“I Wanna Hold Your Hand!”

Father & son

“And when I touch you I feel happy inside”
The Beatles (I Wanna Hold Your Hand)

On this morning’s walk, a saw a young dad and his 7 year-old son strolling down the sidewalk in front of me holding hands. As I walked by, I was struck by how profoundly such a seemingly commonplace sight affected me, cut through to my soul like a knife through warm butter. And then I realized it’s because the sight of fathers & sons holding hands is not “commonplace” at all. Why is that? Don’t dads understand that their little (and not-so-little) boys have the same need for “connectedness” with their father as their “little girls” – that there’s nothing uncool or unmanly about such PDAs (public displays of affection) between the guys. Surely, my dad understood that – didn’t he? Why then, despite racking my brain over the next two miles of my walk, was I unable to remember what his hand felt like in mine?  Why couldn’t I remember a single time after I learned to walk safely and independently that he reached out and took my hand for no particular reason or made me feel comfortable in reaching out for his, even in times when I most needed the simple reassurance of his touch?

My dad, I suspect like many of his generation, really wasn’t the affectionate type – even when it came to my mom or his mom, let alone his dad. He was a man who expressed his love (when he did) in deed. He cared by doing or so he thought. Problem was: I was too young to “appreciate” these kinds of deep-seated, family-of-origin issues. All I knew was that many of my friends’ moms and dads were very much touchy/feely types, had no problem openly, physically expressing themselves and that I was starving – emotionally. I longed to experience the kind of genuine physical connection that only a hug or a hand can deliver. I waited until my parents’ dying day – and it never came. The hugs remained hollow and vacuous and the hand was never extended. I’d like to think I did a better job with my own children, especially my daughter, but I’m not at all sure I did with my son – even though, looking back, he was always the more welcoming of the two when it came to mom and dad’s touch. It wasn’t that I hadn’t learned my lesson with respect to the importance of holding my son’s hand, it’s just that I’d never really learned how to hold a hand and “mean” it and, as a result, I mostly sucked at it!

Several months ago, I was reminded of the power of a properly held hand. I was sitting at my desk early one morning when a courageous friend in need called and asked to see me. We met and I sat listening and watching as her delicate heart broke before my eyes and an endless stream of tears borne of years of guilt and shame silently streamed down the side of her beautiful face. I’m always humbled to be in the presence of such vulnerability and never at all sure what to do or say. This time, at least initially, I didn’t say anything. Instead, I reached out, took her hand and gently placed it in mine – and the two of us just sat for a moment in silence. As we did, I could almost feel some of the pain being siphoned off her heart and transferred through the tips of our intertwined fingers to mine, which was wide open with empathy and ready to bear it so that hers could have moment’s respite. The words that followed were really secondary and unnecessary. My touch said it all:

“You are not alone in this world.”

“You don’t have to walk this leg of the journey alone.”

“I accept you – just as (and right where) you are.”

“You matter to me.”

“You are worthy of my touch.”

“I affirm the goodness in you and empathize with your struggle.”

“I’m here to share your burden.”

“We’re all in this Life thing together.”

“Whatever “it” is it will have to deal with both of us!”

“I value you enough to give you part of me.”

I smiled as I walked past that young dad, knowing that by simply, tenderly and lovingly letting his son borrow his hand for an early morning walk he was conveying those same unspoken messages – and then I cried (a lot) for all the times the little boy inside of me so desperately needed them and the messenger hand that came with them.


“Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are!”


“I’m just out to find the better part of me.”
Superman (Five for Fighting)

I was never very good at Hide and Go Seek – you know, the childhood game where the person who’s “it” hides their eyes and counts to 10, while their friends scatter to the four corners of the Earth in search of the perfect hiding place. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the “hiding” piece I struggled with. To the contrary, I could contort my body into nooks and crannies that would virtually guarantee I’d never be found. No, it was the “seeking” part that made me grow to detest the game. It seemed that no matter how narrowly I drew the geographic boundaries for hiding I could never find anyone. Maybe my friends were just that clever. Maybe 10 seconds is longer than it seems when it comes to disappearing from view.

None of this bodes well for what I’m about to do: Set out in search of the better part of me. After all, if 10 seconds is a long time, imagine giving “me” – the Hider Extraordinaire – a 40-year head start. But, I’ve decided I have to at least try to find “that guy” again, the one who dreamed big dreams, knew no limits, felt intensely (about everything), crammed each day full from sunrise until long after it had set, never felt the need to put on the mantle of having everything under control, was free to create, often lost himself in music and his writings and lived a simple, albeit somewhat predictable life. I want to figure out what happened to him, where he’s been hiding all these years, what forced him to feel like he needed to run and hide – and I want to set him free.

I appreciate the risks of looking back. In fact, I’ve counseled others against it, because too often it turns into a litany of “would’ves, could’ves and should’ves” – and the regrets that necessarily come with them. But, the journey I’m envisioning will be different. This will be more akin to an “unveiling” of what I’ve only recently come to realize was an already existent “masterpiece” of sorts, a unique work of art that somewhere along the way got corrupted, neglected and painted over such that much of its true character was lost or at least obscured from view. Why? Because along the way, its owner decided “the picture” needed changing – that it wasn’t quite good enough, desirable enough, loveable enough or _____ enough. In my mind’s eye, this will be a journey of rediscovering the good, accepting the not-so-good, understanding and, hopefully, forgiveness.

It’s time that guy came out of hiding.  So, ready or not, here I come!



The Landscape Of Our Lives (Rewind)

sidewalk heart

Several months ago, while “surfing” YouTube in search of just the right song for a post I was working on at the time, I stumbled upon the “Official Music Video” of Miranda Lambert’s chart-topping hit “The House That Built Me,” a song I quickly realized I had heard many times before but never really listened to. Miranda plays herself in the video, a wildly successful, seemingly having it all together, “not-a-care-in-the-world” country music superstar.  The video opens with Miranda’s tour bus pulling up in front of a rather plain-looking, if not slightly dilapidated, white-washed house in the middle of nowhere.  But as Miranda exits the bus, starts up the walk and begins singing the song, it’s obvious this is no ordinary place.  It is her childhood home, the place (to hear Miranda describe it), where she “did her homework,” “learned to play guitar,” set her then tiny hand-prints in the wet concrete that became the front steps, played with (and later buried) her favorite dog under an old oak tree out back and bathed in the love of her mom and dad.  It also quickly becomes apparent, however, that Miranda has not come back for nostalgic reasons. Indeed, a stranger is living there now.  She has come, instead, in search of something deeper, more profound: “I thought if I could touch this place or feel it/This brokenness inside me might start healing/Out here it’s like I’m someone else/I thought that maybe I could find myself.”

I moved so many times growing up and lived amidst so much familial dysfunction that I could spend the rest of my life searching for a childhood “house that built me” and never find it.  I do, however, have a small “treasure trove” of images and memories that I hold close – a metaphorical “home” of sorts that I “built” on my own through the years – a place that I go “back” to (with increasing frequency) when I need to find myself – to heal the brokenness inside of me.  Some of those images are razor sharp, frozen in photographs.  Others are considerably less clear, relegated to the vagaries of a mind and heart that, candidly, are beginning to show their age. But, like Miranda’s, all are of a simpler time -a time when my mind was less cluttered, free to wonder, to imagine, to create, to dream.  A time when my vision of (and experience with) love was far more pure – free of the baggage, drama and other like “contaminants” that, as adults, we inexplicably surround it with to dull its transforming power.  A less complicated time, when all that mattered was all that really matters – time spent with good friends, learning for the sake of learning, a willingness to be fully transparent and vulnerable (in part because I didn’t know any other way of being and in part because I wasn’t afraid of being judged by friends, let alone being judged as “weak”) – quality time spent alone and the realization that came with it, namely that it wasn’t something to be afraid of or avoided (that I was actually pretty good company!).

I know Miranda and I are not alone.  All of us look back on our lives from time to time. But, I also know, because if I’m to be honest, I’m as guilty of it as the next person, that, too often, we don’t always do it for the right reasons or with the right perspective. Rather than fill the “Easter baskets” of our searching souls with the multitude of brightly-colored “good” eggs that litter the lush green landscape of our pasts and use them as a reminder of what is true about us (i.e., what has always mattered to us, who we love and who loves us, what makes us who we are, etc.), we discount the good, ignore it entirely or, worse yet, transform it into something it was never meant to be: a source of regret. We search instead for our isolated missteps, the few times we “screwed” up, the things we wish we had (or believe we could or should have) done differently and when we find those few “bad eggs,” as all of us inevitability will if we look long and hard enough, we cling to them as “confirmation” of the distorted image of self that, for one reason or another, we have misguidedly adopted over the years. In doing so, we miss the point of the exercise entirely. Here’s the bottom line:  There is substantial good to be found in all of our “presents” – and our pasts – and it exists for a reason. It’s there to remind us of who we are or, as the song so simply, but eloquently states, in the case of those who may have temporarily “forgotten,” who we “were” before we momentarily “got lost in this world.”

As I watched the video end, I remember wondering whether Miranda fully grasped the powerful message she’d given birth to and whether the video was pure fiction or, as I suspected, intended to provide a glimpse into her soul.  Both questions were answered in the tears that silently and spontaneously streamed down her face as she performed the song live at “Healin’ in the Heartland” – a benefit concert for the victims of a devastating tornado in Moore, Oklahoma. You see, Miranda had come “home” – again – and the “truth” was “positively” overwhelming.


“It Was Love [Before] Sight!”

Hands on Pregnant Mother

Several weeks ago, I participated in a teleconference for those struggling with and/or recovering from eating disorders. During the call, a young woman asked one of the moderators how she was supposed to deal with “the tremendous weight of guilt and shame” she felt over the emotional and financial toll she was certain her eating disorder had taken (and was continuing to take) on those she loved, especially her mom and dad. Regrettably, the questioner’s sentiments are common among those who have battled an eating disorder. I know because, thanks to social media, my book, my blog and my having now attended a number of eating disorder conferences around the country, I’ve had the unique privilege of listening to hundreds of similarly guilt-ridden and shame-filled hearts. In some cases, the guilt and shame are a by-product of the illness itself (i.e., the inherent sense of “unworthiness” that is the life-blood of the disease). In others, the feeling of not wanting to be a burden is the “excuse du jour” for trying to avoid treatment. In the overwhelming majority of cases, however, those feelings of guilt and shame are very real, deep-seated and need to be addressed. I’d hoped to do that directly by chiming in that night, but my rather pathetic technological skills made that impossible. Thus, the following letter:

Dear Young Lady,

I’ve stood in your dad’s shoes.

I’ve struggled (mightily) to get my head around a disease I knew nothing about and then to keep my arms around my daughter as it drove both of us to our knees.

I’ve felt the anger and confusion he likely has – not borne of anything my daughter did or didn’t do, but of my own seeming inability to ever say or do the “right” thing where her illness was concerned.

I’ve known the frustration and sense of helplessness that comes from so desperately wanting to “make it all better” – the way a simple kiss once did a scrape on the knee – only to realize this wasn’t something I could fix.

I’ve shed countless tears for the immense suffering my daughter was enduring and, in moments of exhaustion and exasperation, spoken words I later regretted – all of us did at one time or another. I’m sure your dad is no exception.

But, having also walked in his shoes, I’m just as sure of this:

There has never been a moment in the midst of your struggles when your dad has considered you a burden, nor is there any sacrifice on Earth he wouldn’t gladly make for your life, including giving up his own.

That’s just how much he loves you. It’s how much he’s always loved you.

And here’s the “crazy” part: that love, that sense of responsibility for your well-being, that commitment to always be there for you were formed before he even met you – before you were born.

Don’t ask me to explain how that’s possible – how you could love someone so completely sight unseen – because I can’t explain it. But, I assure you, it’s as real and as beautiful as the sunrise.

My hope tonight is that you will allow that love to wash away your guilt and shame and find its way into your soul.

One day, when you have a child of your own, if you do, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Until then, you’ll just have to trust me.

Wishing You Peace,

A Dad