Men of Integrity

I was fortunate to have grown up surrounded by men of integrity. My own father was a man who was honest and treated others with respect. He had faults, but I believe he acted with integrity in his dealings with other people. In addition, my father was someone who tried to make things right when he felt he had wronged another person. I believe the values that my dad had were passed down to him from his father, as my grandfather was also a man of integrity.

My grandfather, Oris Bradshaw, was born on August 23, 1908 in a small town called Whitehall, which is in Greene County, Illinois. The Bradshaws were some of the earliest settlers to this county, according to research I have done into my family genealogy. From historical accounts that I have read, the Bradshaws were known as virtuous people.

For instance, in a document that was published in 1879 by Donnelly, Gasette, and Lloyd my great-great grandfather, Perry Bradshaw, was described as “a member of the Christian Church, and is endeavoring to live a life that is in harmony with the principles he professes” (1879 History of Greene County Illinois). These traits were passed down to Perry’s son Shannon (my great-grandfather), who then passed them on to my grandfather Oris.

It is on this Father’s Day that I look to these men who lived lives of integrity. Amanda and I are raising a child through foster care. It is a privilege to be given the chance to shape this young life that has been entrusted to us. Although, my own father passed away while I was a boy, my grandfather was there to help guide me through my formative years. He is a man that I greatly admired and respected, as I believe he was the true definition of a husband and a father. Likewise, he was a great example of how a man should conduct himself. I hope I can instill the same values in Baby Boy that my grandfather did in me.

My grandfather was married twice. His first wife died when my Uncle Richard and my Aunt Shirley were both still children. He then met and married my grandmother, who gave birth to my father and to my Aunt Diane. Around the time of his first wife’s death, my grandfather was employed by Walgreen’s in Memphis, Tennessee. He had a very good position in the company. However, he gave this up, I believe, to move to Rock Falls, Illinois so that he could help his aging parents.

My grandfather then had a few different jobs once he moved to Rock Falls. For instance, he drove a delivery truck for the Coca-Cola Company, and he also worked at one of the local high schools as a custodian. He gave up a promising career with a major corporation, humbled himself, and did what was right for his family. He was one of the greatest men I have ever known.

I think my grandfather’s work ethic was passed on to my father, as he was a wonderful provider for my family and I. He was never afraid to work overtime to help the family make ends meet. In addition, my dad was a very skilled welder. He took on side jobs for people in his home workshop, often times charging people far below what the work was worth.

I know I have many shortcomings as a man. However, I was provided with great male role models as I was growing and maturing. I still have some today as well. Both of my brothers are great fathers. Likewise, my father-in-law is a man who shows his love for his family in so many ways.

In conclusion, I just want to say that those who have come before me have left a lasting legacy. I feel very blessed. Happy Father’s Day to all you who are fathers. Take care of your families. Leave a legacy for them of which they can be proud.

My grandpa and me.

Nowhere Man

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time you probably have noticed that I am a Beatles fan. I’ve enjoyed their music for quite some time. My favorite Beatle was John Lennon. I have always appreciated his wit, and I can relate to his cynicism. These two things combined made his songwriting something that speak me on a very personal level.

I often have a very cynical view of the world. I believe that things will turn out all right in the end. However, sometimes I just need to convince myself of that fact. In order to deal with a world that can seem like a rather dark place at times, I try to use wit and humor to lighten the mood. Sometimes all that you can do when life throws your a curveball is laugh. I feel as if I have had my fair share of curveballs.

One thing that I have had trouble dealing with recently is a sense of isolation. This is something that most, if not all, can relate to as we look forward to the world once again hanging out its “Welcome-Come On In!” sign. I just want to go to a public place without wearing a mask. However, I must say the Chicago Cubs mask that Amanda made for me is pretty cool, but I digress.

With warmer temperatures and sunshine here now, it is even more difficult to “social distance.” I want to be in the bleachers at Wrigley Field with a hot dog in one hand, and a cold drink in another. I want to hear the sound of the pipe organ between innings. Most of all, I just want to be able to travel again to the places that I love.

This week I have been perusing my “Facebook Memories” quite a bit. I’ve been able to look back on trips I have taken together with family and friends. Nearly a year ago Amanda and I were in Washington D.C. enjoying Memorial Day weekend. Eight years ago we were in New York City visiting the Statue of Liberty. Finally, my brother Shannon and I were in Alaska twenty years ago this month. May apparently has been a great month to travel. I long to have more adventures and to make more memories.

Until then I will remain a “Nowhere Man.” The opening lines to this John Lennon penned Beatles tune sum things up for me perfectly for now:

He’s a real nowhere man
Sitting in his nowhere land
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody

Surrealistic Westerns

If you are anything like me, you are tired of turning on the news and hearing about how chaotic the world is becoming. My last few posts have been on the more serious side. Therefore, I thought I’d lighten the mood today and share a short story I wrote several years ago. All of the names have been omitted to protect the innocent. What follows is a slightly modified version of the original story. All of the details are true.

The last few days have been pretty surreal. I came home sick with the flu on Thursday. My stomach was so upset. It felt as if someone had been twisting my intestines into knots. I slept for about 17 hours off and on between Thursday afternoon and into Friday morning.

Most of the day Friday was spent in front of the television, although I did venture out to the store once. Who knew going to the store took so much strength? Once I got back home I felt like I had just made my way up Mt. Kilimanjaro. I definitely was in need of more rest.

I then woke up Saturday morning and did what most people would do after nearly dying from the flu. I went to a funeral. The grandmother of one of my closest friends had passed away. His grandmother’s dog was in attendance, which I found rather touching. My friend’s uncle did not dissapoint either, as he was dressed in blue jeans that he was having trouble keeping up above his waist. This particular uncle is known for wearing blue jeans to most functions. In fact, he often sports a pair of blue jean cutoffs while out and about.

After the service at the funeral home was over, I attended the graveside service, which unbeknownst to me, was in a town about 15 miles from home. So, I joined the funeral procession as it snaked its way across two towns. On the way some tumbleweed came blowing across the street, which is a rare sight in this area. It made me feel as if I was in a Spaghetti Western. The only thing missing was Clint Eastwood chomping on a cigar. Eventually, we made it to the gravesite, where we stayed for no more than five minutes. It was a magical, mystery funeral, that is the only way to describe this event.

After the funeral was over I broke out in a cold sweat because the flu still had its hellacious grip on my body. So I did what all people in my condition would have done, I went and had the oil changed in my car.

I then came home and had a long talk with the guy who had been fixing my computer, as it had become infected with a virus. He was there to deliver it to me. With my computer and I on the mend, I was feeling deliriously happy. On second thought, I might have just been plain delirious. After the computer repairman left I went outside to clean up the yard.

As I was outside picking up twigs, I looked up only to see an umbrella blowing down the road. I once again felt like I was trapped inside a Western film. One based on a painting by the Belgian Surrealist artist Magritte. I would have much preffered more tumbleweed. At least that would have been more in keeping with the theme of the rest of this influenza fueled weekend.

My “Anti-Bucket” List

Last April I wrote a post listing the “Top Ten Things I’d Like to do Before I Die.” This list included places I’d like to visit, events that I would like to attend, and so forth. Today I am going to turn things around and do an “anti-bucket list” or things I hope I never have to do again before I die.

There are certain foods that I despise. Near the top of this list are lima beans. To me they taste like soap. Plus, their texture is unpleasant. Therefore, I will never have another lima bean as long as I live!

Over the course of my life I have undergone at least 30 different surgical procedures. Being put under for surgery is not an unpleasant experience. I do enjoy the feeling of euphoria that comes over you just before “the lights go out.” However, as I have gotten older it has taken me longer to bounce back after surgery. It is because of this that I hope to never have another surgery.

One thing that does not fill me with euphoria is riding a rollercoaster. I actually am terrified of going on most amusement park rides. I prefer to have my feet planted on terra firma. I would be happy never to ride another roller coaster as long as I live.

In keeping with the amusement park theme, I hope to never go to Disney World ever again. I went for the first time at the age of 30. Perhaps, it is a different experience if you go when you are a child. It may seem more magical then. However, I didn’t find anything appealing at all to being at Disney World.

Me on the “Small World” ride at Disney World. I think my face says it all.

A few years ago I went on a canoe trip on the Meramec River in Missouri. I have written about this experience in a previous post. It was quite possibly the last trip of this kind that I will take. If you do go back and read both parts of this story, you’ll see why. I not only lost my crutches and glasses, but I lost some of my dignity as well.

One thing that I have experienced a couple of different times is food poisoning. I can safely say I hope this never happens again. There is nothing pleasant about eating something that makes you ill. I can no longer eat at couple of different restaurants due to very bad experiences.

Nearly three years ago Amanda and I had an issue with the plumbing in our house. I will admit it was caused by me. I had gotten into the habit of flushing little bits of clumping cat litter down the toilet as I cleaned out the litter box for our cats. Needless to say this was not a wise idea. Fortunately, I have a cousin or two in the plumbing business, as our sewer line backed up into our house. I learned my lesson and I hope to never have to live through this experience again.

As noted above, I have had numerous surgeries in my life. Many of these have been orthopedic in nature. I spent the first few years of my life in and out of body casts. There is nothing worse than being confined inside a hunk of plaster, especially when you are hot and tired. This is an experience I would prefer to never have again.

Me propped up against a chair in one of the many body casts I was in as a child. My brother Cory is looking on in amusement as I see just how wide I can open my mouth.

We are fortunate here in America to have public restrooms in almost every store and restaurant. If you’ve ever traveled abroad you’ll soon find out that in other parts of the world public toilets are not so common. I learned this the hard way one night in London as I really was in dire need. While I do love to travel, I hope to never again have the trouble I did that night.

Finally, I have spent the last two months working from home. In that time I have begun having conversations with myself while Amanda is at work. I am ready for restaurants, movie theaters, and other public places to once again be open. Never again do I want to experience a global pandemic. In the words of the late, great Jerry Stiller, who played Frank Costanza on Seinfeld, “Serenity Now!”

My Mother

On this Mother’s Day I wanted to share with you what my mother means to me. There are so many things that I could say about my mom. However, the most important thing that I can say is that I love her. She is a special woman who has taught me some very valuable lessons.

First, my mother lost her husband when she was 41 years old. She was left with 3 boys to raise on her own. My oldest brother was 17, at the time, my other brother was just about to turn 16, and I was 12. My father, being the excellent provider that he was, left our family with little debt when he passed away. However, my mother was working as a teacher at a small, private school and making very little money at the time.

Despite this, she provided a home for my brothers and I where we were loved. We also had most of the material things that other kids our age had. I do not know how she was able to keep our family together after experiencing such a devastating loss. My mother’s strength in the face of despair is something I will always admire.

Likewise, my mother’s faith in God never wavered after she lost the love of her life. She could have chosen to be bitter, but I never remember my mother giving into those types of emotions. She continued to give to others even when she had very little to give. I think this is something she learned from her mother, who was also a very giving woman. She always had time for my brothers and I when we needed it.

Several years after my dad passed away, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. However, being the woman of faith that she is, she never asked “why me?” She simply relied on her faith to see her through yet another hardship. Even through chemotherapy treatments that weakened her body and made her dreadfully ill, she never wavered in her faith. She just trusted that God would see her through the pain and anguish. He did bring her through that struggle.

Today, my mother is still working. She is a librarian at the local library. She is still giving her time and talents to the community. Likewise, she is still involved in her church. She too remains dedicated to her family. It has been over 30 years since my dad has been gone. In that time my brothers and I have all gotten married and are raising families of our own.

My mom was the rutter that steered the ship for our family after my dad died. She helped my brothers and I to stay grounded. I will admit my teen years were not easy ones. However, I knew I could always go to my mom with any problem.

One thing that both of my parents told my brothers and I when we were young is that we would never be able to do anything that would make them stop loving us. We were also taught by my dad to respect our mother. I know I have let my mother down many times, but I know she will always love me.

My mother is one in a million. She has been faithful to her God through so many trials. Likewise, she has remained a person that loves her family. It is comforting to know I can still go to her for advice when needed. Her experiences in life have given her wisdom that she is more than willing to share. Happy Mother’s Day mom, I love you!

A Walk in the Park

Today was a walk in the park. After weeks of isolation, we finally broke free. Amanda and I took Baby Boy to the park for the first time. It was energizing to feel the warmth of the sunshine. Likewise, feeling the breeze blowing was so refreshing.

Baby Boy has been a part of our lives now for four months. On that cold, December day when he came to us he weighed just under six pounds. Today he is nearly seventeen pounds. It has been a joy to watch him discover new things. He has become so much more aware of the world around him. Fortunately, he is such a happy baby. His smile lights up a room. He makes me laugh on a daily basis.

With each new day comes an equally new sound from his mouth. I think he has even thrown a “mama” or two in there at times. However, Amanda is not convinced that is what he is truly saying. Baby Boy and I know better though. I have been working on other words with him, but he mostly just looks at me and giggles, which is perfectly fine with me. His laugh is infectious.

Today at the park Baby Boy put his bare feet in the grass for the first time. I feel so fortunate that Amanda and I get to experience these “firsts” in this precious child’s life. It is fun to see him become more curious about the things he sees and hears. He loves silly noises and seems to enjoy music, especially when we sing to him.

It is a privilege to be able to help shape this young life with which we have been entrusted. Both Amanda and I were blessed to have good parenting while we were growing and maturing. The lessons we learned as children will be invaluable as we guide Baby Boy through more “firsts” in his life.

I know not every day will be “a walk in the park,” as today was. However, life is so much more full with Baby Boy. I am curious to see what twists and turns lie ahead. The world is full of uncertainty, however, the three of us are enjoying doing life together.

8-Track Flashback

One of the fondest memories that I have of my dad is riding around in his truck with him and my brothers. He had an 8-track player in his truck. It was through that 8-track player that I was introduced to much of the music that I still love today. My dad’s taste in music varied. He enjoyed everything from Motown to the Beatles to Southern Gospel.

As I write this I am listening to an old gospel song called, “Is That the Old Ship of Zion,” performed by the Southern Gospel group called the Kingsmen Quartet. When I hear this song I can’t help but think of my dad, as it was one of his favorites. So it is with many of the songs that I have in my iTunes library. For instance, I cannot help but think of those rides in my dad’s truck when I hear a song by Hall and Oates or Foreigner, as those were in heavy rotation during those trips.

It is because of my dad that I have a fondness for Motown as well. I love The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and The Supremes. This music is timeless to me. It is some of the music that I have started to introduce Baby Boy to after we read at night. I can tell he enjoys music already.

As a student of history, I have always had a desire to go deeper and examine how things began. It is this curiosity that led me to explore the origins of the music I heard on those rides in my dad’s truck. Ultimately, that journey led me to discover the blues. There I found musicians like Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, and B.B. King. It was the music created by these men that gave rise to much of the music that I discovered as a teenager. This is the music that I still love today.

Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Pink Floyd, all were influenced by the blues. Music is still something that lifts my spirits, and helps me to escape the troubles of the day. One cannot help but feel better after listening to a song like “If I Fell” by the Beatles. In my opinion no group ever harmonized better than the Beatles. Plus, no other duo could write a song quite like Lennon and McCartney.

I thank my dad for instilling a love of music within me. I hope to pass that same love on to Baby Boy. I will be curious to see where it takes him. He might just introduce me to some new things. One thing is certain, I’ll never forget that 8-track player and the music it introduced me to all those years ago.

Baby Magic

I must admit the last few weeks have been very difficult for me. As I have mentioned previously, I struggle at times with depression and anxiety. These feelings have been amplified by the events that are occurring throughout the world today. It is difficult to stay positive when the lives of many are crumbling on a daily basis.

It is during these trials that I try to remember the positive things in life. My wife Amanda and I are incredibly fortunate. We are both still working full time. In addition we have a warm home where we are able to seek refuge from the outside world. Moreover, all of our family, both near and far, are healthy. Finally, we have the joy of raising a baby boy, who brings happiness into our lives.

Another thing that I try to do when life seems to overwhelm is look back on memories of happier times. One of the things that triggers memories the most for me is my sense of smell. Fragrances are things that often cause me to recall events in my life. One scent that brings back such good memories is Baby Magic. For those who might be unfamiliar with this product, Baby Magic is a liquid soap for babies. However, I have used it many times for sponge baths while hospitalized.

Amanda and I use Baby Magic to bathe Baby Boy. Each bathtime is filled with memories. For instance, my mind often wanders to times spent at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Once I was hospitalized there for a case of osteomyelitis, which is an infection in the bone tissue. I was in the hospital for six weeks, however, I have fond memories of that time. All I need to do is open the bottle of Baby Magic and I am transported back to that time. I was just a young boy who had no responsibilities. Plus, I was surrounded by a group of wonderful nurses, who were at my beck and call.

I don’t know when this global pandemic that we are currently experiencing will end. I am guessing that we have a long way to go before we see the light at the end of the tunnel. If you are like me and the events of the day have you feeling anxious, just hold on, there are better days to come. Try to hold on to the good that is in your life. You might have to dig deep, but it is there. Take time every day to think of the things for which you are thankful.

This day will end with Amanda and I reading to Baby Boy before he goes to sleep for the night. His hair will smell of Baby Magic and my mind will be absorbing the experience of seeing life through his eyes. His smiles and his cooing will be just what I need to remember that life is good, despite the circumstances.

Christmas Past

It seems like the older I get the less magical Christmas becomes. When I was a little boy I could not wait for Christmas to arrive. It was difficult to get any sleep the night before. I was filled with excitement for the things I’d get to unwrap on Christmas morning. As I began to get older and life began to change Christmas became a little bittersweet.

My dad died in September of 1989. That first Christmas without him is when the magic began to fade from the holiday. It was a profound sadness that first Christmas without a father. Holidays after the loss of a loved one are never quite the same. However, you learn to cope and life goes on, albeit, in a much different way.

As my brothers and I began to grow and mature, life began to change in other ways as well. It was not long after my dad died that my oldest brother, Shannon left home for his first year of college. A few years later, my other brother Cory got married and left home as well. With the progression of time came changes to traditions. No longer would we always be together as a family for Christmas. A little more of the magic slipped away.

When my dad was still alive we’d all spend time together as a family on Christmas Eve. He’d read two stories to us. One of these stories was Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas. The other book that my dad would read to us was Boffo: The Great Motorcycle Race. This book has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas. I am not sure how we even came across it, however, it has great illustrations. In addition, my dad had a very humorus way that he’d read the story. It seemed to jump right off the pages of the book.

After these two stories my mom would often read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke. Then, if we were lucky we’d get to play, Twas the Night Before Christmas. This is a game where my mom would read the story, Twas the Night Before Christmas, and my brothers and I would get to change the story around in mad libs fashion. I am 42 and I still love to play this game. Yes, I do still have a juvenile sense of humor now and then.

As I have gotten older and traditions have faded, I have begun to realize that it is time to start new traditions. I am glad I have memories of the old ones. Those are memories that I will never lose. However, Christmas means different things to me now. I no longer feel like I need to get gifts in order for it to be Christmas. It was fun to feel the anticipation of receiving gifts on Christmas when I was a boy. But, I am content with the things that I have now. Sure, our house needs work, and my car needs new tires. However, I am thankful to have a loving wife and a wonderful family that cares for us in countless ways.

I am also thankful that Amanda and I will now be able to share our home with foster children. We will hopefully be able to start new traditions of our own. These traditions will be ones that will bring back some of the magic of Christmas. Along with the new, we can mix in some of the old. Emmet Otter and his jugband will be there. I am also hoping that Boffo and his motorcycle might be able to join us.

I’ll never be able to read that story as well as my dad did. However, through its reading he will remain alive in spirit. I will soon be the same age my dad was when he passed away. He will never be forgotten. A part of him remains alive in each of his boys.

Memories are what keeps the magic of Christmas alive for me today. My family is rarely all together for Christmas anymore. However, that is all right because we all have the same memories that bind us together no matter the miles that separate us from one another. Nothing can erase those memories.

A Hydrocephalus Thanksgiving

As I’ve mentioned before in earlier blog posts, besides being born with spina bifida, I was also born with hydrocephalus. This is a condition that causes cerebrospinal fluid to build up on the brain. To drain this fluid, a shunt often has to be placed in a person’s head. This shunt allows the excess fluid to run down from the brain into the peritoneal cavity (abdomen). I had my first shunt implanted within hours of my birth.

Throughout my life I have been very fortunate to have had little trouble with my shunt. This is not the case for many with hydrocephalus. Shunts can often get infected, or simply break down. Only once has mine needed to be fully replaced. This occurred when I was four-years old.

It was close to Thanksgiving in 1981 when I began to experience some of the worst headaches I had ever had to that point in my life. Along with the headaches, I became very nauseated. These are two very common side effects one can experience when a shunt begins to fail. So, when I began having these headaches and vomiting, my parents took me to Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

As we arrived at the hospital my neurologist, Dr. David McLone, did an exam of my eyes and confirmed my shunt would need to be replaced. He knew this, as he could see papilledema. This is a swelling of the optic nerves caused by excess pressure on the brain. Papilledema is yet another sign that there is a problem with a person’s shunt.

Therefore, I was scheduled to have surgery the next day. I don’t know what was more upsetting, the fact that I would need to have surgery, or that I would have to be in the hospital for Thanksgiving. However, what the doctors and nurses didn’t know is that I would not be deterred from having Thanksgiving dinner.

If my memory serves me correctly, I had surgery the morning before Thanksgiving. I then spent the rest of that day in intensive care, where I slept for quite a while.

I then woke up on Thanksgiving morning and was famished. However, I was told that I would only be allowed ice chips. If I was able to tolerate these, I would be allowed to have clear liquids. Not being one to give up easily, I downed the ice chips that I was given. Then, it was on to the clear liquids. I knocked those back as quickly as I could and told the nurses I wanted Thanksgiving dinner! They resisted my pleas at first. However, they consulted my doctor, as I was insistent that I wanted some turkey!

It pays to be persistent. My doctor saw that I had tolerated everything else that I had been fed. Therefore, he thought it wouldn’t hurt to at least let me try some solid foods.

I was given some turkey and scarfed it down almost as quickly as it was placed in front of me. Then I asked for some more, plus some potatoes and stuffing. Nothing was going to stop me from having Thanksgiving dinner. I ate until I was satisfied, much to the astonishment of the nurses. They should have never doubted a Bradshaw with an appetite.

Sometimes doctors do know what they are talking about, and their advice should be followed accordingly. I am glad that most of the ones I have had along the way have taken the time to listen to me. I know my body the best, as I have lived inside of it for 42 years now. Don’t ever let someone with an M.D. behind their name pressure you in to anything that does not feel right. Listen to your body. It will often tell you the right course of action. Sometimes, you just have to eat the turkey and forget about standard operating procedures.