For Father’s Day, many dads dream of a solo day on the greens or watching the big game (there always seems to be one on, right?) without interruption. But all Bruce Ham wants to do is spend some time with his three daughters: Bailey, 16, Lucy, 13 and Annie, 11. He admits he didn’t always see the importance of quality time with family, but about five years ago, it became his sole focus.
In a moment, everything can change
2009. That’s the year that everything changed for Bruce Ham and his family. Before that, Ham was the self-admitted “fun dad” who would come home from work and wrestle on the floor with his girls. Meanwhile his wife Lisa took care of 100 percent of the logistics of their daughters’ lives. Ham says, “Lisa was the glue. She knew every activity that was going on. She planned the parties and told me to pick up the cake. She was the CEO of the household.”
But in 2009, after several years of unexplained stomach pain, a colonoscopy showed that Lisa had a very large tumor in her colon. Even so, she still remained SuperMom and handled the girls’ day-to-day needs. Meanwhile, Ham’s boss had given him a journal to help him work through the pain. “I had never written anything in my life,” he admits. But he did it anyway — chronicling the experience day by day in the waiting rooms of hospitals.
Life without Lisa
In February 2010, less than six months after her diagnosis, Lisa, Ham’s wife of 16 years and the mother of his three daughters who were then on the horizon of tween- and teenage-hood, passed away. About a month before, Lisa’s younger brother Hayes Permar had relocated and was living with the Ham family to help out. He continued living with Bruce and the girls for about two and a half years after Lisa’s passing.
Ham says, “About eight months after Lisa died, Hayes and I found the girls on my bed watching reruns of Full House. We realized ‘this is our life.’ We are the real-life Danny Tanner and Uncle Jesse.” Hayes, a writer, suggested Bruce create a blog. “He started it for me and wrote it with me for about eight months,” he says.
Meanwhile, Ham had to learn everything about being a mom to his daughters as well as being the “fun dad.” “I hadn’t really been involved in the logistics of the day-to-day. I didn’t know anything about braiding hair, periods, shaving legs, planning parties and having sleepovers. Lisa would have handled all that. I didn’t even know how to log onto the school’s website.”
Ham recalls an “aha moment” that helped him engage in his daughters’ lives in a way he never knew he could. “Bailey and I were shopping together so while she browsed around I sat down in a chair to wait for her. I began looking around and watching all these girls shopping with their moms.” Ham realized he had to be there for his daughters in a whole new way. “I got up and started shopping with her. I even picked out a skirt that became one of her favorites,” he says proudly. And that gave him the confidence to start tackling other tasks that were once designated to Lisa.
As life without their beloved wife and mother went on, Ham and his daughters began to find a new normal, one where they could fart or burp at the dinner table (something Lisa “never would have let them get away with”). Through his writing, Ham found a way to not only create a memoir for his daughters about their mother, but to also share his experience with the world.
Ham’s blog inspired him to write a book, Laughter, Tears and Braids, which explores the relationship he and Lisa had before her death. “My writing teacher told me that people won’t care what you’ve lost if they don’t realize what you had,” he shares. “Hayes suggested writing it for those beyond my daughters.” They realized the book could resonate with others who have experienced loss or pain in some way — perhaps not a wife to sickness, but divorce, depression or other tough times.
Finding the laughter
Though Ham’s brother-in-law Hayes is responsible for giving Ham the nudge he needed when it came to writing a blog as well as a book, Ham also credits him for something larger. “Before Lisa’s death, we had a really fun house. There was lots of laughter and dancing. I wasn’t sure that humor would ever return but it has in a way, and Hayes is responsible for that.” Though Hayes has since moved out, he still lives in the same town and often helps out with the girls, as he’s become something of their big brother.
And Ham has become not only the father but the mother that he never imagined he would be. He says, “The one beautiful thing that has come out of this is that I am such a better father than I could have been before. And I have such a richer relationship with my daughters than I ever had before.”
So Father’s Day for Ham has become a celebration of the closeness he shares with his girls. On this day, he loves to spend quality time with each of his daughters doing the things they love. “We all love to go out for dinner. My youngest and I go jogging together, my oldest and I shop together and my middle daughter and I watch movies. Even if we don’t go anywhere at all, spending time together is what it’s all about.”