Tag Archives: friends

The Fall of Life

orentreesFall in New England is beautiful decay.

Autumn’s appeal is not always readily apparent if you’re still blinded by summer’s glare. That’s understandable. Summer is exuberant and full. Summer is heat and life and everything dazzling in bloom as the sun splashes its warm rays on our cheeks. Summer is fun and vibrant with the sun coming out to play longer than at any point during the year. For these reasons, summer has better PR than the other seasons on which it throws considerable shade.

In the fall of 2014, I drove to meet my friend Oren Miller in the autumn of his life. It would be the last time I’d ever see him.

I, along with Sam, made the two-hour drive from my house to Lake Richmond in the Berkshires (western Massachusetts) with equal parts eagerness and anxiety. I was dying to see Oren, his wife Beth, and his two kids Liam and Madeline while they were on vacation. But I was anxious because I might slip and inadvertently say the word “dying” to a guy diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer just five months prior. Actually, I didn’t know what to say or how to say it. And when I don’t know what to say it seems I say EVERYTHING all at once, digging new holes to fill in the hole I just dug for myself and — see? This. I do this.

If you’re a dad blogger, Oren is a metaphorical giant. He took a bunch of disorganized lone wolves and created a Dad Bloggers Facebook pack. I know it sounds simple, but at the time it was unprecedented in our community. Armed only with his Golden Rule of “don’t be a dick,” he brought together more than 1,000 dads from all over the world and created an invaluable community of personal support and professional development. No small feat with such large personalities.

But when I pulled into the driveway of the sleepy lake house and saw him at the door, my heart sunk. He was now a giant in reputation only, the chemo clearly having taken its toll. Even as I gently hugged his shrinking frame, I saw his gaunt face wince in an attempt to mask the pain. And yet his eyes — sharp and exacting. Measuring everything. Calculating. Still Oren.

I don’t know what I was expecting upon meeting the family members of a man doctors said would be dead in a matter of months, but I was immediately struck by one jarring emotion.


Despite all the emotional upheaval the Miller family had endured, I walked into a zen-like setting. I immediately saw why Oren fell in love with Beth, who struck me as sweet and loving, but also whip-smart and fiery when need be. As they joked with and ribbed one another, I could see exactly how her sense of humor mixes perfectly with Oren’s sarcastic wit.

And while Liam and Madeline were aware something was wrong with their dad, they showed no sign that anything was amiss. They immediately took Sam in the corner to play with toys while the adults sat down and chatted like old friends. Any worries I had about feeling anxious or ill at ease evaporated instantly, which is vintage Oren. He’s always more concerned about everyone else before himself.

Also, that feeling of peace is amplified when this is the view from your back deck.

I used this picture on the last blog post. That was the view from our deck in MA.

A photo posted by @orenmil on

Although the plan was to head to the Norman Rockwell Museum, Oren looked like he was struggling so I offered to just hang out at the house and talk. However, he was having none of that. He had promised his friends and family something, and normalcy was to be the order of the day. So off we went.

It was just a week or two past prime leaf-peeping season in New England, and many of the trees were already half-bare. The colors had shifted from blazing reds, yellows, and oranges to a darker muddled brown, but there was still plenty of eye-popping color to be witnessed if you looked around a bit.

We walked around in the crisp Stockbridge air and felt the pristine eyes of Nature upon us. The kids ran ahead up paths, summoned by the universal and inescapable pull of curiosity that drives children everywhere to be the first to see what’s over the next hill. Oren plodded along steadily. Always steady and sure, even when slow-going wasn’t a necessity due to cancer.

At the top of the next hill, we paused. His two kids playfully argued about who would be the next to push Sam’s stroller. I smiled as I looked out over the very same meadows Norman Rockwell himself used to garner inspiration for his next Saturday Evening Post cover. And then I saw Oren and Beth, lost in a moment together.


It’s easy to admire someone’s beauty in the full bloom of life. Oren was in the late autumn of his existence, yet somehow managed to put summer to shame. The symbolic journey from the tree of life to the ground below is no doubt sad in many ways. And for some, especially those who pass before their time, it’s an endeavor fraught with denial and bitterness.

However, Oren showed it’s all in how you play your cards.

The truly blessed among us realize the last leg of the journey is still part of the adventure. And like the leaves of late autumn, there is still time to be seen. To inspire. To bravely blaze a final path so bright and beautiful it will be imprinted in our minds for time eternal, forever an inspiration to those who saw it. And those who retell it.

And retell it we will. Not just because Oren is our friend, but because it’s the story of a man that deserves widespread recognition.

A man who learned he had less than a year to live and immediately penned this gem, giving instructions to whichever man would ultimately marry his wife and help take care of his children. A man who continued contributing to and running the Facebook group he began to help dads, even while going through torturous chemo treatments. A man who is so esteemed in our community, we decided to name scholarships after him which will be used to send financially-challenged dads to the Dad 2.0 Summit aimed at promoting involved fatherhood.

But most notably, Oren is a man who stood up and bravely fought a battle he knew he couldn’t win. And I’m not sure there’s anything more courageous than that.

At this moment, the last leaves are falling for Oren. I wish him and his family peace and as little pain as possible, and I send to them all of our heartbroken gratitude and admiration. Beth, Liam, and Madeline — I’m so sad for you. But taking a page from Oren’s book, I’m also so thankful you had him as a husband and father. And thank you for sharing him with us.

Our insufficient words and stories will never do Oren justice, but we will do our utmost to honor the legacy he leaves behind. And every autumn when the trees are on fire in their incomparably beautiful march toward winter, I’ll think of you and your example.

I love you, my friend.


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The Perfect Family Photo

I have to admit, I was not looking forward to our family photo shoot last week. Why? I have several reasons.

First of all, well — just look at me! I’m not exactly photogenic thanks to a face that would make a train take a dirt road. That’s a fact that’s magnified tenfold when you put me next to my gorgeous wife and son. But what I dread even more than that is all the other crap that goes along with the family photo. What are we gonna wear? Where do we take the pictures? Do we all have to match? When can we do it? But the most important question — at least to me — was choosing the right photographer who is not only affordable, but who wouldn’t land us on one of the many websites solely devoted to awkward family photos.

And that’s when I got a timely email from an old college classmate.

In addition to being one of the very first readers of this blog, Meri Belanger is the owner of Sootie Studios where she is — wait for it — a professional photographer. I remember her being very talented in the arts at school, but I was nervous to take her up on her offer of doing a family photo shoot. Mainly because I was worried about not liking the pictures and then not being able to give her a good review. The dangers of working with friends and family.

Luckily, that turned out to be a non-issue.

As you can see by looking at these pictures, Meri is insanely talented. But there are some other things you need to consider that make these photos even more impressive:

  • It was hotter than 90 degrees that day
  • We were sweating like crazy
  • There was a 4-year-old involved
  • There was a crazy golden retriever involved

That’s no easy task to be outdoors in a public place (Borderland State Park in case you were wondering), with a kid and a dog in suffocating heat. But Meri not only took great shots, she did it quickly and efficiently. Probably because she’s also a mom of two kids so she gets it.

The other thing I really appreciated was Meri’s prep work. I really wanted to avoid the studio setting with a canvas background and stupid poses, but I wasn’t sure where we should go. So Meri suggested a few places and we settled on a great state-owned park in Easton, Mass. She did some advance scouting and had a bunch of specific spots picked out ahead of time. And she listened to my requests about not posing and just capturing us in our (mostly) natural state, and was able to get some really terrific candids.

You guys know I don’t do many reviews and I don’t recommend products or people I wouldn’t use myself. But I can promise you with absolute certainty that if you choose to go with Meri at Sootie Studios, you’ll be incredibly happy. And you’ll probably go back because she does newborn/maternity pictures, kids birthday parties, senior pictures, graduation pictures, weddings and any other event you can think of. That’s why it’s my

pleasure to recommend someone who is not only a professional and wonderful

photographer, but also a fellow parent and a friend.

So if you’re in southeastern Massachusetts and you want some fantastic pictures that don’t break the bank, done by a truly nice person who’s also a mom, check out Meri here or here and follow the contact information on her website to set up an appointment.

And on a personal note, I want to thank Meri for our awesome photos. Not only didn’t I end up on Awkward Family Photos, we now have a bunch of pictures that will grace our walls for years. We’re even going to give them to family members as gifts. I’ve never been happier to be wrong in my life!

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The FatSlap Conclusion & A Half Marathon

I don’t usually toot my own horn, so this feels a little odd and foreign to me. Like Lebron James winning a championship. But we have some loose ends to tie up around these parts and while I don’t say it often — I’m proud of myself dammit.

I know I’m guilty of letting the FatSlap updates slide around here, but it’s not because I abandoned it. In fact, I won the last two rounds! I don’t have the final pictures of Alex and Dave because those lazy bastards haven’t gotten them to me yet, so I’ll give you my final stats. Or better yet, they say a picture’s worth a thousand words. So here you go:

Before: 281 lbs After: 224 lbs

















Total Weight Loss: 57 lbs!
















When the dust settled, I lost a total of 57 lbs. From 281 lbs on Jan. 1 to 224 lbs now. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not there yet because I still have 25 lbs to go — but I’m pretty proud of myself. I made a commitment to tracking everything I ate, eating less, eating smart, and exercising. I ran in the freezing cold, snow and through the predawn blackness. I ran on the treadmill, basically lived on the elliptical machine, and even lifted a few weights. I pushed through injuries, did a lot of research, surrounded myself with people in a similar position and fed off the enthusiasm and support from everyone — especially MJ and Will.

But most of all I ran.

Perhaps the best thing about this experience was falling in love with running again. I did cross-country in high school and loved it, even getting down to a 5:55 mile at one point. Not nearly the fastest time, but I was always built for comfort and not speed. What I lacked in quickness I made up for in endurance. Which is why I nearly quit in January when I couldn’t even run a half-mile without keeling over and nearly passing out.

But I stubbornly kept at it. Each time I ran a little farther and a little faster. One mile, two miles and finally up to a 5k distance. It was slow and ugly, but that’s kinda my thing. And by March a funny thing happened — I stopped dreading morning runs. Instead, I began looking forward to them. Needing them even. You could almost say I craved them. And as my distances began creeping up even higher, a very strange and mystifying thought occurred to me.

“Could I possibly run a half marathon?”

Running 13.1 miles all at once seemed crazy. It might as well have been the moon. It was MJ who told me I could do it. Insisted I could do it. And then demanded I do it. If not for her unwavering confidence in me, I’m not sure I would’ve signed up for the Old Sandwich Road Race in Plymouth. But I did. Less than 5 months removed from weighing a whopping 281 lbs and not being able to drag my fat ass up the stairs, I ran the race and hoped for a best-case scenario time of 2 hours and 20 minutes.

I ran it in 2:14:13 instead.

I finished in 176th place. Usually I’d scoff at receiving a medal for finishing 176 out of 220 and want to punch anyone who was bragging about it. But not this time. This time I’m just immensely proud of myself for setting a goal and following through.

It is not easy to run a half marathon — especially for a fat guy with shin splints and bad knees. But I did it.

I did it for MJ because she picked up so much extra slack during the last five months while I went to the gym and for long runs. Even though she would NEVER admit that I was so fat she became less physically attracted to me, I know that’s the truth of the matter. She could barely get her arms around me before, and now — well, let’s just say this weight loss has been good in more ways than one!

I did this for my son. I didn’t want Will to have a fat dad who can’t do anything physical. It’s not fair to him that I got out of breath playing simple games and couldn’t chase him around the yard for more than a few minutes at a time without having a heart attack. As an added bonus, Will is paying attention to what he eats and asking if certain foods are healthy. He also recently asked me if he could run with me when he gets older. I nearly broke down in tears I was so happy to hear that from him.

But most of all, I did this for me.

I joked a lot about being the funny fat guy, but I always hated it. I hated being fat. I hated being unhealthy and grotesque. They say fat is beautiful and we should all just be ourselves — screw that. I didn’t want to be fat anymore because it’s not a healthy situation, so I did something about it.

And now I just feel…better. In every respect. I feel full of energy because I’m exercising and eating right. But more importantly, I feel confident for the first time in years. I know I’m still a big guy and I have more work to do, but I don’t mind looking in the mirror these days. And I can fit into all my own clothes — clothes that don’t involve XXL on the tag anymore. Shirts that button around my neck. Pants that actually close around my waist. It’s nice to wear garments that don’t double as Xerox copy machine covers.

I’m not giving out advice because who the fuck am I? All I’ll say is it’s never too late to get started and have success. You just have to really, truly want it and be willing to sacrifice to get it. But let me tell you, when you work for months and get to literally cross the finish line and complete a goal you thought was impossible — it’s all worth it.

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FatSlap Round 2: This One Hurt!

If you’re wondering what the hell FatSlap is, stop and read this. Go ahead, I’ll wait. You back? Then let’s proceed.

So as you know, Alex beat me in Round 1 by losing 50 lbs to my 21 lbs. This month we had an interesting monkey wrench thrown in when our friend Dave joined. As you might be able to guess, with Dave just beginning his weight loss he had the added advantage because Alex and I were plateauing. And, true to form, he ended up coming out on top.

Dave lost 20 lbs last month, a loss of 6%. That beat Alex’s 20 lbs lost, good for 5.7%. And even though I lost 12 lbs, I came in last with a monthly weight loss of 4.6%. Which means not only does slap me and Alex, Alex gets to slap me as well.

If you’re wondering how I handled this, I’ll refer you to one of my favorite movies, Good Will Hunting. There’s a scene in that movie when Matt Damon is talking to Robin Williams about his abusive foster father:

Will: He used to just put a belt, a stick, and a wrench on the kitchen table and say, “Choose.”
Sean: Well, I gotta go with the belt there, Vanna.
Will: I used to go with the wrench.
Sean: Why?
Will: Cause fuck him, that’ why.

I figured if I was gonna get smacked, I was going to make it worth my while. So I proceeded to taunt, berate, mock and terrorize Dave for weeks. And it all culminated on our 4-hour ride up to Saratoga last week for a guys weekend with all my college friends, which is where the slaps took place. I questioned his manhood pretty much the entire time. So when it was finally his turn to slap me — well, see for yourself.

Yeah. I won’t lie, that shit hurt. But look at how much he completely pussed out when it came time to hit a guy who’s bigger than he is. Pathetic. But that’s OK, I’ll make it up to them both when I slap the bejesus out of them next month.

I won’t bore you too much with our progress but I’m proud of myself and these other two clowns. We’ve lost almost 125 lbs combined, but that doesn’t even begin to describe the positive effects resulting from this lifestyle change. Now that I’m 30 lbs lighter I can play with Will again without needing oxygen. I can walk up stairs without wheezing. I can run 3.65 miles in 40 minutes and I own the elliptical machine. Even incorporated some free weights and lifting into my routine.

The point is we’re all healthier and feeling better. Our lives are genuinely improving, and it looks like this might be more of a lifestyle change than a fad. Which is awesome.

Here’s the visual proof. I’ve included the first pictures to the most recent, going from left to right.

First up is Dave:














Next is Alex:













And finally, me:

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Why I Don’t Want Any New Friends

There was a time — back in my youth before life made me jaded and cynical — when I loved meeting new people. It didn’t matter if they were friends of friends, strangers I’d befriend at the bar or even people I’d talk to online and then meet up with in real life. I was young, carefree and didn’t have a worry in the world. The more the merrier.

But now my motto is “no mas.”

I suppose it’s more than a little hypocritical for a blogger and communications major to say he hates meeting new people and making new friends. But it’s true. At least in real life. Meeting people online is great because, let’s face it, we communicate via Facebook status updates, comments and 140 characters at a time. It’s not like having “real life” friends because you can tune out or log off online. But in real life that’s not an option.

I love my friends. Both my real life friends and my online friends. But simply put, I’m done making new real life friends.

I know that makes me a misanthrope but I don’t care. I’m officially old, stubborn and set in my ways on this front. My real life friends have been there for years and they’re used to me. Because let’s face it — I’m not easy to get along with. I’m crass, brash, bold, loud and obnoxious. I make fun of everyone and everything, while expecting the same thing in return. Every time I hang out with my friends it’s basically a Comedy Central Roast. Nothing is sacred. But at the same time, no one takes offense. I don’t have to worry about offending them, making small talk with them or placating them with bullshit. It’s a nice little arrangement.

In a nutshell, I want to keep the friends I have and put a bubble over my world with a sign that says “New Friends Need Not Apply.”

But I made one big tactical error regarding my Bubble Plan.

MJ. She’s going back to school and still battling a host of medical maladies. In an effort to break her out of her funk, I told her to interact more with her classmates. In my head that meant study partners, homework buddies, etc. I never imagined — not even for a second — my advice might have repercussions outside the classroom. More to the point, I didn’t think it would ever affect me. Whoops.

“Hey babe, we’re going out to dinner Friday night,” MJ said to me a couple of weeks ago.

“Cool. Is it just you and me?” 

“No. We’re going out with friends,” she said with a hesitation that gave me pause.

“OK. Who? Dave and Amanda?”


“Vic and Alicia?”


“Craig and Kelly?” I said with a curious inflection.

“Nope,” she said, turning her face away from me which is what always happens when she’s about to deliver bad news.

“Well that’s curious since that about exhausts the list of friends with whom we can easily go out to dinner. What’s going on?”

“OK, don’t be mad but — “

I knew I was in trouble right away. Every husband knows nothing good has ever followed the words “Don’t be mad but…” And that’s when she told me she made dinner plans with a friend of hers from class. My jaw hit the floor. Partially because MJ had completely ignored the “No New Friends” rule, but also because it’s so out of character for MJ to put herself out there like that.

“Really?” I said with a mix of disgust and surprise. “Who is this girl??”

“Well,” she said. “Don’t be mad but…”

Yup. A double dose of trouble. MJ went on to tell me weren’t just going out with her friend from class, we were going out with her boyfriend. Alarm bells and sirens started going off in my head as the word “WARNING! WARNING!” repeatedly sounded through my brain.

Since I’m incapable of hiding my emotions and I have no filter, the look on my face must’ve told MJ exactly what I thought about her plans. But I can’t help it. I automatically think of all the forced small talk, the get-to-know you background conversations, the how-did-you-meet stories. And all the while I’m fighting the urge to check my email, jump on Facebook and tweet about what a horrible time I’m having.

Yes, I’m a dick. I know. And so does MJ. That’s why she wasn’t surprised at my complaining. I told her I hate the get-to-know you crap, the niceties and polite dinner conversation asking all the usual questions. Which is why she cringed when she dropped the third bombshell on me.

“Well, actually you can’t ask them about how they met or any of that stuff. They just broke up.”

“Uhhhh…what?” I said in disbelief.

“Yeah. They broke up. But she’s hoping this dinner will help get them back together.”

Boom. There it is.

We haven’t even been out with these new people yet and it’s already more trouble than it’s worth. Sure I hate the usual small talk, but at least it’s an option. Now MJ gives me a list of questions I’m not even allowed to ask them. Furthermore, she told me I had to pretend I didn’t know they were broken up because it would just cause unnecessary drama. I’ve never even met these people and I’m already mixed up in their personal relationship issues. It’s bad enough to go out with new people and find out their weird idiosyncrasies and peccadilloes in due time, but this is a whole other ball of wax. This is craziness right off the bat and the whole thing is starting off based on lies — they’re lying about still being together and I’m lying about not knowing about their break up.

All I can picture is going out for dinner with two people who’ve spent the last week fighting and having several of those 6-hour should-we-or-shouldn’t-we-break-up marathons. After a few drinks they start bickering with each other and throwing out little verbal jabs. Then comes the screaming match complete with a drink thrown in his face, followed by the two of them storming out of the restaurant before they can pay their portion of the check, which the waitress just dropped in our lap.

This is what happens when you open The Bubble!!

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