The Purge

The idea of eventually combining two households, my fiancé’s and mine, has me a little stressed out.  We would have to live in Buckingham Palace to fit all of Julie’s stuff and all of my stuff under one roof.  So, we are both working to purge a bit.

Since I’d rather spend the day reading a scientific atlas than cleaning, I cajoled my lady into helping me tidy up a bit.  It was an interesting morning.

Julie has a fairly strong commitment to expiration dates.  She felt rather strongly that the oregano that expired in 2003 should go.  Does oregano really go bad?  After some discussion, she encouraged me to toss anything that had expired prior to 2015.  I thought that was a good idea.

Interestingly, I had five containers of Mustard Powder.  I can assure you that mustard has NEVER been birthed in my kitchen.  Did a house guest slip some in my cupboard?  How in the hell did four bottles of Mustard Powder appear on my spice shelf?  Next Saturday I’m going to have a Mustard Powder sale – I’m putting signs up on telephone poles in the neighborhood:  EXPIRED MUSTARD POWDER FOR SALE!  LARGE SELECTION AVAILABLE.

I also have four large cooking forks that I use exclusively to break up and brown ground beef.  My favorite has a blue handle and is slightly rusty.  Julie felt that to avoid botulism I might consider tossing it.  “Honey, you have four of these forks and this one is rusty.  What if you threw this one away” she held up the blue handled.

“But it’s my favorite!  It curves just right and is the king of splitting up the meat when it’s all stuck together.”

“But pieces of metal are getting into the meat that you are then feeding to your children.”

I hadn’t thought of that…

My mom also tried to throw that meat fork out the prior year.  I rescued it from the TRASH CAN!

Julie was very good.  She just made suggestions, asked some thoughtful questions, and let me decide what should go.  “Honey, is there a reason you keep your bug spray on the same shelf with the food in the pantry?  And do you need 8 cans of Off?”

When we got to the bathroom she made interesting observations, “Maybe the drain snake you use for unclogging your shower should be kept in a separate area from your toothbrush.”  She explained to me about the opioid crisis and encouraged me to dispose of the pain killers from my appendectomy of ‘76.  “I just don’t think you would want to take those now.”

“But I loved Dr. McCutchen, and he is deceased.  I’ll never get another prescription from him again.”

I think cleaning out with Julie is better for me than doing it myself.  She constantly thinks of things that never cross my mind.

Coincidentally, Julie’s mom gave me a new meat grinding utensil that is coated in Teflon.  It’s actually BETTER than the blue handled fork.  I’m pondering tossing it.

 

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The Dadar

Recently I was asked to write an article for Carolina Parent Magazine.  This was my first attempt.  The article is in their February edition, and the month’s theme is dating.  

Several years ago, my oldest daughter, DJ, who was in high school at the time, came into the house at around 11 PM.  “Dad, you’re not going to believe what happened!”  Her enthusiasm peaked my interest.  I turned to see a quite anguished face.  “What?”  “Well, Sam called me and,” Sam was a friend from school, “OMG – when she got home tonight her mom was mugging with her boyfriend in the driveway!  Gross!  Why would old people do that?”

Sam’s mother is a widow and has been for quite some time.  Apparently mugging is making-out.  I too lost my wife, seven years ago, and I say “Go Sam’s mom!!”  I had to explain to my kid that although we had crested 40, we still liked to kiss, eat solid foods and go to the bathroom independently – all the regular stuff that she liked to do.

She scrunched up her nose, “Oooo.”

I actually have three daughters.  Two are in high school, the oldest now in college.  Their high school is all girls.  It limits their dating options.

DJ’s junior year brought our first real boyfriend:  Donald.  I referred to him as The Donald – it was pre-Trump presidency days.  After they declared their intent to exclusively date, my dadar (Dad Radar) went up.  I was no longer content with him doing a drive-by to pick her up.  “No more tooting the horn and you leaping out the front door.  The Donald needs to walk his butt inside this house, look me in the eye and shake my hand.  Yeah – that’s what The Donald is going to do.”

I found it interesting that the week before, a toot and scoot was acceptable to me.  Suddenly I needed to see his eyes and let him feel the grip of my hand.  You can tell a lot about a guy in those two gestures.

Although I got push-back, the following Friday night The Donald parked and entered.  His demeanor told me he was uneasy.  That made me happy.  I strove with all my might to convey through my nonverbals two things to this obviously inexperienced young man:

1)  She’d better be happy when she gets home

2)  Touch her and you die.

Their connection hearkened me back to my first girlfriend, Carolanne.  It was eighth grade, and we’d meet at her house, walk through the woods to the park and “mug” like Sam’s mom.  Later I learned her little brother and sister hid behind trees and watched us.  Her father wasn’t around very much and her mother was not very intimidating.  It was fun!  I didn’t want my daughter to have that experience.  She could have fun playing volleyball or something.

It’s interesting how our perspectives on things evolve through the years.  It’s interesting how as parents, we work to shield our kids from some of the exact things we did.  It’s interesting how our kids have a totally different set of standards for us than they have for themselves.

The Donald didn’t last very long.  A fairly amicable break-up occurred at the local Moe’s just a month or so after our first handshake.  And although he was the one whose heart was broken, I don’t think he minded all that much.  I believe he was more fit for a girl with a less attentive father.

The Group

Group photo

None of us wanted to go.  It was approximately six months after our wives had died, and we were all still stunned.  We were ripe with grief; shocked; stunned with the mess we had been left.

Over seven years ago, on a Monday night, I drove twenty minutes to a nondescript office building in Chapel Hill, NC.  It was a couple of miles from the university, a couple of miles from the hospital where parents were dying from cancer.

Two doctors, Donald Rosenstein and Justin Yopp, who treated those with psychological fallout from their disease, were stunned at their realization that no one in the world to their knowledge had studied fathers who had lost their wives.  There was no research, no support.  The wife died, and the men bucked up or seemingly did.

Eight of us showed the first night.  We sat around a table and shared our stories.  Looking back on it, I’m surprised that any of us went back.  You watch eight grown men, strangers, vomit their most vulnerable emotions, tears running down all sixteen cheeks, for what seemed like hours – and you might not return either.  But seven of us did.

What began as a six week trial lasted for four years.  In fact, nearly eight years later, we convene bi-annually just to catch up.

We aren’t all alike.  One is very shy.  Another tackles life like he’s building a Boeing 747.  One swears the wrong parent died.  One, me, can toss a one-liner like a champ to avoid going too deep.

What these two doctors did through their work with us is stunning.  With unwavering support and listening ears, they ushered us back to our new normal.

Three in the group are remarried.  I am engaged.  Two others have had significant relationships.  Our families are fine and broken and have coped in their own ways.

It is fascinating to see our evolution.  I call it the making of men.

Last week Don and Justin published their book about us:  The Group: Seven Widowed Fathers Reimagine LifeIt outlines stories that we shared at our meetings with significant insight from an outsider’s view.  I’d say it is worth the read.

I am indebted to many, many people for getting me through to a point of incredible happiness but especially to this group.  My single father buddies gave me a soft place to land assuring me I wasn’t losing my mind.  They let me know that the mistakes I made weren’t any worse than theirs.  These dudes I’ve spent less time with than most of my other friends, understand me in very deep ways.

As for Don and Justin, they have been the heartbeat.  Encouraging.  Sharing insights.  Occasionally kicking one of us in the butt.  For them I am grateful.

The Question Has Been Popped

Hambell fam pic

I’m guessing that all people live through highs and lows in life.  It’s natural to feel the ups and downs that come with transition, success and loss.  I think that for most of us, the ride is fairly smooth – living in a state of good most of the time – not incredible, yet not so bad.

I am very certain that others in this world have felt pain deeper than mine, although I find it hard to comprehend.  In 2010, I hurt.  Gut wrenching, bone chilling pain.  I can’t imagine worse.  It was deep and perpetual, with very few moments of light; hard to put into words.

I remember going to my grief counselor early on in my journey.

“Danny, it will be three to five years before you feel normal,” she told me.

“That is unacceptable,” I replied.

In many ways she was right.

I made good decisions as I pondered my future.  I got significant counseling, poured myself into new adventures, and was cautious not to jump into a new relationship simply for the sake of avoiding loneliness, my greatest fear.  Although, I longed for companionship, for someone to really love.

My, my, how life has changed.

Last Tuesday night I drove to Charlotte to surprise my girlfriend; my kids in tow.  They dropped me at a restaurant I’d never been in before.  I walked in, the maitre d’ was expecting me.  He escorted me to a cozy booth he had chosen for this occasion.  Forty-five minutes later, Julie arrived.  She thought she was meeting one of her best girlfriends for dinner, instead she got me.

“Why are you in Charlotte?  What’s going on?” she was puzzled.

“I have a question I need to ask,” I informed.

Two years ago, when we first started dating, I was captivated.  What I didn’t know at the time was that she was THE one.  This woman who loves me unconditionally, laughs at my jokes, and challenges me to be better, totally stole my heart.

Some people are lucky enough to find their compliment.  Someone with the balance of enough same and enough different.  Someone who fits.  I am that lucky one.

We aren’t perfect, but we’re perfect for each other.

Like grief, true love can be indescribable.  It’s a feeling of fullness and security.  It busts right through the hard, making everything seem alright.  Even in separate cities for now, my loneliness is gone.

Oh, she said yes!  We will marry at some point in 2019 after her daughter finishes high school.

I’m not sure how or why, but somehow I’ve been given a second chance at life, something at times I just couldn’t imagine.  The lesson for me is hope.

Merry Christmas 2017

Fool my twice, shame on me

spectrum

Some of you may recall my full on hatred for Time Warner.  I am certain that The Prince of Darkness leads their staff training sessions and that Bernie Madoff created their business plan.  However, after about eight weeks without NBC, due to a dispute between our local affiliate and AT&T, I caved.  I called Spectrum, merged with Time Warner now, to see what they could do.  I really, really wanted to watch This is Us and Jimmy Fallon.

They were kind and offered me basically the same package I had at AT&T for $140 LESS per month.  The dollar signs lit up in my eyes like a cartoon Bugs Bunny.  I switched.

“So” I asked the salesman as I wrote down his every word to ensure I had not misunderstood, “let me confirm.  I will receive 360 channels with my cable package, three DVR boxes, home phone service with unlimited long distance and 6M internet service for $128 per month?”

“Yes sir.”

“And I can port my existing home phone number?”

“Yes.”

“What are the other taxes and fees that are not in the $128?”  I did not want to be surprised with an FCC add on of $140.

He put me on hold.

He returned.

Your grand total will be $133 per month.

“All in?”

“All in!”

This has been an ongoing issue in my life – this inability to stop myself from entering into agreements that I know will ultimately be painful.  In elementary school I continued to ask Lisa Simpson to be my girlfriend even after she dumped me four times.  She smelled so good.

In the back of my mind, I knew this had the potential to go awry, so I questioned my salesman again going through all of the features and quoting the price a second time.  He confirmed, and since they record the calls, a prompt shared with me by their automatic attendant, I figured I’d have proof on record.

The first time they came to install, they had not set up the port of my existing, 25-year old, home phone number.  I sent them away.

The second time they came to install, they had not set up the port of my existing, 25-year- old, home phone number.  I sent them away again.

The third time they came, they said I had only ordered 1 DVR and that if I got three, the price would increase to $156.

Mrs. Moreaux, my eighth grade math teacher once told me if it was too good to be true, it was too good to be true.  I should have listened.

I was in Nashville at the time, my parents were at my house overseeing the installation.  I pulled out of my conference about six times to discuss the situation and eventually sat in the hall at the Aloft Hotel on the phone with my Spectrum friends.  After being disconnected twice, and weeding back through the automated systems to a human, my blood pressure rising, they assured me that they would pull my initial phone call and if indeed I had been promised $128 for three DVRs, I would get that price.  They also said they would call me once they pulled my recorded call.

They installed.  They did not call.

The next day, I talked to them again in the Nashville International Airport.  Again, I was assured that I would be called back once the call was pulled.  This was a Friday.

They did not call.

The following Monday, the newspaper shared an article that the dispute between AT&T and the local NBC affiliate had been resolved.  Naturally, five days after I switched to the enemy.  A tear rolled down my cheek.

On Wednesday I called back.  I yelled at the automated voice, cursing like a sailor.  I was sent down rabbit holes, cut off the line unable to reach an attendant.  My head spun round nearing exploding when I finally got Motsey on the phone.  I asked her name and wrote it down.  Motsey assured me she would take care of my situation.  She told me she would escalate my request.  That sounded like progress.  I was being escalated to a higher authority, the mecca of Spectrum I imagined.  I asked if I could call her back.  She explained it was just an inbound calling system.  That is smart on their part for I would have verbally abused those before her had I been able to reach them.  I felt better.  She was so nice.  I believed in Motsey.

She did not call back.

I tried two more times.  The final time asking for the supervisor’s supervisor.  He offered me a token – a gift card to Hardee’s or something insignificant like that.  At this point I would have gladly paid the additional $140 a month to save my sanity.

He said, “Mr. Tanner.  I can’t speak for others you’ve talked to at Spectrum, but I WILL call you back.  You have my word,” which is worth ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ‘cause his behind did not call me back either.

How in the hell do you run a business like that?  I simply don’t get it.  El Chapo is more trustworthy than them.

I am back with AT&T.  I cancelled within 30 days so supposedly the Spectrum episode was free – although they said they would bill me for any outstanding balance.  I will likely owe $128.

Oh, and I am now paying $110 per month with a year-long contract, and I am getting $400 in VISA cards.  Take that Motsey!

 

 

On The Road Again

Michelle Driving

It’s happening again.  I’m teaching a kid to drive.  This is the last one.  Praise the lord!  This is just not my strength.

When I dropped her off for her first day of driving with the school instructor, I literally stopped, closed my eyes and prayed for that man.  He was a young father, the infant seat in his automobile clued me in.  It made me sad to think of his demise at the hands of my child.  I don’t know how much you get paid to teach someone to drive – I do know it is not enough.

After his instruction, the baton was passed to me.

If Michelle could just remember the difference between the gas pedal and the brake this experience would be so much more pleasant.

“Dad, doesn’t it makes sense that the gas pedal would be the bigger of the two?”

“Actually, I would prefer you stop more than you go.”

She asked to drive the family to my parents’ house in Fayetteville for Thanksgiving – down Interstate 95.  It was the week after she completed Drive’s Ed.  I said, “Absolutely not.”  She said, “But dad, I have three days experience.”

I’m not sure I’ll be comfortable with Michelle and I-95 after three years of experience.

I did let her drive to church the Sunday after the holiday.  Her sisters and I buckled in as she backed out of the driveway.  As we rolled toward the street, I gently said, “Brake.”  She accidentally pressed the gas pedal.  A chorus of shouts came at her from every direction.  I did not get angry at my older kids for the curse words that fell from their mouths.  I understood

“It isn’t helpful for all of you to yell at me!”

I explained that when someone was in grave danger, the response was automated, that we couldn’t help ourselves.

Maybe Acura should take her suggestion and make the gas pedal larger.  Or better yet, put the brake on the passenger side of the vehicle.  That would be helpful.

On her way home from the DMV, where she aced the written exam, we pretended to be in England – driving down Lake Boone Trail on the left side of the street.  To her credit, there were cars parked along the curb on the right side.  She was trying to give them a wide berth.  She did.  She gave them a VERY wide berth.  So wide.

She’s actually not all that bad.  I have a tendency to accentuate the rough spots.  And compared to her sisters, she’s not horribly behind.  Once DJ took a curb so tight after a major rain storm that she doused a jogger running by.  I sank into my seat from embarrassment.  He flipped her the bird.  She also got in a three car pileup on her second day of Driver’s Ed.  At least Michelle got through basic training without a moving violation!

Stephanie struggled with the whole gas/brake pedal conundrum as well majorly accelerating instead of braking while trying to park at the Harris Teeter one day.  I think they get that from my mother.  She’s not very good behind the wheel and can hardly see over the seat.  I haven’t ridden with her since I got my license.  I don’t think my dad has ever ridden with her behind the wheel.  He’s a very smart man.

I am so thankful I don’t have four children.  I simply don’t think I could do this again.  I’m anxious by nature – this parental responsibility is NOT a good fit for me.

Da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da BATMAN!

As a young kid in Hickory, NC, one of my favorite things to do was to toss a cape on my back and run around the back yard singing “da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da BATMAN.”  Bruce Wayne had it all – a house with secret passageways, a girlfriend named “Cat Woman,” a cool black sports car, a spotlight that shined his own signature image over Gotham City and… a CAPE.  Who cares about the rest of the stuff when you have a kick-ass cape draped around your shoulders?  It just reeks of fierceness.

Apparently, my brother and I also liked the cowboys.  I remember the caps that came with the guns.  You had to position them just so on the hammer-spring.  And if you did, POP!  The noise would startle any girl in the neighborhood and all adults over the age of 30.

cowboys

Recently, Julie pointed out my obsession with dress up.

It started when I pulled out my personal cape, made by my friends after one of the productions of Ira David Wood’s A Christmas Carol which the girls and I have performed in for the past few years.

“Honey, that’s really nice.  Do you actually wear it out of the house?”

We then looked up appropriate places to wear a cape.  I think a fashion runway in London is likely the most appropriate.  I’m just ahead of my time.

When I was chosen to be a Celebrity Father Chef at my kids’ schools’ annual pancake breakfast, we were given a chef’s jacket and hat to identify us in the worthy role we had attained.  After all patrons had been served, I headed out to the dining room with my loaded Chinet.

cook

“Honey, do you want me to hold onto your hat while you eat?” Julie asked.

“Nah.  I sort of like it.  It’s very tall.”

At Halloween I convinced my children to dress up like nerds with me for Trunk-or-Treat.  We made kids answer math problems in exchange for candy.  I sent Julie that picture as well and tried to convince her that the nerdy guys were actually the best catches.  I think she bought it… I guess time will tell.  She did suggest that maybe one day I could have a dress up closet.  Man, would that be great or what???

nerd

There’s just something about donning an outfit that is typically not fitting.  It lets you be something you’re not.

Hmmm.  Maybe more people “dress up” than you think.  You don’t have to have a cape to hide who you really are.  I know a ton of folks who look one way on the outside but are something totally opposite on the inside.  Sometimes the outside is less pretty than the inside.  Sometimes not.  Sometimes the disguise is to protect from others looking in.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all be accepted for who God created us to be?  I mean, He knows what’s under the hat.  If he’s OK with it, why aren’t we?

Applying for Financial Aid…oh my lord

kitchen

I thought, what the heck?  I have two girls going to, likely, private universities next year and one in a private high school, so why not respond to the University of Richmond’s prompt to complete financial aid information for the 18-19 school year?  What could it hurt?  I may not qualify – perhaps you’re supposed to spend 67% of your income on education.  My choice, I realize, but why not apply?

I started this process at 2 PM.  It is now 8:40, and the cuss words that have come out of my mouth have ensured I will not go to heaven.  There is no possible way at this point.  I crossed the line.

After figuring out how to log in – to let you know my level of frustration, the final password I used in FAFSA was HolYsHit123%.  After six other attempts, I was DONE.

When my inappropriate password would not work to “electronically sign” the document after hours of entering my deepest darkest financial secrets, I called Brenda who works for our US Government.  “Mr. Tanner, I cannot talk with you.  This is your daughter’s account.  I must talk with her.”

“Listen Brenda, who in the hell do you think sired this child???  Me.  And furthermore, I AM FULLY FUNDING HER COLLEGE EXPERIENCE!  You gonna talk to me!”

“No Mr. Tanner.  I CANNOT talk to YOU.”

“Did Donald Trump tell you not to talk to me?”

“No.  He did not.”

Hypothetically, if my college bound child was not at home, I would call her little sister into the kitchen to talk to Brenda.  But that is probably illegal, and I would never break the law.

When my daughter came downstairs, I put Brenda on the speakerphone.  She was slurring like a drunk sailor, which I could understand because I’d been arguing to her for 30 minutes at this point, so I was coaching Stephanie as Brenda gave her instructions.

“Mr. Tanner.  You cannot speak.  This call is between your daughter and me!”

“SHE COULD NOT UNDERSTAND YOU.  I WAS INTERPRETING.”

“You were talking to me,” Brenda snarled.

“I was not, you…”

Michelle, I mean Stephanie, put her hand on my shoulder.  “Dad, I’ve got this.”

After checking our emails for the fourteen messages Ms. Brenda had to send us to reclaim our just formed usernames and passwords, we finally got the frickin’ document signed.

Then… as if FAFSA wasn’t enough punishment for not being wealthy, I had to sign into the College Board website, required by three of our prospective universities, to regurgitate the EXACT same information to them.  LITERALLY – THE EXACT INFORMATION ENTERED ON THE FAFSA form.  And… one of the universities also wants a copy of my tax return and my W-2 sent to them, because uploading them for FAFSA and the College Board web site isn’t enough.  That ain’t nothing but lazy.

They also sent a nurse over to get a stool sample and asked for the receipt from the hamburger I ate at Hardees on Raeford Road in Fayetteville, NC, on July 16, 1974.

My daughters can’t balance a checkbook.  Can they really be expected to complete an in-depth form about their father’s financial status?

If I was a kid without significant parental support having to complete this process alone, I would say: Screw college!  It is simply not worth it.  

Which is very sad to me.

P.S.  I am very thankful and appreciative that there is financial assistance for those who need it.  But dang people, we gotta do better than this.

 

Others or yourself?

My dad is a great teacher.  He is very involved in his church and is constantly leading classes on raising kids (not sure if he has credibility there), marriage (he nailed that), communication, and other life stuff.  Recently he sent me the book The DNA of Relationships by Gary Smalley.  Dad’s using it for a class right now.

I’ve meandered through the book over the past month, and one of the big ah-hah’s for me has less to do about relationships and more to do with self.

Dr.  Smalley suggests that happiness comes from within.  He quotes Abraham Lincoln who said, “I reckon that people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”  Smalley goes on to say that a relationship with another flawed human being will not make you happy.  He asks, “Do two unhappy people normally form a happy couple?”  The answer is no.

I’m no expert on resilience or tackling hard issues.  I just did what I had to do.  But one thing I did realize through my grief was that I couldn’t live in a state of unending sadness.  I remember my counselor telling me in an early session after Lisa died that it would be three to five years before I would feel normal again – and that’s if I worked hard.  My response to her was, “That is unacceptable.”  I could not stay in that state.  I had to get out.

I was fortunate to be surrounded by family and friends, including three incredible kids, who injected joy and purpose into my life on a daily basis.  Although I was mad at God, I also had my faith.  I knew there was something more than we see here on this earth.  I clearly didn’t escape on my own.  But there was something in me that drove me to seek more.  That internal drive gave me my life back.

It wasn’t easy.  There were times that I actually felt guilty about being happy.  I had feelings of betrayal when I enjoyed life.  But I kept thinking, my kids deserve a happy dadThey’re going to face other significant obstacles in their life, and they need to see that there can be happiness after tragedy.  It was an example I had to set for them.  And that drove me to get better.

I worked diligently to get my grief out – like sweating out a fever.  I looked for ways to give back to help others in my situation.  I leaned on Uncle Jesse and followed his lead of reinserting zaniness into our house.  I leaned into my grief while simultaneously running in the opposite direction.

This strategy of aggressively facing my grief while looking for ways to combat it worked.  It gave me the ability to develop new friendships, to have the courage to try new things and find new passions, and to enter into an incredible relationship with Julie, my girlfriend, who I truly, truly love.  I can’t imagine my life today had I taken the alternate route.

Movement forward doesn’t come from others, although they can help.  It comes from within.  It comes from perseverance and an internal rejection of sadness or anger or resentment or whatever other negative emotion that festers inside us.

Those who know me would not describe me as an over the top optimistic dude.  I’m naturally sarcastic and can be a bit Chicken Littleish, one eye always watching for the sky to fall.  But those who look beyond the facade, they see more.  I saw an old friend in downtown Raleigh recently.  She looked me up and down and said, “I can tell you’re happy.”  How refreshing to be described that way.

I am grateful I had it in me to declare war on grief.  It’s a battle worth fighting.

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