#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.