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Wednesday, April 17, 2024
The Observer

You bring heaven down to me

One of my earliest memories is gripping our kitchen's cold, stainless steel table. It was originally a Home Depot work bench that my dads thought would look modern and hip as a dining room table. Or maybe it was just them trying to save money.

My legs swung, unable to touch the ground. Their nervous energy replicated in my body. My mind raced. We never had family meetings unless I had fudged up — big time. 

Like the time I tried to steal a paper lantern from my elementary school art room, thinking I was slyly hiding it behind my dad’s jacket as I tried to push him out the door. He wasn’t fooled, making me bring it back to the teacher. This was followed by a family meeting about stealing.

But this time, it wasn’t about me. It was my dads letting me know that they were “separating for a little while” and that one of them would get an apartment down the street, and we’d go on living our merry lives. 

Originally over the moon, I thought, “How many kids are cool enough to have THREE BEDROOMS,” one at each of my dads’ and one at my mom's. Those feelings subsided when I figured out what it meant, a fracturing of my family as it was currently constructed and a destabilization of the world that had been so carefully constructed around me.

My family has always been a little weird to explain. Two gay men. Single lesbian mom of three. A hodgepodge of queers thrown into the Catholic blender — my dad was kicked out of his house when he was 14 for being gay and my mom, 17. Somehow, they were all crazy enough to come together and have me.

That theological blender left deep scars inside my dad and mom. Scars they attempted to medicate with drugs, opioids and alcohol. Scars that festered and never quite went away. Scars exacerbated by family, churches and the state which had — in many ways — disposed of them. My dads were taking a break because, unbeknownst to seven-year-old me, one of them was now severely addicted to methamphetamine. 

My dad Paul, the sober one, decided this was a decision that had to be made to protect me, as drug dealers and other potentially dangerous actors were now clouding the spaces around us. He loved my other dad more than life itself, but made the decision to cut off his own heart to protect me. A few years later, I lost my mom too

In the span of four years, I went from having three parents to one. Three tree trunks of support, to one stilt carrying all the weight. I don’t know how he did it. Working 60-hour weeks, making dinner and coming home to read “The Chronicles of Narnia” or some other adventure novel to me.

Every parent makes immense sacrifices for their children — getting up early to make them breakfast and lunch, putting away boatloads of money to send them to college or pulling an all-nighter to bake some insane array of cupcakes to take to school the next day.

In “Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom, one character professes, “Sacrifice is a part of life. It’s supposed to be. It’s not something to regret. It’s something to aspire to. Little sacrifices. Big sacrifices. A mother works so her son can go to school. A daughter moves home to take care of her sick father.”

Being a parent (or guardian), at its core, involves these types of sacrifices to give their children the type of life they deserve. Not a single person is capable of being at a school like Notre Dame without someone believing in them and sacrificing parts of their life to get them here. We all work hard and have different backgrounds that have made it easier or harder to get here, but the linchpin of our success is guardians who are willing to risk their own happy endings for ours. 

I would not be at Notre Dame, maybe even alive, without my dad, Paul’s constant support, guidance and will to help got me through the seas of my rocky middle years. He sacrificed his “happily ever after” again and again and again, all in the hopes of making sure I was able to survive my odyssey. 

If you ever get the chance to read my inbox after one of my columns is published, you’ll realize that I have a lot of unpopular opinions. However, in my personal life, I receive the most hate from my friends for my unabashed love of country music.

One of my favorite songs is Zach Bryan’s “Snow.” My favorite line is, ”You bring heaven down to me / Course it through my blood as I breathe.” I think that’s my dad, and truly all of our parents, at their best. They bring heaven down to us. There is nobody who makes me happier or forces me to think more passionately about the world than him. 

For the longest time, it has been us against the world. This has not been without its challenges — from me running away from home for 12 hours barefoot, to him grounding me from being able to go to a baseball game with my friends because of a fly in my mac and cheese. We’ve yelled, been so deeply upset with one another, but always come back to forgive each other.

My life could have been better or happier had addiction and deep-festering scars not impacted my other parents so intensely. But some of the holiest families in my life aren’t always a father, mother and kids. They’re two grandparents taking over for their children that aren’t able to take care of them, lesbian saints that make your toes tingle from all the half-finished woodworking projects scattered throughout their house or a single mom doing her best to do right by her kids. 

My dad just proposed to Steve, the new love of his life. At first I was scared, because for so long it’s been just my dad and me against the world. But love only grows, and this year we’ll be celebrating my family getting a little bigger and a little holier.

At the bottom of the Holy Handoff statue on Bond Quad, there is a quote by George Bernard Shaw: “A happy family is but an earlier heaven.” My heaven has come a little closer and has become a little bigger thanks to Steve and Paul. 

Our relationship isn’t “normal” and our family isn’t “normal” but Paul Edward Sherman, my dad, brings heaven down to me every single day. To my dad, truly to all the parents, guardians and funky families celebrating Junior Parents Weekend at this time, thank you for bringing heaven down to us kids.

Dane Sherman is a junior at Notre Dame studying American Studies, peace studies, philosophy and gender studies. Dane enjoys good company, good books, good food and talking about faith in public life. Outside of The Observer, Dane can be found exploring Erasmus books with friends, researching philosophy, with folks from Prism, reading NYT op-eds from David Brooks/Ezra Klein/Michelle Goldberg or at the Purple Porch getting some food. Dane ALWAYS wants to chat and can be reached at @danesherm on twitter or lsherma2@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.