On the day when the weight deadens on your shoulders and you stumble,
may the clay dance to balance you.
And when your eyes freeze behind the grey window and the ghost of loss gets in to you,
may a flock of colours, indigo, red, green, and azure blue come to awaken in you a meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays in the currach of thought and a stain of ocean blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters a path of yellow moonlight to bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours, may the clarity of light be yours, may the fluency of the ocean be yours, may the protection of the ancestors be yours. And so may a slow wind work these words of love around you, an invisible cloak to mind your life.
~ John O'Donohue ~
for my father
My dad may be the friendliest person you’ve ever met. If you are lucky enough to sit by him on a flight (or unlucky depending on your opinion of airplane chatting) he will know most of your life’s story by the time you land. He will know all about your family, your hopes, what you do for work, or better yet - what you dream of doing for work.
But here’s the real kicker - if you end up on another flight with him years down the road, he will remember you. He will ask how your brother’s surgery went or if you ever planned that trip to Spain. My friends are constantly amazed at my dad’s ability to remember nuances of their past conversations. He genuinely loves people and takes the time to enthusiastically - or empathetically - listen to their stories. My mom summarized it perfectly, “Your dad’s idea of a great evening is being plopped in a room full of strangers in which he has to converse with everyone, whereas this is my worst nightmare.”
My dad’s love for people is demonstrated in his everyday thoughtfulness - he is always doing random acts of kindness and favors for his loved ones. One of the most hilarious examples of this happened during a childhood trip to the Grand Canyon. A slew of my cousins, aunts and uncles piled into assorted minivans and took a road trip to Arizona to see yet more cousins and witness how the Colorado River formed one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World over millions of years. After taking years off our mothers’ lives peering over the canyon walls, we made a stop at the IMAX Theater outside of the park. Being the “rebel” he is, my dad read the NO FOOD OR BEVERAGES IN THE THEATER sign and decided to sneak in three lattes anyway - one for my Mom, one for my Aunt Debbie and one for himself.
Now you need to understand two things about Steve Dunn - 1) after friends and family, lattes rank a close third in my dad’s list of favorite things on the planet; 2) he gets nervous crossing the fruit check-points in California, so this whole “Operation Latte” was bound to fail. Even so, he shoved the steaming hot drinks under his leather coat and, as casually as he is capable of, handed the ticket to the kind young attendant. I still remember her eyes widening as she struggled to find the right words. As politely as she could manage, she whispered, “Um, Sir….you’re…leaking”. One of the lattes had made its way out of its paper home and down my dad's pants. I thought all of us kids were going to die laughing (and my aunt and mom for that matter). The rest of the trip, we’d look and one another in the backseat and snicker, “Um, Sir...you’re leaking”. But that’s my dad - risking public humiliation and third-degree burns to be kind to his wife and sister-in-law.
While my dad would not be the first choice for sneaking something across the border, I would unwaveringly recommend him as a Trivial Pursuit teammate. Jesuit-educated, the man definitely has some synapses firing under his gray hair. He particularly excels in the vocabulary category, thanks to a Masters in Philosophy (taught in Latin). Due to this background he is able to decipher that a Something-something-ologist is someone who studies the left hemisphere of an albino rat’s brain. Needless to say, he gets more than one “how the hell do you know that?!” looks in our ridiculously competitive Christmas game. My understanding and appreciation of the English language is a direct result of his willingness to edit numerous papers throughout my schooling. And I’m sure he could pick out approximately thirty grammatical/punctuation errors in this post, but would never say a word to me, save for “Wonderful job, Sheely!”
He also manages to win big on every sports question (a category that needs to be eliminated from Trivial Pursuit in my humble opinion). His baseball team’s pitcher and basketball team’s point guard, my dad was quite the jock as a young man and is still very active to this day. I remember him telling me a few years back, “I just wish the women in my life loved golf as much as I do”, referring to my mom, sister and myself. And I thought, ‘Well good thing you have Kevin, because trying to hit that frustratingly small ball with a metal stick is the most infuriating thing I’ve ever attempted in my life’. Throughout my high school career he wholeheartedly supported me as I halfheartedly participated in a different sport every season. He never missed a game and always expressed his enthusiasm - Volleyball? Awesome!! Cross Country - cool!! Field hockey - that’s great!! (To this day, I couldn’t tell you the first thing about field hockey or even pretend to be excited about it).
While my time would have been better spent playing the guitar or dancing, my brother did relive my father’s footsteps as the first freshman to make the varsity basketball team in Rocky Mountain High School history. I can still see the pride in my dad’s eyes now. I can also recall the unbelievable level of intensity that arose from his otherwise gentle spirit during my brother’s games - the Mr. Hyde to my father’s typical Dr. Jekyll personality. I think you could actually see his blood pressure rise with every bad call from the ref. My mom made him sit on the opposite side of the gym so we could watch the games in relative peace.
I suppose the only other time in my life that he was so unrecognizable to me was after he shaved his beard when I was one and wouldn't let him hold me for awhile (I've always had a proclivity towards bearded men).
Somewhere between his own basketball games and my brother’s, my dad went to the seminary and spent seven years as a Catholic priest. Yep. Believe it or not, there was a reason he learned Latin aside from unsurpassed Trivial Pursuit prowess. Needless to say, my parents do not have the most typical love story but here’s the short version: they met, fell in love and my dad had to make the very difficult decision to leave a career he considered his calling. I have had multiple people tell me my dad was a phenomenal priest, known especially for his excellent homilies (naturally). He has told me that leaving his parish was the hardest decision he has ever made and took a good deal of thought and time. In fact, it took him so long to make his decision, that my mom's sister - ever the protector of her family - lovingly threatened to take back his Christmas present (a Native American coral ring) if he screwed anything up.
He ultimately made his decision, married my mom and got to keep the coral ring. Ten months later, my brother was here. My dad went back to school to pursue a counseling degree (who wouldn’t want to spend 11 years in college?) and my sister arrived a couple of years later. In 1981, he convinced my mom to buy a VW Van in an attempt to experience the hippy days of the sixties that he missed while in the seminary. Three years later, the van was gone, and I was born. My uncle Steve built them a home in Fort Collins and they built a life with their three children.
Of course, I am selfishly happy my dad chose my mom all those years ago. And I am endlessly grateful that he has chosen his family over and over again throughout the years. For every recital and game he chose over work and for every late night at the office he chose so we could travel together or attend that summer camp. For each and every loving word he chose, the slow gentle wind of which wound around his children, wife and friends throughout the years, forming ‘an invisible cloak of love that minds our lives.’