Legacy For Our Kids

My oldest kid’s dorm is three blocks from the White House.  This week media reported that ISIS threatened to blow the President’s residence up, “The White House will turn black with our fire, Allah willing.”

I’m feeling pretty good, because I can’t imagine anyone’s god willing to blow folks up.

And yet, I worry.  Not so much about what will happen to DJ during her tenure at George Washington University, I worry about what my generation is leaving my children.

Michelle has seen enough news lately, and we’ve had enough conversation that it has become apparent to me that she is feeling fear of what could come.  She asked if we could move to Canada – sort of joking, sort of not.  She didn’t want DJ to fly home for Thanksgiving, she much preferred me go pick her up in the car.  She is visibly concerned.

What a shame.

What a shame that my kid has to live with the fear of being shot down while dining outside in her own hometown.  Oh, and what a shame that a Syrian child listens to bombs exploding outside his window each night or is placed on a raft to float to “safety.”

None of them deserve this.

I work at the YMCA and before each staff or volunteer meeting, we open with a devotion and a prayer.  This past week a colleague of mine talked about conviction.  He asked what  we firmly and passionately believed in.  What, if anything, would we be willing to sacrifice for?  What, if anything, would we be willing to die for?

For me, maybe it is an inordinate desire to leave this world better than my parents left it for me.

I think I’m failing.

Perhaps that means paying higher taxes for military support or for social programs that give kids at home and abroad enough hope to feel that blowing themselves up isn’t their greatest option.   Imagine living such a life that strapping a bomb to yourself is the option you would choose over continuing life on this earth.

I want my 13-year-old to be worrying about the snotty girl who shunned her on the playground or the boy who picked his nose in math class and wiped his finger on her notebook – the stuff I worried about at that age.

A first step for us is to be united, to stop our political bickering, to listen and respect each other’s opinions, to work in harmony to bring light to the rest of the world.  I’m not the best listener, but for Michelle’s sake, I’m gonna try a little harder.

Halloween, Gone?

DJ and Stephanie, Halloween, many years ago

DJ and Stephanie, Halloween, many years ago

Interestingly, Halloween is one of the toughest times of the year for me.  It is odd which days become peppered with melancholy.

Christmas and Thanksgiving, although bitter-sweet, bring family together.  My girls are home.  We see grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.  Happy stories are relived and new memories are created.  Although I miss Lisa, I revel in the time with other loved ones.  Yet Halloween, which was orchestrated on Dellwood Drive in typical Lisa Tanner fashion, has simply left a void.

She was the one who decided we needed to have a neighborhood gathering each year before trick or treating.  The handful of kids on the block would parade from one end of the street to the other with pizza as their prize for completing the eighth of a mile hike.  Mrs. Eckles, an elderly woman who lived at 1417, pulled a 1950’s lawn chair to the curb and cheered us on as Cinderella, the Ninja Turtle and Hannah Montana proudly waved to the slight crowd.

Mrs. Eckles, like Lisa, is gone.

Ghoulish tunes and the Monster Mash played in the background on our front porch, the same CD repeated from 5pm until 9pm without ceasing.

Our early years left Lisa at home with Jeana, our neighbor, drinking wine in rocking chairs as they handed out treats.  The dads set out with PBR and wagons, stopping halfway at a friend’s house for our annual trick or treat potty break.  Hauling that three kidded wagon up Elvin Court, a cul-de-sac with a rapid descent, took more strength than bench pressing 200 pounds at the gym.

We had few rain nights over the years, but the one I remember was miserable.  An hour in I wondered to myself why I ever had children.

This year was my first kidless Halloween.  DJ is a college, trick or treating on Embassy Row in DC.  Stephanie had friends over to watch scary movies – dads not needed to protect anymore.  Michelle was invited to a friend’s house, a more appropriate trick or treat partner for a newly turned 13-year-old.

There was no music on the porch, simply a large bowl of candy and a sign that read Only take two or I will find you.  Of course, some bozo emptied it out about an hour in I understand.

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy this Halloween.  I had dinner with a friend and then met others for grown up conversation.  But man how times have changed.

I’m sure there would have been Halloween voids even if Lisa had lived.  We would have had to develop new rituals.  It isn’t likely I would be pulling around three teenagers in the Radio Flyer.  And yet, that realization is meaningless to me because I didn’t get that chance.

Someone hurts a little deeper on Veteran’s Day, which is an easy one for me.  It could be black Friday stings for the daughter who spent that day at the Factory Outlets with her mom who is no longer here.

I think sometimes grief magnifies the things that were most special to us about the ones we’ve lost.  Often it is something that we never considered would hurt us at all.

We Have To Do Something – NOW!

Early last week, I heard a news story that I just can’t shake.  Two men sort of cut each other off when merging lanes on a highway, and one went ballistic.  The first guy opened fire and killed the second guy’s four year old daughter.  Just got mad and boom, a child is dead.  All this over traffic.

I simply don’t understand.  I wonder if this murderer has ever experienced grief.  I simply can’t believe that if he has felt what I have felt he would do anything that could intentionally take a life.  How could you purposefully want to make someone feel the way I have felt?

My heart is also heavy for the families I see floating on overcrowded, flimsy rafts across the Mediterranean Sea.  How fortunate we are here in America.  Well, unless you happen to cut the wrong person off on I-95.

I watch the stories on ABC, and I see the faces, and I ache for them, until the newscast is over.  Then, I go meet a friend for an overpriced dinner out.

What in the hell is going on?  How can I eat Chinese takeout while checking Facebook when there are so many people in the world who are hurting the way I did several years ago?  How can I think about excessively celebrating Christmas when there are folks all around, even in my hometown, who don’t have the money to pay their rent?  How can I toss out half a sandwich because I filled up on a sleeve of sour cream and onion Pringles when 3.5 million children die each year because they DON’T HAVE ENOUGH FOOD TO EAT?

And each of those 3.5 million has a face, a name, an individual personality.  Each one has a mother and a father who misses them dearly.  Each is someone’s Lisa.

Day after day after day someone in my community dies needlessly – from a gunshot or a drunk driver or domestic abuse, and I just don’t know what to do about it.  Everyday thousands of people, thousands, die in places like Syria.

We have to do something.  We have to do something now.

Lights, Camera, Action


I guess that other families do this too but perhaps we are an anomaly.  If they don’t, perhaps they should.

The smallest, stupidest, things can bring our simple minds so much joy.

Last week when visiting DJ in DC, we discovered that our reading light, when turned the right way, was equivalent to a Broadway Show spotlight.  A Tanner just can’t resist the limelight, even if there is but an audience of three!

This is our rudimentary work.  We call it A Night at the Hamilton, the name of our hotel.



Boys’ Weekend!!


My daughters HATE it when I refer to time with my male friends as “boys’ night” or “weekend with the boys.”  Perhaps they would prefer Old Man Gathering.

Toss us a bone!  Let us be boys on occasion.

So the fellas and I hit Charleston, SC, a few weeks ago to get away and act like we were 19 again.  Only this time we didn’t need fake IDs.

We stayed in a VRO, Vacation Rental by Owner.  It was a beautifully renovated three bedroom Charleston style home nestled between a brothel and a crack house.  I think that’s why the price was right.


Thirty years ago, the location could have been interesting, but this time, we didn’t focus on connecting with our neighbors.

The great thing about being 50-year-old boys is that we now have the money to dine at really nice restaurants and pay for top shelf liquor.  The bad thing about being 50-year-old boys is that the dinner gives us gas and one drink pretty much seals the night.

There were a ton of cute women prowling around downtown at 11 PM.  They were about the same age as DJ.  Oooooo.  I wonder if they could tell we were older.

We had a great time watching TV shows like Naked and Afraid, walking by the crack house at 1 AM, ogling women and pulling each others’ fingers.  Oh, and we qualified for the AARP discount at lunch.

The best of both worlds.



Birthday Buddies in Bow Ties!

The day after Lisa died, I sent an email to a group of friends asking them to meet me in the church fellowship hall thirty minutes before her Memorial Service.  I told them we would save seats for them up front in the sanctuary and that they would all walk in together, united.  I wanted to be able to look over and see those I knew would usher me through the intense shock and pain I was experiencing.

I also told them that they were the ones, like it or not, who were stuck with me, that I needed them to stand by me until I got my feet back up under me.

I think I underestimated their sticktoitiveness.

Last week, on my fiftieth birthday, five years after Lisa’s death, this incredible group of friends threw me a surprise party.  They rented out the second floor of a bar and filled it with the people in my life that I love the most.  When I walked up the steps, there they were, this incredible group of folk, who genuinely care about me.

It sort of blows my mind.  I haven’t been as good to them as they have been to me.  Man, am I blessed.

This past week, I was in Greenville, SC, speaking to a group of YMCA staffers.  After my talk, a woman came up to me with tears in her eyes.  She said, “I’ve heard you speak before.  I just want you to know that I keep you and your girls in my prayers.”

Maybe that’s why we’re all doing really well!

As I write, tears well up from my gut.  They aren’t tears for loss.  They are tears of knowing that I can never repay what has been given to me.

When praying, I sometimes struggle to remember those around me who hurt.  I forget the guy I met with a few weeks ago who recently lost his wife or the high school buddy who has been diagnosed with cancer.  They roll through my head on occasion, but I don’t have the same level of persistent, perpetual care that others have had for me.

My friends and family could write the handbook on caring for those experiencing grief.  For them, it isn’t a short story.  It’s an epic novel.  They’ve been working on it for five plus years.  I have this feeling that it will go unfinished.

Senior Citizen Puberty

Yesterday I turned the big 5 – 0.  Damn that’s old.

It’s ½ of 100.  Half a CENTURY.  I’ve lived FIVE DECADES.  Twenty five years, twice.  Geeze.

It’s not the number that bothers me.  Forty, fifty, sixty, thirty.  It’s just another day.  But it is more about the aging of my physical being.

At 4:50 AM on my birthday morning, I was at a gas station by the airport trying to fill up for a busy day ahead.  I could read the screen asking if I wanted a car wash.  I did not.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have a pair of glasses in my car so I couldn’t find the “no” button.  I had to restart the transaction three times before I finally pressed something that would allow me to move on.  So    dang    frustrating!

Last weekend we were going to a wedding so I wanted to clean up a bit.  Of course I showered and shaved, but there’s something about a special event that makes you feel like you need a good grooming.  So I got the expanda face mirror out and a pair of tweezers.  This hair pulling utensil was given to me as a gift.  It actually has a light on it.  Between the mirror and the random hair spotlight, nothing goes unnoticed.

I plucked the pom-pom sprigging from my ears, and it hurt like mess!  Who knew you could grow an ear toupee?

I remember my granddad’s ears.  He got to the point he shaved them, just like his face.  They turned gray.  Can’t wait for that genetic hand-me-down.

I then pulled out five eyebrow strands that were four times longer than their peers.  How does that happen?  Where do these mutant follicles come from?  Did I accidently splash Miracle Gro on them when watering the plants?  If I don’t pluck, my children hound me, beating down any sense of self-esteem I might have developed since I last saw them.

“Dad, you look like Albert Einstein.  It’s time to mow your brow!  Oh, and look at your ears.  Gross!”

My hip pops when I walk up stairs.  I’m gonna have to wait until I get on Medicare to get that thing replaced.  What if I get in the doughnut hole?

You know you’re getting old when you dread cutting your toenails.  It becomes such a chore.

I have to find time to sit down and somehow figure out how to get my toe close enough to my hand to make the transaction.  It wasn’t until my upper 40’s that I realized my toes were so far from my hands.  It really is a very long distance.

And pretzeling my leg into position is not the only issue.  My pinky toenail on the left side has double developed over my lifetime.  Like it has two times the thickness of any of my other nails.  Like bullet proof glass.

The good news is you couldn’t puncture the end of Mr. Pinkie with an ice pick.  Nuclear war?  He will survive.  By sixty I’m gonna need yard shears to ready for a special occasion.

This is like senior citizen puberty – suberty.

And AARP.  Couldn’t they mail the application a month or two AFTER your birthday?  You’re cruising along, all is good, and then you open the mailbox and there it is.  An envelope that essentially says Hello Old Fart!

Jiminy Christmas.



Rainbow Vomit

I love conversations with my daughters.  You just never know what they might say or what we might do.

On Saturday night, DJ called at midnight from Thurston Hall at The George Washington University.

“Hey dad.  What you doing?”

” I’m out at a dance club with all of my fifty year old friends doing jello shots!!  WHAT DO YOU THINK I’M DOING???  I’M IN BED!!”  I thought I should clarify, just in case.

I was so excited to hear her voice, the next hour of sharing was as if it was 10 AM (my peak time of day).

On Thursday I went to put Stephanie to bed, and she lamented that I was leaving town for the weekend with several of my buddies.  I was actually happy that she didn’t want me to leave even though had I been at home she would have essentially ignored. me.

She then pulled up her iPhone, and we spent the next 45 minutes vomiting rainbows:

It was awesome.

On the way to school last Wednesday morning, Michelle shared a fascinating piece of information.

“Dad, I heard that school is having to change the sweatshirt design.”

“Really?  I like the old one.  Why are they doing that?”

“Well, you know that the letters on the sleeve spell Titans?”


“So, when you pull your sleeves up, the A and the N disappear.”


“And… the S moves up!”

And in a whispered voice she dropped the bomb, “And you know what that spells!”

At least her Wordly Wise spelling lessons are sinking in.

I do enjoy my kids.

DC, here she comes!


Whew! It’s over. I dropped DJ off at college in a city with a population of 658,893. Well, now 894.

DC, full of vagrants, drug dealers, secret service agents, spies, politicians, eager boys who don’t have a curfew and DJ.  It does not help to know that Bill Clinton and Anthony Weiner also frequent the place.

I live in anticipation of a phone call, a text, a photo posted on Snapchat, a Facebook pic – give me anything!!  A crumb child, a crumb…

The drop off was less dramatic than the anticipation of the drop off. I was fearful the drive up would be five hours of angst. Well, it sort of was, but it was all traffic related. I actually discovered, at a friend’s suggestion, an app called Waze. When the traffic gets bad, a lovely voice comes over your phone and directs you to leave the highway. You then meander through side roads and neighborhoods, passing grandma’s house with the pumpkin patch, fenced in warehouses with parking lots full of toilets, and strip bars featuring the likes of Honey Berkshire. You also get to pick your handle. I’m Sheamus Ninja (I always wanted to be called Sheamus and a ninja is just cool).

Lisa’s parents accompanied us which was very helpful and a good distraction.

On Saturday, we drove to F Street which was blocked off for thru traffic. I parallel parked and was accosted by an eager upper classman. She gave me a ticket that marked the time I arrived, 12:21 PM, and the time I was expected to pull away from the coveted curb, 12:36 PM. We had exactly 15 minutes to unload DJ’s life. The only thing she didn’t take to college was a single sock with a blown out toe and her sisters. Every other item she had accumulated since birth was in my automobile.

Pops sat on the curb with the stacks and stacks of plastic bins, suitcases, lamps, and hangered clothes we had unloaded while Nana and a handsome co-ed move-in volunteer rolled a large cardboard cart to the elevator line. I began to haul the remainder of the items up the seven flights of stairs to the corner room created for two but housing four.

It took Nana 45 minutes to get on the elevator, and by the time she arrived at the room, she shared that Daniel, her new-found friend, roomed with a kid from Raleigh. She also shared that he wanted to get into the Business School but that “C” he had in calculus was holding him back. She learned of his lineage, his dating history, the average number of times he consumed alcohol his Freshman year, his preference of boxers, and the sororities with the worst reputations. Had she stayed at GW three more hours I feel certain DJ would have met all 1,200 students housed in her dorm.

After bed making, closet cramming, shoe storage constructing and picture hanging, the time had come. All of her roommates had left the room. I asked if she wanted us to wait for them to return. She said, “No. You can go.”

I went out to the hall, took a deep breath and pulled my sunglasses out of my pocket to cover my about to be watered up eyes. Everyone got a good laugh when I walked back in the room.  No one could 100% tell that my eyes were pooled with tears, although the fam knows me well enough to assume.

When I got to the car, just Michelle and me, I started convulsing. DJ had warned her, “You’ll be with dad alone. When (not if) he starts crying, it’s your responsibility to cheer him up. Don’t play any sappy music. Talk in that goofy voice that cracks him up.”

She tried her best but to no avail. I just had to get it out.

There’s something terribly difficult about sending your kid to college for the first time.  For me, it’s less about my fear for them and more about the end of something so incredibly wonderful.

Thus far, I have enjoyed each stage of my children’s lives as much, if not more, than the stage before. I’m going to hold onto that.

Letting Go

IMG_0802  IMG_0804  IMG_0806  IMG_0809

Next week I drop my oldest kid off at college.  How did it come to this?

I mean, I assumed she’d grow up, this should not be a surprise.  But damn Sam – I’ll be fifty this month, and she is gone.  In my mind, I am thirty-two, and she should be going to kindergarten.

She still has blonde curly hair, just like the day she entered this world.

At first glimpse, I thought Lisa had birthed a Smurf.  Her head was cone shaped, and her skin was blue.

“What’s wrong with our baby?,” I asked the nurse.  “She’s the color of Gatorade.  And her head is a triangle.”

“She’ll get her color,” the nurse assured me.  “She is the first through the birth canal.  She’s a pioneer!  Her head will smooth out.”

I was thankful I had an older brother.

I used to carry her on my shoulders.  I can’t do that anymore without risk of paralysis.

I read to her every night and most often we had a tickle party.

“Daaaaddy.  Will you tickle me?” she’d ask.

The moment I’d start she’d curl up into a ball and implore me to stop.

Even when she was older I’d pray with her each night, and we’d argue about who loved each other more.

“I love you the mostest!”

“No!  I love YOU the mostest!”

In high school, she danced like a champ, the most graceful girl on the stage.  I worked hard not to miss the special moments in her life, particularly over the past five years.  I wanted to be there since her mother couldn’t be.  I hope that one day I’ll have the opportunity to recount DJ’s life for the woman I most loved.

I was at a funeral last month for a man who was about a decade older than me.  His two daughters spoke at the service.  They both gushed about the father who had raised them.  As one shared memories of how he had parented, she said, and then he gave me wings, the greatest gift he could have given.

In theory, it doesn’t seem that hard.  She has to do all the work, all I have to do is let go.

And yet, what a scary thing to do.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 11,818 other followers