Breaking the Adult Shell

I marvel at how open kids can be. My two-year-old son, for instance, will just go up to anyone at the park and hug them. The awkwardness never simmers. And my almost three-year-old daughter will become best friends with anyone that has hair the same length as her and smiles.

When you’re a parent, you often reflect on your own childhood and marvel at how different you once were. I know I do.

I remember the first day of third grade, I sat across from this kid named Arty. We just kept staring at each other the whole class and kept seeing who would break and laugh first. We were inseparable that whole year and I blame him for not learning my long division.

Now, as an adult, I avoid eye-contact as much as possible with the guy that sits across from me at work.

It used to be that a new kid moved in next door and you’d go over and introduce yourself with a ball and glove. I just ran into our new neighbor for the first time last weekend and simply smiled and nodded. He’d been there for about a month.

Getting old means losing your edge. If you’re like me, it means getting bitter and growing more and more insecure. My shy and acne-infested high school self was Bruno Mars compared to who I’ve grown up to be.

My best friend of sixteen years has the same issue. So he came up with the idea of challenging each other to do out-of-the-box things every day. Ask a stranger for money, buy our wives flowers, fart in an elevator and own up to it, whatever.

So that’s what we’ve been doing. It’s an attempt to make us a feel a little more alive than our adulthood wants us to be. It’s an attempt to not be crushed by conformity. To not lose the luster of trying new things or be found ball-less when a challenge presents itself.

Last week I was challenged to give the Thanksgiving prayer. Not being one to pray, it was awkward and never-ending. The end result was that I sincerely hoped that “our bellies will be filled with this food.” It worked, but the prayer was a complete mess.

I used to love talking in public and sharing stories, but the fact that I almost lost my lunch when I was given that challenge just shows how much I’ve lost myself.

So that’s our challenge: To push each other to do things we would have done in high school but are too wimpy to do now. What do you do to keep yourself spry and spontaneous? What kinds of challenges would you issue your friends?

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Is It Worth Being a Conformist?

When did we start to conform?

I’ve been trying to rally local foster parents to bring change to the foster program, but the response is usually, “It is what it is.” “There are laws in place for a reason.” “It’ll never change.” (All this despite a poll I did where basically everyone polled was unhappy with the system.)

Are we not civilians of a free and democratic country? When did we just get so complacent that we forgot that we can enact change (even small changes) in our surroundings? When did we go from authority-challenging kids to hands-in-the-pockets-heads-down yes-people?

I’ll tell you when it was for me.

When I took on a mortgage and had kids.

Those aren’t bad things. I don’t regret them. But I regret conforming.

As a teenage I used to often cry in private because one of my biggest fears was being just another face in the crowd. Oh, the thought of that seriously kept me up at night. I didn’t want to be One of Them.

And now I am.

I put on my slacks, hug my wife and kids goodbye, and drive to work each day. My music selection is as chipper as can be because I know I will be spending the next 8+ hours conforming, submitting, and dare I say it? selling out. Making people happy whom, quite frankly, I don’t give a crap about.

Working hard to please men and women who get paid higher salaries and complain that they’re bored all day at work.

Why?

Because I need to pay the mortgage and make sure my kids have Juicy Juice in the fridge.

So my question is this. We’ve got to do what we do at work to pay the bills. That’s fine. But once you clock out, are you still conforming?  Or are you figuring out each day how to live a little? How to have fun? To be spontaneous?

Make sure, when you clock out for the weekend at the end of today, you also mentally clock out. Once you get back in your car, you don’t belong to anyone anymore. The rules you follow are not rules at all (be good, stay quiet, blend in).

Do something this weekend to challenge yourself, to push yourself. Even if it’s embarrassing.

Clock out and un-conform.

 

 

What My Three Favorite Movies Have in Common

Pixar and Disney movies aside, I have three ultimate favorite movies that I can’t ever get enough of and they all have one thing in common.

Aside from the fact that they’re all based on true stories and were nominated for best picture (one won), there’s an underlying theme that drives stubborn dreamers like me back to them time and time again.

My three favorite movies of all time are The King’s Speech, Frost/Nixon, and Moneyball. 

One is about the ascent to royalty, one is about the descent from power, and the other is about a guy who just wants to make a good living doing what he believes he’s good at. On the surface they can’t be any different from one another.

But a closer look will reveal that they are each about men facing the impossible. They are about men stubborn (and stupid?) enough to go after what they believe is best for themselves, their family, and their people, even though their treks defy all logic and even saneness.

Let’s look at The King’s Speech. King George VI had two things going against him: His name (reminiscent of Washington’s own Mad King George), and his tongue. He stuttered like a madman. He couldn’t get through a speech to save his life. He didn’t want the throne. He didn’t want the responsibility because he didn’t think he could handle it with his impediment. But when his lovesick brother abdicated, King George was left with no option but to learn to overcome his lifelong problem and take the crown.the-kings-speech

In Frost/Nixon, we find ourselves in the wake of Nixon’s resignation. But a British entertainer and talk show host, David Frost, is the only man crazy enough to elicit a confession from the crook’s mouth. He lays not only his reputation, but his money and career on the line to bring the darkness to light.

frost_nixon

And finally, Moneyball. You don’t have to be a sports fan to appreciate this brilliant movie about baseball, numbers, and ultimate risk. Billy Beane, the GM for the Oakland A’s, is determined to bring his team up the ranks from their rock-bottom status, just not the way his co-managers would prefer. His method is nontraditional, unproven, and unfounded. He lays everything on the line to test out his theory of selecting the best hitters, despite how they play in the outfield.

moneyball

Something about ultimate risk just makes sense to me, it calls to me. The way I see it is, if you have it all on the line, failing is literally not an option. I’d recommend you check these three movies out. They’re perfectly acted, they’re funny, and above all inspiring in a non-Hallmark way. Nothing about these stories is sappy or cute. They’re about real men storming the ups and downs of their lives and careers, not satisfied with the status quo. Willing to pioneer innovation in their fields.

Maybe one day I’ll get the guts to be like these guys. Because of their tenacity, bravado, and just plain awesomeness, we saw the business of baseball do a complete 360, we got a confession out of a crooked ex-president, and quite possibly the new world was saved by the steadfastness of a king with a twisted tongue.

What would your impression on the world be if you dropped all pretense and caution? What are your favorite movies and are they because they inspire you to be a better person?

Why Our Playground-Parenting Would Likely Tick You Off

90-degree-spiral-tube-slideOur oldest kids are about to turn two and three. With the weather being on its last stitch of niceness here in Louisville, Sarabeth and I decided to take them for one last hurrah at one of our neighborhood playgrounds.

Our oldest, Kat, is extremely agile and surprisingly skilled. Like, more coordinated than I was at seven. She’s also courageous and is a risk-taker.

Sometimes it’s hard to watch her climb to the top of the big kids’ skyscraper playground and keeping up with the toughest of them, but I’m not going to stop her. It’s my job as a parent to encourage growth and challenge – not hold her back.

At this particular playground we were at this last weekend, Kat got the whacky idea to climb on top – not inside of it, but up on top of the tube. So we let her, much to the chagrin of a couple of other parents whose older kids quickly followed suit.

I stood next to Kat as she attempted it the first time. She got a quarter of the way up, paused, said “no,” and I helped her down. The next time she tried it, she got a little further. I rooted her on the whole time while Sarabeth watched approvingly.

Why do we allow our kids to be such dangerous, risk-taking, rebel-rousing rule-breakers?

A couple of reasons: First off, there’s no rule that says she can’t climb on top of the tube slide. We were proud of her for thinking outside the box and discovering not only a new way to have fun, but to push herself.

Another reason: She was not hurting anybody. Sure, she inspired other kids to throw off their shoes and scurry up the top side of the tube slide, but you should have seen their exultant faces when they reached the top (even while their parents were yelling at them to climb down – I wanted to ask them why).

Also, what’s up with our obsession of obeying rules? I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately. I’m coming closer and closer to the opinion that our obsession to conform is actually what’s killing us inside. More on this in a later post. Much more.

But back to my daughter climbing up the top of the tube slide. I was teaching my youngest to hang on to the zip slide all by himself (successfully), when I heard Sarabeth call me. She pointed to the highest point of the playground, and there, on just her third attempt, my daughter sat high and proud.

My little girl on top of her own personal Everest. All because she found a better and slightly more challenging way to play. She refused to conform. And I encourage that in almost every way.

The Hazards of Changing the World

There are so many things in this world I want to change. The short list:

  1. Negate health insurance
  2. Reform the foster care system and adoption process in this country
  3. Reform corporate America so that you’re paid by the amount of work you do, not by your title.
  4. Enforce capital punishment for rapists, women/child abusers, and murders.

The long list:

  1. Change the world

tumblr_mfgmyj337s1rlvh3vo1_250But I can’t. And if we’re honest, no one really can. There’s always going to be adversaries standing in the way, time running out, bills to pay, and then more bills to pay, and then even more bills to pay. And then once you pay the bills, you start to think about doing something good to change the world, but EEEEEEEEHHHH! your alarm goes off and you’ve got to go back to work in order to …pay the bills.

Anyone ever feel like this?

And in the meantime we’ve got Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb Ass threatening to throw each other in jail if they’re elected president, and Capital Hill occupants fighting over salaries and titles …the world’s a mess. And I hate that I can’t fix it.

But I contributed to the mess. I contribute to it quite regularly, actually, by not paying enough attention to my kids and my wife. I sweep them aside to try to be someone else’s hero. I’m guilty of this every single day.

I even sweep them aside to be my own hero.

Writing this post doesn’t make me more of an attentive father just because I’m acknowledging it. They say that the first step is admitting the problem. I’ve always disagreed with that.

The first step is beginning to change.

You say, “Come on, you’re working hard to build your publishing company and meet deadlines and write this nifty awesome blog for my enjoyment.”

Sure, but during the writing of most of these post, my kids are somewhere in the background vying for my attention, or my wife is in the bedroom folding laundry.

Hollywood and singers will say, “The world changes for the better for every pair of panties you fold and put away.” Or some crap like that.

I’m beginning to wonder if the issue isn’t with wanting to change the world vs. spending time with my kids, but maybe it’s that I’m so disorganized.

I intermingle work with my publishing company, which intermingles with time I could spend with the kids, which cuts into time I can spend washing the dishes…

Last weekend I gave my wife a schedule for Saturday. I said, I’ll spend time with you guys during these hours and I’ll work during these hours. It went well. All those hours were deliberate nuggets of time well spent.

But I didn’t set anything up for Sunday. And all hell broke loose.

So I’m wondering if maybe being a little more organized is just one way to help make the world a better place. If so, I guess I’ll go fold some underwear tonight after work.

 

Why I Think “The Walking Dead” Is So Popular

the-walking-dead-season-5-trailer

According to the ratings, The Walking Dead is the most popular TV show of all time. Which is kind of crazy because the horror movie genre has struggled to gain mass appeal for so long.

So what makes The Walking Dead different? What excuses it as a generic horror show that anti-horror movie people make time to tune in to each week?

AMC is expecting one of the largest viewerships of all time for a series show on October 23.

What’s the appeal?

I’m in the middle of season four myself, thanks to Netflix. And I’m no different from anyone else. I’m completely obsessed with The Walking Dead. And I can’t speak for anyone else, but I have an idea as to why.

First, a little background. I don’t care for blood and guts. I never have. If I ever watched anything scary it was scary for suspense. Little violence. I’m not morally against Hollywood violence (to a point), I just prefer to be pshychologically scared. But as the popularity for The Walking Dead grew, I became more and more intrigued.

Sure enough, the show hooked me from the very first scene, when Rick shot the little girl because she was infected by the disease. (Where does that scene fit into the timeline, by the way??)

I think The Walking Dead represents most of our lives. I’ve heard it argued that zombies represent us, mindlessly going about our lives, punching a time clock, day-in, day-out. I disagree with that. I think the survivors represent us. And not because they’re survivors but because they’re trapped.

If you’re like me you feel like you’re in a world where you have no control or say over anything. Because of work and bills and bureaucratic cement walls, we have to live inside our fences, risking our careers or future anytime we step out of bounds.

the-walking-dead-season-4-andrew-lincoln-slice

The best we can do is simply hunker down and wait out all the madness. Especially with these particular elections coming up, we feel more than ever that the world is spiraling out of control. For those of us in America, we don’t feel like we have a say anymore.

Meanwhile, we watch our friends and family suffer along with us. Like the characters in the show, there is nothing we can do to save them. And that’s another way we feel helpless.

And we grow hardened and calloused because of what little we can do to affect our surroundings or the world. We’re like fish in a bowl. Stuck and completely dependent on what the world decides to feed us, if it does.

I won’t be watching the premier of season seven this month since I’m so far behind, but I’m excited to catch up. And I do wish Rick and his company Godspeed as they battle the elements with us.

Comment below as to why you like The Walking Dead. Why do you think it’s so popular?

This Post Breaks All the Rules

Socially speaking, I’m not allowed to write this post.

Even the business world would frown on me.

Because we’re supposed to only present our best selves, right? And as a business owner, I’m supposed to give the impression that I’ve got it all under control.

To a degree, these are good rules. Personally, I don’t like it when people show up to work and start crying about their broken marriage. But I don’t hold it against them. I don’t tell them to stop. I just ignore them if I don’t want to hear it.

So if you don’t want to hear it, I suggest you stop reading now. Because I’m about to unleash as a father, a husband, a middle-class citizen, an aspiring bestselling author, and a brand-new business owner.

This post breaks all the rules. I trust you’ll forgive me.

I’m mad. No, I’m perpetually pissed off. My wife sees it, my kids see it, and I wake up and go to sleep each day feeling it.

Today I had to take our foster son to the doctor to get staples removed from his head. A quick two-minute procedure. But since Kentucky passed a new law mandating that foster parents have to get consent from the kids’ social workers before a doctor can do anything, they have to get permission from the already-hard-to-reach social workers. We were at the doctor this morning for almost an hour. No response. We called and called. I ended up having to reschedule and leave with the staples still in his head so I wouldn’t be late for work.

Because, you know, being a law-abiding, working middle-class citizen is no different than grade school. Can’t be tardy! (My particular day job is actually good in this regard compared to others’, but you get my point.)

Which is half the reason I’ve started my own business. I’m tired of being told when to show up to work and when I’m allowed to go on vacation. That is, if my insurance hasn’t robbed me as blind as the previous month.  I’m tired of getting permission to be sick.

I hate that the foster care system is crap deteriorating to shit that even makes the bacteria sick, never getting better, always getting worse.

I hate the state giving drug-addicts every chance under the sun (and then years-worth-of-chances after that) to get their kids back only for them to likely be abused and neglected even more, just so the faceless assholes running our government can come out looking like the good guys. All the while we foster parents are trying to do a good thing for these kids and we’re treated worse than the felons!

I can’t do a single thing about it and that really pisses me off!!!

I hate that running a business and writing a book takes nearly all the risk and energy in the world. And it’s driven by pure fear. I hate that no hours in a day is not just a cliche saying. It’s really, really, really, really true. And that sucks so bad.

I’m terrified that I’m going to fail. I’m terrified that you’re all going to read my book and hate it. (I’m not so terrified that you’re going to hate the other authors’ books because they’ve got more talent than I have in one of my graying hairs.) But the bigger fear is that you’re not going to buy our books. You’ll like the pages and posts and share the excerpts, but come book release, you’ll shrug it off.

I’m terrified that my kids won’t discover their passions until late in life, like me. And they’ll be stuck clocking in at a job they don’t care for making money for someone they don’t even know.

I’m terrified that my wife and I will just be done with each other. I’m terrified that I really can’t change. I hate that I love my kids so much and that one day they’re not going to care. I hate that I can’t take care of babies. I make them cry. My rapid heart-rate and boiling blood freaks them out.

I hate that I don’t know how to raise my kids.

Just on my way to work this morning (I made it on time, no thanks to the foster care system), blasted the music and just screamed. I’m sick of working my ass off and being robbed nearly half of my paycheck by our insurance. If you don’t know that money is only going to fatten corporate wallets, then you need to do your homework. (Where do you think your premiums are going if you still have to pay extreme medical bills?) And that doesn’t account for taxes.

I’m sick of the hardest working people getting paid nickels and dimes and the comfortable corner-office inhabitants getting perks and hiring maids to dust out their Ferraris.

I can go on. And believe me, each day I do. But I’m not going to be another one of those bloggers who pretends everything is great and that my life is all peaches and flowers. I’m a human being with real issues and real problems and real effed up emotions.

I’m a terrible husband at best.

I’m a paranoid and angry father.

I’m a terrible writer.

I’m a terrified business owner.

I’m completely unraveled.

You’re all going to comment and say things like, “It’s okay, we feel your pain,” or “You’re a great writer! I’ve been following you for years!”

Don’t.

In fact, you’re as messed up and in as bad of a situation as I am. Gripe. Just let it out. Writing this didn’t fix anything, and honestly, it didn’t make me feel better. But at least I’m not lying or presenting a false image. Because this is who I am. This is how I feel.

And I’m really sorry, but I’m going to keep trying my hardest. Because I’m just. That. Stupid.