Travelling to New York had long been a dream of mine. My earliest recollection of the city came from the View-Master reels at my Grandparents McCord’s farm. The stereoscopic images painted a vivid picture of the beauty of the steel and concrete canyons and the neon lights of Broadway and Times Square. Grandma Studebaker shared many stories of her visits to New York, stories that increased my desire to go with each telling. Movies, television shows, and Amazing Spider-Man comics fed my curiosity of The City That Never Sleeps. By the time my senior year of high school finally arrived, New York City was the number one travel destination of my dreams. The opportunity to fulfill that dream presented itself months before graduation.
Most of the classes I took at Yorktown High School were preparing me for the College of Engineering at Purdue University. My aptitude for math made this path an obvious one to my family and my guidance counselor. My Grandma Studebaker, a guidance counselor at a rival high school, was the first to suggest this career choice while I was still in middle school. When she first asked me if I would like to be an engineer I quickly and loudly answered “YES!” There was a bit of a problem though. In my mind an engineer was the guy who drives the train and, seeing as how I loved trains, the notion of actually being the guy who drives the train would have been a dream come true.
“Well, good,” said my grandma. “There are several good options for engineering schools. There’s Purdue, of course, and Rose Hulman…,” she continued. I was already tuning her out as visions of riding the steel rails across America filled my head.
Much to my chagrin, I eventually learned what Grandma actually meant when she suggested engineering. The more I learned the less I liked this career path. Grandma Studebaker was a force of nature, though. Everything she told me about the field of engineering and how my abilities perfectly matched the field made sense. Many of her points, however, were more on the materialistic side. The career would pay extremely well, which meant lots of money and the luxuries that money would afford. To drive that point home Grandma introduced me to the boyfriend of one of my cousins during a family get together one Christmas.
My cousin Karen and her boyfriend were both products of Purdue University. Karen studied nursing and her boyfriend studied engineering. He had graduated earlier that year and was in his first job in the field. Grandma introduced him to me and asked him to tell me about engineering.
Grandma’s plan backfired. The boyfriend told me only a little bit about what engineering is and nothing about the great things that have been and could be achieved by engineers. His main focus was on how much money he was making and the cool new sports car he just bought. He tried to regale me with stories of how fast he had that thing up to. I was having none of it. Rather than listen to his droning I was now focused on the game of eight-ball pool my granddad was engaged in, nodding my head occasionally to make it appear that I was paying attention to this asshole. My mind was pretty much made at that moment.
I wanted nothing to do with engineering.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Maggie and Abby are two of the dearest people in my life. They, along with my friend Steph’s daughter Alexis, are the daughters I never had. Way back when raising a family was still in the realm of possibility, I always gave the same answer when asked which I would prefer first, a boy or a girl. The answer was an easy one for me and was usually a surprise for the person asking the question. I wanted a daughter first in case I only had one child. I once heard it said that with a daughter you’re somebody’s Daddy forever. That held a great appeal to me. What can I say? I’m nothing if not a big softie.
I met Maggie and Abby’s parents during what, chronologically speaking, was my sophomore year of college. Purdue… disinvited me after a rather miserable freshman year, so I sat out the one required term and transferred to Ball State University that fall. Brian, a high school classmate and one of my oldest friends, took me to the Tally Ho in the Ball State Student Center where he had made several new friends. He informed me that there were a few Yorktown grads there along with some city and county students. Mary and Mitch were two of the latter, respectively.
Of all of the new friends I made that school year, Mary and Mitch were two that I was not particularly close to. Fortunately, I was closer to a mutual friend that we shared. That friend was Kevin.
Mary, Mitch, and Kevin were approaching their college graduation in the spring of 1984. I had been disinvited by Ball State but continued to visit my friends in the Tally when time allowed, which was pretty much every day. On his last day of classes Kevin asked me an unexpected question.
“Hey, what’s your phone number,” Kevin asked.
I was taken aback by this turn of events. While we were friends I figured the two of us would part ways and never see each other again after this day. Incredulous, I asked, “Why? Do I owe you money?”
Kevin laughed and told me, “No! I just think you’re pretty cool and would like to keep in touch with you. Maybe we can hang out a couple times this summer.”
I was rather surprised by this turn. A recent run of bad karma with friends both new and old left me feeling a bit lost at sea. Here was a dude who in reality was still a bit of a stranger throwing me a lifeline. Against all of my reservations, I grabbed hold of that lifeline and told him my phone number.
Little did I know that this exchange would prove to be perhaps the most pivotal point in my life.
Over the next couple of years Kevin and I became great friends and through him I was becoming better friends with Mary and Mitch. The two had married following graduation and moved to Valparaiso so that Mitch could attend law school. Mitch’s first job as a lawyer took the couple to Fort Wayne in 1987. During the next several years Kevin, Paul, Joe, and I paid numerous visits to The Fort to see our favorite married couple. After a few years they started a family with the birth of their son Sean and then the addition of their daughter Maggie.
By the time Maggie came along I was visiting Mary and Mitch by myself. They graciously took me in during each visit and in time I had become a member of their family. It was during a late summer visit with them that I lost a piece of my heart.
Mary and I were talking in their living room waiting on Mitch to return home from work while Sean was taking a nap. Mary got up to check on dinner and sat Maggie down on the floor. It didn’t take long for Maggie to start kicking up a fuss. She began to cry and did so quite loudly.
Mary, who had no doubt been through this sort of thing several times, tried to calm her down. “It’s okay, Maggie. Mommy will be right back,” she cried from the kitchen. It didn’t help. Mary repeated herself once more. It still didn’t help.
Now, I love babies. I enjoy holding babies, as long as it’s only for a few seconds. Babies are cute and adorable and all sorts of nice things. Crying babies on the other hand are anathema to me. Far too often their parents allow them to cry and I’m too afraid to pick them up. Watching Maggie cry, though, did something to my cynical heart. Against my better judgement, I reached down and picked her up.
Never before had I done such a thing with a crying baby. I sat back down and sat little Maggie on my lap and then witnessed a little miracle. She stopped crying. She looked up at me with tears streaming down her rosy cheeks and placed her tiny hand on my chest. In that moment, Maggie stole a piece of my heart and wrapped it around her tiny finger. Her sole ownership of my heart was short-lived.
Two years later Mary and Mitch were expecting their third child. I had moved to Fort Wayne the previous year and lived within a short walk from their home. One evening I got a call from Mary asking if I would like to join them for a walk around their neighborhood. Mary was nine months pregnant and ready to pop. They were hopeful that the walk would help to induce labor. The plan worked.
I received a call from Mary the next morning at work to inform me that she and Mitch were leaving for the hospital. The baby was coming and coming in fast. By the time I left work that afternoon Mary and Mitch’s second daughter, Abby, was born. They asked if I’d like to come to the hospital to meet her. I couldn’t wait to do so.
When I reached Mary’s hospital room, I found her alone with little Abby. Mitch had gone to pick up Abby’s siblings to bring them in to meet their new sister. Mary was radiant in the way that only new mothers seem to be able to pull off. Abby was the cutest little thing I had ever laid eyes on. It didn’t take a crying jag for her to win me over. Another piece of my heart was now wrapped another tiny finger.
Several days after Abby won me over, Mary and Mitch invited me over for dinner. When the two of us were alone in the living room, Mitch asked me the next big and pivotal question of my life: “Mary and I have discussed this and would like for you to be Abby’s godfather. You interested?”
I imagine that my jaw had to be picked up off of the floor. I spent a few seconds in wide-eyed amazement before answering, “Yes. I’d be honored to.”
I had no idea what being a godfather meant, really. Most of the friends who ever mentioned having godparents made it sound like they had little to nothing to do with them. Some even told me they couldn’t remember their godparents’ names. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do but there was no way in hell I was going to be that type of godfather. I researched the subject on the Internet and found precious little beyond the traditional responsibilities during the child’s baptism and in the event that the child’s parents are absent. This wasn’t enough for me so I decided to do it my way and be the best damn godfather I could be.
The next fifteen years were filled with wonderful memories. There were countless dinner visits, birthdays, Christmas gift exchanges, and camping trips. Abby and her sister treated me like their own personal, giant Teddy bear. Maggie liked to check the cleanliness of my ears. Abby delighted in arguing whether I was her grandfather or godfather. I may have acted otherwise at times, but I loved every minute of it.
Sean got off to an early start in sports by joining a soccer league. He played baseball and basketball for a number of years but quit those to focus on his first love, the sport of soccer. His other big activity throughout all of his grade school years was music, with a focus on choir. Maggie wasn’t the least bit interested in sports but did love to sing. She started in choir as soon as she was able to. Abby tried her foot at soccer for a few years before focusing her energies toward choir. All three also spent time on the stage in school plays and musicals. I never tried to keep count of how many games, plays, musicals, and music programs I attended over the years. It doesn’t matter though. I’d go to them all over again. The one thing they all participated in that I never would have believed that I would get into was show choir.
Sean was reluctant to get into show choir at first. I teased him about it a little bit, playing on his concerns before he joined. Once he started, though, I left him alone about it. He liked the ratio of girls-to-boys in show choir and the fact that there were more than a few cuties involved. I didn’t make it to a show until late in Maggie’s freshman year. It turned out that show choir wasn’t as bad as I had imagined. All of the kids obviously loved it and performed their hearts out. The Summit Sound program made great strides over the next two seasons, reaching the state finals during Sean’s senior year. The next show choir season would be Maggie’s last and Abby’s first. I could barely stand the wait to see my little sweetie and best buddy light up the stage.