The “Tracks” Of My Tears – And Yours?


At one time or another, all of us have had moments in our lives when tears silently, unexpectedly, almost reflexively, streamed down our face. Maybe they were precipitated by a scene in a movie, a passage in a book, a song on the radio or a photograph. Perhaps they accompanied the achievement of a milestone in our or a loved one’s life, a particularly moving or inspiring artistic or athletic performance, being the beneficiary of a much needed word of acknowledgment or encouragement or simply a fond memory revisited. Inevitably, they flow in the wake of the death of someone who we love (or loved) deeply, someone who made a profound difference in our lives. Sometimes it happens in a public place, when a quick glance around the room is all that’s required to confirm that we are the only one moved to tears by what we’re witnessing or hearing and so we struggle to hide them and gather ourselves.

It’s happened (and still happens) to me – a lot, so often, in fact, that my kids, family members and friends routinely make fun of me for it. Heck, it even happened during a post-game dugout speech that I once gave to a group of 8 year-old little leaguers, who, despite entering the game with an 0-11 record, beat a previously undefeated and seemingly invincible rival. Predictably, they (and their parents) never let me live that one down! Eventually, however, I learned to “listen” to my tears – and the tears of others.  I came to realize that they’re nothing to be “embarrassed” about or ashamed of.  To the contrary, I discovered that each of those droplets “tell a story” about me and that the events that are a catalyst for their falling uniquely affect me in the way they do for a reason. There’s something about those events that strikes a chord within me. They and the tears they bring with them provide me with tiny glimpses into my soul.

Take “The Greatest Game Ever Played” (2005), for example.  I’ve seen that movie at least a dozen times. And yet, no matter how often I see it, tears always  seep from my eyes at precisely the same moment.  The movie is based on 19 year-old Francis Ouimet’s historic play-off victory over Harry Vardon in the 1913 U.S. Open. The victory was most improbable, given Vardon’s iconic status as one of golf’s all-time greats and Ouimet’s pedigree as a poor coal miner’s son, who, at age 9, had caddied at the Club where the Open was staged to help his immigrant parents make ends meet. And yet, the movie is much more than a story about a 100 year-old golf tournament.  It is a complex, multi-layered tale about dreams abandoned and reclaimed, courage and perseverance, humility and humiliation, the sustaining power of a mother’s quiet, but unconditional love and support and a fragile and insecure son’s longing for the affection and approval of his emotionally distant and hyper-critical father.

Ultimately, however, the “Greatest Game” is the story of a young man’s quest to prove to himself (and his dad) that which, on some level, he always believed to be true about himself, but was never quite sure, namely that he had a gift and, as it would turn out, an unquenchable desire to pursue it for all the world to see.  In the movie, those themes (and the full spectrum of emotions surrounding them) converge on the final green as Ouimet stands over a 4-foot putt to win the Open. But it is a poignant moment that follows the making of that putt that always strikes a chord somewhere deep within me.  In the midst of the celebration of his victory, with Ouimet lifted high on the shoulders of his new found fans, a weather-beaten hand stretches out from the crowd to offer a congratulatory dollar – the 1913 equivalent of a “high five” – and a thumbs-up.  It belongs to Ouimet’s father, who unbeknownst to his son had taken the day off from his work in the mines to see his remarkable achievement and his earlier stated assurances (“I can do this dad – I’m good at it!”) come to fruition. That’s the moment – the moment when Ouimet achieves the only “victory” he ever really wanted: capturing his father’s heart and admiration.

In the end, I believe it is the crowning life achievement that every child (young and old – son or daughter) longs for either with their dad, their mom or both – at least I know I did. It took me nearly a dozen viewings, but eventually I realized that the tears I routinely shed in watching Ouimet finally achieve that goal flow from envy and the recognition that I spent much of my life searching and longing for, but never fully finding, that metaphorical outstretched hand from my dad, my mom, a friend, a lover, anyone really who saw what I always  believed to be true about “me” (that I too had gifts) – someone who, without my having to so actively solicit their affection and support, would give me the “thumbs up” I needed to confidently share those gifts with others. It would be easy  to just dismiss my “Greatest Game tears” as yet another example of my hyper-sensitive, overly sentimental self, but they are so much more than that, as were the ones I so unabashedly and shamelessly shed in that little league dugout almost 19 years ago.

I’m not advocating that you seek out tears in your life, only that you take a moment to reflect on where they’re “coming from” when you do encounter them, particularly when it seems like you’re the only one in the room shedding them. (And, no, that’s not my picture at the top of this post.  I’m much better looking than that!).

A Father’s Heart, An Open Letter

carry card

Dads are somewhat notorious for being poor communicators where feelings are concerned and, for some reason, that’s particularly true when it comes to their daughters. Regrettably, daughters often interpret their fathers’ silence (or awkwardness) in the face of life circumstances that demand (or would greatly benefit from) a heightened degree of vulnerability to mean that their dad is disinterested in them, lacks empathy or, worse yet, is simply insensitive to their needs.  Sometimes, daughters harbor those perceptions for the better part of a lifetime ( And yet, nothing could be  further from the truth! To the contrary, if the men I met during the course of our daughter’s illness (and, more recently, at conferences and webinars that I’ve been privileged to host) are fairly representative of the whole (and I believe they are), most dads care deeply about their daughters. Moreover,  though we may sometimes appear to be “clueless” as to how to go about accomplishing it, I suspect every dad silently thirsts for a closer (i.e., more emotionally intimate) relationship with their daughter. I certainly do and while lately I think I’ve done a better job of figuring things out – at least where the vulnerability piece is concerned – I know all too well the sense of longing for (and uncertainty of the means to achieve) that objective, which is what led me to write this post.  So, if my fellow dads will permit me, I thought I’d share a few “secrets” of our own collective hearts in the form of an “open letter” to daughters everywhere, who may still be wondering about us and, more critically, about our feelings towards them:

To Our Little Girls –

It seems like only yesterday that we held you in our arms for the first time.

It was love at first sight.

From that moment on, you’ve held a very special place in our hearts – a place reserved only for you.

When you were little, it was “easy” to let you know that.  We could hold you tight, comfort you when you were sad, tell you bedtime stories and tuck you in – and we did.  You probably don’t remember those special father/daughter moments, but we do. 

But, as you grew older, things got more complicated for us where you were concerned.

You were becoming young women, perhaps before both of us were ready for all those changes – and we weren’t at all sure how to respond, how we fit in to your emerging womanhood.

We wondered if it was still “okay” to hold to you as tightly as we once did (or hold you at all), to kiss you, to tuck you into bed – to dry your tears and comfort you.

We looked for other ways to stay connected with you and share our love, ways to stay engaged in your life, to discern the role you wanted us to play as you entered your teenage years, but we confess we struggled with that – a lot.

We assumed, without asking, that your mom was the person you wanted/needed for all those “girl (and boyfriend) things” and that you would let us know if/when you needed us and how we could help.

Between your mom and your friends (who took on an increasingly important role in your life), it seemed like you were doing “just fine” and growing more independent (and less in need of us) with each passing day. 

Part of us was content to watch you grow, but we missed you – we missed “us”.

Only now have we come to realize, however, that we may have missed the most important thing of all – the realization that you were missing us too and maybe even misconstruing our distance and seeming “absence” as indifference.

If only we had known then what we know now. 

If only, rather than trying to “guess” at what each other was thinking or hoping one of us “would get it” from the unspoken “bread crumbs” we were leaving in each others’ lives, we had simply talked, allowed ourselves to be more vulnerable with one another.

Maybe we could both be a little better about that going forward?

In the meantime, lest there be any doubt in your mind, know this . . .

there has never been a day since you were born when we haven’t loved you, 

a moment that has passed when we haven’t thought of you,

an occasion where we weren’t proud of you or felt disappointed in you or

a time that we wanted anything but what was best for you –

today is no exception, nor will tomorrow be.

Because, while we may not always be great at showing it, let alone expressing it (!), we love you and we value you!

Your Dads



I’ve Listened To “Your Daughter’s” Heart


I realized on my walk this morning that, during the course of our daughter’s illness, I was afforded a very unique privilege – one that (thankfully) few fathers will ever experience – namely, the chance to listen as hundreds of women, young and old, openly shared their pain and the innermost longings of their hearts – and listen I did.  I say “thankfully” not because I don’t wish every father and every “father-to-be” couldn’t be similarly gifted – I do; but rather because, at the time of the sharing, most of those hearts were momentarily trapped in bodies ravaged by eating disorders – a circumstance that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Still, it occurs to me that with that privilege comes responsibility, in this case to share some of what I learned, sensitive, of course, to the boundaries of confidentiality, because my sense is that most dads have never heard their daughter share these sentiments in words:

Your daughter adores you.

She has placed you on the highest of pedestals.

In her eyes, you are mostly infallible.

To her, you are almost superhumanly capable and unusually reliable.

She greatly admires your “competency” and the fact that you always seem to have things in control.

She trusts you.

Because she does, she listens attentively to the words you say to (and about) her, her mother and other women and she uses those words in formulating beliefs about herself and the things you (and other men) value about her and women in general.

She wants to spend more time with you and for you to be “fully present” when the two of you are together.

There are few things in life she wants more than to know (by hearing you say it) that you love her and are proud of her.

One of those “things” is to avoid disappointing you.

How powerful is that last point?  You tell me:  Several years ago, at the height of our daughter’s illness (i.e., when her life was quite literally hanging in the balance), my wife and I attended “family week” at a prominent residential treatment facility out West.  Neither of us had seen Ashley in several weeks.  A few days into the program, the parents were invited to share a meal (lunch) with their loved one.  As the noon hour approached, tears began to silently stream down Ashley’s face.  She politely asked me if she could “talk to her mom alone” and I left the room.  Minutes later, Cyndy came out.  When I asked “what the tears were all about,” I was stopped in my tracks by her response:  “Ashley doesn’t want you to be disappointed that she hasn’t made more progress in her eating.  She wants you to know that it’s hard – and she’s really trying.”  Imagine that . . . a young woman (your daughter), struggling courageously for her life, worrying that her dad (that guy I described above) might be disappointed in her!

Dads, we’ve got some work to do – “there’s a ball at the castle.”

“. . . And The Tree Was Sad.” (And He Had A Darn Good Reason For Feeling That Way!)


I likely wasn’t that different from many of my parental peers/contemporaries when it came to wanting to “shield” my children from heartache, discouragement, physical and emotional pain, rejection and disappointment – as often and as long as I possibly could.  My thought process was fairly simplistic: I figured there would be plenty of time (and lots of opportunities) for them to experience those and countless other “negative” emotions when they grew older. Consequently, preserving the innocence and “joy” of childhood as long as possible became a high priority of mine.  And so, early on, I donned the mantle of head cheerleader where my kids were concerned and, believe me, I took that “job” very seriously.  In fact, while I stopped just short of posting “No Long Faces Allowed” signs and establishing NTZ’s (No Tear Zones) around the house, it wasn’t a secret that dad preferred smiles to frowns, a skip-in-the-step to lethargy, cheerfulness and optimism to discouragement and doubt – and laughter to tears. I not only encouraged my children to search for a silver lining, I “insisted” (in word and action) that they actually find it, even if, at the end of the day, I had to “construct” one out of whole cloth.  When tears came and anger and frustration were expressed, as inevitably and repeatedly they were, I quickly sought to dispel them with humor, a new activity or toy, a diversion, something more “positively directed”—in the hope that it would lighten the mood, bring a smile or restore familial peace.

My goal was laudable:  I wanted my children to be happy.  However, the means I chose to achieve that goal were not.  You see, I thought the best way to ensure my children’s happiness was to micro-manage their lives, including, among other things, the activities and people in it, in a way that minimized the risk that they would experience sadness, anger, pain, bitterness, rejection, disappointment, failure, etc.—in short, anything that threatened what I quickly (and accurately) perceived to be their beautiful, but especially delicate spirits. Ironically, of course, each time I sought to prevent them from experiencing those emotions, what I was really doing was sending the same subliminal message I too often heard from my own parents, albeit in a very different way: “Don’t bother coming to me if your intent is to share an emotion other than happiness or your latest success story ‘cause those are the only things welcome in our home!” Not surprisingly, over time, they responded in precisely the same ways I did—by shutting down, by isolating, by seeking other outlets to express themselves and their feelings.  I misunderstood my role as parent, which was not to shield my children from the harms and emotions that are an inescapable part of growing up, of living, of loving, of self-discovery, but rather to equip them with the tools necessary to learn from those experiences—and then, little by little, to let them go, so that they could grow into the person they wanted to be, not the person I wanted or thought they should be.

Don’t misunderstand the message:  I’m still a firm believer in the criticality of positive thought and in continually searching for “the bright side.”  But I have learned (the hard way) that it is equally critical that we allow not only our children, but OURSELVES and all who we profess to love and care about, to fully feel in the moment – and that we validate those feelings.  Where others, including our children, are concerned, we need to refrain from always rushing in to “try to make things better”—even if it means watching them suffer from time to time.  The same is true for us and our emotions (i.e., we need to embrace them, not seek out others or, more troublingly, substances to avoid experiencing them). Because the truth is: We do our ourselves, our children and those we love a tremendous disservice by not doing that.  Sooner or later, the tears will come – believe me, I’ve shed enough of them over the years (and watched my daughter shed twice as many) to know.  Better that they be shed in the moment, than that you or your loved one try to play catch up after 25 years (or 54 as the case may be).  We need to send a clear message to our children:  there’s nothing “wrong” with being sad or disappointed or angry or heart-broken or disillusioned.  To the contrary, those emotions and many others like them not only are an integral part of being human, but often times an indispensable source of growth and the catalyst for a deeper understanding of ourselves.  Just ask the tree!

A Young Girl, A Horse And A Life Lesson In Forgiveness

Ashley and Prince

It’s very difficult to forgive, especially when the would-be recipient of that forgiveness has hurt us – emotionally, physically or both. Still, I’m not entirely sure why it’s so hard, given that: (1) at some point in our lives all of us have been “guilty” of hurting others – doing things we wish we hadn’t – and longed to be forgiven; and (2) it is indisputable that forgiveness is a liberating force in the lives of both the “forgivor” and the “forgivee.” Maybe we assume that the act or omission that inflicted our pain was intentional and, therefore, is less worthy of forgiveness. Maybe we withhold our forgiveness in retribution (i.e., as a form of “punishment” for the wrong that has been done to us). Maybe our ego simply won’t allow us to forgive, believing that to do so would be a sign of weakness, or maybe we’re simply afraid – fearful that if we forgive and re-trust, if we allow ourselves to be fully vulnerable, it will happen again and hurt even more the second time around. And yet, we know that forgiveness is possible. Our friends tell us stories about it, we read books that are based upon it, and we watch news documentaries of people who, notwithstanding their having been subjected to unimaginable suffering at the hands of another, somehow find the courage and the strength to forgive the person responsible for their pain. For some reason, forgiveness never looks quite as difficult when it’s emanating from someone else’s heart.  Several years ago, my daughter tried to teach me an important lesson about forgiveness. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t paying careful enough attention – again!

On Memorial Day weekend in 2001, Ashley and her mom went out to a local barn to visit “Nikki,” a beautiful young Arabian horse we only recently had begun “leasing” to foster Ashley’s love of riding.  When they arrived, they found Nikki quietly grazing in the back pasture, after being couped up over what had been a long, rain-soaked South Florida weekend.  In what was intended to be a simple act of companionship, Ashley, sans helmet, decided to sit on Nikki’s bare back while he continued to forage through the grass.  The act seemed harmless enough. However, Nikki obviously “misunderstood” the gesture and thought it was time to run and play.  Without warning, he bolted across the field toward the wooden fence that formed the perimeter of the pasture, as Ashley struggled desperately, but unsuccessfully, to gain control using only Nikki’s mane.  Realizing that, at any moment, Nikki was likely to come to an abrupt stop, throwing her into or over the fence and onto an adjacent street, Ashley chose instead to try and get off the horse “on her own terms.”  She slammed into the ground and was momentarily knocked unconscious.  With no one else around, Cyndy somehow managed to get Ashley to the van and rushed her to the local emergency room, where x-rays revealed a severely displaced fracture of the right femoral head, near the hip socket.  After several hours of surgery, which included the insertion of two titanium screws to realign the fracture, doctors placed Ashley in a “Spica” cast (a full body contraption designed by the Marquis de Sade, which typically is reserved for infants with dislocated hips).

Ashley spent the next 10 days in the hospital, recuperating from the surgery, and another 7 weeks in a rented hospital bed and reclining wheelchair, largely unable to care for herself.  Suffice it to say, it was a very difficult way for an active young girl to spend her 13th summer.  However, thanks to her boundless COURAGE and determination (traits that, unbeknownst to her at the time, would one day save her life), Ashley was back on her feet well ahead of schedule and before we knew it, aside from a small scar and the hardware used to put her back together, seemingly “as good as new.” But, there was one more piece to the puzzle that Ashley was intent on putting in place – a piece that, looking back, required every bit as much COURAGE as the battle to overcome the physical and psychological pain of what could well have been a catastrophic accident.  Less than 6 months later (with yours truly downing copious amounts of sedatives!), Ashley returned to the barn and quite literally got back on that horse – a horse whom she loved deeply – and rode off into the pasture as if nothing had happened.  It was profound display of COURAGE on her part and a touching moment of forgiveness and reconciliation between two old friends. We could learn a lot from our children, if we just paid a little closer attention to what they’re trying to tell us through their words – and actions.  I have a much clearer understanding of that now – as I do of COURAGE and forgiveness.

Kirsten – Giving Others The Courage To Be Vulnerable


Anyone who has ever been in the grip of (or had a loved one afflicted with) an eating disorder knows that it is an intensely personal and private struggle.  In fact, one of the many things that make eating disorders so dangerous and life-threatening is that their sufferers tend to shroud their internal struggle under a veil of secrecy, making it difficult for even those closest to them to recognize the presence of the disease, let alone appreciate its severity, before it reaches a crisis stage.  Part of that secrecy stems from the disease process itself.  As a rule, eating disorders are inherently isolating.  Another part likely stems from fear (i.e., the compromised mind’s irrational desire to stave off the treatment that almost certainly will result from full disclosure).  Still another aspect driving the silence is the social stigma that some still inexplicably and ignorantly attach to eating disorders.  Finally, but no less significantly, the silence emanates from the almost paralyzing sense of shame and guilt felt by those afflicted with the disease.

Imagine then how much COURAGE it takes for a 19 year old girl to stand on a stage in Las Vegas, Nevada in the midst of one of the premiere beauty pageants in the world (i.e., Miss America) and, before a live audience and a worldwide television viewership numbering in the tens of millions, not only publicly acknowledge, but embrace her personal struggle with anorexia, while adopting eating disorder education and awareness as her platform.  Why in the world would anyone do something like that? Well, perhaps it’s best to let Kirsten Haglund, Miss America 2008, explain the decision in her own words (which I’ve taken the liberty of paraphrasing from a recent interview Kirsten gave at Emory University):

“I came to realize that it’s helpful for others to hear someone, especially someone in the public spotlight, who has gone through a major battle or had to struggle [like I did as a young girl with anorexia] admit that they aren’t perfect. I think that’s a really important message for people to hear.  The more I shared the clearer it became to me that my willingness to be open and vulnerable – to tell my story – allowed others to find their voice and have the COURAGE to tell their story.  I discovered that vulnerability is a really tough place to be, but it is a really powerful place.  And I think it’s particularly important for girls, like me, to be able to stand up and say, ‘Hey, I’m vulnerable,’ ‘I messed up’ or ‘I have this issue’ and that’s okay, because it’s my imperfections and my flaws that make me who I am. That’s even more powerful than being perfect!”

Suffice it to say, despite only being 24 years old, Kirsten already has gone to great lengths to use the power of her vulnerability to effect positive change in the world, beginning with: (1) the creation of the Kirsten Haglund Foundation (, whose mission includes raising funds for treatment scholarships to those afflicted with eating disorders who lack the resources necessary to access potentially lifesaving care, while simultaneously enlisting the help of individuals, organizations, and businesses in raising awareness and provide hope for families and those waging the war on eating disorders; (2) her tireless advocacy for eating disorder awareness and fund-raising, in her role as Community Relations Specialist for Timberline Knolls (;  (3) her support of legislative initiatives aimed at bringing parity in the insurance coverage available to eating disorder sufferers; (4) her work on behalf of the Children’s Miracle Network; and (5) her involvement with One Hundred Days (, a non-profit organization based in Atlanta, which is committed to helping to meet the physical, spiritual and emotional needs of the people of Rwanda, including the construction of a hospital serving the estimated 1,200,000 children, who have lost one or both parents as result of conflict, poverty or HIV/AIDS.

There are very few people on the planet I respect and admire more than Kirsten Haglund.  Candidly, I’m not entirely sure how such a young woman (17 at the time she entered the local pageant that ultimately would lead to her crowning as Miss America) could be so COURAGEOUS, so unselfish and, now at 24 (and soon to be a graduate of Emory University), so tireless in giving of herself to inspire and bring hope to others.  Not only those in the eating disorder community, but society as a whole, already owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to this remarkable young woman.  I urge you to begin “repaying” it, by learning more about her, by sharing her (and her story) with the young people in your life as an example of how to be a difference-maker and, if the opportunity arises, by supporting Kirsten in her ongoing efforts to be a much-needed instrument of positive change in the world.

A Lion, A Beatnik And A Slightly Broader View Of Courage – “Oh My!!!”


Dorothy: Your Majesty, if you were king, you wouldn’t be afraid of anything?

Cowardly Lion: Not nobody! Not nohow!

Tin Woodsman: Not even a rhinoceros?

Cowardly Lion: Imposerous!

Dorothy: How about a hippopotamus?

Cowardly Lion: Why, I’d thrash him from top to bottomus!

Dorothy: Supposing you met an elephant?

Cowardly Lion: I’d wrap him up in cellophant!

Scarecrow: What if it were a brontosaurus?

Cowardly Lion: I’d show him who was king of the forest!

From the time I was a little boy until well into adulthood, I thought I had a pretty clear and accurate understanding of what COURAGE looked like. It was a fireman racing into a burning building – in seeming reckless disregard of his personal safety – fixated on saving the life of a child. It was a soldier reflexively making the ultimate sacrifice by throwing his body on a hand-grenade to shield the other members of his platoon from certain death. It was a Secret Service agent stepping in front of a would-be assassin’s bullet to spare the life of the President. In short, to me, COURAGE was an act of bravery tied to saving the life of another.  And, of course, I was partially correct: Each of the foregoing indisputably is an act of COURAGE.

But the older I get the clearer it becomes that my childhood view of COURAGE is much too narrow.  Instead, my journey has led me to embrace a slightly different, more expansive definition of COURAGE, one that is plainly broad enough to encompass the more “traditional” acts that all of us rightfully associate with the word, but, at the same time, recognizes as equally COURAGEOUS the often more subtle, sometimes almost imperceptible, and generally far less public choices that many bravely make each day not for the sake of saving someone else’s life, but in deciding to continue to fight in the face of what, in the moment, seem to them like insurmountable odds and, in the process, save their own lives.

I found that definition, oddly enough, in the words of beatnik writer, James Neil Hollingworth (1933-1996), who, writing under the pen name Ambrose Redmoon, once described courage “[not as] the absence of fear, but rather [as a] judgment that something else is more important than fear!”  Since doing so, I’ve become much more attentive to manifestations of COURAGE in all of its forms, large and small, whether they occur on the battlefield or the playing field, in the classroom or the boardroom, in the public spotlight or, in the case of a disordered eater, hunched over a toilet seat with a split second decision to make, in the privacy of a bathroom – and the critically of recognizing and appropriately acknowledging that COURAGEOUSNESS.

In my mind, it is only in doing so that those who truly are COURAGEOUS, albeit in a far less public and spectacular fashion, will become more fully aware of their capacity to confront and overcome fear and, in the process, create a space and an opportunity for the seed of hope to take root and flourish.  Over the next few days, I thought I’d highlight a few individuals whose “everyday” acts of COURAGE have touched me in the hope that their stories will enable other to recognize that they too are (or, at critical turning points in their lives, were) similarly COURAGEOUS, while others will be inspired to embrace their own COURAGEOUSNESS when the need for it arises!