Commentary

Saunders: After wife's death, Raleigh father learns to wrangle 3 daughters

bsaunders@newsobserver.comDecember 2, 2013 

Laughter, Tears and Braids, A fathers journey through losing his wife to cancer by Bruce Ham

  • A book and support

    • Bruce Ham’s book, “Laughter, Tears and Braids,” is available at Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh and on amazon.com

    • UNC Cancer Care has a support group, Single Fathers Due to Cancer, to help other widowed fathers. www.singlefathersduetocancer.org

Bruce Ham essentially has 10 wives now.

Don’t call the law on him, though.

He really has no wife. He had one, but she died three years ago.

What he has now are three daughters and 10 women who were good friends of his wife and who help perform the duties of a wife when it comes to raising the daughters.

Learning to braid

Being a widowed father at 48 and raising three teen or pre-pubescent daughters – they are now 16, 13 and 11 – sounds like the stuff of which sitcoms are made. It is also the stuff about which books are written, and Ham has written one about his experience called “Laughter, Tears and Braids.”

His table has been laden with big bowlsful of all three since his wife, Lisa, died at 38, but the frustrations and joys of his new reality were crystallized in one incident a couple of months after she died.

“My youngest daughter was standing in front of the mirror sobbing, and I asked ‘What’s wrong?’” he recalled. “She said she couldn’t braid her hair. I told her ‘Let me do it,’ but she said ‘You don’t know anything about hair. You hardly have any.’”

Ouch. Being follicle-deprived notwithstanding, Ham said he was determined to learn to braid hair, and with help from his middle daughter, mastered the techniques to the point that he can now braid and – get this – name different styles.

Aside from conquering the Katniss braid – you know, the reverse French braid the girl wore in the movie “The Hunger Games” – Ham said the hardest part of his new reality is “the number of details I have to deal with that my wife used to deal with, like making cupcakes for school, getting everybody to birthday parties, planning birthday parties, dance recitals, costumes, shopping, cheerleading schedules. ... It is overwhelming to keep up with the schedules of three very active girls.

“I was never a hands-off kind of dad, but my wife was the COO of our house,” he said. “She made everything run. ... There are so many things that are ‘girl things’ that a dad doesn’t necessarily relate to, like girl friendships or facts of life, changing bodies, all these sorts of things. There are tears sometimes, and I’ll say, ‘Why are you crying?’ They’ll say ‘I don’t know.’ Then I’ll call my mom or mother-in-law or sister-in-law and they’ll say ‘Sometimes girls just cry.’ I don’t get that. If I had sons, I could probably relate and understand.”

His wife and he knew, Ham said, that “one of the best things you can do is form a strong community and foundation for your kids.”

“Lisa, just before she died, said, ‘I don’t worry about them because we have done that.’ She had probably 10 girlfriends from various parts of our lives – church, schools, the Junior League. There’ll be two or three that have a child the same age as my youngest daughter, and two or three that have a child the same age as my middle daughter and two or three that have a child the same age as my oldest daughter. That’s why I call them my 10 wives.”

He may call them wives also because they’ll nag him – my word, not his, and it’s not a bad thing, so y’all chill – to find out, he said, “‘Have you signed them up for this?’ or ‘Do you need carpooling for this? or ‘Did you buy Christmas gifts for their teachers because I saw this on sale?’

“They really have helped me raise my daughters, and between them and my mom, my mother-in-law and my sister-in-law, it’s been incredible,” Ham said.

“I was determined,” he added, “that my daughters wouldn’t grow up looking scraggly and that people wouldn’t look at them and say, ‘Oh, those are the widower’s kids; look at them’ in that pitying, judgmental way we’ve all seen.

No, indeed. Now, they will look at them and say, “Those are the kids of the Widower Ham, the man who wrote the book on raising three daughters. With 10 wives.”

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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