jen groeber: mama art

4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.

My Father (This One May Contain S#!T)

[Jasper told me that the other day one of his kindergarten classmates told him that I haven’t posted lately. Which was true. And which means that somewhere in Massachusetts there’s a kid with unfettered access to an iPad and my blog. So if you’re a six-year-old reading this, please stop. I use some curse words that were way more acceptable in 1977 than they are now. Go build a fort or something.]


Jen and Dad, napping

We are surrounded by fathers. I mean, where would we be without them? We’d be a depressed diary entry in our mothers’ collective diary times infinity if there were no dads, at least I would be. Without my father, who would have loved my mom so completely? Who would have told her she was beautiful in a world where likely no one had ever said she was beautiful, or certainly never told her enough?

I could make a list of my father’s favorite sayings:

1. Shit’s up.

2. That’s bullshit.

3. What’s this shit?

4. That’s called making chicken salad out of chicken shit.

5. If there was a pile of shit in the middle of the table, she’d have her hands in it. (In reference to my extremely energetic and curious sister. Note to frustrated parents: my sister grew up to be a hugely successful pediatrician, so there’s hope.)

It sounds as if his sayings lean in a particular direction, I know, but his life had sort of handed him shit. Often.


My father as a teenager, center, and his brothers

There was the time he answered the phone when he was a teenager and the police officer calling had mistaken my father for his much older brother and thus had related the news that his own father had died in a head-on collision. My father’s father had been beheaded driving in his convertible and my father was the first to know. There was that.

So my father struggled in college and his mother cut him off.

Then he married my mother, who wouldn’t allow him to struggle, so he signed up for the military, graduated from a community college, continued his course work after they moved back east to get a graduate degree. Somewhere in there, his firstborn son and namesake, Butchie, was born, sickly and tiny and severely retarded in all development.

Christmas, 1966

Dad, sister, Butchie, sister, Christmas

 And when other fathers would have left the building, my father persevered. Shit happens, you know. You can stop or you can press on.

They went to church, they had a few miscarriages, they made more babies. A gifted child with visual and hearing impairment would follow and a son who never clicked with my father in the way my father probably hoped. And then there were the rest of us, too, all crowding the house, needing food and new sneakers. And still, my father wanted a dozen children. He loved this shit.


Dad and baby brother
June 1978

But then there was The Operation, the one where they took out his digestive system by mistake the one where the doctors probably even thought, “No way this guy is going to survive this shit.” Yet he did, for eighteen more years.

Dad by the pool, after the operation
June 1979

During this time he took us trick-or-treating and to fourth of July fireworks. We drove to Cape Cod once a year to walk barefoot in the sand. He started collecting teddy bears that he’d talk to when the pain was at its worst. He taught us about Benny Goodman, built us a large screen television and a huge multi-component stereo system from scratch, taught us to work the centerboard on his little sailboat a couple times a year, all with a tube hanging out of his nose or chest and piles of pills, mosaics of medicine, spread before him at every meal. He told inappropriate jokes all the time and cried at Thanksgiving dinners when we’d go around the table saying what we were thankful for. He was thankful for so much.

Summers he smoked cigarettes and drank extra glasses of gin and then sat outside at night to watch the beautiful flesh of his children as we’d dive and swim in the inground pool in the backyard to a symphony of crickets.

I remember running along the pavement around the pool, wet feet slapping, chasing my sisters in the darkness. I’d look up every once in awhile to see my mother in the house, silhouetted in the kitchen window washing dinner dishes. And at the edge of the pool I’d see my father’s cigarette trace an arc of light in the darkness while he looked after us from his perch on the chaise lounge, watching us, loving us.


Jen and Dad, Yale graduation

My father was not a martyr, he didn’t die for a cause. And he was certainly no angel. But he was deeply, definitely, decidedly a proud and devoted father. And in the joy he brought, the sentimental love of his children, the pride he had for all we did, he was a hero.

Shit’s up were the last words he said to my mother, his way of saying that he felt that low, lower than whale shit.

But maybe his point always was that shit’s not all that bad, that for better or worse our lives are always going to be filled with shit, that shit happens, you know?

But love, love endures.


(Happy Father’s Day to my father, Bruce F. Groeber 1937-1997, and all the other fathers out there trying their very best to share their gifts with their children. What you do matters.)

21 comments on “My Father (This One May Contain S#!T)

  1. Burns the Fire
    June 15, 2014

    Crying. Thank you.

    • jgroeber
      June 17, 2014

      You are too good to come along and join me. Too good.

  2. evelyneholingue
    June 15, 2014

    Yes and yes to your post. Bravo to your dad. And thank you to your words of love.
    Shit, there are some good fathers in the world.

    • jgroeber
      June 17, 2014

      Right? Even the sloppy, messy kind of love is enduring.

  3. Margie S
    June 15, 2014

    You got me, again! Yes, the crappy thing about life is that shit does happen. But beauty does too, and through your father’s unimaginable challenges, he chose beauty over shit. In our real world, he is definitively and decidedly a hero!! I had my husband read this blog and as he read, he warmly caught glimpses of his father who passed 5 years ago from kidney cancer. Thank you!

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  5. Michele
    June 15, 2014

    Your dad was an incredible man…. He always had time to say hello with his cute smile. He always took a moment and made you feel like you were the only one there. He took the time to listen to whatever was important at the time. Weather it was the worm on the sidewalk, or the leaf on the car. He was a good man who raised some amazing children. Great tribute to a “shit happens” kind of guy. Well said!!! (as I tear up just a bit)

    • jgroeber
      June 17, 2014

      Now you made me cry. You captured him exactly. Our dads and their flannel shirts… such love for those two. I’ll never forget the story about the car alarm when we were on vacation on my father’s treasured BMW. Your Dad making the alarm go off over and over until the battery died, as I recall? Sigh. Wish we could have been writing all that stuff down every day. But then, we wouldn’t even have known what we had to describe. LYLAS

  6. Eric Groeber
    June 15, 2014

    As a nephew who lived many miles away from my Uncle Bruce, I now have a much clearer understanding of both him and you. My love for him, my Aunt Bobbie, and my wonderful cousins endures and my admiration for my Uncle Bruce continues to grow. Thank you for sharing from the heart. I wish we lived closer!
    Love, Eric

    • jgroeber
      June 17, 2014

      Oh, I love this comment. Thank you. It’s amazing how blood connects us. And every time I see old photos of your father, ones I’ve never seen before, I’m yanked back to my father’s life. I think it’s because your Dad and mine resemble each other, but also, because who they both were as individual adults is likely closely linked to who they were when they were growing up together. Your father seems a clue to who my father was (and vice versa.)
      And I do so wish we lived closer, too.

  7. Jojo
    June 15, 2014

    Reblogged this on Daddy's Little Girl.

  8. ponymartini
    June 15, 2014

    Now that was some good shit. Thank you for sharing about your amazing father.

    • jgroeber
      June 17, 2014

      Oh,t hank you for reading! He was the shit.

  9. Matt
    June 17, 2014

    No one extracts beauty from everyday life quite as well as you, Jen.

    18 more years.

    Warrior stuff.

    • jgroeber
      June 17, 2014

      Thank you so much. Now go to bed and sleep. Maybe some sorbet or a popsicle. Maybe some Ellen or Rob Reiner movies. Then sleep some more. Feel better soon. Thank you for spending your bit of energy here.

  10. Tandi
    June 19, 2014

    Where would we be without the love of our fathers? Your dad sounds a bit like mine. Not afraid to say what he thinks. Thanks for the post.

    • jgroeber
      June 26, 2014

      Everyone needs a father unafraid of speaking his truth (even if it involves shit.) I cringe sometimes at my husband’s straight-shooting with our kids, but maybe there’s the balance they need.
      (And thank you for reading.)

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This entry was posted on June 14, 2014 by in Memory, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , .

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