One of the small ways in which I tried to make a big difference was to skip the trip to the local Hallmark store when holidays rolled around and, instead, try to create more “personalized” cards for our children. At times, as in the Valentine’s Day card that follows, I tried to be a little creative, which, fortunately, modern technology allows all of us the luxury to do with a just a few clicks of a mouse. More often than not, however, creativity wasn’t required. All that was demanded was a few quiet moments to reflect on the things that matter most and a willingness to speak from my heart. Believe me, the words/sentiments are there and, most importantly, they’re longing to escape – that goes particularly for the dads among us. Moreover, there is no shortage of holiday “opportunities” to “unburden” your heart of the things you’ve always wanted to say, but somehow never found the time or the way – two, Thanksgiving and Christmas, are just around the corner. Just pause for a moment and take a look inside, you’ll find the right words – I promise!
As most of you likely have realized by now, I’m quite fond of writing letters to my kids. Truth be told: I’m quite fond of writing letters in general – and I’ve been doing it most of my life. As I reflect on it, I began writing letters because I was quite shy and introverted as a teenager and had difficulty finding the “courage” to express myself in person. But, I found I was reasonably good at expressing my feelings with a pen in my hand. Sometimes I actually “sent” those letters to their intended recipients – many times I didn’t and later wished that I had. My penchant for writing letters continued well into my college days. Once we started a family, I made it a point to begin writing “year end letters,” which, though addressed to “family and friends,” really had a singular purpose: My hope was that, one day, I would be able to put them in a binding of some kind – a keepsake that would serve as a “personal history” for our children – something they could use to remember mom and dad by, a vehicle for remembering their childhood, something to share with their own family and friends, something that might serve to bring a smile to their faces when they were feeling particularly sad or a sense of warmth and belonging in those inevitable moments they they felt alone.
But I also wrote notes and letters to Greg and Ashley individually – lots of them! Some “greeted” them on their pillows when they settled in at night, others could be found on their nightstand or the kitchen table in the mornings. Some were scribbled on napkins, some on paper plates. Some contained words of encouragement to try and help them through a particularly hard time, some were intended to offer advice or, on those occasions when I happened to stumble upon it, a few words of parental wisdom. At times, there was no particular reason for the note, other than my simply wanting to remind them that they were loved and that I was proud of them – glad to call myself their dad. I’m not naive enough to believe that all of them were well-received. In fact, once or twice (okay, maybe it was a few more times than once or twice!?!), I found their “crumbled remains” near the spot where I had left them. But, I also learned this about letters: Unlike words shared in conversation, which often “evaporate” into the air used to transmit them moments after they’re spoken, words carefully considered and written down are considerably more “permanent.” They are there to come back to, perhaps in a quieter moment when the recipient is more open to receiving them or, even when, though heard the first time, a gentle reminder of their message is needed.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that letter writing replace one-on-one, in person, conversation as the principal means of parent/child communication. To the contrary, I’m a staunch advocate of the latter. However, I would encourage parents, particularly dads, to take up a pen from time to time – that’s right a pen (not a keyboard!)(Note: Pens are those vestiges of the past – they’re kind of thin and long and have ink in them . . .) – and write a note (or two) to their children. I think you may be pleasantly surprised at the reaction you will receive in response and, perhaps, if you (and your children) are fortunate it will encourage you to write another, and another and another!
Several months ago, my publisher introduced me, via Facebook, to a very special and courageous woman. Her name is Alison Smela. Coincidentally, Alison is a fellow-blogger. You can “follow” her blog, “Alison’s Insights,” at www.alisonsmela.wordpress.com – and I strongly encourage you to do that – because, having survived not one, but two, near death experiences with addictions (alcohol and eating disorders), Alison’s “voice” is important and worthy of great respect and admiration. Last night, I reached out to Alison and asked her permission to “re-publish” one of her “posts,” which I felt offered a unique and deeply personal perspective on dads and daughters. She graciously granted my request:
The 4th Floor (http://alisonsmela.wordpress.com/2012/07/28/the-4th-floor)
A few days ago I went to the hospital to see my sister who is fighting like a champ to overcome an ongoing health issue. By the grace of God she’s on the mend and has a recovery plan in place. Soon she’ll be home to heal more comfortably. I look forward to hearing her recant humorous hospital stories including how the smallest of joys like a quiet room and grocery store tabloid reading made her stay a little easier.
When I went to the main desk to inquire about her room number, the woman behind the desk said, “4th Floor.” I froze.
A little over three years ago, at that same hospital, I ran to that same desk and was told the same thing, “4th Floor.” I remember exiting the elevator, turning right and making a beeline through the double doors of the ICU where I found my Mom looking shocked as my Dad was hooked up to all kinds of machinery. She told me the doctors advised she get my Dad’s affairs in order.
As I sat holding my Dad’s soft frail hand in that room on the 4th Floor, I didn’t know how to begin talking with this man who lovingly saw me through some of my darkest days. I didn’t know in these precious few moments how to begin saying goodbye.
In that quiet space on the 4th Floor, my Dad told me how proud he was of me. I couldn’t hold back the tears. I had been so focused on my life and my recovery I didn’t think about what it must have felt like for a father to see his daughter fight for her life not once, but twice.
My Dad was always proud of his children no matter what crazy, impetuous things we did. He may have paused in wonder, but never stopped being proud. He was, without question, our biggest cheerleader. He knew we’d succeed in whatever we set our minds to. Little did he know, he taught us how.
Even when I was at my lowest of lows, drunk and malnourished, he never gave up on me. I’d like to say I never gave up on me either, but in truth, anyone who danced so close to death as I did at some level wanted to give up. Yet because I’m my Dad’s daughter, I didn’t.
In that moment on the 4th Floor my Dad told me I had the kind of strength he wished he’d had. With tears streaming down my face, I told him I got that strength from him. As those words shifted from my heart to his, I was very proud to be his daughter.
Soon the effects of being removed from life-supportive medications began to take its toll. As I sat there I thought about how he was the one who showed me what never giving up looked like. Yet in that moment as I held his hand, I realized it was now time for him to do so.
When I stepped off the elevator and onto the 4th Floor a few days ago, I turned the other way. I didn’t have to run through the doors of the ICU but instead ran to see my sister who I’m also incredibly proud of. She has weathered a pretty wicked storm these last few months but like the rest of my family, she fought through it. We didn’t talk about giving up on life; we talked about living it.
I now know I don’t have to be afraid of the 4th Floor anymore but right now I sure miss my Dad.
Thank you, Alison.
If the New Testament story of Peter “walking on water” (http://tinyurl.com/9b36enb) is fairly representative (and for purposes of today’s post it will do), there are several things that can happen when we step outside the relative safety and security of our comfort zone. The most frequently exercised option and clearly the path of least resistance is to scurry back to our cocoon as quickly as possible and resume the pupa stage of our existence, where we can remain indefinitely insulated from the admittedly sometimes “scary” place from which we just retreated. We could drown, of course, which likely would have been Peter’s fate had he not been the beneficiary of rather immediate Divine intervention. And then there is third option: To fully and faithfully commit to pursuing the path we’ve chosen not knowing where it may lead or what obstacles we may encounter along the way.
Earlier this week, I sent a letter to the Board of Directors of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)(http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org) in which I offered, with their support, to spearhead a nationwide campaign designed to educate, empower and encourage dads to take a more active role in their daughter’s lives and, in the case of those suffering or in recovery from an eating disorder, to become more active participants in their daughter’s treatment and recovery. The campaign, tentatively entitled, “The Dad Initiative – Committed to Healing, United in Hope,” comes on the heels of my having attended NEDA’s 2012 Annual Conference and being surprised (and deeply troubled) to discover that of the approximately 600 attendees, only 6 were dads – 5 of whom were either affiliated with NEDA or an invited presenter. It is predicated on my belief that:
- There are few bonds on Earth stronger than the love between a father and his daughter.
- There are few things more important to a daughter or more critical to her healthy development than her father’s attention, affection and approval.
- Most dads are silently thirsting for a closer relationship with and a better understanding of their daughters.
- Most dads are pre-wired to fix rather than feel.
- Stated otherwise, the level of vulnerability and emotional intimacy required to connect fathers and daughters in ways that meet a daughter’s “dad needs” is not intuitive to men (i.e., it does not always come naturally to a dad).
- At the same time, dads also likely have a significant reserve of “positive intention” that they are eager, but not yet readily able and, therefore, struggle to express to their daughters, spouses, other children and friends (male and female).
- Many fathers: (a) have their own set of “unmet needs” from childhood; (b) lack appropriate modeling from their own fathers where empathy and other emotions are concerned; and (c) likely have an aversion to or are inherently skeptical of traditional therapy models.
- After all, at least in their mind’s eye, most men are cut from a cloth that convinces them that they can: (a) find their way in a strange city/country without a map or GPS; and (2) put together the functional equivalent of a small house without looking at an instruction manual.
- However, even the most myopic, pre-disposed to seeing everything as black-or-white and stubborn of dads can be taught to be a “New Father” – trust me I know this to be true, I once was one of those “black-or-white” dads!
- Moreover, the rewards associated with being more vulnerable and with a heightened sense of father/daughter awareness and emotional intimacy are well worth the effort it takes to get there.
- In fact, where eating disorders and disordered eating behaviors are concerned, a father’s willingness to participate in his daughter’s recovery on a more visible and intimate level may be the most important gift he can ever give his daughter, his family and, ultimately, himself.
Here’s the bottom line: People are hurting – millions of people – and many are dying. Some are young, some not-so-young. They are our mothers and daughters, sisters and friends. They are our teachers and classmates, coaches and teammates, bosses and colleagues, our neighbors – the person sitting next to us in the pew at church on Sunday. They are remarkable and courageous people, with “over-sized” hearts, compassion beyond measure and, ironically, an insatiable desire to help and be there for others. Like most of us, they long only for peace, for joy, to be loved and, above all else, for a respite from their inner storms.
We have choices. We can continue to pretend that eating disorders aren’t real or at least not “as real” as other life-threatening illnesses that rightfully command so much of our individual, societal and charitable attention, despite overwhelming medical and scientific evidence to the contrary and the alarming mortality rates associated with them. We also can convince ourselves that none of the above is “our problem” – at least until, God forbid, an eating disorder affects someone we love or the loved one of someone we love – or, if it makes us feel better, that, as one person, we are powerless to make a meaningful difference.
The truth is, however, there is much we can do. We can educate ourselves to better understand these insidious and powerful diseases, so that we can speak intelligently on the subject and, if the occasion presents itself, educate others. With our vote and our voices we can support legislative initiatives that, directly or indirectly, benefit those suffering from eating disorders, by, among other things, affording them the full extent of insurance coverage(s) offered to those afflicted with more “traditional” physical ailments. Where possible, we can provide financial assistance to organizations and foundations dedicated to eating disorder awareness, research and support.
As for me, between the book, this blog, my recent presentation at the NEDA conference, my undying love for my daughter, I’m simply too far from the boat to even think about turning back – and drowning is “simply” not an option. I’m all in.
The 9th hole on Doral’s Blue Monster is a deceivingly difficult Par 3, particularly for those who don’t play it on a regular basis. Its difficulty doesn’t stem from its length. In fact, by today’s standards, its length (169 yards from the back tees) is average at best, if not a bit on the short side. Moreover, the green complex, though a bit misshapen and narrow in spots, is hardly what today’s touring pro would consider severe. Rather, what makes the 9th Hole a bit diabolical at times is that it abuts a large lake that juts out in front of the green. When the wind blows off the lake (even a little), which it often does, that inlet gobbles up golf balls like a Venus Fly Trap. The problem is: You really can’t fully appreciate the presence or strength of the wind up by the green when you’re standing on the tee box. Thus, what can appear as a near perfect shot in the air one minute can seemingly fall out the sky and into a watery grave the next. Only those who’ve been “victimized” by that unpleasant phenomena appreciate the need to “club up” when the small “white caps” appear on the ripples in the lake – sometimes as many as two clubs!
One summer, my son played in a junior golf tournament on the Blue, which, at the time, was his home course. I just happened to be caddying for him. When we reached the 9th tee, there were two groups still waiting to tee off. Greg and I looked at each other with a knowing smile – it was one of “those” days. The pin was temptingly placed toward the front of the green, which, under ordinary circumstances, would only require a tournament-caliber player to hit an 8-iron and, as it were, those standing on the tee while we watched were trying to do just that, unable to figure out why one shot after the next kept falling short – in the water. There was golf carnage going on reminiscent of the final scene in Tin Cup. In fact, I would later learn that one very accomplished player recorded a 9 on the hole after three straight 8 irons went in the water. You can imagine my relief then when Greg’s initial instincts caused him to pull a 6-iron out of the bag when it was his turn to play. As he stood over the ball, however, it was clear he was beginning to have “second thoughts.” He removed his tee from the ground and headed back to the bag for what I assumed would be his 5-iron.
In anticipation of his wanting to play it doubly safe, I removed the 5-iron and handed it to him as he approached the bag. As he turned and headed back to the teeing area, he looked at the club I had handed him, stopped, returned to the bag with a look of disbelief. “I wanted my 8-iron,” he responded, placing the 5-iron back in the bag. Ordinarily, when caddying, I made it a point not to question Greg’s club decisions and shot selections, in large part because his instincts, honed by thousands of shots over the years, were almost always correct – that and I didn’t want to get “blamed” for a club-selection gone bad. This time, however, I had to speak up. The tournament was potentially hanging in the balance. “Greg,” I said, quite matter-of-factly, “you’re hitting an 8-iron off this tee over my dead body!” Suffice it to say, Greg was a bit shocked and more than a little bit surprised by my unusually strong/definitive stance. He respected my position, pulled his 6-iron back out of the bag, returned to the tee and hit a beautiful shot, 15 feet from the hole, which he proceeded to drain for a birdie. He didn’t go on to win the tournament, but any time you can pick up 7 shots on a fellow competitor in golf, let alone do it on one hole (1), you’re way ahead of the game!
Looking back, however, there was a far more important life lesson that played out on the 9th tee box that morning, one that I suspect plays out in all of our lives, in many different ways, every day. My experience in my own life (and in the lives of my children and others) is that, far more often than not, our first instinct is the correct one, in part, because it is precisely that: instinctual. It is a response borne of years of trial and error, success and failure, life-experiences, learning, practice, etc. – applied much in the same way an NBA basketball player catches a pass, turns and reacts to the target (the basket). In that instant, there is no time and, therefore, no opportunity for “second” thoughts. Too often, however, that time exists (or we create it) when it comes to our daily decision-making and we second guess ourselves and what our instincts are telling us. And it is there, in the “space” between our first instincts and our “second” thoughts, that self-doubt, uncertainty and fear (to name a few officious inter-meddlers!) reside. It is that “second-guessing” that too often leads us to downplay or ignore a sea of “red flags” that our instincts tell us to honor, and, in doing so, choose an obstacle-riddled path over one that leads in a more positive, life-affirming direction.
I wish I could take credit for the birdie on the 9th Hole of the Blue that summer. But the truth is all I really did was “reaffirm” (albeit in an uncharacteristically direct and somewhat dramatic way) what Greg’s initial instincts knew to be true: the surest way to avoid the hazard that lay in front of him was to trust, rather than second-guess, his decision to pull out a little extra club and let his talent take care of the rest!
Step Five – A Patient Heart And A Resilient Spirit
Lastly, our quest to realize the desires of our heart will require a patient heart– one that appreciates the truth of the timeless adage that “good things take time” – and a resilient spirit – one that understands the inescapable reality that there will be bumps in the road en route to our goals and perhaps a detour or two, but which refuses to allow those “distractions” to derail its quest for what truly matters.
Step Four: Having A “Proactive” Heart
Maximizing the chances of realizing the desires of our hearts demands that, like the expectant farmer referenced in my October 18, 2012 post, who took to his plow to ready his field to receive the rain, we have a proactive heart. Simply put, it is a virtual certainty that the desires of our heart will not fall out of the sky and land in our lap while we’re planted on the couch in front of the T.V. – paralyzed by fear and uncertainty. Their realization will require a passionate pursuit, commitment and hard work. One step to go!