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.”

I Want Full Custody!

Family Circle 052614 0462

Sometimes my little angels, well, aren’t.  The problem is, I seldom know when these sweet little people I am raising are going to turn on me.

Yesterday when I asked, “How was your day?,” I was taken down an elaborate journey through the halls of St. Timothy’s School.  It was beautiful.  I learned about friendships, the lunch menu, assignments and teacher personalities.

Today I asked the same question.  I was cut off at the pass in a very terse tone, “I don’t want to talk about it!”

“Is everything OK?”

“I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT!”

What happened?  I thought we were friends.  I thought you were daddy’s girl!

Last week I was asked to help with homework.  We laughed while we worked on the memorization for the history quiz, making up nutty phrases to cue her mind:  “Bangladesh” – “I can’t remember Bangladesh.”  We ran to the kitchen and pull out a plastic plate, slamming it on the counter, “Bang The Dish!  Bangladesh!”

Tonight I walk in, the computer is open, the tears are flowing.

“What’s wrong?  I thought you didn’t have much homework.”

“THAT’S WHAT I THOUGHT!  AND THEN I DISCOVERED THE FOUR MATH PROBLEMS WE HAD TO DO.  WE’VE NEVER DONE THIS KIND OF PROBLEM BEFORE!  I DON’T KNOW HOW TO DO THIS!!!”

“Your teacher said as long as you attempted to do the math homework you’d get credit.  Just try.”

“BUT I D-O-N-‘T K-N-O-W   H-O-W  TO DO IT!  YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND!  GO AWAY!”

Go away?  I’m just trying to be helpful!

What makes these beautiful little beings, often dressed in pink, transform from Snow White to Jafar?  How is it that the same simple question on Monday can elicit such a polar opposite answer on Tuesday?

Sometimes I feel like I have three sets of twins.  There’s a good one and a ornery one.  They look identical, and yet they pop in and out of my house interchangeably without me knowing.

Is there another family with three girls that might be keeping my children’s twins?  Are you in on this?  Are you gas lighting me?  Stop it!  I want the good twins back – and not just 75% of the time.  I want full custody!

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.

Sunday Post 129: I Prefer Married

You’d think after 3 years I’d stop finding stuff that surprised me about being a widower (I still can’t believe that is an adjective that can be used to describe me).  I just realized that I am not involved, in the least, at DJ’s school.  I guess I’m not really involved in Stephanie and Michelle’s school either.  But because I know a lot of folks there, I sort of feel like I have an in to what’s going on.  But with DJ, I am clueless.

Lisa did that.  Although she worked, she also helped with the PTA, assisted in the kids’ classrooms, gave the teachers a break at lunch, and sometimes drove for field trips.  In the process, she met other parents.  Those relationships led to connections for me.  She did the same thing at the swim club – she volunteered for swim meets.  She met other moms.  She signed me up to be a timer or a kid-pusher.  I felt a part – because of her.

Last week I cancelled our pool membership.  We never go anymore.  I don’t know anyone there.  I just found myself sitting on a lawn chair reading a magazine, missing Lisa.  Why pay $200 a month for that?  I can miss her in my own yard for free.

Lisa controlled our social calendar.  “We’re going out on Friday with the Smiths.  Wear khaki’s and your navy jacket.”

“Who are the Smiths?  Do I know them?”

“You’ll recognize them when we get there.  He’s bald – first name is Jack.  You manned the mechanical bull at the school carnival with him last year.”

“Oh yea.  The time you signed me up for a two-hour shift without my permission.”

“They needed help.  I knew you’d just be standing there.  Didn’t hurt you did it?  And, you made a new friend.”

“Who?”

“Jack Smith.”

“Oh.  Yeah.  Jack.”

Yes – she volunteered, built our relationships, set our social calendar and even told me what to wear.  Now I have to sign up – I hate to sign up!  And what’s worse is now I have to do it on-line through some “Sign Up Genie.”  By the time I get around to volunteering, there’s nothing left but taking out the garbage after the event is over – a one man job no doubt.  No friend there.

The school functions stink without a spouse.  She was always there for me.  I always had someone to talk to.  Now if the conversation ends with the person I’m chatting with, I’m alone.  My crutch is gone.  I have to seek out some other poor soul or hover around the ham biscuits like I haven’t eaten all day.  “Sure am hungry.  No time to talk.  Gonna hit the food table… AGAIN.”  I’d rather have a root canal than attend a party without a spouse.

And yet, my kids miss out too.  My lack of involvement hurts their ability to get connected to other families.  My desire to avoid the social crowds without my security blanket keeps them from the family events – you know, the ones where you all pull up together and then your kids leave you until it’s time to go home.

I have to do better.  I need to join a committee; maybe lawn beautification or something.  I need to find another single soul at school who needs some party company too.  Maybe we can hit the carnival in tandem, serve punch together, man the mechanical bull.

I can do it.  But I sure do prefer married.

Sunday Post 126: Feeling like a Superstar

I look at some people in my life and wonder if they have ever had the opportunity to really be a superstar.  Have they ever experienced the limelight?  Have they ever really felt special?

I had my day to shine!  It was early June, 1977.  There was less than a week left in 6th grade.  I was finishing up elementary school.

I wasn’t a popular kid – unathletic, bushy hair, wearing Husky jeans from JC Penney.  I was funny – a good line every now and then – well-behaved,  and made decent grades but nothing, absolutely nothing out of the ordinary.

As May approached, students in my class began to think about their acts for the end of year talent show.  Being insecure, it wasn’t an activity I had ever participated in; nor did I aspire to.  But this year, something was different.

I think Willamina Sparrow was the first to approach me.

“Danny, you’re so crazy!  Why don’t you do the Soul Train line with us in the talent show?”

“Willa, what makes you think I’d want to do that?”

“I saw you when we went to the zoo.  You danced to Ruth’s chant.”

“You mean Introduce Yourself?”

“Yeah.  Do it.”

Introduce Yourself was probably the first rap I’d ever heard.  While I was on the black top being lit up by Scotty Cannon’s German dodgeball throw, the girls were all in a circle near the jungle gym singing this song.

I was always willing to crackup a classmate so I obliged, clapping my hands and cutting the fool:

Introduce yourself, un huh, introduce yourself.

My name is Danny – check

They call me  crazy – check it out

My nickname’s Dan Boy – check

There ain’t no doubt  – check it out un huh.

“You crack me up Dan Boy!  Come on.  You can dance.  It’ll be fun.  Roger’s doin’ it, Ruth, Sabrina, George.”

All were African-American kids I’d grown up with over the past six years at Walker Spivey and Glendale Acres Elementary Schools.  I didn’t really have the opportunity to hang out with them after 3 pm, but I sure did enjoy them in class.  Earlier that year on the playground, Willamina had sorted out all the details for me to “go with” Joianna Spears.  I guess I sort of owed her one; Joianna was a hotty.

“Whatever.”

When the day came, I was told to wear a suit.  We were dressing up for this one. Mine was tan polyester with lapels as wide as Texas.  My shirt was silky with brown and tan paisleys, the collar pointed like the Pope’s hat.  Man I wish that style would come back.

We’d practiced twice, the song was Brick House by the Commadores.

The six of us had a standard step – five of us stayed in formation while the sixth moved to the front of the stage and did their own thing.  I was last.  When the Commadores hit Shake it down – Shake it Down Now, I made my way to center stage.  I moved a little to the left and slid back to the right, followed by multiple Elvis like pelvis thrusts.

When the crowd went wild, I did sort of feel like the King.

We were so good, the principal invited us to repeat our performance later that day in afternoon assembly.  My mom could hardly fit my head in the car on the drive back home.

I’m glad I had my day in the limelight, and I can pinpoint a time in each of my kids’ lives where they have felt at least that special.  I wish I could figure out a way to help everyone be a superstar, at least once.

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