7 min read

"Don't worry about the bales. Just focus on the stack."

"Don't worry about the bales. Just focus on the stack."

We had a really long newsletter earlier this week about all things BYU sports. If you haven't seen it, check your inbox (or just click HERE). Today, that's not what we're getting. We're back after a month off, but it's still the offseason. There is only so much sporting news to talk about right now.

Over the past month so, I've been sick. Nothing serious - just a bout with strep throat, but I haven't felt good. Strep is kind of my nightmare sickness. The fever and the painful sore throat are common and everyone gets that. For whatever reason, after all of the rest of the symptoms are gone, that's when my relationship with strep really starts to blossom.

Usuaully I get a sore throat that lasts for a couple of weeks and I get those nasty white tonsil stone things. They're harmless, but they're a nuisance and pretty disgusting. I also get a psoriasis flare up 100% of the time when I get strep. My psoriasis brand of choice is guttate psoriasis. Google that and it'll give you an idea of what happens to my arms, legs, torso and sometimes face after strep throat.

If you don't want to Google it, I'll summarize it for you using the words of my father: "I think if I sat next to you on a plane, I'd ask to change seats."

It's harmless, mostly. It itches a little. And occasionally a spot or two cracks and hurts. It's just gross for the most part.

My kids get strep. My wife gets strep. Everyone knows what strep is. This is not about pining for sympathy because of strep throat - it's just strep - but kinda tells you where the Hansen house has been for much of the last month.

When I'm secluded in my room and alone with my thoughts, my head gets going to some crazy places. The last week or two, it's reflected back on my late Grandfather. He passed away seven years ago with a suspected brain tumor. I say suspected because whatever it was that they found was so large and invasive, that he was told he'd die before a biopsy could even happen.

My Grandpa and I were close. He was an old school dairy farmer from Cache Valley Utah who taught me all of the important values in life. He taught me to believe in God. He taught me to believe in myself. And he taught me that LaVell Edwards is one of the greatest gifts we've ever received from Heaven. Grandpa covered all of the important things.

We'd hunt together. We'd go to BYU games together. We'd camp together. We were really close. I was very fortunate that my dad was so close to his dad because it allowed me to become really close to my Grandpa. It was great.

I've written about this in public spaces before, but I want to reiterate the story today. If you've heard it before, I apologize. If you haven't, welcome aboard.

When I was a little kid, I would go up to the farm to help Grandpa. What that really meant was that I would go to the farm and Dad would drive a tractor or something, and then I would ride around and hang out with Grandpa. My favorite tractor to ride in was always the Bale Wagon.

If you're unfamiliar with a New Holland Bale Wagon, invest five minutes into this YouTube video to learn. Even if you couldn't care less about farming, the video itself is pretty good.

My 8-year old self could never figure out the bale wagon. How could a machine take one bale at a time and know what to do with it? Sometimes it turned the bales, sometimes it lined them up three in a row, and then it always knew when it was full and it could it into a stack in the back. Then, even crazier, the back stack had its own set of hydraulics that would lift everything up into a giant haystack back at the farm. The whole process was mesmerizing.

The cab of a bale wagon was small. There was just one seat and a whole bunch of knobs and levers. I would squish myself in between the driver's seat and the door and hold on as Grandpa would drive. When we were on the local roads, the ride was a little cramped but it was fine. The second we left pavement, my head would play pinball between the side and back window.

Grandpa would lower the picker-upper thing and start picking up individual hay bales. Every time a bale would get picked up, I would carefully watch as it was lifted onto the conveyer belt and then hoisted onto the platform. There were so many things that could go wrong and 8-year old me was determined to identify them as quickly as possible.

The bale could get misaligned. The twine of the bale could break and then loose hay would be everywhere. The bales might not spin like they should and that would ruin the whole stack. All of these problems that could happen and I made sure that I was monitoring each of them.

But Grandpa didn't really monitor them. Sure, he'd pay attention, but he was constantly focused on picking up the next bale and getting everything picked up so he could take it back to the stack. Something would happen in the bale grabbing process and I would voice my concerns, but Grandpa would remind me to focus on the stack, not the bale.

No matter how fast we were going, how bumpy the ride was, or what was happening on the platform, Grandpa kept his attention on the task at hand - getting all of the hay out of the field and into the haystack. There were a lot of things that could have gone wrong in the process, but the stack was constantly the focal point of what he was doing.

I had mostly forgotten about the attention paid to the stack as I grew up in life. But when Grandpa received his final diagnosis, I had a chance to hang out with him one-on-one for the last time, just days before his passing.

We reminisced about BYU football - he was excited to watch Kalani build off of his 2016 success. He thought Tanner Mangum and BYU would be great in 2017 - probably good the tumor got to him before the Cougars did that year. We talked about my parents. We shared old pheasant hunting memories and stories.

We talked about my wife and kids and how important my role of a father was going to be in the years to come. It was about then that I started to feel scared, and sad, and overwhelmed, and really worried. I was (and still am today) lucky enough to have my dad with me on Earth, but Grandpa was always my second dad. I looked to him for counsel and advice all the time, and without fail, he was happy to help. My second child had just turned one year old and I couldn't imagine raising my family without the voice of Grandpa in the back of my head.

I started really feeling the pain of his upcoming death.

He sensed it, because he was always a smarter person than me, and grabbed my hand.

"Don't worry about the bales, Jeff. Just focus on the stack."

To this day, I have no idea if that's really the way that you build a haystack. It still feels like a lot of things could go wrong with the bales on the bale wagon, but Grandpa always insisted on focusing on the stack.

But that day in the hospital was clearly not about hay bales. That day was one last reminder to last me for the rest of my life.

Since that day, there have been a lot of hay bales in my life. Kids, career, my wife, my side career, friends with sicknesses, depression, anxiety, I'm bald now, and a hundred other things that have come up along the way. I feel a lot like the 8-year old in the tractor sometimes because I end up hyper-focused on the bales, but I try harder and harder to be the driver of the tractor who is focused on the stack.

Last month, we officially debuted the first "Hey Man!" meeting with a small group of people. What in the world is "Hey Man!"? Well, it's you. And it's me. And it's our friends. And it's our neighbors. And it's maybe our brother. And maybe our spouse. And maybe that cousin that you haven't thought about in a while. "Hey Man!" is everyone.

It's still new and I'm still fine-tuning exactly what it should be, but "Hey Man!" is a way for guys to get together and help each other re-focus on the stack and get through the bales of life.

There were nearly 50,000 deaths by suicide in 2022. Nearly 40,000 of those were men. Nearly 17,000 of those were between the ages of 25-44. That's a lot of young dudes!

I'm not a therapist. I'm not a doctor. I don't have any qualifications to diagnose anything or act as some sort of guide. The only thing I am is a dude smack dab in the middle of the ages 25-44 who wants to help keep as many of us around as possible. "Hey Man!" is just that. It's just a chance for dudes to get together, hang out, eat some food, and create some friendships. That's hard to do in a world with career demands and family demands and the need for free time and whatever else comes in the world. But once a monthish, I want to try and make something work.

So, stay tuned for specifics as this continues to get flushed out. In the meantime, may we all focus a little less on the bales and a little more on the stack.