Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Lessons of ‘Breaking Bad’

Walter White from AMC's Breaking Bad. Bon voyage, awesome show. Thanks for the lessons.

Walter White from AMC’s Breaking Bad. Bon voyage, awesome show. Thanks for the lessons.

Author’s Note:

  1. There are no spoilers in this post.
  2. I know everyone’s talking about this show and annoying all of you who don’t care. I’m sorry. But it’s just that good.

Breaking Bad is the best television show with commercials that has ever been.

I say “with commercials” because HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax do amazing things with their original programming.

I’m new to the show. I didn’t start watching it until after my ex-wife moved out this past April.

So, I consumed all five seasons within the past five months via Netflix and watched the final eight episodes on my DVR culminating with last night’s outstanding series finale.

Perhaps it’s the timing of everything going on in my life combined with when I watched Breaking Bad. But to my memory, no show has ever made me as contemplative and introspective as this one has.

What Is Breaking Bad?

The main character in Breaking Bad is a man named Walter White.

When we are first introduced to him, he is a high school chemistry teacher.

He’s a husband. A father to a teenager with cerebral palsy. There’s a baby on the way.

Walt is a bit nerdy. A bit socially awkward. But smart. Liked by his peers and family, but maybe not respected by them.

A company he helped create but is no longer part of has grown into a multi-billion-dollar enterprise.

It eats at him because Walt makes a subpar high school teacher’s salary. And he works a second job at a local car wash.

We learn right away that Walt has been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, and that he may not live long.

He worries about how his family will survive financially once he’s dead.

Walt’s brother-in-law works for the DEA—the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Because of that relationship, Walt learns how much money there is to be made in the drug business. Walt decides to partner with a former high school student of his—a known small-time drug-dealer—to cook crystal methamphetamine to save up a decent nest egg to leave to his family after his death.

Because Walter is a brilliant chemist, what he creates is the crème de la crème of crystal meth.

It’s in high demand. From users. And from dealers, big and small.

And that’s when the money starts to roll in.

Walt gets a taste of unlimited money. Almost easy money. But now he has a new thing to protect. Riches.

Walt gets a taste of greatness. What it feels like to master something. But there’s always a bigger fish. A threat.

Walt gets a taste of power. But when you’re powerful, you become a target. And so does your family.

The meek, nerdy, dying, down-on-his luck underdog is easy to root for.

Then, slowly, one little incident at a time, Walt loses a little bit of his soul. He must protect his secrets, his money, his family and himself.

In order to do so, he must do bad things. Very bad things.

And it’s up to us to decide how we feel about those choices.

And it’s up to us to decide what lessons can be gleaned from the powerful story.

The Lessons

1. There are no shortcuts to success

Cheating has consequences. Dire ones.

But I’m not sure that’s more important than the notion that success requires sacrifice. It requires going the long way. It requires a daily commitment to excellence. It requires making choices that are both positive and wise.

You’re not going to get rich quick.

You’re not going to ace your college final without knowing the material.

You’re not going to win a gold medal without enormous work and sacrifice.

You’re not going to get promoted without displaying a long-term commitment to excellence.

You’re not going to get physically fit—or more importantly, stay physically fit—without that same effort.

You’re not going to have an unbreakable relationship with your partner without investing emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually in them.

You’re not going to have an amazing relationship with your children without demonstrating unconditional love and earning trust and respect through daily sacrifice.

I didn’t need to watch Breaking Bad to recognize this truth. But the show did an excellent job of reinforcing it.

Take the long way. The slow way. The hard way. The challenging way. The sustainable way.

Please.

Make a commitment to positively changing your life in some way, big or small. Don’t look for the shortcut. Just do a little research on the best way to accomplish your goal.

Maybe it’s losing weight.

Maybe it’s building stamina to run a marathon.

Maybe it’s learning a new language.

Maybe it’s fixing a broken relationship.

Nobody said it was easy. They just said it was worth it.

2. Everything in life is a tradeoff

In the end, what do we care about most?

Money?

Sex?

Love?

Houses?

Cars?

Power?

Fame?

Freedom?

I don’t like to talk about “feelings” too much. They betray us. Often. But I submit that HAPPINESS is really what we’re all after. That amazing feeling when things are just going right. When you feel on top of the world with hardly a care at all.

Will money make you happy?

Will sex? A better job? Fame and recognition?

What if you have your dream job (which might not actually be a “job”), your dream house, $100 million in the bank, and the daily freedom to do as you please with whomever you please? Are you happy then?

What if you have all that, but you find out you’re going to die in two weeks? Or two months? Or even two years?

Are you still happy then?

Walt had a nice family. Everyone loved each other and really came together to rally on his behalf once he was diagnosed with cancer.

As he morphed into a new kind of man throughout the course of Breaking Bad, he gained the money and power he craved. But he lost many other things.

It’s the eternal tradeoff.

And it always exists.

Your bigger house is going to be great. But your house payment and property taxes increased, you have more lawn to mow, you have more rooms to clean and you’re at a heightened risk for burglary.

Your new job is going to be great. But you have way more responsibilities, your bosses will hold you accountable now for the results of your individual endeavors and the team projects you manage. Your hours will be longer and harder. Your free time, less. You’ll think about work more when you’re home. You’ll have to answer phone calls and emails on family vacations. You’ll have to tell your children you’re too busy to play right now.

There’s really no end to the examples.

Anytime you add some benefit to your life or make some major change, you also forfeit something else.

Every. Single. Time.

It’s worth thinking about those things.

And it’s worth asking the question: Will this thing I really want actually make me happier?

Sometimes it will! It’s a question worth asking. But it will never be without a cost of some kind.

3. Lies are poison

If you’re doing something you can’t tell people about, you’re poisoning yourself and all of your relationships.

I don’t believe there are many exceptions here.

If something you’re doing must live in the shadows, it’s probably not making your life better.

It might be making an aspect of your life seem better. This is what happens when we start using “feelings” to justify bad behavior.

How many times must we see examples on TV, in the news, in the lives of others and our own before we make a commitment to honesty?

This isn’t something we need to do for others. It’s something we must do for ourselves.

4. No one knows the future

Walt’s transformation takes place over a two-year period. No one could have predicted he’d become what he became.

I like who I am.

But there are things about my life I don’t like.

I want more money.

I want female companionship.

I want fewer time constraints to travel and pursue personal passions and interests.

What could the pursuit of those things do to me if I allow myself to be compromised? If I turn my back on my personal code of conduct?

Could I turn into someone I no longer recognize?

Could I lose myself?

Could I become a monster?

Yeah, maybe.

Unless I remain committed to honesty. And living in the light. And serving something greater than myself. My son. My friends. My future partner. My God.

Putting those things ahead of my personal wants and desires. Always putting their needs first.

I feel confident that if I can maintain that commitment, that I’ll never lose myself.

That I’ll always be someone I can be proud of. Someone my son can be proud of.

And that I’ll always recognize the guy I see in the mirror.

That’s important to me.

5. It is never too late to break good

Redemption is one of my favorite words.

I like how it sounds. But mostly I like what it stands for.

After not being the kind of husband I wish I would have been during the early part of my failed marriage, I feel really good about the effort I gave in the final two years.

Those two years changed my life. They made me a better person.

It was redemption for myself. So that I can sleep at night, knowing I gave all I could to making it work.

I showed a lot of grit.

And now I know what I’m capable of. On the inside.

And now I know what kind of man I want to be.

I want to be a good one.

I don’t know what Walter White was at the end of Breaking Bad.

I don’t know whether he was a good man or a bad man. I guess that’s for each of us to decide.

Just as we get to decide who we want to be.

Every day we wake up is another opportunity to make the choice to be better than the day before.

To not look for the easy way out. The shortcut.

To recognize there are always tradeoffs when we make certain choices.

To remember to be honest. To avoid doing things we can’t disclose to the people we love.

To realize that the future is uncertain. Tomorrow is not promised us. We might not wake up. To take nothing for granted.

And that today, if maybe you’re not feeling so good about yourself and your life choices, you can choose right now to break good.

To try something new. To let go of fear and anger and sadness and regret.

And replace those horrible things.

With fortitude.

With love.

With honesty.

With peace.

With hope.

Being good makes you happy. But don’t try to be happy. That’s impossible.

Just try to be good.

Thanks, Breaking Bad.

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Take Nothing for Granted

taking things for granted

Statistically speaking, 146,000 people will die today.

I wonder how many of them will see it coming.

Millions lose jobs unexpectedly. Happens all the time.

Money markets shrink—or collapse—wiping out people’s life savings.

Tsunamis strike out of nowhere.

Countless husbands and boyfriends will cheat on their partners today.

Not to be outdone, wives and girlfriends will do the same.

People who matter to someone will disappear.

Some of those will be children.

Other people will get unwelcome medical diagnoses.

Families will break.

Lives will crumble.

But It’s Not All Bad

Others will win the lottery today.

Or get asked out by someone who excites them.

Happy couples will learn they’re going to have their first baby.

Proud parents will hear news of their child doing something great.

Someone will have an opportunity to save a life.

Someone’s life will be saved.

Another’s disease will be cured.

People will be reunited with loved ones.

Families will come together.

Lives will be enriched.

Must Stay Mindful

My heart could stop beating before I finish typing this sentence.

A jet could fall out of the sky and land directly above where I’m sitting, killing me instantly.

My commute home could end without me arriving at my destination.

Today could be the day I get another phone call about someone I love dying.

A friend could move away—someone I haven’t worked very hard to see or talk to because I’ve been so self-centered for the past six months.

My friends’ marriages could be falling apart.

My grandmother could have a stroke and not recognize any of her 18 grandchildren anymore.

Nuclear war could erupt over the weekend.

An EMP attack could make this the last thing you ever read. The last thing I ever publish here.

I do not mean to come off dour, morbid, depressing, or like Chicken Little.

The sky is not falling.

Uncertainty is simply part of our all-inclusive stay on planet Earth. I choose to focus on the good while being mindful of the possibilities.

Please Take Action. Not Later. Now.

Because we all have someone who should hear from us today.

Maybe it’s your wife or husband.

Maybe it’s your mother or father.

Maybe it’s your child.

Maybe it’s a friend who could really use a phone call.

Maybe it’s an opportunity to grow professionally and help secure your financial future with unequal effort at work.

Smile at people.

Tell those who matter that they matter.

I’m serious.

Right now. Pick up your phone. Send five texts to five people. Make sure one is the person who deserves your love the most. Your husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, son, daughter, brother, sister, whoever.

It doesn’t have to be long.

“I love you. And I can’t wait to spend the weekend with you.”

“I’m so proud of you. I hope you know how much you’re loved, son/daughter.”

“I’m sorry I don’t call more, Mom. I’ll pick up the phone after work and check on you. Love you!”

“Hey. Got the Facebook reminder that today’s your birthday. Really miss you. I’m sorry life is so busy. Can we get together this week so I can buy you dinner and play some catch up?”

“I know you’re going through a hard time. If there’s anything I can do to help, please let me know. Your courage inspires me every day. Thank you for leading by example.”

There are a lot of things you can say.

There are a lot of things you should say.

So your partner knows he/she is top of mind. That you value and appreciate them above all else.

So your children know they are the reason you live and breathe.

So your parents know how much you appreciate the sacrifices they made for you.

So your friends know how valuable they are.

Tell people who matter that they matter.

Pretty please.

And be kind to strangers.

Because those people matter to someone, too.

I love you all.

And I don’t take you for granted.

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The Write Stuff: Lessons From the End of a Marriage

Lessons From the End of a Marriage is important work. It's a must-read for anyone going through divorce, and a should-read for everyone else.

Lessons From the End of a Marriage is important work. It’s a must-read for anyone going through divorce, and a should-read for everyone else.

Their 10-year marriage ended with a text message.

A marriage she believed to be wonderful.

Then, one day, one week, one month at a time, she learned that she’d been unknowingly living a lie as all of the pieces of the twisted puzzle came together.

If you’re anything like me…

  1. Divorced
  2. Searching for answers and healing
  3. Moved by compelling stories
  4. Inspired by courage…

… then you NEED to read Lessons From the End of a Marriage.

Even if you’re none of these things, you owe it to yourself to read this made-for-Hollywood story.

I pray that by praising the drama and intensity of the story itself, I’m not doing a disservice to its heroic author.

In my darkest days of divorce recovery, no writer has had a more positive impact on me than she has.

The way her marriage ended is no less dramatic than Neo waking up in The Matrix. To discover that nothing she had believed—for 16 (SIXTEEN!!!) years was real.

My admiration for this woman knows no bounds.

She, in this writer’s occasionally not-so-humble opinion, sets the standard for how to be courageous in a post-divorce world.

From her post I Was Married to a Con Man:

“My husband was a brilliant and talented man whose skills included creating and maintaining a separate existence. He had two cameras. Two bicycles. Two wallets. Two wives. Two distinct lives. When the financial mess he created in his life with me became too great to keep hidden, he broke up with me via text and vanished. That was when I learned that my husband… was a con man. My life was a virtual reality—my home a movie set consisting of false fronts.

He was an expert lie crafter; he always knew the exact proportion of truth to weave into the falsehoods to make a story believable. He always had an answer; he never hesitated. His office must have been like a busy air traffic control tower as he directed emails, texts, and phone calls to support his various tales. The extent of his deceptions was made clear when I sat with an auto insurance card in my hand—my name had been digitally removed—while I pulled up the file from the insurance company and verified that both names were present on the actual document. He thought he could erase me as easily as he could my name using Photoshop.

While my husband was in jail after being arrested for felony bigamy, I talked with his other wife, who was as stunned by the situation as I was. No woman should ever have to have a conversation about “our husband,” even if it is a cordial and informative discussion. I learned that when he was pulled in for questioning, his lies became increasingly absurd as he struggled to maintain his façade. My favorite? He claimed that he and I had divorced years earlier and I had since married a chiropractor named Mark Mercer. Mark, if you’re out there, I’m sorry that I have no recollection of our marriage and that I have never recognized our fictitious anniversaries.”

About the Author

Her name is Lisa Arends.

She is a magnificent writer. One of those writers who occasionally strings words together that make me think: Damn. I wish I could do that.

She is a school teacher.

A wellness coach.

And now, because of an UNIMAGINABLE con job by a husband of 10 years, she has an incredible story to tell. And she has.

It must be read.

About the Blog

It documents everything.

You can read the CliffsNotes version of her story here.

The content is straightforward and self-explanatory.

Lisa got screwed in ways human beings aren’t equipped to handle.

And maybe she didn’t. Maybe she completely fell apart four years ago.

I know I came apart when my marriage ended, and I didn’t have to endure an epic shock-and-awe campaign that dismantled my entire life as Lisa did.

If she did fall apart, she got back up again.

And now, Lisa’s mission is to help people.

People like me.

People like you.

And I think she succeeds. She has for me.

Why It Matters

Because Lisa’s life came undone in unimaginable ways. And yet she lives.

And I don’t just mean she breathes and moves around.

I mean, she lives.

Her spirit endures.

She pours energy into helping others. Into friends and family. Into continuing to grow and evolve as a person.

It would have been so easy to quit.

But she didn’t.

She just kept breathing.

Asking questions.

Exploring.

Thinking.

Writing.

And today, her story continues.

And now there’s a new guy. A new love. And a new wedding date.

After everything Lisa’s been through.

She perseveres.

Hope endures.

Love remains.

And it reminds all of us to be courageous, to be hopeful, to never quit, even if our hearts are telling us opposite.

The story is amazing.

The blog is amazing.

The author is amazing.

And she invites us all to be a part of it.

We should take advantage.

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The Penis Talk: A Conversation With My Five-Year-Old Son

simba and mufasa

Earlier this week, my son, who is in his third week of kindergarten, exposed his penis to other boys in the bathroom during school.

Everybody lost their collective shit. And by everybody, I mean his teacher, principal, day care lady, and mother. In that order.

There was a special parent-teacher conference this morning between my son’s teacher and mother to talk about behavioral expectations.

I take it seriously only insofar as I want my son to follow directions in school. To listen to his teacher. To be respectful and well mannered. To be well behaved and learn everything he can.

But he’s his father’s son. So goofing off in the bathroom with his friends makes total sense. I tend not to involve penises, but who knows what I was doing when I was five. Could have been super-penisy. Don’t remember.

I have had a couple talks with my son during bath time about what is and is not acceptable regarding his privates. Those talks had apparently fallen on deaf ears.

Because of the incident at school this week, I was forced to try again.

This is what that looked like.

The Penis Talk

Me: “Do you know what a penis is?”

Five-year-old: “No.”

Me: “What do you call your privates?”

Five-year-old: “Privates.”

Me: “What else do you call it?”

Five-year-old: “My peep.”

Me: “Yeah. Mommy always called it that. You know how we ask you to call farts ‘toots?’”

Five-year-old: “Yes.”

Me: “That’s because ‘toot’ is a nicer word. It’s the same thing with ‘penis.’ The real word for peep is penis. Adults just ask you to call it other names because the word ‘penis’ makes us uncomfortable. Can you say ‘penis?’”

Five-year-old: “Pee-nis.”

Me: “Good job. Do you remember getting in trouble at school this week?”

Five-year-old: “Yes.”

Me: “What happened?”

Five-year-old: “I didn’t follow directions.”

Me: “Right. What did you do to get in trouble?”

Five-year-old: “I don’t know.”

Me: “Yes you do. Mommy was really upset. Listen, you’re not in trouble. But when bad things happen you have to talk to mom and dad about it. Now tell me why you got in trouble, please.”

Five-year-old: “I did unpublic things. In public.”

Me: “Did you just say ‘unpublic?’”

Five-year-old: “Yeah.”

Me: “I guess that makes sense. What ‘unpublic’ thing did you do?”

Five-year-old: “I showed my privates.”

Me: “Why?”

Five-year-old: “Because everybody was goofing around.”

Me: “Were other kids showing their privates?”

Five-year-old: “No.”

Me: “Just you, then. Great. When you showed other kids your penis, did you dance and sing?”

Five-year-old: “No.”

Me: “Good. Buddy, I need you to tell me when it’s okay to take your penis out of your pants.”

Five-year-old: “I don’t know.”

Me: “You can figure it out. You’re smart. When is it okay to be naked? You do it every day.”

Five-year-old: “When I go potty.”

Me: “Yes! When you go potty. Very good. When else is it okay to take your penis out of your pants?”

Five-year-old: “When I’m taking a bath.”

Me: “Yes! Excellent. When you’re taking a bath. There is one other time when it’s okay to be naked. Do you know when that is?”

Five-year-old: “No.”

Me: “This one is tricky.”

Five-year-old: “You say it, dad.”

Me: “When you’re changing your clothes.”

Five-year-old: “Okay.”

Me: “What’s the big boy name for your peep?”

Five-year-old: “Penis.”

Me: “When is it okay to take your penis out?”

Five-year-old: “Going potty, taking a bath and getting dressed.”

Me: “Good job, dude. That’s exactly right. Do you know why it’s not okay to show your penis to people?”

Five-year-old: “No.”

Me: “I guess that’s good. It’s because it’s really private. Our penises are just for us. They’re not for other people. (I wasn’t ready to have THAT talk.) Do you know what would happen to daddy if he went outside right now and showed his penis to a bunch of people?”

Five-year-old: “No.”

Me: “I’d go to jail. It’s really, really bad, man. Do you want to go to jail?”

Five-year-old: “No.”

Me: “What kind of people go to jail?”

Five-year-old: “Policemen.”

Me: “Sometimes. They work there. But I mean the bad guys. What kind of people have to go live in jail?”

Five-year-old: “Robbers.”

Me: “Yes. Sometimes robbers. Do you know any other ways to go to jail?”

Five-year-old: “No.”

Me: “Good. Who is it okay to show your penis to?”

Five-year-old: “Just me. Do you know why ears are special?”

Me: “Why?”

Five-year-old: “So you can listen to stuff. That’s why they’re attached. You have ears too, daddy.”

Me: “Yes. Yes, I do. What if a kid at school asks you to show them your penis?”

Five-year-old: “Don’t do it.”

Me: “What if an adult asks you? A stranger?”

Five-year-old: “Don’t do it.”

Me: “Very good. What if your teacher asks you?”

Five-year-old: “Don’t do it.”

Me: “Exactly. What if someone tries to show you their penis?”

Five-year-old: “I’ll tell them to hide it. I’ll say no, no, no, no! Or maybe I’ll growl.”

Me: “You’ll growl? What will that sound like?”

Five-year-old: *growls*

Me: “Whoa. Scary.”

Five-year-old: “That’s a Tyrannosaurus Rex. That’s what I will do.”

Me: “Cool. When is it okay to take out your penis?”

Five-year-old: “Going potty. Taking a bath. Getting dressed.”

Me: “I’m proud of you, kid. Are you going to show anyone your penis anymore?”

Five-year-old: “I’m never going to take it out again. I’m never going to do it again, daddy. I promise.”

And there you have it. My son will never take his penis out in front of anyone again.

Just like his old man.

…..

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Grade School Shenanigans, Vol. 2: He Did What!?!?

It's important to me that my son not behave like this man. Nor like me.

It’s important to me that my son not behave like this man. Nor like me.

The two most-commonly told jokes in men’s restrooms among both acquaintances and strangers, go like this:

“Oh, so this is where all the dicks hang out.”

And, the one that always makes me laugh…

“Whew! That water is cold!”

The implication being, ladies, that the penises in question are so long that they dangle into the urinals or toilets below.

Penis jokes are at the very heart of who we are as men. They must be told. They must.

But appropriateness matters.

There is a time for decorum. And there is a time for air humping random objects.

The key is knowing the difference.

Everything He Needs to Know, He’ll Learn This Year

Dear Son,

Kindergarten Lesson #1: Do not expose your penis to other children. Because when you do, the teacher freaks out, the principal freaks out, the day care lady freaks out, and your mother freaks out.

And then I have to hear about it. And I have to punish you. And I have to talk about penises with you.

While I totally want to talk about penises with random people on the Internet and joke about them with friends, I do not really want to talk about them with you. It’s awkward. For both of us. But it looks like that’s going to have to happen, young man.

Which sucks balls.

Love,

Dad

So, yeah. That happened.

Yesterday at school, while some of the boys were in the bathroom, my son called attention to his penis, made a joke about it, and showed it to some kids, probably while dancing around and singing a little made-up song about it.

Unfortunately, I know exactly what that song and dance looks like because I’ve seen it at bath time.

I try to have mature conversations with him about appropriate behavior. Apparently, they didn’t take.

While I’m a huge proponent of adults making immature penis jokes, I do not want to sound like I’m not taking this seriously at school. I really, truly am.

1. He MUST follow rules. All of them. Even the stupid ones. Not playing with his penis in front of other children is NOT a stupid one.

2. While I’m not concerned about my beautiful, sweet, innocent son growing up to be a pervert or sexual deviant or some other horrible thing based on this incident, it’s not lost on me that Charles Manson, and Ted Bundy, and Jeffrey Dahmer all had moms and dads that probably didn’t want them growing up to be plagues on humanity also. So, I must be vigilant. I must be careful. I must use discernment. I must be wise. Some things are awesome. Some things are okay. Some things are horrible. Being a person who—uninvited—exposes their privates to others, is something I frown upon. (Understatement.)

One of my dearest friends assures me this won’t happen again. That this will be a good lesson for him. That it will sink in and correct the behavior.

I hope she’s right.

The Naked Trail Runner

When I was still a newspaper reporter, I became friends with another newspaper reporter.

She invited me out with one of her friends one night for drinks and hot wings.

We ate. We drank beer. We swapped stories.

This guy was great. Very nice. Very funny. Appreciated my brand of humor.

I liked him and was looking forward to being friends with him.

But then I heard a story.

There are many hiking and biking trails peppered throughout the area in which I live. A vast network of interconnected metro park and national park trails. I really like them.

One time, a young woman was running on one of the trails—maybe 10 minutes from my house.

And allegedly, the following happened:

She was running. Like a normal person. On a public trail. When all of the sudden, a tall redheaded guy came out from the woods totally naked and ran after her.

No attempted assault or anything. Just a random naked guy doing his best to expose his naked body to a random runner for as long as possible.

A police report was filed. One thing led to another, and the police ended up at my co-worker’s friend’s house. The guy I just met and totally liked.

He claims to have a good alibi. Computer login records and whatnot, proving it couldn’t have been him.

But a judge nonetheless found him guilty of this very crime. So, there was evidence.

Evidence that he took all of his clothes off and ran after a strange woman in a public place.

Dear God.

I try very hard to be understanding, forgiving, to give people the benefit of the doubt and not be judgy.

But in the end, I wasn’t going to pursue a friendship with a man found guilty of this behavior—even though I didn’t know for sure whether it really happened. I just couldn’t.

Exposing yourself to strangers is a very bad idea.

I don’t do it.

I don’t want my friends doing it.

And I’m going to require that my son not do it.

Just Keep It Put Away, Young Man. Honestly.

I’ll pick him up after work tomorrow.

That’s when we’ll have to have The Penis Talk.

Here are things you may do with your penis, son: Blah, blah, blah, blah.

And here are things you may NOT do with your penis: Blah, blah, showing it to people, blah.

Inevitably, the question will arise: Where, pray tell, did that little boy learn how to expose his penis to other people? Do you think his father taught him that?

Remember that old marijuana-smoking commercial? I learned it from watching you, dad!

Sweet Jesus.

My ex-wife. His school teacher. The day care lady.

They’re probably all sitting around thinking: Do you think he thinks it’s okay to play with his penis and make jokes about it because of his father?

Then, they will all sit there nodding. Nodding and judging.

And I’ll just shake my head.

Because I’ve been known to make a dick joke a time or two. But my son has never heard one. (This is true.)

Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure no evidence exists linking me to childish penis jokes at all. (This is not true.)

Yes. I'd been drinking.

Yes. I’d been drinking.

Lord, please make me a better father. Amen.

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The Underdog

Rocky. Great underdog. Eye. Of. The. Tiger. I got it. You just don't know it.

Rocky. Great underdog. Eye. Of. The. Tiger. I got it. You just don’t know it.

I have to set the record straight.

Because a lot of people seem to think I’m this big mess of self-doubt with no self-confidence.

It became clear yesterday when the author of Broken American Dream Diaries wrote the following to me:

“Dude, you might need to do some dating affirmations because only women in similarly desperate situations (moi!) find such a lack of confidence endearing.

“Say this in the mirror 10 times every morning:

“I am fuckable.

“I am cute.

“I will get laid.

“I am attractive to others.

“Etc.”

I smiled. She’s just looking out for me and offering some practical advice I already know to be true. Please visit her blog if you’re interested in good, honest writing.

Women have always and will always be attracted to confidence.

Well, hold onto your vaginas ladies because I’ve got some news for you: I am totally confident. About a great many things. Most things, in fact.

Dear female readers: Don’t be alarmed by all the blood rushing to your privates. That’s just you thinking: Whoa. I KNEW I wanted to bang that guy!

David and Goliath

Who doesn’t like a good underdog story?

People who suck, that’s who.

Everyone else likes them. Especially me.

Always have. Always will.

You like Mario? I like Luigi.

You like Mickey? I like Donald.

You like Ferris? I like Cameron.

I loved it when Napoleon Dynamite danced. And maybe even found a girlfriend in the end.

I loved it when Rocky took out Ivan Drago in Rocky IV.

I loved it when Rudy got that sack for the Notre Dame football team against impossible odds.

I love underdogs.

I root for underdogs.

And I love to be the underdog.

The Art of Self-Deprecation

I can’t decide whether I’m really good, or really bad, at self-deprecation.

It’s just my shtick.

There’s probably some beautiful sweet spot between humble and cocky where we’re supposed to live.

But because I think humility is such a wonderful human characteristic, and cockiness, such a shitty one, I err on the side of self-deprecation.

And if that makes me come off whiny and unattractive sometimes, so be it. Because I’d much rather be that than vomiting cocksure self-puffery all the time and leading people to believe I think I’m better than others.

Because I most certainly do not.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t think I’m kind of awesome.

Because… (*lowers voice to a whisper*)… I am kind of awesome.

Don’t tell anyone.

My I-Don’t-Suck Affirmations

I like who I am.

And I’m smart enough to try to change the things about myself I don’t like. I will always look for opportunities to grow in that way.

But today, we shine light on my positives:

I am kind.

I am. On the inside. I feel empathy for others. I want to help people. I don’t want to be mean, ever. I’m sensitive about people’s feelings and work hard to be someone who lifts people up and not someone who tears people down. This is not something I earned or worked for. I have always felt this way about people. I was blessed to grow up surrounded by a lot of loving and caring people. That, combined with my genetic code, yielded me. A pretty nice guy. Probably nicer than average. And I would not trade my propensity for kindness for any other human trait. I don’t know if I want anything for my son more than I want him to display kindness to others. I think it’s fundamental to succeeding in life.

I am smart.

Not like Harvard smart. And not like old-grandfather wise. But I’m relatively good at figuring things out. Being smart is important. Being smart keeps me from hating that gorgeous young woman who was crowned Miss America because she’s of Indian descent. Being smart allows me to string grammatically correct sentences together. And read stuff. Being smart allows me to think critically, ask good questions and draw fair and reasonable conclusions. These are important things.

I am funny-ish.

Humor is relative. My ex-wife thought I was less funny than most other people do. I’m rarely the funniest guy in the room. But I’m almost never the biggest stick in the mud, either. If 10 is some super-funny person, like Will Ferrell or Daniel Tosh or Louis CK, and 1 is some humorless lump—like, say a ham radio enthusiast or Dane Cook—I’m probably like a 7 or 7.5, depending on my alcohol intake and the number of kids present.

I have values.

I’m not good all the time. I’m cross-the-line flirty. I like drinking more than most productive and successful human beings. If my job didn’t randomly drug test, I’d probably smoke pot once in a while. But I also have a moral code, and for the most part, I stand by it. I believe in my God. I aspire to Christian principles, which I like to break down into three simple steps: 1. Love people. 2. Give more than you take. 3. Don’t be a dick. I think having some level of baseline values is important.

I’m good in the kitchen.

And I don’t just mean when I’m licking chocolate syrup off my dinner date. I very much enjoy food. There was a long time in my youth when I wanted to go to culinary school and be a chef. But I decided it would be hard to have a family working 70-hour weeks, and being absent every Friday and Saturday on the busy restaurant nights. Glad that decision worked out so well! In the meantime, I very much enjoy preparing meals for friends. And I’m pretty good at it, too. Reason #162 on the Why Dating Matt Is A Good Idea list, is that you definitely want me bringing you omelets and French toast in bed before you orgasm for the second time that morning. Which brings us to…

I am unselfish (in the bedroom).

Because I’m a person, I’m totally selfish about lots of things. Everybody is. But you know what I’m really good at? Not being a selfish douchebag in the bedroom. I take immense pleasure from the person I’m with enjoying herself. I love making people feel good by saying something nice to them, or helping them with something they’re working on. Multiply that times 69 for how much I enjoy making a girl feel in the bedroom. I’m no Adonis. I am not God’s gift to women, physically. But for the women who deem me physically attractive enough to de-robe, I am a viable bedroom partner. And by viable, I mean totally rad.

The Not-So Grand Finale

You get the idea.

I can sit around all day long and tell you nice things about myself. I was raised by wonderful people. I’m God-fearing and aspire to love everyone—literally everyone. That automatically makes me easier to get along with than about 70 percent of the world’s population.

I’ve spent my entire life having very positive feedback from people.

When I was young, my friends’ parents always liked me because I was polite and respectful.

When I was in college, most people liked me because I went out of my way to introduce everyone I could to everyone else. And I was almost never a dick.

When I was a newspaper reporter, sources liked me because I never burnt anyone. And even when I wrote something they didn’t like, it was always based in fact and completely on the up and up.

People tend to like me at business networking events.

People tend to like me at parties.

People tend to like me at work.

I have an entire lifetime of people responding to me mostly in positive ways.

I am kind. Friendly. Respectful. Polite. Well-mannered. Thoughtful. And fun-loving.

There are only four kinds of people in this world who don’t like me:

1. My ex-wife

2. Terrorists

3. Girls on Match.com

4. Dicks

Are we all good now? Are you convinced that I like myself?

May I go back to cracking on myself and whining about stuff?

Cool.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled program of me not being tall enough…

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The Write Stuff: Gotta Find a Home

We have choices. All I'm asking you to do is consider them. Well, AND to read "Gotta Find a Home." Because it's awesome. Photo by Kenneth Reitz

We have choices. I’m only asking you to consider them. And to read “Gotta Find a Home.” Because it’s awesome. Photo by Kenneth Reitz

The world started changing with a breakfast sandwich and a cup of coffee.

He was walking to work.

She was panhandling for money on the sidewalk.

“Thank you so much, sir. You’re so kind. Bless you,” the woman said to him after receiving the gift.

That was a few years ago. Today, the man and the woman are close friends.

His name is Dennis.

Her name might be Joy. Dennis protects identities.

And now we have Gotta Find a Home.

Dennis is just a guy. I don’t mean that as an insult. He’s most certainly MUCH MORE than “just a guy.”

But he’s just a guy who works in an office building and took the time to pause and show consideration to a homeless woman.

To see her as a human being. No different than him. And not as the blight of society as so many people—even me—have felt before.

He lives in Ottawa, Canada. All of his stories take place there.

He has delivered food and coffee to Joy on many mornings. And now, after spending several months talking with Joy and meeting her companions, Dennis is tapped into the homeless network in his city.

There is violence. And sadness. Addiction. And frustration. Fear. But also laughter. And hope.

Dennis has no agenda but kindness. To shine light on some of the things most of us try not to think about when we’re at dinner parties on the weekends or taking our children to shopping malls.

The writing is mostly dispassionate. Like a newspaper report.

It’s perfect. Because it’s just so… human.

The idea is so brilliant, so simple, so good, that it makes you want to hug yourself.

About the Author

His name is Dennis Cardiff.

He doesn’t think what he’s doing is particularly special. He’s too humble for that.

But he clearly recognizes its importance. Its value.

Be the change you wish to see in the world.

You’ll see that peppered throughout Gotta Find a Home.

About the Blog

Gotta Find a Home is an account of the daily lives of this particular group of homeless people and everything they have to face.

The goal is to eventually publish a book.

Here’s a taste, from the blog’s Introduction post:

“Antonio slept on a park bench and was beaten, had his teeth kicked out, for no other reason than his choice to sleep outdoors. He is a small, gentle man who has a phobia about enclosed spaces.

“Craig slept on the sidewalk in the freezing cold. I see him every morning and am never sure if, when I lift the corner of his sleeping bag, I will find him dead or alive. Sometimes, he confided, he would prefer never to awake.

“Joy is a friend who fell on hard times. She slept behind a dumpster in back of Starbucks. I have seen her with blackened eyes, bruised legs, cracked ribs, cut and swollen lips. I usually see her sitting on the sidewalk ‘panning’ for change.

“I can’t do much for these people except to show them love, compassion, an ear to listen, perhaps a breakfast sandwich and a coffee. I would like to do more. To know them is to love them. What has been seen cannot be unseen.”

Why It Matters

Hopefully, this is obvious to you.

Most people aren’t brave enough, unselfish enough, loving enough, humble enough, awesome enough to do what Dennis is doing.

He has immersed himself with the homeless community. “Street people,” he calls them.

They are his friends. They have become the people he is closest to in the world along with his immediate family.

What can one man do to help change the world?

THIS.

Because this absolutely will help these people. Dennis already is, simply by loving them and being kind to them and respecting them and displaying compassion.

He’s not judging. He’s not turning up his nose. He’s giving what he can and asking for nothing in return.

I believe strongly this Gotta Find a Home project has the opportunity to get some legs and earn the kind of attention—and by extension, funding—that can really make a difference for a lot of people.

But it’s also going to help the rest of us, too. In deep and meaningful ways.

It’s good to feel a little uncomfortable.

You have no reason to feel guilty about having houses and cars. A fridge full of food. A nice television to watch football. Plenty of cash to order pizza and throw the leftovers away.

But you have EVERY reason in the world to feel a little itch, a little pull, to spend more time being considerate of other people, to give a little more time volunteering for a good cause, or a little more money to the have-nots.

I’ll never stop saying it. Because I don’t know if I believe in an idea more than this one:

We must give more than we take.

Let’s not all fight over the table scraps.

Let’s just all keep giving to those around us.

I’m going to get something back. You’re going to get something back. We’re all going to have enough this way.

Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. Spiritually.

I think you will find that what you receive is much more satisfying than table scraps.

Thank you, Dennis Cardiff.

For walking the walk.

For doing it right.

For buying that breakfast sandwich and cup of coffee.

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How to Feel Grateful

Pi lost everything. Everything except hope. And he learned how to feel gratitude, even love, for his greatest obstacle.

Pi lost everything. Everything except hope. And he learned how to feel gratitude, even love, for what he feared the most.

I just watched Life of Pi.

Reading the book was on my to-do list. But I just never got around to it. I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone interested in it, so if you haven’t read the book or watched the movie, you should go read this really fantastic blog about homeless people instead.

In Life of Pi, the protagonist loses everything.

His country. His home. His girlfriend. His family. Human companionship.

Then, he loses basic needs. Shelter. Food and water. Safety.

My favorite line in the film was: “Hunger can change everything you thought you knew about yourself.”

I don’t think we spend enough time thinking about stuff like this.

We wake up and go to work and eat food and do random activities we may or may not actually enjoy, then go to bed. Then we do it all over again the next day.

We complain about our bills. I’m still whining about those stupid couches in the living room.

We fret over the loss of our creature comforts. This actually happened: When someone asked me why I still have the iPhone 4S and never upgraded to the iPhone 5, I talked about how much I enjoy having a bunch of phone-charger cords, and how I put off upgrading to avoid “only” having one or two phone-charger cords rather than the five or six I have now. I have issues.

We whine because our good stuff isn’t good enough. I had a conversation last night with two other guys over beers about how our high-definition widescreen televisions weren’t nice enough. How we needed bigger and better ones.

People are sick. Dying. Addicted. Starving. Abused. Raped. Murdered. Wrongly accused. Impoverished. Abandoned. Homeless.

Sometimes people are several of those horrible things at the same time.

And I was drinking a $6 beer and bitching about a 53-inch HDTV I wish was nicer.

We can all use a little perspective once in a while.

Me, more than most.

We must choose to be grateful. Actively. To feel it.

We need to remind ourselves due to our natural tendency to take things and people for granted. It is one of the pitfalls of the human experience.

Ten Miracles

My favorite writer is a guy named James Altucher.

I don’t know that I think he’s the best writer. Probably not. But he’s my favorite. Because he’s the guy who taught me to be honest when I write. So honest that I’m sometimes afraid to hit “Publish.”

He claims to write down at least 10 miracles every day. The miracles aren’t necessarily Holy-Jesus-Did-You-Just-See-That!? miracles.

A few of his examples:

“At 5 a.m. this morning, I walked outside and watched the river, gray and beautiful under a rising sun. Then I saw a skunk looking at me. It was strikingly beautiful as well. Then I ran.”

“My two daughters are too young to fight in any war in Syria. They can’t even operate drones. I hope they always stay that young.”

“While I was driving and not killing anyone, a satellite from outer space beamed the song “Heart of Glass” directly into my car. This made me very happy. Finally outer space is useful.”

I don’t know if I have the time, discipline or inclination to write down 10 miracles every day like Mr. Altucher. But as an exercise in strengthening my gratitude muscle? It seems like a worthwhile endeavor.

It’s about 5 p.m. I haven’t even left my house yet today. (Bad decision!) But here are 10 miracles at work today.

  1. My heart is beating. I didn’t do anything. I didn’t plug it in. Or use a battery. But there it is. Delivering life to the rest of me. Providing the opportunity to breathe the fresh, cool air and admire the perfect blue sky and think and eat and watch a movie.
  2. I don’t feel lonely.
  3. I was invited to a party tonight.
  4. I thought about a girl today who isn’t my ex-wife. Someone I’d like to go out with.
  5. I get to feel excited about little stuff like watching football again.
  6. A bunch of little things that make writing this possible. Electricity. My computer. Wireless Internet access. The use of my hands and fingers.
  7. I don’t feel angry about my marriage failing.
  8. Life of Pi entertained AND enlightened me.
  9. I can survive several weeks on the food in my house. I won’t go hungry. And when the supply dwindles, I can afford to go to a grocery store and buy more food. What a blessing.
  10. I have you. I don’t know how many of you there are. Doesn’t matter. I have a reader. I am unbelievably grateful for you. You have no idea. It’s a miracle. You’re a miracle.

Find a reason to tell someone who matters that you’re grateful for them today.

You’ll feel good.

They’ll feel good.

And you both deserve it.

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Grade School Shenanigans

These kids are going to grow up and work in cubicles and pay taxes have bad things happen to them. Go nuts, boys and girls! It's your time!

These kids are going to grow up and work in cubicles and pay taxes and have bad things happen to them. Go nuts, boys and girls! This is your time! Just don’t tell your teachers I said so!

I kept my head down.

My first-grade teacher was really letting me have it in front of the entire class.

Our assignment was simple enough: Punch holes all around the periphery of two pieces of construction paper. Then, we were to sew the two pieces of paper together by weaving a strand of yarn in and out of the punched holes.

What a bunch of stupid bullshit, six-year-old me thought, though it was probably closer to: Golly gee, all this sure seems silly!

So, I started to skip a hole here and there.

This is so much faster!

Once I figured out how much more efficient the shortcuts were, I went nuts and started skipping entire corners.

All the other kids’ yarn was perfectly sewn in and out of each hole like they were supposed to.

Mine was a hot freaking mess vying to be among the shittiest child artwork anyone had ever seen.

The teacher was PISSED. Excessively so, I think. And she was making an example of me—the newest kid in the class.

I braved a glance away from the floor. There, peering through a window into the classroom, were two girls watching me get scolded.

I made eye contact with one of them. We held each other’s gaze for a moment.

Then I grinned at her.

Hi, Girl I Don’t Know. We can’t be good all the time!

We’ve been friends ever since.

Oh, Shit. Now I’m the Parent

My five-year-old son started kindergarten less than two weeks ago.

The first week, he was “caught being good”—something that awarded him praise in front of his classmates and a special trip to the principal’s office for recognition and a small prize.

I thought it was adorable. I was really proud of him and told a handful of people about it.

Then this week happened.

He’s had not one, but TWO, notes sent home this week by his teacher because of poor behavior.

“I’m writing to let you know that your child has been making poor choices this week. He talks excessively to other kids and sometimes has trouble keeping his hands to himself,” the note said.

I bought him a new toy after picking him up Tuesday. He had told me he’d been good all day.

A fib, it turns out.

So, I had to take his new toy away. He was pretty upset. Which is the desired effect when you want to teach your children there are consequences to being little shitbags in school and then lying about it.

He earned his toy back by being good in school yesterday.

I enjoy positive reinforcement much more than making him sad.

I wrote his teacher back Tuesday night, so she knew where I stood:

I made it clear that both my ex-wife and I were on the same page as far as reinforcing following directions and respecting the rules of the classroom, and that we would do everything we could to support her efforts. But I did mention that our son is still trying to adjust to a new life without both of his parents at the same place at the same time, which I don’t think she knew about.

I don’t want to make excuses for him. But I also think this has adversely affected him—even more than I’d originally feared. And it’s still pretty fresh.

He has some anger now. Anger previously unseen. Which is why I spend as much time laughing with him as I possibly can.

She ‘Nose’

My friends and I liked to laugh. We liked to have fun. And I don’t regret even one second of that.

There was this one kid who came to our school in fifth grade and moved after eighth grade. But during those four years he was at our school, he was one of my best friends.

He had a massive crush on the girl who was universally considered the most attractive in our class.

One day, we heard a rumor that she knew about his crush on her.

“She KNOWS,” we’d say dramatically, before laughing hysterically.

If we couldn’t speak because class was in session, we’d just mouth the words: “She knows,” while pointing to our noses for effect.

For almost an entire semester, he or I would write the word “NOSE” on the blackboard before class started every day. Sometimes our teacher would erase it. Sometimes he wouldn’t.

That always made me laugh.

I don’t think that I’ve ever been bad.

But I’ve always been mischievous. And I don’t intend to stop.

Do As I Say, Not As I Do?

I try to set a decent example for my son. I do.

But I don’t know how to shut myself off sometimes. I’m kind of a clown. My ability to display maturity as a 34-year-old has been questioned on several occasions—both at home and at work.

Here’s what I tell my son:

  1. Listen to your teachers. They’re in charge. Use your ears. Following directions is important.
  2. Be nice to other kids. You can’t have too many friends.
  3. It’s important to learn. That’s how you make money so you can buy food and toys.

I expect him to have good manners, treat people kindly and respect his teachers.

But just between you and me? Do I really care that he’s inclined to share private jokes with friends and build those social bonds—some of which may last a lifetime—even when the teacher wishes he wouldn’t?

Not particularly.

In fact, I kind of like it.

Because that note from his teacher? That could have been written about me.

And, while I have plenty of things wrong with me, I’m not unhappy with the person I am today.

As his father, I can’t stand by silently if he’s blatantly disrespectful and insubordinate.

But if this life has taught me anything, it’s that there may be no resource more precious than friends.

I’d be nothing without them. As an only child, my friends WERE my family.

And now I’m looking at my young son. A little me. A child of divorce. And at exactly the same age. He’s also an only child.

I have a better sense today of what’s important than I’ve ever had.

And while my son will never hear me encourage him to goof off or be disruptive in class, it is my belief that the most-important life skills we learn in grade school are socialization and how to make friends.

And near as I can tell, he is off to a pretty good start.

Go get ’em, little man.

We can’t be good all the time.

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Sept. 11, 2001: A Reflection on Freedom

WTC memorial

What are we most afraid of? Being hurt? Or being scared?

It’s the jumpers plummeting to their deaths that I’ll always think of first.

A half hour earlier, everyone in those buildings was simply minding their own business, perhaps frustrated by a conflict at home that morning, or excited for a date that night, or maybe pleasantly distracted by the picture-perfect Tuesday in New York City.

Whatever was on their minds was quickly replaced by the commercial airliner crashing into their office building.

I imagine most of them figured out pretty quickly what had happened. I imagine many of them remained hopeful that firefighters would extinguish the flames, and that everyone would later exit in an orderly fashion.

But it couldn’t have been long before smoke infiltrated the upper floors making breathing difficult or impossible.

Desperate people were using jackets and shirts to flag for help that would never come.

The writing was on the wall. Sooner or later, they realized it. They were all going to die.

Human beings. People just like you and me watching as co-workers decided: I’m not burning to death.

“I can’t take it anymore. I’ve gotta jump,” they might have said, before disappearing out the window.

After living entire lives, dealing with the ups and downs of youth and adulthood, a typical workday turned into a choice: Burn alive or jump 1,000 feet to death?

The fall from the top of the World Trade Center is a full 10 seconds, at least.

Take a moment to count to 10. To consider the length of the fall.

What does a person think about for a full 10 seconds while committing unplanned suicide?

I didn’t shed tears for all of the people who died in the plane crashes and subsequent explosions. Not right away, at least.

But when I saw those people hurling themselves out of the upper-floor windows of the World Trade Center 12 years ago today, the tears started to fall.

The Fallout

It wasn’t good, those first hours and days following the attacks.

Everyone was scared. Uncertain.

People were afraid to fly. The federal government instituted its color-coded terror threat alert chart. It always seemed to get elevated to Orange whenever I was going through security checkpoints at the airport.

Terrorism is frightening. Because the victims never deserve what they get. Because justice can never be served.

But people tried.

Americans with small brains started to blame everyone with brown skin for their pain and anger.

Between 2002-2008, about 13,000 civil rights complaints were reported in the United States to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Imagine how many weren’t reported.

I remember feeling sorry for every Muslim-American I’d see.

But I also remember being part of the problem. I was never thrilled to see a few young men of Middle Eastern descent getting on my flights. I was, because of their skin color and/or nationality, suspicious of them. It was unwarranted paranoia. Hell, it was racism.

I remember being at Chicago O’Hare Airport once waiting for a connecting flight.

I glanced over to see a guy about my age in a suit and tie working on his laptop. He was of Middle Eastern descent. His computer’s wallpaper was the movie poster for the film Syriana—a political film about the various entities fighting for control of the Persian Gulf’s oil fields.

The movie is not overtly anti-American, but it certainly points some—perhaps deserved—fingers in our direction.

It’s not sympathetic to terrorism, but seems to suggest it is an obvious career choice for many young men growing up impoverished in that part of the world.

Here’s all I know: In that moment, I just knew that random, well-dressed Middle Eastern guy waiting for my flight was trouble.

I was afraid.

And I almost didn’t get on the plane.

But I did. I was nervous. I remember sitting in the back on a mostly empty flight so nothing was behind me. And, of course, the flight was without incident.

The guy probably lived in Chicago or Seattle or Philadelphia his entire life.

I try REALLY hard to be rational. To be reasonable. To be fair. To be kind.

But that’s what the terror attacks a dozen years ago did to me and many others. They mind-fucked us into judging people who deserved better. And into being afraid of everything that we didn’t understand.

I’d rather be dead than hateful. I mean that.

Lessons in Courage

I don’t know how to defeat fear.

I only know that it’s worth trying.

When I think back on my life and the things I was afraid of, fear only went away once I worked up the courage to try something and survive it.

Twelve years ago today, families and friends of the 9/11 victims were feeling all the same fears as the rest of us. Only those were the least of their concerns.

Wives lost husbands.

Children lost mothers.

Parents lost children.

Brothers lost sisters.

Cousins. Uncles. Best friends. Grandparents. Neighbors.

Gone.

Because 19 assholes believed their religious and political causes warranted mass murder.

I can’t begin to imagine the fear widows and widowers felt. The void left from divorce is brutal. What about when your partner never comes home? For reasons our brains can’t process? Due to the whims of mad men we’ve never met or heard of?

How do you pick up the pieces from such tragedy?

It’s beyond my understanding.

But people found a way. Brave mothers and fathers who were left to raise children alone. Kids who grew up with 9/11 victim tags forever taped to their backs. Firefighters who continued to run into burning buildings.

If they can make it, can’t the rest of us?

If they can persevere, can’t we all?

If they can show that level of courage and fortitude under unimaginable duress, shouldn’t I? Shouldn’t you?

The Divorce Fallout

My wife of nine years—a girl I’ve known since we were 18—and the person I trusted most in the world ended our marriage on Easter Sunday this year, and I quickly learned she was sleeping with another man.

The psychological effects of that have yet to be fully realized.

I haven’t even flirted with the idea of investing my emotions in someone else.

But sooner or later, it’s bound to happen.

Will I get jealous and paranoid?

Will I be afraid to commit?

Will I project my fears and insecurities and anger toward my ex-wife onto this new, undeserving person?

I don’t know.

I’m not in control of my fears.

These are things I won’t know until they happen.

I only know what kind of person I WANT to be.

The kind of person who doesn’t let the past poison the present.

The kind of person who evaluates everyone on his or her own merit—on the sum of my experiences with them.

I’m afraid I might not get it right. That I’ll push people away.

I just want to do whatever the best thing is, in life and love. Those answers aren’t always obvious.

And I hope you’ll join me in my efforts to not let leftover fear and scarring from previous experiences adversely and unfairly affect our future relationships.

Let Freedom Ring

It has been 12 years since the Twin Towers fell. Since the Pentagon was attacked. Since Flight 93 went down in Shanksville, PA.

Since all those brave firefighters lost their lives.

Since all those tear-filled phone calls were made saying goodbye to loved ones in those final moments.

Since those desperate men and women stuck in the upper floors of the World Trade Center decided falling to their deaths in lower Manhattan presented the least-painful, least-frightening option.

A lot of the anger has dissipated now. Perhaps not with the families directly touched by the day’s events. Perhaps not with the brave soldiers who have seen some serious shit as a result of the ensuing military conflicts. Perhaps not with people scattered throughout the Middle East who have had to endure the fallout from exploding bombs and toppled regimes.

But for typical Americans like me? We don’t think about it that much.

We’ll never forget. We promised we wouldn’t. And it’s a promise we’ll keep.

But it doesn’t dominate our thoughts anymore. We don’t freak out before air travel anymore. We don’t assume everyone with brown skin hates America.

We’ve healed in a lot of ways. And now we can live again. Pursuing our personal passions and interests. Taking vacations. Enjoying nights out. Attending weddings and concerts and sporting events and church and parties and baby showers.

That’s freedom, right? True freedom?

Not being sad?

Not being angry?

Not being afraid?

Isn’t that what all of us really want?

I think so.

This matters to everyone coping with their own brand of sadness and tragedy and life obstacles.

We can trust that time will heal. That our negative emotions will eventually be replaced by a new sense of normalcy and acceptance and hope.

Because we’ve seen it in our own lives and in the lives of brave people in places like New York, Washington, and everywhere that tragedy has struck.

And this matters for our country—and for our world.

The recognition that hate and violence and death make life shittier.

And that love and peace and hope make life beautiful.

Let freedom ring.

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