These are better days

“Better Days” is one of Bruce Springsteen’s most underrated songs.

At the beginning, Springsteen sings about “sitting around” and “waiting for life to beginning.”

A position I’m quite familiar with.

Yet as the song continues, a rock transformation happens. He acknowledges that every “fool’s got a reason for feelin’ sorry for himself.”

He knows that for “better days to shine through” he must engage with his own life.  He has to quit the self-pity, the self-victimization charade that we’re all guilty of entertaining.

The song concludes with Springsteen announcing he’s “halfway to heaven and just a mile outta hell” but he’s “ comin’ home” as he repeats, with his all his raspy New Jersey spirit, “these are better days.”

It’s catchy, convincing.  A 4 minute reminder that better days only arrive when we finally  brave up and accept our lives, for better or worse. Nothing can be excluded. We must accept the good and bad, the joy and pain, the pride and shame.

Better days will only dawn when our flawed past is fully accepted.

Be well,


Saturdays are for seizing

Someone once told me Saturdays are for sleeping.

At 22 I agreed. At 38,  I couldn’t disagree more.

You aren’t going to work. You aren’t going to school.

You have a few errands to do. Maybe your children have soccer games this afternoon.

Besides that, Saturdays are for seizing.

For seizing all the reading, writing, exercising, eating, fishing, gardening, painting, dancing, and lovemaking you missed during the week.

Except for sleeping.

If you’re properly alive, you will never, ever seize enough sleep.

Be well,


The smartest student I ever taught was also the dumbest

This is a Micro (life) Lesson.

Micro (life) Lessons are simple, compressed stories (under 250 words) that, like good teachers, continue to teach long after graduation.

If you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room. – Confucius

I once taught a student who turned down scholarships from several Ivy League universities.

She chose to attend a small, progressive college that I never heard of.

What a shame, I thought.

I couldn’t understand why such a promising student would decline scholarships from some of the most prestigious universities in the world.

So one day after class I asked her.

She smiled, “Because I want to go a place where its okay fail. Where failure, not success, is the teacher. I want to go where I can be dumb.”

Last time I heard, she was doing exceptionally well.

Be well,


A Culinary Failure

Warning: This post contains images that might be disturbing for some readers. 

For my 38th birthday, my mom surprised me with a three week subscription to Purple Carrot.

Purple Carrot is a vegan, meal-in-a-box company that delivers-to-your-door all the necessary ingredients for preparing and cooking a nutritious, plant-based meals.

You simply unpack the food from the box, follow the easy 6-step instructions and in 30 to 40 you have a fresh, restaurant quality meal.

When I married my wife I assumed the role of cook.

I learned how to cook a variety of meals, most involving meat: beef sliders, steak fajitas, zesty barbecue chicken, roasted chicken, ham and noodle casserole and rustic pork chops.

(For health reasons, 8 months ago I baptized myself in coconut milk and converted to veganism. My family are not vegans, so most nights I have to cook two dinners– one for them, one for me.)

I stake myself as a good cook. I’m fairly confident in the kitchen. Yet what I do lack in culinary flair, I make up in my ability to uncanny ability to read a recipe.

On this night I attempted to cook Purple Carrot’s “crunchy and lightly-browned” Eggplant Mousakka.

Mousakka is a Greek dish. A casserole layered with eggplant, crushed tomatoes and topped with a creamy tofu spread.

The picture looked delicious. 

I went to work.

I peeled and sliced the eggplant into 12 silver dollars pieces. I then dropped the tufu brick along with finely chopped garlic, smoked paprika, dried oregano, a pinch of salt, a dash of pepper into a blender and blended until it was all one smooth dream.

Next, I browned the eggplant in a hot sea of olive oil. When the eggplant was crisp, I removed the eggplant with a pair of tongs, layered the bottom of a Pyrex baking dish with the eggplant, added a layer of crushed tomatoes, added another layer of eggplant and topped it with a smooth layer of the tofu blend. 

I popped it in the oven, set the timer and waited. 

It smelled good.

Real good. So good that my chicken tender children remarked how good it smelled.

“Dad, it smells like a restaurant in here!”

Twenty minutes later, when the timer sounded, I slipped on an oven mitt,  opened the oven, retrieved the Pyrex dish, removed the foil and found this:

Before anyone could catch a glimpse, I threw the tinfoil back over the Pyrex, cuffed the edges and forced the monstrosity back into the dark oven for another 5 minutes.

For the next 5 minutes I guarded the oven, spatula in hand.

I was there to prevent anyone from looking the big oven window and, god forbid, if the eggplant monster smashed through that big oven window I was there, like a Royal Guardsman, armed and willing to protect my family.  

When the timer sounded, I slid on the oven mitt, removed the dish from the oven, uncuffed the foil and found this:

I tried to convinced myself–“Maybe it tastes better than it looks?”

Because it looked awful. So awful, the kids remarked, “That looks awful.”

I read the recipe out loud and as my index finger drew imaginary lines under each word.

I went outside to the trashcan and fished out the original box the meal came in, looking for an ingredient, the one I clearly forgot to add.  The one that would surely make my Eggplant Moussaka look like the one in the picture.

The box was empty.

I moved back inside, to the kitchen, to the counter, looked down at my eggplant abomination, took a deep breath and concluded that I did something wrong.

I scooped out an eggplant wheel and dropped it on a plate. Feeling the eyes of my family on me, I forked a wedge the eggplant, said a quick prayer and slid it into my mouth.

They watched as I chewed, then swallowed.

“How is it dad? Is it good?”

I ran a napkin across my lips, leveled my eyes and said, “No. It’s awful. It’s really awful kids.”

It’s such a sobering moment, especially for us adults, when our final product fails incredibly short of our imagination.

When we Ziploc creativity, vacuum-seal boldness, tritely follow directions and yet still we fail.

It’s as if everything we learned about achieving success, whether in the kitchen or in life, was suddenly compromised.

I did what I was told, followed the instructions and still I failed. 

And in the end, you can only stand over the kitchen sink, force Dr. Frankenstein’s Eggplant Moussaka down the drain with a kitchen brush, listen to your stomach growl and realize you’re not as good as you once believed.

Be well,


When Your Child Realizes How Cruel The World Can Be

Hours before my daughter’s 10th birthday I committed murder.

Call me heartless, call me a bastard but since I don’t own a gun or crossbow–I did it with a hammer.

Trust me, I didn’t want to do it. But, as life teaches, sometimes you have to do things you never thought you would do.

I did it minutes before midnight, when I assume most murders are committed.

I did it in the shadows behind my house, near the trashcans. So the body could be easily disposed.

Before dinner, Haley was eyeing the evening news. She stood petrified before the television, like a child summoned to the blackboard trying to solve some hand-scratched equation in front of the entire class.

Haley is coming into her own now, realizing that the vague, glittery conceptions she once held of the world, a world of painted in rainbows, frolicked by unicorns is tragically wrong.

On this given night, a crazy man plowed a van through a crowd of innocent people in Germany.  A deranged woman shot four people at the YouTube headquarters in San Francisco. And President Trump postured behind a podium, promised to build a wall, promised harsh consequences for any uninvited guest who mouses through cracks of our star-spangled foundation.

Haley frowns at the television. Her little fists tighten to little knots. She looks at me, worried, like she wants to ask big, serious questions–Why are so adults narrow-minded? So bitter? So destructive? What, in God’s rainbowed heaven, is fucking wrong with adults?

Later that night I set traps and went for a beer.

With my elbows on the bar, I received the following text from my wife:

“He’s slowly dying. There’s blood everywhere. He’s still making noises.”

The next day morning, as I drove with Haley tucked in the backseat, we held a conversation:

“Dad, last night, you know how the mouse was still alive in the trap…”


“…how it was squeaking…”

“I know.”

“… well, did you kill it?”

A child’s youth passes uncomfortably fast for a parent.

Sometimes it’s hard to look at my daughter, like I’m keeping a secret from her. I realize she toes the most difficult years of her life. I know she’ll soon be run off her feet by cruelty– the human cruelty that is the star of the nightly news.

The cruelty that a hammer and I are capable of.

“Yes, Haley. I killed the mouse.”

“Why? He was just a little mouse.”

I eyed Haley through the rear-view mirror. She turned away from me, brought her knees up to her chest and looked beyond her window to find a world scrubbed of glitter, void of unicorns and fanged with adults poised to do monstrous things.

Be well,


A Letter to My Daughter On Her 10th Birthday

Dear Haley,

It’s incredible. It really is.

10 years ago, a nurse loaded you and your mom into the back seat of our silver Chevy Malibu, shut the door, stepped back, smiled, waved and suddenly our lives began together.

Jarring as it was–sometimes life is that cut and dry.

One day you’re curled inside your mother and the next day you’re here, swaddled and waiting for a ride home.

I remember the drive home from the hospital.

The engine hummed and I tried to comprehend how 9 months raced by like they never happened, and now you were suddenly here, snuggled in the back seat with your blue eyes fixed out the back window, watching the world in reverse.

Nervous and sleep deprived, I ordered myself to pay attention, turning off the radio, checking mirrors and gripping the steering wheel at the recommended 10 and 2 positions.

In that moment it became clear–I was a father. Your dad.

And on that day, my sole responsibility was to drive my most precious cargo, you and your mother, 4 miles from hospital to home. From point A to point B without incident.

Haley, somehow you’re 10 years old now.

And some things have changed. You’re taller, smarter, louder and more self-sufficient then I could ever imagine. You know how to divide, multiply, work an Ipad and yesterday you informed me about the central nervous system and all its complicated functions.

Yet like our first car ride together (which was an absolute success) there remains a certitude. I’m still your dad. I’m still responsible, no matter your age or crisis and no matter how nervous and sleep deprivation I am, for getting you from point A to point B.

Raising a Daughter

I have two brothers. Your uncles.

As a kid, I was raised on pro wrestling and domestic weaponry.

I spent most of my young life on athletic teams bolstered by boys, roughhousing with my brothers, proving my toughness, my invulnerability.

So understand, fathering a daughter is a little odd for me. A bit strange. Sometimes you’re a familiar mystery. Sometimes I don’t know what to do with you.

You’ve change so much. Some days I stare at you, watch you smile, cartwheel about the house and watch your blue eyes sparkle in the sunlight and wonder how all this incredible stuff happened.

And I sometimes wonder how I will handle all the incredible stuff that’s yet to come.

Defining Fatherhood

Watching you grow up is both exciting and terrifying.

As we stand at the threshold of those tumultuous adolescent years, I’ve been thinking greatly about what kind of dad do you need right now?

The answer, I believe, is a simple one.

A dad defined is like any good driver.  Present. Focused. Anticipates dangers. Ignores distractions. Guides their child through the unpredictability of life.

A dad is there to help a child get from point A to point B.

And whether point B is your next birthday or some prom dress calamity or marriage or motherhood, if I did my job, if I was the dad you deserved, you’ll be prepared.

You’ll approach your challenges with a patience, honesty and humility.

It’s become clear that fatherhood is not about meddling or interjecting or filling your head with fiction. In fact, fatherhood really isn’t about the father at all. It has and always will be about the livelihood of the child. 

In 8 years you’ll be 18 and things will have undoubtedly change.

You’ll be driving yourself. You’ll be standing at the cusp of adulthood and may not need me the way you do now.  But despite my dwindling demand, my job description remains.

You need the dad who drove you and your mother home from the hospital 10 years ago. A dad to remain vigilant and focused.

You’ve entrusted me to listen, eliminate distractions, anticipate danger, embrace the incredible and enjoy the ride.

And my girl– I don’t want to let you down.

Happy Birthday!



The Air Max 90 (Or The First Time I Learned About Envy)

This week’s publication is dedicated to my friend and fellow writer Deb Dauer, who recently passed away from complications caused by ALS. 

Although my time with Deb was brief, she taught me to live, to write with courage and spirit and that true happiness can only be found in the connections you make. 

Thank you and be well my friend. 

What I’ve found that it is connections with other people that really make me happy. And in turn time and experiences with them.—Deb Dauer 

At 10 years old I learned about envy.

It was 1990 and Nike had just released the Air Max 90 sneaker.

To the uniformed catholic school boys, sporting navy blue slacks, yellow dress shirts, navy blue ties all accented with black pleather shoes, which were sold exclusively at a local mom-and-pop shoe store that resembled a shoe museum rather then a working shoe store, fashion-wise—gym class was a big deal.

A pre-adolescent parade of parent-bought sneakers.

In a corner of the gym, a gym which was actually an oversized classroom,  stood a loose ring of cool boys— all wearing Air Max 90s.

They were fingering their soles, the soles with the little plastic window that might have been windows into their young souls because the boys were outwardly happy—laughing and smiling and worshiping the Made-in-China-Manna stitched with a Swoosh, that fell from Heaven and slid onto their feet.

Picture courtesy of

Across the gym/classroom I stood on my assigned red dot, alone, staring down at my  pedestrian sneakers.

I felt something sour inside. A sudden smallness. An inferiority.  A failure to appreciate what I had.

 It had nothing to do with running faster or jumping higher.

The Nike Air Max 90s were cool. And at 10 years old, I was learning the world was cruelly split into two— the cool and the uncool.

At 38, as a parent and writer I’m constantly comparing myself to others.

Which makes me feel like I’m in gym class all over again—standing outside the circle of well-laced people, hoping for inclusion.

Let me be clear—comparison is not a healthy practice. Comparison will always prevent you from discovering and maintaining lasting happiness.

I teach my children and my students that envy is a corrosive emotion. A cancer that will always lead to dissatisfaction which often trigger destructive behavior. Yet I’m guilty of envy, of comparisons.

I told you last week I meet a young woman who was an aspiring fitness blogger.

She had a defined blogging niche and a growing audience. She was 15 years younger than me, had been writing for only a few months and spoke with a confidence and coolness that I was envious of.

After she pulled from our conversation, waited at the bar for another Pinot Grigio, I couldn’t help but feeling like I was back standing on my red dot in gym class, looking down at my unbranded sneakers, feeling small again.

I know self-inflicted comparisons hurt. Yet this knowledge doesn’t stop me.

Like knowing too much tequila triggers  nuclear hangovers and liver disease and bad decisions yet still we fasten our sombrero, throw caution to the wind and drink more than we should.

A year later, in 1991, Nike released the Air Max 91. When my neighbor got the Air Max 91s, I bought his Air Max 90s for $20.

I remember how that night I went home and tried out my new/old shoes in the backyard.

The Air Maxs didn’t make me run faster or jump higher. I didn’t feel cooler or happier with them on my feet. It fact, I was uncomfortable. The shoes were a size too big and insoles were molded to the topography of my neighbor’s feet.

As a father and writing teacher, I want my children and students to be authentic and honest with themselves. Be affable to their dreams. Invest in their uniqueness and voice.

I want them to know no matter what products the world flexes on them, no matter the level of success their competition achieves, sustained happiness is purely a product of authenticity.

Now, like an adult, it’s my responsibility to heed my own advice.

Be well.