The start of this year has been a slog. The cold, wet winter weather seems better suited to hibernation than getting the kids to school and diving into work projects. And both my dad and dad-in-law are ailing, which gives everything a heavy feel. But a few kind souls have made a big difference.

At coffee with a friend, I started unloading all my worries about my daughter in middle school. This had been on my mind but I didn’t realize how upset I’ve been until I started describing seeing my daughter, usually so bold and happy, clam up and pull into herself recently. Adolescence is awful, the early developers, the late developers, everybody is freaking out, and none of them are talking about it. So it’s completely normal, but her new shyness and hesitation are heartbreaking to me.

My friend looked me in the eye and told me solemnly about sociological studies that show the girls grow into strong women when they have adoring fathers who are confident in their abilities. Let’s set aside the likelihood that this was completely fabricated for my benefit. Because it was also the absolute perfect thing to say. Sometimes a comment echos into you like a gong, vibrating into your skull and teeth and down your spine to your toes, finding the hidden spot in you that says “I never knew it, but that is exactly, undeniably true.” This is how my friend’s advice rang to me. “You can handle this,” it said, “and now is not the time to back off or slink away, but the time to step forward and shower your zitty sullen preteen with adoration, confidence, and humor.”

I went by the elementary school, where a group of parents were cleaning out the emergency supply container. Out in the cold, cataloging and restocking medical, rescue, shelter, and food supplies, preparing to keep our kids safe if something bad happens. This further warmed me. I joined in.

I had to laugh when 2 moms insisted we remove the expired food, while another dad and I kept saying, “I’d eat that. And that. And that.” We have the expiration date myth discussion at my house frequently. I imagined a flashback to our cave ancestors, someone saying “go ahead and eat that, but when you croak, we’ll be here to take care of the kids.”

Caution prevailed. I guess even I wouldn’t want to expose the PTA Board to the liability of food-poisoning our children in the aftermath of an earthquake, but it was with a somber heart that I rolled a giant bin of food towards the dumpsters. I hate wasting food.

Another dad walked by and asked what I was doing. “Don’t ask,” I said. When he persisted I admitted I was being a responsible adult and throwing away expired food. As part of a good project.

“You can’t throw away food!” he cried. “Roll it to my car, I’ll find somebody who can take it.” And I did, gleefully. He’s going to cook up the canned chili for the homeless this weekend, and I bet it will be delicious.

May 2019 be filled with angels like these, calling us to be our best selves, taking care of the children, feeding the hungry.