Danny, Jimmy and Johnny

This past Thursday, May 1, was my son’s 7th birthday.  Unfortunately, it was also the first time I missed his birthday.  Since the moment seven years ago when the nurse in the hospital first placed him in my arms, this was the first time I did not get to see him on his special day.  Normally this would have been terribly upsetting to me, but there were several factors at play that led to the situation – factors which, as it turned out, brought the whole experience of missing my son’s birthday into one, full, serendipitous circle.

Firstly, Daniel’s aunt and uncle are visiting from Venezuela.  Daniel’s mom is from Venezuela and both her brothers still live there.  Given the distance and the little time my kids get to spend with their uncles, whenever any one of them is in town I know that I need to concede some of my time with my kids so they can build and enjoy memories with their family.  Taking into consideration my family is still in Miami, Alex has always been sure to return the favor whenever my mom or brother comes for a visit to Tampa.

I also could not share in my son’s birthday because I actually had to work that night.  More specifically, I had to report to training – pole climbing training – and it was scheduled from 4:00 PM to midnight.   I’ll get into the specifics of the why’s and where’s later on, but suffice it to say I had a work obligation that prevented me from my daily routine of picking up the kids at school and doing something special with Daniel to celebrate him turning seven.

And how quickly the seven years have passed.  Whereas Natalie’s birth seems a blur by comparison, I remember so many little details of the day when Daniel came into this world.  For starters, I remember how the experience was so much smoother than when Natalie was born.  Both my kids were delivered via C-Section, and for Natalie, Alex decided to go with a spinal for pain management versus an epidural (don’t ask me why, but in talking with the anesthesiologist way back when it seemed like the right choice at the time).  Needless to say, the spinal did not ‘take’ very well and Alex was in tremendous pain.  So when it came time to have Daniel, the choice from the beginning was for an epidural, and what a great and blessed choice it was.  Alex was cracking jokes and she was able to thoroughly experience and enjoy the birth of our second child.

I also more vividly remember taking care of Daniel as an infant in the hospital.  Maybe it was because I was less nervous the second time around or maybe it was because I was able to share it not only with Alex but also with Natalie, but Daniel’s infancy all seems clearer in my head when compared to his sister’s.  I remember how Good Morning America ran their Summer Concert Series that year and how I was videoing Daniel sleeping while Sting’s ‘Fragile’ played in the background.  The memory of my baby boy will always be linked to that song.  When Sting performed it later that year as part of the fund raiser following 9/11, I just broke down and sobbed uncontrollably.

I look back at the new memories Daniel and I have shared just in the last 12 months.  From soccer and basketball to scouting and camping, it’s been so awesome and amazing to have this little dude by my side.  I think back to last month when I coached him in one of his basketball games.   Although Daniel’s offensive game is lacking, he’s actually quite good at playing defense.  In this one game, he stole the ball from the opposing player, took the ball down court, and stopped-and-popped his first basket of the season.  It took every ounce of strength to contain myself and keep me from running onto the court and hugging him, and I can’t remember ever feeling that much pride in my heart.  It was incredible.

It’s no surprise then that I am a little bummed I didn’t get to take him for ice cream the afternoon of his birthday.  Instead, I was standing in a training yard at a Verizon facility learning about safety gear and correct pole-climbing technique.  This was all part of contingency training within my company in the event the technicians in the Northeast strike come August.  I have no idea what the negotiation points are or what Verizon may be trying to remove from the next collective bargaining agreements.  What I do know is if there is a strike, I will be deployed to the Northeast to do the job of the striking technicians. That begins with knowing how to safely and correctly climb a pole.  It also involves how to safely and correctly carry a ladder, extend the ladder and connect it to the phone cable running from one pole to the other, etc.

So there I was, a guy from IT learning how to do one of the most non-IT jobs in all of Verizon.  I had my hard hat on, my safety goggles and my steel-toed boots.  I had a large, leather belt on which were two, large D-rings that would be used to connect the leather strap that wrapped around the pole and would prevent me from falling 18 feet to the ground.

“I’m sorry…….you want me to do WHAT?!”

“I want you to let go of the pole, put your hands on your harness and lean back.”

“It sounded like you said you wanted me to lean back ……. and I really don’t see that happening right now!”

In all seriousness, it wasn’t that bad.  Although I had a pretty bad case of the shakes the first time I climbed the pole, the second climb went very well and I kicked-butt in all my other training tasks.  From removing the 80 pound extension ladder from the truck, to extending it up to a phone line to securing it properly up against a pole, I feel like I had a little bit of special help from above through the whole process.  See, May 1 is not only my son’s birthday, but it is also the anniversary of the passing of Jimmy Roney – Lee’s father.

Jimmy, ironically enough, worked 32 years for GTE as a technician and installer, and part of his job was – you guessed it – climbing poles.  When Lee found out I had to attend pole climbing training all she could do was laugh.  The same reaction was displayed by her mother Patsy as well as her aunt and uncle, Mary and Terry.  As fate would have it, Terry also worked for GTE back in the day, and he, too, climbed poles as a field tech for the phone company.  I’m not going to say that Mary and Terry did not believe in me, but I didn’t exactly get their vote of confidence with regards to me climbing poles and playing the role of Mr. Telephone Man. I guess that’s what I get for being the guy who ‘works with computers’ and has a desk job.  I know Mary and Terry, and Lee and Patsy for that matter, were not being mean but rather complimentary.  Nevertheless, I used it all as added motivation to really do well in the training.

I firmly believe the added motivation manifested itself in training in the form of divine guidance from above.  Compared to the other two men in the class, I completely  rocked.  My harnessing technique was smoother, my ability to stand and raise the ladder better, and the overall quickness with which I was able to complete my tasks made it seem as if they were moving in super slow motion.  Perhaps Jimmy was giving me a hand with the ladder.  Perhaps he was keeping me secure up on the pole.  Whatever it was, I know in my heart it was there.  I could feel it.

The ease with which I was able to complete my tasks and learn new assignments allowed me to establish a rapport with our instructor.  His name is John Gillis and he retired from Verizon after 30+ years of service, most of which as a field technician up in New Jersey.  He now works as an individual contractor providing training services to Verizon and other telecommunication companies across the country.

John has the familiar Jersey accent and that almost-lovable, Northeastern demeanor about him.  He’s not the type to sugar-coat an issue, and will quickly tell you when you’ve made a mistake or if you are doing something wrong during training.  Yet, he’s very fair and honest and he points out what he does to ensure the student does not injure himself/herself in the training process.

He’s got that sly sarcasm about him and that smart-aleck wit that is funny yet at the same time brutally honest.  It took me a while but I realized after the second day of training why it is I liked him so much.  As an instructor in the classroom, he was average at best.  Yet out in the yard, he’s a stud and makes everything he does look so easy.  In many ways, he reminded me of my dad.

My dad was never good at expressing his thoughts verbally and made for a horrible classroom instructor.  But when it came to, “watch how I do it and then show me you can do the same” my dad was the king.  My dad always took the time to explain the little nuances of something or some task, and then expected me to do that something or task just the way he showed me it was too be done.

That is how my pole climbing training was with John.  There was a comforting sense of familiarity through it all.  It wasn’t until after we were wrapping up our second night that it hit me.  My enjoyment of the class was not only because I was doing so well, but also because for a couple of days, I had the chance to have my dad back.  I had the chance to observe and to learn.  I had the opportunity to perform to certain expectations and challenge myself to do something new.  It was like being a kid again, growing up as dad’s helper and apprentice on the variety of projects on which he was always working on around the house.  And through it all not once did the training ever feel like ‘work’.

I don’t really know how to summarize all of this – the discussion about my son Daniel, about Jimmy and about my dad – into one concise or succinct closing.  I guess you can say I didn’t do something I normally do (Danny’s birthday) because I was off doing something I’d never done before.   Yet it was in being away from my son that I was once again reminded how being with him, and how the moments we create and share together, continue to lay the foundation for the man he will one day grow to be.  For a couple of days I was immersed in this spiritual triangle that linked my past to my future, and although I was only 18 feet off the ground, I felt as if I was high up in the Heavens with those two special angels watching over me and my son.


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