The Sober Husband Blog – Volume 4 – 11/13/20

We’ve all been impacted in one way or another by the Coronavirus. Although I know quite a few people who have gotten very sick I’m grateful to say I haven’t lost anyone. I have essentially been out of work for 8 months. I have had a handful of zoom shows and a couple weeks of work in the midwest but that’s been about it. I have a lot of colleagues that are in the same boat as me and it’s been interesting to see how people have adapted or confronted the situation. A friend of mine opened a virtual comedy club that’s doing very well, another friend of mine wrote a book, a bunch of friends have gone back to school and another friend of mine lost 20 pounds and looks incredible. 

Thanks to a dear friend of mine, I was able to get a day job right away when the pandemic began and it was a lifeboat both financially and mentally as I had purpose each day but that didn’t last unfortunately. So left to my own devices each day, I make the bed and do the dishes and go to meetings and binge Netflix and walk the dog and play video games and try to write but as a comedian we are reporting back to you, the audience, what’s going on in life but when life stops it’s hard to write. And I need to because I’m somewhat of a comedian without an act. My whole act in the last 5 years has essentially been about being a divorcee in search of love and now I’m a married man in love. So now I have plenty of time because of the pandemic and a lot of new stuff to talk about because of all the changes in my life recently but still nowhere to talk about it. It wasn’t until the last couple of weeks that I realized how much of my happiness was tied into my comedy career. I love being on the road. I love being on stage, I love to perform and for the last 8 months that has been taken away from me. Jen and I have even made a few sketches which have been a lot of fun but I feel sad at what is missing in my life which is my work, my passion. As an alcoholic I am used to just pushing down these emotions and putting on a happy face (or a drunk face) and getting through it but as someone in recovery I have to acknowledge the fact that my life and my work are essentially on hold. Feel the feelings Ken. (gross)

Last year I read “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl, about his experience surviving the holocaust and he talked about how many people simply died of heartache. They were the ones who hadn’t accepted their present situation. The ones who thought it would all be over by Christmas or New Year’s or Easter often times gave up hope when those dates came and went but the ones who accepted that they may die on any given day and that they had no control over when they would be released from captivity found a way to survive (sometimes). This situation we find ourselves in isn’t, in my opinion, as traumatic and tragic as the holocaust but I think the principles of hope remain the same. I don’t know if I’ll catch this virus and if I do how sick it could make me or if I could die or lose any of my loved ones. And we have to live with that in the back of our mind every day. I don’t know when the comedy clubs will open back up safely, nobody does. I don’t know when life will “get back to normal” or if it ever will and so I have to first grieve the loss of my old life, recognize the dangers that exist in my new world and adapt. Other than that, I’m powerless. Which is tough for a control freak alcoholic. Right now all I can control is how often I write. All I can control is finding other outlets to use my talents whether it’s online through social media or through another avenue like writing. 

One of my favorite expressions that I’ve learned in recovery is “keep your feet moving”. Meaning don’t sit around and wait for the world to start up again, figure out the world you’re living in today and how you’re going to fit into it. For me, that means re-imagining my routine. My routine before the pandemic revolved around booking jobs, promoting my brand, writing new material and getting on stage every night but now the emphasis has to be on self care (meditation/journaling), service to others (recognizing that we’re all in the same boat and living in this new reality and people could use a helping hand) and being more disciplined about writing and creating and finding new ways to share my passion. I’m also doing away with the guilt and shame I feel for not working or feeling like a dead beat from time to time. It serves no purpose whatsoever and that negative thinking causes more harm than actual motivation. I have found that meditation every morning has been extremely helpful. If you have an American Express card one of the perks is that you can download the Calm App for one year for free and every morning I get a friendly reminder to meditate. I do it (or at least try to) before I look at social media so that I can start my day with a clean slate. It helps me to prepare my mind that day for whatever it is I’m hoping to accomplish. 

Some people have remarked how difficult it must be to be sober during this pandemic. I read somewhere that alcohol sales were up 40%. But I haven’t really had an issue with it because I know that drinking isn’t really going to solve any of these challenges I’m facing. They just mask them for a few hours and then I’m just left feeling shitty the next couple of days. Instead, I wake up every day thinking of a quote I read from Mr. Frankl’s amazing book, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” And my way… is forward. 

The Sober Husband Blog – Volume 3 – October 2nd, 2020

I met Jen the day I got divorced. The whole day was weird. I woke up to the song “Wild Horses” by the Rolling Stones. I took a shower and went to the courthouse. I was in line with my wife when the guy in front of me recognized me from high school. I asked him, “How’s it going?” 

“Not great! he replied.” Oh yeah, he’s getting divorced too. 

The judge gave his speech and the marriage was dissolved. Said goodbye to my now ex and went and bought new tires for my car. They said it was going to be a while so I went to the mall and bought a $100 pair of jeans. I had never really done that before and just figured I needed a “me day”. 

That night I went to my home comedy club and handed the bartender my keys and told him, “I just got divorced. You are not to give me these back under any circumstances.” My oldest brother showed up to do his brotherly duties and we started drinking. It was open mic night. They called my name and I got on stage and I said, “I can do my act or I can talk about the fact that I got divorced today. Your choice.” 

“Divorce!” they all yelled simultaneously. 

And for the next 10 minutes I talked about my divorce that day. How when I got to the parking lot of the court house that morning that my first thought was, “I should have tailgated.” Just grilling burgers and drinking beers at the Bridgeview County Courthouse parking lot? I came off stage and my brother and I clinked beer bottles. It was raw and real and honest and funny. Then Jen walked by. 

Jen takes over a room when she’s in it. Like a movie star. All eyes are on her. The first time I saw her I felt like Roger Rabbit seeing Jessica Rabbit for the first time. She has this air of confidence and energy. She floats through rooms. 

The open mic ended and my brother and I took our seats at the bar outside the showroom. There was drinking to be done. Much to my complete shock Jen walked up to me and introduced herself. I immediately tried to convince myself that this happens all the time and tried to be cool. 

“Did you really get divorced today?” She asked. 

“Yeah.” 

“And you just went up on stage and talked about it?” 

“Yeah.” 

“Wow!” 

“Yeah, I’m actually headlining here in two weeks. You should come back up and see me.” said Ken totally keeping it cool. 

“Ok, I will.” she responded with a smile. 

Then she joined her friends at the other end of the bar. I sat there for a minute and thought about the gravity of the day. I had gotten divorced. The person that I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with was like, “Nah bro” and it was over. I felt guilt and shame and embarrassment. I had failed as a husband and had to start all over again. I had nothing to lose. 

I stood up. I wrote my number on a napkin and walked over to Jen and her friends. I put the napkin down in front of her and I said, “I don’t want to wait two weeks to see you. Call me tomorrow.” Her mouth dropped. She just looked at me and said, “Ok.” 

To this day I don’t know what made me do that. I had never done anything like that before in my life. I was always too afraid of rejection. She texted me later that night and told me that was the most baller thing any guy had ever done.

Jen and I had our first date Thanksgiving night three days later. We met at some dive bar and had a couple drinks. It turns out that she had just ended her relationship earlier that week too so we were both getting over someone. “Crazy Train” by Ozzie Osbourne came on and we both laughed. “That’s not a good sign.” I kissed her at the bar and I remember thinking the moment that I kissed her that I had married the wrong woman. I had never felt like that kissing someone before. 

We only dated for a few weeks. I was too raw emotionally and insecure and we were both on the rebound. We still debate to this day who ghosted who but eventually we got in touch and began a friendship that lasted 7 years. That Christmas I met a girl and jumped right back into a relationship (serial monogamist much?) and Jen eventually met someone and got married as well. We both worked downtown and had lunch occasionally. I told her my girl troubles and she told me her boy troubles. We really got to know each other and I accepted and respected our friendship and the boundaries that came with it. I never had a secret crush. She was just my friend and I really valued that. She even invited me to her wedding and I went by myself. I didn’t stay too long. I said my goodbyes and gave her a hug and walked to my car. I sat in the car and I remember thinking. “This isn’t over. I don’t know why but I think I’m going to be with her some day.” I had no reason to believe that she wouldn’t be happily married for the next 50 years but I just had this vision in my head of her painting while I read a book on a couch. The vision was clear as day. I figured we would meet on some cruise ship in 30 years and she would push me around in my wheel chair till I died. 

Her marriage didn’t last long and we re-connected. By this time I was sober and I had figured out who I was and for the first time maybe in my life I finally had self worth and self esteem. I was able to finally be in a healthy relationship and be honest and transparent and let my walls down. The first couple of months we dated we spent hours talking, about our fears, our needs, our wants. For the first time I didn’t hide behind some persona that wasn’t me. The party animal, the life of the party, the false Bravado, Tatonka (long story). Like that night on stage the day of my divorce, I was raw and real and let her see the real me, flaws and all. I expected her to go running for the closest exit but she kept coming back and loved me no matter what and I accepted that love which for me was the hardest part. And slowly we built, one day at a time, a foundation for what would be our relationship. 

I am honestly grateful for alcohol. I know that sounds weird but I don’t know if I could have pulled off that move sober that night. It’s called liquid courage for a reason. Alcohol allowed me to stand up for myself at times and to vent my anger. It numbed me from pain I didn’t know how to deal with at the time and it gave me the courage to talk to the prettiest girl in the room. It worked until it didn’t work anymore. But once I got sober and finally let the real me surface and let people decide (without fear of abandonment or rejection) whether they wanted me in their life and more importantly whether I wanted them in my life I finally started to have healthy relationships for the first time. It hasn’t been easy. I know there are people in my life who miss that guy. He was a lot of fun the first few hours of the night but I can’t help but love the gift of being present. When you talk I’m truly listening and when I say something it isn’t some slurred ball of angst. I say what I mean.  Alcohol may have been what I needed that night to get Jen to call me but sobriety is what has gotten me to keep her. Seven years ago when we met there is no way we would have made it as a couple and I think we both recognized that quickly. I would have made the same mistakes I had made in my marriage but having gone on this journey I finally realized in order to find the love of your life you must first BE the love of your own life. Until you can truly love yourself unconditionally it is so difficult to be authentic in any other relationship but I have that today… And that makes me the luckiest Roger Rabbit of all. 

The Sober Husband Blog – Volume 2 – August 28th, 2020

One of the things that you have to understand about alcoholics is that our world is the only world that matters. There have been many times alcoholics have been confronted by a doctor or judge or wife who have looked them in the eye and told them they are going to die, go to jail or lose their marriage if they take one more drink and the whole time that’s being explained to them they are thinking, “This is stressing me out. I need a drink”. I promise you that for an alcoholic it is far easier to walk out and go sit on a bar stool for hours at a time than it is to stand there and work it out because that requires intimacy and as we all know… intimacy is fucking gross. 

So last week when I painted the ceiling in the bathroom Jen made a comment on how the fumes were bugging her. Then about a half hour later she made another comment and said she might have to leave. I still took no action. After all, my world isn’t being impacted by the fumes.  Finally she said, “you can totally stay here but I think that I’m going to get out of the house for a little bit and get some food.” Now the alcoholic in me wants to not be bothered with her problems. If she leaves then I’ll get to play video games and relax and do what I want to do OR (you big idiot) you have a chance to take your beautiful new wife out on an impromptu date (girls love that shit btw) and spend some quality time with her in a new city she’s not familiar with. OHHHHH!  

Guys – women tell you exactly what they want/need. All the time. She spelled it out for me in very specific terms. 1. The fumes are bugging me. 2. I need to get out. 3. I want to grab some food. I mean it was pretty clear cut.  But because I live in my own alcoholic world my first reaction is; No fumes. No problem. In the past I would have closed the door and set up some fans and then spent an hour convincing the person I love the most in this world that it’s not that bad and we don’t have to go anywhere because going out and grabbing some food was not part of my plan today. I have no idea if any of my exes read this but I assure you they are all shaking their heads. It’s Ken Garr 101. I hear “solve the problem” and come up with a solution that suits my needs when the solution has already been provided. Jen, like most women, communicates very clearly what her needs are at all times. I truly could have stayed home and she would have been just fine going out on her own. And there have been times that I have stayed at home while she went out shopping. But I had spent all day painting and she had spent all day working and I could tell she just wanted to spend some time with her husband. And truth be told I love going out with her. I have fun with her no matter where we go. 

I read this book years ago by Tom Rath and Donald O Clifton called “How Full is Your Bucket?” and the premise based on a 50 year study was this, the more you fill other people’s buckets the more yours becomes filled. I painted, I’m tired, I’m sweaty and I can’t shower because the ceiling is drying in the bathroom still but here I have an opportunity to spend time with my new wife who loves me, stinky and all, no matter what and fill her bucket. To a normal person or someone already in a healthy relationship this might sound ludicrous but I assure you it’s progress for me. I’m trying to be a better listener and to understand that the more I can fill her bucket and make her feel loved and the less I make myself the center of the universe, the happier and healthier we are going to be.  And all it cost me was a falafel. 

The Sober Husband Blog – Volume 1 – July 15th, 2020

It’s three days before the wedding and Jen has a visitor. We are preparing for a wedding amidst a global pandemic and a cross country move to Los Angeles at the same time. Needless to say my anxiety is through the roof and despite my best efforts it’s starting to come out in the form of crabiness, sarcasm and my old friend passive aggressiveness.  Her friend is over and looking at some art work. They are going through some old clothes as well that Jen is getting rid of. They are sitting cross legged on the floor relaxed and gabbing away but all I see are items that need to be packed, rooms that need to be cleaned and one of those storage pods sitting on the street outside that’s only about a third full. “What kind of person just comes over and chats three days before a wedding?” my brain fires off. And why isn’t Jen ushering her out so we can get to work on the things that need to be done?

I’m agitated. I pause. I take a deep breath and then it dawns on me.  Because it’s Jen.  

People are drawn to her the same way I am drawn to her. She gives you her undivided attention. She spends as much time with you as you need and she makes you feel seen and genuinely cared for. The qualities that I adore about her and the reason I’m marrying her in three days are the same qualities that all people see in her. She is a procrastinator and waits till the last minute but she’s never been late for anything since I’ve known her and she has never missed a deadline since I’ve been with her. A calm comes over me and an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I don’t want her to change. I don’t want her to adhere to my schedule and meet my sophomoric (at times) expectations. I just want her to be her and I need to not only celebrate who she is but be grateful for it because it’s those same qualities; love, kindness, attentiveness and generosity that make her such a great wife and partner.

The wedding day comes. It’s at 2pm. It’s the hottest and most humid day of the year so far in Chicago but we’re Chicagoans so we’re used to it. The tent goes up. We’ve made 50 face masks with our names and initials. Our theme is tiki, of course, because that’s cheesy and cool at the same time. Just like us. It’s unbelievable what it took to get to this day. We got engaged on March 13th and on March 14th the whole world literally shut down due to the Coronavirus.  Our wedding, originally planned to take place in Las Vegas at Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club by Brad Garrett, was cancelled and we were forced to scramble and figure out a way to have a safe wedding in a time where you were literally rolling the dice on having any type of gathering. My sister got ordained online, we invited a small number of family and close friends, held it outdoors and practiced social distancing. And somehow we pulled it off.  (As of this publication nobody at the wedding has tested positive for the Coronavirus) 

As Jen emerged from the back of her house holding her father’s arm and looking as beautiful as ever I have never seen a woman so elated. All of my stress and anxiety dissipate and I’m able to be present and truly enjoy the moment we have worked so hard to put together. My sister, our online minister, whispered to me, “She’s so happy!” Her father and I embraced and I took her hands and for the next ten minutes we didn’t take our eyes off each other. We repeated the vows we had written together and we became husband and wife. As with all weddings the rest of the day was a blur and the occasion ended all too quickly. Five days later we packed up her blue Nissan Versa, our dog, Wilbur, and the two dumplings (guinea pigs) and set off to start our new life together in Los Angeles. 

When I got divorced in 2011 there weren’t any books for men about divorce because since the dawn of man we have been encouraged to never ever discuss our feelings let alone publish a book on how to deal with them. It’s just easier to start wars than talk about our feelings apparently. Throughout my divorce my male friends were amazing but all but one of them had never been through a divorce. The hugs and whiskey were bountiful but I didn’t know how to process it. I am admittedly an over analyzer and problem solver (aka alcoholic) but I was just left wondering what happened. It wasn’t until years later after a lot of therapy, soul searching and sobriety that I realized that my marriage was doomed from the start because of my own defects of character and inability to maintain any healthy relationship let alone a marriage. 

So as I begin my second marriage I wanted to share my experiences and perspective as a sober husband trying to get it right this time in what many consider the dawn of a new age where the paper mache/cardboard cut out of a husband (the dutiful husband going to work, putting food on the table, cutting the grass, flipping burgers on the grill on weekends while drinking a beer) is gone. The world is changing and the role of the husband is changing (more on that later) and by god I’m going to save the world with this blog! You’re welcome America.

A Day with Dreesen

“I’m having lunch with Tom Dreesen.” I told the attendant at the security gate. That sounded surreal. I had met Tom once before years ago in Chicago. He gave a lecture to aspiring Comedians called “The Joy of Stand up Comedy” for free. He talked for over an hour about stand up comedy and I took 4 pages of notes that day as he imparted onto us his more than 40 years of knowledge in show business.

Mr. Dreesen and I have very similar backgrounds. We both grew up in blue collar families on the south side of Chicago. I grew up in a very middle class home and he grew up poor in Harvey. After doing stand up in our home town for years we both made the trek to Los Angeles. He slept in an abandoned car and hitchhiked up and down Sunset Blvd begging to work for free at the Comedy Store and I sold nearly everything I owned and left a promising career in sales. Both of our marriages subsequently ended.

The receptionist paged him and he greeted me a minute later in a beautiful navy blue pin stripe suit. He looked like he was about to get on stage. I wore khaki’s and a polo yet still felt underdressed standing next to this pro. He apologized for having had to push our meeting back 30 minutes. You could tell it genuinely bothered him as he prides himself on punctuality and keeping his word.

After exchanging a few pleasantries about which parish we grew up near (a south side ritual) and showing me some of the pictures mounted on the wall of celebrities who had been members of the 85 year old Lakeside Country Club including Bob Hope, W.C. Fields and John Wayne, he asked me all about my background; where I’m from, where I went to school, what I studied, my professional career, my stand up experience. It wasn’t your typical LA conversation where the person you are talking to is scanning the room to see if their is someone more important or more interesting to talk to. I had his complete attention and he was genuinely interested in my story and my journey.

After I talked for a while he began to share with me his journey and his process as a writer and entertainer. “It’s all about the material. Stage presence and timing are important but at the end of the day it’s about your unique perspective. It’s what’s unique about you that is going to set you apart from everyone else. The best way to connect to an audience is to let them get to know you. Who you are? Where you’re from? For years I was the Comedian from Harvey, Illinois. There are lots of comics from Chicago but I’m the only one from Harvey. That made me unique. You want to make it ‘An Evening with Ken Garr’. The most important thing is to make it conversational, not presentational. If your wife tells you that dinner isn’t going to be ready for another hour and to go entertain the guests, what would you go talk to them about? What stories would you share?” His passion was contagious.

“The difference I see in comedy today is that when I started and you told someone you were a Comedian everyone was floored. Nowadays, ‘oh my chiropractor does comedy, my dentist does stand up.’ Everyone is doing it. There are way more comedians than their were when I started which makes it even harder to get noticed. That’s why it’s so important to keep re-inventing yourself and always coming up with new material. The Comedians that make it today have a hook. Something that is unique to their character or their act. There are lots of Ventriloquists but Jeff Dunham is the most successful one because his material is good and each one of his puppets has a unique voice.”

Later on in the conversation I asked him if he ever thought about quitting. “No. It was never an option. There are so few people in the world that can do what we do and I knew that this was what my spirit was called to do. Their are maybe 1 out of every 5 million people that can do what we do. I’m fortunate that I’m able to make a good living as a Comedian but whether I’m making $1,000 a year or a million, I knew that this was what I wanted to do and I wasn’t going to quit… ever. Now that being said, a guy has to eat so if you need to take on a part time job to pay the rent and eat then that’s what you have to do. You don’t want to pass out on stage from starvation. But my comedy is always evolving. I’ve moved into motivational speaking and corporate work. I also do a lot of charity work and I’ve been doing my one man show for years now. Doing a one man show allows you to pull a range of emotions from the audience not just laughter. It’s ok for them to laugh and cry all in the same night. I always did what I wanted to do.”

I shared with him that one of the struggles that I find each day is that when I wake up I don’t know what tasks I should be focused on in order to become successful. He said, “Write. And write everyday and keep writing. I know it’s not for everyone. A journalist asked me the best question once, ‘are you a writer who performs stand up or are you a stand up who writes?’ and I’m definitely the latter. I love performing. I love being in front of an audience but I know that I have to constantly be writing new material so that my perspective continues to be fresh and unique. If I can write one new solid joke everyday thats 365 jokes a year, 730 over 2 years! But I also encourage Comedians to not be obsessed with stand up comedy and not forget to have other interests. Obviously I play golf.” I agreed and shared that I see so many Comedians today who do nothing but stand up and aren’t out living a life that they can talk about. “It’s important for your material to do other things.” In addition to writing he shared that having goals is critical and not only having goals but to visualize reaching those goals. “When I was sleeping in the car up on blocks I would imagine myself sitting next to Johnny Carson on the couch and he would be laughing and it happened. I’m a huge believer in visualization. I believe your subconscious is always working toward that goal even if you’re not.”

I also shared my concern that I was spreading myself too thin and trying to be at all places at all times. “That’s not a bad thing. You never know when you’re going to get your opportunity. Obviously be loyal to the clubs that are working you but most of the clubs in town play fair and don’t mind you working other clubs. They understand the importance of stage time. Just get on stage as much as you can and most importantly be prepared for that opportunity when it comes. I’m always prepared. I have pen and paper in my suit pocket right now in case something strikes me as funny. In fact to prepare for our lunch I did my research on you. You’re funny! But I wanted to know a little bit about the person I was meeting with today. Preparation is important.”

“What are your thoughts on reaching out to agents. A lot of people feel it’s a waste of time?” I asked. “I don’t see any harm in introducing yourself to Agents and letting them know who you are and what you’re trying to do. Have some balls and ask them if they’d be interested in representing you. All they can say is no or not right now but at least you’ve let them know who you are.”

After some tea and cookies it was time to conclude our two hour lunch. He walked me through the club house and brought me to the locker room. “Come here Kenny. I want to show you something.” he said. We walked through a couple rows of lockers and into a smaller room where his locker sat next to Bob Hope’s. “They kept it here in his honor.” In the corner sat a golfer getting dressed. “Joe, I want you to meet a friend of mine. He’s a Comedian from Chicago. Kenny Garr, this is my friend, Joe Pesci.” I said in a very cool and calm voice, “Hi Joe. It’s nice to meet you.” as we shook hands. We chatted for a minute or two about his golf game that day and Tom showed me Bob Hope’s locker. The word ‘visualization’ popped into my head immediately.

As I left the country club that day I had a lot on which to reflect. If you ask me I’ll try and convince you and myself that I’m not in this at all for the fame and fortune and that I’m just in this to make people laugh and spread joy to the world but that’s not entirely true. Having a locker at a country club in the same room as Bob Hope’s and Tom Dreesen’s while asking Joe Pesci how he shot that day would be awesome. It would mean that I did something right in this business and that people recognized it. “I started with Jay Leno and David Letterman. Their friends of mine and people have asked me if I’m pissed that I didn’t have their type of fame and fortune. I’m not. I make a very good living doing what I love. I traveled the world with Frank Sinatra. I’m blessed. How many people in the world can say they’ve been able to do what they truly love and make a living doing it?”

Recently I was given the opportunity to open for Sebastian Maniscalco, another Chicagoan who is on a rocket ship to stardom right now. After the third of four amazing sold out shows Bob Fisher, the owner of the famous Ice House Comedy Club, presented him with a bottle of Dom Perignon. Bob later told me that it was only the 8th time in 36 years that he presented somebody with a bottle on stage. I told him, “That immediately became one of my goals, Bob. I hope one day you do the same for me.” I had never been more serious in my life. It’s been visualized. It’s locked in my brain now and my conscious and subconscious have been put to task. I know that one day I’ll put that bottle of Dom in my locker at the same country club where Bob Hope played golf and where Tom Dreesen, a fellow south sider and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, bought me lunch… and called me funny.