Looking Up!

Bruce Julie Tux

It was a bit over a year ago when I told a close friend I was headed to Charlotte, NC, for a work meeting.  This friend suggested I contact a sorority sister of hers, “Danny, I think you’d really hit it off.”

I wasn’t resistant.  I’ve been out on a number of dates over the past five or so years and although I hadn’t found Miss Right, I’ve met some interesting women and had enjoyable conversations.  People are fascinating and mostly nice.

I wasn’t overly optimistic, but I certainly didn’t dread the date.  I could always use a new friend.  Besides, she lived two hours away.  This relationship could easily dissolve simply by staying close to the Wake County line.

What I didn’t expect was to be totally captivated by this incredible woman.  What I couldn’t imagine was that I would start a relationship with someone who would emotionally fill me up in a way I hadn’t been filled in a very long time.

My mom has prayed for this for seven years.  I guess I haven’t because I had my plate full with other pressing issues.  It seemed insurmountable to heal enough from my loss to ever be open to a relationship again.

But BAM – it hit me.  It hit me hard.

The past seven years have been tough.  Don’t get me wrong, my girls and I have had really, really good times together.  But there are roles that they can’t and should not have to fill in our family.  It’s simply not their responsibility to ensure my happiness.  I have to figure that out on my own.

I think I’ve done OK, but man, to share the emotional load, to open up, to laugh and cry with someone again – someone who really cares about me in a different way than my parents or my kids – it sort of rounds things out.

I had forgotten.  I had filled my huge void with busy – running myself ragged so I didn’t have to sit still long enough to in fact realize how lonely I had become.  My kids were moving forward.  My friends were moving on.  I was not.  I was simply running in place.  Stuck in the middle.

Now, I breathe again.  Not just short gasps.  No, because of Julie, I’m taking deep, thoughtful, life-filling breaths.  She is a beautiful, optimistic, capable, happy, ball of fire!  We fit.

Movement forward isn’t always easy nor steady, and I bring a lot of baggage to the table.  But I think, instead of pushing it aside, she’s going to help me carry it.  She seems to see things in me that I don’t even see in myself.

In my darkest days, I never imagined happy like this.  I can’t believable that I found it.

Bruce and Julie

 

Not from around here…

I was in San Diego last week for a conference.  It’s a really cool place – with really cool people.

I thought I was kinda cool.  After going there, I discovered I am not.  I am so, so not.

I also thought I was fairly open-minded, accepting of others and new ideas.  But maybe not so much either.

On Friday night, I went out in the Gaslamp neighborhood.  This borough sort of reminded me of Bourbon Street in New Orleans.  There was lots to see and do.  Skimpy clothes.  Lots of body art.  Piercings galore.  I’m good with all that.  I actually find it interesting to observe different kinds of people.

What I didn’t expect was a female bathroom attendant in the men’s john!

I walked into a fairly small area, a couple of guys in line before me, and there she was – tending the sink.  I don’t remember what she looked like or what she was wearing.  I tried hard to look the other way.  I did recognize that she was doing a great job of attending.  She’d pump the soap right into your hand and have a drying towel ready when you finished rinsing.  Her counter was full of essentials: hair gel, lotions, cologne.  She even offered a plethora of tobacco products for your liking.

When I approached the urinal, a young dude on my right and she on my left, I thought to myself you ain’t in Raleigh anymore.  Her phone rang, she answered.  The line of full bladders was growing outside the door.

I tried to concentrate for I really needed to go.  But I couldn’t.  There was simply too much for this simpleton.  I walked out as full as I’d entered.

I don’t want to be the person who gets stuck, who can’t accept the progressions of the world.  I could end up having a daughter who decides to build a career in the bathroom service industry.  I don’t want to thwart anyone’s potential.  And I hate this was bothersome to me.  But indeed it was!

My father accepted women Deacons in our church, and he was not raised with that mentality.  Perhaps I too will warm up to this idea.

Longing for Gray

Tampon

I raise money for a living.  I work at a large YMCA in the development office.  Currently we are working on a $117,000,000 campaign which will allows us to build five new YMCAs, renovate several existing Ys and camps, send tens of thousands of children to programs who otherwise could not afford to attend and grow our endowment.  Most people don’t like to ask folks for money.  I got over that about a decade ago.  I just really believe in the work that we do.

I often drive prospective donors around in my car to take them to programs or show them construction sites.  I drive a 2007 Acura MDX.  It’s a nice car that I’ve kept well maintained.  But it is old.  Each time I have an appointment, I try to remember to tidy up my vehicle wanting to make a good impression.

Recently, I pulled up to our downtown Y facility to pick up a couple I had never met.  They were older, a bit reserved.  I had forgotten to tidy.

I opened the car door for the wife and as she climbed in the back of my car, I noticed a number of tampons, in very colorful wrapping, dispersed across the seat and floor.

I dived in before her explaining my situation: “I am a widower and have three teenage daughters…” who apparently want me to get fired!

It used to be Cherrios I’d find strewn about my vehicle.  My how times change.

I don’t get this.  Do they just grab a handful and dash out of the house as if they’re taking mints from the checkout counter at Denny’s?  What good are they to them in the car floor?  Why not in a backpack or purse?

Why are they packaged in the most vivid colors available?  Neon green, yellow and pink.  You can’t miss them.  They glow in the dark.

On more than one occasion, I’ve been asked to hold a stash in my pocket at an event.  I’ve reached for my keys before and had a tampon explosion – dropping them on the floor and having to scurry around to clean up my mess.  At least they’re easy to find.

 

 

I wish women had pockets.  I wish cars had built in hygiene storage compartments.  I wish tampons came in plain, gray packages.

80 Years Young

A poem written about Mae and Granddaddy by the youngest grandkid.

Jean and Wayne

Haven’t changed a lick!

80 years ago…

Sounds like a very long time, but in my parent’s eyes, I think it has gone by rather quickly.

Both of them complete their eighth decade this year so the fam gathered in the mountains for a brief weekend celebration over Easter.  My brother and I figured what they would most enjoy is time together.  We were right.

We visited, shopped a little, ate a lot and played games each night.  Michelle had everyone in the family email her one fact that no one else know about them.  She then took a candy kiss and one family member’s truth typed out and packed them neatly inside an Easter egg which she hid.  After the hunt, one egg per person, we went around the circle trying to figure out which fact fit which family member.

We’ve been together for a long, long time, and yet, we learned stuff we had not known before.  Who knew my dad drove cross country with a group of guys in college?  My nephew’s uvula is shaped like a snakes tongue.  I didn’t look but the girls did.  And my sister-in-law once ate over 30 baby aspirin – she was a kid and really liked the way they tasted.  Come to think of it, they were quite tasty.

I was proud that Michelle masterminded that activity and carried it out all on her own.

This weekend we also took the opportunity for each child and grandchild to write a note to the patriarch and matriarch sharing what they most remember and appreciate about these two special people.  We shared thoughts on Saturday night through laughter and tears.  An experience that was wonderfully meaningful for each of us.

I’m glad we took the time now to enjoy their company and to tell my folks how we feel about them.  It was a very special way to honor the ones who have meant so much.

The Gut

A dear friend of mine just resigned from the YMCA where we have worked together for thirty years.  She got an awesome opportunity to work with a former co-worker at the Y in Richmond.  Her kids are both in college, and it just seemed like a great opportunity for her to start anew.  She basically lived in Raleigh her entire life and most of her career, although in different positions, has been in one organization.  Gutsy move.

Big decisions are daunting for me.  I play out scenario after scenario – what if…

I recently went through a significant one with Michelle on high school choice.  That one was not mine to make, but I did hold some responsibility for coaching.

Stephanie is beginning to ponder colleges.  Another biggie.  Where you go to college will set the compass for the rest of your life:  where you live, your future spouse, your kids – all of those things ride on ONE significant decision.

Through the years, I’ve had opportunities to apply for other jobs similar to my friend.  I’ve considered selling my house and downsizing.  Occasionally I get the bug to pick up and leave the comfort of Raleigh, where I’ve spent the past 33 years, just to try something new.  But my roots are so very deep.

I have another friend who has had job after job.  She has lived in at least four cities in North Carolina, in Minnesota, and Colorado.  She has gone to various higher education institutions to chase her dreams.  And, she has always made new friends and adapted well.

I once saw a movie called Sliding Door.  The movie highlights Helen’s life.  She gets fired from her job and heads to the subway for home.  In one scenario, she catches the train and finds her boyfriend cheating on her in their apartment.  In another scenario, she misses the train and has no idea what he did.  The movie follows these two parallel lives.  And the outcome at the end is remarkably different, simply because of one train ride.

I suppose the lesson here is that any decision we make, big or small, can drastically change the course of our lives.  Lisa’s sister met her husband at a bar one night years ago.  Had she stayed at home to watch Grey’s Anatomy, who knows?

I asked my friend how she decided to make the move – what pushed her to jump.  Her reply?  “My gut.”

She simply felt it was the right thing to do at the right time.

Although I’m not happy with her for leaving, I’m pretty sure she’s made the right decision.  A little prayer and the following of your “gut” can lead you to some pretty incredible things.

 

 

Stephanie, the Pickle Farmer

college visit photo

Another junior, another week of college tours!  Whoa baby.

What a great way to spend one-on-one time with your kid.  A car, a dad, a daughter and 947 miles of walking around college campuses.

The first one was interesting.  It declined from there.

Things I rediscovered about universities and making that all important, life-changing decision:

  • Every school has a blue light emergency system. This is pointed out at all of the schools for parents who are scared to death that their kid is going to be attacked walking across campus at 2 AM.  I am one of those parents.  I like the blue light stations.
  • For a high school junior female on tour, the cuter the male guide, the higher the satisfaction with the college. At Furman, half of the tour was given on long purple golf carts.  Stephanie and I had been near the back of the walking portion of the tour led by a cute, peppy female co-ed.  When the staff member pointed us toward the golf carts for the remainder of our visit, a blonde stud muffin with a million dollar smile stepped out of the driver’s side inviting us to embark.  Stephanie knocked over two other girls, three moms and a grandmother to sit on the row behind Sven.  I glared at her.  “I’m really interested in this college” she defended.  I should arrange for the cuter guides to meet us at the cheaper schools.  Seriously?  We can’t make a decision on where to attend college based on the hotness factor of the dude leading the tour!  That is NOT a good measuring stick.
  • At each school, the first question prospective students are asked is “What are you considering for your major?” Stephanie is undecided although she has some interest in psychology.  I suggested she share her potential major.  She did not.  She didn’t want to commit.  I told her it didn’t matter what she said on tour, that it was not binding – that they would not force her to become a child psychologist simply because she mentioned it in April of her junior year in high school.  As we drove down the highway, we saw a sign for Mt. Olive College (we did not tour there).  But since Mt. Olive is famous for pickles, I suggested when asked about her future vocation at the next stop she say, “I am considering becoming a pickle farmer.”  We wondered how that would go over at Wake Forest.
  • I was aware that most higher learning establishments housed a Starbucks. I was unaware that the most frequently asked question by students on a college tour was, “Do you have a Chic Fil A?”  I do not know why that surprised me.  When DJ went to college in Washington, DC, she picked up jogging as a hobby.  That was shocking since she absolutely HATES to run.  But then, I realized, she was not running for exercise or endorphin pleasure.  She was running to catch the Chic Fil A food truck.  There are no stores near campus so she had an ap on her phone that tracked the vehicle’s whereabouts.  If within three miles of her dorm, she would don the running gear and high tail it to chicken.  By the way, all but one of the universities we visited had a Chic Fil A.  So don’t panic.  One is near.

This is not my last child nor my last week of tours.  Although a bit boring and repetitive, I would not trade this time with my kids for anything.  What an incredible way to get uninterrupted time with someone you love.

An Ode to Nowak

 

Roses are red,

Homework is a bore,

Why do my kids wait to put the massive poetry project together

 the night before?

 

She knew it was coming,

and I did too.

Her sisters made the same mistake,

The night ends with boo – hoo.

 

Due in three weeks,

 she wrote hard for the first.

Then set it aside,

Oh Lord, we’ll be cursed.

 

I got back to the house

at 10 PM from a meeting,

the project was due in 10 hours,

was even too late for some cheating.

 

She wrote haiku, a couplet,

free verse and a sonnet,

Dad, get the glue out and the hole punch,

Although late, I was on it!

 

The writing was easy,

Putting it together was not.

A nice binder, and drawings,

The presentation, a lot.

 

With colored pencils, and crayons

And glue and some tape,

She worked and she worked,

Michelle was up really late.

 

And me, well I watched.

I coached from the side,

And picked up little round papers

from the hole punch til I thought I would die.

 

This is my last child

to learn from Mr. Nowak.

He has motivated my daughters

And taught them Shakespearean clack.

 

 

Michelle on the uke

Sometimes as a dad, you just have to brag.  Here is my baby, Michelle, at the school talent show.  She has her uncle’s ability to pick out a tune on a random instrument and her mother’s incredible voice.  Just listen…

So proud…

PHOTO = $100

You can’t do this.  It is illegal!!!  It is unfair.  Re-dic-u-lous!!!

This is the SECOND time that I have received a SPEEDING ticket when visiting DJ in DC.  Yeah.  Bad me for speeding, huh?  WRONG!

They don’t have police up there.  They just put a camera out and take a picture of you and tell you that you owe $100 without any dag gone proof that you have sped.

39 in a 25 zone they say.  Yeah.  Well prove it sucka!  I could take a picture of your damn car driving down the street too and SAY that YOU’RE speeding.  But I got no proof.

What are their policemen doing?  EATING DOUGHNUTS?

Get the cream filled, chocolate covered puff out of your mouth and get to work!  If you want to give me a ticket because I’m speeding, fine.  Do it like a man.  Follow me.  Turn on your stinkin’ BLUE LIGHT, walk up to my window and write out the ticket in cursive!

In Raleigh, our officers will track your butt down, with a vehicle, and give you a citation.  That is fair.  This is NOT.  They can’t even put points on your license for this infraction because it is stupid.  The insurance companies won’t believe them.

I am employed by the YMCA.  I can’t take a picture of someone I perceive to be out of shape, send them the pic, and charge them for a membership.  I have to work for it.  I have to advertise, give them a tour, and convince them that our services would make a difference in their life.

What the heck?

More! More! More!

I’m selfish. I want to help the world, but I’m just too lazy or too greedy to do it.

On Friday night, I was at a fundraiser. It was for an international group that helps people in need.

The video they shared to kick the night off would rip your heart out. I had to drink another glass of really nice wine to absorb it all.

This man shared a letter from a kid he supports somewhere in Africa. The girl had written a thank you note for the man’s support but shared her concern about her father. Apparently he had to wait to work in his field until after several others in the community had finished their work. He didn’t own his own ox or plow. He borrowed. Therefore, he was the last to plant.  She feared for the family’s livelihood for the next twelve months if he didn’t get his dirt turned soon.

My kids are worried about a lot of things.  But they aren’t worried about whether they’ll have a roof over their heads or food to eat.

Just tonight I put a big helping of shrimp linguini in the fridge because I made entirely too much. We don’t eat leftovers, but I continue to save them because I can’t handle the guilt of throwing perfectly good food away. The Tupperware will sit there until next weekend. I’ll feel fine tossing it out then because no one would want to eat it at that point, not even really hungry folk.

Do you know how much it cost to buy the girl’s father an ox and a plow?  $300.  And there would likely be enough left to purchase a donkey too. I have suits that cost that much.  Several of them.

I also spend that much at Costco sometimes because I get carried away. I need to buy extra shrimp and linguini so my icebox won’t be empty.

This is a nutty world.

What if we could get our extra linguini to Africa by Tuesday? Wouldn’t that be nice?

The problem is that I’m much more comfortable giving my leftovers. That’s easy.

I took a car full of stuff to Goodwill today because I was through with it. And, I get a tax write off. But what if I gave more up front to combat the zany inequities in our world? Heck, in our city.

I probably won’t do that. Instead I’ll buy more stuff and complain about paying taxes – which sometimes do help people in need. More for me!!  More, more, more.