Huey at the Bar

I am definitely an extrovert.  I feed off others’ energy.  I’m pretty good at connecting with folks at a work function or a social gathering, asking questions of friends or acquaintances.  And yet, I sometimes work to avoid strangers – it’s just hard to invest in people I’ll likely never see again.

My fiance, Julie, apparently has a different mentality.

Last week we were in New Orleans.  We walked into a restaurant with the intent of grabbing some appetizers at the bar.  I headed to the bathroom while Julie scoped out seats.  Although there were four, I repeat FOUR, open stools at the end of the long counter, she chose to perch square in the middle of the bar between a younger couple and a middle aged loner.  In my mind, I questioned her decision, and she could tell by my facial expression:

There are many, many seats at the end of the bar.

I could also read her response:  Yes, but these seemed more interesting.

And indeed they were.

It didn’t take long for Huey, the loner, to strike up a conversation.  In short order we discovered that:

*He lives in Manhattan

*He is an only child

*His father has a horse farm in Pinehurst, NC

*His family owns a four generation furniture store in New York

*He owns a small flat in Spain that he purchased for only $34,000

And he eats a lot (he didn’t tell me that but he killed double the amount of food that Julie and I ate together.)

By 10:45 PM, he had made suggestions about our menu options, he comes to that bar every time he is in town (he chose well); he offered to go out with me to hear music if Julie wanted was too tired to hit the scene; and he and I (NOT Julie) had become Facebook friends.  When he passed her the phone to friend him, she handed it to me.  He also mentioned something about tattoos, but I think I zoned out during that portion of the conversation.

And sure enough, when I checked my Facebook feed the next morning, there was Huey, shirtless, with a tattoo of a jazz musician covering his right shoulder.

hughie

Our time with Huey is not a novelty.  Last year in San Diego we met Victoria and Ozo, a very fit couple our age, when Julie asked if we could sit by them at a courtyard bar.  It was cold, and they were near the fire.  Ozo and Victoria had merged families and wanted to meet the next day to coach us on life as stepparents.  Together they had six kids.  We met.  They coached.

In Spain we spent time with Sandra who hauled us to her apartment where we met Hugo from South America and learned to flamenco dance on her ground floor outdoor patio.  At the time, Sandra was dating a Frenchman ten years her junior.  They didn’t speak the same language.  I told her it was never going to work.  But we will never know because she is a stranger who lives in Spain.

Although this excessive interaction is uncomfortable for me, I’ll have to say it is interesting.  It’s sort of like adding a little spicy pepper to fettuccine Alfredo.  It’s good on it’s own, but the occasional flavor adds an unexpected zing.  I anticipate A LOT of zing coming my way.

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The Fit Family

Occasionally I write an article for Carolina Parent.  It is a magazine and web site with great resources for parents.  Visit the site to find a plethora of resources.

When I was a kid, my mom put us in the yard at 8 AM in the summer, and we didn’t return until dinnertime.  During the school year, it was 3 – 6 PM.  If it was cold, there were coats.  If it was hot, shirts were optional.

We ran around the cul-de-sac at the end of Birkshire Road in Fayetteville, NC, for hours on end.  We’d play tag, hide-and-seek, or a game my brother made up called Boy-Land.  That was when the boys chased the girls.  Tracy McDonnell insisted on equal billing so we sometimes acquiesced and played Girl-Land which was actually just as fun.  It was one of the few times in my life that a female actually showed interest in catching me.

When I was a kid, we would sometimes just stand in the front yard and spin around in circles.  Our lives were centered around physicality.  We’d come home sweaty and tired – likely burning more calories than my mom could shove into us, and she shoved a lot!

That is not the case today.  My three daughters would rather watch Netflix than breathe.  A nine season show is nothing to conquer over a five day school break.  That’s like 90 hours of TV!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the most athletic person in the world.  I don’t know the difference between a football and a hockey stick, and I have the coordination of David Hasselhoff (Dancing with the Stars, Season 11).  But I exercise four or five times a week.  I like to move.

I try to encourage activity with my girls.  I promote the possibility of good weather:  “it’s going to be 75 tomorrow. Nice day to spend outside!”  Typically I get no takers.  Internet reception is spotty beyond the walls of our house, and jogging with a laptop can be cumbersome.

I try to beat them at their own game finding activities they can do while watching a screen:  “I found a great exercise video online.  It’s Zumba!  I think you’d enjoy it.”  They disagree.  Unless Phoebe from Friends is the instructor, they have no interest.

The only way I have found slight success in getting my teenagers to sweat is to hit the gym as a family.  They seem to revel in watching me plunder through a group fitness class.

Once we landed in Sports Conditioning.  I thought it would be a good fit for a rhythm-less fifty-year-old.  I was wrong.  Apparently part of conditioning for sports includes straddling a “stair” and crossing it in sync with music.  Who walks upstairs to a beat?  It is not a practical exercise.

Once my youngest daughter and I took Pilates.  As the class began, the teacher announced to all that in her class participants generally removed their shoes.  I thought it was nice that she was informing the masses.  As I untied my New Balance, I realized I was the only one without bare feet.  Why didn’t she just come tell me?

We all took Yoga.  I believe the woman on the mat in front of me could have stuck her head through her legs and licked her own back.  I, on the other hand, can’t touch my feet, unless I’m sitting with my legs crossed.

At the gym we jog together, ride bikes together and workout our abs.  I’ve even taken my teens through my rigorous weight lifting routine (well, it’s rigorous for me).  But they always keep it real.  “Dad, these are big weights.  You’re pretty strong.  Why do you look so scrawny?”  They seem to delight in my misery.  And I find joy that they’re doing something besides watching inappropriate clips from Saturday Night Live.

At my house, exercising together brings happiness to all, or at least to me!

Ye Old College Tour Guide

elonfurman-university-belltower

This past weekend, Stephanie, Julie and I took our final, I think, university visit before decision day 2018.  We have it narrowed down to two:  Furman University in Greenville, SC, and Elon in Burlington, NC.

It is interesting that your college decision, a big one I might add, often relies upon two factors:

  • the weather
  • the tour guide

Both are a crap shoot.

Our primary guide this week was a freshman from Lenoir, NC, named Rupert.  He was enthusiastic and had his full head of black hair moosed up.  His bangs pointed toward heaven like a duck’s beak.  Although, from my estimation, he’d only been at Elon for seven months, he said he’d changed his major three times.  Reassuring to those who have yet to determine their lifelong goals.

Our tour group was small, only four.  Rupert was able to give us plenty of attention.

Rupert walked backwards the majority of the hike across campus.  Although it was evident he was walking backwards, he specifically pointed it out to us.  I think that was what he was primarily excited about – he was very proud of this skill.

I feel sort of sorry for Rupert and his colleagues across America.  These pour souls work so hard to be engaging, and yet, the high school senior demographic is not too keen on participation.  When your guide asks, “Does anyone have any questions,” so hopeful to fill the silence void, they often get nada.  The kids are too cool to ask; the parents have been threatened.  Julie’s kids told her she could not ask questions which is really, really hard for her.  I was warned too not to go overboard.  But when the dude says, “If you ask questions it makes my job easier,” I just feel compelled to speak.

I want to ask things like:

“Do the college students here drink, smoke pot and have sex?  And if so, what percentage of the student population do those things and how often?”  Or, “Do you have friends?  How did you make them?  I don’t want my baby to be lonely.”

I refrain, often asking what I already know:

“Does this school have study abroad?”

“Is the food good?”

“Are there clubs you can join?”

Anything to keep us from standing there in uncomfortable silence.

In one of the dorms, the guide opened a dorm room door and Julie and Stephanie walked in.  The stunned student, sprawled out on his futon was quite surprised, “This is not the room you’re supposed to visit!” he snarled at the guide.

Ooops.  Thankfully he was just reading.  It could have been much, much worse.

I feel really good about Stephanie’s options for college.  She wants a small liberal arts school and both of these fit that bill.  And perhaps this time next year she can don a purple or burgundy polo shirt and walk backwards through campus herself.  That might give her a little more patience with the adults in her life!

Just One Life

When I first met grief, it was all consuming.  I had not experienced pain like that.  It cut to my core.  There was little ability to feel anything except loss.  Grief lived with me for quite some time.  If you’ve felt it, you know.  If you haven’t, it simply can’t be explained.  There aren’t words.

Perhaps that is why I cried when I saw the news last week about the Florida massacre.  Tears rolled down my face.  It wasn’t my pain, but to know that others have to go where I was eight years ago (or perhaps even worse due to the circumstances) made me ache for them.  I wept in utter disbelief that someone could inflict that level of pain on another human being.  I wept that we as a nation have let this continue.

If you’ve felt true loss, you know.  You want to spare any fellow human the agony.

They say that the second amendment gives us all the right to bear arms.  I don’t disagree.  However, it does not say that we have the right to bear AR-15 type semi-automatic weapons, the gun used at Stoneman Douglas high school in Florida.

Some say it is hobby – that responsible gun owners should be able to shoot the weapon of their choice in a responsible manner.

I don’t really have a hobby.  I don’t fish or paint or collect stamps.  But I can’t imagine that there is a hobby that I wouldn’t give up if I thought it might save lives, especially the lives of children.  How can one be selfish enough to allow the thrill of shooting to get in the way of potentially protecting our kids?  Would you give up fishing to save lives?  Would you turn in your favorite stamp if you knew 17 teenagers would live sixty, seventy years longer?  How can we as a nation not understand that access to these destructive weapons are a part of the problem?

If we outlaw semi-automatic weapons, I do not believe it will fully stop gun violence.  There are many issues we need to address before we can rest.  But common sense tells us that cutting off legal access to semi-automatic weapons might, just might, make a dent in the problem.  Maybe I’m wrong.  But, in my opinion, it is worth a try.

What if we outlawed semi-automatic weapons, and it saved one life?  Would it be worth it?

It would if it was my child.

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.

 

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

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.