#transparentTuesday: On Wednesday, Confidence, Compassion, and Fatherhood

I’m horrible at basketball.

My handle is extra loose, my jump shot is broken, but I still love playing. It’s one of the few things in life that I can think of that I enjoy despite being bad (only other thing I could think of is bowling). I remember asking someone how I could improve my shot and they said I just needed to have confidence in the shot. Confidence and consistency in my form. The advice sounded simple, but I had to stop and ask “what’s confidence?”

The question on the surface may sound ridiculous, but I was a teenager who spent most of his free time at a computer screen. Who set himself apart from his peers because of a confluence of depression, anxiety, and attention deficit disorder (all undiagnosed at the time). I knew what the definition of confidence was, but I didn’t know what it felt like. I was a teenager asking for basketball advice from a guy I knew through fantasy wrestling, and I didn’t have a clue and I wasn’t afraid (for once) to show it.

Questions that are perceived as ridiculous often are never considered by the target of the question. The reason being that person takes whatever the subject of the question is for granted. For example, blue is blue, right? How would you explain to someone who never saw the color what it looks like without showing it to them? The question goes into deeper meanings of the world around us… but long story short, I never got confidence in my jump shot. My jumper is still trash, and I haven’t played much basketball since I asked this question.

What I didn’t know at the time was that I did feel confidence, and that confidence was in my writing. I didn’t give myself room to doubt. Instead, I was plugging away at my computer. Writing more for writing groups online than I ever wrote for school. It was a passion that drove me, and eventually, I got good and I knew it. I just didn’t know how to translate this confidence elsewhere and then eventually I hit a wall and it all stopped.

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I started working at the National Basketball Association in November of 2016, and by September of 2017, I was leaving for a new job. It would be the fourth switch between full-time jobs I would make since the Fall of 2014. While each prior change was an attempt to make more money, and advance in my career this one was different. By this point, my marriage was in shambles, and I was disillusioned by the world of working for a large corporation. I had a slight hope to save the marriage, but I felt like my days working in video full-time might be over. Now I was set to work in a high school.

I’d be lying if I said working in education was my first choice. I applied to any place that looked viable. I applied for a job at NFL Films, for a video editing/social media job at a lacrosse equipment company, and plenty of dead-end jobs. The job search was stressful because I knew I had to find something before the season started, and the new NBA season was set to start earlier than ever before. It was then that my ex’s friend suggested I apply for teacher’s assistant jobs. The selling point was the benefits package, a daytime schedule, summer’s off, and a decent wage. I went on to have my worst interview since graduating high school but I still got the job.

After I found out I was hired there was a change inside me. I stopped thinking of it as a stopgap job, a bridge to another profession, and I started thinking of it as a transition into a new field. I scrolled upon videos that explained the importance of black male teachers, but more than that I saw the damage Betsy DeVos was doing to public education in America. It was at that moment that I saw this as my being part of the resistance. I was never going to be the one to march, or protest, but I don’t think people have to make their stand in the same way. It was almost as if this was a calling.

This year was the first year since I graduated that I hadn’t switched jobs. Every day I work with kids with special needs. I talk with them, I encourage them, I make jokes about myself and them, but most of all I find myself caring about these children and wanting them to succeed. I see kids with anxiety, depression, ADHD, behavioral issues, poor upbringings, and I see kids who want to see someone who cares. It is in these spaces where I don’t think about confidence at all because I realize it is not about me at all. As an assistant, I don’t carry even half the workload a teacher does but working beside them I see where I want to be. It’s no longer working for a major corporation in video production but teaching a classroom and hopefully helping them develop into greater versions of themselves as they age.

I relate to these children because in many ways I was one of them. I still am. I still lose track of chunks of time because I’m doing something irrelevant in the morning. I still find myself avoiding things (sometimes as simple as shaving), and sometimes I find myself unable to leave the house. But as I’m living I’m learning how important self-compassion is and how you have to forgive yourself. How to be kind to yourself even if you’re mad about a misstep.

It’s definitely been a process.

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There was one moment this past summer that broke my heart.

My ex sent a text saying how my son cried about coming to my place. She said he told her that I told him to stop kissing me. The context of why I told him that didn’t matter. What mattered was that I was denying him, because what he was doing annoyed me. My son is a touchy, feely, and affectionate child. Denying his kissing wasn’t a small thing. It was denying who he was. Cameron was only three at the time, but that didn’t make his feelings any less real.

There’s this weird moment with kids where you realize they aren’t just living breathing creatures, but creatures who are capable of making connections, forming conclusions, and communicating it. This change becomes painfully obvious when they move from two to three (and even more so when they turn four). And here I had a three-year-old who wasn’t made to feel welcome in my home. That hurt me because I remembered times I didn’t feel accepted in my home growing up. So it was at that moment I made a change and became more affectionate.

I’m not a perfect father, but I strive to be better every day. With this, I began to hug him, kiss him, encourage him, and tell him how much I love him. Where I used to channel my Dad and yell when I was frustrated now I work to communicate more, and if I do yell I apologize after the fact. When I see my son I see all the possibilities in the universe, and I want him to feel comfortable with me in a way I never was with my father. I want Cameron to be able to come to me with the questions that might seem ridiculous, and if I don’t have the answer? I want to tell him that I don’t know and encourage him to find out.

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#transparentTuesdays: Showing Up, Missing, and Regret.

Sometimes the hardest part is showing up.

Almost from the moment, I started this blog I’ve been avoiding it. Sitting down to write something that didn’t feel good was painful. I’ve read plenty of pieces about attacking procrastination, writer’s block, and any other mental malady that gets in the way of productivity. They all stress the importance of just being present. They say things like “do it for fifteen minutes” to test the waters, but that’s easier said than done. It really comes down to what you want to write to be more powerful than the urge to run from it, and that’s where I am now.

When I came up with the idea for the Slow Watch I felt reinvigorated. It was something I was interested in and wanted to write about. I loved film analysis in college, and I wanted to dive head first into this idea. Then the first movie came and I watched it, but it took me an eternity to do light research on the subject, and then even longer to sit down to write. But I tried something different because this idea was important to me. I kept trying and it was painful. What I was writing wasn’t good, but I kept it.

I decided not to put myself on a timeline, but to keep bringing myself to my Macbook to try again. To give different approaches. To try to find something that works, and I think I finally got it. What I learned was the process of showing up to write was the sledgehammer that wore down my writer’s block. Then it was when I was away from the MacBook that the breakthrough happened. I wouldn’t have known where to go, but here I am with a direction and that makes me happy.

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I don’t miss people, and I don’t spend much time questioning whether it is a feature or a flaw.

It’s one of the driving reasons that I find it hard to stay connected with friends and family. I enjoy the company of the people I love, but when they’re absent from my life I don’t feel as if I’m missing anything. I can go days, weeks, months, and sometimes years without communicating and I won’t think twice about it. In the past I’ve made excuses for it: I was married, I have multiple jobs, I have a child, but there are people who have the same issues who manage to stay in contact.

I believe overtime many people in my life have come to understand the way I am. I notice it in how they wait for me to reach out. I don’t think they hold it against me, but I’m honestly not sure. When I see them everything seems fine. So why overthink and mess up what works? I don’t know. It’s a thing I think.

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I do feel regret.

One of my biggest regrets folds into what I wrote above. It was years before I appreciated and understood who he was and the sacrifices he made for his family. Much of that was because of how he communicated. There was a lot of yelling in the house. It wasn’t abusive, but it bordered on annoying because it was about any and everything. It was when I watched his failing health that I realized that he was a product of his childhood.

He was the son of an abusive womanizer, who had extramarital affairs, and an alcoholic mother. He didn’t have an education past middle school. He dropped out and went to work. For a brief period of time he worked for the city of Coatesville, but then he landed a job at Lukens Steel where he worked for decades. It was this job that provided the life that allowed my Mom to raise seven children (two of which were from her first marriage). He would work doubles, and sometimes triples, and he would walk home from work often to work more in the house. He micromanaged household task and often kept busy. I would say he didn’t complain, but he did, and it is his complaints that I can recite to this day (such gems like “if I didn’t wash clothes everyday, I’d have to wash clothes everyday).

When I was a child I gravitated to my Mother. Much of the reasoning was because she was home and we saw her more. But as an adult I can see my Dad as someone who grew up in a completely different and harder time. He wasn’t the best at communicating his feelings, or having a deep conversation, and many times he would leave a conflict by running down the steps and mumbling only to rant later. I often look at my siblings and see both his good and traits show up. It’s not that we are trying. It’s just that they are so discreetly written in our DNAs that they show up even if in the slightest ways.

My Dad was a hard worker. He couldn’t stop. Some people look to retire and relax, but instead he became the backbone of my Mom’s in-home daycare. He’d cook meals, wash clothes, put kids to sleep. He was their Uncle Genie and the kids loved them, and he loved them as well even if he fussed endlessly. That’s how he showed his love. Well that’s how he showed it until we found out his hip was rotted and he needed hip surgery. The surgery was risky for someone at his age, but in an evaluation they also discovered prostate cancer. The Doctors said that it didn’t necessarily have to be treated. It was so early that he might be able to live the rest of his life and never have to deal with it. He opted for treatment.

What happened over months ended was a line of demarcation between what was and what became. My Dad was never the same. When he was getting treatments there were moments when he lashed out in anger, and as a result he was put in an old folks home. He stayed there months after the treatments were over. When I write this I can feel the sadness that emitted from him as he sat in that barren room. He was the same man I knew my entire life, but yet somehow he was different. He was showing a side of himself that he never showed me. He showed a vulnerability that I didn’t know and it was in this time that I became closer with him than I imagined. It was then that I heard him say that he loved me for the first time.

I wish there was a clear line of recovery from that point but there were starts and stops. We found out he had dementia as well, and he fought to try to convince us that his memory was great and he didn’t forget anything. He would prove this by recalling things that we never knew in the first place and this took over any other conversation.

My brother Matt, my sister Polly, and I all had children in the span of two months. I remember my Dad saying that he wanted to see all his grandchildren. And there was a day when he sat in his living room with his three new grandchildren and he said he was happy because he got to see them all. It was a beautiful moment, and I think somewhere he knew he wouldn’t be seeing them grow up. It was at that moment that he said he wasn’t afraid to die. I get choked up at the thought of that because I don’t know what it would take to get to that point.

I just regret that I didn’t give him the chance to have more moments like that. I lived about an hour away, but when things got really rough I wasn’t there. My (now ex-)wife wasn’t comfortable around my family so I didn’t go despite having my own car. I stayed under her in a situation where I wasn’t happy. I didn’t take my son with me to see him more often. I took his life for granted, and I can’t go back and change that and that hurts. I feel this wound daily, but before now I keep it covered. When I was still married I told me ex-wife this and she took it as I was blaming her… but I was blaming myself.

My Dad knew I loved him. I told him as much, and I’m glad I had moments with him that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I just feel like I failed him in so many ways when he was here. I failed even more when I wanted to write something to say at his funeral but I ran from it out of fear. The only way I can pay him back is to stand on his shoulders and learn the lessons from him and be the best father I can be with what I was given. To not hold back my love for Cameron, and hope that if there is a heaven (and I believe there might be) that he’s looking down and sees that I’m thankful for everything he gave me.

I just wish I had another chance to do things differently.

Song for a Moment: Blossom Dearie – “Try Your Wings”

It’s raining.

I sit in a laundromat of a new locale. This large space shared only by three other people. The natural soundtrack is the vibration of washers and dryers, the droning of ABC news, and the cascading of raindrops against the window.

Like always I opt for my own soundtrack instead of settling for what is given to me. When it rains, I love to listen to Blossom Dearie. It’s not that her music is depressing, or sad, but between her words and just above the music, it’s almost as if you can hear the gentle tapping of rain.

It’s not a rain of sadness, but it’s not a rain of new beginnings. It’s the rain that creates puddles children splash in. The rain that rinses a few days of dirt off of your car. It’s the rain that we need for growth. It’s safe, but enough of a bother that it’s not comfortable.

When I listen to Blossom Dearie I can hear her baby doll voice juggle these feelings, these emotions, in ways that a more powerful voice might not manage. There is a deftness, a gentleness that holds onto you and walks you to the other side of the road letting you know that it’s okay.

You aren’t alone and the marathon you’ve run in your head your entire life can end. It’s not an assurance that tomorrow will be better, but that it can’t be if you continue down the same path.

When she sings she plays the strings to my insides. One word could tip off a smile, a longing, a love, or a sadness but it always comes back to balance. Never going too far but never denying it all.

So I watch the rain and smile. I still live and still have time to be who I have always wanted to be.

 

Happy Birthday Cameron!

Every superhero has an origin story.

Some include dying planets, dying parents, or radioactive spider-bites. But yours was different. I was driving home from King of Prussia, and your Mom called me.

She didn’t speak. “Lin, what’s wrong?” I asked, but she only responded with heavy breaths. It was Saturday, September 27th and you weren’t due until October 10th. You couldn’t be coming now. We weren’t ready. wasn’t ready.

We took three classes to help prepare, and somehow I knew less than I knew before. I pushed the anxiety aside. How did I convince myself? By telling myself it was a false alarm. But I should’ve known better. Just like months prior when your impatience initially showed its face. No one can ever tell you not yet.

The anxiety return as I opened the door to our place in Manayunk. The ceiling fan and light in the dining room were on. The rest of the house was dark. “Lin!” I screamed out, but no response. I charged up the steps and looked into the bedroom. She wasn’t there. I looked in your room, and she wasn’t in there either. I had no idea where she could be and then I looked in the bathroom and saw her sitting on the toilet hunched over.

We moved your Mom to the bed, and I began to text our Doula. I told her the symptoms and she let me know that IT was happening. Debbie told me to ask the usual question of how far apart the contractions were but your Mom didn’t know because the contractions she felt weren’t the kind our class taught us about.

Your Mom got in the shower (for what seemed like hours) allowing the hot water to hit her back. Then as she got out I had her bounce on the exercise ball. Debbie the Doula said this would help with the childbirth (but she didn’t warn us that this ball would haunt us for months). It was then that I noticed a dark patch on the ball. I told your Mom to stop and I looked. It was blood.

At that moment we were no longer waiting for a certain time between contractions. We were going to the hospital. Problem is we lived in Manayunk. I had to run five blocks up a hill to get to my car. A car I parked because I convinced myself this was a false alarm. Debbie gave me a call and in a calming voice said, “Tim, listen to me. Breathe. Just breathe. Lin’s going to be fine. Just repeat after me, and breathe. She’s going to be fine.”

I drove the car back to our place and loaded the pre-packed bags in my trunk. We are off, albeit really slowly (side note: you’ve been in the car with me a ton of times, but for some reason when your Mom is in the car I drive a lot slower. Maybe that’s the Pennsylvania driver in me coming out, but this time? I was going 10 miles under the speed limit. I was driving like your Grandmom).

When we arrived at the Pennsylvania hospital I felt a sense of relief. This is where the professionals take over. That relief faded when I discovered the hospital doors were locked (strike one), the valet service was only on weekdays (strike two), and the parking garage had a power outage (strike three). A security guard came out and took your Mom in a wheelchair as I had to find a place to park.

I drove around looking for spots until pulling into Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Grabbing the bags, I ran slightly over a quarter mile from one hospital to the other. I went up the elevator and once I was cleared by the nurses who pointed me in the direction of your Mother, I heard her…

“Hey, you! Get back here!” She screamed as a doctor exited the room, “I need to poo!” I was confused and, quite frankly, scared. What the hell did I miss in the time I was trying to park. I barely had a chance to sit down before they began to wheel her to another room because the main event was about to occur.

It was there that I saw her completely exhausted, but even more resilient. It was there I saw her doing something you can never prepare someone for (it was also there where the sight of her pain and lack of progress caused me to leave the room and momentarily faint in the hall… but let’s stick to the important stuff).

So much happened that it all blurs together. I remember the nurses’ impatience, I remember your Mom screaming “I hate you, Cameron,” before profusely apologizing, I remember her gasping at the ring of fire “What the fuck was that?” she yelped. I remember Debbie speaking words of encouragement as she put lavender on her pillow. I remember your head crowning before retreating back inside your Mom.

I also remember how people have always said that when your child is born you fall in love with them that very moment. That everything changes. Yet that’s not what I felt. There was the realization that there was no going back to normal. That everything was going to be different. That you were an absolute stranger who came from us.

I cut the umbilical cord and handed you over to your Mother. She was exhausted not only from giving birth to you, but from carrying you, and pushing you out into the world. With God’s help, she did something that a man could never do. She brought life into this world. The sight of such power was bewildering.

The part of writing this now is putting everything in place because it feels like you were always here. We just didn’t know you yet. And as you got used to this us you let your personality be known from the beginning. You refused to be swaddled, you refused to sleep in the bassinet, and you had a bowel movement down your Mom’s arm.

I remember that first night when the nurses stopped checking in so frequently, and neither of our families knew you were here yet. It was just us. Our first night as a family and you were our little secret. Eventually, we let the world in through phone calls, social media posts, and texts. Letting our newfound light find its way.

When we left the hospital we realized how little we knew. We were sent back home with the most precious thing in the world without a clue of how we would keep you alive. Luckily, your Nana was with us for that first week.

That first night home you cried. A cry so powerful, so relentless that we had no idea how to stop it. We tried nursing, tried walking, tried holding, and it wasn’t until we handed you over to your Nana that she settled you back to sleep. She was our safety blanket until she had to leave.

There are thousands of books, blog posts, and opinions about parenting but the truth is no one knows anything. All we truly know is that it’s not easy. Each child presenting an exception to a (far too long) list of rules. We found things that worked and your Mom proved herself to be a superstar as she nurtured you as if this was the role she was prepping for her entire life.

Through years we saw first eye contact, first smile, first roll, first crawl, first night in the crib by yourself. Each first was a monumental achievement which highlighted how much we take for granted every day. We saw you grow and become you.

You tell stories. You dance. You play drums. You like the Steelers (and think the Eagles are trash). You love Paw Patrol, and Word Party, and Elmo, and Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl halftime show.  You love to make art. But these are just attributes and not who you are.

Sometimes I watch you and I’m in awe. I can see glimpses of myself in you, but my awe comes in the form of how you aren’t like anyone else. That you are your own person. That makes me happy (even if it can be frustrating) because we aren’t letting you stick to limitations.

Remember this summer when you were scared of rides? Now, look at you. These are just snippets. Just moments and new ones occur faster than I can recall the old ones. So instead of being stuck in the past, or being anxious about the future, I’m planting my flag firmly in today.

I am proud that I am your father, and I can’t wait to see you continue to grow, learn, and become something completely brand new.

Love,

Dad