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!

Love,

Dad

I’m now 38 and finally confident enough to admit I’m lost

I turn 38 this week.

And with official entrance into the late-thirties rodeo, I’ve finally gained enough confidence to admit –I’m lost.

A few weeks ago at a party, I fell into a conversation with a young woman who recently graduated from college.  A mutual friend introduce me as a “writer” and informed me that young woman had started a blog.

“A blog. That’s great.What do you write about?”

“Thanks,” she smiled and nodded, “It’s a fitnesss blog. I’m currently training for my third full marathon and I’ve always enjoyed writing. I feel now I have some experience and knowledge to share with the young adult fitness niche.”

“Sounds great.”

“So, what do you write?”

I smiled, “Words.”

Not amused, she pressed, “Seriously, what do you write? What’s your niche?”

Niche is a popular word in the modern writing community.  Niche is your area of specialization–fitness, parenting, politics, education, drunken knittting.

The internet affords anyone the ability to start a blog and write on absolutely any subject. And any modern writing tutorial will explain the importance of having a clearly defined niche–especially in the hyper-competive internet age. 

Write well about a specific subject, write well for a specific audience,and over time you’ll achieve success.

“I write stories. Mostly personal stories, about… well about a lot subjects.”

“How long have you been writing?”

“Everyday for two years. And I’ve published at least one story each week over that time.”

She took a sip of her Pinot Grigio, “Cool. So…what’s your niche?”

I hesitated, did a quick inventory of the everything I’ve written and said, “You know, I don’t know my niche. I guess…I guess, I’m lost.”

Over the past calendar year,  I have explored a variety of subjects. 

Below you will find 13 excerpts from stories I have written over the last year.

Each on a different niche, each furthering my lostness.

On Marriage

In the throes of life, when life is not romantic as hell, the health of a marriage hinges on those little, private moments that you create for one another.

It’s in those moments where you reconnect, rediscover each other all over again.

(From: How to Save a Marriage, published March 2, 2018)

On Love

A chronically sick man (me) whose hands are shaking, whose body aches, whose teetering on the edge of self-destruction is sitting beside his wife in a Las Vegas ballroom. They’re high school sweethearts. They have three children together. But seven months ago things suddenly got harder.

And yet she still takes notes.

As the professor speaks and the damaged brain that holds the screen looms like a thundercloud over the room with her free hand, she reaches across the table to hold his hand, to ease him, to feel his pain.

(From: Taking Notes: A Love Story, Published on February 16, 2018)

September, 2017

On Masculinity

Young men, like the gods we dress ourselves up to be, often believe we are the sole creators of our success and happiness. So we distance ourselves from others.

We forge fantasies.

We mask our unhappiness and insecurity with false bravado and empty dreams. We puff out our chest, turn our hat backwards and pretend we’re in control of our life and that fate is just a motif found in ancient Greek theater.

(From: The Love Story That Almost Never Happened, published on February 23, 2018)

On Courage

“Do you have any advice on how to cross a threshold?”

“Crossing a threshold is often mental. The initial fear of just transitioning from one place to the next often prevents us from progression. But when you find the nerve to finally cross, you realize there was nothing to fear at all. ”

I stood up, shook his hand, said I was looking forward to seeing him in six months. He smiled, spun away, opened the door and disappeared.

I slipped on my coat and strode through the threshold, from the examination room into the hall and back into life.

A life born of thresholds, waiting patiently for us to simply brave up and cross.

(From: How to Cross a Threshold, published on March 16, 2018)

On Writing

Writing is a contradictory experience.

Writing is more about the reader then the writer. Yet the fate of the relationship is solely the writer’s responsibility. The writer has to sacrifice and bleed and refuse compression for the relationship to work.

There were times in 2017 I didn’t bleed for you. Sometimes I winced. I wrote for clicks and likes and shares. I wrote easy. I was a glory whore.

In 2018 I resolve to do a better job writing for myself. I need to write hard. I need to bleed for me. Not for recognition. And not for you.

This is not to shut you out.

I need to be more selfish, more self-examining to engage you on a more honest, more visceral level.

In 2018 I promise to work on me so that we can work on us.

Together I hope we find better ways to appreciate our lives, to tell our stories so when the time is right–we may find our way back to each other.

(From: She Doesn’t Read Your Blog Anymore: The Most Important Lesson I Learned in 2017, published on December 29, 2017)

May, 2017

On Education in America

These are hard moments.

Every time I learn about another school shooting I recoil and shake my head as if to say this is sad. This is so fucking sad.

What happened to the great American school experience that so many of us knew and enjoyed?

The one where you went to school and lived. The one where you pledge allegiance to a flag that you believed would protect you.

With all these dead children in the news, sometimes I feel guilty thinking about my daughter sitting at her desk, alive.

(From:The Great American School Experience: Hide in the Closet, Stay Quiet, and Hope Not To Die, published on March 23, 2018)

Original artwork by Haley Armstrong

On Health

A chronic illness unnerves you.

For years I endured moral freezes. I couldn’t think, decide. I couldn’t, as my old soccer coach would bark, “get my shit together.”

Like a high stakes game of hide-and-go-seek, success in life is often predicated on our curiosity, our desire to seek until we find what we are looking for.

But what happens when you’re sick and short on energy? What happens  after years of blood tests, biopsies, scans and observations experts still shrug and admit they don’t know?

What happens when you simply can’t find what you’re looking for?

(From: Accepting Uncertainty: The Most Important Question a Chronic Illness Patient Can Ask, Published on January 12, 2018)

On Work

Work is a tricky thing.

Immersing yourself in work for only a paycheck is a soul-sucking existence. Working for personal fulfillment is righteous but doesn’t pay the electric bill.

Maybe, if we look hard enough, we find work that fills a previous void.

(From: Let’s Take A Look At My 11th Grade Report Card, published on October 13, 2017)

On Change

Intuition does not get easier with age.

Self-reliance comes with a real cost.

And a fear of judgement lingers long after high school.

I can only hope that you find the courage to trust yourself, to take the risk to be heard.

You’re impressionable–miles away from figuring out who you are and yet you’re about to change in immense and unknown ways.

Change for yourself and what you believe is right for you.

Trust your change.

(From: Trust Your Change: A Commencement Address, published on June 22, 2017) 

June, 2017

On Being 19

When you’re 19, life gets complicated.

Choices become harder, they have more gravity and greater consequence. Time is suddenly finite. Reality is tangible. You realize you need to do something with your life. And as sad as it is, you realize your on the verge of comprising your dreams to appease the status quo.

(From: A Moment With Tom Petty, published on October 5, 2017)

On Redefining Yourself

Redefining yourself is not easy. It’s scary.

You’re not a kid but you fear judgement and criticism the way you did in high school. And sometimes redefining yourself becomes dangerous work. Drugs, alcohol and other destructive habits become your new definitions.

But I’ve learned that if you redefine yourself positively and purposefully you can tap new potentials.

When you write your new definitions you find new ways to in be strong and empowered and your life is suddenly swirling with exciting possibilities. You discover new energies. New angles. You begin to realize your potential.

(From: The Scary Work of Redefining Yourself, published November 3, 2017)

On Fatherhood

It’s become clear, fatherhood is not about meddling or interjecting or inflicting my will on you 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 9 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 9 years ago. A dad to remain vigilance and focus.

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.

(From Defining Fatherhood: A Letter to My Daughter on Her 9th Birthday, published on April 14, 2017)

April, 2017

On Happiness

Happiness and gratitude are a package deal.

You can’t be happy and ungrateful at the same time. Show gratitude and you’ll find happiness.

Chase (my 7 year old son )and Deb (my friend with ALS) confirmed what I already knew, what most of us know — that relationships are the fruits of happiness. A 7 year old boy, a dying woman cemented such truth — we are fragile and finite but in relationships we find strength, we experience forever.

Why is such simplicity so hard to understand? Why do we foolishly think that one more material possession will sprout the happiness we so desperately desire?

And so if growing up is a just matter of perspective, it’s curious to think that we’ll spend so much pain, energy and money trying to realize what we knew all along.

Because real, lasting happiness requires you to do uncomfortable things. Let go. Give up. Be honest. Move on. Admit flaws. Admit mistakes. Accept judgment.

(From: What My 7 Year Old Son and A Friend With A Terminal Illness Said About Happiness, published on December 8, 2017)

October, 2017

~~~

“It was nice meeting you,” the young woman smiled, moved to the bar, poured another Pinot Grigio and struck up a conversation with a young woman holding a plate of pita chips.

I don’t have a niche.

I’m not a blogger. I’m not concerned with SEO or affiliate links or popular trends. I’m not here to tell you about 5 easy ways to find romance or 3 foods you must eat before lunch or how to survive a nuclear apocalypse.

And I’m not a fiction writer either. I do not have the patience and imagination to create new worlds for invented characters to get drunk in, have sex in, slay dragons, rob banks, bypass time, build robots, dismantle bombs, dismantle children, befriend tigers and on one fateful afternoon, get shot and tumble into lifelessly into a swimming pool.

I’m 38 now– eight years too old to lie to myself.

I’m lost. I don’t have a niche.

All I have are my experiences, my voice, my conviction to write as truthfully as I can and a growing desire to be found.

Be well,

Jay

Defining Fatherhood: A Letter to My Daughter on Her 9th Birthday

Dear Haley,

It’s incredible. It really is.

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

Surprisingly, 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.

As the engine hummed, 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. I was your dad. And on that day, my soul 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.

Things Change, Things Remain the Same

Haley, somehow you’re 9 years old.

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

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. This may sound strange, but sometimes you’re a familiar mystery. Sometimes I don’t know what to do with you.

You’ve change so much, so fast, that 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 10th 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 meet your challenges with a patience, honesty and humility.

It’s become clear, fatherhood is not about meddling or interjecting or inflicting my will on you 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 9 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 9 years ago. A dad to remain vigilance and focus.

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!

Love,

Dad

37 Thoughts I Had About Life This Past Year

 

I turn 37 this week.

To my surprise, I don’t mind getting older. Seriously.

I would much rather be 37 then 27. Sure 10 years ago I was a few pounds lighter and strapped with a few less responsibilities but at 37, I feel like I’m finally starting to really learn some things.

I finally have enough maturity to admit my weaknesses and I’m finally have the courage to ask myself difficult questions. Questions I refused to ask 10 years ago.

(*Please note– I’m 37 and carry a Spiderman lunchbox to work everyday, so please take all of this “maturity” stuff with a grain of salt).

But seriously, I’ve recently come to learn, that I have so much more to learn.

For the past calendar year,  I have explored a variety of subjects on this blog. My weekly writing practice has reinvigorated my love of learning, my desire to explore new ideas and thoughts and questions.

Below you will find a collection of 37 thoughts I had over the last year. Some thoughts materialized into a blog post. Others remain handwritten scribbles in my notebook while others simply linger on my Twitter feed waiting to be retweeted.

Either way, here are 37 thoughts I wouldn’t have had the insight or perspective to have 10 years ago.

1. The easiest way to ruin your life is to allow other people’s opinions of you become your reality. (The Easiest Way to Ruin Your Life)

2. Listening is the best way to honor any relationship. (5 Simple Things My Life has Taught Me)

3. The real key to parenting is knowing when to get the hell out of your child’s way. (The Awkward Dance of Parenting)

4. Soulless work will kill you. The trick is to find work you would happily do in the last hours of your life.

5. If you choose to evaluate yourself justly you’ll find flaws, but you’ll also find all the motivation you’ll ever need.

6. When mothers ask their sons to do something it’s a chore. When fathers ask their sons to do something it’s a challenge.

7. Life is a beautiful mess. If you spend your days trying to make sense of it you will miss an awful lot.

8. When your doubts become truths you’re destined for mediocrity.

9. Life is daring me not to write. That’s why I treat every writing session like a snarling act of defiance. (What I Learned from My Year of Writing)

10. I can only equate that living your ideal life in the privacy of your mind instead of living it out loud is equivalent to hell on earth.

11. Your character is either strengthened or weakened the moment your plan is compromised.

12. One of the most honest moments in a person’s life is when they realize their potential talent just became wasted talent.

13. If you find the courage to entertain uncertainty you will find the courage to change.

14. It’s not where you are but who you are that matters.

15. Hope without action is a meaningless exercise. (What I Learned from My Year of Writing)

16. True happiness only occurs when you have the courage to put others needs above your own.

17. We can say we understand another’s pain but no matter how accurately we articulate, our words fall tragically short of what is swirling in our heart and head– further exposing the flawed nature of the human design. (To Robbinsville, New Jersey)

18. It takes a daily courage to roll up your sleeves and work through the unhappiness of your life. (The Only Way to Happiness)

19. We often forget we’re just animals in fancy clothes and funny hats. When we sense fear, our primal instincts kick in and we run. But as the smartest animal in the schoolyard, we know that avoiding fear will only compound fear. And we also know that those who avoid risks will spend their entire lives just dangling from the monkey bars. ( What I Learned from My Stand-Up Comedy Career)

20. Life becomes a lot less stressful and a lot more fun when you realize that everyone, yourself included, is a walking contradiction.

21.Children are champions of momentary living. I shudder to think of all the adult hours of happiness I’ve forfeited to the pills of anxiety, worry and regret. (Dad, What’s a Championship?)

22. The courage to question is often the only difference between good and great, between success and failure.

23. When I grow up I still want to see the world through childish eyes. (Bowling with God)

24. Because most of my pain (and probably your’s) is caused when we try, with all our human strength, to control the uncontrollable.

25. It takes more courage and less energy to say, “I don’t know” than pretend you do.

26. The moment you start complaining is the moment people stop listening.

27. Maybe you become an adult when you truly understand that your choices have consequences. (So When Do We Become Adults…?)

28. If we condition children to think they are entitled to victory and trophies every time they compete for something they will become uncoachable players, grade-grubbing students and disillusioned adults. (Winning and Losing in our Instant Oatmeal World)

29. Despite what you may think, your private disaster is not your end–it’s your turning point.

30. To avoid the eternal hells of complacency you must be courageous enough, everyday, to stoke the fires of passion.

31. Hang around long enough and you’ll learn that living is tough business. It’s a punch-you-in-the-gut, kick-you-in-the-teeth, steal-your-lunch-money, insult-your-momma, spit-on-your-grave kind of business. Yet there is so much for to be grateful for. (Why I Decided to Start a Gratitude Jar)

32. As parents, our fundamental job is to care for others. And even though it’s necessary and healthy and humbling to put others needs first I’ve learned that devoting time to yourself gives you more energy to devote yourself to others. It’s a beautiful reciprocal.(How I Avoided Parental Burnout the Summer)

33. It’s only when you fully accept your tragic, inevitable death that you begin to understand the purpose of your life. (5 Simple Things My Life Has Taught Me)

34. For some, a diploma is earned, for others it’s a reward for loitering.

35. When we let fear dictate our decisions we fail to make progress. We move in every direction except forward. When we let intuition navigate, when we have the courage to trust ourselves–we are guaranteed to move forward. (Standing at the Intersection of Fear and Intuition)

36. I never knew kindness could be a painkiller. (The Healing Power of Donuts)

37. Sometimes the best cure, for any aliment, is a pint of beer and an old friend eager to listen.

Be well,

Jay