Thursday, August 25, 2022

A Day With a Man's Man (Legacy of a Man's Man)

 As we approach “Dads and Dudes #2”, it reminds me of a “man’s man” I knew as I host this event for the second time.  The design is (very) loosely based on an event he hosted many times over a couple of weekend days in Peoria, Illinois, and one that I was fortunate enough to participate in.  That weekend was modeled after “Wild at Heart” (book written by and retreat hosted by John Eldredge) and involved knife throwing (way before axe throwing was cool), four wheeling, trap shooting, shooting guns, paintball, lamb neck soup, and a giant fire in his “Lapa” where he displayed his mastery of the “art of the provocative question”.

Northwoods Community Church in Peoria was such a large church, so Rachel and I probably attended years before meeting Pete and Wanda Hanssen, and I don’t remember exactly how we all met, but I do remember the bone-crushing handshake and his South African accent.  It was either through Rachel’s connection with his wife Wanda or through the group of men I met through Northminster Presbyterian’s Great Banquet.  I do remember my introduction to Wild at Heart was through the Great Banquet Group, so the guys didn’t take much convincing to participate in this local “Wild at Heart” experience.

In early May this year, I learned that Pete had died nearly two months prior.  Unfortunately, I learned of it too late for me to be able to attend his celebration of life – one that I would have dropped everything to attend.

I reflected on the news and Pete and his impact on me for a couple of days before I collected my thoughts enough to call Wanda.  Some of my recollection included the facts that Pete was a former bush pilot in South Africa who moved to Peoria to help establish Wildlife Prairie Park.  I remember one of my conclusions about all of my reflecting was that he was truly a man’s man.  After catching up briefly, Wanda sent me the link to his memorial service, and it was validating to hear the theme over and over - “he was a man’s man”.

As a guy that grew up with an absent father, Pete is one of the men that had a fatherly impact on me - even though we didn’t spend a whole lot of time together.  During the “Wild at Heart” weekend, we sat around a fire in the “Lapa” (I have yet to construct a copy) and talked about God and real-life stuff (recall the “art of the provocative question”).  Like the encouragement that I should try to reconnect with my absent father, which I attempted a couple of times.  Pete followed up with me on that many times over the next couple of years.

All of that said, there is one day in particular that comes to mind where it was just he and I.  More manliness was crammed into that one day than other entire periods of my life. 

Here’s how that day came about.

One year for the Global Leadership Summit (GLS) – probably around 2008 – we hosted a group of friends before the event to encourage them to attend.  Pete and Wanda were already GLS attenders, so we invited them to the picnic at our house where I smoked a pork shoulder and ribs.  Pete seemed impressed, which surprised me because of his well-established “man’s man” status.

I was also surprised at future communication where he said things like, “I know nothing of this hot smoke game” and after smoking some meat of his own, his reference to the “cagey” process of maintaining the proper smoking temperature.  The conversations led to request to spend a day with him “showing him" the “hot smoke game”.

I don’t remember the outcome from the smoker or what we smoked, but I do remember him following up on my progress with my dad.  I also vividly remember some other events from the day – such as when Pete poured gas from his gas can on the burn pile and then made a line out about 20 feet to light it.  I laughed so much watching him do what they always tell you not to do that it made him laugh about doing something that was apparently routine to him. 

I was surprised when it lit without incident.  Another man’s man that influenced me when I was a bit younger had used gasoline to light the leaves we had raked into the ditch.  I still don’t know if the big “BOOM” that caused the leaves to skyrocket into the air and then gently float back down into the ditch was an expected outcome or not.

Since my son and I are outnumbered by my 4 daughters, I have tried to be intentional about doing some “manly” things together so he can learn to manage the cagey smoker temperature and understand the hot smoke game.  So instead of experiencing those firsts with a fill-in, he can experience them with his dad.

Pete knew part of his purpose here and has helped me remember mine.  When I think about all the mens’ lives he impacted, I’m grateful as are many of my Peoria friends.

I clearly thought of Pete when I hosted the first “Dads and Dudes” two years ago, and this year and the future years will remind me of his legacy. 

Maybe someday it can grow to the scale Pete had it going.  One of these days, I’ll get to work on that Lapa.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Skiing and Grief

One of my bucket list items was to ski in Colorado.  I am 45 and not a skier, though, so I don’t exactly know why it was on my bucket list.  It just was, and I was nervous due to my age and lack of experience.  I’ve skied once in my life when I was around 13 years old in Illinois.  So you know it was really just a big hill, nothing like the ~12,000 ft peak I took 60% of my kids to on Sunday.

I did sign us up for lessons, though, and after our two-hour training session, I was ready to quit for the day.  Even with three days to acclimate, I had fallen several times and I was out of energy.  The kids were disappointed I wouldn’t join them on the practice slope after we stopped for a break for lunch.  I thought… this doesn’t really check off my bucket list item, and I didn’t want to disappoint them, so I joined them on the practice slope.

I was relieved when I realized it wasn’t nearly as taxing as the lessons.  I still fell many times, though.  Once, I slammed so hard on my back, I thought, “I guess I don’t need a Chiropractor today.”  I hoped no one was watching.  I hoped my kids didn’t think I was pathetic.  They didn’t fall once all day on the practice slope.

I finally made it down twice in a row without wiping out.  I thought again, “This doesn’t really check skiing in Colorado off my bucket list.  I’m getting there, but this doesn’t count.”

Knowing my middle daughter was open to being adventurous and that she had hinted at going down the bigger slope – the one the ski instructor said takes 15 minutes to get to the top on the lift and can take an hour to get back down.  We talked about going and agreed that the instructor was likely exaggerating.  After all, the ski lift is slow and if it takes 15 minutes to get to the top, you wouldn’t ski that slow, so we agreed that even with breaks coming down, maybe 30 minutes tops.

It was a nice relaxing ride up and a chance to rest.  On the way up, we picked the easiest slope.  It was pretty much a straight shot to the bottom.  And if it were like the practice hill, we checked our calculations – we agreed again 30 minutes max.

As we exited the lift, we both immediately lost our balance and wiped out.  And we weren’t even on the slope yet.  I’m not sure if I lost my balance because her arms were flailing or if she lost hers because mine were.

The operator had to stop the lift.  That was embarrassing.  “Are you OK, big guy?”  We got up and out of the way quickly.  I gave myself grace and assumed the onlookers were thinking,  “Poor guy.  He’ll get it figured out.”

We started down the easiest slope, and I quickly learned it wasn’t really like the practice slope at all.  After wiping out twice and seeing my daughter come check on me and wait for me, I told her she didn’t need to wait for me and could ski at her own pace.  I didn’t want to hold her back.

The way down took me at least 1.5 hours.  I didn’t time it.  It might have been closer to 2. 

I had so many epic wipeouts, but I kept trying. 

I kept thinking, “Wiping out fortunately isn’t as bad as it looks.  It’s the energy required to get up and go for it again knowing I’ll wipe out again.”  Maybe it would have been different knowing I would be able to make it an appreciable distance before another wipeout.

I wasn’t making it far between wipeouts.  I wiped out 10 times.  At least. But I got up 11. At least.

I wasn’t really counting.  I just kept taking my time to rest before getting back up.  Psyching myself up thinking I’d finally get the hang of it this next go.  I took my time and thought about the ways this journey was like my grief journey.  I stopped to appreciate the view and took the attached picture.

About halfway down, I noticed a lady in a similar situation.  Alternating cycles of wiping out and resting.  I felt some sort of solidarity with her.

Not much longer after halfway, I finally gave up and decided I would just walk down the rest of the way.  I had hiked a 14er after all, and although my boots weren’t nearly as comfortable as my hiking shoes, they seemed more supportive, so my joints weren’t sore at all.  However, if I got into softer snow, my foot quickly sank so that I was up to my knees in snow.  It took so much energy to extract myself and crawl to firmer ground.

After a couple more attempts on her part to ski, my partner in solidarity started walking too.  Maybe I gave her the courage to decide it was ok to walk the rest of the way.

Her and I alternated passing one another and taking breaks.  I made a couple of jokes here and there to keep our journey a little lighter.  “Have you considered laying face down on your skis and riding to the bottom like you’re on a sled?  I have.”

At one point, I commented, “Hey, we have a long way to go but look how far we’ve come” as I looked down and then up where we had been.  She said she appreciated that.  At one point, she said, “This is the easiest slope here, but it’s definitely not for beginners.”  I guess we both had to find out for ourselves.

I had to take a couple of long breaks during which my travel companion made it to the bottom while I had at quite a way left to go.  I was happy for her, yet I also knew I couldn’t push it too hard, or I’d have ski patrol taking me down involuntarily.

Walking in those boots and sinking in the snow a little with every step was taxing enough and just holding the skis was taxing my hands, arms, and shoulders.  So when a lady stopped and asked if she could take my skis to the bottom for me, I accepted her help without hesitation.  I asked her name: “Diane”.  At least I think that’s what she said.  I was so exhausted I don’t remember.  I wanted to express my undying love for her but realized that probably wasn’t as funny as I thought it would be.  Plus she was wearing a wedding ring, and her husband also wouldn’t think that was funny.  I didn’t see him around, though.  Yet I refrained.

“Diane” skied down the slope with the skis on her shoulder like it was nothing.  Just casually meandering down the slope.  She probably made it in 30 seconds compared to the 15 to 20 minutes I still had to finish.

After I reached the bottom, I walked directly to the equipment rental room to shed the ski equipment as soon as I possibly could.  As I entered, I ran into my “hiking” companion and her family.  Her mom thanked me profusely, so although I wasn’t sure I had had an impact, it was validation that I had.  Even though I was struggling (and actually finished AFTER her), I was still able to provide some sort of support along the way.  I told her mom we might have motivated each other but she still won.

As I reflect over the experience and try to capture the thoughts I had about how it reminded me of my grief journey, I remember thinking the following:

-          Falling down is a lot easier than mustering the energy to keep getting up.

-          I was aware of what I needed along the way – rest and to change my approach, and I acted on that awareness

-          I accepted help without hesitation

-          I felt mostly alone in my journey – except for this other person that was in a similar predicament and the lady that I have undying love for…

-          I had to let go of my image of what skiing would be like and get into the reality of the situation

-          Skip the chiropractor and go skiing

The only difference might be that I knew exactly where I was going – the bottom of the hill to meet my kids.  Were they wondering if I was OK?  In grief, though, I didn’t know which way was up.  Yet I still knew I needed to continue to meet my kids.  Daily.  That kept me going.

Maybe most importantly for me, though, was a new insight I hadn’t considered before: struggling people can help struggling people.  We can help and encourage one another no matter where we are on the path.

But… this still didn’t count as skiing in Colorado as far as I’m concerned.  I suppose I’ll need to try it again.  And as my kids suggested before our trip, it would probably be wise to practice at our local ski area before going back.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Blind Spots

Today, a friend posted a meme that said something about us loving an honest person until the honest person strikes a chord with a truth we’re not ready to receive.

It reminded me of a Leadership Summit I attended since we’ve been in Kansas City.  I don’t remember who the speaker was, but what he said has always stuck with me: “Everyone has an average of 3.4 blind spots.”  The challenge was precisely to be ready and open for feedback on things about ourselves that we don’t see but others do.

Talk about blind spots.  Wow.  Although pride would probably like to think it was my openness to self-reflection, it was probably really the sheer weight and force of the grief that persisted, insisted, and required me to review and reflect over literally everything.  

Seemingly trivial things we decided together over a number of years like:

  • At Culver’s who is the one to take the kids to a suitable table and get everyone settled while the other gets drinks, lids, straws, napkins, and ketchup?

  • Which way does the toilet paper go on the holder?  (By the way, it clearly goes over as indicated by the flowers being right-side up on one brand).

  • What about the toilet seat?  (Everyone puts both the lid and the seat down.  Not only is it fair and doesn’t make it a male vs female issue because then everyone has to do a little work every time, it also just looks better).

Yet also things like recognizing where I was a constraint in our relationship, and not helping but feel like I was THE constraint.  I look back and wonder even more than I used to how you “put up” with me.  If I could only talk to you again about the things I see now.  If only I knew then what I know now.  I’m deeply saddened to think about how much further we could have gone.

Yet I didn’t know what I didn’t know.  But now I know and it makes me responsible for knowing.  And now I know that there’s plenty I don’t know.  Did you get lost in what I just said like I did?  Like in the movie “The Burbs”:  “Now they know that we know that they know that we know.”  Or something along those lines…

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

"The Lawn Looks Nice"

Every once in awhile, it just hits.  I mean REALLY hits.  Saturday was one of those days when I don't really know if I'm having a huge pity party or just allowing myself to feel again.  Either way, I try to allow it when I recognize it.  Sadness.  Loneliness.  Pain.  Sorrow.  Etc.

On Saturday, I was really missing... Saturdays.  There was always something special about Saturdays.  Me sometimes making breakfast or taking one of the kids on a breakfast date while Rachel slept in and had a (relatively) easy morning that generally had no commitments.  The division of responsibilities that had just naturally developed over the years as we grew together and grew our family - mowing and taking care of other maintenance around the house.  Grilling in the evening and just hanging out.  Watching "Star Trek" and "Svengoolie" on our TV that is just connected to an antenna.

A very specific memory sitting with Caroline and Mr Blue Eyes on the driveway after an enjoyable Saturday.  Watching a storm roll in and feeling like everything was right in our world.

And now, continuing to recognize that contentedness and security no longer exist like that.  And a loneliness pervades.

Sometimes, I get a very specific insight into a generally feeling, and one thing in particular stood out to me as I was mowing.  Hearing Caroline say, "The lawn looks nice".  Wow.  Seemingly trivial words that really energized me.  Just remembering that as I was finishing up boosted me as if she was saying it to me again.  And while it was a positive memory, it was also a deeply sad.

I'm still trying to figure out if there is purpose beyond just for me to express and get things in writing for myself and my kids... Is there a bigger purpose like directly challenging couples to not take these things for granted and encourage each other?  Is what I've written enough to challenge indirectly without directly stating a challenge?

Or should I really be tackling bigger issues like... why do I feel like I keep switching from two spaces after each sentence to one space?  And which way do I really like it?  Keep it old school?  Wait, why exactly are there two spaces anyway and why is it changing so that it's now acceptable for one space?

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Back to the Future


I've not written much since my first post months ago and have had several thoughts along the way that are in draft form, but the last couple of weeks have been particularly difficult for various reasons. As I thought about writing out my recent experience, I realized it didn't fit your original intent to capture family stories. After some more thought, I was able to tie in some recent and past events as well that include some of those funny stories.

I decided the "new" purpose would be to try to capture some stories for us to remember but also give the kids some insight into how I have been processing and dealing with the new life in the hopes it also helps them along the way. I hope to help them develop an emotional toolkit much earlier in life than I have.

The title seems appropriate as I think about the past and future a lot and how to apply past learning in a more forward/productive direction.

When I was a boy and someone said, "Hey", the canned response was, "Hay is for horses. And pigs like you." Recently, I imparted that knowledge to the kids... You'll certainly recall my tendency to do those things you may not approve of 100%... Mr. Blue Eyes apparently now uses that phrase regularly. I learned this recently because when I need to get the kids' attention, I simply say, "Hey." Mr. Blue Eyes recently responded, "Hay is for horses and..." and he stopped mid-response as he turned to look at me. I guess he thought better of saying that to dad.

That story reminded me of the time I let the kids watch "Back to the Future" against your advisement. That movie resulted in Carrie once asking you, "What are you looking at, butthead?" I, of course, could not contain my giggling. Disbelief. Thinking you were right about not letting them watch it... Thinking how I would just laugh it off and correct her if she had said it to me... Thinking your response would be exactly what it was and awaiting the impending punishment for Carrie (and me...). Apparently, Mr. Blue Eyes knows better about such things than Carrie did.

I have had two very vivid - and rare - dreams with you in them lately. In the first, you were smiling and waving from across a street. Although I woke up crying, it was refreshing to see you and your smile. In the second, you were back. You were here. Nothing else mattered as I ran up to you and picked you up and hugged and kissed you. Those dreams really took me back. The resulting powerful emotions. A lot of journaling and allowing the emotions and not being able to cry even though I felt like it and wanted to.

Those dreams come as I think and attempt to move into a new romantic future. Desiring to love and be loved like that again. But knowing it is not as "easy" as it was when we were 17. In fact, it wasn't easy for the 22 years we were together. Back then it seemed as simple as, "I like you and you like me, we share values, let's go out". But there was no way to know back then that either of us would make and maintain the commitment as long as we did and work through some difficult times to get to where we were. I have to remind myself that we didn't know back then, and I can't know now, how someone will handle a relationship. It seems like much more of a gamble at this stage of life - particularly with so many different factors to consider that didn't need consideration back then.

Ours was not a relationship of convenience, and I certainly don't want that now. It evolved into one of unexplainable depth and intimacy. But what is that elusive "recipe" now to achieve the depth of intimacy and relationship that we shared? How many  people even understand what that is like? Probably the bottom line questions I'm wrestling with: Am I worthy of experiencing unconditional love twice in my life and, if so, does the other person understand what it really takes? Will I remember what it really takes? Do I have the fortitude to do it again? How do I ratchet back that depth to some more surface level and develop that depth over time instead of delving right in? How do I let it develop naturally without trying to determine up front whether or not it has the ability to be developed?

After some responses and some text messages I've seen, I feel I should clarify a little... Questions also include whether or not I really want to give up the freedom I have doing whatever I want whenever I want to do it (such as letting the kids watch "Back to the Future"??? Ok maybe a lot more than that). My point being it's a lot to think about. I'm not desperate or depressed. I could easily jump into a wrong relationship but have guarded against that fairly well, I think.

It feels like I'm being a bit of a victim while I type this out... As my counselor rightfully points out from time to time.

It still seems unimaginable that you are gone. Just seeing rocking chairs this last week and remembering talking about the days when we are old and on our front porch in rocking chairs playing with grandchildren. That will never happen.

But we are still looking forward and trying to navigate our new lives the best way we can as we direct our attention "Back to the Future".

Always Yours,


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Your Smile

Dear Caroline,

I had a very vivid dream last night where you were standing across a street waving and smiling to me.

I miss your smile. I miss your laugh. I miss your presence. Such an amazing woman in every regard.

So intense at times. I'm thankful you don't have to endure this.

Thank you for the reminder in my dream last night. It was good to see your smile.

Always yours,


Monday, June 5, 2017

Legacy, Intentionality, and Bitterness


I've thought about continuing your blog.  So many things to write about over the last 15 months and continue your legacy of documenting stories for our family.

I get to choose the adventure, so why not just jump into last weekend?

Ma took Mary, Half-Pint, Carrie, Gracie, and Mr Blue Eyes to our hometown last Tuesday. I missed them all before they even left. When Ma reported that just before I called Wednesday night that Carrie had just said, "I like it here, but I miss dad," I knew that I wanted to make the long drive to see them over the weekend rather than wait another full week.

I kept my visit a surprise, and we all enjoyed the surprise and our time together. From taking Mary on a "date" to the farm store to swimming to dinner from one of our favorite restaurants. There were plenty of hugs and kisses as we loved on one another.

Half-Pint had made a trip to our other former hometown to see friends, and I surprised her Saturday by showing up at the halfway point to pick her up.

I was able to talk to one of your friends about some of the events over the last year. She commented that the kids all seem to be full of Joy and that I don't seem to be harboring bitterness. I don't think I ever felt or thought "why me". I kept repeating a phrase to myself that a mentor had used years before about work. "Better get into reality." It didn't really matter how much I wanted things to be different. I have to get into reality.

I do remember thinking at one point that it should have been me instead of you. But I quickly realized I would not have wished this pain on you.

My problem has been thinking too much about where I failed. But I can choose to dwell or learn. I think I'm better at choosing to learn. That is the only productive thing I can do with it. Or wondering how you could love me the way you did. Sadly, your unconditional love didn't seem quite as clear to me until after you were gone.

Recently, I have been feeling like I'm hitting a good new groove (after extensive "emotional heavy lifting" as I call it) and was excited to go see the kids. But on my way to our home state, the emptiness and emotional waves began to strike.

A widower I met told me that year two is worse than year one. I am not sure about worse - just different. I experienced some very powerful - sometimes incapacitating - emotional waves in year one. Year one seemed to be about survival and having to do this. Year two seems to be more of, "OK, now who are we" without you here. I don't know where I would be without the kids. I told someone this and they remarked, "Where would the kids be without you." Wow.

We all learned what unconditional love is from you and will do our best to continue your legacy. I pray that our children will choose to live as intentionally as you did after the loss of your father at a young age.

Love Always,