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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Steven of Nazareth

By Steven P. Velasquez
December 16, 2009

A Holiday story of songs, food and mucho machismo!

As we approach the Christmas holiday, tales of lore are passed from generation to generation maintaining years of tradition and keeping Christianity in the mouths and hearts of the current. This story my friends, will not be one of them.

Last night I attended the "Holiday" (watered down, sterile, non-denominational, non-offensive, sanitized word for CHRISTMAS) concert of my daughter Nicolette (13). She and the combined musical talents of the Nazareth, PA Middle and High School's serenaded us for an hour and a half. They sang songs from different languages, countries and religions. They incorporated musical instruments at different points and belted out some beautiful solo's as well. A proud father I was when in front of the scores of caroling teens was my most beautiful, my first born, my Nicolette singing along -- in sign language.

I had only seen her perform this way once before, within the past few weeks as she stood before a church full of grieving family, at 
the passing of my former father in-law -- her "Pop-pop."

Nicolette signs at Pop Pop's funeral
The tears of joy and pride were wrung from my head like water from a pregnant sponge. I couldn't contain the surge of emotion at the beautiful images of my silently serenading progeny. I told her that day "I have never seen you look so beautiful, not since the moment you were first born."

To the left of me sat my ex-wife Dawn happily hugging and holding my three year-old Brianna (not hers). To the right of me sat my partner and love Michele (Brianna's mother). Further to my right was my oldest daughter Samantha (19). Samantha is not biologically mine but our family has never used the term "step" for anything but to clarify our non-biological relationship. To Sam I am Daddy and to me, she is my oldest baby, as I've raised her since she was four.

If this sounds complex, good! It is. It is complex beyond imagination but that is why I write you. A family is not defined by who carries who's DNA, but by who carries love in their heart of one another. Who is there for each other? Who supports each other in times of trouble? No one in the audience, or anywhere for that matter questions who is "biologically connected." They simply say "what a beautiful family" or "what beautiful children" you have. I've told my daughters in the past, "Our family is not black & white. It's more like -- plaid, a beautiful tapestry of plaid."

The joint mission of my past and present relationships have been to illustrate to my children that divorce exists. Separation and the cessation of living arrangements exist for as many reasons as there are stars in the sky. But more importantly, family exists! Love exists endures and transcends the world's troubles, for as many reasons -- as there are stars in the sky. The presence of a divorce does not mean the absence of civility. It does not dictate that everything in life has to turn into a hostile, hateful engagement every time you're near each other. That example does nothing but fuel more hostility and damage the hearts of the one's we love most -- our children.

Okay, sermon over. Here's the good part.

After the concert, we all visited a local pizzeria for a warm supper together, all of us. We were seated and our drink orders were taken. I got up to visit the rest room when I was greeted by the owner. One glance at me and he immediately (and correctly) assumed I was "one of his own" -- a Latino. He greeted me in Spanish and asked where my heritage was from. I explained that my mother was from Puerto Rico and my father Peru. He shared that he was from Guatemala and we conversed cheerfully for a short while. He asked who was with me and that's where the complexity began. I explained that I was with both mother's and all my children. His eyes widened as he peered over my shoulder at my family. Not an easy task for him as I'm 6 ft. tall and he stood approximately 5'4" or regulation height for Central American's. With furrowed brow he asked "they're American's aren't they?" "One Italian and one Irish" I replied. "Wow" he exclaimed "that explains it." "What?" I asked. "I knew they weren't Latinas, because they'd be killing each other!" We both belly laughed at the situation and he shook his head in bewilderment. He admiringly stared up at me; "How do you do it?" "It's not easy" I replied as the mutual laughter waned.

My family enjoyed their meal and shared laughter, hugs and holiday cheer. The two mother's spoke across the table and compared notes about the children, their similarities and differences. The supper came to an end and it was now about closing time for the restaurant. As I paid the bill and went to leave, there was a small gathering of other Spanish-speaking men (the employees) and coincidentally all of regulation height gathering at the end of the counter. The owner said to them as I was leaving "this guy is here, eating dinner, with TWO women that have his children!" They gasped out loud as they queried "que cosa" (WTF?), "y como lo haces?" (and how do you do it?) "y no se estan matando?" (and they're not killing each other?). Again I laughed as I addressed my new fan club, "it's not easy." They continued to admire me as I glided by looking down (physically only) at their bewildered faces.

In the parking lot, I shared the story with the two mothers and we all laughed heartily. And there you have the story of "Steven of Nazareth."

Tell your friends.