No son thinks of a day when his dad isn’t there. For a young man, his father is a fixed entity who will go on forever – whether he likes it or not – moving the world to make it safe for the tribe.
A son imagines growing to be the man his father would be proud of, stepping either into his shoes or over them, but never absent his influence. His father is like gravity to his young consciousness, inescapably drawing him into the form he must become.
And now my dad is dead and I am left to finally answer the question every father demands of their sons:
‘Who are you without me?’
-fathers to their sons-
But without you here, the answer I worked all those years for now eludes me, leaving behind a mixture of anger and desperation in its wake.
Like the man who traveled a long distance to end up where he began, holding only a map to nowhere.
I started working towards autonomy around the age of twelve when I landed my first five-figure job. Around that same age, I began regularly testing my physical limits via manual labor, various athletics, general fitness, and diet. As a sophomore in high school, I weathered my first ‘La Noche Obscura,’ with a half-dozen more to follow over the years, each time emerging more spiritually whole. Mentally and emotionally, I have done my fucking work wrestling my shadows.
Relentlessly I strived,
getting up early to grind.
Even sat on the cushion and cried,
refusing the instinct to hide.
And now you rode off and died
leaving me untied.
Yet, beyond the burning horizon of my anger, I know there’s more to our story than a dead end.
I know a man’s journey is helix shaped, stretching out as we circle round, and that I am neither lost nor defeated. I know that your passing has indeed brought me home, that this is a good thing and brings with it another, richer perspective.
I know that I can now hold a looking glass to our history and absorb whatever it is I see without a point to protect.
I can now see how you maintained a silent steadiness about you, consistently working away like a windmill to deliver power to those nearby. I see how you would engage with almost anyone who rode your bus but chose your circle carefully. I see where you would measure a man’s intentions against his contributions, weighing his character in the balance. I see how you searched for the truth behind the facade and freely shared all you could discern. I see that you pressed on down the trail of life, striving for inner stillness through tireless motion. I see whenever you fell, you got up.
All except this last fall from your fat tire Specialized. The fall which claimed your life on the banks of the Minnesota River at age 79. From this fall it is I who must get up on your behalf.
This is a passion piece. No links. No sources. No pics. Just you, me, and what I believe.
I believe in speaking truth to power. I believe in freedom of expression. I believe in the innate goodness of the universe and human beings. I believe that everyone alive is pro-life for that very fact and that life itself is sacred. I believe that whatever the question, more freedom is the answer.
I believe that the greatest men and women in history have bled and died in service to these principles and that rescuing our future from its dark trajectory now rests on our ability to follow suit.
I believe that Ye (formerly known as Kanye West) is both a mirror and a looking glass, reflecting and projecting our darkest tendencies and greatest potential as a single race of living beings.
Historically, such visionaries have been crucified by the masses at the behest of the ruling classes in service to the status quo – Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King. And, although 3000 years of recorded tradition is yet to teach us this lesson, beauty, truth, and love cannot be killed by murdering the messenger.
But enough abstractions, let’s get specific.
Despite what you choose to believe, Ye is not a racist. He is not trying to start a second Holocaust. He is not crazy, off his meds, or dumb.
Ye is a 45-year-old black man born in Atlanta, raised by a single mom on the south side of Chicago who rose to the top of the creative world in several industries. Under Ye’s belt lies 22 Grammys, 10 consecutive #1 albums, a presidential run, Yeezy brand apparel which has rescued two companies from financial and cultural obscurity, the accomplishments of becoming the wealthiest black man-wealthiest recording artist-wealthiest designer-in history, his own academy with sports teams, and on and on. All this without selling out or compromising his vision. Not once.
No one in the music industry believed in his vision to be the best-dressed rapper in the game, that his beats and lyrical ability could wrestle the culture from the death grip of gangsta rap. Ye did that.
No one believed that he could survive putting on the red hat, that his vision of freeing African Americans from the democratic plantation of block-voting which has delivered decade after decade of diminishing returns would alienate him from his base. It didn’t. Rather he gained a new one, empowering the likes of Candace Owens and others to elevate their voices in the fight for family. Ye did that.
No one believed that a prominent rapper could sell a gospel album. Jesus is King hit #1 on the Billboard top 200, and in over 100 countries worldwide, creating an entire Sunday Service church choir in the process. Ye did that.
No one believes that his current commentary on the evil embedded within the entertainment industry will lift a finger in the direction of freedom. We would rather nitpick his language, his approach, his tone, and his timing in order to cheer on the ruling class as they collude to crucify him and everyone he loves. We say he deserves it. He says he can take it. Ye does that.
We are witnessing a Dark Knight moment in history where we get the hero we need, not the one we deserve. The hero we need, of course, is the one willing to address the pain of the present, rather than hide behind the pain of the past.
Even if we choose to believe that Ye is an anti-semite, that his comments were inspired by hate and not love, and that he should be punished for saying them in order to protect the collective from another Holocaust, even from this perspective, we still have to ask ourselves, what cultural conditions caused the Holocaust? Slavery?
For if, in order to preserve the present, we have to employ the worst tactics of the past, what future do we deserve?
I’m staring at my shoes again. I am a footwear aficionado. It’s the butter-colored laces that define me.
I’ve never been more alone.
The analog skin of my 44mm ceramic Apple Watch Series 5 is frozen at 4:04. Tiny hands holding my future hostage. Rage retreats behind a trembling terror.
Stop crying. Remember how to breathe.
Recite mantra: you are more than where you are. Erase the memory of how I got here and where I thought I was going.
This nightmare will never end. Eyelids beyond my strength to lift.
Wet soil swallows me to my ankles. Primordial parasites feast on my middle-aged flesh. It will be a slow inconsequential death.
Immediately overtaken by the impluse to cum but the thought of mud-drenched tennies turns the blood in my shaft to liquid nitrogen.
This is not a dream. Today yet another cheap remake of yesterday. Diminishing returns deposited daily into a vast neural network of vainglorious self-loathing.
I haven’t always been 41 but as long as I can remember I have been:
Untrustworthy with a weapon unable to hunt can’t fish have a blog I don’t write in shop at natural grocers drive a financed Subaru watch porn meditate vote Republican cry at the movies fuck single moms with high body counts go to therapy to cry about the movies I cry at and the women I can’t fall in love with.
I swear to Christ I have no idea who did this to me but I know I can’t do forty more years of grandiosity suspended in lethargy.
I’ll drag the razor across my wrist on Denali in the spring. Sacrifice my flesh to feed grizzly cubs. No search and rescue will be deployed. Life insurance will pay my auto loan. FMLife insurance lapsed I’ll have to postpone till next year.
I’m breathing normally now but I once held it for 37 years. Then, one afternoon, violently exhausted a seething vitriol in the direction of my 75-year-old father casually sitting across the dinner table from me at the time. It was a fatally slow burn. His heart stopped four years later pulling him unnaturally from his bike onto his neck. He died almost instantly.
I am going to die on the shitter with perfect abs watching my only two bitcoins go to zero staring blankly into the fertile faces of every woman I failed to love.
This is reality. Reality is an abstraction. Especially her, the one who got away. She appears to me now in grotesque twilight while I grope to caffeinate her from my consciousness.
She’s wearing a flower print dress with a small mustard stain on the shoulder strap, a sunflower in a field of poppies. Supple ladies lactating in biological response to the crying toddler holstered on her back.
There’s a sprinkler. I look down. Shoes washed clean.
I roll over and pen my plan to win her. It doesn’t sound grandiose against the chorus of crickets outside the aluminum-framed bedroom window.
Renounce all other women retain all semen write this manifesto buy a gun enroll in BJJ surgically remove my tear ducts quit therapy stop going to the movies get a hobby that requires other men but doesn’t require their wives’ approval – maybe fishing, pay off debt get insured edit my blog into the next great American memoir of early morning revelries.
Pop culture tells me I ought to love myself and thrive but my imprinted degenerate prefers self-loathing to survive.
So instead of offering you a heartwarming love story, here’s yet another cautionary tale from yet another dysfunctional dreamer. I do promise, in my telling, to refrain from all woe-is-me-isms, both general and specific gnashings of teeth, and bro-hemian style sausagry of any kind. What you have here is just a simple serving of the facts with a side or two of retrospect baked in for anyone craving deeper nourishment, petulant as it may be.
The relationship could be summarized with four basic strokes: it began with a brush stroke, then some key strokes, followed by a bunch of breast strokes, and culminating in one abrupt back stroke.
I’ll explain more below, but suffice to say here, I loved her from the first and, in fact, still do. So much so, I fell to pieces and pushed her away. Hear me out, I know it sounds dumb, but let me explain, I bet it’ll be instructive or at least entertaining.
Returning to the self-loathing I mentioned above, it’s not just imprinted, but insidious as well for when the sun shines brightest, most subtle then are the shadows. What I mean is, my demons dress like daytime deities and soothe like sirens. So the sweeter life starts to look, the more happiness I’m stacking, the more them demons really get to schemin’.
Like, for example, when I fall in love. Right when it starts getting momentum, that’s when the feelings of anxiety, inadequacy, and insecurity creep in claiming she brought them. Gnawing away at the edges of my confidence until I’m convinced the best thing to do for both of us is to break it off (back stroke).
Spoiler: as it turns out, you can’t project deep-seated internal narratives onto other people, cut those people out of your life, and hope the narratives don’t bother you anymore. My Christian history should have taught me this as even the salvation equation requires an ongoing relationship in exchange for mercy.
But I’m now a couple strokes ahead of myself.
So what happened was, she stole my heart with her art. No, seriously.
It was a late afternoon in early autumn when I saw a painting of an old friend of mine on Insta that looked like it knew him better than I did (brush stroke). Bonus: the artist was tagged in the post, single, and smokin’ hot. That was more than enough for me, I needed to know her, or at least know that she knew how talented she is.
Into her DM’s I dove (key stroke). Surprisingly enough, right back she responded. We exchanged a few messages and even set up dinner and an art show later that week. I was stoked. Unbeknownst to me, my baggage was about to begin unpacking itself in a full force feindish frenzy.
She arrived at my place precisely two minutes ahead of schedule in a dress I’ll never forget. But it was her eyes that sealed my fate. Somewhere between green and blue stirred a sea of wonderment breaking hard against all attempts at composure. Then she smiled and I exhaled, realizing too late that I was clammy and the vibe awkward. ‘Come on in,’ I managed while leading her to the dinner table, buying time to collect myself while shifting the focus to highlight my homemade handiwork.
Perched on the table was a less than memorable meal of more-than-bite-size beef stew, crusty cornbread, and a crème that wouldn’t brûlée due to failure of the culinary torch (likely operator error). She was graceful. We joked and took turns teasing each other until my cheeks were sore from smiling. Two hours passed as effortlessly as the levity in our laughter. Time to hit the art show.
I don’t remember much from the show aside from how sweet the fruity pebble cocktail we shared at Glacier Chocolate was and how natural it felt to take her hand in mine. We walked and talked and didn’t look at a single piece of artwork. Nothing could draw our attention from each other. At the end of the evening, I closed my eyes and went in for a kiss, which landed, and sparked a physical chemistry that would prove electric (breast stroke).
A couple of weeks later we made it FB official. A few days after that we held each other close and exchanged, ‘I love you’s.’ This was the first time these words had passed audibly through my lips in over seven years to anyone other than my three children. I fell hard and I fell fast.
She had recently taken the plunge out of corporate America to focus 100% on two things: her art and her daughter. That was crazy sexy to me as I was contemplating something similar with my writing but was still too scared to launch. We started to imagine a future together with our kids crawling over canvas’ in a country homestead, her painting, me writing, no one fully dressed. I remembered what it felt like to not be alone. A problem I hadn’t even realized I had seemed suddenly solved. We planned a weekend getaway to Broken Bow to celebrate our new relational wealth. Life was all heat and light, at least for a hot minute.
Insert insecurities. I told myself that it was for the best, but the reality was I lost my cool with my boss who turned me over to HR, first for a suspension, then separation. For the second time in as many years I found myself involuntarily terminated without a plan. You could say the universe was helping me into the entrepreneurial world, which helped to make me feel better but did little to pay the rent. The funk had found it’s way in and wouldn’t fight fair going forward.
To my credit, I did push back a little against the demons. For a while at least. The experience was like playing catch with a boomerang, only the boomerang is outfitted with a running chainsaw that explodes if you hold it too long or put it down. For example, I would notice myself in a funk and, rather than blaming her, would evaluate my environment. Often one of my support legs would be broken, like my diet or workout routine, at which point I would work to repair it before the funky boomerang came back and chopped off another one.
After several rounds of this behind-the-scenes battle, I began to slip into a suspicion that it was the relationship itself that was doing the damage. Not my employment situation, mood disorder, or traumatic history correlated with this time of year. Instead, I began to entertain the doubt, ‘Maybe this isn’t my future?’ And, ‘Haven’t I got into trouble in the past when ignoring my gut?’
Looking back from my current vantage point and given the self-work I had yet to do, it feels like it was always destined to fail. Like the demons just gave themselves a sixty-day handicap to make more of a sport out of it. Whatever the case, the lesson landed, which was, ‘Your ass belongs to us.’
75 days after our first date I succumbed to a feeling of utter powerlessness and quit, over text.
Not that it always has to be that way. In the future, I could work a program in cooperation with my partner, much like the one above where the couple stands to get stronger, not weaker, during tough times.
Since it’s still fresh I find myself yet digging, but I think that’s the real lesson my demons didn’t see coming.
I’ll sign off for now, but drop this heavy heart a healing line and let me know how your relationship handles conflict. Let’s get some ’22 momentum rolling in the right direction.
ANARAE – you have been on my mind, as you always are, this time of year. Sadly, we can’t spend your 29th birthday together, so I have chosen to type out my thoughts and, even if I can’t hold you while you read them, perhaps they will wrap themselves around another, warming them in hope or help or healing, as you were so apt to do, in even the most unlikely of moments.
I don’t mean in the conventional, familial, expected-because-we-share-blood kind of way. I don’t mean it in the sappy, manufactured, Hallmark way. Nor in the distant, 1000-yard-smile way that you probably remember from your childhood as I, a decade older, ran off to chase girls my age leaving you behind to work on your chess game. And most definitely not in the sentimental, ‘love-what-you-can-no-longer-have,’ kind of way.
See, love has taken on an entirely new meaning in my life of late. It feels as if a fortress of stone has crumbled down from around my heart, opening me up to a new type of existence, one defined by gratitude, peace, and joy. My entire being has begun moving into this space as if it were a seasoned traveler taking a new trail in an ancient wood. As I feel my way through fresh, yet familiar surroundings, I have begun to taste the reality of all you have taught me, of how you have cared for, even carried me through, so much darkness over the eight years since your passing, a darkness that I all too often blamed on your untimely departure.
But, as you know, nothing which happens in the past can be at fault for actions taken in the present. I am sorry for carrying so much pain and heartache in your name for so many years. I know now it was your presence, your spirit, and your compassion that, through it all, was gently and patiently warming the cold embers of my heart inside a healing hearth.
Today, looking back with eyes you helped open, I struggle even to see the sorrow separate from the saving.
I love you through and through. I love you raw – unguarded, unfiltered, and unapologetically. I love you with the same love that created the universe and moves it still – day, night, heaven, hell, pleasure, pain, and everything in between. And, even though we fell short of consciously sharing this bond while you were still here, I need you to know I feel you now.
But more than my feelings about you and life as a whole, I want to share back what you’ve taught me, my top three transformative takeaways if you will. Call it my moment to admit a small but rewarding defeat as if to finally throw my hands up and say, ‘Yes Anarae, I hear you.’ See, even this stubborn ole mule can grow up for the better, despite, or rather because of, your unrelenting nagging. So, for your birthday this year, I give you my top three, attempting yet again to take credit for your work while throwing but a few sparse accolades back in your direction:
Anarae – you are the most accepting person I have known and that is not just my opinion, everyone agrees. You had a way of drawing out the best in people and, like a self-fulfilling prophecy of awesome, pointing to it and saying, ‘See, I knew you had it in you!’ This was most especially annoying when you did it to me despite my best efforts at resistance.
Harder yet to accept was the ‘I-told-you-so-reality’ of his taking of your life less than a year later, a pill so alive with hatred, agony, and utter despair it took several years for me to fully digest and almost swallowed me whole more than once.
Back then, I had yet to learn that you become the ideas and emotions you swallow, the spiritual equivalent of the old adage, ‘You are what you eat.’ I was clinging desperately to my idea of justice, as well as the emotions of what should have been had you just listened to me, had the bar not let you in as a minor, had the cops acted more quickly, had the world been a better place. And on and on. I felt righteous, believing that if I simply held on tighter to my version of what should have been that I could actually change the past. If only I just kept pushing.
So push on I did. I pushed my wife of eight years to divorce me, I pushed away from my three young children for almost a year, I missed my brother’s wedding, went broke, and landed in jail for DUI. Hatred of my history was eating my future from the inside out. I needed to change my diet, it was time to let go of my resistance and begin exploring the acceptance that came so naturally for you.
‘Hatred of my history was eating my future from the inside out.’
It wasn’t easy, especially as stubborn as I am, and as wounded as I was, but I began to let new ideas and emotions in which lead to new experiences, new beliefs, and in time, the new way of being I describe above. So much so, that a month ago, on the anniversary of your death, I finally accepted the man who took your life, and fully forgave him.
No more hate. No more agony. No more despair. I could breathe again. I was both lighter and stronger than before. Strong enough to accept that the differences between Shavelle and me (pictured above) pale in comparison to the likenesses and that only love has the power to heal us both. Turns out, accepting a difficult history and forgiving the man who took so much from our family wasn’t surrender at all. In fact, it may turn out to be the greatest triumph of my life for never again will darkness be able to gain such a footing on my heart.
Anarae, you mastered chess at a very young age and stuck with it, going on to compete nationally and racking up an impressive array of hardware in the process. But it wasn’t the trophies you were after. You loved chess itself, checkmate being just a passing mile-marker on the road of endless games, growth, and gratitude.
The irony being that the most celebrated masters of any discipline tend to be the ones who, rather than obsessing over the podium, relish in the repetition of relentless practice, and focus on the gritty day-in-day-out grind and the lessons it has to offer. You mastered this approach not just in chess but in life as well.
When you were tutoring younger kids in math or chess, you focused on the relationship, not the test result, working to ensure the student felt safe and secure enough to succeed. It was the same with sports and musical endeavors, you innately sought out and nurtured the tender moments, surfacing the sweet from the sweat of struggle. You knew how to work hard and have so much fun in the process that, from the outside, it looked like you were hardly working.
I, on the other hand, was more apt to sprint to the finish line only to start another race. School was about the shortest path to the highest marks, sports about earning the letter, friends more about what circle they ran in over who they really were, work was about the money, and on and on. In fact, I remember at a job interview in my early 20’s, not long after moving back home from college, a total stranger after speaking with me for only a few minutes, interrupted me to say, ‘I don’t think you in this role is a fit for either of us at the moment and if I had one piece of advice to give you young man, it would be to SLOW DOWN.’ I always had a suspicion that you had secretly set up the interview and told him to say that.
Whatever the case, fifteen years later, I am beginning to listen. I am teaching myself to cook and how to laugh and learn through all the delicious missteps. I am back in the weight room, this time for the enjoyment of pushing myself more than the muscles. I am reading and writing almost as much as when I was a kid and for the same reason; because I enjoy it. I am even letting Max and Christian teach me how to skateboard at age 39, mainly as an excuse to get to hang out with them all day at the park, but also to show them that it is ok to suck and keep trying.
It must be that at some point not long ago I accepted the fact that the roses are going to smell good with or without me, so I might as well slow down enough to add that small joy to my life. That working hard wasn’t worth it unless I could find the fun and share it with others. And that each goal, dream, and destination is just the starting point of the journey to the next one. Or, to summarize, moving slow and steady down an endless, uncharted, but chosen path is infinitely more likely to produce happiness than sprinting along the provided public pavement.
A former leader of mine, whom I very much respected at the time and still do, once introduced himself to an auditorium full of hard-working, blue-collar machine operators, technicians, and floor leaders by saying, ‘Hope is not a strategy.’ He then paused, instinctively waiting for the moment to land, and land it did, to snickers which grew into a swell of uproarious laughter.
He knew his audience; masters of the moment, skilled tacticians well versed in solving real-world problems under duress where abstract ideology and flowery philosophy fail to turn hardened steel crankshafts and 450 horsepower motors.
This was my clan then, and for as long as I can remember stretching back to my early days of 40+ mile bike rides, 10k+ runs, and early mornings in a canoe on the MN river with my dad from age eight to when I graduated to baseball, basketball, football, track, and various hard labor jobs shoveling rocks and wheeling wheelbarrows uphill; in all these endeavors I learned you either put up or shut up. Words were nice but they didn’t get the job done, and if you couldn’t outwork me, I didn’t care what you had to say.
It was as if I was working the writer right out of me. The questions I hadn’t answered, or much less asked were; why I was working so hard? To what end? What was it all for and where was it taking me?
Losing you caused me to start asking these questions and begin digging for meaning.
Helping me along was a deep, unshakable hope that wouldn’t give up on me which, like a still small voice, kept urging me forward through it all. It was a hope that the real me, long ago buried by various hurts and hangups, would be rediscovered, revived, and gradually re-emerge from the depths made stronger by weathering weakness. It was a hope that would do whatever it needed to in order to get me to listen, travel down whatever path, refusing to quit prior to manifestation. It was the same spirit that animated your life and breathes life into these words.
This hope may not have been a strategy as much as a lifeline, but without it, I wouldn’t have made it. The way I see it, in your final exhale was a gust of hope that was carried by a steady breeze of which I inhaled just enough to begin my rebirth.
And now, on your birthday, after eight long and winding years of struggling through the re-birthing canal, I find myself feeling more and more at home in my own skin. With what was once a thin wisp of hope for a better future, now filling my chest with confidence that it will be. Confidence that I can live out and up to your legacy of love in action for all of my days to come. Hope is happening, I am home.
My dad was incapable of being a great father because he never overcame his own trauma. Instead, he ran from it, quite literally, leaving his first wife and three kids at age 26 to become a marathon runner. For him, the running was a form of penance where the more suffering he subjected himself to, the more balanced the scale would be. He ran barefoot through the city. He ran in subzero temperatures through Minneapolis, returning home often looking like the abominable snowman. He ran his age every year on his December birthday from 30 until he was 50. Unfortunately for him, reconciliation in human relations doesn’t work at a distance, and as a result, he spent most of his adult life either transmitting his still unprocessed trauma to people who would accept it or overcompensating around people who wouldn’t. Avoiding pain is how it is spread and he discovered this reality the hard way.
He wasn’t malicious, just hurting and misguided.
His and I’s relationship was shaped by his mood which, from a very young age, I internalized as my responsibility. I learned that whether he was happy or sad or anything in between, it was my fault. As I grew older I started to desire recognition from him for all the great work I was doing to keep him happy. He withheld, I worked harder. He got angry, I worked harder. By my misguided calculations, I deserved the punishment when I failed, so I should, by the same logic, deserve the recognition when I triumphed. Spoiler: it didn’t play out according to my contrived formula and, hence, my striving escalated well into my adult life.
This strategy was successful in many ways for surviving childhood, but left two lingering programs running on a loop in my head which I would have to unpack later in life:
I was not important
I was not good enough
Embarrassingly enough, until well into my thirties, nearly everything I did was designed around earning HIS validation or scorning it; my life was not my own. At some level I understood this was not a healthy dynamic yet was unable to articulate it and, hence, my anger, resentment, and shame for not being myself got buried deep down. My conscious, internal wiring was dominated by this programming.
Until one day not long ago, after dozens of failed attempts over the last decade to clear the air, I finally found the right words at the right moment to say to him. It was as if a 39 year old chasm opened up inside me and an outpouring of deadly truth bombs came busting out, each with father-destroying heat seekers programmed in. My verbal ‘justice’ spewed out for no less than 5 min when, finally, he looked me in the eye and said,
‘I hear you.’
Instantly, I calmed down, sat down, ceased yelling, thanked him for enduring the onslaught, and apologized for being so yelly. I went on to explain that it was simply a long-buried part of me that needed to be voiced, but that it was over now and it was safe for us to resume normal conversations. I was excited about this exchange for many reasons and couldn’t wait to tell my therapist about the break thru:
I had finally received some validation from my father!
The following Saturday, I sat down in Andre’s chair with the whole story laid out, rehearsed, and ready to go. I drew it out in spectacular fashion, hit all the right notes, and delivered the punch line flawlessly. At which point I paused for his feedback as if he were to applaud or something. He looked up from his notepad and uttered a three-word question,
‘And now what?’
I was baffled. He was persistent and noticed I wasn’t following. So he clarified, ‘And what if you went thru all that and he hadn’t said anything? Do you really think the message in your rant was for him, designed just right to get just the right response from him such that it would fix all your problems? I mean what do you think the odds are of that? Isn’t it more likely that the message was, and always has been, to you?’
He continued, ‘Look, you are important, you are good enough, but the problem is that YOU don’t believe it, not that your father doesn’t. Nothing he, I, or anyone else can say will change your beliefs, only you can do that for you.’
I had spent over ten years analyzing my past, in therapy, in rehab, and in various hospitals and institutions, trying to find the key that would free me from my prison, the balm that would heal all the wounds, the medicine that would make it all right.
But now I know my father is not my jailer, I am, my wounds have long ago scared over, leaving powerful reminders of healing lessons, and I never needed medicine for I was never sick.
Maybe none of what Andre was telling me would have made any sense if I hadn’t gone thru the 10-year struggle. Maybe digging thru the past in an effort to find the right keys was a necessary activity to unlock a clearer vision for the future. Maybe it is indeed a requisite requirement of a full rehabilitation to touch all the historical pain points. I guess I will never really know.
All I know for sure is what’s important now, and that it’s all out in front of me.
Ever found yourself imprisoned by indecision in a pivotal moment with your heart and mind playing tug of war over which direction to go? Perhaps, you’ve walked a path of decisive action, following your instincts with gusto only to now be wondering, ‘What if?’ Maybe you’ve adopted the role of spectator and can no longer shake the question, ‘Who is really living my life?’ If any of these scenarios apply, or if you are simply interested in a new approach to decision making – specifically momentous, life-altering decisions – you are in the right place
‘…if you are [simply] interested in a new approach to decision making – specifically momentous, life-altering decisions – you are in the right place.’
I am going to introduce my 3-Step method below, but first we are going to set the stage by traveling back in time to the birth of this blog and the OldSchoolMillennial’s origin story for some helpful context. Buckle up, this Delorean is taking off.
When I started this blog over three years ago I had no idea what I was doing, only a vague sense that I needed to write. I was traveling back from a weekend in D.C. where three of my favorite thought leaders had all taken turns speaking and fielding questions from a colorful collection of 500+ action-oriented event attendees. As the night carried on, I became intoxicated with the energy in the room. These folks were moving the world. I, on the other hand, was living life in my head, where I would meet big ideas with a steady stream of, ‘Yeah, but…,’ excuses – reserving action for the small and familiar.
‘I…was living life in my head, where I would meet big ideas with an assault of, ‘Yeah, but…,’ excuses – reserving action for the small and familiar.’
Somewhere around midnight, four hours into this electricity emersion, it hit me: for the better part of 36 years my mind had been avoiding the doldrums of life by escaping to clouds of interesting, but isolating abstractions, a self-made outsider, and now, finally, I had found my tribe. Their most striking characteristic was that each had traveled back from the clouds, pushing through the re-entry resistance, and landing their visions decisively in the real world. People of this caliber and in this number had not existed in my life prior to that moment, but I knew then with absolute certainty that I could never go back, not really, to the world of the, ‘Yeah, buts…’
However, I now had the question of how to get off the sidelines of my own life. I had no idea what to do, just that I felt as if I now needed a solve to this problem more than any other I had ever encountered.
But how does one answer a question that has never been asked before? Once answered, how does one know if the path chosen is the right one? For me, in what felt like the most pivotal moment of my life, where the entire universe seemed to be urging me to a new level of being, I was utterly overwhelmed by the onslaught of thoughts and emotions assailing my consciousness, I had no idea what to do.
‘…I was utterly overwhelmed by the onslaught of thoughts and emotions assailing my consciousness, I had no idea what to do.’
What happened next was akin to a bolt of lightning that struck me with similar 1/500,000 odds: I was going to start a blog.
I can’t take credit for the idea as it hit me more than I worked it out, and I had very little reason to believe it was plausible, much less possible, as I had never published anything of import, had no idea how to design/manage/market a website, and had absolutely no vision for what I would write about or why anybody would care. But, in that moment, all those concerns paled in comparison to my need to do something, and, alas, I had no better ideas. Hence, the OldSchoolMillennial was born into a storm of uncertainty; naked, shivering, and alone.
Yet, three and a half years later, I’m still here, pushing the idea forward, building the airplane on the fly so to speak, all with a growing level of certainty that I have indeed made the right investment of time, tears, and talent. It’s as if the decision-making process has played out over a long, drawn-out series of micro-decisions rolling up and supporting the over-arching, largely unknown, trajectory as it gradually crystallizes in my mind. The level of paralysis and indecision reducing as the story unfolds at the cost of daily outlays of faith and will to stay the course. I am sure if you have read this far, you can relate.
In the quiet moments, I have often wondered at the possibility of pulling the decision-making horizon from the distant and uncertain future into the present, as I long for a method to manifest a key of sorts that would open the cell of decision prison in real-time. The primary benefit being the liberation of precious energy from the effort of continually re-convincing myself I am on the right path for input into the actualization of the vision itself. I can’t help but imagine where I would be if all the competing thoughts and super-charged emotions fighting for my attention were actually aligned within me in one clear, purposeful direction.
‘I can’t help but imagine where I would be if all the competing thoughts and super-charged emotions fighting for my attention were actually aligned within me in one clear, purposeful direction.’
But enough wondering. Now that the stage is set, let’s dive in and find out. I promised three steps, here they are, we’ll go deep on each below:
Human life begins with the breath and can’t continue without it. From the moment we emerge from the womb, we are hard-wired to pull air into our lungs, extract the oxygen we need, impart it to the blood, and pump it to all our vital organs and systems, thereby animating our hearts, minds, and bodies. This ingenious design is automated to where it runs in the background so reliably that we expend next to none of our attention managing or maintaining this most essential, life-giving, and sustaining function.
In this sense, it is the breath that is unconsciously woven into the truth of who we are more integrally than any experience, idea, action, or feeling we might possess at a conscious level. After all, it is the breath alone that has been constant in our lives since the beginning and will be with us until the end, steadfast in its support for every bit of change and growth we may undergo along the way.
This is helpful because it is the truth that we are after – our personal truth. The single idea that is wholly who we are. This truth is the key out of decision prison. The key which lies inside and has been with us since the beginning, since our first breath, and there it yet remains.
I know we just covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time, but the gist of what I am asking you to accept is that the process of self-discovery is one of uncovering something you already possess moreso than one of discovering anything external. Just as the breath has been with you since the beginning, so has your truth, even if only at a mostly unconscious level. The task at hand is to consciously surface both.
From this vantage point, we can now follow the breath back inside to our deepest, oldest self, and let our decisions be guided by what we uncover there.
To answer the question of how to get started on this journey, I would point you to any one of many conscious breathing exercises, but the method I have personally had the most success with was designed by the Ice Man himself, Mr. Wim Hof. Of his many books, documentaries, and online videos, I liked this audiobook the best as a colorful introduction to man and method. But, if you are just looking for a concise overview of the breathing exercise itself, I have summarized the main points below with enough content to get you started.
And that is it, simply build thirty min of conscious breathing into your morning routine and you have mastered step one.
On to step two.
If you are anything like me, as you get started with your breathing routine, you will, in short order, notice the absolute absurdity of thoughts intruding on what would otherwise be a quiet and relaxing sit. The simple act of attempting to focus on your breath and associated bodily sensations may become exhausting, frustrating, even anxiety-provoking – stay with it, your conscious mind just isn’t used to being quiet enough to listen, not yet anyway. Think of it like any exercise, you will get better with effort and repetition, the mental muscle of intentional bodily focus getting stronger over time.
‘Think of it like any exercise, you will get better with effort and repetition, the mental muscle of intentional bodily focus getting stronger over time.’
As we get stronger, we learn to just listen to the breath, we are simultaneously learning to quiet the conscious mind, opening up a space to receive a deeper form of knowing from our true self.
The process I am describing is not new, as it is akin to the many forms of mindfulness training which are at least as old as the Buddhist tradition, stretching back over 2500 years. However, ancient does not equate to extraneous as the fight for our attention in this age of information overload offers no shortage of opportunities for cluttered thinking. So, if you find yourself struggling here, you’re not alone, literally nothing in our post-modern culture has prepared you for this. Don’t quit, there’s gold yet to mine.
Thankfully there are a plethora of qualified guides who have charted well-worn courses through these murky mines. My current favorite is Michael A. Singer and his book, The Untethered Soul. What I appreciate most about Singer’s work is how thoughtfully he articulates the idea that you are not your thoughts, differentiating them from a deeper knowing. He goes on to explain how this deep knowing is accessible to us all if we can learn to receive it.
Conscious breathing is the process of learning to receive. Let me attempt to illuminate by sharing a recent sit with you.
It was a hot Saturday in Oklahoma and I had woken up later than intended, so I had to skip my breathing exercise in order to make my therapy appointment. At the end of another insightful session, my therapist asks me how the podcast is coming. Having not remembered him asking previously, I responded with, ‘What podcast?’ Quickly attempting to cover my insecurity with, ‘But I have always liked that idea!’ Undeterred, he fired back, ‘You have a lot to say, feels right for you,’ knowing an observation of this variety would usher me into a silent contemplation.
I am making my way thru the parking lot where the heat from the asphalt is thickening the air in dense, visible waves, when my phone goes off. I wipe my sweaty thumb on my shirttail and unlock my phone. It’s a message from a good friend thanking me for some recent advice and encouraging me to start a podcast.
A chill ran thru me as I drove straight home to my cushion in search of a deeper knowing.
I have been consistent with my conscious breathing practice for almost two months at this point and have achieved a modest level of mental muscle. Even so, as I settled into my sit, my conscious mind was abuzz with activity. ‘You should buy such and such a microphone.’ ‘Title the show such and such.’ ‘Have such and such guests.’ And on, and on. I keep breathing, let the thoughts pass while thanking the mind for its enthusiasm and bringing my attention back to the breath.
I make it to my fortieth breath and inhale deeply. My mind has quieted and I am able to fully feel my blood circulating thru my body carrying with it a deep sense of gratitude for the peace and plenty it supplies.
And then a deep blue washes over me. It’s more than a vision, it’s more of an immersion that lasts as long as my breath, roughly three minutes. I exhale, inhale and hold my recovery breath for a full fifteen seconds, then start on the next forty.
Inhale. Hold. Gold. Again it’s a full-on immersion of sensory overload to the extent I am even tasting gold for every bit three minutes. I keep going. On each successive fortieth breath a new experience: a thickening tongue which filled my mouth to the brink of bursting, a devouring hunger akin to have never eaten in all my 39 years, and, finally, my three-year-old Australian Sheppard nestling in my lap.
What does it all mean relative to any potential podcast in my future? For now, that is for me to know and you to find out in time, but, no matter, that is not the point of our present story. I am enumerating my experience with you in order to draw out the knowing process, to illuminate the stark difference between the way in which our conscious and unconscious minds communicate with us, My unconscious is very sensual and experiential, rarely speaking, rather offering full body meals for me to digest in due course. To discover how your unconscious communicates I suggest you get started learning to listen.
Think you got the idea? On to the final step.
As you settle into your practice, learning to listen to your unconscious, it will communicate with you. Fact is, it has always been trying to get your attention, to pull you back to your true path. It will always be your biggest ally in the face of life’s onslaught of trials, tribulations, and traumas. It has tried to get your attention in dreams and delirium, deja vu and visions, attempting to jolt away your awareness from the constant chatter of the ever-present conscious mind.
We just haven’t been listening.
What we are going to do now is invite our unconscious to take its proper place at the head of the table. We are going to let our breath be our maitre d’ as our oldest and greatest ally. We are going to feast on a five-star buffet of timeless wisdom.
Imagine having an all-access pass to on-demand dreams designed just for you.
So, what are you waiting for? Let me know how it goes in the comments below.
In their book, ‘The Fourth Turning,’ William Strauss and Neil Howe outline a predictive framework for the United States which is well summarized by the Michael Hopf quote:
Unpacking the idea we learn that every 20 – 25 years, as a new generation comes of age (referred to as a ‘Turning’ by the authors), there is a predictable shift in the national zeitgeist. Each Turning has identifiable characteristics rendering the theory ripe for extrapolation. The book, written in the mid-’90s, estimated that we would enter our next Fourth Turning (bad times) around 2008, the previous Fourth Turning kicking off with WWI, roughly 100 years ago. Strauss & Howe go on to describe, in general terms, a large-scale disaster that sets off a dramatic series of events, effectively pushing our society into a generation-long era of significant, irreversible change. To see us through, a ‘grey champion’ emerges as an unlikely and largely unsung hero.
Was the 2008 mortgage crisis and resulting Great Recession the event that kicked off a 25-year national rebuilding phase? Are we behind schedule and perhaps it is the COVID19 global pandemic? Will history recount Donald Trump or Joe Biden as the grey champion of our time much as Woodrow Wilson was in his? We can’t know for sure at present, but it would certainly be hard to argue that, as a people, we are experiencing anything other than a significant and rapidly changing cultural-political moment.
But let’s walk through the argument together to make sure we are on the same page, starting with the understanding that civilized society is held together by its shared culture, defined as:
Borrowing a biblical allegory, if culture is the language we use to describe and navigate in the direction of our shared future, we are at the Tower of Babel, confused and dispersing. The more fractious the culture, the more prime the society for decay, revolt, and/or takeover. Or as historian Luke Kemp puts it in his 2019 BBC article:
And if scrolling thru twitter comments or tuning into any political commentary isn’t enough to convince you of the eroding culture, take a look at the current state of two of the most influential cultural players in the US, Government and News Media.
And while this moment of cultural decay isn’t entirely unique in history, the wealth, technology, sheer population density, and diversity sure are. Translation: the spectrum of possible outcomes, both constructive and destructive, is measurably wider than in the past. Therefore, we have both more to gain and more to lose than ever before; one might say we are teetering on a precipice of epic proportions.
Staring over the edge and down into the abyss, we can imagine a darkening future where the worst elements of the current moment, enhanced by the greatest weapons, communications, and transportations technologies mankind has ever known, erupt on the scene and swallow us up, ushering in a modern-day dark age. I really don’t like delving into these types of doomsday scenarios as so many other outlets do, but do want to point out that it would not be the situation itself, rather our inability to communicate, compromise, and come together that would ultimately doom us to destruction.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. We could step back from the precipice, turn, and open the gates to the greatest Golden Age that mankind has ever known, fueled by all the same drivers. But what is a Golden Age?
The idea of a Golden Age first appeared in the Five Ages of Man, an 8th-century BCE creation myth composed by the Greek Hesiod, an epic poet the likes of Homer. Hesiod’s vision of the Golden Age – supposedly imparted to him by the Nine Muses while he tended sheep – describes a time when Man was indistinguishable from the Gods. In this age of peace and plenty, there was no suffering, no toil, no death.
I’m not talking about immortality, omnipotence, or any other supernatural phenomenon, but I did grow up hearing that I could achieve anything I put my mind to and I can’t help but wonder what would happen if enough people did that collectively.
So how do we get there from the mess we are in now? Stay tuned for the next article but I’ll leave you with a hint: as you likely have figured out by now, I’m a strong advocate for the Jordan Peterson school of thought, ‘fix yourself, fix the world.’ Put another way, we can’t sit back and expect broken people to fix us, or blind people to lead the way.
Time to lace up our shoes, open our eyes, and get to work on our own Golden Age.
After weathering the first six months of COVID19 as a boots-on-the-ground, eye of the storm, essential worker, I now, like 12.6MM other Americans, find myself unemployed (this figure is down from the peak of 20MM back at the pandemic’s onset in March). So, although I know I am not alone, no longer having a source of income, a familiar routine, and a clear, prescribed sense of purpose hits different. Perhaps you can relate.
In this article, I will share the story of how I came to be unemployed for the first time since age twelve. As we dive in, I’ll use the lens of addiction to color what I’ve learned in the first three weeks, including a sneak peek at an exciting project on the horizon. So keep reading if you’re curious to learn how to tunnel thru addiction, heartache, and loss towards your very own Golden Age.
Let’s get started.
If you know me at all, you know I pour myself into my work, always have. It was no different when I started with Kimberly-Clark in January 2012 as a senior mechanical project engineer bringing with me eight years of prior engineering experience split across two separate industries. Over the subsequent nine years, I earned six separate promotions, each with increased scope and compensation, the third catapulting me from the technical world as an individual contributor, and into leadership, with my largest team comprised of over 300 members.
Behind the scenes, however, life took some pretty dark turns. In late 2013 I lost my baby sister. Twelve months after that, my eight-year marriage dissolved, quickly consuming every penny of my savings and estranging me from my three young children for over a year as I worked thru the grief. If that wasn’t enough, I cut ties with my parents and even landed on the news for DUI. Legal and medical bills pushed me far into debt. By Thanksgiving 2015, I had arrived at what the recovery community calls, rock bottom.
Work was literally the only thing that worked for me, I clung to it like a shipwrecked captain to driftwood on a dark and stormy sea
It was as if everything I lost at home, compelled me to dive deeper at the office. 60, 70, even 80 hour weeks were not uncommon. I was all in, whatever it took. The results and accolades started piling up, people were noticing, and who was I to say no – what else did I have to do? The question I wasn’t asking – much less answering – was, ‘Is this healthy? Sustainable?’
Let’s pause here for a definition and some additional context. I warned you early on this article would center around addiction, which, according to Dr. Donna Marks, is defined as anything a person keeps doing in spite of negative consequences. Notice the word anything broadens a more traditional definition confined to, say drugs and alcohol, to include everything from food to work, religion, sex, social media, status, exercise, and even recovery itself. The key to understanding addiction is that, fundamentally, it is not about the substance or behavior, but rather one’s relationship to the substance or behavior.
In her book, ‘Exit the Maze,’ Dr. Marks goes on to describe the underlying nature of addiction to be one of trying to fill an emotional void caused by prior trauma and/or dysfunction, most often occurring in early childhood. For the addict, of which Dr. Marks estimates there are over 100MM in the US alone, the substance or behavior starts as the solution, a much-needed, but only momentary, relief from the underlying pain. Over time, as the negative consequences of the addiction take root, a desperate wrestling match between relief and recovery ensues, in which sobriety is only the first step as the addiction will often morph into the next ‘drug’ of choice. This game of ‘whack-an-addiction-mole’ will continue until the emotional void is accurately named and eliminated.
For a condensed overview on the nature of addiction, see the podcast above. For now, however, let us get back to the story at hand.
As 2016 kicked off, I committed to rebuilding but knew I had my work cut out for me. I decided to leverage the area of my life with the most success, my career, to right the ship and start making my way back to shore. This approach was effective in several areas as I paid down debt, built a support system of caring co-workers, and focused on consistent routines. With this momentum, I was able to reunite with my children and broaden my efforts into other areas of well-being, including a genuine commitment to cognitive behavioral therapy, diet, exercise, and creative outlets such as this blog.
Even so, as 2018 was coming to a close, more storm clouds were forming on the horizon. See, even though, on the surface, my life appeared to be improving, I was yet to truly name and eliminate my emotional void and, in turn, failed to notice the unhealthy relationship I had developed with several of my new behaviors and the turbulent emotional undercurrent gaining hold.
In short order, I arrived at an impasse with a new manager over differing visions for the team. Having errantly attached my identity to my vision during my rebuilding process, I struggled to compromise. In fact, I flat refused, telling myself to do so would be to, quite literally, die. Unsurprisingly, the situation escalated to the brink of separation. Desperately trying to avert disaster, I called in a favor and secured a transfer to a sister facility before I could be managed out of the organization. From a career perspective, this felt positive. However, it came at the cost of putting 180 miles between myself and my children, who remained with their mom in Tulsa, leaving me to commute.
It’s March of 2019 and the stormy sea of my still largely unconscious emotional void had washed me ashore in Paris, TX.
Not having fully learned my lesson from my recent bump up with management, I charged into my new work environment, eager to play hero and rescue a struggling operation (see link for a more in-depth account written in early 2020).
My vision was simple: One Roof. Essentially, no matter what uniform, crew, function, gender, ethnicity, title, etc., we were all going to come together under the same one roof to achieve our shared goals. What I liked most about this goal were the concepts of home and family embedded in the Roof mnemonic. One Roof was a clear reference, easily recalled, with nearly infinite depth of meaning to mine as appropriate. Simple to say yet hard to achieve, as anyone who’s ever worked in large, high paced groups will attest.
Two things escaped me which ultimately led to my downfall:
Wrong moment because the established leadership team was too buried in existing cultural turmoil to seriously consider any additional risk. It was ‘batten down the hatches’ mode due to ongoing litigation and precipitous safety issues. The resultant leadership focus lying almost exclusively on policy adherence and structure. Cultivating interpersonal relationships was hard to measure and therefore low priority.
Wrong family because my subconscious was using my new team as a surrogate to repair broken relationships from my childhood. News flash: if you want to repair a relationship, you have to do it with the actual person, no substitute will do. Nonetheless, I forged ahead in search of the connection and validation I never got from my parents and still hungered for unknowingly.
Blinded by my vision, it was only a matter of time until the scenario imploded, and implode it did. Short of divulging all the gory details, my unchecked expectations, lack of awareness of the moment, failure to recalibrate my approach, and insistence on continually doubling down, lead to increasing frustration on both sides. Eighteen months into the assignment, I got the call that I was no longer employed. And that was that. Nine years boxed up and discharged in an instant.
But here’s the thing: I would have worked myself to death before ever considering walking away. And at what cost along the way? I had stopped writing, struggled to complete my MBA program postponing graduation several times due to needing extensions to complete my capstone project, even my relationships with my dogs were suffering. Not to mention the emotional poison – frustration & resentment – that were accumulating at work due to misdirected emotional energy. Long and short of it is:
Recreating dysfunctional childhood relationships in adulthood can feed an emotional addiction but not nourish a soul
So, in peeling back this layer of the addiction onion, two gifts have emerged for me: 1) clarity on where my next area of emotional healing needs to be focused and 2) clarity on where the next leg of my career journey needs to take me.
Which brings me to the Gates of the Golden Age, assuming I don’t starve to death first. What I mean is, without all the stress associated with solving the problems fed to me by my former corporate masters, I have an opportunity to funnel all my energy into solving the problems I decide are most important, most rewarding, most value added. I believe I have a long enough run way to launch my writing into profitability and maybe, with your help, turn a pastime into the life of my dreams, thereby entering what I call my very own Golden Age.
Interested to learn more about my upcoming launch? Please enter your email and a comment or two into the form below and I’ll be sure to keep you up to speed. Cheers!