Focusing On The Fundamentals

I’ve been an avid sports fan for as long as I can remember. I mostly attribute that to my dad, who grew up in and around Boston and, as many Bostonians do, developed an early and lifelong “love affair” with all of Boston’s storied sports franchises: Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins. In fact, I’m told he was quite an athlete himself, a high school pitching stand-out, who was being scouted by the hometown Red Sox until he “threw out his arm” horsing around with some of his high school buddies.  A love of sports was a passion my dad and I shared and the thing we talked about most. It was easier than talking about things that mattered. But, in the end, we loved sports for different reasons.  My dad loved the competitive aspects of the games and rooting for the home team, while I enjoyed the strategy and the stories behind the athletes.

I’ve also always been intrigued by the parallels that exist between sports and life. Some are fairly obvious, others not so much. The emphasis on the “fundamentals” in sports would certainly fall in the latter category.  Watch or play any sport long enough and sooner or later someone (likely a coach!) will start waxing eloquently about the fundamentals of some aspect of the game. There are fundamentals surrounding how to field a ground ball, shoot a jump shot, take a slap shot, tend goal and cover a wide receiver – to name just a few.  The game of golf, with which I am most familiar, also is overflowing with fundamentals (e.g., how to grip a club, proper footwork, posture, etc.). Regardless of the sport, however, fundamentals serve the same purpose: they are the foundation upon which an athlete’s ability to be successful is built.

This is not to say that it’s impossible to succeed in sports without strictly adhering to an established checklist of fundamentals. To the contrary, the record books are filled with athletes who have introduced their unique “variations on theme” where the fundamentals of their sport are concerned.  But, invariably, when you look at their technique under a microscope the essence of the most critical fundamentals are, almost without exception, still evident.  That’s why, whenever there is a breakdown on the field of play (in a team sport) or a prolonged drought in a hitter’s, pitcher’s or golfer’s performance, the thing you must often hear a coach or the athlete say is simple:  “We/I just need to get back to the fundamentals.”  They do and, more often than not, success follows shortly (or at least sometime) thereafter.

It seems to me that, when we, as human beings, “breakdown,” returning to the fundamentals would be an equally prudent approach to getting back on track, as opposed to rummaging around in the “debris” that surrounds or, more likely, engulfs us in our “brokenness” looking for “answers” as to how we got there.  What are those fundamentals?  I suppose that, to some extent, it depends on our faith perspective.  For those of faith, the fundamentals likely begin with the premise that we are created in the image and likeness of God.  Regardless of our belief system, however, all of us can agree that the most important of those fundamentals (and the ones we too often lose sight of for reasons too numerous to recount here) are simply, but clearly depicted in the photograph that accompanies this post, namely that:

(1) In the beginning, we were loved unconditionally, without having to do, say or “be” anything or anyone other than precisely the person who we are; (2) we were worthy of that unconditional love once so freely given – and we are still are; and (3) it is our moral obligation to find our way back to that love and to share it – first with ourselves and then with others.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_bNfay6HiUo

Beyond Helplessness

A few days ago, I received an invitation to co-host a “Dads Webinar” sponsored by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). The principal moderator for the Webinar, which is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec 5th, 2012, from 5-7 p.m. (EST), is Michael  Berrett, PhD, the CEO and co-founder of the Center for Change (www.centerforchange.com) and one of the world’s leading experts in the field of eating disorder treatment.

Suffice it to say, I’m quite honored (and humbled) to be joining Dr. Berrett in this important effort to reach out to dads. I also welcome the opportunity it affords to share some of the valuable lessons found in my book. What I did not anticipate, however, was that, in preparing my remarks on the topic “Challenges Specific To Being A Father When Dealing With Your Child’s Illness,” I would find myself writing (and reflecting on) these words:

As a dad, there are few feelings quite as dark as the profound sense of helplessness that washes over you like a tsunami when you come face-to-face with the reality that your daughter’s life is quite literally hanging in the balance and that, aside from providing love, support and prayers, there is nothing you can do to affect the outcome. I know that feeling – intimately.  I know what it’s like to hang up the phone and wonder if it’s the last time you’ll ever hear your daughter’s voice.

There is no way to prepare yourself for that moment – no matter how many times you encounter it in the course of a prolonged battle with a life-threatening illness. What you can do, however, indeed what you must do for your own emotional survival is to find peace in knowing you’ve done everything you possibly can for your child and then abandon the search for the “control” you so desperately want, but, in truth, will never have, so that you can love instead – unconditionally.

And then never stop.

We Would All Benefit From Giving Ourselves A Little More Credit – A Lot More Often!

In the Summer of 2009, I met my 24 year old son at a local restaurant for dinner. A few hours earlier, he had played one of the worst rounds of golf of his young professional career at a local one day event in West Palm Beach. It was one of those days when nothing seemed to go right. Unfortunately, days like that are not all that uncommon in golf (or in life for that matter) even for highly accomplished players, but that certainly never lessened the discouragement that seemed to come along with them, particularly where the oldest of my two quite perfectionistic children was concerned.  I knew that, but I understood, as an “interested spectator” who, over the years, had walked hundreds of miles of fairways watching Greg and his peers compete at every level of golf (junior, high school, amateur and professional), that such days were inevitable, often due, in large part, to the many variables that are always in play (e.g., weather, the condition of the course, idiosyncrasies in a player’s swing or putting stroke on any given day, etc.).  I also understood, perhaps better than most, that “one of those days” was not necessarily a reflection of the quality of the player or the current state of his or her game.  Going into our dinner that night, it was  particularly important to find a way to communicate that to Greg and, in the process, “talk him down off the ledge,” because a few days later we were scheduled to head out to South Carolina for a 3-day Summer Series event on the Hooters Tour and the last thing Greg needed was to show up at that event “convinced” he had no business being there, let alone any hope of winning.

In the course of our discussion, I was reminded (and, in turn, reminded him) of a very curious aspect of human nature:  All of us tend to place far more significance and devote a disproportionate amount of energy to times where we fall noticeably short of our expected level of performance, while giving ourselves far too little credit for (and only pausing briefly to enjoy) those occasions where we hit (or at least come close to hitting) our mark.  Take my son, for example. By that point in his life, Greg had developed a skill level at golf that enabled him to shoot well below par on any golf course – on any given day.  That being the case, on those occasions when he did that (i.e., shot a sub-par round, even one that was ridiculously low), he would relish the moment – but only for a moment.  The same was true, albeit to a lesser extent, when he executed an unbelievable shot or managed to extricate himself from what seemed to be an impossible lie or situation in the middle of a round. After all, that was what Greg “expected” of himself.  Consequently, the fact that less than a fraction of ½ of 1% of all golfers in the world could ever do those things simply never factored into the equation.  However, throw in a round well above par, like the one he was dealing with that August night in 2009 and he could find a way to cling to that for days or weeks at a time.  In the process, he could assign all kinds of negativity to it (e.g., that his hard work and practice weren’t paying off, that he wasn’t even as good a player as he had been years earlier, that if he was still going to shoot rounds like that he might as well give up the game, etc.).  I’m not singling him out – all of us do it, in all kinds of circumstances.

Despite my efforts to share some of these sentiments with Greg that night, by the end of the evening he was still questioning the wisdom of our driving several hundred miles just so that he could experience what he was certain would be a “re-run” of that highly unpleasant day.  However, all the arrangements already had been made and could not be cancelled and so, a few days later, we set out for South Carolina.  What happened over the three tournament days that followed is hard to describe or explain, particularly coming, as they did, so closely on the heels of that “horrible” round just a few days earlier.  On a golf course that he had never seen before (Meadowlands), Greg played flawlessly, missing only one shot that I can remember over 54 holes.  Along the way, he made a total of 17 birdies and could very easily (and quite literally) have made 10 – 13 more!  He finished 12 under par and won the event by 3 shots (http://www.ngatour.com/general/news/release_323.html).  As his fellow competitors would attest – it wasn’t that close.  I’m only glad I had the privilege of being a part of it as a spectator/caddy.  It would turn out to be one of the crowning jewels of Greg’s professional career and it was a thing of beauty – the culmination of a lot of hard work, a glimpse into what is his considerable talent.

But, in retrospect, there were two other take-aways from that event that are noteworthy. Moments like that are only possible if we create opportunities for them to be made manifest. Had Greg allowed what, in reality, was the slightest of bumps in an admittedly very long, challenging  and sometimes obstruction-laden road to knock him off track, if he had decided to forego the “next” event, based on what happen at the “last” one,  he never would have experienced that moment, which, hopefully, will remain with him for a lifetime.  Second, all of us do ourselves a tremendous disservice by allowing any one event (or series of events) to take on a level of importance/significance that is far greater than they warrant.  In Greg’s case, no one round of golf (or shot within a round) was entitled to any more or less attention/energy than the one before it or the one that would follow it.  However, to the extent that we are inclined to vest events with “power” in our lives, we would all be better served to dwell on (and pat ourselves on the back for) those times when we hit or come close to hitting our stride and quickly brush aside those days when we fall a little short, as “aberrations” (i.e., nothing more than the inevitable by-product of a life filled with lots of variables that we simply cannot and never were intended to control).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Mk2Tca88Xo

“Fix” Less, Hug More (Hugging 201)

On November 3, 2012, I offered an “introductory level” post on hugging (https://donblackwell.wordpress.com/2012/11/03/hugging-101 ) –  thus, the “101” designation.  As likely was evident from reading it, I’m really one of the last people on Earth who should be offering their thoughts on hugs.  I have a general idea what they’re supposed to look and feel like, but I’m hardly an expert on giving them and even less qualified to know how best to “receive” them.  I do, however, know that they play or at least have the ability to play a critical role in our (and, more importantly our children’s) lives, which is why today I thought I would re-visit the topic at a slightly “higher level.”  To help me do that, I asked my friend, Alison Smela for permission to share a post entitled “Who’s Holding You?” that appeared on her blog, Alison’s Insights (http://alisonsmela.wordpress.com) on September 30, 2012.

I share the post for several reasons: (1) it resonates with me on a number of levels; (2) it allows us to peer into the soul of a child (now a grown woman), who, like me (and, I suspect, many others), longed to give and receive hugs, but, largely as the result of the influence of less well-informed past generations, was denied both; (3) it is, like all of Alison’s work, painfully, but beautifully honest and insightful; and (4) it leaves the reader to reflect on several important truths.  One of those truths, for me, is that, as parents, we need to at least offer to hold our children “during life’s hard moments,” because being held is fundamental to their humanity.  Stated another way, the need to be held will not go away and it can only be repressed for so long.  Sooner or later, our children will find a way to fill it with someone – or something.  It might as well be someone they can trust, who loves them unconditionally.  Thanks, Alison – for sharing!

Who’s Holding You?

For as far back as memory allows, most of the adults in my life led me to believe emotions were not to be openly expressed.  I now know this wasn’t intentional toward me but rather was taught through the generations.  Nonetheless, I can recall specific comments about my being too emotional, needing too much attention and when crying, feeling so confused to see eyes rolled or backs turned.

As a young girl I didn’t understand what was happening.  In those innocent early years I would often try to force people to pay attention and acknowledge me when I was feeling sensitive and vulnerable.  When that attempt wasn’t well received, I internalized their disregard as being about me, not my emotions.  Thus my take away was, people didn’t care about me and by all means I was to keep my emotions to myself.

When I was a teenager, our family visited relatives on my father’s side.  My brothers, sister and I had a great time hearing stories about my Dad when he was a boy.  As those words were being shared, I sensed a softness in the room which seemed to connect all of us in one way or another.

As it came time to say our goodbyes and head home, I watched as my father briefly hugged his mom.  When he stepped back, I caught a glimpse of a few tears falling down his cheek.  Somehow I intuitively knew those tears reflected a belief this might be the last time we’d see her alive.  Ultimately this prediction was right, but upon remembering the feeling after hearing all those stories just moments before, I stepped toward my father to hug him; to let him know I understood his sadness.  I was rather shocked when he pushed me away, gesturing I turn my attention to the others, not to him.

While this may seem a rather brief slice in time, what I learned left a lasting impression.  There was a very clear message that offering a physical gesture of comfort, leaning in for an embrace during an emotional moment was not OK.   That experience, layered on top of so many others through the years, reinforced what I learned as a little girl; emotions are not to be shared, they were to be dealt with in isolation.

Now that I am working to course correct so much of my life, I’m realizing the impact of being taught to shield the outside world from seeing me as unsteady, undone or emotionally injured.  I’m grieving the fact I was never offered an opportunity to have someone hold onto me during life’s hard moments.

Up until these past several years, I would resist offerings of hugs and hand holding when I was in emotional pain because I believed I had to be seen as completely together, never broken.  Yet I was breaking little by little my whole life.  I drank in isolation, feeling comforted by the warm embrace of alcohol.  I shrank in size hoping I might disappear from the pain of feeling so desperately alone even in the midst of all kinds of people.

Yet all that changed when I entered the rooms of recovery.  In my utter deflation I finally accepted a warm embrace and a helping hand.  My walls had finally crumbled to the ground and that guard I had put up completely fell away.  I was in such a desperate world of pain I was willing to do whatever necessary to in order to stay alive including allowing someone to hold me as I unraveled.

The day I met my sponsor, without saying a word, she hugged me and I allowed myself to stay there.  In her warm embrace I melted into feeling accepted and acknowledged for whatever I held inside.  For the first time in a long time, I finally felt alive.

Now, years later, I am eager to hug another woman struggling in her recovery transformation knowing one day she’ll do the same for someone else.  This is how the circle of healing works and will continue to work as long as we don’t let go.

Life is way too short to hide in shameful silence over feeling emotions we don’t want others to know we have.

This is why I will never disregard an opportunity to lend a supportive hand.  I believe together we can take a deep breath in connection and exhale whatever is causing the pain.

Unfiltered

Anyone who has ever owned a dog will attest to the fact that they seem to have an innate sense when something is wrong with their owner – the single most important person in their life.  Whether it’s a cut, a broken bone, a surgically repaired knee or something far more subtle and “invisible” to the naked eye – a wounded or broken heart, tears shed at the end of a too long day, the paralyzing sadness that accompanies loneliness and super glues us to our bed or sofa – dogs just know when things aren’t right and they are quick to respond.  Without hesitating (or needing to be invited), they run or amble up to their owner’s side and offer all they have – themselves – to comfort and ease the pain. Best of all, they expect absolutely nothing in return. All dog owners know what I’m talking about.  At one time or another, we’ve all had our wounds, bandages, casts and faces licked by “man’s (and woman’s) best friend.”  We’ve tried not to smile in response, but it’s impossible not to in the face of unconditional love. 

While it’s not quite as obvious, I believe young children have that same innate sense.  They seem to intuitively grasp things about the human condition that some adults spend a lifetime “missing” or searching for.  Maybe it’s because, like a dog, so much of a young child’s world is sensory.  They are intent on discovering the “newness” of everything around them and are highly dependent on their senses of sight, smell, touch and taste to help them do that.  Like a dog, their world is simple, in part, because their brain has not yet begun to filter and/or distort the images and messages it is receiving from those senses. They aren’t afraid to put themselves out there – to try new things, to take risks.  Theirs is very much a “what you see and what you feel is what is real” world. Frankly, all of us could learn a lot from emulating/returning to that child-like mindset in our adult lives.  I missed one of those “learning opportunities” offered “free of charge” by my almost 4 year-old son – 23 years ago.   

In the Fall of 1988, I left a very well-established and prestigious law firm in Miami, where I was a bit of a rising star, and moved our family to Dallas.  It was an anxious and difficult transition.  On a personal level, it meant leaving my mom and dad and a number of good friends behind.  Professionally, it meant leaving my comfort zone and joining one of the nation’s largest and most-demanding firms, where I knew almost no one.  To make things slightly more difficult, because we had not yet sold our house in Miami or purchased a new one in Dallas, I spent the first several weeks in a small one bedroom apartment that the firm was nice enough to find for me.  Fortunately (and purely by coincidence), my brother was training for a new job at the time and also was in Dallas, which provided both of us with a familiar face and some much needed companionship.  We made the most of it, meeting regularly to work out and play racquetball at the local YMCA and eating Chick-fil-A lunches in the underground walkways that join the downtown office buildings, as often as our schedules would allow. 

Eventually, our family was reunited in Dallas and things slowly returned to normal.  A few weeks after their arrival, my brother’s training ended and he headed home.  Greg, who was not quite 4 at the time, and I drove “Uncle Russell” to DFW airport and dropped him at the curb.  I knew it was likely to be some time before we saw each other again and I was grateful for our time together.  Still, I wasn’t expecting the silent tears that spontaneously began to fall on the way home.  Although I was careful to try and hide them from Greg, so as not to upset him, he knew something was “wrong.”  In fact, somehow he knew exactly what was wrong. “Do you miss Uncle Russell, Dad?” he asked rather matter-of-factly.  I quietly nodded.  And with that, he reached his small hand over and put it on top of mine – the one resting on the console. “It’s okay,” he said, “I’m here.”  And somehow, with a half a smile, it was “okay.”  Like having your face licked.  Greg was too young to remember that moment and to him it was a simple, didn’t-give-it-a-second-thought gesture.  Just a young child – unfiltered.  Me?  I’ll never forget it as long as I live.

The “I Can Fix This” Gene

Here is the full extent of my knowledge of science as it relates to genetics and genes courtesy of, you guessed it, the Internet:  A gene is “a linear sequence of nucleotides along a segment of DNA that provides the coded instructions for synthesis of RNA, which, when translated into protein, leads to the expression of hereditary character.”  That being said, I’m reasonably certain that, while they likely will call it something more scientific-sounding, geneticists will one day discover an “I can fix this” gene attached to the DNA segment responsible for “men being men.”  Seriously, of all the non-anatomical characteristics that differentiate men from women the “I can fix this” mentality has to be very close to the top of the list.

Don’t get me wrong, the trait can prove quite useful if properly trained and applied.  In fact, many men actually rely on it as a cornerstone of their life’s work (e.g., doctors fix broken bones and body parts that are torn, mechanics fix all things mechanical (e.g., cars, aircraft engines, heavy equipment, small and large appliances, etc.), lawyers “fix” other peoples’ problems, plumbers fix plumbing problems, auto body shop owners fix dented metal – to name just a few examples (and w/o any intention of suggesting that there aren’t plenty of equally-proficient women expertly doing the same kinds of work).  Others, who are far less competent, but no less motivated, restrict the use of their “I can fix this” gene to smaller household projects and chores, which, more often than not, end up with them calling a specialist in mid-project to come in and try and “fix” what now is a “more broken” situation than when they started.

The problem arises when even the most accomplished carriers of the gene bring it home with them and attempt to use it to “fix” those around them, especially their children. Trust me on this one: I once fancied myself as one of the best “fixers” on the planet (not of things mechanical mind you, but of “problems” big and small, legal and non-legal) – and I had to learn this lesson the hard way. You see, it’s one thing for a doctor to set a broken arm or a mechanic to fix an engine problem or a body shop owner to fix an accident-damaged car. They know what the object they’re working on is suppose to look like when it’s “new” and they’re specially trained to restore it to that condition.  When it comes to our children, however, we may know how we’d ultimately like them to look and act – usually as much like our egocentric selves as possible – but we have no way of knowing who they will actually become as individuals and we come to the process of parenting with little, if any, formal training.

Fortunately, I have some good news (and, believe me, I was dragged kicking and screaming to this realization): If we are to take to heart the assurance that we are created in the image and likeness of God, it seems highly unlikely that there is really much for us to “fix.”  Indeed, the more likely reality is that, in our efforts to “fix” things or, worse yet, “fix” each other, we are almost certain to do more harm than good. Instead, my sense is that our role, as individuals and as dads, is to embrace and fully rejoice in the uniqueness that is every aspect of our children, to respect and nurture them with unconditional love and support, and, in the process, to learn to accept the reality that there are many things about others, including our children, that we simply cannot and never were intended to control, let alone “fix,” even things that, at times, may subject them and us to profound challenges and suffering.

That realization became evident to me during an evening walk several months ago, when I saw something that will be forever transfixed in my mind – something that I’m sure I’d seen a thousand times before, but which never struck me quite the way it did that night.  It was a young mother standing in a loud and congested parking lot, tenderly holding her nearly newborn infant close against her chest.  That was it!  “It” was the purest, most simplistic, most powerful and most beautiful expression of unconditional love I think I may have ever seen.  “It” didn’t require any words; in fact, mom was incapable of communicating with daughter at all, save for the delicate way she was cradling her and her willingness to allow her chest to serve as a pillow for a moment’s rest.  And yet, there is no doubt in my mind that as their hearts beat together, mom and infant child were fully engaged in unconditionally loving and accepting love from each other.

I smiled as I walked by – and “mom” couldn’t help but smile back. As I passed by a second time, I thought about stopping to share with her how overwhelmed I was by the sight of her and her child, but our social mores really don’t allow for intrusions like that by a stranger, nor did I want to intrude on the moment.  If I could have mustered the courage, however, I would have urged her to dedicate her life to preserving and trying to duplicate that moment, not only with her child, but with everyone she held dear.  As I continued on my way, I remembered once holding my own children like that.  I remembered how very special that felt.  I remembered wondering how it was possible to love someone you barely even knew so completely.  I remembered feeling overwhelmed by a sense of responsibility to provide for them, to protect them from harm and to guide them.  I remembered already beginning to envision what their life and our life together would “look like.”

And yet, in the end, unbeknownst to me at the time, what I was most responsible for was keeping the picture of “what it looked like when it was new” fresh in my mind and looking for ways to “simply” preserve and find new ways to communicate to my son and daughter that same sense of unconditional love that I shared with them in our own “parking lot moments” innumerable times, when they couldn’t say a word or understand a word I said.  The truth is: At one time or another, all of us have experienced the love that I saw in that parking lot that night.  Our challenge, particularly as dads, is to find our way back to it, to restore it, if necessary, and then get out of our own way and allow it to take up permanent residence in our soul.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5n19hMu4yW0

 

Ali McGraw (and Hollywood) Simply Got It Wrong: “Love Means [Always Being Willing] To Say You’re Sorry”

In a total of 50 seconds, Hollywood did more to distort the true meaning of love for a generation than a small army intent on accomplishing the same objective could possibly have done in a lifetime.  In the iconic 1970 movie, Love Story, Harvard law student, Oliver Barrett IV (played by Ryan O’Neal), arrives at the apartment that he shares with his leukemia-stricken, wife, Jenny Cavalleri (played by Ali McGraw), only to find her shivering on its frozen front steps, having carelessly locked herself out.  Barrett, bearing no real responsibility for his wife’s misstep and resulting misfortune, nonetheless takes pity on her and blurts out: “Jenny, I’m sorry” to which Jenny responds: “No, love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Regrettably, the line resurfaces a second time at the end of the movie, when Barrett’s father, who previously had disowned his son over his decision to marry a girl from the other side of the tracks and later refused to provide the financial assistance the couple desperately needed to meet Jenny’s ever-mounting medical bills, reconsiders and rushes to the hospital to offer the young couple his help.  Upon arrival,  Barrett III encounters his son, who tells his dad the offer is too late – that “Jenny’s dead.”  When Oliver’s dad attempts to express his sorrow, you guessed it, he’s greeted by those same 8 badly misguided, but soon-to-be-carved-into-movie-lore words:  “No, love means never having to say you’re sorry.”  Eee gads!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B5-8_1uCzR8

Obviously, I have no way of quantifying the impact, if any, that Love Story had on my generation’s willingness to say “I’m sorry,” though the movie was nominated for 7 Academy Awards (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_Story_%281970_film%29) and the line made it all the way to #13 on the American Film Institute’s “100 years . . . 100 Lines” list of famous movie quotes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AFI%27s_100_Years…_100_Movie_Quotes).  Truth is, human beings have always had a difficult time saying they’re “sorry” to one another irrespective of “what love means.” I’m not entirely sure why that is.  What I do know is that, at times, I’ve been as guilty of it as the next person.  Maybe our reluctance stems from the fact that, inherent in saying “I’m sorry” is our having to confront its inescapable kissing cousin: “I screwed up!”  That, in turn, means acknowledging, God forbid, that we’re human and imperfect – and, at least in my case, that wasn’t something I was always/ever eager to do as a young man.  In fact, in my own sarcastic way, I turned Ali McGraw’s nonsensical line on its head, often greeting my children’s efforts to apologize in our family home with the phrase: “Don’t be sorry.  Just don’t do it.”  And now I regret every single time I uttered those words – even in jest – because of the not-so-subtle message they quite unintentionally inferred: “Why don’t you just try being a little more perfect, that way you won’t have to worry about apologizing.”  Eee gads!

For some reason, parents have a particularly difficult time saying “I’m sorry” to their children, even when their words (spoken or unspoken) or their actions (taken or avoided) clearly warrant one. Maybe they view an apology and the vulnerability and humility it requires as a sign of weakness, as something parents, especially dads, just aren’t suppose to do. My life experiences have, rather painfully, taught me otherwise. In fact, looking back, some of the most intimate moments I’ve shared with my children, even into young adulthood, began with a heartfelt apology – not unlike the moment Barrett father and son almost certainly would have shared had Barrett IV not interrupted his willing-to-be-contrite father, who had finally mustered the emotional courage to admit that he’d been wrong in allowing anything or anyone to obscure his love for his son. This message was driven home to me a few years back in an airport of all places – and through the tears of a perfectly adorable 4-year-old stranger.  While I wrote it down, I wasted no time calling my then adult daughter when I landed in Miami to immediately arrange to meet her for a snack and a cup of coffee at The Oceanaire in Mary Brickell Village, so that I could deliver the message in person.  It was a moment I will never forget – living proof that, while it’s optimal to issue an apology contemporaneous with the act or omission that precipitates it, it’s never too late:

Dear Ashley,

This afternoon, I was walking through Detroit Metropolitan Airport, en route home from a meeting with a client, when I saw a beautiful young girl with dark curly hair who couldn’t have been any more than 5-years-old walking alongside her dad, with tears streaming down her face.

I’m not sure why this fairly commonplace airport occurrence captured my attention (I certainly had lots of other “more important” things on my mind), but it did. Maybe it was because there was no apparent reason for the little girl’s obvious despair.  It wasn’t as if she were aggravated by her inability to keep up with her dad, as young children often are in the frantic family footrace from a delayed flight at one end of the terminal to an on-time departure at the other.  To the contrary, daughter and dad were walking, albeit distant from one another in other more subtle ways, at a very leisurely pace.  I also didn’t witness any event that might explain her tears (e.g., a fall, a disciplinary scolding, a “love tap” on the rear, etc.).  Maybe it was because, in the midst of his little girl’s tears of sadness, her dad couldn’t possibly have seemed any less interested.

Later, as I settled into my too-cramped middle seat for the plane ride home, I reflected upon what I had seen and wondered if the tears that littered the concourse floor had come from the little girl having just left her mom at the security check point.  Maybe this was her week with her out-of-town dad, who, but for a sense of obligation, would just as soon not be reminded of the marriage he had long since left in his rear view mirror. Or perhaps it wasn’t nearly that complicated . . . maybe she was just having a bad day or was afraid of flying. The point is: it really didn’t matter WHY she was crying; what mattered was that she WAS crying and that her dad, for whatever reason, was oblivious or, worse yet, indifferent to her tears.

And then, I started to wonder. I wondered how many times in your young and not-so-young life, I was that dad – how many times I could have but didn’t notice and try to dry your tears, shed openly as that little girl’s or in the privacy of your room, because I was distracted, indifferent, dismissive or simply absent.

I know there must have been lots of those times, Ashley, and I’m truly sorry for each and every one of them.

With All My Love,

Dad