Mundane to Marvelous

This week’s Sunday School lesson was on happiness.  We talked about a lot of things, but one piece of the happiness puzzle seems to be contentment – making the most of your circumstances.

I think I see that in my oldest kid.  On Friday she was headed home for spring break.  That afternoon we were driving to Fayetteville, NC, to see my parents.  I’m sure my daughter might rather spend this time with friends in Cancun sipping boat drinks at the swim up bar.  But she had to make a choice, and a summer trip to Africa won.  Her father does not pay for these extravagances, and her bank account is only so deep.

I got a text at 9:38 AM.

I’m at the airport.  I haven’t driven in months.  Let’s take my car to Fayetteville.  It’ll be fun!

I knew what that meant.  Her grandfather handed down his Mini Cooper to DJ last May.  It is the size of a large bathtub.  It is tight for two people.  But four?

We packed light and all climbed in.  Our playlist from Spotify was pumping out of the speakers and the convertible top was down.

By the time we hit Garner, ten minutes outside Raleigh, I felt as if I had been visited by Hurricane Hazel.  My cerebral cortex had dried out from the pounding wind whipping through the orifices in my head.  And yet, we laughed, smiled and sang our way to the big metropolis we fondly call Fayettenam.

mini cooper

As we sat around grandpa’s den, DJ began taking family videos.  Like her father, she finds humor in the mundane.

The more she encouraged, the stupider we acted.

On Sunday, we went to church.  I taught a class and at 11 met the girls to head to the sanctuary.

“Dad, I have an idea,” DJ shared.

Here is comes, I thought to myself.

“What if we skipped church,”

Coulda called that one

“Grab some coffee,”

Now you’re talking

“And go ride the Carousel at Pullen Park.”

Not surprisingly, the sisters approved.

“Why would we do that?” I asked.

“Why wouldn’t we?” she questioned.


So off we went, church clothes and all, to ride a gyrating meerkat.

At school in DC, she does the same thing.

Camp Seafarer in the summer?  She’s cookin’ stuff up!

She doesn’t find happiness, she makes it.  She takes her circumstance, whatever it may be, and turns it into something good.  An afternoon in Fayetteville, NC, with a goofy 50-year-old father and a granddad who just had  bypass surgery?  Not a downer; an opportunity.  A chance to to embarrass your dad on Instagram.

She got the optimism and daring of her mother paired with the silliness of her dad.  Amazing when tossed together.



Five Years and Counting

My first visit to a grief counselor was in March, 2010. She was cool, full-time counselor and part-time yoga instructor. I sat on the couch embracing an aqua Pier 1 looking pillow, protection from the questions she might ask.

I was there for grief, but clearly she’d bring out more. Trudy was going to force me to dig deep, to explore myself, my fears – ones I’d buried underneath my marriage. In many ways, Lisa was my security blanket. Now I was exposed. Nothing to cling to. Nothing to hide behind, except the pillow.

I hurt so deeply.

“How long will I feel like this?” I asked.

“It takes most people five years to feel completely whole again.” She didn’t sugar coat.

“That’s unacceptable. I can’t feel like this that long.”

She explained that my grief would not be as intense for five years, but that it could very well take a long, long time to move forward.

Yesterday marked the five year anniversary, and Trudy was right. I do feel whole again. Looking back, it seems like so much has happened over the past half-decade. But in many ways, it doesn’t seem so long ago that I first met my counselor.

Time goes slowly when you look forward but it seems fast when you look back.

I remember three things Trudy told me that could help to speed up my healing:

1) Lean on those around you

I was a master at that. I let folks support in any way they were willing. At times I told them what I needed. All stepped up to the plate.

2) Lean into your grief

She told me not to run, to allow myself to feel it. To cry. To talk it out. Not to hold back. Again, a tip I conquered.

3) Find new interests

I’ve tried. I wish I had more, but I’ve discovered writing, acting with my kids, and I’ve ventured into dating and spending time with some really cool people. I’ve got some work to do on this one though.

There were two other things I found important in my journey. One was to keep busy, especially in the beginning. I think it could have been easy to sit in bed and watch TV. Fortunately for me, having kids did not allow that.

The final piece of my healing puzzle was building a stronger belief in the long-term future. Having faith that I will see Lisa again has given me the ability to enjoy this life more fully. That may sound counterintuitive. Maybe it’s like an upcoming vacation. Enjoying day-to-day life is easy when you know that you have something really exciting to look forward to.

So many people hurt for so many reasons. My hope is that they will find tools to move them forward. The darkness can be suffocating, but with hard work and time, there’s a whole lot of light to find.

Sunday Post 175: Wierd Little Family

On Wednesday I had a church meeting after work. It put me late getting home. I rolled in about 8.

I’d promised the girls we’d go out to dinner so we hit the Mexican restaurant closest to our house.

We returned home at 9:39, about to puke we’d eaten so many chips.

“Girls, I think I need to jog or I’m gonna be sick. You want to join me?”

“Dad, it’s 9:30!”

“Yeah, but you guys can sleep in tomorrow. Let’s jog to the playground.”

Michelle jumped on board quickly and Stephanie, who hates to run, acquiesced to my request likely because she didn’t want to sit at home by herself that late.

We jogged about half a mile down Ridge Road to the Lacy Elementary School playground. The girls hit the jungle gym while I took a few laps around the paved track. When I finished, we all lay down on the grass and looked up at the stars.

We live in the middle of town, there were lights around, but the sky was clear. Stephanie was the first to spot the Little Dipper. She pointed up.

We talked about the brightest stars in the sky.

“I think that one is mom, beaming down on us.”

We sat a few more minutes. Michelle crawled up into a contraption I call The Spinning Mushroom. As she spun she said, “I love our family. Not everyone would do this.”

What beautiful words for my ears.

At 4 PM that same day a guy interviewed me for a book he is writing about grief. He asked me about our family, before Lisa’s death and after. I shared that I thought we were a weird little group, that it wouldn’t be unusual to find us having a fight with wet sponges in the kitchen or having a theme for a typical weekday dinner. I think we have special, but in a fairly unconventional way.

I think there are a number of families like ours, not quite the norm but pretty darn cool. There are also many families who struggle, unable to find joy because of dysfunction, impatience with each other, or laziness.

I’m thankful that my kids see our family as unique. I’m glad we’ve moved from a grief-stricken quartet to the family Michelle “just loves!”

Purchase Danny’s Book Laughter, Tears and Braids: Amazon or Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh

If you have read the book and are willing to write a short review, it would be helpful: Click here. And thanks



Sunday Post 173: Becoming a Real Father

The second week of DJ’s life, I defined my role as a father.

I came home from work at around 6 pm. The house seemed empty but I knew Lisa was home. Her car was there, and she really hadn’t been out much since the birth.

I made my way to the second floor of the house and found my wife vigorously rocking the new kid. DJ was tightly bound in the blanket we’d received from the hospital. She was crying with all of her itty bitty might.

“Why’s she crying?” It was an innocent question.

“I don’t know,” my wife snarled. She’s been like this since you left at 7:30 AM. She stressed the AM.

I thought I knew how to respond, “I’ll take over. I’ll put her to bed.”

That wasn’t what she was looking for.

As both bodies swayed back and forth, a deep voice boomed from my wife’s body, “I am her mother. I will make her sleep.”

Her look frightened me. The thought, she might kill our child tonight, ran through my brain.

Another thought quickly followed, she might also kill me.

Some dads might take charge in a moment like this, demanding that his spouse take a break explaining that perhaps she’d had enough. I, however, slowly backed out of the room, my eyes on her – ready to run if need be.

I went downstairs and put the phone in my hand. I put my thumb on the 9 in the event I needed help.

I then grabbed some peanuts and a beer and turned on the Nightly News.

Sure, I cared. We’d worked too hard over the past ten months not to have the opportunity to try to raise this new addition to our family. Plus, deep down I didn’t really think Lisa would hurt our child.  It was at this point, however, that I decided my wife knew more than I did in the parenting department and that she should be the one to lead in this arena.

I would support as directed, and mow the lawn.

It wasn’t until Lisa died that I found out what I had been missing. Instead of just hanging with my kids, I was thrust into full care provider. And that responsibility changed my life.

No longer is work my number one priority. It’s important to me, very important to me; but my girls come first. Period.  I now know what they’re doing, and I’m driving them all over town. I didn’t know that chauffeuring was the primary key to garnering information. Toss ‘em in the back seat, and they chirp like little birds.

Oh what I was missing. Oh what I have gained. The depth of my connection with my girls is so much more significant than it ever was before. I wonder how many other parents are missing out because they’re consciously choosing to take a back seat.

Take it from me, the front seat is better.

Purchase Danny’s Book Laughter, Tears and Braids: Amazon or Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh

If you have read the book and are willing to write a short review, it would be helpful: Click here. And thanks

A Father’s Hair-Braiding Miracle

I was asked to write a blog on miracles for Guidepost magazine.  I’ve shared it below.

A Father’s Hair-Braiding Miracle

(Contributed by Danny Tanner)

I didn’t believe in miracles. How could I? My 39-year-old wife was dying from cancer. We had an army passionately praying for Lisa’s full recovery, but God’s lack of response led me to believe miracles were a farce. In fact, his refusal to respond to my pleas made me fully question his existence.

After her death, I thought God had deserted me.

The last day my wife was conscious, I told her that if it was time for her to go, she could. I promised her I would take care of our girls. However, I was fully unprepared to follow through on that commitment.

Lisa was the CEO of our house. I didn’t know the difference between tights and hose. I couldn’t tell an espadrille from a flip-flop. I didn’t even know how to log onto the school website. She handled it all. I was weak and lost.

A few weeks after Lisa’s funeral, I was at my parents’ house, struggling to get out of bed. Not even a snuggle from my youngest gave me motivation. Later that afternoon, my mom pulled me aside and said, “You can do this, Danny. You have to do this.”

She was right. My mom’s words reminded me that I had promised my wife that I would step up. I told her not to worry, that I would raise our girls.

I’m not sure what it was, but a spirit inside me was ignited that day. As I drove home, I actually felt strong, a feeling I had not experienced since Lisa’s diagnosis. It didn’t remove my grief. It did, however, motivate me to be the father I was destined to grow into.

Not long after, I found my youngest daughter, seven at the time, standing in front of the bathroom mirror sobbing.

“What’s wrong, Michelle?” I inquired.

“I can’t braid my hair!”

“Can I help?”

“No. You can’t! You don’t know anything about hair! You hardly have any.”

“I bet I can do it,” I said with confidence.

I called my middle daughter to the bathroom.

“Stephanie, show me how to braid her hair.”

“I’ll just do it Dad.” She was clearly annoyed.

“No. I want to learn.”

Stephanie proceeded to show me how to separate three strands and weave them back and forth. I took the helm. The first three attempts left lumps at various points on her head. But the fourth time, I got it right! My first official hairdo was a small plait on the right side of my first grader’s head, just enough to keep her hair out of her eyes during YMCA basketball practice.

I followed my success by looking upward and having a quiet conversation with my wife. I did it! Just like you!

This was a small win, but it began to build my confidence. Next I baked homemade cookies for Stephanie’s school birthday party and even tackled my first sleepover–18 girls in all! I took the girls shopping for bathing suits and volunteered in their classrooms.

It didn’t come easy, but it was as if somehow Lisa’s strengths were gradually being passed on to me. I was filling the role of both mother and father.

As I look back on the past few years, I am amazed. Not at myself. No. I am amazed at God’s miracle. He took an inept man and gave him strength beyond imagination. I thought he had deserted me, but he’d been there all along.

He turned me into the father I’d promised my wife I would be.

You can read more about Danny’s journey as a father in his book Laughter, Tears and Braids or on his blog The Real Full House.

Sunday Post 154: Feeling Again

The other day Michelle and Stephanie decided they were going to organize the cabinet in the living room where I’d crammed our hundreds of CDs. Their work gave me motivation to pull out some of the old tunes –

A little Chicago:

Everybody needs a little time away, I heard her say, from each other… even lovers need a holiday, far away from the one that I love…

As I was heading out for a three-hour drive to Charlotte last week I grabbed a handful of nostalgia and began listening – and singing – hadn’t forgotten a single word.

I do well with my grief now. I’m not wallowing in it. I seldom cry about my loss. I’ve done a pretty good job, nearing the four-year anniversary, of putting my life back together.  My counselor told me it would take that long.

But sometimes, I just need to miss her.

As I cruised down I-85, one song socked me in the gut. It was about desperately loving someone.

I could tell from the onset that listening to it was going to be emotional. I knew if I listened to it I was going to fall apart. Not slightly tear up, no, this was going to be significant.

Oddly, I played the song all the way through. And I cried. And I missed her. And I played it through again, and again, and again.

When, on occasion, I go to that place, I generally swallow hard – fight it back. But on that day, something inside me said go ahead… miss her. It’s OK. Get it out.

It didn’t ruin my day, nor my week. I didn’t get stuck there. I’m still moving on. I’m still really happy.

I just temporarily needed to feel, to feel that sad again.

Purchase Danny’s Book Laughter, Tears and Braids: Amazon or Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh

If you have read the book and are willing to write a short review, it would be helpful: Click here. And thanks

Sunday Post 143: Heather’s Story

I remember when we first learned that Lisa had cancer.  We didn’t have many answers, we simply knew it was a “large” tumor in the lower part of her colon.

I naturally assumed it was Stage IV.  I was right.  It had spread.

I tried to put on a good face, but in the back of my head I knew this was it.  A nurse friend of mine told me of Stage IV colon cancer patients who were beating the odds – 5, 8 years out.

“That’s not long enough!  What about year 9?  Do you know anyone who has survived 9 years??”

Literally every single month I hear of someone else who has been diagnosed with some form of this crappy disease.  Sometimes it seems beatable.  At other times, it just seems ominous.  But what I’ve found is that there is story after story after story of strong people who are kicking cancer’s ass!

While at Duke with Lisa, I ran into an old friend who has Stage IV esophageal cancer.  I said “HAS” – because he is still alive and well, it’s in remission, more than five years later.  It hasn’t been easy, but he’s doing really well!

Checkout this story:

Heather’s Story

Heather took names!  Her body did the unthinkable!  A death sentence?  Not for her – somehow her system responded to the medications and she is living, appreciating life like she never did before.

I haven’t yet met her, but one day I plan to. Part of her new life draws her to spread the word about cancers associated with asbestos – see the facts below.

Many of you are fighting – either yourselves or with those you love.  Cancer is NOT necessarily a death sentence.  There are victorious stories everywhere you turn.  Ha-le-lu-jah!!

Asbestos Facts

Two Dads One Mic

Two dads one mic

A month ago, I was fortunate enough to spend an hour with two really interesting guys, Jake and Joey.  These dudes do a weekly podcast:  Two Dads One Mic, and they look at parenting from a father’s eyes.  It’s actually pretty interesting.

Their site describes their perspective as follows:  Two dads talk parenting, beer, babies, news, sports, food, and more, and they bring unsuspecting guests along for the ride. 

I was fortunate enough to be one of their “unsuspecting guests” and the ride was interesting.

Catch our conversation when you have a few minutes to listen  Two Dads One Mic, Episode 15  (click on Podcast Episodes, choose Episode 15, and be prepared for a 60 second intro).  Oh, they use my real name, Bruce, not my Real Full House name, Danny.

Wanted to give a little shout out to Jake and Joey for inviting me to tell my story.  Oh, and thanks to Uncle Jesse (Hayes) who helped line up this interview.

Finally – in the interview they talk about my upcoming book, Laughter, Tears and Braids.  I got the formatted proof this week – should be out soon!

Sunday Post 125: Getting Out of the Funk

Sometimes you just get in a funk.  It’s acceptable.  Work is hard; perhaps a relationship has gone bad.  Your kid is giving you a fit or you’re struggling to pay the bills.

I find myself there on occasion.  When things aren’t great, I tend to really, really miss Lisa.  I begin to stew, worrying about stuff that I don’t have control over.

After a couple of weeks in that state, I think it moves from acceptable to pathetic.

Two weeks after Lisa died, I could still hardly move.  I remember being at my parent’s house, unable to get out of bed.  The kids were jumping on my head looking desperately for their father.  They could see me, but I just wasn’t there.

At lunch that day, my mom said, “Danny, you can do this.”

“What choice do I have?” I snapped back.

On my drive back to Raleigh, I remembered that I had promised Lisa that when she could no longer go on, I would take care of things here on earth.  But I wasn’t.  I was wallowing in my sadness and not doing a thing to try to fix it.  That day was a good wake up call for me.

Life didn’t immediately turn around.  I didn’t totally shuck grief out the door on that Sunday afternoon two weeks after I’d lost my wife.  What I did do, however, was begin to push myself toward healing.

Now, when things aren’t great, I immediately jump to the conclusion that if she hadn’t died my life would be perfect.  It wasn’t perfect before she died; I’m not sure what makes me think it would be if she hadn’t.

After sitting in my own pile of deserving self-pity for an appropriate amount of time – my gut tells me when – something clicks.

Enough.  It’s time to move on.  Make a plan.

Step one is reminding myself how much I have to be thankful for.  Once complete, the rest comes fairly easily.

Sunday Post 110: What counts the most

Xmas at Disney, Ham Family

It may not be the big things in life that you’re most remembered for.  Three years ago today, my wife died peacefully at Duke Medical Center.  Last night, I asked the kids what they most remembered about mom.

It wasn’t her leadership in the community or the fact that she spearheaded the effort to build their new school.  It wasn’t her accomplishments at the Jr. League or the vision she shared on the church building committee.  What they remembered most were the small things.

“Mom always wanted to shop at Harold’s at the mall.  As soon as she was finished shopping, she’d take us to the candy store right by the escalators.  I looked forward to that every time!”

Sweet memories.  Sweet,  sweet memories.

She drank diet Dr. Pepper.  Her fingernails were impeccable.  Once she got addicted to Afrin – wouldn’t leave the house without it!

She’d only listen to one type of music at a time – winter often brought country, the summer was pop.  You didn’t even think about changing the Christmas station from November 1st on.

She was a stickler for tradition – chili and cornbread on Christmas Eve and the song “Almost Heaven, West Virginia” as we drove over the mountain to our August getaway at Capon Springs.

One of the things that they miss the most is her back scratches.  “Dad, you don’t have fingernails.  Mom scratched.  You give a nub rub.”

Instead of trying to change the world, maybe I should just grow my fingernails out and take more visits to the candy store.  In the end, maybe that’s what counts the most.

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