Take Me Out To The Ballpark

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Some of my fondest childhood memories are of lazy summer Saturday afternoons spent at Fenway Park  (http://tinyurl.com/3w68kh8) in the mid-1960′s and the evenings that followed flipping, tossing (http://tinyurl.com/8xfmmcv) and collecting baseball cards with neighbors and friends in the basement of our Framingham, Massachusetts home.  It was a magical time to be a Red Sox fan (at least until the post-season began!) with the likes of Jim Lonborg, Rico Petrocelli, Tony Conigliaro and my idol, Carl Yastrzemski, routinely populating the daily line-up card (http://tinyurl.com/7jefvpv). Truth be told it also was an incredible time to be collecting baseball cards (Note To Self: Avoid venturing too far down this road lest you be forced to once again admit, in public, that you ultimately “sold” a gold-plated collection that included multiple Maris, Mantle, Mays and Gehrig rookie cards to a friend for $8.95 so you could get a two Whopper lunch at Burger King!).

As much as I grew to love watching baseball and keeping track of the multitude of stats that are such an integral part of its history, however, I was never very good at playing the game. In fact, if corresponding records were kept of such things at the little league level, which, thank God, they’re not, I’m certain I would still hold the Howard Palmetto Khoury League (http://www.howardpalmetto.com) single season and career records for number of strike-outs.  Likely that was due, in part, to the fact that my stubbornness in refusing to wear glasses was outdone only by the level of blindness in my left eye and, in part, to my insistence on batting left-handed (just like “Yaz”), when I did absolutely everything else in life right-handed, but it was no less embarrassing – I assure you!  Let me make the point this way:  The only multi-hit game I ever had was one in which my dad, the third base coach, managed to “steal” the other team’s signs and relay them to me in the batter’s box, so that I knew the intended location and type of pitch (fastball, curve ball, change-up, etc.) BEFORE IT WAS EVEN THROWN – and I still only went 3-4!

Fortunately, I didn’t allow my lack of playing ability to dissuade me from my lifelong desire to coach at the little league level. In fact, I was so eager to coach that I started before I even had children of my own! My eagerness stemmed not from a misguided belief that I was capable of  instilling the technical skills required to turn a young boy into the next baseball prodigy – my career “winning” percentages, first as a player and later as a coach, should be more than sufficient to quickly dispel that notion.  Rather, I coached because I believed it afforded me an opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of young people, to make friends with other young families, because I loved giving pre- and post-game speeches to the team and, ultimately, to stay connected with a game that I loved and the energy (and joy) that I always derive from being around kids at play.

What I had no way of knowing at the time I started was that, along the way, the young men that I coached would teach me far more about life, about patience and about the true meaning of being a “coach,” than I would ever teach them about baseball.  I also never could have anticipated that my experiences as a coach would serve as the inspiration for my first two published works, The Bunt (http://tinyurl.com/d9xl6wt) and Rounding Third (http://tinyurl.com/cgdt6nb), and a third, Todd’s Story, that I recently completed but have not yet published. Perhaps most importantly, however, my coaching served as a catalyst for the following letter, which might not otherwise have been written.  It was a letter I received when I was 34 years old. While I’d like to think it was not the first time my dad was proud of me, I’m fairly certain it was the first time he ever used words to tell me he was.  I framed it:

May 20, 1992

Dear Don,

I have almost recovered from your sterling “World Series Victory” of Saturday last.  It was as the shouts of your exuberant team declared to the heavens – “AWESOME!”

The thing I need to comment on is how impressed I was with the conduct of the head coach.  I couldn’t help but think how lucky that collection of “All-Stars” was to have a man like you directing them.

No matter the circumstances, your every word to that team and its individual players was one of encouragement.  In the darkest moments (10 runs down, for instance), you were constantly assuring one and all that collectively they had the ability not to just fight back, but to win.

Wherever the circumstances dictated despair, you instilled belief.  What a marvelous gift that is – the absolute keystone in successful adult-child communication (if I sound jealous, it’s because I am).

The real uniqueness of your style, however, stems from your ability to convey your very special talent in such an enthusiastic, patiently positive manner.  And miraculously, you manage to convey it to groups and individuals, as the situation dictates, with equal fervor and with exquisite timeliness.

The result speaks for itself.  How sweet Saturday’s victory was.  I know much sweeter victories lie ahead.

As special as watching the comeback was for your mother and I, I am compelled to say, one more time, how very proud I was of your performance and how fortunate the youngsters are who came under your influence today, as well as those who will touched by it in the years ahead.

On their behalf, I thank you for so generously sharing your time, your talent, your life and your love.

Love,

Dad

That letter still hangs in my office, right above my desk – 20 years later.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A90XZ5GWYKQ

On Apples And Trees – And Bended Knees

apple from tree

It’s “funny” what you think about at 4:45 in the morning, when you’re all alone, on a deserted stretch of highway, after working a 23.5 hour day – and you’re feeling every bit of your 55 years, if not a little lost and confused.  I found myself thinking about my dad, who passed away more than 15 years ago – about the many things I admired in him . . . traits I’m sure I consciously or subconsciously tried to emulate in my own life . . . and about the “broken” pieces, the ones I had hoped and, in some instances, struggled mightily, often to the point of obsession, to avoid like the plague.

I thought first about his faith.  Faith wasn’t something my dad talked a lot about, but I’m pretty certain given the choice between missing Sunday Mass and losing his right arm, he unhesitatingly would have chosen the latter.  No matter where he was in the world (and he was fortunate to travel all over it) or what else he may have had to do, my dad always made it a point to attend Sunday Mass. But it was his devotion to prayer that struck me most – the moments I would happen by his room in the morning or late evening and find him kneeling at the foot of his bed, rosary in hand.  I was never made privy to what he prayed about, though I suspect, more often than not, it was that the three of us (his children) would somehow find a healthy way to navigate through the complex maze of dysfunctionality that had become our family home, an alcohol-fueled minefield that he had long since lost the desire and/or ability to control.  To me, the substance of the prayers didn’t matter nearly as much as the symbol – the kneeling, the turning over of daily struggles, the search for guidance and, ultimately, peace, the relegation of self – the recognition that there had to be something more to this thing called Life, that he/we had to be part of greater plan.

I thought about his gift of language – written and spoken – his wit and dry sense of humor.  I thought not only about all the letters he wrote, mostly for work (for Eastern Airlines), but the short stories and articles he regularly submitted for publication and contests.  I thought about the speeches he was asked to write and deliver at corporate meetings, conventions and social events all across the country.  I remember him toiling over those writings at the dining room table or in the privacy of his room for hours at a time, searching for just the right words, piecing together clever (and often humorous) phrases.  Regrettably, like his faith, my dad kept his creative processes and the fruits they bore mostly to himself, wrongfully assuming that it wasn’t something we’d be very interested in.  But, there were rare occasions when he’d share his remarkable gift for writing with us, either in the form of notes or letters addressed to us or left in conspicuous places, where we were certain to find them long after he’d left the house for work.  Regardless of their message, each such missive ended with “Love, Dad” in his unmistakable, over-sized hand-writing.  I’m staring at one as I type these words http://tinyurl.com/k8cbe3x.

I thought about his compassion for others, his sensitivity and his always giving heart.  In a world that was growing increasingly self-centered, where “tearing down” and stepping on or over others was quickly becoming the “sport of choice” in press rooms, business and school lunch rooms and executive boardrooms, my dad was always looking for ways and opportunities to build others up.  Whether it was in a formal letter of recommendation, a word of encouragement or a well-placed vote of confidence, my dad seldom missed a chance, solicited or unsolicited, to help an existing or former colleague advance their career.  He also was quick to acknowledge achievements, milestones and special events in others’ personal and professional lives, as well as the acts of favor or kindness that others bestowed on him, often taking considerable time to write elaborate notes of thanks for relatively simple gestures.  I know because I found carbon copies of many such letters among my dad’s personal belongings after he died.  Not unlike Silverstein’s Giving Tree, I suspect my dad’s only lament where giving was concerned was not the prospect of having to give again or being asked to give too much, but rather the fear that he wouldn’t be able to give enough.

And then there was the brokenness. I thought about his perfectionism – and I wondered. I wondered where it originated.  I wondered whether it was simply the way he was “pre-wired,” the by-product of a strict, likely Catholic guilt-infested childhood home or whether it had its roots in a teenage “mis-step,” where, likely knowing better, but eager to be part of the crowd, he threw caution to the wind, perhaps for the first time, and, in the process, unwittingly “threw away” what many believed would have been a promising career as a major league pitcher, maybe even for his beloved Red Sox.  I wondered if he knew that it had become so ingrained in who he was as to be almost reflexive in its manifestation.  Most of all, I wondered if he knew how hurtful his insistence on perfection could be when directed at those around him, especially those of us who were so intent on making him proud of our accomplishments, of measuring up – of not disappointing him.  And then I wondered, more knowingly, what toll it took on him to always be subjecting himself to that level of excellence, to never cutting himself the smallest of breaks that being human requires – for always feeling that he could’ve/should’ve gone a little further, even when he’d plainly gone the extra mile.

I thought about the fact that my dad never really received the personal or professional recognition he deserved – and had earned.  I thought about how hard he worked through the years, how he had literally grown up with the company, the goodwill he generated for it everywhere he went, and the mostly positive attitude he brought with him to each new challenge, despite the fact that it often meant having to relocate a family of 4 for which he was the sole breadwinner to a new city and enduring all of the uncertainty and stress that such fundamental personal and professional changes carry with them.  And yet, I distinctly remember his being “passed over” time and time again for positions that he was infinitely more qualified for and capable of handling than those who ultimately were awarded them.  Despite his efforts to shield us from it, I could always sense his frustration and disappointment, just as I could his level of enthusiasm and anticipation during the selection and vetting process.  He was always gracious to the “winner” – they far less so – often looking for ways to move him out or on to a new position out of fear, I suspect, that he posed a threat to their march to the top.  Whether he wanted it or not (and he mostly didn’t), my dad always deserved better (and more) than he got.

Lastly, I thought about the loneliness – the fact that, best I could tell, he never figured out the love piece.  I thought about my sense that he missed out on vulnerability and intimacy.  I thought about how few close friends he seemed to have, particularly given how much he contributed to others’ lives – a thought brought home to me again, starkly, at his sparsely attended funeral.  I thought about the night, as teenagers, when he took my brother and I out to dinner and, out of the clear blue, shared that he had wanted to leave our mom, but had chosen to stay in what obviously was a wholly unsatisfying relationship for the good of us – for his children.  I remember feeling both awkward and terribly uncomfortable during and after that conversation, like I didn’t want (and shouldn’t be “asked”) to shoulder that level of “responsibility” for the lifetime of unhappiness that ultimately would flow from that decision.  Looking back, part of me wished he had made a different one, especially if it would have allowed me to know a dad who was happier, more alive – maybe even, on occasion, affectionate.  Instead, I remember the light in his eyes slowly dimming from that point forward, a sense of resignation, of dreams forgone – long before it was time to throw in the towel on life.

And then I thought about apples and trees – and the tears began silently streaming down my face.

(my dad’s favorite: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IXr59ZKaVTI)

The World Needs Hearts Tested By Fire

heart-fire

“There is in every woman’s heart a spark of heavenly fire which lies dormant in the broad daylight of prosperity, but which kindles up and beams and blazes in the dark hour of adversity.” Washington Irving

 

There are few forces in nature that have a greater capacity to destroy than fire.  And that destructive power is indiscriminate.  One need only review the historical landscape of the most notorious fires in history to prove the point.  The Great Chicago Fire of 1871, for example, generally considered the most “famous fire” of the past 100 years, killed 300 people and destroyed more than 17,000 structures over 2000 acres in 27 hours.  Incredibly, later that same year, a fire in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, thought to be the worst wild fire in U.S. history, claimed over 1,500 lives and destroyed nearly 3.8 million acres.  The Great London Fire, which is believed to have started in a baker’s shop in 1666, destroyed more 13,000 structures and claimed an unrecorded, but presumably, staggeringly high number of lives.  The San Francisco Earthquake Fire of 1906 began simply – from stoves and lamps that were overturned from the earthquake – but, in the span of three days, killed more than 3,000 people and destroyed close to 300,000 structures.  Indeed, in just the last 24 months, fires have ravaged (or claimed) the lives of hundreds of individuals and scarred the landscape of the tens of millions of acres of land in the United States alone.  In fact, the U.S. Forestry Service estimates that fires destroyed more than 8.8 million acres of land in 2012 alone and it is highly likely given the extraordinary number of fires that have burned this year, including the Rim Firm near Yosemite National Park, which alone destroyed more than 260,000 acres (i.e., nearly 402 square miles!), that 2013 will surpass that number. 

 

Thus, it’s easy to lose sight of the many positive attributes of fire – the fact that, when applied to ferrous alloys, such as steel or cast iron, as part of the tempering process, fire toughens the metals, while simultaneously increasing their ductility (i.e., the metal becomes less brittle and more elastic and malleable) or that exposing glass to same tempering process not only strengthens the glass, but, when broken, causes it to crumble into small granular chunks instead of splintering into jagged shards (a feature that greatly reduces the likelihood of injury in certain applications).  When properly controlled, fire also can be used in forest management and prairie restoration by clearing out dense underbrush to facilitate the growth of new vegetation and reduce the risk of more dangerous wildfires and, paradoxically, through a practice known as “back burning,” can actually stop the spread of wildfires that already are in progress.  

Fire also is essential to various creative processes.  It allows: artisans to “blow” and fashion beautiful glass products; artists to create and glaze ceramic products; metal smiths to refine and remove impurities from precious metals; and chefs to work their magic in creating the foods used to nourish our bodies.  And then, there are the somewhat less tangible, but no less transformative qualities of fire – its ability, though a single tongue dancing on a candle wick, to illuminate and allow one to navigate otherwise impenetrable (and often frightening) darkness; its unique capacity, when applied to a beach bonfire or simple campfire, to serve as a gathering point and foster a sense of community; its indispensability to the production of energy; and, lastly, but no less importantly, its ability, even in the simplicity of a fireplace, to provide warmth and comfort on the most bitter and coldest winter day.  

On March 26, 2012, my friend and fellow author, Kristen Moeller (and her husband, David) lost virtually everything material they owned, including their dream home, in the now infamous Lower North Fork Fire – a fire that claimed the lives of several of their neighbors and destroyed 22 homes and 4,140 acres of beautiful mountain vistas.  To say that the events of that day gutted Kristen on many levels would be a considerable understatement, as even a cursory reading of her heart-wrenching writings in the days, weeks and months that followed make clear (http://kristenmoeller.com/walking-through-fire).  However, focusing on what that the fire stole from Kristen would only tell a very small part of the story and would do a significant injustice to this remarkable woman, who, in its aftermath, found the willingness, courage and strength to use the still smoldering embers it left behind to not only re-kindle the fire in her own heart, but, with her usual selflessness, in the hearts of countless others.   

If you read her books, “Waiting for Jack” (http://tinyurl.com/nn7oo7o)(2010) and “What Are You Waiting For?” (2013) (http://tinyurl.com/pcvdoj8), you will quickly (and rather intimately) discover that the events of March 26, 2012 were not the first “firestorm” Kristen had endured in her life (battles with bulimia and substance abuse are two others that immediately come to mind) – and so, I suppose, the fact that she came out on the other side of this transitional life experience in one piece is a reflection of the age old adage that “practice makes perfect”!  But, in my mind, there is something different this time around.  My sense is that Kristen has found a way to harness the destructive power of that fire and, not unlike the blacksmith, use it re-shape herself and grow stronger.  In the midst of her suffering, Kristen patiently allowed the fire to “burn off” the underbrush that had begun to obscure her vision of her purpose and to refine her mission. And now that the smoke thankfully has cleared, she is sharing the warmth and clarity of that re-kindled fire with others so that they too can find a way to navigate the fires (large and small) that rage in their own lives (http://tinyurl.com/pyv4ke5).

Kristen with soot

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRRQSk9KRZs 

Waiting By The Window

Little Girl

During my visit to D.C. last week for NEDA’s 2013 Annual Conference, I was treated to lunch at the National Press Club by an old friend, Taylor Henry.  Taylor and I met when I was a freshman at Spring Hill College 37 years ago.  We shared a common faith, a major, a love of music (he for playing it and yours truly tone deaf for listening to it), countless hours of conversation about matters of the heart and, perhaps above all else, a passion for writing.  Regrettably, however, as too often is the case, our life paths diverged dramatically almost immediately after graduation, both in terms of geography and our professional pursuits.  Taylor pursued a career in journalism that quite literally took he and his family all over the globe and I a career in law, which took me to Charlottesville and, eventually, to Miami.  Needless to say, we fell out of touch for many years.  Thanks to social media (Facebook primarily), we re-connected a few years back.  It was then that I learned, for the first time, that we also shared something far more significant in common, two beautiful and courageous daughters, his Emily and my Ashley, who were battling life-threatening illnesses.  Sadly, Emily lost her battle (with cancer) on May 12, 2013, just a few weeks shy of her 26th birthday. 

At the end of what was a very emotional lunch, I asked Taylor for permission to incorporate the eulogy he delivered at Emily’s Funeral Mass into a blog post.  I asked for two reasons.  First, because we too seldom are afforded opportunities to peer so intimately into the heart of a father whose love for his daughter is palpable, let alone have the chance to see that love expressed so eloquently and beautifully and with such tenderness and sensitivity.  It occurs to me that maybe if we had the chance to do it more often, it wouldn’t seem like such a novelty. Secondly, I believe the image upon which Taylor chose to build his tribute to Emily (that of a young girl perched on her bed, staring out a window hoping, waiting to catch a glimpse of her Daddy) is a profoundly important one.  In fact, the more I reflect on it, the clearer the metaphor and its significance becomes.  The truth is: there are many “little girls” around the world (some well into middle age) who are still waiting desperately for their Daddy to come “home” to them – not in a physical sense, but in their willingness to be more vulnerable, to share their heart, to be emotionally available.  As dads, we would honor Emily (and Taylor) by realizing that and doing whatever is necessary to discover or re-discover the life-affirming joy that awaits both dad and daughter at the “bottom of the stairs”!   

Emily was grace – in mind, body and spirit.

At her best she was the living example of love as defined by St. Paul: patient and kind, bearing all things.

I’ll never forget the first time I met Emily.  It was June 23, 1987 at Glendale Memorial Hospital, in Los Angeles, California. The round blush face, the chubby cheeks, the curled lips and flickering eyelids. The darting, dancing, startled little blue eyes. The wisps of peach fuzz over the boney crown – all 8 pounds, 4 ounces. It was love at first sight.

One of my most cherished memories of Emily’s early childhood is when we lived in Tokyo. I’d take the train home from work around 9 in the evening and walk the 15 minutes from the station to our little townhouse. As I would round the last corner, I’d see Emily standing on her bed, staring out the upstairs window, waiting for her Daddy to come home. When she’d see me, she’d come down the stairs and greet me at the door. I’d scoop her up in my arms, and she’d give me a big little girl hug, the kind only a daughter’s father can know.

Growing up in Columbus, Emily was a leader – in her family, among her younger siblings, and in school, among her peers. All the way through high school, graduating as a National Merit Scholar and the Valedictorian of her class.

Her leadership was no less influential at Spring Hill College, where she earned top grades in all subjects including her chosen double major of English and Theology, and induction into the English, Theology and Alpha Sigma Nu Jesuit Honor Societies.

But it was when her graduate school career at William and Mary was cut short three and a half years ago by the devastating diagnosis of pineoblastoma that Emily’s character really shined. When the doctors gave her the news, she didn’t flinch or shed a tear. All she wanted to know was what she had to do to live. Always vivacious, so full of life, with so much to offer and the makings for such a bright future with her fiancé, Ben Mackin, Emily was determined to survive.

Undeterred by illness, surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Emily wrote a novel, A Dog for Maggie, and launched her career as a high school Theology teacher at Ursuline Academy in New Orleans, where she touched the lives of many students with her intelligence, character and courage.

Even in her final days and hours, Emily was as caring, thoughtful and considerate as ever. When she needed help with the straw for a sip of water, it was always “please” and “thank you.”

“Dad, I want you to get a dog,” she said, “so you won’t be alone.”

This past Sunday, I came to 11 o’clock Mass in this very church. After Father Curley gave the final blessing, I was walking out the front door and my cell phone went off. It was Jennifer. “Hurry.”

I got in the car, drove to the top of the driveway and turned on the flashers, traveling the 3.3 miles to the house as fast as I could safely go, passing several cars along the winding narrow two-lane road. I pulled up, walked in the front door and into the bedroom, and there Emily was – still waiting on her Daddy. No longer able to stand on her bed and look out the window or greet me at the front door, her presence was her embrace.

“I’m here, Emily,” I said. “I love you!” And I sang the chorus of a little song I wrote for her 4th birthday. Then, Jennifer began reciting the “Angel of God,” the prayer she would say with Emily at bedtime when she was a little girl. And the rest of us at her bedside—Ben, Mary, Taylor, Natalie and me—with Emily’s dog, Dash on her lap—joined in the prayer:

“Angel of God, my guardian dear to whom God’s love entrusts me near, ever this day be at my side to light and guard, to rule and guide.”

And then, she was gone. Born again, to life everlasting.

* * *

Somehow, I’ve got a feeling that, down the road a piece on Life’s journey, one day I’ll round a bend to find, peering out an upstairs window somewhere, the face of an angel, and I just know she’ll be there to greet me at the door.

I’m quite certain you will too, Taylor and that as part of that first embrace she will thank you, as I do, for sharing your heart with all of us!

Emily On Beach

Live Out Loud!

express-your-feelings

“Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do when they settle ‘neath your skin.  Kept on the inside, with no sunlight, sometimes the shadow wins.  But I wonder what would happen if you say what you wanna say and let the words fall out – honestly. I want to see you be brave!”  Brave – Sara Bareilles (2013)

Depending on your perspective, I’m either the last or the first person on Earth who has any business offering this piece of advice.  The “last” because anyone who knows me will readily (and quite accurately) attest that, with the exception of some poetry and letters, I spent much of the first 50+ years of my life ignoring this advice with impunity.  It wasn’t that I didn’t have a fairly keen sense of who I was, what I believed in or how (often intensely) I felt about things (and others) from a very young age.  To the contrary, I think I did.  It’s just that, for whatever reason (e.g., mistrust, fear of rejection or, worse yet, abandonment, insecurity, immaturity, lack of (or poor) self-esteem, concern that my honesty might hurt others’ feelings, etc.)  I consciously or, more likely, subconsciously chose not to express those feelings or to fully share “me” with others, even those who were the precipitating force behind or the object of those feelings.  Instead, I swallowed them or kept them close and insisted that others “read my mind” or, as the case may be, my heart.

When, perhaps not surprisingly, they didn’t do that or refused to try, I became even more frustrated, hurt and deeply disillusioned – all of which leads me to believe that I also should be the “first” to explain just how critical seeking out, nurturing and finding healthy ways of expressing “your voice” is to living a happy, authentic and fulfilling life.  That and my having had the privilege, over the past several years, of listening to countless young (and not-so-young) women share their own heartbreaking stories – many of which it seemed to me were tied, at least in part, to the fact that, somewhere along the way, they had lost or swallowed their own voices or had them taken away, trampled upon or drowned out by others. It’s impossible to precisely articulate how that feels (i.e., to experience life with such sensitivity and intensity and not be able (or feel you are not “permitted” to) express it).

Certain “behaviors” (e.g., tears, laughter, anger, frustration, sadness, disappointment, etc.) are healthy and important ways of expressing that voice – and they are a good starting point.  But they still require some “interpretation.” For that reason, I believe there is no substitute for the spoken or written word.  Both are essential and well within all our reach.  Like a singer’s, “your voice” will require some training and practice.  You won’t always get it “right” – no one does.  At times you will misspeak, your emotions will be misdirected, your feelings misunderstood.  You will speak too loudly or softly to be “heard.”  Eventually, you will find the sweet spot.  In the meantime, the important thing is not that you get it “right,” but that you get it out! As for those of us on the receiving end – patience, empathy and validation are the order of the day.  The bottom line: Life was meant to be lived out loud!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_8F2pDVvUY

“My Hands Are Small I Know”

hands-holding-monarch-butterfly

It seems to me that anniversaries are an opportune time to evaluate progress towards the accomplishment of a goal.  Almost a year ago to the day, I was privileged to be afforded the chance to speak to what I had hoped would be a room full of dads at NEDA’s 2012 Annual Conference in St. Petersburg, Florida.  Regrettably, however, my hope turned to disappointment and, ultimately, to disillusionment when I realized that, out of a sold-out conference of nearly 600 registrants, less than a small handful of non-NEDA affiliated dads were even in attendance.  Before I arrived home, I committed to trying to change that through the creation of what I later dubbed “The Dad Initiative” (http://tinyurl.com/mgrwn9n).  Within a week, I submitted a formal proposal to NEDA’s Board of Directors outlining my vision.  Shortly thereafter, the Board embraced the idea (http://tinyurl.com/l7mwvw7).  In the months that followed, I was humbled to partner with Carolyn Costin, Keesha Broome and others in speaking to mostly professional audiences in Houston and Boston, which, in turn, enabled me to begin spreading the word about the concept.  By summer’s end, with the support of Doug Bunnell, PhD and his colleagues, I had published a feature article on the Initiative in Perspectives, the Renfrew Foundation’s Professional Journal, which, I’m told, was distributed to nearly 40,000 professionals (and others) around the country.  And with that, the Initiative began to take shape in earnest.  In fact, I’m pleased to report that 10 of the country’s leading eating disorder experts have now warmly (indeed, enthusiastically!) accepted “invitations” to serve on the Advisory Board that will spearhead the Initiative.  In doing so, each has commented that the idea is long overdue.  And so, tomorrow, I leave for Washington, D.C. to attend NEDA’s 2013 Annual Conference with a hopeful heart.  Perhaps by this time next year, we will be celebrating an anniversary of a different kind:  The “first birthday” of “The Dad Initiative” and the effectuation of its Mission Statement: “To provide a platform designed to educate, empower and encourage dads whose daughters are afflicted with eating disorders to become more visible and active participants in the treatment and recovery process by increasing their willingness to be vulnerable, fostering open and honest lines of communication and establishing healthy and supportive boundaries predicated on unconditional love, trust and mutual respect.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PhNEnkTiYJ8

“. . . It’s All Downhill From There!”

ski tips

The two most important lessons I ever learned about “first steps” and conquering fear were “taught” by 8 year-olds in the most unlikely of settings.  The first occurred at a little league All-Star game and was the subject of the “bedtime story” in my first book (“The Bunt”)(http://tinyurl.com/kxb5fod).  The second occurred at the top of a mountain in Smuggler’s Notch, Vermont.  In both instances, the lesson was the same: Once you’ve found the courage to overcome the fear that’s in the first step (http://tinyurl.com/kqy8qu9), it’s all downhill from there!

Dear Ashley,

            I wonder how much you remember about the first (and only) ski trip we took as a family – to Smuggler’s Notch in 1997.  You were 8 years old at the time.  I remember a lot about that trip.  I remember we lost our luggage and I spent the first 24 hours going “spider monkey” on every airline representative who had the misfortune of answering the phone – more highly disturbing ”dad fun” for the whole family.  I remember it snowing every morning on cue and how beautiful Burlington looked in its majestic white blanket.  I remember dropping you and Greg off at the chair lift that first morning and the enthusiasm and anticipation on your faces.  I remember heading off to Bunny Slope School with your mom and feeling like I’d be just fine if I spent the entire week there. I remember watching you and Greg speed down the slopes that second day like you’d been skiing your entire lives.  I remember cringing later that morning as your mom screamed at our Bunny Slope professor that she was “bored with the speed bump-sized hills we were learning on” and insisting that she/”we” were ready to graduate to the big slopes.  I remember feeling much less certain about my skiing acumen than your mom, as I slowly snowplowed down the hill only to hear her bloodcurdling screams behind me as she tore one ligament after another in her first trip down.  I remember a bunch of muscle-bound, blonde-haired Big Slope Snow Patrol Dudes whisking her off the slope on a stretcher into the first aide trailer at the bottom of the hill.  I remember her spending the rest of the trip on crutches, waiting at the base of the hill in the fireplace-warmed ski lodge for one or more of us to finish our morning runs.

            But I also remember that trip for a very different, more positive reason.  I remember it for what you taught me about fear.  It was the day after mom’s accident, my first trip back up the mountain that had been the scene of the crime.  Do you remember?  I had just stumbled out of the chair lift with you and your brother and was standing frozen in place like an ice statue at the top of the hill.  The bottom looked a long way away.  I was terrified.  Apparently, it was pretty obvious because you turned to me and quite matter-of-factly said, “Dad, I think it’s time to face your fears!”  For an 8-year-old you, likely and properly without a fear in the world, it was just as simple as that.  For me, however, filled with a world of fears, not the least of which was that I had seen your mom blow out her knee the day before, it was considerably more complicated.  The truth is that I had never done very well when it came to putting things on my feet other than tennis shoes (e.g., ice skates, roller blades, water skis, etc.).  In fact, once at a water-skiing outing with several teenage friends, I actually managed to use the back of a surfacing manatee as a ski ramp and went air borne, resulting in one of the wickedest and most embarrassing wipe-outs the lake across from Miami Int’l Airport has ever seen.  The fact that it came on the heels of my having earlier dropped the slalom ski, rather than its single-booted colleague, in my first and last attempt at slaloming only heightened my sense of humiliation, while simultaneously embedding a fear of anything ski-related for a lifetime.

            But, at the end of the day, you were right.  What you were really saying is: “Dad, what’s the worst that can happen if you just allow that ski tip to drift toward the edge of the slope?”  Believe me, I thought about that for a moment.  There was chance I could get hurt, maybe even tear a ligament (or two), but the truth is, as long as I was careful, that chance was pretty remote, and even if it did happen, I knew plenty of doctors back in Miami who could put Humpty Dumpty back together again.  There also was a chance (a much more likely one) that I could fall flat on my face and in the process risk humiliating myself in front of the hundreds of more accomplished skiers that inhabited the slopes that day – not to mention in front of you and Greg.  But the truth was: It was far more likely that you guys (and the other skiers) would get a chuckle out of my ineptness and clumsiness – and I was actually okay with that.  In fact, I thought it might be good for you and Greg to see me struggle with something that with just two short days of practice and almost no instruction, both of you already could do so well.  And so I set out, and I fell, and you laughed; and I got up, and I fell – and you and your brother sped past and told me you’d catch up with me at the bottom of the hill – and off you went, smiling at your still-trying-to-get-it-right-but-no-longer-fearful-about-skiing dad.

            I have you to thank for that moment of clarity about fear, Ashley.  Because of it and my corresponding decision not to allow fear to keep me in its paralyzing grip, I actually learned how to ski (well, sort of!) that trip and, most importantly, got to spend the days that followed building unforgettable memories exploring the snow-covered trails of Smuggler’s Notch with you and Greg.  I’ve drawn on your words countless times since that December morning 17 years ago and it continues to make a difference in my life.  I think Franklin Delano Roosevelt and my 8-year-old daughter got it right:  “There [truly] is nothing to fear, but fear itself!”

With All My Love,

Dad

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOTcr9wKC-o