Your first day is still a strong memory. I thought nothing of the cramps in my back, but everyone told me I would know. Riding to the hospital, I thought to myself, I’ll get fluids and be home in time for the fireworks. I have always loved fireworks. The sound, the brilliance, the kind that are so loud you can feel them in your gut. My fireworks, on July 4, 1998 would be life changing.
You were so small. I was terrified. What if I break you? Your cry was like a little bird. Your dad and I did not know that we would have a rough first couple of months. A medivac to the hospital, sleepless nights in the hospital. But you were so strong. You struggled to breath and you fought so hard. You were born a Rock.
Watching you grow was such a joy. You were so kind and caring. You had a sensitivity that I just adored. Your hunger for knowledge was incredible. The dinosaurs…boy did we learn a lot about dinosaurs. Going in to meet your preschool teacher, I can remember you looking at the dinosaurs she had. You were looking at one in particular and she said, “It’s called a bone head.” You looked at her and said, “Actually, it’s a pachycephalosaurus.” Your teacher and I had a good laugh over that. But, on the first actual day of preschool, I was the proud mother she kept after all the other kids got picked up, so she could let me know you ate the fuzz from your sit-upon. Tone set for the year. You were never rude, and mostly very kind, but you had a devious streak. I was worried you would have a tough time making friends, but, when I expressed that to the teacher, she said, “You have nothing to be worried about. All the kids love Joey.”
It took you some time to settle into elementary school. You always wanted everything to be perfect. But, in second grade, you got Mr. Cochran. That was your turning point in school. You found a joy in learning. He was fun, yet he also didn’t let you get away with a lot (especially sitting on the back two legs of the chair). How often did you have to stand at your desk?
When your cousin was diagnosed with food allergies, your world was turn upside down. You were always making sure if we had nuts in the house everything was cleaned up to make sure she was safe..
And Christmas, do you remember leaving out cookies for Santa. And then you came down from your room and gave us some of your money and asked us to leave it for Santa so he could make sure the kids that really needed it, got toys. So strong, so kind, so giving.
Big brother. I cannot think of a single person that would be a better big brother to Sophia. I loved and still love watching you with her. You helped teach her to read (but I am still convinced that was so she would read to you), you tutored her in math. You are always looking out for her. Even now.
Once you found your way in school, you made it look so easy. You had a love for learning. It was such a joy to watch you eat up all the knowledge you could. But even better, you shared it. You helped Sophia, you helped other friends.
What a teammate you were. Watching you play football was so much fun. The littlest guy on the team, playing on the line and making a difference. I loved it. Watching you score your first touchdown in High School, proud moment. But, you didn’t get an opportunity to play a lot. It wasn’t what you did on the field that was most impressive. Off the field, I watched you be strong enough to go to coaches and tell them what you were seeing on the field, and the coaches respected your perspective. I watched you go up to teammates and cheer them on. Coaches would ask your help to teach the starters they playbooks. And you did it.
I can remember going through the hardest time of my life. You never quite knew what to do with my tears, and I never blamed you. I didn’t know what to do with them. But when I started studying for my real estate exam, I would fall asleep in bed studying. I always felt you come into my room and cover me with my blankets and turn off my light. You will never fully understand how much that meant to me.
You leaving for college was hard. It was time to let go a little and watch you soar. You persevered through really tough classes. You learned how to cook (and very well, I might add). And you were accepted into the Masters Program of Engineering at Penn State.
Today, you should be walking to Pomp and Circumstance as the family celebrates your undergraduate success. We won’t be able to celebrate your graduation today, know that I am so proud of the man you have become. You are not just my Rock, you have been a Rock to so many around you.
So, Joey, on your graduation day, I want you to know that I am so absolutely proud of you and I am shouting it to the world. I love you more than the stars in the sky. WE ARE…….