Dave Manoucheri: rediscovering the muse
Dave Manoucheri is a 46-year-old journalist, musician and dad of four from Sacramento, California. In 2011, his world was turned upside down when his wife, Andrea, passed away unexpectedly, leaving him a single dad to their children: Abbi, now 22; Hannah, 17; and 14-year-old twins Noah and Sam.
The Dad Website sat down with Dave to chat about grief, single parenting, moving on and his lifelong passion for music.
Andrea’s passing in 2011.
She went into the hospital with a case of pneumonia on a Tuesday and by Saturday morning she was gone. I spent every moment they would allow, but with the pneumonia she had a cut on her leg that wasn’t healing and that worried the doctors. They didn’t want the kids coming into the hospital ICU so they stayed home.
By Thursday morning she’d gotten so bad she was on a respirator and I didn’t want the kids seeing her like that. She appeared to be getting better on Friday night, but by Saturday morning, March 26th – the morning of our 18th wedding anniversary – the hospital called saying she was “in distress.” When I got there they’d been doing CPR for about a half hour. I was asked if I wanted them to keep going and when it was clear it was causing a lot of damage to her ribs and she wasn’t responding I had to ask them to stop. There has been nothing worse than the long walk from the ICU through the hallway to the exit knowing I had to go home and tell four kids their mom wasn’t coming home.
I was lucky, I had family to help.
They arrived shortly after I told the kids. Within a month I had also lost our home; being now a single-income family the bank didn’t think we could pay for the house and they were right. My work wanted to change my job and decrease my salary by one-third. Yet I found a new job, found a rental home and we found stability in routine, something my mum and dad helped us get into in order to keep moving.
Loss is different for everyone.
Everyone sees grief differently; even among our own kids it’s that way. Two of the kids needed therapy. Mother’s Day, which had a “high tea” and cards and other events for mums was really hard. Harder still was the fact people avoided talking to the kids or acted like they had drastically changed since they didn’t have a mum. I had already been the cook, the baker, lots of things around the house. I was always an involved dad, but to learn to do girls’ clothes in the laundry and what tampons to buy and how to USE tampons . . . those things were hard. Making decisions without the advice of a partner was hard. I spent my money on the kids’ therapy. Two things helped me heal: writing (words, journalism and blogging) and music, which I played and wrote as well. They were instrumental in my getting through those years.
It feels like the end of the world, it really does.
But routine is important. My advice to widower dads is to keep a routine and break from it only occasionally. Most important: listen. Moms listen, dads fix things. Since you have to be both you have to listen a lot more and pay attention. You can’t fix everything, hard as that is to realise. You just can’t. The best thing is to listen and see when you can act and when you can just hug and empathise.
Six years on and things are pretty amazing.
I’m through two of three graduations: Abbi in college, Hannah in High School and the boys promoting to 9th grade. They are amazing, beautiful women who are strong, opinionated, smart and a match for anyone. The boys are young men, tall, and learning that you treat women with respect – open the door not because they’re weak but because they deserve it – and are talkative, engaging people. I moved on and am dating; not everyone does that. I had to look at the “marriage contract” as just that before I could. Still… in the process I kept my kids in the loop. They didn’t know I was dating, but when I’d found someone that I was going to see again and again I told them. I don’t care if you’re a widower, divorcee, what have you, kids are important. They come first and that’s OK. They should. But they also know I have a life of my own and they want me to be happy.
Being a dad is a lifelong thing.
I’ll never stop being a dad, even if I’m the worst one in the world I’m still a dad. My biggest challenge to myself was to make sure these kids didn’t fall apart as much as I knew I was. Being a dad is being a foundation – mums are the same, by the way. You are the example for these tiny humans to what the future might be and what it shouldn’t be, so try to be the best part of it. I was there for their first breaths, I’m hoping I’ll be able to be a guide for them as they go into adulthood.
Learning to listen was the biggest thing. I have to stop myself from fixing things – be that wanting to go after the boy who broke up with your daughter via text or wanting to beat on the bully who hurt your son during PE class. I had to learn how to be more of an empathetic dad than an action-oriented one. That’s not easy, but it helps in far more things beyond parenting.
Life as a muso.
I was a working musician when my oldest daughter was born but the career in journalism took off first, so it was sidelined, initially. My wife, god rest her soul, didn’t like the musician part of me. She didn’t understand it and with few opportunities and small kids, I made compromises and scaled it back to nearly nothing. When I was in the height of things, if we’d hit the road, I choose to believe we’d have been at least a current touring band making a living. iTunes sold songs then, brand new. CDs were still being sold and things were good. When Andrea passed I picked up my green Clapton model Fender Stratocaster and began to write . . . and write . . . and play. Without music I wouldn’t have made it. I wrote an album’s worth of material and it was cathartic, beautiful, and healing. I’ve just started the process of making that solo record and recently released three tracks on iTunes.
But the industry changed, people stream and want music for free. But in reality, I get maybe 9/10 of a cent for each stream. It was never a money making thing; it was a healing thing and I play now daily, as does my middle daughter. We are a musical family, but more Muddy Waters than Von Trapp.
Five life lessons my kids should know (or should have known) by their 18th birthdays.
1 . Take things one day or one thing at a time.
2. Related to No.1 – problems can be solved but you have to solve them one at a time. Taking everything at once never works
3. Listen. That’s a theme here, I know, but I’ve learned that listening is pretty effective.
4. Be respectful. Boys should open doors and pay for the date if they ask someone out. Same for the girls: being mean, rude, or egotistical will bite you in the end.
5. We are stronger together than when we’re apart. I’ve lived by this since Andrea died and no matter where we are, even separated by several states or even an ocean, as long as we’re banded together, nothing can stop us.
You can read more about Dave’s story here, and follow him on Twitter here.
Check out this video commemorating six years since Andrea’s passing, created by Dave, his kids and the “village” that helped them during this time: