Of Fatherhood and Notre Dame

chris-christiejpg-b5ab967aa73027fcTurns out, Chris Christie and I have a lot in common.

First, there’s New Jersey — we were both born there. He stayed and became the governor; my family and I moved to Colorado when I was in grade school and we never looked back. Still, Jersey roots run deep, and that distinctive accent is always lurking just beneath my relatively featureless Hoosier drawl – all it takes is 20 minutes in the presence of another Jerseyite, and “war-der” will bubble to the surface.

Next, we’re both Catholics with Sicilian (maternal) and Irish (paternal) flavorings. Admittedly, Christie is a cradle Catholic, and I’m an adult convert – a big difference in terms of upbringing and formation. And there’s more German blood on my dad’s side of the family than Scotch-Irish (although that trickle from Grandma Addie O’Boyle seems to be pretty potent). In any case, lineage and creed count as two more points of convergence between the governor’s story and my own.

But now we come to the point – and the reason why any of this is worth commenting on. It seems that Christie and I can both claim membership in a fairly exclusive club: Dads whose kids have been admitted to the University of Notre Dame next fall – his Sarah and my Ben.

I came across this connection in Peggy Noonan’s WSJ column over the weekend:

I asked some smart, accomplished people: What was the best thing that happened this year, some breakthrough, some joy, some encouraging sign. It was interesting that with a lot of them, their first thoughts went to the personal….

Chris Christie, elected in 2013 to a second term as governor of New Jersey: “I am grateful that my oldest daughter Sarah got her Christmas wish — admission to the University of Notre Dame Class of 2018. I am a father full of pride and joy this year.”

Did you catch that last line? “I am a father full of pride and joy.” That’s where I feel some real kinship with Christie. Yes, we’re both Jersey natives; yes, we’re both Italo-Irish Catholics; yes, we’re both dads – things we have in common with millions of other guys. That can’t be said, however, of our both having kids admitted to Notre Dame, a rare privilege. We’re a couple dads full of pride and joy indeed — a very particular kind of pride and joy that seems associated with the Fighting Irish.

Which raises a question: Why the special pride and joy?

Neither Christie nor I are Notre Dame grads, so there’s no particular loyalty there. True, I’ve been living in South Bend for some 18 years — ever since Ben was a baby, in fact. So Notre Dame has bee12-university-of-notre-damen the cultural backdrop for all our kids growing up here, but we’re townies and have always been relative outsiders when visiting the campus or the stadium.

And, yes, admission to Notre Dame is prestigious — a mark of distinction, no matter what comes next. Obviously, the objective is actually getting our kids there for classes, but that’s almost secondary at this point. Admission itself is a sign that they have already accomplished something extraordinary. At our house, we’ll be framing that admission letter and hanging it in a prominent place.

Nonetheless, the prestige belongs to my son, to Christie’s daughter — it’s not mine and not the governor’s. We didn’t achieve anything; our accomplishments aren’t being heralded, unless you want to derivatively and with hindsight grant us some vicarious credits for our paternal contributions. So why the peculiarly intense reaction?

The bottom line is this: My son’s gifts and hard work were recognized by ND’s admissions people, and his college dream is coming true — plenty of pride and joy there to go around for everyone. No doubt, the same holds true for Christie and his daughter.

Yet, for me, there was something else: A phone call.

Ben had also applied to I.U.-Bloomington and got an acceptance letter a few weeks back — I found out when I got home that night. He applied to and was accepted by Butler and Purdue as well: No calls. Notre Dame was different, however, and it was no secret that Notre Dame was Ben’s real goal.

I don’t know how Christie found out about his daughter’s ND acceptance — maybe he got a call during a budget meeting in Trenton; maybe he ducked out to answer it and leaped around the hallway with glee. All I know is that when I heard Ben’s voice mail message the day he was expecting his letter, I was ecstatic — not just because I suspected he got his wish and was Notre Dame bound, but also because he called to include me in his triumph right away. That phone call was a sign that he was anxious to share his good news with me directly, and it sent an unmistakeable message of love and respect — a huge gift to a dad.

“Kindness to a father will not be forgotten,” Sirach announced in today’s liturgy. Indeed it will not. Congratulations, son. And thank you for kindly keeping me in your loop.
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2 Comments

  1. Chris

     /  August 24, 2014

    Hi Rick!! We just returned home from Frosh O weekend after leaving our son at Stanford Hall. It was a great weekend!! One we’ve been looking forward to since our son received his letter in December. I was standing in line at Kohl’s (X-mas shopping!) when my son called to tell me that he got in! I cried all the way home! I was excited, relieved and a bit sad. I was excited for him…his dream had come true. Relieved that he got in since his sister and Dad are both Domers. Sad that my dad was not alive to hear this news. He would be so proud that his grandchildren were attending Notre Dame. I was looking up Gov. Christie after seeing him today and came across this blog post. Congratulations to your son!! It is an accomplishment that they were recognized by ND as the best! I hope that your son has a great experience at Notre Dame!! Go Irish!!

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    • Thanks so much. We, too, had a terrific Orientation weekend, but it’s still all a bit surreal: My son is a Domer?! We’ve been in Notre Dame’s backyard for so long, it just never occurred to us that one of our own would get to go there someday. And now that day is here. Weird and wonderful all at the same time.

      Thanks for your kind words, and congrats to your son as well. Like my son, yours has a grandfather to root him on from above. I imagine both their granddads are up there proudly cheering on their grandkids, and their prayers will mix with ours as we pray for our sons starting out their Notre Dame years. Go Irish indeed!

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