Unexpected Dividends

photo (4)It’s surprisingly quiet in our house for 8 a.m.

Beckett is at a sleepover at grandma’s, Heidi is sleeping, Brody is laying down on the couch, recovering from her surgery. After much deliberation and vacillation and stress, we opted to have her undergo a tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy.

These are never easy decisions – choosing to have parts of another human being’s body removed, choosing to subject a person to the risks of anesthesia and the knives and tools of people, whom, in some cases, you’ve never met. Doing all this without the other person having any say.

Regardless, it’s over now.

She did well – remarkably so, many of the doctor’s commented. Nary a tear through the process. And always that child’s stoic, logical approach to discomfort. More explanatory than reactionary.

I am always amazed at how my children are far more calm – even heroic – staring at the unknown than I will ever be. Maybe it’s the result of living in a sheltered world where you know those around you have your best interests at heart. Consider it one of the benefits of an uninformed, inaccurate worldview.

*   *   *

Since I’ve started writing, Brody’s moved from the couch to the dining room table. She’s coloring across from me; just over my laptop screen.

I like it back here in the mornings; the desert sun is still soft this time of day, especially given the room’s northern exposure. I can look at the Texas crape myrtle in bloom in the backyard, set beneath the giant Saudi Arabian mulberry.

Writing, with a cup of coffee, it’s my own little slice of peace; a reflective and slow haven in a shit-storm kind of world.

And looking at her, listening to her tell me she’s “excited for Father’s Day” (she’s left now to write a secret message on something she was just coloring), reinforced what I came to know this morning:

Life is full of doubt; but there is never a doubt about your purpose, your mission, when you are caring for a child in need, when you are trying to minimize discomfort or make the pathway a little easier for them.

*   *   *

Many tidbits of knowledge we digest only through experience; many emotions we learn only from being in the moment.

The best of these emotions are complex and layered. Sometimes they belie logic, sometimes they fall neatly in place inside the square borders that rational thinking creates.

The whole: “when I am caring for my kid, I know all is as it should be” emotion? I guess, 10 years ago, I never imagined such a thing could exist.

When other family members, or pets got sick or needed help, through my teens and 20s, I certainly felt sad. I wanted, emotionally and logically, for them to get better. I mourned when they died.

But I wouldn’t say that I ever experienced fear.

Fear is a strange and jarring emotion that surrounds parenthood. And being a successful parent, in my view, means destroying that fear in many instances. Your children must jump bicycles and climb trees and take risks, because it is essential for a healthy attitude towards life, and you must accept that they will get hurt.

Just as you did.

But you’re also responsible. Let go of that fear too much, to the point where you’re reckless, and the consequences can be dire.

You get no break from this either. Second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour, it’s there. A constant +1, or +2 on your shoulders.

So it makes sense that those moments when you know what you’re doing is correct – helping them get better – feels so damn good. That it feels so perfect.

It’s a relief. Quite simply, for a couple hours you can sit back with your cup of coffee, and say, “I’m doing this shit right.”

*   *   *

I say all this in the context of a world where it’s become increasingly stylish to claim parenthood is something to regret, something to blame for a life unfulfilled.

It’s certainly more trendy among certain subsets to bitch about how much being a parent can sometimes suck (with a clear acknowledgement that, “Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids”), than it is among others.

But I want to make one thing clear, because I have thought long and hard about this:

Becoming a parent to two children, aside from marrying Heidi, is the best thing that has happened to me in my life.

It’s those little emotions that come unexpectedly – those “I’m doing this shit right” moments – that make the second-by-second burden of parenthood worth it.

photo (3)

For those who’ve never experienced such things, trust me, they are powerful and lasting. Far more so than that raise, or that signed, sealed and delivered project. They’re payoffs on investments whose value cannot be measured.

Before fatherhood, I found fun in many places. And I found sincere happiness in the presence of my family and friends.

But I could never have told you the meaning of life; or understood that real and whole fulfillment comes not at the end of some long-planned journey – you know, when-I’m-a-published-writer-I’ll-finally-be-satisfied type stuff – but in administering Tylenol on a calm Saturday morning to a 6-year-old.

Before fatherhood, I never knew fulfillment required such an investment, or that it would arrive so unannounced, with such silent ease.

– Ed


Winning Acceptance

DSC07203A good sign that you’re not off to a good day: before breakfast is even over you’ve whacked your head repeatedly with a newspaper – several times. Quite hard.

If I was having a dialogue between two me’s, the rational me would say, “What you’d do that for?”

And the “all-nerves-and-do-we-really-have-to-go-through-this-shit?” me would’ve say, “Hey, it’s all I got.”

Because, really, what do you “got” when you discover at breakfast that your 6-year-old daughter has her fifth consecutive case of strep throat in 2-1/2 months?

You got frustration; you got flipping and flopping of schedules; you got a lot of tough decisions that lie ahead when you cross that threshold at which doctors start to utter the “surgery” word.

So, you start the acceptance process with a few swift whacks to the head with the morning’s Arizona Republic.

It’s a Monday paper, don’t worry, it can’t do that much damage.

*   *   *

Sometimes, I like to think the universe is deviant, or at the very least that it has a twisted sense of humor.

What better way to follow a day in which I claim a progressive epiphany than with one that starts with my daughter sick and ends with my wife and son groaning with fevers and vomiting in synchronicity.

For some reason, I can’t shake this audio clip out of my head from 1986’s “Labyrinth” in which Jennifer Connelly’s character tells David Bowie the labyrinth is a piece of cake. He responds, “Let’s see how you deal with this little slice” and sends some sort of gothic tri-blade, Muppet-powered tunnel cleaner after her.

She escapes via trap-ladder in the nick of time, of course.

There’s no fear here that we won’t escape. It’s just one of those many trials and tribulations of family life. Illness and attempting to balance the demands of career and commitment are always at play. Many times, in big bursts.

When it rains it pours; all things happen in threes; you get the idea.

*   *   *

So, tonight, it’s just me.

Wife and son have been asleep since 6 or so; waking only for “emergency” purposes. Brody is nestled snuggly in bed now, too, her first trip to the ear, nose and throat specialist pegged for 1 p.m. tomorrow.

What to do?

Based on much feedback – and thank you, by the way, to the many of you who offered your thoughts and advice today – we’re taking her to specialists that take a comprehensive approach, including looking into her allergies issues and post-nasal drip as a potential source of recurrent infection.

I think until we get some sort of feedback there, I can’t draw too many conclusions. What I do know is that stopping the cycle of antibiotic use is a top priority. Of that, I think there is universal agreement.

So, we’ll see what happens. I’m sure they’ll be more to come on that. But right now, it’s too early to say. No one in this family has had surgery, ever, so while it may seem minor to some people; the option seems like a large threshold to cross.

I have no poignant insights there; it’s like what lies beyond is fuzzy, unclear. Maybe that’s how it should be now.

*  *  *

After all that, though, today wasn’t really all that bad of a day.

A co-worker and I nailed a presentation pretty solidly – his work so spot-on it made me look like I knew what I was doing.

And I got to give my daughter flowers today – daisies – to apologize for her having to witness my uncontrolled reaction this morning.

“You’re not responsible,” I said, “for that, for what happened. I was just frustrated and upset for you that you keep feeling this way. But I wasn’t angry with you.”

She’s quite thoughtful; and she let that sink in before responding, sincerely, “That’s okay.”

And it is.

We are always, it seems, brought down by reminders of our mortality, our frailty, our limitations. We are constantly reminded we are not totally in control; that not every day, or week or month will go our way.

An older version of me would have wasted intense energy trying to fight these facts; to will things back the way I wanted them. And if that didn’t work, well, anger or one of the old vices would’ve sufficed.

But I’ve learned – and now put into practice – that it’s when we start saying, “that’s okay,” and continue moving regardless of these reminders and setbacks, that we start getting somewhere.

Somehow, that seems like a pretty large victory on a day that, on the surface, might have seemed to lack a win at all.


Falling Shackles

Beckett, opening the door on his first day of school even in 2009. Opening a new door worked well for him ...

Beckett, opening the door on his first day of school in 2009. Opening a new door worked well for him …

I’d like to start off by saying: “I don’t care what you think.”

Not what you think of the things I do; of the things I say; of the way I act; of the choices I make.

But we all know that’s not true.

I do care. And, sometimes, that’s the problem.

*    *    *

Because honesty’s the only way to tell a meaningful story, I’ll give you an example.

Yesterday, my sister had a party at her new home; a really good party. Practically every person in Arizona that we have as a family friend was there. There was a good food, good drink and good conversation.

There was also a swimming pool. I love swimming.

But I didn’t go swimming.


Because half the people from my gym were there. And after 4 years of Ironman training and 2 years of Crossfit, I still wear a spare tire (it’s probably gone from a pickup truck tire to a Hyundai Excel tire … but still) around my mid-section.

And I was embarrassed, or ashamed, or … what? … something. Nevertheless, I didn’t take off my shirt. I didn’t go in.

I missed out on cannonballs and back flips and tormenting small children all because of a little misplaced vanity.

All because I cared what other people would think.

*  *  *

I woke up unhappy with that choice.

I woke up recognizing that I still let my insecurities rule my behavior.

And lately, it’s become painfully clear that these tendencies are holding me back. They’re leaving me short of my potential – of which I know there is much.

Though it may not be perfectly clear, I’ve always been ashamed – I’m not sure ashamed is the right word – of the potential people say they see in me as a leader. Maybe uncomfortable is a better way to describe it.

Why do I get asked to serve on boards; why do people tell me “you should run for X or Y office”; and, lately, why me for Tempe Leadership?

On one hand I see why; but on the other I feel like really embracing the leadership role comes off as arrogant.

It’s a bizarre mental balancing act; and I’ve often hesitated discussing it publicly because on one hand, I always feared I’d look like an attention-hungry fool seeking more affirmation while simultaneously coming across as boastful.

But with each passing day this week, the thought has been building inside me: “You’ve been asked by your city, your company, your mentors and your friends to lead. It’s time to stop ignoring it.”

Of course, throughout the whole week, too, the old me would push back.

It’s funny the things that tip you over the edge – in this case,  a swimming pool and some love handles. But that’s what insecurity does, it gets in the way of you, it gets in the way of life – in ways big and small.

So this morning I woke up and said, “It ends here.”

You think I’m a leader?

I think so, too.

It’s time.

I’ll lead.

*   *   *

What really triggered this train of thought was my acceptance last week into the Tempe Leadership program. It’ll start in September; around the same I’ll take a seat on the board of Tempe Community Action Agency.

It got me thinking: What is a leader, not as it applies to their outward behavior, but as it applies to their inner thinking?

And more importantly – if this agency is going to invest time and money in me – do I think like one, do I treat myself like one?

I drew a few conclusions, in no particular order.

1) Leaders aren’t afraid of their potential.

2) They don’t take actions that limit their potential for good – unhealthy choices, illegal behavior.

3) They tell the truth, always, even when its hard, or uncomfortable, or embarrassing.

4) They live without fear of judgment, especially if they believe the actions they are taking are right and good.

Needless to say, there’s work to do.

*  *  *

The last 9-months have been interesting in that, from a day-to-day life perspective, everything has changed.

With Heidi and I both working jobs that require us at a desk 8 to 10 hours a day, and two kids in school (plus after-school activities), we don’t have time for much a social life.

So the people I once spent so much time with; the people whose opinions once mattered so much to (and influenced) me, don’t really have much pull anymore.

Not because I don’t care about them … but, because, well, in a world in which you see your best friends a few times a year, their thoughts have very little impact on your life. Hell, you don’t even know what they’re thinking.

As a result, I’ve learned that its possible to let just four people guide my life – me, my wife and my two children.

And while that lesson was forced upon me by the necessary routine of middle-class living with two kids, the lesson is no less valuable.

Most of the satisfaction we get out of life is going to come from the very simple day-to-day choices we make: Big Mac or Salad, whiskey or iced-tea, bed at 9:30 or Ricki Lake rereuns until midnight? All that stuff comes from within and its cumulative – each little “best-possible-choice-for-you-and-your-family” decision building upon the next.

This busy family life has made seeing it easier; made it easier to break the routines I established with friends in my 20s and early 30s, and build new ones.

As the old routines seem less important, the possibilities of new directions have become more clear.

The thing I once feared – leaving behind what I knew and going after what I think is possible (to lead and change lives) – is now the thing I want.

*    *    *

What’s that all mean?

I’m not sure.

I can only fall back to the conclusions I drew about a leader’s internal thinking and behavior and start there.

So, let’s start at the beginning.

And I think that means working to maintain a healthy mind and body to start. I’m tossing aside alcohol for now (don’t worry Bang, we’ll still celebrate in Boston); focusing more closely on sleep and eating and making a commitment to reading for leisure again: feed your mind type stuff.

And I’m going to stop bitching.

Negative leaders create fear, flame hatred and blame others.

That’s not the person I want to be.

That’s not who I’m supposed to be.

The real me wants out.

After too many years of bars and locks and chains, look out people, I’m opening the gate.

— Ed