It would be nice to have all my kids together with me while I’m alive, and I don’t mean on my deathbed or anything like that. The chances of it happening are slim to none, though, but a man can hope, can’t he? I’ve got a son that still lives with me (ladies – rich ladies especially – he’s available. The only baggage he carries is his PS3), another son that lives across the street, a son in Pell City, Alabama (for now – that boy moves more than I did at his age. I think he got the wanderlust gene), another son somewhere in or around Atlanta, a son that lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a daughter, also in Kalamazoo, who lives upstairs from her brother, and a daughter in Erie, Pennsylvania.
I do have an adopted daughter in South Bend, Indiana, too, that I need to get caught up on. Her name is Lanette Wilburn. I dated her mom twenty years ago and we took to each other like peanut butter and jam. She had (and still has) the most wonderful constellation of freckles on her face, and whenever someone asked her where she got them she’d smile brightly and say “A yard sale!” I wish I knew what yard sale I got my liver spots from – I’d send them back. Here’s a photo of Lanette (she still goes by ‘babygirl’ to me) when she was a firecracker:
My oldest son, William Joseph Harding, was born January 11, 1978 (great music back then, by the way) when I was married to his mom Kathy. When he was a year old he caught pneumonia and was hospitalized. His mom slept on a cot next to his bed at night. One night I agreed to relieve her but decided to stop by a friend’s house and party a little before going to the hospital. Big mistake. By the time I arrived in Joey’s room I was hammered, and decided I would throw up in the toilet before settling down. Hospital bathrooms have excellent acoustics, by the way. Kathy heard my vomiting and it made her sick to her stomach, so when I emerged from the bathroom and face-planted myself on the cot, she took my place and did her own little upchuck solo. A couple of hours into my drunken sleep I was awakened by a nurse who said she had heard this horrible retching coming from the bathroom and found my wife with her head in the toilet, so they rushed her to the ER. That’s the last time I ever drank heavily before going to the hospital. I think. Joey grew up to be a full-fledged iconic symbol of what a great man should be and is with a strong-willed, gorgeous, loving woman Gracie, living in Pell City. He has blessed the world with eight children, most recently a beautiful little girl Laie born May 1st, this year. Joey and I see each other often, but not as often as I’d like. He’s my favorite oldest son, by the way. Here’s a picture of Joey when he was a human cannonball:
My next son, John Amos Harding, was born on May 8th, 1980, also with my first wife Kathy. I could tell right away he was exceptionally smart by the look he gave me from his crib, you know, that look that says ‘I’ve already figured out the mysteries of the universe. Have you?’ Unfortunately, his mom and I split up less than a year after he was born and I moved to Michigan, so I didn’t get to see much of him. His Uncle Jack raised him to be an outstanding man, though, and for that I am forever grateful. John came and stayed by my side when I had my near-fatal heart attack in 2010. His visit rates as one of the top three moments of my life. He lives around Atlanta with his beautiful wife Amanda and his son Riley. I hope to see them someday. Here’s a picture of John when he was a pre-teen heartthrob:
I met my second wife, Bera, in 1981, but before I fell in love with her I was head over heels with her son James, who was about a year old then (he was born March 21st, 1980 – the Spring Equinox). He and his mother lived next door to me in Decatur, Alabama, and I remember the first time I saw him he was up to his eyeballs in Q-tips, having snatched a box of them off the table and dispensed them throughout the apartment. I knew he was my kind of guy. I called him Jamie for years until he grew up and said he wanted to be known as James. It does sound more grown up. He rode with me one night when I was a cab driver, and we picked up a half dozen drunk women having just come from a bachelorette party. Jamie was maybe twelve, and as cute as two speckled puppies, so the woman naturally fawned over him. Halfway to wherever we were going the song “Jamie’s Crying” came on and they turned the volume up and serenaded him at the top of their lungs. I was so jealous. Jamie lives in Kalamazoo with his fantastic and mystical wife Heather and two rambunctious children. Here’s an early photo of Jamie – er, James:
Bera and I had a daughter, Sandra, on May 7, 1982. She was the first of my children I actually got to see being born. I thought there was something wrong with her when I saw her alien-shaped, birthing-squeezed head (it eventually resembled a human’s within the week.) and the multi-colored umbilical cord. I later found out that was all normal. Wow. That was around the time I started playing Dungeons and Dragons, and for some ungodly reason I thought it would be cool to turn Sandy into an elf by reshaping the tips of her ears while she was still a newborn. By the time her mother found out I had already made one of them pointy, but she refused to let me balance it out. Now Sandra’s a half-elf. She was definitely a Daddy’s girl. I was stationed at Fort Detrick, Maryland in 1985 and had just gone to work one morning when Bera called frantically wanting me back home. I thought Jamie or Sandy had been impaled by a rogue rhinoceros the way their mom was carrying on. When I got there I saw that Sandy with her face covered in blood. She had seen me shave and thought it was a good idea, except she forgot the shaving cream and nicked her face in about a dozen places. She now lives in an apartment just above her brother James. Here’s a photo of Sandra when she was a true half-elf Princess:
On July 30th, 1986 Bera and I had a son, Thomas. As a little kid he hated loud music, and loud noises for that matter. I took him to an air show once and made sure he was close enough to see the plane-eating, fire-breathing dragon robot, but that turned out to be a bad idea. He especially didn’t like to listen to Black Sabbath, either. I worried he might end up being a classical music lover, but he fooled me, because he digs hard rock now. Someday we have to jump into the same mosh pit, just for fun. He lives across the street from me, so we get to see each other on a regular basis. I do wish he’d turn that damned music down, though. Here is a picture of Thomas when he was young:
Time went by as I matured much too slowly, because I eventually married two more times before getting it right. All my wives deserve a medal for heroism and longsuffering. When I met and married my fourth wife, Debi, she had a daughter and son. Tianna (born April 4th, 1980) was 12 years old when I came into her life, and she let me know quickly that she was a mature, independent, intelligent young lady. She was right. Tia was the first child I ever had the pleasure of being witness to puberty. Robert Frost once wrote that fog comes in on little cat feet. Puberty comes in on steel-toe, spiked Army boots doing the Lord of the Dance. Tia and I had a lot of great times together, though. I taught her to drive, but all her passengers wish I had been more conservative. Hey, she keeps the shiny side up and the greasy side down. What more do you need? Tia has always been really protective of her mom and is currently not happy with me, but we’ll get through it because family is thicker than blood. Tia lives in Erie, PA, is married to a fantastic man Dan and is raising 4 kids quite well. Here is a photograph of Tia when she was a little cutie-pie:
Adam was 8 years old when I married his mom Debi (he was born November 23, 1982). If you look in the dictionary under ‘sparkplug’ you’ll see his picture. Adam has always taken life by the horns and used them as plows. From the time he wakes up he is non-stop until he completely runs out of steam. As a child, he never ran out of steam. He has always been outgoing and boisterous, and of all my kids Adam has adopted the most of my sick and twisted sense of humor. Score one for nurture over nature. Once Adam and I went to a temp agency and signed up for a single day working on a roof. After we had busted our butts all day in the wind and cold we were starved. We picked up our pay and had just enough to eat at Burger King across the street. We still laugh at that one. Here’s a picture of Adam and his first girlfriend:
If I dwell on the type of man I was back then I would probably end up wanting to hide under the rock I came out of. Fortunately there is always hope for us all through God’s grace, God’s Son Jesus, and the Light of His Holy Spirit, and I am grateful beyond measure to have finally found redemption and forgiveness from my Lord. I shall spend the rest of this life praying for the health and well being of my kids, too. It’s the least I can do, and sometimes the only thing I can do. Yes, it would be nice to have all my kids together with me, and not when I’m on my deathbed or having my first breakfast in heaven. They are, however, all within the confines of my heart, and there is plenty of room there for their kids – my grandkids – as well. I have a picture on my desk that I look at all the time. So far it’s the closest thing to having all my children in one shot. Here it is:
Kids, I owe you one. That ‘one’ is my life. I love you all, and Babygirl, too.