It’s been a while since I reviewed some Tom Bihn products, so I’m super excited to share these ones with you! I’ve been using these for a few months now (thanks, Darcy!), so hopefully you find the reviews to be helpful! I do my best to be honest about how things work with one hand, so keep that in mind when you watch them. Let me know if you have any questions!
It’s been a while, but I’ve partnered with my friends at Knork to do a FANTASTIC giveaway, just in time for Christmas! If you’re not familiar, the staple of the Knork family of products is the Knork fork. The reason it’s so great, especially for those of us with one hand, is because the edge is sharp (not sharp enough to hurt you), which enables you to cut through foods you’d normally also need a knife for.
They also have TONS of other products that are equally as awesome, some of which I reviewed for you here:
Let’s get to the good stuff!
First, and this is absurd, but if you go to www.knork.net and use code ONEHAND, you’ll get 60% off your purchase. SIXTY. PERCENT. OFF. Go now.
AAAAAAND now it’s time for the giveaway! TWO winners will receive BOTH a 20-piece Flatware Set AND the new 8+1 Piece TOGO Plasticware Set! These prize packages are worth over $100 EACH.a Rafflecopter giveaway
Alright, good luck! So excited for two of you to get these awesome packages!
And thank you so much to my friends at Knork!
(This giveaway is open to those living in the continental US only. Thanks for understanding!)
A couple days ago I saw a tweet in my timeline by someone named Bryan Behar. He paid tribute to the passing of President Bush and people subsequently lost their minds and unfollowed him because they took it as an endorsement of some of Bush’s more troubling policies. I started reading through his other tweets and…well…
Now we’re best friends.
He just doesn’t know it.
We haven’t really interacted or anything, but let me explain.
I first read his most recent piece wherein he explains that he spent the first 50 years of his life avoiding criticism. Trying to keep his voice hidden so that his “limited reservoir of self-esteem” wouldn’t crumble if people came at him. Which was somewhat challenging since he’s a writer in Hollywood, having written for 23 sitcoms in the last 20 years. Since turning 50, though, he’s turned over a new leaf and is finding and sharing his voice, regardless of what the world has to say in response.
Then I saw that he lost his father to suicide, too.
The piece he wrote that I linked to in the previous sentence is amazing. And I don’t mean just that it’s well-written, though it is. It’s amazing because of all the parallels to my own story; my own experience. His dad was confident, a strong provider. Nobody had any idea he’d even consider suicide. Even Bryan’s description of the feeling of disbelief until he arrived to the “crime scene” (suicide is not a crime, but the scene is reminiscent of one) was exactly how I experienced it. Bryan was 43 when his dad died by suicide, I was 37.
Bryan also wrote a piece about triggers for survivors of suicide and why he writes about it so often. I’m not joking when I say that I could have written these. What I mean is that my thoughts about these things so closely mirror his, it’s almost eerie. In a good way. If that’s a thing.
Bryan’s a sports guy, as am I. Our politics are similar. He’s hilarious.
I’m just sitting here watching 60 Minutes and eating soup. Because I’m 700 years old.
— Bryan Behar (@bryanbehar) December 3, 2018
And here’s the cherry on top…
He’s a crier.
No joke, on my way home from work yesterday I started sobbing thinking about all of this. Hear me out.
I truly believe there’s nothing more important in this world than connection. Of knowing – not just FEELING – but, KNOWING that you’re not alone. We all need that. We all want that. Even people who “hate everyone” desire connection. So, when I thought about the connections Bryan and I share, it overwhelmed me. In a good way. It reminded me, too, of all the amazing people in my life that I’m connected to. I just started to type out some names, but I’m already at 447 words.
The point is this: connection is everything.
Take some time today to think about the people in your life that you’re connected to and maybe reach out to a couple of them and just tell them thanks.
And Bryan, if you’re reading this…maybe some day we can talk and become actual friends.
That would actually make me feel less stalker-ish, which would be good.
Alright, alright…I wasn’t the very last person to cross the finish line.
I was the last in my division. And the second-to-last male. And seventh-to-last overall.
Ok, so here’s what really happened. A few months ago I signed Julie and I up to do this 5k on Thanksgiving with a group of friends. Plenty of time to train and get back into shape for it. I’ve done a bunch of 5ks before. Well, I’m not exaggerating when I tell you I didn’t train for a single day. Not one day. Not one walk. Not one sit-up. Not one lunge. Nothing.
We decided to do it anyway, even though we knew we’d have to walk and it was super cold. And I’m glad we did. A couple friends brought their kiddos and we just walked and had a good time. Mostly. It was funny and we did walk three miles and I’m totally glad we did it, but…
It also signaled a turning point for me. I need to get back into shape. Big time.
To that end, I just joined a program my friend Carlos Whittaker created called Fit By First.
It’s the perfect time for it, too. Right after Thanksgiving, heading towards Christmas and the New Year.
We start December 1st and I’d love if you joined me. Maybe you’re healthy and just want to do something different. Maybe you’re like me and you need something to jumpstart your health journey.
Check it out and let me know if you join. We’re all in this together!
And I plan to improve my 5k time for my next race.
I’m sitting here thinking, “I don’t really even know what to write.”
My wife would tell me, “Then just write that. Be honest. Other thoughts will come.”
Today is the fourth anniversary of my dad’s death. I’m not a big fan of using the word anniversary for it, but it is what it is, right?
It also happens to be International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.
So, there’s that.
Right now I’m feeling kind of like, “Why are you continuing to write? This is NOT helpful. You should be giving information about the ISOSLD thing and how things are better now than they were and all that…”
Here’s the deal, though: That’s not how I’m feeling. I’m listening to Julien Baker and feeling melancholic. And you know what? That’s fine.
I’ve found, without fail, that when I write what I’m actually feeling…it resonates. Even if I’m embarrassed or scared or whatever.
So, here’s what I’m feeling right now. Today. On International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. On the fourth anniversary of my dad’s death.
I’m feeling like it’s been a tough week, but it’s been bearable.
Thursday would have been my grandpa’s 99th birthday. He died about a year and a half before my dad. I always forget how close after his birthday my dad killed himself. Every year I forget. You’d think I’d remember that.
I remember sitting with my dad while grandpa was in hospice and noticing a little spiral notebook in his hand. My dad wasn’t a writer. I asked him what it was and he said he’d been writing down the things he loved about his dad. He wrote words like loyal and hard-working and strong and brave and helpful…I’ll never forget that.
How are things for me now, four years later? I don’t think about him every day. I don’t feel as devastated as I used to. I miss him just as much and I wish like hell he was here, but it isn’t a constant undercurrent or anything. Certain things still remind me of him. Like, the other day I got a bunch of stuff at the grocery store that I had at his house when I’d visit every other weekend growing-up. That was kind of fun, actually.
Whenever my kids have concerts or Claire has a basketball game, I wish he was there. Not only to see and support them, but those were moments I loved being with him. Laughing together, trying to stifle it so people wouldn’t get mad at us. Talking about the Badgers and Packers and this year especially, the Brewers. Those are the times I’m reminded that he’s gone and wish he wasn’t.
If I’m really honest, it’s just been a tough year overall. So, it’s kind of one of those things where I’m like, “Hey, dad. I love you. I miss you. But, I have a lot of shit to do. And it’s all really good. I’m really excited about it. I wish you were here to watch what happens. Julie is amazing, but you already know that. The thing is, though, she’s more amazing than you ever knew. Sam is taller than me now, but he usually doesn’t rub it in. He’s doing No Shave November and has a pretty good ‘stache going. Julie keeps teasing him about it, which doesn’t go over real well, as you might imagine. Anna is growing up fast and I’m not sure I like it. She’s amazing, though. She has these two great friends from gymnastics, Denise and Joclyn, and they make these cool little videos on Instagram of them doing gymnastics things and TONS of people watch and like them. It’s pretty neat. She also does this thing at bedtime where she kisses Julie on the cheek, but she just lightly presses her lips to her cheek and Julie HATES it and Anna and I laugh so hard we almost pee our pants. I’m pretty sure Julie gets legitimately mad about it. It’s the best. And Claire…oh, Claire Bear. Dad, she’s SO funny. And she never stops talking. The other day she was explaining what dating is like in 5th grade and I almost had to pull over on the way home from gymnastics. She’s playing basketball and is a starter. You know I’m competitive, so when I watch her grab a rebound and then stand there and look at the girl she knocked over to get it, feeling bad instead of clearing it and running up the court, I’m like, “CLAIRE! GO!” Julie, on the other hand, is like, “Oh, my sweet sweet Claire.” Drives me nuts. But it is pretty damn cute. Anyway…things here are good. And getting better. Every day. Ok, I’ll check in again with you later. Love you.”
Well, apparently I needed to do that.
Felt really good, actually. It’s been a while since I connected with him like that.
And maybe that’s the best way to describe how things are with me in relation to my dad’s suicide four years later.
It’s been a while, but it still feels good to connect.
Love and miss you, Dad.
That won’t ever change.
My book, Different Is Awesome!, released in July of 2015.
I visited Lake Highlands Elementary school in Dallas, TX in late 2016.
Yesterday, one of the kids who was in the audience at that school visit decided to be a character from Different Is Awesome! for their Halloween parade at school.
This is blowing my mind.
First of all, I love the fact that the book still resonates with this guy. I don’t know the depth of his connection with that character, but the fact that he chose to recreate the outfit Noah wears in the book, out of ALL the characters in ALL the book in ALL of the whole world, and then marched in a parade with his schoolmates…just…dude. Seriously, that’s amazing.
I also love (and I’m assuming here) that his parents were on board and helped him with this. I love that they have incorporated the message into their home and purposely perpetuate it throughout their community.
I also love that he identifies with one of the, for lack of a better term, peripheral characters. Probably the biggest thing I’ve learned over the past few years is how stinking important it is for kids to SEE THEMSELVES in literature. Obviously my main objective was to incorporate a one-handed character, but I put a lot of thought into include a diverse group of classmates. I’m so so glad I did, even though at the time I wasn’t thinking of this aspect of the characters as explicitly.
I’m really encouraged today.
I’ll be honest and say that I have been tempted to say, “Relax, it’s just one kid,” but that’s the whole point, right? Something I did impacted this kid in such a way that he chose to become a character in a book I wrote. That’s amazing.
And while I haven’t been notified of any other kids choosing to do that (yet! lol), I know that countless kids and families have chosen to include the idea that being different is awesome into their homes and communities. That’s amazing, too.
And here’s my encouragement to you: Find ways you can lend your voice and expertise to help people. It’s worth it. And I KNOW you have something to offer! I say that because I know a lot of you are like, “This is a cool, feel-good story!” but then you’re thinking you didn’t write a book or do anything big or whatever. To that I say, STOP IT. Start small and where you’re at. Hold the door for someone. Pay someone a compliment. Think about your life experience and how you might be able to use it to help others in similar circumstances.
Don’t overthink it. Just look to help others and cool things will happen.
People send me messages on Facebook pretty frequently.
Usually, though, they don’t live on the street I grew-up on.
Let me explain.
The other day I received a message from Maurita. She explained how she and her husband, Kevin, just had a little boy, Colin, who was born with a different little left hand. In the days following Colin’s arrival, Kevin remembered that he had seen me speak two years ago. He works at a hospital under the same umbrella as the company I work for and I had done some events, one of which was in the city he works in. Small world, right?! So, they reached out to me for any insight I might be able to share with them. Since I knew he worked relatively close, I asked if they lived near Madison, WI, which is close to where I live. I thought maybe I could just visit them.
This is where things get fun.
“We are actually in Verona and would love to meet up!” she said.
Verona?? That’s where I live.
Not only that, she then tells me they live in the same neighborhood I grew-up in.
AND THE SAME STREET I GREW-UP ON. I tell her which house I lived in and she totally knows which one I mean.
We make plans for me to come over for a visit the next day.
It gets better.
The next evening I head over to their house and as I’m driving by the house I lived in all through middle and high school, I pull over right past it because I’m voice-to-texting my wife and need to concentrate. A lady pulls up beside me and I motion for her to go around. Instead, she rolls her window down and says, “I’m sorry! I thought you were someone else. Somebody is coming to pick-up my daughter. I live in this house.”
“That’s hilarious. Because I lived in this house for about ten years!”
Then I had to awkwardly explain that I wasn’t stalking her, but that I was going to visit with some new friends down the road. I think she believed me.
Then it was off to visit with my new friends!
Colin was upset when I got there, but mom and dad knew exactly what to do. “Is it ok if we go sit on the patio? Colin loves the humidity for some reason,” Maurita told me. Sure enough, as soon as we got out there he calmed right down! So adorable.
We sat on the patio, Colin, mom and dad, and Maurita’s mom, and talked for a long time. We talked about their experience so far, situations we’ve both encountered and how to deal with them, I shared advice I’ve gleaned over the years…we literally laughed and cried together and it was fantastic.
One of the things that really got to me was when they shared their birth story with me. It was difficult. Colin’s difference didn’t show-up on their ultrasounds, so when he arrived the first thing they heard was, “What’s wrong with his hand??” I’m still stunned by that. The doctor then said, “I’m sorry,” but nothing further. The hospital took care of them, but gave them no information about why this might have happened, nor did they direct them to any resources to help them. Everything they knew and learned over the next six weeks came from the internet.
Just a reminder: It’s 2018.
It showed me that we still have a long way to go. The first response any parents should hear when their baby arrives should be POSITIVE. It lit a fire in me to go to somehow connect with hospitals to make sure this doesn’t happen again. To make sure they are trained and prepared for these circumstances and that they have answers and resources available immediately for the parents. I know a book they could give them that I think will help.
It was awesome to connect with my new friends and we had such a great time learning from each other. We’ll definitely be getting together again soon. These types of connections really are everything. If you know of other families near you who are affected by limb-differences in some way, take some time to get to know each other. Go to their house. Hangout at the park. Go to the zoo. There’s really nothing like being together and sharing stories and learning from each other.
And maybe, just maybe, you’ll find out you have some other crazy connection that reminds you how small the world really is.
Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Helping Hands Foundation’s Winter Outing for the SIXTH year in a row. It always feels like family. I love that, especially since I’m a Midwestern boy from Wisconsin and all my East Coast friends treat me like one of their own.
One of my favorite moments every year is reuniting with my little buddy, Ella. It’s been so fun to watch her grow and this year she’s missing teeth! As I walked towards her she saw me and threw her hands over her mouth in surprise. I got to her and she threw her arms around me and said, “Hi, Ryan! I missed you so much!” Good grief!
Another highlight for me was getting to meet Mike Alt. Mike lives in Reno, NV, which is nowhere near Las Vegas, it turns out. He founded “Can’t Is Not An Excuse” and I loved hearing him share his story with the teens and the whole group. Mike is a good dude with a great message.
Then there’s Jen Reeves. We don’t get to see each other nearly as often as we’d like, so when we both found out we were going to be in Boston, we kind of freaked out. No exaggeration, Jen is one of my favorite people on Earth. The work she does with Jordan and Born Just Right is incredible and it was so fun to hear them share their story and watch them interact with everyone.
I also got to meet Meghan Rose and hear her share her story with the group this year. Meghan is an actress in NYC and I loved seeing her share her confidence with everyone, especially the teenage girls. They LOVED her and righty so! Love that they had her as a role model and she was so open with them. (Meghan is in the middle and Kristy, another AMAZING roll model is on the right)
And of course it’s always a blast to hangout with my biological son (not really), Nick Newell, and his new bride, Danielle! Nick is also one of my favorite people on Earth and I love watching him interact with all the kids over the weekend. They think he’s so cool (he is) and he loves them. It’s fantastic.
I’m also grateful for the adult mentors. Every one of them brings something unique to the group and the fact that they give of their time to speak into the lives of kids who are still learning about themselves and life is so impressive. I spent time with the high school kids this year and it was SO great to hear them having deep discussions about issues that affect them and sharing common experiences. I’ve watched some of these kids grow for the past six years and the maturity, the ability to see beyond themselves was amazing.
Of course, the weekend doesn’t happen without all the amazing volunteers and especially Patti and Dayna. Two of the coolest, kindest, most selfless people I know. I think most people would be shocked if they really knew what these two do behind the scenes to make everything work. Thank you for everything you do to make sure all of us have an amazing weekend together!
What was also great about this weekend was that for the first time I came a day early so I could give a couple presentations at a school. I stayed with the Rovedos on Thursday night and spoke at their little guy Cam’s school on Friday morning. Everyone at JFK Elementary was amazing and I loved meeting Mrs. Reilly and Mr. T! I very rarely speak at schools where someone else has one hand, so this was a blast to see the kids already kind of know what’s up, but still be excited about my visit.
Had an amazing time out east and already can’t wait until next year!
A couple weekends ago I flew to Boston.
I boarded my flight with my usual gear; my Tom Bihn backpack and my carry-on suitcase on wheels. As I walked toward my seat in the back of the plane, I heard someone ask, “Can I help with anything?” “Oh, I’m good,” I replied. Then another offer for help. Then another. “With what? I’m literally just walking!” I thought to myself, all the while smiling and thanking them for their offers. I wasn’t even close to my seat yet, so I though that I must have looked extra pathetic.
I finally made it to my seat and…you guessed it, one more offer to “give me a hand.” “No thank you,” I smiled.
Then I looked at the overhead compartment and thought, “Dude, you better not eff this up.”
I didn’t, in case you were wondering.
I sat there thinking about what had happened and honestly, I was kind of annoyed. I told a friend about it and she said, “At least people were being nice.”
See, that’s my philosophy 99% of the time! I appreciate that people are trying to be kind even though their assumption that I need help could be taken as an offense. I’d rather spend my energy being thankful than offended. It took me a long time to get to this place, honestly. When I was more immature I just wanted to prove everybody wrong and it was always about me and the assumption that people were trying to put me down. I think it’s very rare that someone is trying to offend you or question your capabilities when they offer to help; they’re simply trying to be kind. And that’s good.
I was actually flying to Boston to attend the Helping Hands Foundation‘s Winter Outing and I was able to tell the parents this story and try to encourage them. As parents, we really want to try and figure everything out and do things “the right way.” And for parents of kids with physical differences, there are even more situations at play. How do we deal with people staring? Name-calling? Unwanted offers of assistance?
I’ve been at this living one-handed thing for nearly 40 years and I don’t have the answers to those questions figured out yet. And honestly, I’m not so sure that’s even a good goal. The best we can do, I think, is what we think is right and be patient with each other and ourselves the rest of the time. Most of the time offers to help don’t bother me a bit. That day, on that flight, for some reason…did. And that’s ok. There are times when getting stared at still bothers me, too. It’s part of the experience.
If you’re a parent and you’re worried about how to help your kid navigate these sometimes tricky waters, here’s my encouragement:
Be gracious. Be patient. With yourself, your child and with others. You’re doing an amazing job. Just keep doing your best and when those times come where things don’t go according to plan, learn from it and move forward. You got this.
And if you need any advice, I’m happy to give you a hand.
But, just one.
The other morning I saw MedFlight in the sky while I was driving to work.
It jogged my memory of when my dad was in the hospital recovering from heart surgery in July of 2014. Not because he had to be MedFlighted there, but because we got a special tour of the helicopter and landing pad on the roof of the hospital while he was recovering. He needed to get out of his room, so one of the RNs arranged the excursion. And of course he knew somebody who was part of the MedFlight team, too, so up we went.
It was pretty awesome. We were shown every nook and cranny, inside and out, and got to walk out on the helipad to look over the city.
The other morning, though, as I thought about it, other thoughts crept in. Did dad really think it was awesome to be up there on the roof in a wheelchair getting some fresh air? Or was he just acting like it so the rest of us would be ok? Was he struggling that far back with the perception of this new life he thought he’d entered? And then I started crying. Because I don’t know the answers to those questions and I never will.
About four months later – two years ago today – my dad committed suicide.
Life for the rest of us has moved on, but I still think about him a lot. I do believe he thought it was cool to be up there, too. I recall how desperately he wanted to be out of that god-damned recovery room. The morning they discharged him he called me and I could hear the relief in his quivering voice. “Ryan, they removed that damn thing from my arm and I just…I got all emotional. What the hell?” he confessed to me. I told him that was completely understandable; he’d been through a lot! Physically, emotionally, mentally…”feeling emotional” was an understatement as far as I was concerned. I’ll always treasure that moment we had.
I’m not sure if I’d say things are easier or better two years later, mostly just different.
I still get sad a lot and I’ll admit that sometimes I still get upset. Every time one of my kids has a birthday. Every gymnastics meet. My son Sam received his black belt in karate last weekend after working hard for more than four years and Papa wasn’t there to see it and to celebrate and to tell Sam how proud of him he is. That kills me. It kills me. And I know people mean well when they say things like, “Oh, he was there watching, too!” and “He IS so proud of Sam!” but the truth is, it’s not the same. It’s not the same at all. He should have been there smiling and clapping and shouting and cracking inappropriate jokes with me in the stands. He should have been there to shake Sam’s hand and give him a big hug and be in the picture pointing.
My brother Joey got engaged last weekend, too. He NAILED the proposal. Had his friends hold homemade signs and play music at the Wisconsin Badger football game! Just perfect. Now, I’m not speaking for him because I know he handles this all in his own way, but for me…I’m devastated my dad isn’t here to congratulate Joe. I know he’d be proud of him. But, he won’t be at the wedding. And if they have kids, they’ll never meet him. It just sucks.
What’s so difficult about suicide is that the person is doing what they think is going to help everyone. My dad wasn’t trying to hurt us. He apologized and still did it. It was the only other solution he could come up with that made any sense…to him. In so doing, though, he left a hurt in everyone who loved him. And a lot of people loved him. That wasn’t his intention, but it was the result.
On a personal level, his not being here is hard because I’m learning so many things about myself that I want to talk to him about. My parents divorced when I was four and the fact of the matter is that both his presence and his absence in my life while I was young had a profound impact on who I am today.
Years ago a homeless friend of mine, Al, told me his story about his relationship with his dad. Al’s life crashed and burned because of his addiction to alcohol. One day he got a call that his dad was dying and he should come right away. Instead, he went on a week-long bender and never got to say goodbye to his dad, even though he had the chance. “If your dad is alive, talk to him. If there’s stuff you’re afraid to talk to him about, talk to him about it anyway,” he told me. I vowed I would and to a certain extent I did, but there’s so much more I know now that I want to talk to him about than I even knew back then. And trying to figure it out without him is hard.
So, what now?
Sure, there are times that are more difficult than others and grief still sits for spell, but by and large life goes on with only his memory now. Julie and I are both busy with the things we’re passionate about and the kids are probably busier than we are. We work, we relax, we do our best to focus on the future and the good things lying in wait for us there. It sucks that he won’t be here to see what happens next, but that’s the reality.
Dad, I miss you. I love you. That won’t ever change.
If you or someone you love is struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, please get help immediately. Call 911, contact a counselor, contact the Suicide Prevention Hotline, call a friend…I know you might not believe it, but people love you and are there to help. There are other options.
If you’ve experienced loss, you probably already know this, but the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is a wonderful resource to help us heal.