Category Archives: dads

If you ever had a father figure in your life, you are blessed. If that person isn’t your blood, but treats you as such, you are even more blessed.

If you ever had a father figure in your life, you are blessed. If that person isn’t your blood, but treats you as such, you are even more blessed.

Those words really pierced my heart, because they were posted by my son Sam Gorena on my birthday a couple of months ago. They touched me because it confirmed to me that I had done a good job in helping raise this young man, a young man that I became aware of when his mom was 6 months pregnant with him and I attended her baby shower. Little did I know that I would be a part of his life for so many years after his father passed away.,

They also touched me because it made me realize how I had learned to love Sam as my own. I learned it from my Dad. He came into our lives in 1965, when my little brother Art and I were 9 and 7 respectively. My “father” had walked out on my mom many years before that and we were raised by my mom, with some help from my grandmother and my wonderful grandfather. We did not have a father figure in our lives until my Dad came into our lives and swept us off our feet.

From day one, after he married my Mom, we were “his” boys. He was not “Don” to us, he was just Dad. He was hard on us at times, and we did not really understand why he worked us so damn much.   I would have rather been roaming the streets with my friends than back at home rebuilding cars, going to salvage sales, or recycling aluminum and tin to make a few extra bucks for the household.   But when I am able to rebuild my brakes, change out a clutch, or build a raised garden bed from discarded decking material, I have my dad to thank.

I was a total butt to my dad as a teenager at times. I challenged everything he said, I was sarcastic, and I even at times ridiculed his ideas.   But at the end of each night, when it came time to go to bed, he always said “I love you son.”   I guess that is why I never uttered those words that many stepdads end up hearing – “You aren’t my real dad.”

After my mom passed, my dad’s relationship with me changed.   He now relied on me to help him with important decisions, make medical and financial decisions, and work out some pretty intense feelings of anger, loneliness and resentment that he had built up over his life.   We talked often, even when he left El Paso and moved all the way across the state to DeBerry, Texas.   (Yeah, I didn’t know where that was either.)

I told him it worried me that he was 6 hours away and that I was afraid something would happen to him and I would not be able to be there right away to help him.   My worst fears were confirmed when I got a call one late December evening telling me that my dad had suffered a heart attack and was found laying out on the back porch.   We had talked just two evenings before, shared a few laughs, made plans for me to go with him all the way back to El Paso to see his cardiologist, and talked about some ideas he had to remodel some stuff in his house.     His last words to me?   “I love you son.”

Sitting with my brother one day several months after my Dad’s passing, my brother said something that still sticks to me to this day.   He said our dad taught us a lot – how to work, how to survive, and more importantly, how to love.  Sam’s words to me were directly the result of what my dad gave me; it was his legacy to me.

I would give anything to hear those words again – I love you son.   I miss you Dad. Happy Fathers Day.

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It should have never worked – a reflection on two very important lives.

It should have never worked.   She was a naturalized American citizen born in Campo Madera #2, Chihuahua, Mexico, with two little boys.  He was a former moonshiner from Cedartown, Georgia.

She came to the United States at an early age to work as a maid, married a soldier who left her alone while the boys were young, and worked a lot of hours at a hospital in El Paso to support her sons.

He ended up in El Paso after working several different jobs and a couple of marriages that had gone bad.

They met when he came over to her house to share Thanksgiving dinner with the family.  Apparently they had a mutual friend that got the two of them together.  Talk about a blind date.  Since she did not have a phone, he just showed up for dinner that night.    What could have been a rather awkward meal actually turned out rather well.   He came over the next night to take her out for dinner and made big brownie points with her sons when he brought over two model car kits for them to work on.  When they complained they did not know much about cars, he offered to take them to car dealerships on Saturday so they could see what the cars looked like.   That’s right; he dated her sons as well.   Took them to see cars and bought them cheeseburgers. Still, it came as a big surprise when they got married 3 ½ weeks after they met.

The marriage lasted 36 years, ending only when she passed away from a long struggle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  In those 36 years there were a lot of ups and downs.  They started off poor, as many young couples do, but worked their way up slowly to a rather comfortable position in life.  He retired from the railroad, she retired as a respiratory therapist.  They raised her kids together, and never once did he call them his stepsons.  They were always “his” boys.    To them he was always their dad, and they called him dad from the day they got married.

It wasn’t easy.  There was a rather wide difference in culture, upbringing, and religious backgrounds.  He was raised in a very dysfunctional family and trust was an issue for him.   That caused a lot of strife in the relationship, but they worked through it. Together they achieved a lot of their personal goals.   But then she got sick.

After several years of struggling with her disease, she passed away 12 years ago  on January 28th.  He clearly missed her after her passing.  His four years as a widower found him sad and confused.   He moved 700 miles from one side of Texas to the other side of the state to avoid seeing daily the things that reminded him of their life together.    Unfortunately it also left him far away from his sons.

He died alone on the back porch of his house; he was found 24 hours after he passed. I still remember the call that I got telling me that they had found my dad.  That happened eight years ago and I still miss him to this day.    My dad made a big impact on my life, and I miss sharing the details of my life with him.  He taught me a lot – mechanics and home repair, being a hard worker, and how to love your kids.   We did not always agree.  In fact, we argued a lot.   But we both knew we loved each other, and I am glad that the last words I said to him were “I love you Dad.”   Those words apparently came the night before he passed.

My mom was a huge influence in my life.  She taught me about love, about sacrifice, about love of country, and the need to get an education.   There is so much that I would love to share with her – my highs and my lows, my problems and my blessings.   I wish she were here to share the experiences in her life that always made a difference in how I looked at things.

It’s funny, most people thought that the relationship would never last.  They seemed such an odd couple.  But they had love for each other and shared that love with their boys. My brother and I will always be grateful.  I miss them both dearly.

A daughter is a day brightener and a heart warmer. ~Author Unknown

Nobody wants to see their daughters get out of the little girl stage.   They are cute, lead uncomplicated lives, and they adore their daddy.  Unfortunately, there is no way to stop it from happening.  They get older, start getting other interests, and they eventually start liking boys.  An anonymous author once said:

Daughters are like flowers, they fill the world with beauty, and sometimes attract pests.”

I have had those “pests”  hang around, and it was tough to let go when my girls told be to quit scaring them away.  

They marry, leave the house, and start having babies of their own.   It was tough for me when my daughters’ mom and I divorced.  I was not able to be around them on a day to day basis.  I missed some of the growing up that they do, especially the little things.

I am grateful that my youngest daughter Jessica, who was only 4 at the time of my divorce did not let that affect our relationship.  She has always wanted to be a daddy’s girl and wanted approval from her old man for the things she did.  (Special note:  Erica, my oldest daughter and I have our own special relationship and this is not a comment on the status of that relationship.)

Jessica turns 28 today.  She has turned into a beautiful young lady, a wonderful kindergarten teacher and a fantastic mom.   It is hard to be a divorced single mom, but she handles it with a lot of class, patience, and sometimes with tears, but she handles it well.  Although Round Rock is only 81 miles away, I do not get to see her and my granddaughter Chloe as much as I would like.   I miss them.  I miss not being able to be there and hug her and console her when the single mom routine gets her down.

But I am a proud dad.  She brightens my day when she calls.  She will always be my favorite youngest daughter.  Happy Birthday sweetheart. 15859_625225650875_1977861_n

He Chose to Love Us

He came to meet my mom on Thanksgiving Day.  He joined us for dinner, and afterwards he took my mom out on their first date. He came back on Friday and gave my brother and I both a model car kit for us to put together.   When we told him we did not  know much about cars (we were 10 and 8 at the time) he took us out on Saturday to have cheeseburgers and to go look at cars.

Less than a month after this set of events, he and my mom got married.  To this point we had been raised solely by my mom, with occasional help from my grandmother and grandfather.   My grandfather, who we called Papi, was the only male influence in our lives.

We asked him what he wanted us to call him, since he and my mom were married now.  He said we could call him Don.  We asked if it was OK if we called him Dad, and for the next 35 years he was our “Dad.”

People were often confused about our relationship.  We never called him our stepfather – he was our Dad.    He never talked about his stepkids, we were his “boys.”  So when they called him “Mr. Bullis”  or they thought we were the “Simpson” boys, we just shook it off and kept on going.

Life was not always easy with this new relationship.  At times we were quite downright ornery with him, and I regret that to this day.   While our friends played on Saturdays, we were fixing up used cars to resell or collecting scrap metal for extra money for the family.  We had chores to do everyday before my mom and dad got home.  We were not allowed to have the TV on during the day and had to keep ourselves busy. We had an old swimming pool in the backyard that needed to be torn down and filled in.  Guess who did it?  Yep, my brother and I.

So was he a tyrant?  As kids we thought so.  But when we change out a clutch in a car, rebuild our brakes, or do major repairs around the house now, we have him to thank for our acquired skills.  When I find myself working my rear end off on a project, I know I got my work ethic from him.

After my dad passed a way a few years ago my brother made an amazing statement.  I don’t remember the context, but he said that the most important thing that he learned from my dad was how to love.  What an awesome legacy.   And my brother was absolutely right.

You see, he did not have to love us.  He loved my mom, and we came with the package.  Too many step-parents don’t realize that much of what they see in their new spouse is the love that they have for their children.  My dad chose to love us.  He chose to call us his boys.  He chose be our dad.    And that is what he will always be to me.  My dad.  I had a biological father that I don’t really remember all that well since he left when I was less than two years old.  But my dad was there as I grew up, got married, and had a family of my own.

Today my dad would have been 80 years old.  I wish he was still around to see what my life has become.   I wish I could share with him the joy of being a grandpa.  I want to show him how I built my raised garden beds from the lumber of the deck that I tore down.  He probably would have shown me how to do it better, but I would have loved the feedback.

Three days from now will be Fathers Day.  I don’t need a special day to remember him.  He remains in my heart every day.    I miss you Dad.

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How did he grow up so fast?

I actually became aware of him before he was even born. His mom worked at the same law office that I did, and our office was throwing a baby shower for her. Molly was probably 6-7 months pregnant with Sam. Fast forward a few years – Molly’s husband had passed away and Molly came back to work at the same office. It was at this point we became friends. I would go by her house and Sam, who was probably 4 or 5 at the time, would run to the door and jump up in my arms.

I had no idea at the time that this would be the beginning of a journey of several years. Eventually Molly and I progressed from friends to husband and wife, giving me the opportunity to be a dad to a young boy. Since I only had two daughters up to that point I had not had the opportunity to do “guy” things with a little boy. I got to do the cool things that dads can do, like play “pull my finger”, burp the alphabet, and watching countless soccer games. It was because of Sam that I got involved in Scouts, which I continue to do even now that same is a senior in college.

Along the way I had a lot of great memories. Taking him to the store where he informed me that he “needed” that bag of sunflower seeds. Camping out with him at the Cub and One and watching him at the archery range. Checking out at the grocery store and having the clerk tell me how much my son looked like me.

I can’t say it was always easy. As with most kids he had his dark moments and more than one instance that reminds you of why some animals eat their young. But he has been a great kid.

There was not a prouder dad anywhere the day he received his Eagle Scout award. He flirted with the idea of attending Texas A&M, but when he accepted his invitation to go to the University of Texas he made this Texas Ex very proud. Now I sit here knowing that in less than two months he will graduate from college and go out into the world. It seems that he was just a little boy last week, and now he lives on his own in Austin, and I anticipate he will be moving far away soon. I already miss having him around the house, the thought of him possibly moving hundreds of miles away is a bit disconcerting.

Tomorrow I get to go see a play he wrote and directed, a second play that he is acting in, and a musical that he directed for a friend. He is an amazingly talented young man, and I love him a lot. It is also his birthday today. Happy birthday son.