One Down, two to go

At age 17, in late August of 1983, I drove my blue and white, two door Chevy Chevette to Wingate College in Monroe, NC, where I started my secondary education. My mom was in the car with me. My father followed with the majority of my stuff in tow.

Still 17, in mid-September, 1983, I surprisingly fit all of my belongings back into my Chevette and drove myself back home. I can’t really explain what happened. I didn’t have a traumatic experience or anything. I just didn’t want to go there anymore.

As I recall, my father got all or most of his money back, which lightened the blow a bit. But still, if I couldn’t be successful at a college that was only two hours from my house, that was about the same size as my high school, with two of my best friends in in a dorm nearby, it certainly appeared I might likely stay with my parents forever.

To all of our surprise, even mine, I headed to NC State the following fall, a gigantic university in the capital city, and never looked back.

This weekend, DJ graduates from The George Washington University in DC. I’m not sure why they call it THE George Washington University, but they are very specific about the THE. Perhaps there are other GW wanna be’s and the THE brands this one as the real one.

I recall the drop off at her dorm. I had to don sunglasses inside to hide my welled up eyes. She was OK, but not great either. DJ had four roommates and two of them had arrived early and scored the primo corners of the very small room. She was stuck with the girl from Vermont with the smaller closet and bunk beds. I tried ever so hard to make lemonade.

“Maybe the top bunk will be warmer in the winter.  Heat rises ya’ know.”  I had a lump in my throat for a full 24 hours anticipating the final goodbye.

We hid her plastic “Pink Baby” in her pillow case. She’d slept with her since she was two. I cried like a blubbering idiot the first fifty miles headed home. But I adjusted, and she did too.

A lot has changed in four years for both of us.

I have since dropped a second child off and only cried for twenty miles when I left.

DJ lives in a brownstone near campus and spent a semester sailing around Australia.

I redecorated her bedroom at home and finally stopped trying to plan spring break trips for the family – which she was not interested in attending.

She interned at Politico and worked at the Correspondent’s Dinner a couple of weeks ago. She did not meet Robin Roberts or David Muir. But cool nonetheless.

I exercise and stretch more since she left and have dabbled in hot yoga. I’m spending a bit more time on me.

She jogged to find the Chic-Fil-A food truck simply to get a taste of home.

We’ve both come a long way.  And I’m sure we both have a long way to go.

But dang, I’m so stinkin’ proud of her accomplishments!

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The Bully

Who could bully this cute kid??  DJ, about age 4.

 

I am currently reading a book by J.D. Vance called Hillbilly Elegy. It is a memoir that chronicles his life growing up in Appalachia.  It is an interesting look at a life of poverty.  One tenant of Vance’s family was loyalty.

Vance recounts a bully picking on a kid in his grade school.  Apparently this was sort of an ongoing issue for a number of kids at the school and the teachers and school administrators were aware of the problem.  One day, this bully, walked over to another boy and asked, “Are you gonna cry again today like you did yesterday?”

This pissed Vance off, and, as his grandmother, yes grandmother, had taught him, Vance approached, stood sideways (to be a smaller target) and punched the bully in the stomach using his hips for additional force.  The bad guy went down.  I guess the message was don’t mess with my people.

I remember DJ returning home from 3-year-old preschool one day and sharing that Belva, apparently the mean girl in Mrs. Wishon’s class, had made fun of her shoes AND wouldn’t let her play in the classroom’s miniature kitchen. Needless to say, I was angry.  I was tempted to head over to St. Michael’s preschool the next day and punch Belva in the stomach as Vance did his school bully.  After considering her age, I decided against my initial plan.

It’s one thing to stand up for your child.  I think there’s sort of an innate parental protection gene that makes us want to attack those who emotionally or physically hurt our kids.  What was startling to me about Vance was that the guy he defended was not related to him. In fact, he wasn’t even a great friend.  It was just a kid in his class who was being treated poorly.

After reading his story, I began to wonder if I had ever stood up for the little guy.  The one who struggled to find his voice.

Perhaps I have – or perhaps I too often do nothing for the underdog.  There isn’t much coming to mind – no list of heroic acts I can refer to as examples of my bravery in the face of worldly unfairness.

As I hear derogatory remarks about someone, as I consider inequities around me, as I run into individuals with no voice, I wish I’d do more.  It’s easy to ignore.  It’s easy to walk by.  It’s easy to just be thankful you’re not the one suffering at the moment.

I’m gonna work on that.

A Manner-less Father

revolving2

Being a single dad with three young daughters was scary.  Early on, there were things that caused me a great deal of anxiety.  One was my ability to raise girls who weren’t totally oblivious to typical societal norms.   I really wanted them to be poised – to have good manners.  So, I sent them to Cotillion.

I’m from Fayetteville.  We don’t do Cotillion there.  Although my mother is lovely and has very good manners, she raised a house of boys.  A win for her was no passing gas during Sunday lunch.  Learning to use a bread knife was low on her priority list.

The first year of Cotillion was focused on learning the basics.  A few dance moves, everyone loves a good Fox Trot, boys getting potato chips for the girls and dressing for success.  We learned a great deal through this process.  Gloves are a great way to mitigate gross, sweaty hands.  Wing tips hurt when they clomp on sandaled toes.  Boys are often shorter than girls in 5th grade.

On evening after class, my youngest daughter came home in a huff.  “Dad, you’re not going to believe this one!  During the slow dance tonight, the boy I was dancing with held on to my underwear the entire song!  Like gripped them on either side!”  I was amused but unalarmed.  “I’m sure he didn’t know – he probably wasn’t wearing any himself.”  Sounds like something my older brother would do.

Years two and three were more focused on manners.  One of my kids shared with me that if you go into a building with a revolving door, there is etiquette on how to proceed through.  Apparently if the door is not moving, the guy should go first to get the door started.  If it is already moving, the woman should go through the door first.

I’m assuming this was designed so that the “weaker” sex wouldn’t have to strain to get the revolving door revolving.  That is not the case in my house.  My fiancé could pummel most guys.  She’s strong.  Hot yoga’s her thing.  She can hold a plank for a solid afternoon.  And, she has impeccable manners.  I’ll not be starting the revolving door for her.  She’s more capable than I.

This dad raising three daughters alone left a number of gaps.  Belches aren’t all that uncommon.  Mouths are often full when talking.  Gum might be chewed at church.  Forks, spoons and butter knives are interchangeable.  And I’ve taught them to smell their clothing to determine whether it really needs to be washed.  I didn’t realize that was questionable until very recently.

But somehow, perhaps through out of my house osmosis, they’ve come out alright.  Strong, attractive, polite and well-mannered young women.  Or maybe it was Cotillion.

 

 

To My Surprise

Kyle

I don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about the specific boy.  It is really irrelevant at this point and not appropriate for me to be expounding upon… yet.  But for the first time, my eldest is dating someone – although I’m not sure she used that term and if I get it wrong, I’ll hear about it.  Maybe they’re going out or courting or strongly connecting.  Who knows what they call it now?

I’m not saying she has never dated before.  She has.  This is the just first time it seems to be sort of exclusive save “The Donald” from 10th grade that lasted about a month and ended tragically, for him, at Moe’s Tex-Mex restaurant in Cameron Village, an upscale strip mall here in Raleigh.

Although, as all this has unfolded, I could totally be wrong.  She could have dated exclusively, and I had no idea what’s went on!  I continue to learn things about our kids that surprise me.  I don’t think the five of them are truly coming clean.

I’ve heard this guy’s name for two years now.  We’ll call him Harry.  It sort of went like this:

Me:  “What did you do this weekend DJ?”

DJ:  “Well, Harry and I watched a movie at his apartment.”

Me:  “Hmm.”

Next weekend –

Me:  “What did you do this weekend DJ?”

DJ:  “Well, Harry and I went to dinner and then a party at his Fraternity.”

Me:  “Hmm.”  Harry again.

I mean I’m not stupid.  Last fall I commented that she and Harry sure did seem to enjoy each other – or she was lacking in the friendship department cause every other sentence was Harry this and Harry that. I was assured they were just friends.  Yeah – and the hairs slowing taking over my temples are blonde, not gray.

The way I found out about this relationship was via a family group text.

Michelle shared a funny photo with the fam and bantering ensued.  At the end of the string of texts, coming from three different cities and four different people, DJ wrote: BTW (By The Way for my mom and dad) – Harry and I are dating.

I called immediately.  She did not pick up.  Probably in class or something, right?

Michelle wrote back – you serious?

Stephanie chimed in:  Yes!  She is.  She called and told me last week.

There are three problems here:

  1. This had been going on for several weeks, at least, and I was just finding out
  2. DJ told Stephanie before she told me

AND…

3.  Stephanie didn’t call and tell me the news (she swears she was sworn to secrecy but I thought better of her).

I’m good with all this – actually makes me very happy.  I’m just having to get used to all this going on without my knowledge.

One day I asked Stephanie what she did the night before.  She replied, “I went to Target.”  I do believe that is true.  However, her sister also innocently told me she saw a picture of Steph on her Instagram story at a party that same night.

Maybe the party was at Target…

And I can’t even guess what else is going on with these five offspring of ours.  Julie’s son is holed up in Athens, GA, or so he says.  One weekend he’s at a Fraternity party in Alabama, the next a sorority party in Memphis and the next spring break in Cancun.

Next time Julie and I want to get away, we’re just gonna tell them all “We’re going to Target.”  That’ll teach them!

Maybe it’s best I don’t know all that’s going on.  I like my peaceful life – sitting around watching DVR’d 60 Minute episodes thinking my kids are doing the same.  Ahhh – the joy of not knowing.

 

Little Bitty Neck

Bruce Ham Head Shot

2014, five full years ago!

Bruce Ham Head Shot, 2-19

Little Neck, Today

About every five years, our marketing department decides that the leadership team at work needs new head shots.  These are pictures of your head – just your head – that you use for professional purposes.  Like when I speak at a conference, I’m often asked to send a “head shot” so I forward my pic.

 

I am fairly happy with my 2014 headshot.  I look young.  I’m not sure why we’d want to alter that.

My boss has looked the same for the past twenty years.  You could toss his past five headshots into a basket and not know which came first.  Me, not so much.  There is a definitive difference between late forties and mid-fifties.

I am compliant, so I went onto the Signup Genius to choose the time to meet with the photographer.  When my time came, I meandered unexcitedly to the small conference room where they had set up shop.  The email calling for new pics informed us that there would be a makeup/hair stylist to help us look our best.

I wondered why.  I mean, we’re the Y.  Aren’t we supposed to look recreational?  Besides, there are only like two employees at our corporate office who have ever worn makeup, and I don’t count because it was when I was in a play.

I showed up promptly at 11:20 AM.  I was allotted 15 minutes.  A VP of Marketing was ahead of me.  She looked great – wearing her Sunday best.

I knew there was little anyone could do with the hair.  And I declined the makeup.

She insisted, “I just want to take the sheen off of your forehead.”

I didn’t know my forehead had a sheen!  All this time I’ve been walking around with a shiny forehead and no one told me.  How embarrassing.

She powdered me up.

She then pulled out lipstick, I reared back.  “You’re not putting that stuff on my lips,” I told the woman who was desperately trying to earn her keep.

Give me that mouth, she argued.

I think she got paid by the lip.

When I realized she was essentially putting fancy Chapstick on me, I acquiesced.  There was no color, although I thought I saw a sparkle on the end of the tube.

A friend of mine was helping to coordinate us bums so I asked her to crack some jokes so that I would look happy.  I have a tendency for the fixed pose with a fake smile.  She began to taunt me, which is not unusual for this co-worker.  I laughed and our time was over.

When I received the proof of my pic, I quickly opened my last one taken a half a decade or so earlier.  It was sad really.  The gray protruding from my temples today.  The wrinkles more wrinkly in 2019.  I should have been more lenient on my makeup friend.  Perhaps she could have made this look better.

That night I showed the photo to Michelle.  She sent the pic to her sisters.

DJ responded immediately with a haha text thought bubble.

That didn’t make me feel great.  Haha?  Shouldn’t that be reserved for a hilarious joke??

Michelle then remarked, “Dad looks very happy!!!!!!!!!”

Why so many explanation marks??????  Do I not usually look that happy?

Stephanie replied, He does look happy.  Followed by, His neck looks so small.

Seriously?  Like who wants a frickin’ enormous neck?  It just normal.  Just a normal neck.  On the slightly thin side, but just a neck that’s working hard to hold up a big shiny forehead apparently and two slightly glittered lips.

After that exchange I was worried a bit about my headshot.  Until the Marketing Director sent us links to all of the headshots.  I’ll have to confess, I opened them all just out of curiosity.  And when I saw my good friend’s pic, I felt much better about mine.

Spread it Like Glitter

In 2001, I went to a party at a lady’s house for work.  It was a fundraiser, I was sort of the Y staffer hosting the event.  Before the guests arrived, the woman took me on a tour of her really nice home.  Next to my Grandmother Tanner’s, it was the cleanest house I’d ever been in.  As we walked around, I mentioned how nice things looked.  She told me she vacuumed EVERY room in her home EVERY DAY.  She had four or five bedrooms and all of her kids were grown and had moved out of the house.

“Do you vacuum the bedrooms every day?  Even the ones that no one stays in?” I asked.

She laughed, “Every single one of them; every single day.”

There are some things I’d like to do every day, I won’t go into that, but vacuuming is not one of them.

I don’t really clean very much.  There are only two of us living full time in this house anymore, and I have a beautiful lady (she’s just a really good person) who helps me with housework every other Monday.  I LOVE IT when she comes.  I walk in the door after work and can smell her Pine-Sol scent.

That was not always the case.  All three of my girls enjoyed art projects as kids, particularly glitter.  They could flat crank out pieces of construction paper with sparkles galore.  Even after cleanup, I’d find silver specks of glitter from my eyelids to my chest hair; from the car to the kitchen to my office.  It was like the Norwalk virus on a cruise ship – it spread and spread and spread.

My team at work is reading the book Everybody Always by Bob Goff.  Bob writes about love.  He is a Christian and is all about meeting people where they are – regardless of their background of beliefs – and simply loving them.

I love this quote from his book:  Spread kindness like confetti.  Or in my case, perhaps like glitter.

I just don’t think that is so hard.  Kindness is easy.  It can be shown when driving, or when listening to others, or by saying something nice about someone rather than tearing them down, or by a wave or hug or handshake.  There are a million ways to be nice!  And man, like confetti or glitter, once it is out there, it is virtually impossible to clean up.

I think it would be great if we could give everyone a virus – the virus of kindness, and just sit back and watch it spread.

License to Fill

(The youngest Tanner, Michelle, is a sophomore in high school and is taking a creative writing class.  Her latest assignment was to create a blog.  Michelle’s blog’s theme is being the youngest of three girls.  This is her most recent post. Oh, and I did have permission to publish!)

Lucy graduation

She’s the one in red

By Michelle Tanner

Recently, I got my driver’s license. You may be asking yourself, “Michelle. What does this have to do with being the youngest child or growing up in a weird family?” My answer to you is A LOT.

Up to November 27th, 2018, I was the queen of the carpool system. I was constantly asking my dad or sisters to drop me off at the movie theater, library, etc. I often received an eye-roll in return. While I was thankful for the ride, I will admit, it was sometimes embarrassing.

Last year at my school dance, my friends and I got ready at my house, and our dates came over after we primped ourselves. The before is always awkward. Taking pictures with a boy from your middle school that you rarely talk to throughout the year is not the ideal situation… Anyway, after pictures, we all piled into one car with my dad as our chauffeur. I had faced the fact that this was the only way to get to the dance. I’m sure you can picture my dad, like any other father, playing his old tunes and asking questions to fill the silence. It’s such a relief to know that this year I will be able to avoid this situation.

For the readers who don’t know how a driver’s permit works, you have to practice driving for a year and log sixty hours of driving with your parent. That meant that every trip to the grocery store was another stressful experience filled with corrections from my worried dad. One day, I drove my sisters and dad home from a movie. I gracefully pulled out of the parking spot, put the car in drive, and began to take off. I planned to slow down so that I could turn out of the parking lot, but instead I mistook the gas pedal for the brake pedal and jerked forward. I quickly corrected myself. Everyone began to yell at me! In my defense it was the early stages of my driving career. I was mortified, and my sisters are still scared to get in the car with me.

It was unbelievable to me that my sisters could be so judgmental. They were in the same place I was just a few years ago! One of my favorite stories is about a fifteen-year-old, too cool for school DJ Tanner, my oldest sister. After a long, treacherous trip to Fayetteville, North Carolina, to visit my grandparents (when I say long and treacherous, I mean an hour long drive with a new driver on the highway), my dad corrected how DJ was holding the steering wheel. I believe the conversation went something like this…

Dad: “DJ, you’re supposed to hold the steering wheel at 9 and 3 o’clock! Why are your elbows slouching?”

DJ: “DAD! I HAVE BEEN DRIVING A WHOLE HOUR! MY ARMS ARE TIRED! GIVE ME A BREAK!”

How could she possibly make fun of my little mess up?

Now that I have my license, life is good. I have all of the freedom and responsibility in the world—I take that back. Don’t get me wrong, the freedom is great, but the responsibility is different. I have an issue with getting gas. My biggest fear is that I’ll put the wrong type of gas in my car, and it will explode. The first time I got gas, I called my sister, Stephanie, to have her lead me through the process step-by-step. I got my gas, and all was good.

All was good, until yesterday, when my “low fuel” light came on. I decided I had to face my fear, so I went to the nearest gas station prepared to leave with no worry of breaking down on the side of the road. I pulled up to the Shell gas station down the street and stopped at the closest hose to find out that my gas tank was on the other side of the car. “No problem!” I thought to myself as I pulled around to the next open spot. I pulled around, and I even shooed the friendly man working there sweeping and got an annoyed look. I felt bad, but I just knew I had to get gas no matter what. I got out of the car going over the steps in my head, “First, put in my card, then type in my 5-digit zip code…”

Turns out, I parked on the wrong side again. At that point the other gas hoses were taken and there was no more room for me to make a 7-point turn especially with my mediocre driving skills. I left the gas station defeated, but in order to get home, I would have had to make a U-turn on a busy street. There was no way I was doing something that risky, so I went through the shopping center next door where I struggled to figure out a 3 way stop with unspecified rules. I received a few glares and nearly got honked at. I was finally on my way home. But as I drove, the orange “low-fuel” light mocked me.

I turned my car around and went back to the same gas station. I drove in, parked on the right side, and I got my gas! Victory was mine, despite a concerned look from the not so friendly gas station man that recognized me from earlier. At that point I didn’t care about the glares and stares because I knew that I wouldn’t have to get gas for at least another two to three weeks.

Today as I drove my car to pick up a friend, I looked at my gas meter all the way up to the top. I felt accomplished. I felt like an adult with real responsibility that I could handle on my own. It’s funny how such a little thing made me forget I was the baby of the family for a split second.

 

Oh My Aching Back

I’ve done it reaching for toilet paper.  This time it was bending down to pick up a cup – a very light, unheavy, glass half full of water.  I pulled my lower back out on New Year’s Eve morning helping Julie straighten up for the cleaning ladies who showed up unexpectedly.

That begs the question, “Why do we cleanup for the cleaning ladies?”  I don’t do any prep work for the yardman.  Well, if I had a yardman I’m certain I wouldn’t pre-mow.

There is a guy at work who has a ton of back pain.  I have jabbed about it – referring to him as Broken Back Boy.  I will not do that again.  This is not funny.  Not funny AT ALL.

It has been a week, and I can just now wipe myself without excruciating pain.

You know you’re in a bad spot when…

IT HURTS LIKE HELL TO WIPE YOUR BUTT!

It is the little things I take for granted.

Who knew putting your socks on could be such a challenge.  Julie did it the first day, but then she had to go back to her house.  Then it was up to me.  I’d bend over as far as I could, hold the very edge of the sock with my longest fingers and then toss the sock toward my big toe in the hopes I’d get some traction so I could pull back into my comfort zone and get those little boogers up my calves.  It was a loafer kind of week.  Tying was out of the question.

Thank goodness I’m a slight guy.  At night I’d gently lie on the edge of the bed, then take my left hand, grab the side of my boxers and drag my body toward the middle of my Mattress Firm, which it ends up is not even that firm.  The nightstand was my grip to get out the next day.  I didn’t even consider a mid night bathroom run.  OUT OF THE QUESTION.

My children are ribbing me, mocking me when they walk past in a bent position with their hand on their back yelling strings of sentences with silences to represent the bleeping out of curse words.

A lady at work left a walker in my office.  I tried to use it but it was too short.

I’ve been to a chiropractor three times.  I got a therapeutic massage.  My MD gave me a muscle relaxer.  I’ve taken more ibuprofen than there are stars in the sky.  And my back is still as tight as a tic.

Is this what old looks like?  Will this happen more often?  Are other things going to go out of whack?

No.  That can’t be the case.  I’m only 53.  This must be a fluke.

 

 

Merry Christmas

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The Listener

Judy Bright Photo

Have you ever met someone who listens to you?  Like really listens?

Judy Bright, my other mother, did just that.

I wish I had her skills.

Sometimes when I visited her house, typically once or twice a month, I’d make a commitment to ask her questions before we broached the subject of Danny Tanner.  The conversation went something like this:

“Judy, how is your health?”

“Danny, we’ll get to that.  But first, I have a question for you.”

An hour and a half later, about the time our conversation had to end, we’d move back to the topic of her.  She’d share for a minute or two, and then, the conversation would end with a hug and a kiss and a promise to talk more about her at our next visit.

Oh she shared bits and pieces about her life during our time together.  But that was secondary – to add to the conversation, not the primary focus.  I was the primary focus.

Judy was more interested in others than she was in herself.  Admirable.  Unusual.

We would grab lunch periodically.  She was the queen of using condiments to visibly guide me through strategy to help me get through the problems I was facing.

“Danny, now you’re the Sweet and Low, and (pick the person I’m having a tough time with at the moment) is the salt.”  She would then move the condiments around the table as we strategically worked through the problems bringing the mustard bottle or sugar packets in for supporting roles as appropriate.

Judy was one that freely said, “I love you.”  Not just to me, but to everyone she loved.  And she loved a lot of people, deeply.

She was a person who made each person she came in contact with feel like he was the most important person in the entire world.  We all thought she was our “other mother.”  We all felt special in her presence.

She encouraged and challenged us all to be more than we ever thought we might be.  She had more confidence in me than I ever did in myself.  She gave me the gift of self-confidence.  She gave that gift to others too.

Judy passed away last Thursday after an 18 month battle with colon cancer.  She was 72.  It breaks my heart to lose people like this, good people in a tough world.

At the end of many meals at Camp Seafarer where Judy was the director for many years, she would give a closing charge to the eight hundred campers and staff.  She would say, “You know what to do,” and the campers would respond, “Now let’s go do it.”

In her absence, I think that’s what she’d want us to do.  She has taught us well.  Now, we must just go do it.

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