#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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Parenthood and the Road to Hate Watching

NBC's Parenthood

The road to hate watching is paved with good intentions.

One of the biggest challenges I faced with being married and becoming a first time Dad was how my time was distributed. I was used to freedom, but for the better things in life you have to make sacrifices. For me one of those sacrifices was my independence as a television watcher. Instead I would be sharing my viewing experience with my wife. So long to the shows of watching shows full of violence, and crime and hello to watching shows that we both would find interest in.

After throwing a multitude of options out there we eventually went for an outside opinion. Thanks to the Babycenter forums we decided on NBC’s Parenthood, a show about an extended family, the Bravermans, from Berkeley, California. It came with high recommendations for the show’s quality and it’s propensity to cause viewers to cry.

Within the first few minutes of the pilot you’re dropped into what the show does so well and that’s not stopping to explain things. The initial hook for me was the story of Adam Braverman (Peter Krause) and his wife Kristina (Monica Potter) as they struggle through learning their son Max (Max Burkholder) has Asperger’s Syndrome. There other storylines that run through the first season, but this is the touchstone that everything is built off of. Adam being the most stable of Zeek’s (Craig T. Nelson) children now has to struggle through this thing which defines him. Adam and Kristina want their son to be “normal,” and throw everything into him while ignoring their oldest child Haddie (Sarah Ramos).

Like everything with Parenthood, what starts off as engaging slowly becomes toxic. As the show goes on Max’s rarely (mostly never) receives punishment for his outbursts. Instead these parents want the rest of the world to change. There is a moment in the second season where Max starts an incident in the grocery store that results in Adam punching a man. What could have been a teaching moment for his son turned into Adam acting out in anger and not getting any punishment for it.

What that veneer of pleasantry fades we are left with the privilege and entitlement of an upper middle class white family. As a black male this immediately becomes something that disconnects me from the show. It unveils how many of these characters I truly didn’t like, and unlike Breaking Bad these characters were supposed to be people we loved. Yet as my wife and I watched we found ourselves discussing how each character were borderline reprehensible.

When Crosby (Dax Shepard) decides to sleep with, Max’s behavioral aide, Gaby (Minka Kelly) while he is separated from his ex-fiance Jasmine (Joy Bryant) he is shamed. He tries to win her back by buying a house and doing other ridiculous things. Flash forward a season (or so later) and he sleeps with Jasmine after discussing with their son Jabar (Tyree Brown) that they weren’t going to get married. Jasmine equates this affair with what Crosby did to her because she’s cheating on Dr. Joe (D.B. Woodside). This completely lets Crosby off the hook in a scene where he tells Jasmine that he’s not as good as Dr. Joe.

Julia Braverman-Graham (Erika Christensen) and her husband Joel Graham (Sam Jaeger) decide that they want to have another child. After several attempts they discover that Julia can’t give birth naturally. So through a series of contrived events they end up in a situation where the “coffee girl” Zoe (Rosa Salazar) at Julia’s job is pregnant and willing to give her child up to the Grahams. This is until her boyfriend gets involved, having been broke all their lives he wants some financial reward because he sees the transaction as being one sided. Apologetic for the encounter Zoe comes to Graham residence only to be told by Julia that “she would have made a great mother” to Zoe’s child.

Yet these are the characters we’re supposed to root for. This is without going into detail about Sarah’s consistent enablement, or Zeek’s old entitlement and need for his children to support him. What at first seemed like a group I characters that I loved being around turned into a pack of characters I couldn’t wait to see something bad happen to. That switch was why I had to stop watching on episode 12 of season 3. It was too hard to watch something that I actively hated.

I hated how things tended to work out for the Bravermans. Adam lost his job as an executive at a shoe company to turning down a steady job with benefits to join Crosby in his pipe dream of running a studio. The studio needed tons of work but within a few weeks (or a month) they managed to attract Cee-Lo Green. What made that turn worse was Cee-Lo, who left upset after the first day, returned happily to record the very next day. It was a moment that was meant to pull at our sentimental heart strings but instead it was contrived.

This past weekend while on a playdate, I talked with a friend who stated the secret for his getting through Parenthood was to stop watching like himself (a black man) and watch like the target audience. This, I must admit, is a skill I don’t (and probably will never) have. I wanted to know if others felt like I did and before Saturday, I couldn’t find anyone. Google search after Google search resulted in love fests and I didn’t know what to think.

My wife, at one point, believed that I needed to see characters die or commit crimes to enjoy a show. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. I don’t even need tragedy. I need characters I can believe (whether I like them or not) and a reason to care and be invested in their lives. An example of this is Men of a Certain Age (not streaming anywhere, but find it!), a show about three men approaching 50 and dealing with their changing lives. What that show did that Parenthood didn’t was give us moments that were earned (good, and bad), reasons to care, and examples of how faults can force characters to improve or how they can cause them to suffer. All I ask for is quality, and I don’t think that’s too much.