled when I saw that the book included a musical companion CD. I had not heard the song in years, and seeing the storybook version of it, along with the musical CD, reminded me of a vivid memory that I have of my dad driving me to preschool in his Toyota Corolla (I called it the monkey car – I don’t know why). As my dad drove the stick shift car, we listened to the song, “Puff the Magic Dragon”. I remember singing the song together. That is among my favorite memories of my dad, and one that stuck with me. In raising my children, we ALWAYS play music in the car, from the time that they were babies until now. Just as I have the memory of “Puff the Magic Dragon” with my dad, my kids remember specific songs like “Sunshine on My Shoulders”, the Wiggles tunes, and also “Puff the Magic Dragon”, that remind them of our car rides. I love that my memory of listening to and singing “Puff the Magic Dragon” with my dad, is also one that I share with my children.

Brian Boland on Susan

What did your mother teach you about parenting?

I’ve been looking for trouble most of my life. I’ve been told I’m fairly good at finding it. That being said, I’ve often wondered how I’ve gotten to where I am in life with a clean record and all ten fingers and ten toes. As I am now a few years into the parenting game myself, I watch my own daughter with an oftentimes comical level of curiosity. She’s become quite adept at probing to see just how far she can go with whatever endeavor her little mind has settled on. I try my best to let her go as far as reasonably possible within the constraints of not getting hurt or hurting someone……or hurting the dog. I could tell her ‘no’ from the outset, but I choose not to. The thought has crossed my mind that this is much the same way my mother raised me and my brother. We were not easy to deal with, of that much I am certain. We had our fair share of scrapes and bruises, many times abandoning the dead end we’d walked down with our tails tucked between our legs. And each time my mother was waiting for us at the front door with some sage words of wisdom…..and dinner.

 

Owen Jr. on Reenie and O

I cannot endeavor to put into a small essay the qualities and positive attributes our parents have passed along.  I will begin with attributes then a story.

 

My parents always told us growing up that we could be anything that we wanted, and that we were so handsome, bright, good, able, and wonderful.   Children believe these things when heard from their parents and internalize them, and I have carried these sentiments throughout my life – toward success in my career, parenting style, community and opportunities.   Furthermore, I hope to have passed these same sentiments to my children.  As a parent who is involved in coaching and mentoring other children it is a quality rarely seen in this day and age.

We were given a long leash as children – allowed to try things, push limits, test boundaries, and make mistakes.  We never had a curfew or were “grounded” as a punishment.  Qualities I have passed along to my own children so they may be intuitive, inventive, exploratory and questioning.  Again this is not the norm in our current society.

I recently went to steamboat with my lifelong friends from kindergarten and all of my friends have fond memories of “Reenie and O.”  They shared stories and laughed and ended the discussion with the statement “Your parents were the best and they did it right.”  I agree.

The“beer tree” story was a hot topic as an homage to my parents’ style so i will share that.  During the summer of 1988, my parents  went away for a weekend so i decided to have a few friends over.  A few friends in high school is roughly 100 people.  I had a great party, we had a lot of busch beer and everyone ended up safe.  My friends and I did what we considered a meticulous job of cleaning up and the house passed inspection upon my parents return.  The following day I pulled up in my driveway after works nd my parents were sitting in lounge chairs by the pool.  This was not uncommon as the pool was relatively new at that point.  The noted oddity was they were summoning me and seemed to both be drinking beer out of a familiar can to those who had little to no money.  “Onie boy – come up here and see what we discovered”  Excitedly i entered the back yard to find out what the revelry was about. To my undoing the lawn people had come that monday and as they trimmed up the shrubs very tightly the underside of the bushes were now very visible and very scattered with empty beer cans that had been thrown into the bushes without the cleanup crew’s ability to see them. To this my mom said,  “Look – we have a beer tree!!  Isn’t that cool?”  And they continued to laugh and finish their busch beers.

We learned that life continues to get better everyday – even in retirement!  My mother pursued her doctorate degree after she had raised her children, and my father hurdled a speed bump of forced early retirement without a hitch.  They roll with life, and don’t swim against it.  They see the best in people, laugh freely, give freely, love freely. I am beyond blessed to have Reenie and O as my parents – a sentiment that grows stronger in life and as i raise my own children!

 

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