#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.

=========================================================================

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.

=========================================================================

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.

Advertisements

#transparentTuesdays

Years ago, my psychologist asked what I thought my life would be like if I didn’t suffer from social anxiety.

The question was a chance to picture a world where I was free to do what I wanted, be who I wanted, and live relatively free of limits. It was a question that was set to tap into the inner optimist. The problem was the question filled me with fear.

Why? Why would thinking about a life without this severe limitation make me uneasy? It is because my entire life was defined by the very limitation. To lose it would be to unsettle everything and set it into uncertainty. I didn’t see a freedom being gained, I saw a definition being lost. I found an unhealthy comfort in social anxiety but I knew it. Whatever existed in the world beyond those limitations was strange and to be feared.

Over the years since I have worked on myself in fits of stops and starts. Through this journey, I have, hopefully, been trekking closer to the person I want to be. Who is that person? I don’t know, but I hope I recognize him when I see him.

—————————————————————————-

In November of 2016, I got a job at the NBA office in Secaucus. My official title was Assistant Video Coordinator. My duty was to transcode files and review files sent up from Turner. Basically, I just watched basketball, talked shit with coworkers, and waited for something to go wrong (they often did).

One way things went wrong was at home. My marriage was on the ropes, but it wasn’t any different than it ever was. We coexisted, but we worked together to manage raising a child. It wasn’t romantic, by any means, but we were a team. The job at the NBA was a night job. It was also an hour away. We went from being together every day to seeing each other for an hour at night, and a half hour in the morning. We merely passed Cameron back and forth like a baton.

I went to the NBA thinking it was the next step in my career in video. What it was instead, was the first step to a huge change in my life. But change, even necessary change, has been the bane of my existence. Sometimes the idea of changing will cause anxiety that will freeze me in paralysis. With the paralysis comes a feeling of helplessness comes… you guessed it… depression.

I spent the next nine months trying to half-heartedly save the marriage. In truth, there was nothing to save. Milk doesn’t salvage stale cereal, but I thought there’d be hope. I went back to therapy and began to change how I was. I would go in on Thursday afternoons and feel like I was making monumental changes only for any adjustment to be seen as minute. There was a wide gulf between us and my reach wasn’t long enough.

If I was honest, I didn’t want to be married any longer. I said as much to my therapist once, I said it to my ex once, I spoke on frustrations of the situation to friends at other times. Yet, I found myself clinging on and attempting to resist the inevitable.

Why did I do that? I was afraid of change. I wasn’t happy. The relationship was cold, but I didn’t want to move on. I held on not tightly, not convincingly, but I refused to let go.

Out of all the people who were married in my family, only my brother Rich, my Aunt Janis, and my sister Polly never divorced. So it wasn’t foreign, but I didn’t want to fail the same way. So I held on as she looked for a house. I held on hoping that things would miraculously get better even as we made a pact that we’d separate were things not to get better.

In October of 2017, we both moved. She moved ten minutes away in the same town. I moved 45 minutes down I-295. Even with almost an hour of distance, I held on. I held on to hope that one day we’d all be under one roof again. That we would be the family we weren’t the first go round.

By this time I was no longer working at the NBA. Instead, I reversed course and took on a teacher’s assistant job in a high school. Which became something that fulfilled me and gave me the direction I thought I was getting when I began working in Secaucus.

—————————————————————————

Almost a year later, and I’ve had time to grown in my skin and to reflect. I’ve given myself space, and I’ve finally let go. Not only did I let go, but I fought off the urge to shove someone else in the opening my life.

I’ve worked too much and struggled a lot, but the change wasn’t scary. Not once I let it settle in. Instead, the change let me realize what I wanted and who I wanted to be. What I wanted to get back.

I no longer look at divorce as a failure. To quote Dan Savage: “every relationship ends except for the one that doesn’t.”

When I wake up in the morning I don’t see the person I want to be. I don’t come home to see a place that I strive to live in forever. What I see are things that I’m happy with now, things that I live with now but ultimately things I don’t have to be stuck with for the rest of my life. Why?

I don’t know, maybe change isn’t so bad after all.

How much longer will NFL reign?

For as long as I’ve watched sports the NFL has been king.

Once we entered the dog days of summer there was the sound of pads crunching in the distance. The countdown for training camp was underway and we would be inundated with football talk. There was an excitement crackling from each city that had their own team for they believed that this could be their season.

The stranglehold seemed to only grow stronger with the advent of the 24/7 news cycle and social media. We weren’t only inundated by talking heads over-analyzing everything, but we were also in a sea of sports opinions by everyone who had access to the internet.

Now, I’m not here to say that NFL is no longer the most popular sports league in America. The Hall of Fame game was on Thursday and drew 7.8 million overnight viewers which was more than most NBA and MLB playoff games. A pre-season game drew more eyes than the other major sports (admittedly the NBA playoffs were terrible, and baseball is terrible in general) that alone is proof that the NFL won’t be falling off its perch anytime soon.

So why am I making this post? On Friday morning, the driver of sports talk was still the NBA. One week into August, and we were still talking about a league that saw its season end over a month prior. We are in an offseason that featured Western Conference moving heaven and Earth to make moves that will make them lose closer series to the Golden State Warriors. A Summer League that saw Lonzo Ball reignite excitement in a starving Los Angeles Lakers fan base. Just when the boil started to slow the news broke that Kyrie Irving wanted to be traded.

The Kyrie news helped reignite the excitement behind a potential Carmelo trade which shed light on the fact that LeBron James most likely won’t be returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The league with the biggest stars, biggest personalities, and the best game play of the big three sports was now encroaching on the NFL portion of the calendar.

The NBA also has something that the NFL desperately wants, but will never have. International popularity. Basketball is a game that is played by the world. Football is a game played by Americans (with a few exceptions). This exposure worldwide opens up the NBA to a greater audience in another area as well: online.

Earlier this year, the NBA surpassed the NFL in subscribers on Reddit.

That’s not all look at these other numbers:

  • Twitter: NFL – 23.8 million followers| NBA – 26.1 million followers
  • Youtube: NFL – 2.1 million followers | NBA –   7.9 million followers
  • Instagram: NFL – 9.7 million followers | NBA – 24.3 million followers

What this advantage digitally also reveals is that the NBA audience skews younger than the NFL. The average NFL fan is 50. The average NBA fan is 42. 11% of NBA viewers are between the ages of 2-17 compared to 9% of the NFL’s (side note: both have consistently seen dips in youth popularity over past decade).

Coinciding with all of this is that the NBA is having its highest rated Finals since Michael Jordan was winning championships with the Chicago Bulls.

The NFL wears the crown, and it probably will for the foreseeable future. In the distance, the sound we hear is that of crossover dribbles, and screeching sneakers.

The NBA got next. The only question is: when?