For me going to the Hollywood bowl is as synonymous with summer as swimming pools and eating ice cream.  Live music, communing with friends under the stars on a warm night, the good stuff of life all in one place…  I inaugurated summer 2014 with James Taylor this past weekend.   Sitting there listening to the lyric “shower the people you love with love” I was jetted back to the summer of 2006.

 When I was 12 and my sister was 6 we got a new dad and three new brothers.  Russ wasn’t a step dad to us, he was just dad.  He breathed life and love back into my mom, my sister and I.  The kind of love you knew you could fall back on and it would catch you.  He was the complete opposite of everything our lives had been up to that point.  A gregarious, life of the party kind of man, he taught us to be out in nature, to water ski and camp, to just relax into life, and simultaneously toughen up our outer thin skins.  He had a weathered, manly exterior stuffed with a nougat of kindness and compassion.  He carried the weight of the world on his shoulders, but he propped it up there with the one hand while enjoying life with the other, dancing at parties and singing in the car. He taught us to work hard and play hard and that a man can contain multitudes of love and emotion.

 My sister and I had tickets to see Al Green at the Hollywood bowl near the end of August 2006.  By the time the concert rolled around we had learned that Russ at the age of 65 had pancreatic cancer.  When people talk about the five stages of grief, they’re not kidding, it’s not a cliché.  So with just two weeks of cancer under our belt my sister and I were fully steeped in denial.  We all spent our free time looking up healthy diets, alternative treatments, curative teas – certain we could beat this thing.  We were a strong, tight-knit family who had overcome so many odds; we could definitely get to the other side of this.  There had been tears, but not when we were together.  When we were together we were proactive, positive, busy…

So there we were under the stars in the warm night air my sister and I, doing what Russ had taught us to do relaxing into life.   Al Green lifted the mic to his reverend – rock star lips and sang Amazing Grace and the crowd of thousands sang too.  And the tears came and came.  Finally, we cried together, we held hands and saw a glimmer of  “acceptance” that lay far ahead in the distance.  As we left the bowl, inching along in a penguin waddle the way you do when you dismount a stadium full of people.  The crowd broke into song, hundreds of people squashed together with no care of whether they had a good voice or a bad voice belted out “Let’s Stay Together” in unison.

My sister and I, faces swollen with sadness sang too, we sang because Russ taught us no matter how bad things get, go ahead and sing, go ahead and let happiness win.  In the egotistical way that we humans can sometimes believe that things are meant just for us, it felt like that crowd wrapped around us in a cumulative hug as if to say it’s ok – go ahead and feel this sad thing that’s happening to you, we’ll be here to catch you.

 Father’s Day is coming up, I think of Russ I still miss him but I am so grateful that we got a second chance at a dad, that our dad was a man who let both his strengths and weaknesses show.  A man who let us know in words and action that he loved us completely – we kids who were not his own flesh and blood – he loved us completely anyway.

This story has been contributed by Barbara Stanifer. Barbara writes a great deal about human relationships. Her life experiences are enriching for others. Shirley and now Russ, the Chatoveracuppa team is grateful to Barbara for being so forthcoming in sharing her personal stories always.