|Joe - 1987
The first time I met Joe he was wearing a green-striped shirt and following David, his elder brother, into his father’s office. He looked over the counter and smiled at me. His father was Mario, my boss who I would marry eighteen months later, though at the time I didn’t see that coming.
“Boys,” Mario said in a voice reserved for his children. “This is our new Park Aid, Janet. She’s brand new so don’t bother her. She’s still trying to learn how to type.” Mario thought he was funny. So did the boys.
Instead of “not bothering me” the boys gravitated to my desk. David told me that they had come on a plane together to California, all the way from Kansas City.
“That’s where our Mom lives,” Joe said, dreamily. He was a blonde, blue-eyed boy who had just turned six. David, brown haired and brown eyed was seven, but quick to tell me that he would soon be eight.
I liked them immediately. They were filled with observations and questions. They wanted to use my new electric typewriter. They told me they had just ridden a horse the day before and Joe actually fell off.
“But I got up and got back on,” he said, proud of himself. What I didn’t see coming was that Joe would become quite an accomplished horse rider—a cowboy, if you will. Both boys would learn to break and care for horses with such skill that they could make a living.
I went to Mario’s house for dinner that night (more at the invitation of the boys than of him) and got to observe the family dynamics a bit more. Both boys basked in their father’s attention. David appeared to be the alpha, even though Joe would say “You’re not the boss of me, David!” Joe, as the younger child, was thoughtful.
|Joe and I -that first dinner meeting
At some point, I picked up a book and started reading to them. It was beautiful and magical. I read four or five books that evening before I excused myself and went home.
“Why are you leaving?” Joe asked me as I packed up my purse.
“I have a baby,” I answered above their father. (Mario was laughing, saying: “Because she doesn’t live here!”)
“A girl baby or a boy baby?” Joe asked.
“A boy. His name is Vince.”
“Can you go get him and bring him back here?”
I looked up at Mario who was smiling.
“No, honey,” I said. “I’m going to go home and spend some time with him. Usually I give him a bath and put him to bed.”
|Mario and Joe at the top of the World Trade Center - 1987
I left that night, feeling like I fit in the lives of Mario and the boys. That seed grew and blossomed into a beautiful relationship, one that we realized would become permanent. What I didn’t see coming was how long it would take Joe to accept me as part of Mario’s life. He was careful and watchful. Mario and I were careful to read books on blended families and even saw a family counselor.
On a trip to New York City, David agreed to hold my hand when we crossed the street or walked crowded sidewalks. Joe permitted me to hold his wrist. David shared his heart and mind with me while Joe watched me closely.
Eventually Joe and I became closer and he accepted that I was a part of his new life that wasn’t going away. Thank God there was that acceptance. As he grew, I saw that Joe’s heart was so like his father’s: steady, beautiful, tender.
|Our Family 1994
A little over a year ago, Joe married Ariel, his long-time girlfriend –who has a young son named Asher. To see the family together is precious and inspiring. Joe seems to have come alive with fatherhood and the occupation makes him glow.
|Joe (holding Asher) and Ariel (holding Harvey)
Today is his birthday –tomorrow is Father’s Day. I watch Joe now as he used to watch me; I see him alive and sparkling in full bloom. A husband, a father and the proud pappy of a new baby, Harvey. As a man, he has come into his own.
|Joe with Harvey -- January 2016
Over the years, I have amassed thousands of memories and thousands of words to describe Joe, but the best way I can sum him up is to say he is like Mario. He’s kind to strangers, loves his family and thinks he is funnier than he really is (wink, wink). He is tender and strong. He thinks before he acts, works well in a team, and make decisions cautiously and carefully.
In truth, Joe has become stronger with each passing year, and in this world that matters.
Happy Birthday, Joe! Your faithful love and understanding has been greater than I could have ever hoped for. I love you.