Picture Day 

Today is picture day. You are wearing a new blue button down shirt and we packed a more durable, comfortable shirt in your bag for you to wear at after school. I have my suspicions as to whether you’ll change, though. You are so proud of yourself today and you know you are handsome. It doesn’t occur to you to be bashful, to quell your pride. You smiled this morning and you were excited. Today is picture day.

Picture day is a day for us too. It’s a day to get a snapshot of you in Kindergarten. A chance for us to attempt earnestly to do the impossible. To capture you as you are now, to freeze you in this moment. We do it so we can share this moment with the wide world of people that love you. To capture and disseminate your joyful boyishness so that even a tiny bit can be transported across space and your Grandma and Koba and Nana and Papa can hold this part of you from hundreds of miles away. So they can put you on the fridge and look at you whenever they wish. So they can show their friends and your relatives, ones you don’t even know yet, how well you are doing. So they can feel pride. Not only in you, but in us.

We also take these pictures so that we, your mommy and daddy, can travel through time to right now. It’s important. We dress you in your finest and we do your hair especially carefully. I think you may have even had your first encounter with hairspray this morning. We do it as it is our wont. We want you to look your finest and be happy. So we can find this picture a few years from now when you are perhaps a bit self conscious and less open to us combing your hair. When you try to comply and smile, but when that smile is put on, something to think about and not so much your default facial expression. We will come back in time to this picture and the others like it to remember who you are inside, at least the part of who you are that we first met. We’ll always see that part, even after you’re convinced it’s not there anymore. We’ll know it’s just dormant. You will never look like you do now and that’s important to memorialize, but you will feel this way again, but it will be tempered by life and what it teaches you.

Innocence is highly overrated. But it is also a real and wonderful part of being five and while you are a more mature boy everyday and while we love that you can be quiet and contemplative from time to time, there is something we will miss about this time you are rapidly graduating from where you are earnest and honest with us and yourself by default. You haven’t gotten too caught up in fitting in. Too caught up in trying on identities you conjure. Instead you look at the camera proud because you are handsome, funny, smart and loved and you know it. And so do we.

We’ll know it when you are away at college and going on adventures to find yourself. When you are busy developing and defining your purpose.  We will look at this picture and the others, the ones from every step on the way and we will be recognizing ours. We will see all that went in to getting you to picture day and take pride in us, all of us, for doing what we did together. We will still be doing it, but it will look a lot different than it does now, all of us smooshed together, experiencing it as one and interpreting it individually. There might be times when these interpretations are deceptive and we struggle to stay positive. You may need to distance yourself and we may reactively hold tighter. You’ll surely have to push us away someday, just like we will surely have to nudge you along from time to time. It will all be from love, but it might not always feel that way. When it doesn’t these pictures will help.

They’ll help you too. You’ll look back and remember vividly some things. I remember my mother wetting the comb and working with my cowlick. Trying over and over to supress my hairs natural desires in an attempt to look my best. Licking her thumb and cleaning the smudges from my cheek. I remember the brown bags we used for lunches that my father would sit at the table at night and decorate. I’ll remember the joyful pink elephant sitting under the lone palm tree on the tiny island on a lunch bag that I used repeatedly that I loved so much that he made for me. It’s another framed talisman from a time gone by that I cling to, though after my many adult moves I can’t say I know exactly where it is. I’ll find it someday, probably too late, and when I do I’ll cry tears of love and joy.

Hopefully when you look back, from a great distance and see your picture you’ll see love. The love and time and unabashed joy we took in giving you what we had. In doing our best to make sure you were taken care of, that you knew you were loved. Because when we look at them, when we travel through time and space to see the you you are now it will be with joy. It will be with love. It will be with longing for the time we had with you and the many journey’s you are surely going to take.

Crumbling Under the Weight of a Whisper

What are you watching Daddy?

-It’s a memorial service for something that happened 15 years ago.

I knew he wouldn’t know what a memorial service was, but I was put on the spot and hadn’t yet worked out my answer to the question yet so I let it hang there.

The service was the now familiar reciting of names. The seemingly endless recitation of the dead that occurs every year where the towers stood. I’ve tried to listen or watch in the past, but couldn’t always make it. This year it fell on a Sunday and I had some coffee and wanted to stir the emotions that didn’t come as early as they used to. That still hadn’t really arrived until I put on the service.

As in past years two relatives or friends will recite a section of the seemingly endless scroll of names, alternating turns alphabetically until arriving at their final destination. The name of their loved one who is now gone, frozen in time, never growing older. Each year the pictures of them getting more dated as time continues to creep forward without them. When they get to their own loved one they say something to honor them, something to remember them, something to put out in the world some of the pain they carry the rest of the time. They give it out now so that others may burden some of the pain. If not for them, then at least with them. It never fails to stir me. Never fails to bring tears to my eyes.

In the past my emotion would arrive earlier. It would loom large on the horizon for days just waiting their stoic, unmoved  by and unaware of my concerns. This year I had yet to confront my emotions around the whole thing. It was my head that lead my heart this year.

-Why are you sad, Daddy?

-Well, something very sad happened 15 years ago. Some very big buildings fell down. I had a friend who was in one of them and when I hear about the people that were in the buildings it reminds me how sad that day was. It was very very sad.

-Did your friend die?

-Yes, he did. A lot of people did. Thousands of people died that day. 

-I’m sorry your friend died daddy. 

-That’s very sweet Charlie. Thank you. He was a very nice man and it is very very sad that he died. I’m sad.

I shattered into a million tiny pieces.

I’m not used to this. It’s completely foreign to me, in fact. These tiny little people are not so tiny anymore and while there has been love and pain and joy and pride and so many threads that bound us together since the beginning, this is new. This compassion and concern emanating from him. This expression of love and thoughtfulness, this true recognition of such a sorrowful moment and his wish to comfort me felt overpowering but it wasn’t. It was tender and gentle and disarming. I shattered not because the weight of the moment. No. It was the complete removal of defenses that his loving words brought me that turned me to thin glass that crumbled under the weight of a whisper.

-I could draw a picture of him!

He is five and I love love love his pictures.

-That would be amazing, Charlie. Would you like to see a picture of him.

-Yeah.

So I searched for Darryl L. McKinney and there he was, the same tight, zoomed black and white tight shot, his head turning. The same action shot on the court in his college uniform, the picture of athleticism and youthful energy. The shots I see every year at this time. The one’s I’ll always have. The ones that will sadly never change.

-Daddy, how do you spell Darryl?

I spelled it out for him from the couch where they were up to the ‘L’ names.

-How do you spell love?

It was all their now. All I wanted was that one minute. I hoped it would be a family member of Darryl’s up there, telling of his life and saying some kind words past tears. I hoped I’d be able to see something of him in that face. It wasn’t t be however. I think they mispronounced his middle name. Only slightly.

-Daddy. Do you like it? That’s him and that’s you.

I love it. I love it so much.

I Hate School

img_3083I hate school.

I hope you won’t but I fear you will.

Let me be clear. I don’t fear you will fail at school. You are INSANELY smart and I suspect you will soar at school. My fear is that school will fail you. Will turn your attention from satisfying and stirring curiosity to simple and attainable achievement. That a fire you carry will dim in order that the oxygen it would have taken to be stoked from a flame to an inferno will be otherwise deployed to satisfy the wishes of others. It’s hard to stay away from that. You’ll spend lots of energy pursuing that which you may be unsure of to pursue the expectations you are handed. A little of that is okay, good even. But only enough to learn that you aren’t here alone and you are accountable to others. Beyond that my only wish is that you find that which excites you and you pursue it without fear, embracing the failures that come from trying new things. Staying true to yourself will make most failures tolerable and some downright necessary. Just remember that failures are not end points. They are merely spots on the journey.

School made me horribly self critical. I don’t know why but it did. As you prepare to head out for your first day you are so much more prepared than I was. Still I find myself regressing. I sat with your mother last night and it all came out. I’m horrified and angry that you are heading to school. I had a miserable first few years at school and as a result I learned how to be liked regardless of whether or not I was remaining true to myself. I lacked confidence and swam in conformity. As much as I could. My heart and mind were free, but under wraps. All that time and energy spent hiding me made me wonder if I was worth anything.

img_3078If anyone ever laughs at you or says something critical about who you are ignore them. Seriously. Hold on to your kind heart, smart head, unique tastes and your loving and weird family.  If you do you’ll see these clowns for who they are. Okay, there was a tad more anger in this sentiment than intended. Truth is most of them are scared and excited and wanting to hide in a corner unnoticed while also wishing to have all the attention possible. Growing up is confusing sometimes. The only power anyone has over your opinion of yourself is the power you grant them. Don’t give it. Hold firm. You are weird and wonderful and unique and perfectly flawed and loved. Find the people that are engaged in the things you want to be doing, regardless of what anyone else thinks about them, and sit with them. If it takes weeks or months or years, I don’t care. Stay where you want to be, don’t go where you’re ‘supposed’ to be.

I love you so much and for one of the few times since meeting you I’m shaken. It caught me off guard. I’ve been spouting the ‘I hate school’ gospel for over 35 years now. But I didn’t realize how much I feared it until I was seeing it through your eyes. Seeing it from a perspective of a protective dad. Seeing it as someone who is certain that school worked in reverse, at least for me. It killed enthusiasm, stoked self-consciousness, raised fear and followed through on it. I know this won’t happen to you, so why am I now thinking thoughts I haven’t thought since I was your age. Feeling scared that kids might make fun of your stuff. Hoping to god you aren’t picked on. Feeling a visceral concern that you have the wrong hair or wrong shirt or wrong glue sticks and you’ll react like I did.

This is your journey and I have to check out of it. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but this part of me, I have to protect you from it. Maybe when you are older we can talk about it. When we are two adults. Not now.

You really are going to do amazing things. You’re going to LOVE school! YOU are going to make friends today that will be your friends for the next 13 years and probably for the rest of your life.

YOUR LIFE. I’m sorry if I forget that at times.

My Boy

img_2946A few weeks back my wife headed out to pick up some groceries on a Saturday afternoon. Left on our own some rules change without any acknowledgement or discussion ever being made. When mom goes away daddy lets some things happen a bit more, independently.
We were playing in the backyard when Charlie, 5, decided he wanted to come in for a snack and some TV. I probably asked him if he wanted to head in using a movie he’d recently got out from the library. It’s a proven tactic. But Teddy, he wasn’t having it.

‘Are you sure? We can watch Octonauts.’ I offered.

‘No. I’m staying out here.’ He’s 3.

I prodded a few more times and varied the snacks and the programs in hopes of arriving at an agreement, but he was not hearing any of my offers and had no interest in leaving the water table we’d made into a sand table which he was making into a mud table one cup of water at a time. He does that.

‘You sure?  I think it’s the Muppet Movie.’

‘I can’t like the Muppet Movie.’ He replied. He likes to play with words, too.

So I came in and I set Charlie up with his ‘cow milk’, what he calls those little boxes of vanilla milk from Horizon, what we all call them by now, I suppose, and a peeled apple and a movie to his liking. By the time I got back out I had already seen through the window that he had started climbing in and around the mud on the small table, clearly with a purpose. Not one discernible by me, mind you, but he was clearly not acting at random.

It was wonderful really. I loved seeing him all covered in mud and happy and engaged. So I brought out the corn muffin mix and makings and sat on the deck at the table where I could see him and his brother. They were at about a 90 degree angle using me as a focal point and they couldn’t see one another, one inside and eating and the other outside making mud.

Charlie is a pack animal. He’d probably be fine now, but if at Teddy’s age I’d let him stay outside he’d have wandered to any sound of other children, or even adults. It’s his nature. Teddy, not so much. He’s different. He’s a bit like me this way. He’s most comfortable while engaged with tasks. Without them he’s bored and rambunctious. Charlie needs others to play with, to socialize with. Teddy does too, but it works best if it’s a project that brings them together. Charlie has to be dropped off to the teacher every day at daycare. Teddy does what he needs to to greet them, the teachers, often grudgingly, then looks to be engaged in a task, blocks, stacking, coloring , puzzles and then he’s ready for me to leave. I get it.

So after I was done and ready to put my corn muffins in the oven I asked one last time if he wanted to join us inside. I knew he’d be fine and I could see him from the kitchen window. Nope. Wouldn’t even look up. By now he had trucks doing work for him, was creating conversations between imaginary workers and was knee deep in the project, whatever it was, and still shoulders deep in mud. No shirt, just swim trunks and mud.

I drifted for a minute while I cleaned the dishes and when I looked up, he had his pants half way down, standing by the sand table mud pit, fully knowing he was just doing what he needed to do.

‘Teddy! Wait.’ I yelled.

That’s just Teddy. I get it.

I’m seeing a lot of myself in him these days. The world and it’s crowds can drive me crazy. Crowds is not really the right word, but it’s the more sensitive one. Because really it’s the people in my life. And they don’t drive me crazy at all. I love them, all of them, deeply. But being with people, connecting and interacting with them, no matter how much I love them, it overwhelms me. By the end of the day my tread is wearing thin and showing and I need to be alone. It can get ugly when I’m not.

I’ve recently heard Teddy, when he’s tired, get angry because something isn’t being said the way he wants it to be said. The way, frankly, that he needs it to be said. He might even be getting the answer or information that he wants and still he is frustrated.

‘Say ‘Teddy get’s the green cup!’ I’ve heard him yell, through tears of frustration.

“Teddy, sweetheart, I said you get the green cup.’ Karen will say.

‘No!’, he will scream from the top of his lungs. He will turn red and it’s a full on squealing scream.

I’m sad to say I’ve said the same things to her in the past. It wasn’t about green cups. I don’t really remember what it was. But watching him there, so frustrated, so tired, so done with trying to connect to people, tired from navigating human interaction, I see myself. I see it exactly. There’s no way he got it from hearing me say it, but I’ve said the exact same things to her. I’ve told her to please say this thing. It’s not anything you’d think, either. It’s just phrasing of common things and it’s brutally unfair and horrible. I’ve said my sincere apologies and tried hard to make amends, but you can’t unsay things that have sunk so deep. So he may not have heard it from me, but he definitely got it from me. This inability to tolerate others when you’ve gone past your limit. This anger that results in outbursts that are all me just trying to gain control in order to get past whatever block is in my head keeping me in this moment of selfish exhaustion and anger.

I’m worried about that anger and what it can make us say. I’m worried about the accompanying loss of control and the subsequent loss of self respect. I’m scared of the way that not having the tolerance for human interaction can keep us from feeling and giving the love we need to receive and give away because we don’t know how to get out of our own heads where we can start to really think ourselves undeserving of these things.

I spend so much of my time writing about parenthood through the lens of concern for Charlie. He’s the first and he’s at the tip of the spear, with us, guiding us and orienting us as we navigate this journey for the first time. But I worry about Teddy just as much. It may not look that way at times as we spend our weekends talking endlessly about him starting kindergarten and all that it will entail, but I do.

You should know that once you figure it out and find people to love and love you, these traits of ours can be helpful. You should know that making the effort to get past  all the fears and inner road blocks for the people you love is more than worth it. You should be finding and following your truest interests because your ability to follow through is far greater than you might think. Your single minded focus is a thing that may make you miss out on some things, sure, but in the end that doesn’t make you different than anyone else. We all make choices. Ours are just informed differently than some others.

For the last few months I’ve had the best chance to connect with you. After it’s all over, after the day is done I get to lay in bed with you as you fall asleep. Like me you struggle to get comfortable and you aren’t always ready to go to bed when it’s time. We talk and giggle and once you are comfortable and winding down, which can take an hour or more, you will be quiet for a long time. Until you tell me about something you discovered during the day. You will say ‘Daddy’ very excitedly. I’ll open my eyes and say, ‘Yeah, buddy’ groggily. You’ll be beaming and the light will be bright in your eyes despite them revealing your underlying tiredness and you will recall something magical that you saw that day. Yesterday it was that you and mommy saw a new type of fish at the Science Center. I said that was very cool and you smiled. Then our eyes close again and you like to reach under my cheek and pull my head close to you for one big hug. It feels great and I love it. Then you roll over and drift slowly to sleep.

You are exactly who and how you are supposed to be and you are loved like crazy.

I Don’t Want to Let Go

imageTeddy still babbles. He’ll sit with the Lego Duplo’s and play by himself and there is a stream of playful and emotive gibberish. He has started to use words and and pretend and play make believe with his creations and the figurines, but if I listen in the right way, if I’m able to listen loosely I can still hear the patter of the 2 year old he was.

Being a parent is a lot. Early on we weren’t up to the task. Seriously. We are excellent, loving parents. Any kid, and I mean any kid at all would be lucky to have us. But the truth is that as excellent as we are as parents, we just aren’t very good at it. We don’t revert naturally to routine. We don’t always provide excellent examples and we are just terrible at doing so many of the things that we are ‘supposed’ to do.

Our house is a mess and while it’s better than it was, it’s never gonna be an ordered and soothing environment. I like to think that has to do with our artistic bent, that our clutter and struggle to eliminate is an element of us that is strongly informed by our connectedness and the meaning we see all around us. Meaning that I turn into stories.

imageWe don’t sleep train. We shouldn’t have to at this point, frankly. Our kids are well past the age when that should not be a thing that needs doing. I’m afraid that if our kids are ever to get themselves to bed, it’s gonna happen on it’s own. For now we each take one and we snuggle and struggle and ultimately find them asleep sometime within a couple hours of getting them up the stairs and into their rooms. In my case, with the three year old it is sometimes in the chair after losing the fight of getting him to calm down in his bed. Other times it is both of us on the floor looking up at the green stars on the ceiling that emanate from Winnie’s honey pot when you press the bee. Sometimes we find the moon, other times we find the one constellation, an outline of Mickey Mouse’s head. Yep, Disney even invades their sleep. Still other times it’s on the ‘big boy bed’ the five year old will be moved to once I am able to solve this endlessly flummoxing Rubik’s Cube of a task that I am told should never have been allowed to get to this point. In my moments of confidence, a wonderful if fleeting thing when it comes to my life as a dad, I like to think that whatever we’re losing by not giving them normalized sleep routines is more than made up for by the love and feeling of security we’re giving them by never leaving.

imageWe are inconsistent practitioners of reward systems, a crime doubly indictable as I’ve been designing and implementing such programs for much of my 20+ year career. We don’t practice anything approaching appropriate self-care. The clothes are piled up, usually separated into piles that require sniff tests to determine whether they are clean or dirty. We take them into our bed and let them stay the night. Every time. We are wonderful parents to have as we never fail to give love. But we are just not very good at the component skills.

I’m not complaining. Well, not much. Now that our lives are this way I can honestly say there’s very little I would change. Perhaps I’d employ more consistent rewards or maybe I’d have a few more date nights. I’d certainly have a neater pile of clutter, that’s for sure. Okay, there’s a lot I’d change.

But I won’t, because at this point, this is who we are. We are fumbling through this thing together, imperfect as hell. I’m not saying we refuse to grow or we won’t change. We’re changing all the time, growing all the time. We’re just doing it together. At this point that means we’re messy, tired, together and happy.

imageI don’t know how much longer I’m going to be able to hear through the coherent play and listen to the babbling that is working it’s way fully out of my son’s mouth. Truth is I might already have heard the last of it. That’s the thing. Nothing we do is going to stop them from growing up. Nothing I do will keep us from watching life slip ever past. The older they get and the older we get the more clear it becomes that none of it is forever. None of it lasts like I’d like it to.

It kills me to think that I’m ever going to step out, I’m ever going to be finished. With loving and watching and helping and messing up with my kids. That I’m ever going to walk away from my wife who I’ll never see again or that she’ll have to walk away from me. I don’t want any of this to change because for the first time since I was too young to understand the implications of it, I don’t want to ever die.

I want to live forever and never say goodbye. Never grow old. Never die. I want to live this life I have for a million lifetimes. Not some version of it, not some other life, but this one. Mine. With the same pains and the same joys. Now everyday that goes by where I don’t hear my boy babble, like the ones that came before he uttered a sound and relied on us for his every aspect of existence, every tiny change that moves some aspect of their lives to the past is a process. One of letting go. That is how we think of it.

I often think that parenthood is the first time it’s highlighted for you that so much of life is the process of constantly letting go. It is, but it also isn’t. It gives me some agency, some power, some sense that this is my choice. To let go. To slowly choose to hand away life one tiny handful at a time, knowing that at the end the last thing I’ll let go of will be life itself. It’s inevitable. It’ll be all I have left to hand over.

imageThat’s not how it is though, is it? I don’t want to let any of it pass. I want to live equally in the moments where I was three, sitting on my momma’s lap playing with her long hair that flowed out of her ’70’s style bandana, staring at the wooden cross hanging from a leather strap around her neck. I want to spend eternity smiling at the brown lunch bag my father drew pictures on just for me. I want to fall in love for the first time at 12 years old and play act what I thought it meant to lose it all. I want to feel lean and limber and strong and beautiful as I dance with a basketball unafraid of anyone who might wish to stop me. I want to be brash and cocky and altogether terrified on my first day of college and I want the world to open up to me at camp as I found what it was I’d do the rest of my life. I want to meet my wife, sit on those bar stools forever. Falling in love and diving into the unknown. I want to have my kids, meet them for the first time, and I want to watch them grow and marvel at the spectacle. I want all of this to be held. Why would I ever let go of this?

The answer is obvious. We ‘let go’ because we have no choice. Because we can’t choose to hold on. That being said, I want to get as much of this as I can. I want to watch my boy play on the floor with not a care in the world but what the little elephant on the back of his train that he built from Lego’s and imagination is going to do next. Forever.

 

 

The Destination Justifies the Journey

I’m a Herb.

A Herb is a standard issue, dime a dozen, khaki wearing guy who tucks in his shirts and is always presentable but never stylish. ‘Nerdy’ has taken on a different connotation since I used the term with any regularity back when I was in college in the mid-nineties, but back then this would have been a part of the definition.

Back then I would have blanched had I heard I’d been called a Herb, but it was always my destiny. I merely had the freedom to wear jeans and t-shirts constantly back then. Were I to have a job, to have had kids, thus making me sincerely value said job, I’d have been a Herb already at that point, I suppose. Such is the arrogance of youth that I presumed my destiny to be endlessly casual.

Now I rely on my uniform. Blue button-down shirts in various though similar shades, khaki’s, black or tan and a belt. A brown belt. I’ve had it for 20 years, worn it most days and spent eras in each of it’s eight varying sizes based on which hole I could cinch to as determined by my ever expanding gut. I am so frequently in this uniform that when I came down in a white button down shirt yesterday (laundry day and I had to break into my formal wear) Teddy looked at me and with 100% sincerity asked, ‘Are you a Doctor?’

‘No, Buddy. Just wearing a white shirt.’ I replied.

‘You wear blue.’ he said. Correcting my obvious mistake.

I am a Herb, it’s true. Any kid would look at me and recognize the standard, basic, middle aged white guy who no longer cares. They’d be right and wrong. I don’t care about many things anymore. If I’m walking down the street and someone is passing and I really need to let one fly, just to relieve the discomfort, I will. I’m okay with whatever tittering it brings. Really. I am.

On the flip side I’ve truly come into my own as a unique individual who is not afraid of who I am. I’m a person capable of remarkable creativity. I’m learning that I have the ability to truly make a difference by being sincere about my vulnerabilities and I’m happy to share them wide and far. It’s scary at first but it’s also freeing. I’ve come to really enjoy my moments of melancholy. I have come to truly like most of the characteristics I possess that I formerly thought of as flaws and I’ve lost a whole ton of hangups I had about my personality that I used to think of as my failings. They aren’t failings they are who I am and now that I acknowledge these aspects of me as just part of who I am they have no ability to hurt me. I’m a snowflake dammit. Even if this snowflakes closet is a string of blue shirts and khaki pants. That doesn’t define me. I’m a free thinker and boring dresser. I’m the proverbial book of infinite interest behind a cover of bland button down blue shirts.

It’s becoming clear to me that it’s going to be my life’s work coming to and maintaining a level of self-acceptance. It’s good. I like doing it. But it was quite a journey, filled with missteps and mistakes all of which got me to this place I’m so fulfilled in. It’s a destination that was arrived at more swiftly, I’m certain, for all the wrong roads I went down. Those roads taught me who I was, who I could be. They were seen as mistakes or bad choices at the time, but they weren’t. They were the classrooms and laboratories where I worked tirelessly in earning my Doctorate in me.

I needed to take all the journeys to get here to the destination I so value. It’s important for me to remember this. It’ll be my job to act as resistance during my kids rebellions and wrong turns. But I hope I am able, when I know they are out of mortal danger, to tolerate the challenges I see them facing and to get out of the way so they can learn all they can learn about how remarkable they truly are.

 

The Misplaced Confidence of the Formerly Beautiful

Have you ever had a secret that was just too painful to share? I just know there’s someone out there who could understand me if I could just get over myself. Just stop stopping every time I start to address it directly. Fear is cruel that way. It gets in and feigns ultimate power and you believe it. But its all a charade. Any power fear has is usurped and misappropriated from its host. That power you feel being exerted on you, to apply the old horror movie trope, is coming from inside the house. Your house. You. The power is all yours and you have to claim it. As soon as you do fear will flee like the coward it is.

Here is my proclamation.

I am afflicted with the misplaced confidence of the formerly beautiful.

High SchoolIt may not be recognized in the DSM and their is likely not a ton of literature about this dreadful disorder, but for those few of us suffering from it none of that makes it any less real. It doesn’t make it any less painful.

It’s a pitiable reality I live day to day. One I don’t wish on my most attractive enemies. Every night I’m tortured by my reflection, reminding me that those looks I’ve gotten, those looks I’ve come to rely on for my sense of self, from attractive young women, those looks are no longer intended the way I still, sadly, receive them in the moment. All day I’ve stolen glances of others checking me out. Now, when I see what greets there eye in the world of funhouse mirrors I now live in I am left little room for doubt that one of two things has happened. One, they are looking on me as an oddity here in these places of the young and beautiful I somehow still think I’m rightly placed in. Or, two, horrifyingly, they are not in fact looking at me, but rather ‘keeping an eye on me’ the old, thick, greying gentlemen who clearly doesn’t belong.

Well I have news for you. Many of you will be me someday. Laugh. Go ahead, young beauties, but mark my words, beauty fades. Even on us, the most beautiful. You can only outrun it for a decade or two. Your number will come up some day. And when it does I hope you remember the way you look at me and judge me. I’m you, my friends. I’m you.

I too was able to claim a total and truthful lack of ‘game’ when it came to meeting the people I was attracted to. I was afforded all the free space on the high road. My best move was letting slip to a friend that I thought someone was cute. This actually led to nearly every relationship I initiated in my dating days. The other 90% were someone telling me that some other, similarly afflicted gorgeous person was interested in me. I never questioned. Of course they were. Then I’d decide if I was. If I was we’d date. For as long as I was into it. I assumed it was like this for everyone.

I was raised by humble and handsome people who didn’t burden me with the knowledge of the appeal of my strong jaw line, piercing blue eyes, broad shoulders, alabaster skin and buttery smooth baritone. I was 6’2″ and athletic on top of it. Lacking arrogance, I emerged in the world upon reaching majority a fully formed, devilishly handsome man free from the awareness of my native advantages over the average person. I assumed all people had yet to feel the bitter sting of rejection. Thinking it not at all unusual that someone might greet anyone with a sharp intake of breath followed by spitting out a phrase like, ‘Wow. You’re really good looking!’ Didn’t matter where I was. Interviews and church and other formal settings. I just assumed this was a common courtesy between strangers raised with manners and good hearts. I assumed everyone would have to hold their bosses at arms length. Out of respect for their dignity. I mean how silly would they have looked being rejected by subordinates. I always assumed my promotions were the same promotions anyone else would have received having dutifully arrived to work on time, answered most messages and was always available to smile and make small talk. These are the essential duties of handsome/good looking people after all.

imageBut now, now I’m a fool. I still assume the never ending upward trajectory to continue despite having long ago settled into the middle. Thank god I met my gorgeous wife before my looks were so diminished. I managed to convince her, a fellow and currently gorgeous human, to marry me and quick. Before the fall of Rome as it were.

After a lifetime of the world and its inhabitants falling at my feet to help me over any and all challenges I didn’t even realize that I am completely lacking the skills needed for someone in my current, hideous form. Thank god I managed to attend and graduate college while I still was on the path of least resistance, which is every path for the beautiful among us. At least I have a degree to fall back on.

But today, today is my day to take back my life, to swallow my humiliation and face the world. I’m thicker then I was and my profile in particular is to be avoided. My once prominent jawline is doughy. My broad shoulders have slumped and my skin is, well, problematic. But that is not going to stop me from being proud of myself. Today is the first day of the rest of my life. I’m going to eat better and care for myself more attentively. I’m going to run and use the elliptical and I’m going to do all the things everyone else has had to do forever just to keep up with me.

I may never be beautiful again. Lord knows I’ll never be as stunning as I once was. But who knows. I’m to understand that men like myself can still get quite a bit from life if we can make it to ‘distinguished’, so there’s still hope.