Friday, May 29, 2015


To my son Tommy,

Lately, I demand you do your own seatbelt. You have been switched to a booster seat and you have been given this new responsibility of securing yourself in the back seat. It is still my responsibility to make sure you did it correctly and are safe, but the initial effort is now coming from you.

Today, you struggled with that seat belt. I heard a bunch of "I can't..." and "It's too hard..." followed by whatever challenge seemed to be thwarting you at the moment. It was like you were searching for an excuse I would accept so I would go back and do it for you. I didn't. Instead I sat there waiting patiently after saying, "Don't tell yourself you can't. You can do this!" You finally got the darn thing buckled and I saw some pride on your face as I cheered a loud and sincere cheer and offered you a high five. "Daddy, it was just a little difficult and I didn't think I could do it. I was having trouble seeing it and pushing it. But, I got no worries," you replied humbly.

You see that picture above? That is me posing with one beautiful intelligent soon to be official nurse (aka your mom) who just walked across the stage for a recognition ceremony. You know what? There were times, throughout the past couple years, that she wanted to give up. There were times she said, "I can't." and "It's too hard." A quick browse through the letters over the past couple years and you can see that it was difficult, with multiple challenges, on every front, from health to family. There were many times when she questioned if she could, but she persevered.

You see that green cord around her neck. That denotes her excellence and her induction into the Alpha Eta honors society (a ceremony we went to previously). She also got into Phi Theta Kappa honor society (though we missed that induction ceremony because you had pneumonia) and made Dean's list every semester and had (I believe) high honors. The only award she didn't get was some "Outstanding Student" award that the nursing department at her school forgot to fill out the paperwork for the entire class. So not only did she at one time want to give up and didn't, she pretty much knocked it out of the ballpark with her effort and success.

So try not to tell yourself you can't too much. If things get tough, look at what your mom accomplished with all the things going on around her. Keep struggling, keep trying, keep on keeping on. Know that it is in your genetic makeup to overcome and succeed. Just like today, I will try to avoid just doing it for you, but know that I will be there, watching, supporting, cheering you (and your mom) on with loving pride in my heart for every challenge you face.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Friday, May 22, 2015

Birthday Adventures

To my son Tommy,

Yesterday was your Grandpa Leo's 67th birthday. I had plans of doing something grandiose for him, especially with the uncertainty that brain cancer holds for the future. The grandiose party plans were nixed and we just had dinner with just the basic crew of you, me, your mom, your Nana Jeanne, your Great Uncle Kevin, your Grandma Roro, and, of course, your Grandpa Leo. Your Great Aunt Cathy came down with our cousin Christina for dessert which was a gluten free, celiac approved, tapioca cake with some candles. By the way, in case you end up with celiac disease which I think is genetic, here is a hint; you have to add lots of ice cream to gluten free cake otherwise your tongue turns to dust. The first ingredient in this case might be tapioca, but the pretty sure the second is shredded cardboard.

As we summoned saliva and talenti ice cream to get down the cake, we talked about birthdays of yore. Your grandpa and great aunt share a birthday month (she has hers on the 24th so only three days apart) and consequently they always did something together, usually just the two of them. They would both take off from work and go an adventure. Remember, the word "adventure" is very subjective. They talked about cooking classes and trips around the state and all sorts of events.

One of their stories was about a trip to Annapolis. On your grandpa's suggestion, they ended up on a bus tour of the city. This is your grandpa's idea of a wild and crazy adventure. To hear them tell it was quite comical. The tour guide was going through and asking stuff like, "Is there anyone from California?" and hands being raised here and there on all the out of state locations. Only two people on the tour were from Maryland, and that includes your grandpa and great aunt.

That story flowed into the time, long ago and far away, that they were travelling in Wyoming and your Grandpa Leo made everyone take a detour so he could give them a tour of Cheyenne where he lived from toddler days till about age of ten. Not sure of everyone on the trip but I know it was your Great Uncle Chuck Kennedy driving and your Great Aunt Cathy was on the trip and of course your Grandpa Leo and Grandma Roro, and I assume your Great Grandparents Deezy and Charlie and your Great Aunt Patti Kennedy and your Great Uncle Tim, etc. Evidently, they double backed, when they were close to Laremy which was their destination for the night, because of the insistence of your grandpa. The tour consisted of such grand sites as "That is the bush I hid under when Sister Marie Gregory was trying to hit me with a ruler" and other such gems. I just pictured the entire family sitting there staring at a bush in wonder and awe,

Then it struck me, as we all sat there laughing at these tours and what your Grandpa Leo considers interesting, that even though your Grandpa Leo has lived through some pretty wild and crazy events in his life, that isn't what we were recalling. I mean your Grandpa Leo has narrowly escaped death on multiple occasions throughout his life and especially his military career. We weren't sitting there talking about the time a grenade was lobbed into a courtyard in Turkey that he had just left, or the time in Norway where an avalanche wiped out a bunch of Nato troops on exercise, or the time in Germany where a guy put down a briefcase machine gun (yes they do or did exist) without the safety on, or the multiple times on the Russian border where he could pick up binoculars and look at the Soviet soldier staring back at him through binoculars. Nope, we sat there reminiscing about much simpler, much more regular, and evidently from the bush staring story, often more boring times.

Every story, every memory, every moment recalled from a life well lived that was worthy of a birthday conversation, had one thing in We weren't talking about some grand adventure or harrowing advent, it was stories about family and togetherness. We weren't telling "big fish" stories to impress or brag, but rather small unremarkable stories that brought us closer together with our shared moments. The tales weren't filled with the times that your grandpa made great suggestion and perfect decisions, but rather celebrated what some might see as a quirk or imperfection or even (quite wrongly) a fault in his adventure choices.

After this realization, I feel for his 67th birthday your Grandpa Leo got the birthday he wanted, and the one he deserved. My wish for you, and me, is ... may all our birthday adventures ahead of us be just as boring and memorable and filled with love and family.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Monday, May 11, 2015

Doing Nothing

To my son Tommy,

Your mom is zonked out on the couch. She was up to 2:15 in the morning perfecting her final paper and project and presentation for nursing school. She is taking a well deserved nap.

You, however, are up to no good. I know because when I asked what you were doing, you replied, "Nothing." That nothing involves some type of glittery sand art packages, and a homemade minecraft robot, and scissors, and who knows what else. So it is a good thing you are doing nothing.

I am sitting down in the living room, debating on how much leniency to give you in your "doing nothing". I am a firm believer on allowing a little bit of freedom and space to get into a bit of mischief.

When I went up stairs to find you "doing nothing" which looked strangely similar to feeding glitter sand to a robot tiki totem pole that you have created in the middle of your room, you came down to plead your case to your mother. Your mom is so tired that right now you could probably paint your room and she wouldn't care, as long as you stop waking her up.

So, officially, every Downey in this house is "doing nothing" and now I am deciding if I can continue doing nothing as you have decided to draw on your face to make yourself a tiger. Not sure when you became Dennis the Menace or Calvin from Calvin and Hobbs, but I think you have turned some dark corner. I blame your Great Uncle Kevin's influence.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Friday, May 1, 2015

Wasted Time

To my son Tommy,

On one or more occasions of my youth I accused my parents of wasting my time. At young ages, the definition of time well spent is quite skewed. My dad would just smile that smile each and every time I would say, "This is such a waste of time."

This morning, on our way to your Great Great Aunt Jule Slagle's funeral, I realized how much time spent parenting is running around and saying, "Find your shoes. We're already late." Talk about a time sink. I am guessing at least three hours every week are spent trying to find shoes. Today one was under the coffee table and the other under the couch.

I guess that is why my father smiled that smile. He knew some day I would really know the meaning of wasted time, but by then I would consider it parenting, or one of its sacrifice, or even time well spent.

Sincerely with love from your dad,