Bailey Ham 3

Lisa would have turned 46 on Monday.  The girls and I have chosen not to spend a ton of time remembering mom on the anniversary of her death, but rather to more officially celebrate her life on her birthday.  The casual remembrance typically includes Diet Dr. Pepper, Kanki Japanese Steak House and happy memories.  I don’t love Dr. Pepper, but on April 18, I drink.  I don’t love the Skanky Kanki (my nickname for the establishment), but on April 18, I eat.

We laugh and talk about her on a regular basis, so this isn’t a particularly difficult or odd time for us.  It is, however, a time to stop and reflect.  To answer questions.  For me, a responsibility to ensure her legacy lives on.

On Sunday I was invited to speak to an adult Sunday School class at my church on how to support those dealing with difficult situations.  Prepping to teach, I pulled out a stack of cards I received when Lisa died.  Although cathartic, and perhaps important at times, not necessarily a happy way to begin a fresh weekend.  Looking back, it is sort of amazing how you tend to forget the intensity of the pain experienced during that time.  It’s also shocking how quickly you can revisit the emotions with a small reminder.

One friend wrote this quote in the card she sent two months after Lisa died:

“The fullness of a person’s life is measured not in years, but in how he lived … there are rare people in this world who engage life at a different level – a deeper level than the rest of us.”

Although I’m sure that quote gets tossed around at many funerals for folks who die before 60, and although I believe it to be true, I wonder what really constitutes engaging in life at a different and deeper level.  As I poured through the notes near the top of my stack, there were a few that struck me.

“It sounds trite to say she was ‘unique,’ but she really was.  She was driven but not overbearing; she was kind but not patronizing; she was firm but compassionate.”

“(Lisa) has inspired me to be a better mom, friend, volunteer, Christian and worker because of how she lived her life.”

“Was there anyone in Raleigh she didn’t know?”

“One of my favorite memories of you and Lisa was when I visited the Y on one of my days off.  I will never forget walking up and seeing you and Lisa on the roof … I still wonder how the two camp directors were able to pull off tanning for an entire day and still get paid for it.  Who was in charge of camp?  You and Lisa were a great team!”

“She was such a force of nature.”

“I was a friend of your mom’s in college.  She was one of the first smiling faces I saw at our sorority.  From that moment on, she made me feel welcome and included.  As you know, that’s just how she was with everyone… making you feel comfortable.”

“My lasting image of her is seated on the Capon Springs stage, surrounded by all of the Capon kids, leading them in song.”

“She was an extraordinary person – someone who I remember trying to emulate as a teenager.”

“She was such a natural leader and full of such positive energy!!”

I believe that Lisa did engage life at a different level.  I don’t think she tried, I just think it was natural for her.

It doesn’t come as easily for me.  But I do think that her death has pushed me to intentionally and strategically work to live more boldly.

I do not want someone to spout out some quote at my funeral simply to fill up a 15 minute homily.  With Lisa, the remembrances were true, sincere; all who knew her could nod enthusiastically.  I’m learning later in life, but I think that losing Lisa has given my daughters the gift of living at a deeper level much earlier.  To watch them is as their mom is a beautiful thing.


Sunday Post 185: Too Much Too Soon

I likely made the wrong decision.  I guess that’s not all that unusual, and I don’t think it is a decision that will make much difference in life down the road.  But, nonetheless, I wish I’d had better options.

In the Tanner household, at the end of fifth grade it has been a right of passage to get your first cell phone.  With child 1 and child 2, both having June birthdays, it was their gift.  A flip phone, used solely for text, photos and phone calls.

With DJ, Lisa cut her left arm and exchanged blood with the other mothers in her friend group.  They pressed their wounds together and vowed not to get smart phones until the inital end of fifth grade, two-year Verizon contract expired.  At the time, it cost us $10 per month to add this additional phone line to our growing technological household inventory.

When Stephanie came along, I followed the path originally set out by her mother.  Although child 2 specifically requested an iPhone, I stood strong.

“But dad, ALL of my friends have one…”

We went through the list of ALL of her friends.  As I suspected, it was a lie.  Not everyone had a smart phone.  In fact, most did not.

As I entered the Verizon store last week with my final daughter, my plan was solid.  She did not need a data plan.  She was too young.  It mattered not that I had confirmed three of her very best friends did indeed have one.  For crying out loud, my 17-year-old is driving a car her same age.  I am not a parent who falls for the Everyone Has argument.  Plenty of people I know have a beach house, and my butt is thankful I have a father-in-law generous enough to rent a place for the family one week each July.

As we neared the phone shop, a nice young man with a pull over hoodie and pants anchored around his hips met us at the door.  His iPad in tow, he began crunching numbers.

“Mr. Tanner.  If you add a flip phone with unlimited text and calls, it will cost you $30 per month.”

“$30?  I thought it was $10.”


That was his answer.  Nah.

“Well what does it cost to add a smart phone?”

“Let’s see.  You have plenty of data that is unused each month, so we could add an iPhone for $40.”

“A month?”


I mean, he couldda said, Yes sir.

So for $10 bucks we get the Caddilac instead of the Pinto… hummm.

I pondered.  Am I spoiling my kid?  Am I exposing her to stuff too early?  Is she going to watch videos all day and flunk out of school?  Will she become homeless?  Addicted to crack cocaine?

When we arrived home with the gadget neither of us had expected to return with, I broke the news to her sisters.

“It was en economic decision,” I argued.  I then reminded Stephanie of the unusually expensive boots I’d purchased her last winter because they were slightly on sale and were so stinkin’ cute.  “DJ didn’t get a pair of shoes that nice until she was in 10th grade and going to a school dance!”

DJ muttered an expletive and told me that I might as well have given my final daughter away.  “Don’t complain to me when she ignores you or won’t talk to you at dinner.  You might as well have shipped her off to college!”

I think that may be an overreaction, although I did have to ask Michelle to put her phone away during the worship service at church last Sunday.  She wasn’t texting, she was just rubbing it across her face, like you would do with someone’s hand as they departed this life for the next.

The frustrating thing is that had I not lost my wife to cancer, I wouldn’t even be making these decisions.  I would have been informed and could have chosen to support the decision or participated in the nonviolent resistance.  Either way, I would have basically been off the hook.

There are so many questions surrounding this decision:

  • Why did I cave?
  • Am I allowing my preteen to grow up too fast?
  • Why do young salespeople answer questions like they’re sending a text message?
  • Why don’t sisters want each other to have good stuff?
  • Why do I have to make all the decisions?

I have some pondering to do.


Check the Tanners out in the September issue of Family Circle
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 174: On the Edge of Yikes

A couple of weeks ago I heard this guy, Bob Goff, speak at a YMCA training. He wrote the book Love Does.

He made several  strong points.  One that has really made me think was: Live on the edge of “yikes.”

He had us think of a time when we yelled, “yikes!” He wanted us to think about what we were doing at the time and how it made us feel.

It took me a while to think about a time when I had a yikes sort of feeling. I think my life is essentially yikesless. Especially yikes that I intentionally seek out.

Being a widower, being a single father, a job my boss tossed my way are all disconcerting, but none were chosen.  I was yikesed. I didn’t choose it.

He said to consciously seek it. To put yourself out there even when it makes you feel nervous. Help others, even when it’s uncomfortable. Take a risk, with career or relationships or your faith.

Get out there. Find your yikes!

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 155: Totally Fulfilled…by a Fart

In the fourth grade, Wendy Templeton farted… out loud. We had our books out, focused on our Scholastic readers. Her row of desks was facing mine. She was wearing a short red dress. Mrs. McNally, our stodgy old teacher who was nearing retirement, was at her desk in the front of the class. She was wearing a large, black pleated skirt down to her ankles. Damn that was a lot of fabric.

I couldn’t believe it… she just let one rip! It was loouud; I guess it echoed on the metal of her chair.

I felt bad. She was so embarrassed. Her light complexion turned the same color as her dress. She slouched in her seat and propped up her folder to cover her head.

I tried not to laugh, she was my friend. But when Mrs. McNally announced, “Get back to work, it’s a natural bodily function,” I lost it.

I don’t care how natural it was, it was also hilarious. I was sent to the hall, unable to contain my amusement with Wendy’s wind.

Farts are still funny to me. I’ll be in a bathroom at work or church and some old man will let one rip. It’s all I can do to make it out of the bathroom without audibly cracking up.

Once a boy, always a boy I guess.

Maybe it would serve us all well to be more like kids. I don’t mean we should all laugh when someone passes gas. The older we get, the more that’s gonna happen – certainly it will get old eventually.

But isn’t it beautiful to be amused by such small surprises? How wonderful to be totally fulfilled by a fart.

Now, it takes so much more – an expensive house, vacation, kids with straight A’s, 106 Facebook likes, the right job title.

It used to be so simple. Joy, amusement, laughter, and life seemed endless – striking me from every direction.

When and why do I let that go?

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

The Vine

My kids are always grabbing my computer, iPad or phone.  Often they use them for legitimate reasons, like finding directions or where the movie is playing.  At other times, mine just happens to be the most convenient device.  They don’t much like to walk.

The other day I was checking my phone and opened The Vine.  Yes, I have The Vine account because I am the father of teens, and I want to make sure they aren’t sending videos of their naked behind to some boy from their AP physics class.  More probable, with my cute and fairly well-behaved daughters, is that some boy will send them a picture of his naked bum – and I want proof so I can drive to his house and show his mother.

The Vine allows users to take 7 second videos and ship them out for the world to see.  It’s just plain scary.

Lord have mercy if Deloris Piffle had video taped me at her Freshman college sorority dance.  I was a senior in high school and some dude named Neil Wine gave me his fake I.D. so that we could all get into Daddio’s after the party.  I memorized everything on the license, I think he lived at 1419 Park Drive in Columbus, Ohio.  Weight: 173.  Height:  5’11”.  I think I was drinking white wine spritzers.  It was a good lesson.

Anyway, I opened The Vine the other day and started scrolling through the videos on my account, one after another.  But I noticed that it wasn’t actually my account – because the only people I follow on The Vine are DJ and Stephanie and I had videos from folks I’d never met before.

It dawned on me that Stephanie had used my phone to log into her account.  And… she hadn’t logged off.

I’m sure there was a good reason for her to use my phone.  Her’s was probably on the far side of the coffee table and mine on the side closest to her.  Would have required a reach and that takes a lot of energy.

So to help reiterate my point that you should not use other’s technology, I decided to create my own Vine, and post it under her account for all of her followers (including every 8th grader at St. Timothy’s School) to view.

Perhaps that’s a bad example.  I tell them never to post things on someone else’s account.  And yet, I also tell them to be careful when using their TeleInstaChattyGram (there’s a new one every week, I can’t keep up with the names) because some crazy person could post something that might look bad for them.

And that’s exactly what has happened.  Some crazy person (me) posted something that could have been a teeny bit embarrassing.  Hopefully, lesson learned.

Sunday Post 114: Looking Down From Above

Stephanie and I had a date night last weekend.  We ate dinner and went to see the movie Safe Haven.

The movie is about several things, but one major component of the film is that the main character is a single dad who lost his wife to cancer.

At the end of the movie, it becomes obvious that his dead wife is helping to orchestrate their lives, working to make sure that the father and her two kids are going to be alright.

Wouldn’t it be nice to know that those who have gone before us can, in some way, help us heal and move forward?  What if they could intervene, maybe speak to us in dreams to drive us toward the good things that await us here on earth?

I’ve really struggled with that notion.  I find it hard to believe that Lisa can see us.  I think her grief would be so deep.  Seeing her in pain as she neared the end of her illness nearly killed me.  I can’t imagine her having to watch me grieve.  I can’t fathom her looking down from above watching Stephanie cry night after night after night that first year.  How sad she would have been to have missed our trip to Hawaii.  How difficult not to be there to help DJ pick out her first dress for a high school dance.

And yet, how comforting to know we’re OK.  What a relief to see us laughing, gut wrenching, on the floor guffaws.

At times I can’t convince myself that heaven has windows that can see outside.  At other times, I think she must have had a hand in, or some influence on our fate over the past three years.  There are just times that her hand seems to be on my shoulder, guiding me in my decisions.

Maybe she does help in ways we can’t yet imagine.  Maybe she is provided a daily excel spreadsheet that outlines our progress, a way of keeping up without the burden of visual impressions:

1. Washed the whites with the darks again   X

2. Joined that men’s support group  √

3.  Forgot to bake the cupcakes for special snack  X

I wouldn’t want to see her hurt any longer.  She had enough pain.  But I guess there is a part of me that hopes she thinks of us as much as we think of her.

Sunday Post 112: Facing My Nemesis

When you go through a major loss, simple things can become significant challenges.  For me, weekends, especially Saturday nights, became my nemesis.  I could face Monday through Friday with work and the kids’ school schedule.  I was busy, on the go.  I’d get home, feed the kids, help with homework, put them to bed and the exercise – maybe hit the sack at midnight or 1.  It was manageable.  But the thought of a full day, or worse the entire weekend, with the possibility of time that wasn’t crammed full of activity was overwhelming.

I feared the pain I’d experience if I stopped.  When my mind wasn’t maxed out, when my hands weren’t busy, the grief set in.

Saturday nights had been our nights.  Lisa and I would plan time with other families or get a sitter and have a nice dinner out, just the two of us.

It was my favorite time with her, sitting in a booth at a nice restaurant.  A couple of glasses of red wine, good food.  Our opportunity to talk about work, the kids and maybe more importantly, our dreams.

If I didnt’ have plans on a Saturday night, plans that included other adults, I went into a tailspin.  Sadness set in.  I became consumed with my lack of social activities.  I watched Jesse head out with his friends while I sat home watching the Disney channel with Michelle.

For the first time in my life, I dreaded the weekend.  What had been my favorite day of the week had become my enemy.  I feared the sixth day.

Last weekend, Michelle had a sleepover, and DJ had plans too.  Earlier in the week I asked Stephanie what she’d like to do on Saturday, that it was just be the two of us.  Her eyes got big, “Dad, can we go see a movie together?”

“Sure baby!  We’ll grab dinner too.”

As we walked through the open sidewalk on our way out of the movie Saturday night, we began playing our favorite outdoor game, Step on the crack and you break your (in our case) grandmother’s back.  Our hands were locked as I worked to force her  onto the lines that connected the concrete slabs.  A security guard at the mall gave me a huge smile and waved his hand as an encouraging gesture.

I smiled back, and realized I wasn’t afraid anymore.  I wasn’t consumed with my weekend plans.  I wasn’t obsessed with over planning my down time.  I could actually just hang around the house, enjoying some down time, doing some things that I wanted to do.  I was content to just be.

At that moment, there was nothing I would have rather been doing than holding hands with my 12-year-old and enjoying that time with her.

It took three years and nearly 150 Saturdays to get here.  But I’ve beat him – that obstacle is behind me.

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.

Sunday Post 107: Breaking the Slump

Ever get in a slump?  I know a few folks who just live there.

I have an acquaintance who is always weary.  Every time I see him he shrugs his shoulders.  He’s out of breath.  Tired.  Unable to take what life has handed him.

I know another who is always frustrated.  Someone is always out to get him – his wife, his boss, the government – in his mind, he just can’t get a break.

I can relate.  I’ve gone through a couple of years of rut.  In my mind, it wasn’t my fault that I was miserable.  It was God’s fault.  It was the doctor’s fault.  I was tired, had too much to do.  In my mind, my grumpiness was justified.

The problem was, it was chronic.  For a period of time, I was really, really unenjoyable to be around.

Some would say I’m still that way at times, and they’re probably right.  But I think I’ve at least figured out that my outlook on life is my responsibility.  What happens to me happens to me.  Sometimes it feels like a lot, but I’m not carrying any greater burden than a ton of other people who are walking around with a smile on their face.

Everyone has their battles.  Some you outwardly see.  Some are masked from the world – but they are there.

Over the past six months, something has changed within me.  I think I realized that I was allowing the world to get me down.  People were getting on my nerves.  I was impatient, and I was self-centered.

I also realized that this frustration with life and negative attitude was affecting me more than it was anyone else.  Others would laugh at my sarcasm, feel sorry for the widower and then, they would go enjoy their lives.  I was the one who had to live with my miserable self day in and day out, and that was painful.

I’m not quite sure how one reframes life.  It’s almost like trying to stop smoking.  It’s a difficult thing to do.  I’d say step 1 is to realize that you are unhappy or cynical.  Step 2 is to want to make a change.  Step 3 might be to realize the good that is in your life.  And step 4?  Make a move – do something that helps you reframe.

The world has thrown me some curve balls.  I don’t want to get hit and writhe on the ground.  I want to take what was thrown and knock a homer.

Sunday Post 99: A Simple Gesture

I’d dropped the kids off at school this morning at 7:55. Yesterday we drove up at 7:54 and the driveway was empty. Today traffic was backed up to Six Forks Road.

I had on my flannel pants, bedroom shoes and a navy fleece pullover. My daily home brewed Starbucks was in my Disney World Wilderness Lodge refillable mug.

For some reason, the radio was off. On the drive back to the house, I was sort of lost in thought, dreading a couple of mandatory meetings I was facing later in the day. Not the ones with close coworkers, the ones with folks I didn’t know very well – wondering how they would respond to my proposals, wondering if conversation would be easy or forced.

As I rounded Brooks Avenue and breezed by the park, I noticed an elderly woman walking briskly and close to the curb. She was wearing a down filled white parka, the hood covering most of her gray hair. There was fur framing her face, her wire spectacles allowed her bright eyes to shine through.

As I neared the point where our morning paths would cross, I had a great view of her face. Her plump cheeks were rosy and her lips were upward. The expression on her face told me she was a deeply happy person. As I drove by, her eyebrows raised as did her right hand. Her body language shouted, “Be happy too!”

I wonder if she intended for her simple, single gesture to make such an impression on me. I’m guessing she does that to everyone. Why don’t I?

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