Six Beautiful Words…

Out of surgery and doing well! Deo Gratias!

Dad indeed did have a complete hip replacement today and they also set his wrist which was cleanly broken. So, generally speaking that is good news and what is standard procedure in these cases (Thanks to my good friend Dr. Beth Rooney, who is a physical therapist and who gave me the crash course in what happens when someone breaks a hip).

Prayer was rich today, as I took the morning to settle in and pray deeply. I continued prayer as I shoveled snow this morning (my walk and the sidewalk). I felt like a kid thinking about my childhood with my father. Snowy days of pushing cars out of the muck and winter camping in lean-twos (three sided houses—brrrr).

But mostly I thought of his great and generous spirit. My dad, now retired, was a school custodial worker for 30 years. He was a beloved person in his school (when he retired they threw him quite a party) and was always generous to both the children, teachers and staff–but more importantly the neighborhood. The firehouse down the street made him an honorary firefighter because of the strong friendships that he developed with the guys and because he’d take the snowblower and extra block so they awoke to a clean driveway for the rigs. “Those guys deserve it,” he’d say. “They run into burning buildings and it doesn’t matter who’s inside. The least we can do is let them rest and take care of their driveway.”

He’s given a lot to me and our family and today especially, I am overwhelmed by gratitude.

One of the holiest men I know, Fr. Tom Ryan, CSP, recently reported to me that this was the first Christmas that he spent without his mother and father, both of them passing on recently. He spent this Christmas with his siblings and their children and he noticed his parent’s influence everywhere. Then he said something simply wonderfully filled with grace:

“I was filled with such gratitude for them, so thankful that they took the time to start this family.”

A touching thought of thankfulness, given to those now gone before him, but trickling down to those of us who still have our parents, now in their old age or even those who are still young. Fr. Tom got to know his siblings better over the break and their children too and grace abounds. How often do any of us pause and just take a brief moment for gratitude for the genesis of our family trees?

Older people look back with a much gentler gratitude, I think. My wife’s family holds a family Christmas party each year, a command performance, to be sure. Her grandparents were fixtures and one of my favorite moments was when Marion’s grandmother looked into the eyes of her husband, then 96 years old and not able to see or hear well. She said a simple excited phrase: “Louie, look what we did! There’s about 80 people here!”

Today, let us take a moment to be grateful for life. Ours and our families and friends. I’m grateful too, for my colleagues here who have kept me sane today. Even for those of us who don’t always have great relationships with our families, can gratitude sneak in perhaps in smaller ways–for birth, for safety, for attempts at forgiveness?

Breathe in deeply and fill your lungs with the air that gives us life, the spirit that propels us into the action of grace, where we live not merely for ourselves but for others. That spirit belongs to my dad and I pray he’s given a bit of that to me. May that someone who has enabled grace to take root in you, be in your memory and prayers today. Amen.

Of Boyfriends and Sock Monkey Hats

I’ve been relaxing with my wife and her family over the Thanksgiving holiday. It’s been a lot of fun. We went to see Sesame Street Live with my youngest niece. My nephew is taking all kinds of engineering like courses for teens. I went to see Harry Potter with my other niece and the shock of all time: both of the older nieces have boyfriends!

I sized them both up. They seem harmless enough. I remember being a teen age boy and the concept of having sex with a girl was about as foreign as winning the lottery to me. I know times have changed, but I also know my nieces to be strong women and smart as well.

My sister in law and her husband are Jewish, so we had a wonderful Shabbat dinner on Friday as well as Thanksgiving with extended family.

As for my family, mom is in the hospital again. She’s OK, a painful bout of diverticulitis is the culprit. It’s no fun being in the hospital on the holidays. As they say, “There’s no place like home for the holidays” and we know that all too well in the Hayes household.

So today, enjoy being home if that’s where you find yourself. If separated, find joy in the memories and pray for those who have gone before us.

I’m off to hug my favorite niece one more time.

For the Sake of the Gospel

It never gets easy to leave my wife and Haze the Dog for a week no matter how much fun I know lies ahead on our trip to New York.

For the first disciples the words that Jesus tells us… that people will leave mother and father and wives for the sake of the gospel…had to be tough to swallow. And yet it had to be n exciting time.

We don’t know much of anything about the disciples families. It had to have been tough on them for these men to risk all they had for Jesus. The fact that most of them were martyred must have left many sad and in need of Jesus’ care. And perhaps there is where we find their great hidden faith.

I often think that the wives and families of these great heroes of our faith must have been the greatest primary source for the gospel writers and indeed they wanted to preserve a legacy for their husbands.

So today let us pray for the spouses of lay ministers and the families of students who travel and give up the party scene for some time in service. They keep us honest day to day and let us see Christ deep within our family life. May they be comforted in lonely moments and prayerful in uniting their hearts with ours for the poor.

You indeed give a great sacrifice in giving us the gift of your husbands, wives, or children.

My Sister’s Birthday

Yes–that’s right. My sister and I have a birthday one day apart.

But we are also 16 years apart.



That was my sister hitting me for revealing her age on this blog.

But having a big sister was a real blessing to me as a child. She taught me to read and she took me everywhere with her friends without much complaining. She’s got a heart for children and while never married and no children of her own to speak of, she has been a teacher for students with extremely special needs for decades.

She’s also been a primary caretaker for my parents who are now in their 80s and my mother has lots of health problems. So she’s truly someone who I think is a saint, much moreso than I’ll ever be.

In many ways, we are alike, but in some ways I wish I had a heart as big as hers. It’s 40 years and “little Michael” is still chasing his big sister, Kathy.

So Happy Birthday, Kathy…enjoy your day and know that you have a little brother who loves you and always has.

Longing to Be Like “Mr. Mike Hayes”

There’s only one “Mr. Mike Hayes” and he’s my father.

Now at 81, I’ve started to realize that I have fewer Father’s Days ahead of me with my Father, than are behind me in the distant past. Long gone are days of running in the park and instead are the days where he watches me from afar running with my dog in the park I grew up in as we did yesterday.

But while I ‘m able to continue to enjoy my dad who I am named after, I know there are plenty of people who don’t have that luxury. My father being one of them. Yesterday he was feeling nostalgic and mused about his own father, a man he never knew.

“They told me that he died when I was a baby. I don’t know if that’s true. He could’ve been a merchant marine who passed through my beautiful Waterford County and…well. I guess I’ll never know the whole story and what I don’t know can’t really hurt me.”

But the one man that my Father called “Pop” was my mother’s father. An uneducated, French-Canadian gravedigger and “the nicest man to ever wear shoes” –or at least that’s how my father recalled him yesterday.

“And when he met me…he looked at your mother and said “That’s the one.”

Thinking that this might be my father’s inflated sense of himself, I asked my mother and she corroborated the story.

“Yep. That’s right. He said, ‘Of all the guys you’ve brought home, this is the one you’ll marry.’ And he was right, I did marry him. Nearly 60 years now (their 59th anniversary is this August, God -willing).”

Family traditions are hard to come by at times, but I remember being in my parent’s kitchen alone with my Father and bringing Marion, my now wife of merely 7 years, to meet him for the first time. I had brought only two or three other women to meet the family and I’m not sure if they met with his approval. He never offered an opinion on any of them, he merely was polite and hospitable. But nobody was ever able to keep an interesting conversation with him as my wife continues to do each time she enters his home.

So after a bit of awkward silence I asked my Dad after meeting and talking with Marion:

“So…? What do you think?”

Dad: “About what?”
Mike: “Daaaaaad! You know what! C’mon!”
Dad: (Now laughing mischievously) “OK, OK. (long pause) I would say, of all the ones that you’ve ever brought here I like her the best of all.”
Mike: “But Dad, you didn’t like anybody else I’ve brought home.”
Dad: “Michael, stop it. She’s lovely, she’s the one. You know it and I know it.”
Mike: “OK, Dad. Thanks.”

I wasn’t asking for his blessing. I was looking for wisdom from a man whom I’ve admired for nearly 40 years now. A man who could judge a person’s character with a few gentle conversations and who dismissed people who treated people unjustly with his own pleasant disposition that never required him to be nasty in return. His silence spoke volumes to those people and to others. In essence, he’d be saying “You are not worth talking to because I am not worth talking to in your eyes.”

If for the next 53 years I can be half as good as being my wife’s “Mr. Mike Hayes” as he has been to my mother. I’ll be doing OK. He’s lived those vows:

“For better and for worse,
For richer for poorer,
In sickness and in health
until Death do us part.”

While never having a lot of money nor owning his own home and living through my mother’s many illnesses for the past 30 years or so, nothing but death can ever and will ever keep this man, the only one really worthy of being called “Mr. Hayes”, from being just that–my mother’s husband and my sister and my own father.

And for nearly 60 years, it has been more than enough.

For him and certainly for me.

Thanks for another great day with you, Dad.

Happy Father’s Day.

Dad’s 81

Happy Birthday to my father Michael Hayes Sr today. He is a young 81 and still drives his car and is in generally good health–good enough to continue to care for my ailing mom, which is an inspiration to me and a lesson for all of us.

I think my dad has been a great example of not merely being a good father to his children but an excellent husband to his wife. My parents have been married for nearly 59 years! For those unaware my mother has been riddled with many health issues since I was about 10 or so. Nearly 30 years later my mom is still at it and more importantly, my dad has always been at her side. It would have been very easy for dad to run, afraid of watching his love grow old and frail–but instead he’s faced it head on.

I wrote an article about him when the movie Million Dollar Baby came out. As an Irish immigrant, the Clint Eastwood character in the movie, a boxing fan like my dad, showed the tortured nature that caregivers all go through. Some have a deep inner resolve that helps them get up each day and face the hard truth–that this person is not getting better and that it’s their job to be cheerleader, nurse, psychologist and short order cook all rolled into one. Some can hack it, like my dad and some succumb to the temptation to end their pain by ending the life of those they care for by assisted suicide. (spoiler alert) While I obviously don’t agree with what Clint Eastwood’s character did in the movie, I did feel for him. Caregivers go through so much and the temptation to end suffering is indeed great.

But at their age, with each passing year, in which every day is a gift, I realize how lucky I am to have a dad with the strength and inner resolve that he has had.

I hope I have half the strength he has as I grow older and as I travel my years with my love, Marion–who my dad truly adores as if she were his own daughter (that’s how I knew she was “the one”, by the way!). It will be more than enough.

Blessings Dad! Happy 81.