Re-imagine, Meaning, Connection

(View Justin Yopp’s Ted Talk above)

I’ve shared before about the group of men I met in 2010, about six months after Lisa died.  Two psychiatrists from UNC formed a grief group, Single Fathers Due To Cancer.  I apprehensively attended the first meeting.  Four years later our monthly get togethe’rs subsided, replace by annual reunions.

The grief I felt ten years ago next month, seems far away.  In fact, I have isolated it because it is grueling to go back.  The pain, the disbelief, the fear – I don’t ever want to feel that again.  It’s easy to isolate those feelings when you’re happy.

Recently, Justin Yopp, one of our group leaders, did a Ted Talk titled More Than Grief.  He shared our story, seven men who struggled together and, in time, moved forward.

I didn’t know at the time, but Justin was learning from us.  He works with those experiencing loss on a regular basis and listened very closely as the seven of us shared over this 48 month period of time.  Justin shares in his talk that he saw three distinct steps in our recovery from grief:

  1. Re-imagining – Justin describes our grief like a trip.  We were on the highway, moving forward, when suddenly the road stops.  The map says the road should continue, but it doesn’t.  Justin began seeing growth with each of us when we began to re-imagine what life might be again.  For a very long time, we recanted our loss.  For a very long time we lived in the here and now trying to figure out how to manage our day to day lives.  But slowly, conversation turned.  We began to dream again, to imagine another road.
  2. Finding meaning – Justin argues that when we began changing the focus from our loss to helping others, there was movement toward our futures.  When we were able to consider how our group, and how we as individuals, might help other men going through similar situations, it helped us heal.
  3. Connecting – Finally, Justin saw in us a connection that was rare.  We weren’t best friends, but we knew a heck of a lot more about these guys we saw just once a month than we did about folks we saw on a daily basis.  The deep and intense level of sharing was surprising.  This connection and ability to share was crucial to our healing.

What the seven of us learned, what Justin and Don our leaders learned, is that you can create new paths, and you can move forward.  It just takes work – and maybe a couple of other really good men.

A Single Parent Morning

mini-cooper-countryman-battery-replacement-cool-ya12

Do you see a battery here?

It was one of those days that being a single parent hurts.

It was 7:20: Stephanie had an exam at 8.  I was about to take Michelle to school.  The older headed out the door in a rush to meet a friend for some final cramming.

7:21 AM:  “Dad, my car won’t start!  HELP!”

Indeed, we had a dead battery.  I was buttoning my white, starched, dress shirt but my flannels and bedroom shoes were still on my bottom half.  I grabbed my keys knowing I’d be late to work.

7:22 AM:  I texted my co-worker informing her of my likely tardiness.

7:25.15 AM:  The gas is nearly out indicator light came on.

7:25.30.16 AM:  I cursed.

7:36 AM:  Stephanie jumped out of the car rushing to her exam.

Me:  “Can you find a ride home from school?”

Her:  “Probably.”

Me:  “If so, pick your sister up at 3:15, assuming I get the car started.  If not, hang tight.  I’ll pick you up at some point before bedtime!”

7:40 AM:  Me:  “Michelle.  Someone will pick you up after school today.  Keep your phone on.  If Stephanie or I can’t get there by 3:30, go to Panera.”

Michelle:  “I don’t have any money.”

Me:  “Neither do I – check the ashtray.”

Michelle:  “There’s only $1.63.”

Me:  “Give them our home phone number, I think we have enough Panera points for a free pastry.  Drink water if you can’t find another quarter.  I think  drink is like $2.”

Michelle:  “What can you get as a free pastry?”

Me:  “I think anything in the glass case.  Pick the most expensive thing.”

Michelle:  “What if I don’t like it?”

Me:  “Get it anyway.  We want to maximize our purchasing power.”

7:56 AM:  Dropped Michelle at school.

7:59 AM:  Arrived at the gas station.

8:01 AM:  Man in a pickup truck eyeballed my choice of clothing.

Get at me dude!

8:30 AM:  I open the hood on Stephanie’s car, a Mini-Cooper.

8:47:  I finally find the battery.  It is hidden in the back corner of the engine, in a small black plastic case.  What the heck???

8:35 AM:  Jump start; car starts.

10:12 AM:  My cell phone rings, I’m at work, it’s my neighbor.

Me:  “Charlie, what’s up?  Is everything OK?”

Charlie:  “Well, your house alarm is going off.  I have the police here.  I think your housekeeper set it off.”

Me:  “Officer.  She is my housekeeper.  I was supposed to leave the alarm off.  You see, the battery died, I had to get gas in my pajamas with my dress shirt on, my kid was gonna have to go to Panera unsupervised…”

Officer:  “Mr. Tanner.  Just go back to work.  It’s all good.”

Me:  “Thank you sir.”

Sunday Post 179: The Freight Train of Life

It makes me sad that I don’t love summer anymore. It used to be my favorite time of the year.

In 2009, in the three months that preceded Lisa’s diagnosis of cancer, we took a trip to Yellowstone National Park, our weeklong annual getaway to Topsail Island, a couples only weekend trip to Lake Gaston with our best friends and our August jaunt to West Virginia. The day after Christmas, 2008, I began looking forward to summer. Each day brought me closer to the excitement of time with family, a clear calendar and 4 pm Happy Hour.

It hasn’t been the same since.

Although I still enjoy the beach, DJ’s absence is noticeable. She’s employed – how inconvenient. I figure Stephanie will be in the same boat two years from now.

Clearly, DJ’s not the only one missing from our June capers.

Since Lisa’s death, I’ve fared well when busy. Without dance carpool, homework and laundry for four, I find myself re-edging a border that has already been edged. No wonder Mr. Royster’s yard in Glendale Acres, my childhood neighborhood, looked so good.  He was childless and had nothing better to do.

I realize that much of what I’m experiencing has nothing to do with the loss of my wife. My kids would still grow up and get jobs with or without their mom in the picture. The pressure of carpools would lighten with additional drivers in the house. When you’re 16, you tend to get annoyed at waiting for dad to get around to doing your laundry – when you need an article of clothing, you wash it yourself.

Maybe this is why folks end up having a midlife crisis. They can’t seem to figure out how to handle the changes so they remake themselves in an unsavory way.

It’s clear I’m not going to cheat on my wife, I don’t have one. And a sports car is out of the question – I don’t have the money, and it won’t seat three children and their pack of pals.

If you look at a life’s calendar, these changes occur over a long period of time. But at times, they seem more like a freight train.

 

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Razorback Bra

More and more I find myself in a room as the only man with a group of women.  That would be nice if they were all single and looking for love.  In my case, they are not.  Most are married and parenting my children’s classmates.

Dads just don’t participate that much in these parent meetings for their daughters’ activities.  It’s dumped on poor mom.  Would be too in my house if there was one for the dumping.

Last Saturday was the mandatory parent meeting for the cheerleaders at St. Timothy’s School; me and 15 lovely mothers were in attendance.  They all looked fairly nice.  I was in flip-flops and had a visor on to cover my bed head.

Although I’ve attended this meeting for the past five years, I think they felt a good refresher was in order.

We discussed the game and practice schedule and debated how much “stunting” should be done.  I’m not too worried but don’t care to see my 13-year-old flying across the gymnasium like a final second NBA half court shot.

We were reminded no jewelry – hoop earrings and “Rah Rah Ree” just don’t mix.  Did you know that a neighboring teammate’s finger could get caught in the loop and split the lobe right open?  Yuuuuck.  Had to put my head between my legs when that image ran through my brain.  Thought I was going to pass out.

If I were female and that was even a remote possibility, guess whose ears would not be pierced?

Then we covered the topic of uniforms.  Not too short we were informed, it is an Episcopal School.  Interestingly, we parents pointed out that the team we play against with the poodle skirts look pretty outdated in the year 2013 (that school is apparently a bit more conservative).  But Mrs. Ready, the Middle School Principal, says that the skirt can’t be shorter than 6 inches above the knee when you’re kneeling.  I measured my kids’ when they were doing their nightly prayers.

“Put on your school uniform and kneel!”

“Why do you have the yardstick dad?  Are you doing to beat me?”

“Nah.  Just following up on Mrs. Ready’s request.”

Incidentally, she’s also the one who walks through the gym during the school dances reminding kids to “leave room for Jesus.”  I love that woman.

Then, the coach said everyone on the team needed to wear a “razorback bra.”

I’d never heard of such a thing, my curiosity was piqued.  I almost raised my hand for clarity but from the looks of the others in the room, I was the only one who needed to be enlightened.  Plus, I have DJ, a good resource in these situations.

I’ll have to admit, I had a difficult time concentrating for the duration of the meeting…

What in the heck is a “razorback bra?”  Does it keep the hair off your back?  If so, Uncle Jesse needs one of those.  Does it have spikes on the back?  Kind of a reverse Lady Gaga?  Is it manufactured by students from the University of Arkansas?

On Tuesday, a friend from work announced that she was going to Target and asked if anyone needed anything.  I know her fairly well so I pulled her in my office.

“Hey, when you’re there, could you see if they have any razorback bras?  Stephanie needs one for cheerleading, and I don’t know where to find those.”

“Do you mean racerback?”

“Hmmm.”  RACERback.  That –  makes –  sense.  “Yea.  Yea.  Racerback.  You wear them when you race!  That’s it.  That’s what I mean.”  (Nervous laugh.)

So for all the dads out there who are responsible for bra purchases in their home, a racerback bra swoops in on both sides of the shoulder blades, sort of like a swervey capital letter I.  If you’re still unsure, picture it on backwards.  If you envision something you saw at your bachelor party, you’re on the right track.

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