What You Need To Know About Men Who Have A Chronic Illness And The Shame They Feel  

The following post is part of the The January Project: Chronic Illness. A month long project where I research and write about chronic illness.  The information presented in this project is intended for educational purposes only. My hope is to increase awareness to help those living with chronic illness and to offer clarification to anyone who knows a person living with chronic illness.


They were tough. They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing–these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight. They carried shameful memories. They carried the common secret of cowardice barely restrained, the instinct to run or freeze or hide, and in many respects this was the heaviest burden of all, for it could never be put down, it required perfect balance and perfect posture. They carried their reputations.

— Tim O’Brien The Things They Carried

No one prepared me for the shame that came with a chronic illness diagnosis.

In the initial doctor appointments, after I was diagnosed with cerebellar atrophy, I was offered pamphlets on healthy eating, effective communicating with your spouse and the importance on scheduling and keeping doctor appointments.

But no doctor leveled their eyes into mine and explained that along with the physical ailments of my illness I was going to feel shame. Heavy coats of shame that weigh me down, make it hard to move, hard to breath.

No doctor warned me about the shame I feel every time my children ask me to ride bikes with them or my friends invite me to play basketball or the light bulb burns out in the hallway and I have to ask my wife to climb a ladder and to change it.

Somehow the male ego has skirted 200,000 years of evolution.

Both ancient and modern males fear weakness and dread failure. They crave strength and victory. They pride themselves on being a provider and protector.

Modern men avoid doctors appointments and hospitals and undersell pain (except when we have the flu). We don’t admit when something is wrong or even acknowledge something that may be perceived as weak. When something bothers us we often emotionally recoil. We become distant.

Men we would rather be labeled a loner then a loser.

Because men define themselves by their ability to do impressive things. Things that require strength and stamina. We are independent, prideful forces who find and polish important hunks of our identity from our ability to do physical things: run, jump, climb, protect, carry and build.

So when we are suddenly dependent, when we lose our physical abilities, our capacity to do impressive things– we lose ourselves.

For 33 years I defined myself by the games I played. I was an athlete.

Here I am with a close shave (and a broken arm) playing against Arcadia University (October, 1999).

As a child and through my teen years I played soccer, baseball and basketball. In college I played varsity soccer. Throughout my 20s and into my 30s I coached high school soccer and played third base on a competitive softball team.

Then I got sick.

I was unceremoniously forced into retirement.

I was patient now.

A weak and wounded patient.

Normalizing: A Crucial Step.

Research has shown that “normalizing” is a crucial step for anyone, especially prideful males, living with a chronic illness.

Normalizing means a willingness to adapt to a new life of chronic illness. It’s having the integrity to be more resourceful and find or invent ways to minimize the impact the chronic illness has on daily life. It also requires letting go of the past, letting go of dreams and aspirations  and placing a greater value on the present.

However, when a patient refuses to normalize their illness by hiding their limitations, a patient may cause additional physical damage as well as deepen their shame.

When ill people normalize symptom control and regimen, they increase their capacities and maintain normal health.

Theoretically, normalizing is a logical step for a chronically ill patient — refusing to let a chronic illness control your life, forge your identity.

I learned that normalizing can take years of accepting before conceding. For me, normalizing meant my chronic illness had won. It meant I was a loser.


A side note: The difference between shame & guilt

When I began this research, I was interchanging shame and guilt.

Though shame and guilt are close cousins, there is a distinct difference between the two.

According to Dr. Brene’ Brown:

Shame is a focus on self. Guilt is focused on behavior. Shame is “I’m bad.” Guilt is “I did something bad.”

With some digging men can admit guilt. But shame is much deeper. Shame is buried. Shame needs an excavator.

Men are not immune to shame.

We often just hide it better than women.


I still wrestle with shame.

It’s been five years since my initial diagnosis and I am still trying to  normalize.

And I know I shouldn’t be ashamed of my illness but some days I am.

I am a husband and a father. The leader. The patriarch. I am suppose to be physically strong. My family expects me to be strong. You expect me to be strong.

But some days I’m not.

Let me be clear– this was a really hard piece for me to write.

I’m prideful. I’m concerned about my reputation. I’m worried about what you will say about me when I’m not around and if it will be awkward the next time we see each other.

And yet I know if I do not announce my shame I will continue to struggle to normalizing my chronic illness.

I want you to know I have never talked to anyone before about shame.

Ever.

Shame has never been a hot subject between hands at a poker game or between bench press sets at the gym.

(In fact while writing this, I kept thinking about what the guys in my fantasy football league would think and say. How much ribbing I would take at the post season banquet.)

It’s much easier for men to silently struggle with shame.

So we do. We build facades, we deploy smokescreens. We lie to you. We lie to ourselves. And we do the thing we’ve been trained to scorn the harshest–we hide.

According to Dr. Brene’ Brown, shame is highly attributed to addiction, depression, violence, and suicide.

I personally know men, seemingly strong men, who have fallen victim to all of those dangerous behaviors.

And I know if I didn’t create Write on Fight on and share my story with you, I would have fallen victim myself.


Here are some resources if you want to learn more about shame…

I highly recommend watching Dr. Brene’ Brown’s Ted Talk “Listening to Shame”. The 20 minute talk offers tremendous insight on how damaging shame can be. I personally enjoyed the last 5 minutes where Dr. Brown  discussed how shame affects each gender differently. Also, this video  provided me some much needed motivation when I was afraid to write this piece.

The Handbook of Social Studies in Health and Medicine– It’s a bit technical but provided interesting research on experiencing chronic illness. You can find many excerpts of the book on “Google Scholar.” I found Kathy Charmaz’s Experiencing Chronic Illness (2.6) really helpful with my research. 

Shame is Why We Fight— Published on thegoodmanproject.com, this article explores how and why male shame is often the root of tension in a marriage, and if not addressed, can quickly deteriorate a marriage.


Related Original Writings on Masculinity, Shame and Chronic Illness:

The Scary Work of Redefining Yourself (Originally published on November 3rd, 2017)

The Day I Learned I Could No Longer Jump ( or Learning to Fly) (Originally published on October 26, 2016)

A Vulnerable Man 


An excerpt from “The Wink”

Below is an excerpt from a story I wrote three years ago called “The Wink”. The story, set in 1994, recounts a championship baseball game I played in and serves as a tribute to my father. He turns 63 this week. 


…At the height of the evening’s drama, dad looked down the first base line and into my soul. The sun sank behind the tree line. Crickets hummed. Fingers crossed. All those eyes locked on me– the players, the crowd, the entire cast of 90210. A swirl of voices screaming at me “C’mon Jay” and “You ain’t nothing”.

I felt myself collapsing under the weight of my own adolescences. Failing at 14, on this stage, would be cataclysmic and undoubtedly afford my parents years of monthly psychiatrist co-pays.

Dad knelt and ran his hand across the points of grass. Then, as subtle as the advent of the moon and as natural as the setting sun he winked at me.

I climbed back into the batter’s box, choked up on the bat and shortened my stance. Just like dad had taught.

The pitcher reared back.

The ball tinkled off the bat and rolled toward the dead space between the pitcher’s mound and first base.

I dropped the bat and tore down the first base line. The first baseman retreated to the base. The pitcher leaped off the mound.

Dad was still kneeling. The sun at his back. Helplessly watching his son struggle in a world full of giants.

“Safe!”

The evening sky erupted in a collective burst of cheers and moans.

Dad moved in behind me and put his hand on the small of my back and calmly said, “Check your signs.”

I looked across the infield. The Pirate (our 3rd base coach) ran his right hand down his left sleeve.

Steal.

On the next pitch I took off for second.

“Safe!”

On the next pitch the best hitter on our team, Brian, a 7th grader who had hit puberty long before I did, ripped the next pitch out to right-center.

I sprinted toward third. The Pirate hopping up and down waving me home.

~~

Things were quiet in the car.

Every so often dad and I would look at each other and smile. Still speaking in signals.

As we rounded the corner and headed home I asked,

“Dad, why did you wink at me?”

I felt the weight of the championship trophy in my hands. The sky shifted into deep purple. Single suburban houses with yellow porch lights flicked by.

Dad looked across the car and said, “Because I believe in you.”

We slid into the driveway. Safe from the scrutiny of the world. Dad and I sat sharing the silence. Smiling at life.

Dad cut the engine. I looked up at him. His eyes moved toward mine.

“Thanks Dad.”

And then somehow it becomes 2014.

There were many nights when I convinced myself Write on Fight on would never happen. When I would fall into myself and teeter on the edge of failure.

When I thought it would not be worth the work. When my kids pined for attention or when I couldn’t muster the energy to find a single word that satisfied me. When the blank Word document was as menacing as a strapping pitcher with facial hair and a propensity for destroying twerps like me.

Sometimes I failed. Sometimes I didn’t swing.

Then sometimes I see a baby-faced 14 year old boy in baggy blue baseball pants standing in the on-deck circle. His head rattling in an oversized helmet. Scared out of his skull. Scared of everything. And I see my father- a young man, strong and proud. He genuflects in the sweet green grass with the sun behind him and he winks at me and admires me the way fathers secretly admire their sons.

Then the pitch comes.

And I’m scared.

But I swing.

Every time.

What My Stand-Up Comedy “Career” Taught Me about Fear

microphone-1261793_960_720

It’s 2005 and I’m sitting at the kitchen table leafing through The Philadelphia Inquirer. Mom is at the stove whipping eggs. The coffee percolates and the TV weather man urges us to keep the umbrellas handy.

Mom whirls around, offers me a plate of bacon and eggs and tussles my hair. I’m 25 and in a few weeks Cindy and I make settlement on a little house to start our little lives together.

It’s a scary and exciting season in my life. And as seasons go, you never understand their significance until many seasons have passed. Until you realize that your past experiences were preparing you to deal with future problems.

As I eat my eggs, my eyes find an advertisement in the paper for an amateur stand-up comedy contest for teachers sponsor by Chuckles Comedy Club. The contest boasts a $1000 grand prize and the honor of being crown “Philadelphia’s Funniest Teacher.”

It happens to all of us–when the gleam of a possibility arrives we’re electrified by the “What if…?”. Our heart quickens, our speech is fast and light and our imagination is seduced by the promise of grandiose achievements.

I see my name in big black letters stamped on a glowing theater marquee. Jay-Z is standing behind a microphone. He calls my name and “Big Pimpin” breaks over the speakers that causes a thunderous cacophony of applause and screams and women faint and men nod in respect and admiration as I saunter across the glossy stage. There are fireworks and acrobats. Beyonce is there.  I’m standing behind a microphone basking under a solitary stage light. My jokes inspire walls of riotous laughter that roll in like waves. I smile, my eyes glint in the spotlight and as I slide my hand in pocket I realize that I’m the envy of everyone in the room.

I snap open my flip phone (remember it’s 2005) and dial but before I punch in the last number something happens. Something always happens in the moments before you leap, before you dive into an unknown world.

“What if I fail?”

My heart quickens.

“What if no one laughs?”

A nervousness flutters in my stomach.

“What if I’m booed off stage like B Rabbit the first time he’s at The Shelter?”

I see the black letters of my name melting like wax on the marquee. I’m on a glossy stage, behind a microphone, under a column of light. My eyes are wide, darting. I open my mouth but nothing comes out. I’m sweating and shifting my weight and there’s silence. A hard, loud silence that you feel more then hear. I look to my right and Jay -Z storms toward me, stops and pegs me in the ear with Beyonce’s sparkled stiletto. The spotlight clicks off and I’m alone on stage, cupping the side of my head, drowning in silent darkness of my failure.

I’m looking at the incomplete phone number and I feel the Four Horsemen of Failure: Concern, Doubt, Distrust, and  Fear charging hard towards me.

I tighten my lips, snap close the phone, finish my eggs and convince myself it was a dumb idea and I would’ve failed miserably and I’m better off not risking the embarrassment.

For the next few days, between eating eggs and packing boxes I was gnawed by the familiar “What if..?” paradigm.

“Don’t be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.”– Ralph Waldo Emerson

And then, hours before the sign-up deadline, in a fit of either insanity or brilliance, I simply thought, “Fuck it. Even if I fail, mom will still make me eggs and Cindy will (hopefully) still marry me.”

This time, I snapped open my phone with confidence, punched in all seven numbers, left a message and a few hours later, a gruff voice called me and told me I was to report to Timothy’s Bar and Grill in West Chester, Pennsylvania next Saturday at 8 pm and that I would be the first comedian of the night.  Gruff voice explained that the contest was a single elimination, three round contest. The best comedian advancing each week until the final round.

Shit.

My stomach bottomed out. A streak of hot panic blazed up my chest.

For the next few days I jousted with the Horsemen. I wrote jokes, erased jokes, and threw out jokes. I watched hours of stand-up which only ballooned my self-doubt. I listened intently to the cackles of my inner critic. I entertained the idea of not showing up. Calling it off. Running away to Mexico. And I was convincing myself I was going to fail and that this simply wasn’t worth the effort or the embarrassment.

Days before the show all I had was a trashcan full of unfunny quips about relationships, politics, drive-thru windows and old people.

I’m 25 but look like I’m 18. In fact, as a teacher I was often mistaken as a student by both teachers and students. So I thought if I filleted my insecurities, if I had the courage to make fun of myself that people may laugh, at me or with me, either way I didn’t care.

FullSizeRender
Just a couple of kids. No this is not our Sophomore Spring Mixer, this is our wedding rehearsal dinner. June 24, 2005. Apparently, I’m 25 years old.

So I committed to writing a 3 minute set about my insecurities.

My boyish looks, my fear of Victoria’s Secret and my pubic hair.

I felt that if I had the audacity to talk about the most private of things  in public I had a good chance on winning or at least earn the “Effort Award.”

But then the strangest thing happened– my self-deprecating jokes were not only good enough to win the first round, I road them all the way to the final where (triumphant trumpet sound) I was but crowned “Philadelphia’s  Funniest Teacher.”

FullSizeRender (1)
Comedy Gold! While writing this post I found some of my material. And yes bottom left is my ultrasound, the centerpiece of my gut-busting, mic- dropping finale.

I spent the next few months doing open mic nights, earning a little stage time, bombing some nights, killing others but ultimately I decided to hang up the microphone.

12 years later, when I hear the galloping Horsemen I return to the lessons learned that season. I’m reminded that despite my initial fear I didn’t die.

Of course, I didn’t know it at the time but my experience with stand-up comedy was laying the foundation for what I attempt do every week on this blog (without the 2 drink minimum). I attempt to tell my story truthfully, unadorned to entertain anyone who’s awesome enough to stop by and listen.

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.

Be well,

Jay

2016 — A Year in Review: Questioning, Writing, Wearing the Ugliest Sweater I’ve Ever Seen and Celebrating the Only First Date I Would Ever Need

For me, it wasn’t long ago that the end of the year meant partying like a rock star deep into the suburban night followed by long, lazy stretches on the couch, burning afternoons away and watching an endless string of romantic comedies on TBS.

But now, I’m proud to announce I’m a responsible adult (of sorts). And though I still like a good party ( and a good rom-com), the end of the year serves as a better time for reflection instead of hangovers.( Plus, dading and hangovers don’t mix.)

On a national and global scale, 2016 was pretty awful. A year spiked with terrorism, racial tensions, celebrity deaths, political tomfoolery left us in a state of disillusionment and wondering if that REM song from the 80’s was about to be right ( Is this the end of the world as we know it? And do we feel fine?) Yet from a writing perspective, this much maligned year offered a wealth of material.

unnamed
Look at me wearing my finest shirt and pretending to be lost in a deep writer’s thought.

Though a terrible year for humanity (and I feel kind of douchy saying this), 2016 was my best year as a writer. In fact in 2016, I actually began announcing myself as a (dramatic throat clear) writer as I wrote and published 78 blog posts and WoFo had over 11,000 visitors and over 27,000 page views

But here’s something–the writer’s life is not as sexy as I thought it would be. It’s a hard life. A daily grind. One that requires much sacrifice. Early mornings, late nights and the will power to turn off the TV ( goodbye rom-coms). And most of what I write you’ll never see. Why? Because it stinks. Because most 500 word blog posts begin as 1,700 word scrabbles of run-ons, tangents and general old-man-in-a-bathrobe incoherence that I must work and shape and polish before it meets your eyes

I also learned that to uncover good, authentic material, a writer must be willing to probe themselves with questions. A writer must have the nerve (and maybe a slice of schizophrenia) to constantly interview themselves.

And asking questions is something adults simply don’t do naturally well.

My children ask questions ALL THE TIME. Questions do not intimidate them (neither does timeout or the threat of sending all their Christmas gifts back to the North Pole).

But adults, well, we fear questions. We fear the vulnerability and shame that comes with not knowing.

But if my writing in 2016 has taught me anything it’s that questions are more important than answers. That answers are finite. They are subjected to limitations. Hard, unbounded questions spark creativity and fuel the relentless pursuit of passion, of truth.

So with that,  I thought it would be fitting, in this year-end post, to conduct a little Q&A with myself.

What were the things I was most proud of in 2016?

pic1
Write- a- Thon December 9, 2016. Left to Right:Benny, CJ, Jarrod and Me.
writeathon
Michelle and Shameek participated in the May 2016 Write-a-Thon. Their story submissions awarded them each The Write on Fight on Scholarship Award of $500.
  • Having the courage to wear matching ugly sweaters with my wife.
cin
Yep, that’s a gingerbread man sporting a beard and holding a chalice.

What were some things I lost sleep over in 2016 but now can laugh at?

pic2
Haley, Dylan, Daddy and Chase receiving my Teacher of the Year award. Thankfully, my children were not on hand when I received a chilly evaluation from my supervisor.

What are some things I need ( and want to) work on in 2017?

  • Exhibiting daily gratitude.
  • Avoid the seduction of the smart phone when I’m in the company of real, living people.
  • Laughing more.
  • Exercising daily.

What were some of my favorite reads of 2016?

Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss– a massive text packed full of insights, wisdom and strategies from highly successful people. This is more of a resource then a natural read. However, it’s an awesome book to have at your disposal when you’re in need of some guidance.

The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday– Reading one page from this book is now part of my morning routine. Each page offers a stoic thought for the given calendar date.  The reading is simple, quick but the ideas are deep and stimulating and linger with you throughout your day.

Home is Fucking Burning by Dan Marshall– I picked this book up in bookstore on a whim. I read the first chapter standing in the aisle. Midway through the first chapter I was LOLing. By the end of the same chapter I was fighting tears. This nonfiction narrative about a son’s efforts to care for his dying father. It is funny and heart-wrenching and chuck full of obscenity ( hence the title).

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen– Ok, of course I’m biased. In 2016 I wrote 3 posts about the Boss, was featured on Blogness on the Edge of Town (the foremost Bruce blog on the internet) and was a 3 time guest on the Set Lust Bruce podcast. Nevertheless, Springsteen’s autobiography is an exceptional read. His musical lyricism bleeds into his prose as Bruce covers all aspect of his life. From growing up in the blue collar town of Freehold, New Jersey  to his fractured relationship with his father to juggling fame and family life, Born to Run offers an intimate look into the life of one of rock’s greatest legends.

pic3
Here’s how I celebrated September 23rd.

Linchpin by Seth Godin– I was turned on to Seth Godin and his blog in 2016. Seth writes mainly about how to run and manage a successful  business, yet his writings have a certain universal wisdom to them.  Like The Daily Stoic, Seth’s writings are short and simple yet packed with powerful, life-affirming ideas.

What were some of the important lessons I learned and wrote about in 2016?

basball
Chase and I at the Phillies game on April 30, 2016. A game in which Chase collected his first foul ball.

What new idea has got me all jazzed up for 2017?

I’ve never been a new years resolution guy. In fact,  I tend to chuckle at those fool-hearted souls who assume that by merely flipping a calendar their life will somehow magically improve.  But after some solid thought, I do want to make a resolution for 2017. And not a long winded resolution that I’ll most likely abandon by half time of the Superbowl but one that is simple and easy to remember. And because I want to parlay the progress I made in 2016.

So for 2017 my resolution will be to commit to just one word. A word that will provide my life with focus. A word that will proved perspective. A word I can rally around when I want to sink into the couch and watch The Bridget Jones Diaries.

My word for 2017 is ownership.

I chose ownership because I like its flexibility. It can be applied to all areas of my life. Writing, marriage, parenting, health, personal hygiene.

Furthermore, I’ve seen how many adults fail to accept ownership of their lives and become addictive excuse can be. I don’t want to become that kind of adult. I want to take ownership, for better or worse, of my life.

What is one goal you have for WoFo in 2017?

I want to hear from you (dear reader)!

I will admit, I’m still a novice at this blogging business. There are some days when I stare into my computer screen, feel a hot flame of panic rip up my chest and convince myself that I can’t write another post.  But after I calm myself down (usually over a bowl of cereal), take a walk, surf the interwebs for a few hours until I find something worthy to write about. Something I want to share with you.

But now it’s your turn. I would very much love to hear about your WoFo experience.

What did you particularly enjoy on WoFo in 2016?  Not enjoy?

Where and when did you find yourself reading the blog?

What would you like to see more of?

Feel free to leave on message on this post our to send me an email at writeonfighton@gmail.com

Any final words?

Writing about personal things on a public forum is scary business. When I started WoFo I took a leap of faith and had no idea where I was going to land.  I’m truly grateful for everyone who made the leap with me. Thank you for your support, for spending time with me and allowing my stories to find a place in your life.

I wish you and yours a healthy and fulfilling 2017.

Be well,

Jay

PS… 20 years ago, on December 30, 1996, I was lucky enough to score a date with Cindy.

She picked me up at my parents house in her light blue Grand Am. We went to the movies, saw Jerry McGuire, checked out a Christmas light show and found ourselves sitting nervously in my parents driveway playing with the radio dial, making small talk and afraid to make eye contact.

Now there is a great deal of things I’m unsure of, but I somehow knew in that eternal moment, with unflinching certainty, that I did not need to go on another first date for the rest of my life.  We were 16 then. We are 36 now. And even then I just knew.

A lot has happened in those 20 years. Too much to write in this post script but that first date 20 years ago changed my life, sealed my fate. A life, a fate I can only describe in one word…lucky.

j and cin

 

Why Fatherhood is Like Being an NFL Quarterback

My beloved Philadelphia Eagles trail their division rivals, the Washington Redskins by 5.

There’s 20 seconds on the clock.

The Eagles are 5-7, floundering in last place a highly competitive NFC East, with their playoff lives on life support.

Our quarterback, our white knight, Carson Wentz the strapping young lad from the North Dakota plains, who after 13 games this season appears to have all the tools–the strength, the speed, the football IQ, the moxie to deliver the starving Philadelphia fan base its first ever Superbowl title, takes the snap and drops back to pass.

19…18…

He looks right. Rolls left.

17…16…

Bodies clash, muscles strain as 70,000  fans roar like lions under the soft gray December sky.

The enemy pass rush presses forward clawing at the offensive line as our white knight stands bravely, squaring his shoulders, in the quickly collapsing pocket.

25 miles away and sensing victory, I rise up off the couch as Tostito crumbs tumble down my shirt.

Carson cocks his right arm back. Bodies fall all about him. He sees a receiver open in the flat. I see a receiver open in the flat. All of Philadelphia sees a receiver open in the flat.

In my living room I mimic our hero. I square my shoulders. I cock my right arm.

15…14…

Then, a mighty paw like the paw of God appears from nowhere and swings and swats the pigskin from Carson’s hand.

Carson falls under the collapse of white jerseys. The football waddles across the green grass like a lost duck.

25 miles away I’m pointing and screaming, “Get the ball! Get the ball!” as if I’m saddled between the Lincoln Financial Field hash marks, when a monstrous Redskin lineman rushes the duck. Pounces the duck. Swallows the duck.

The Redskins celebrate. The Eagles hang their collective heads.

The game is over. The Eagles playoff hopes flat-line.

I deflate back to the couch with my hands on my head as if covering from enemy fire.

To my left, Chase sits with his hands on his head.

To my right, Dylan is holds the same position.

Both of my boys are waiting for my next move.

And that’s when I began to realize that fatherhood is like being an NFL quarterback.

wentz

This season, Eagles fans slid Mr. Wentz under the proverbial  microscope. We dissected every pass. Every decision. We examined how he handled the pressure of being stalked by bloodthirsty linebackers. We scrutinized his press conferences. His poise when probed with tough questions. His willingness to shoulder blame.

We judged his ability on the field and his character off. We wanted to know if this quiet Midwestern boy was worthy of our faith.

What the entire Philadelphia fan base did to Carson Wentz this season is what children do to their fathers everyday. Our children study moves. They listen to the cadence of commands. They take mental notes on what we value and what we don’t. They scrutinize our interactions with the world. They take in how we treat people.

In his timeless interview with Bill Moyers, an interview that was ultimately turned into one of my favorite books, The Power of Myth, American scholar Joseph Campbell explained that since the beginning of man, children have always looked needed fathers to teach them how to engage the world.

Mothers give birth to a child’s nature and fathers give birth to their social character.– Joseph Campbell

I’ve seen how my children study my subtleties. My facial expressions and mannerism.  How I celebrate. How I handle defeat. And at the tender ages of 8, 6 and 3 my children are beginning to mimic my behaviors. Behaviors that are weaving the fabric of their little mythology.

Fatherhood, like quarterbacking, is a tough business. You’re going to get beat up. Lose confidence. Question everything you know.  You may even find yourself sitting in some darkened corner, ice packs on your joints, towel draped over your head, wondering if you were cut out for this business.

There are no moments more painful for a parent than those in which you contemplate your child’s perfect innocence of some imminent pain, misfortune, or sorrow. That innocence (like every kind of innocence children have) is rooted in their trust of you, one that you will shortly be obliged to betray.– Michael Chabon

It can downright terrifying to acknowledge how much influence dads have on their children. Yet as the dad, as the quarterback, we must accept our responsibility to lead and inspire. That’s what we were drafted to do.

Now, if we can correct our mistakes, survive our trials, if we can rise up after defeat– we can instill a belief, a spirit, a love in our familial fan base. A fan base that so desperately wants and needs a hero.

Be well,

Jay

Images from the Write-a-Thon and to Celebrate I Want to Buy You Coffee, a Book and Dress You Up in a Limited Edition WoFo T-shirt

WoFo’s semi-annual Write-a-Thon was held on Friday, December 9th.

me

In case you’re new to the blog, the Write-a-Thon is an event I host at the high school where I teach, that affords students the opportunity to cultivate creativity and flex their writing muscles in a relaxed, non-threatening, and (hopefully) inspiring environment.

w-2

w3Sometimes it’s hard for me as a teacher to believe that I was once a confused, angsty, insecure, acne fighting high school kid myself.

But I do remember, how in 9th grade I found interest in the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. I mean, I hated high school but I liked English class and I liked writing.

Amidst the plasticity of high school life, writing was one of the few things that felt real to me.

However, one day after my English teacher publicly praised me for a small narrative piece I wrote about an innocent Salem woman falsely accused of being a witch, some jerkhead in the corner of the classroom called me a faggot.

Why?

Because I could write? Because I did something well? Because that’s what 15 jerkheads do?

It sounds so silly, so juvenile now but jerkhead’s words stung deep.

So deep that for a long time I only wrote when instructed to. And when I did write, it was dispassionate drivel. I stopped reading Emerson and Thoreau. Told myself that those dead white guys didn’t know what they were talking about and redirected my time and energy  to being “cool”.  Whatever the definition of cool was in 1994.

As a teacher,  I know my students are more worried about being cool then discovering and strengthening their voice. I also know adulthood comes fast and hard and that before they reach their 35th birthday many of my students will become repressed, voiceless adults.

And I know from experience that the longer you suppress your voice the harder it will be to find it.

I want to thank everyone who has visited my website, shared the website and donated to the WoFo efforts. With your support I’m proud to announce that today we will be donating $500.00 to the Special Olympics of New Jersey!

w4

Your support has helped young writers discover and strengthen their voice today. And because of you, a nervous 9th grader just turn to the jerkhead in the back of the room and told him to shut the hell up.

Thank you!

But wait… there’s more!!!…

To quote the esteemed Mrs. Ellen Griswold, “It’s the holiday season and we’re all in misery!”

Yes Mrs. G, it is the most wonderful time of the year.  A time of freezing rain and traffic and hordes anger soccer moms willing to kill you for the last Hatchimal on the shelf.

So to extend the good will of the Write-a-Thon, and in an effort to remind us all to take a chill pill ( yes, that’s what the cool kids said in 1994)  and enjoy each other just a bit more this holiday season,  I’m sponsoring a little contest with a long name…

“The I Want to Buy You Coffee Because You’re Awesome Contest”.

Why coffee? Because as an avid coffee drink nothing unlocks the chains that fetter my fragile soul then an unsolicited cup of coffee.

coffee-386878__340
A little visual in case you weren’t sure what a cup of coffee looks like.

So here’s how it works…

  1. On your personal Facebook page upload a picture of you buying/offering someone other then yourself some coffee (coworkers, friends, family, strangers)
  2. Include a brief explanation on why you bought this person/people coffee
  3. Include #WoFoActs with your picture and explanation.

The contest deadline concludes on Friday, December 16 at 11:59 pm EST.

The picture that gets the most likes before the deadline will win an awesome Write on Fight on Prize Pack!

The WoFo PP (…it’s all about the acronyms baby!) includes a limited edition WoFo t-shirt, a book you desire ( you tell me what you’re in to.. with in reason please… and I will gift you a book on that subject), and of course, coffee.

So there, have a great weekend, don’t be a jerkhead, go buy someone coffee and unfetter their human soul.

Be well,

Jay

 

The four words that changed my life forever (or all the motivation you need right now)

For me, this whole writing business began when a doctor looked at an MRI of my brain, then at the floor, then hard into my eyes and said, “You should be dead.”

He then told me there was nothing he, or anyone could do for me.

“I’m sorry Mr. Armstrong, you should be dead.”

I remember leaving his office. I remember the long train ride home. I remember the watching the world shift its colors through the lens of a train window. I remember getting off the train, walking to a bar and over a pint of Guiness wondering if dying was going to hurt.

Three years later and everyday later, I remember those four words the doctor offered me on that warm September afternoon.

Everyday.

audience-868074_960_720And three years later, I consider myself lucky. Not because I’m alive but because I was told with unflinching certainty that I should be dead. Something I think we should all hear once in awhile.

Between the car crashes and plane crashes. Between cancer and icy staircases and the stray bullets and stray dogs. Between anthrax and heroin and terrorist and earthquakes and forest fires and black mold and meteors and whole grapes– you should be dead too.

But alas, we’re not.

Sure, maybe we’re a confused and downtrodden and disenfranchised and ultimately tragic bunch but we’re alive.

And that should be all the motivation you need right now.

Be well,

Jay