NO hugs allowed. That’s how far the punishment goes.
You see, I went to give him a hug because he’d just inspired me so deeply. He’d just shared his amazing life story with me, and it blew open my heart and my soul. So of course, I didn’t just want to shake his hand and thank him – I wanted to give this man a hug.
When he extended his hand to say goodbye, I pulled him in for a hug. He stiffened… but I pulled him in anyhow.
Then I heard the rules,
“NO hugging! Only handshakes.”
This was the moment I felt the deepest sorrow over just how far away we’ve thrown away these human beings.
Today, I went into a maximum security prison for the first time. I spent the afternoon with inmates, men who’ve been locked away for decades, many of which have been sentenced to life.
The man I wanted to hug, Lionel, had been in for 20 years and wasn’t getting out any time soon.
No hugs allowed.
Driving in, I wanted to cry just seeing the prison from the outside. I can assure you, we’ve locked these people as far away from sight as possible and in the most desolate of conditions. No grass. No trees. No greenery. No colors. No art.
Just concrete, cages and barbed wire.
I went as a volunteer to help coach these prisoners to tell their stories at their first TEDx-DonovanCorrectional event, coming up in May.
The prisoners chose their own theme for the TEDx – “Looking Beyond the Surface.” Having been in there with them now, I get it.
Beyond the surface of a concrete facility in the middle of bleak and unforgiving desert is place that is filled with men who arrived as kids and who – if they are ever allowed leave- will leave gray-haired, institutionalized and old.
Beyond the surface of blue uniforms marked with “CDCR PRISONER” in extra-large yellow letters, are souls who are surviving realities that stretch the human spirit to dimensions impossible for most of us to comprehend.
This cruel place with its condemned people cracked my heart open wide and in rushed love, sorrow, inspiration and compassion.
They told me their stories.
Their stories showed me beyond the prison garb, the face, the crime and into the heart, the humanity, the universality, the oneness of us all.
I saw their light. I felt my own.
I will return many times to help them be ready to stand and speak on a red TEDx carpet – on a stage inside a high security prison – and courageously use their voices to spread hard-earned truths about love, regret, forgiveness, belief, faith, hope, choices, purpose, and the human spirit.
I will be there to let these men take me Beyond the Surface, where much deeper truths are hidden.
And although there will be no hugging, I’m certain love will carry the day.
Click here now more information on TEDx DonovanCorrectional which will be held May 21:
A day of mind- and heart-expanding big ideas shared through talks by inside and outside speakers and performers, held at Donovan State Prison in San Diego
The Most Important Journey is only 12 inches, but somedays, damn it’s the hardest journey in the world to make. But… It’s The Most Important Journey you’ll ever make. And you gotta make it every day! This was filmed in front of a live audience in Dallas, TX.
I STUMBLED ACROSS THIS TODAY… The time I was invited to give a college commencement address. I gave it 13 years ago; I’m surprised that I still agree with all the words.
By Patrick Combs
At William Rainey Harper College
May 30, 2003
“This is the first commencement address I’ll have ever given in my life. It is fitting that it is here because I love Harper students and I’ve spoken at Harper more than any other school in the world. You will find a lot of places in your life where you don’t really fit, and some where you really do. I suggest that you really notice and appreciate the places where you just fit. I think I fit here because I have so much in common with you.
A few years back, I sat at my graduation and I thought exactly what you are now thinking: What’s going to happen to me? Will I find my place in the world? Will McDonalds have me back? Was it smart to highlight all my books with a black felt marker? Should I have at least worn underwear under my gown?
In putting together this little speech – which I promise will be little because that is the mark of a great commencement speech – I decided that I’d like to give you 4 things, that I myself would have appreciated from my commencement speaker, who I cannot remember a thing about:
1. A few words of advice that hopefully help
2. An inspirational story
3. A gift
4. One final quiz
Okay I wouldn’t have wanted a quiz but I’m going to give you one anyway so I’ll move right to the quiz, so we can get it over with. Somebody else made up this quiz – I don’t know who – but as far as pop quizzes go, it’s a goody. You don’t need pen and paper. Just think through your answers:
“1. Name the five wealthiest people in the world.
2. Name the last five Heisman trophy winners.
3. Name the last five winners of the Miss America contest.
4. Name ten people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer prize.
5. Name the last half dozen Academy Award winners for best actor and actress.
How did you do? The point is, none of us remember the headliners of yesterday. These are no second-rate achievers. They are the best in their fields. But tremendous achievements are soon forgotten. Accolades and certificates are buried with their owners.
Here’s the second part of the quiz. See how you do:
1. List a few teachers who aided your journey through college.
2. Name three friends who have helped you through a difficult time.
3. Name five people who have taught you something worthwhile.
4. Think of a few people who have made you feel appreciated and special.
5. Name half a dozen heroes whose stories have inspired you.”
The lesson is obvious. Life isn’t about achievement. Life is about the love you give and the love you get. Life is about the love you share. I really mean it. When I first came to Harper, 10 years ago, I was 26 and single. Now I’m 36 and have a child. I make less money now in my 30’s than I did when I was in my 20’s and I’ll tell you why. Because now I only work 3 days a week. I take Tuesday and Thursdays off just to play with my daughter. You have to make a living, but time with friends and family will always be worth more than a raise.
I’ll tell you a funny story that took place on one of my precious Tuesday’s and Thursdays. My daughter, Alyssa, who was two at the time, came out from her bedroom, carrying two little dresses, one in each hand. Her mom had just suggested she ask me which one I like best because Alyssa couldn’t decide which one she wanted to wear. “Dad, which one you like?” she asked holding up a red dress in one hand and a blue dress in the other. I pointed and said, “The red one.” Without saying a word, Alyssa turned and started walking back to the room where her mother was waiting. “Which one are you going to wear Alyssa?” called out her mother. Alyssa answered, “The blue one!…. Daddy is going to wear the red dress. ” Money will never be worth more than precious moments like these, whether they’re between you and your children or you and your loved ones.
Which brings me to the next thing I thought to mention: money. Everyone seems to want to make a lot of money. Everyone seems to want to be a millionaire. And since most people aren’t millionaires, most people don’t ever feel rich. I want you to feel rich, be rich and experience rich, so I’ll share some hard facts with you. Rich isn’t a million dollars. Actually the average household income in the US is around $33,000. And we’re the richest nation in the world. So if you manage to earn MORE than $35,000 in a year, you are making good money. No one around me ever seems to know that. And should you ever manage to have a household income of more than $60,000, you are officially in the upper class. Some of you will achieve household incomes of $125,000 or more, and when you do you are in the top 5% of the wealthiest country on earth. I know so many people who earn more than that amount who do not think they are rich or have enough money. These people are poor. Leave here today knowing you don’t need anywhere near a million dollars to be financially rich. Knowing the bar is much lower than a million dollars is the SECRET to actually living richer. Then you are free to devote your life energy to people, friends, passion and just being.
Of course, you don’t need a cent to be rich. When multibillionaire Sir John Marks Templeton, was asked about his definition of being rich, he said it could be summed up in just one word: gratitude. I couldn’t agree more. Personally, being grateful is my greatest secret to true success. Every night I say my prayers. Then I list all the things I am grateful for. I always fall asleep before I can finish. Even on bad days. A daily attitude of gratitude transforms your entire life, and I dare say overnight. When I feel unsuccessful, gratitude makes me realize I am great. When I feel behind, gratitude makes me realize I am ahead. When I feel alone, gratitude makes me realize I am always supported. When I feel lack, gratitude makes me realize I am rich beyond measure. And there is no level of achievement necessary for gratitude to work in your life. Someone put it this way:
I am thankful for:
* The spot I find at the far end of the parking lot because it means I am capable of walking.
* My huge heating bill because it means I am warm.
* The mess to clean up after a party because it means I have been surrounded by friends.
* The taxes I pay because it means that I am employed.
* The clothes that fit a little too snug because it means I have enough to eat.
* The dishes that need doing because it means I have a home.
* The piles of laundry and ironing because it means my loves ones are nearby.
* The alarm that goes off in the early morning hours because it means that I’m alive.
An attitude of gratitude. Live it and be truly rich.
Finally, since I am the author of book titled Major in Success, I’d like to share with you my favorite success story ever. It’s not in my book because it took place after I wrote it.
It took place during the 2000 summer Olympics in Sydney Australia. A 22 year old named Eric Moussambani, from Equatorial Guinea, swam the 100 meter freestyle, won his heat, and electrified the audience. He was a hero who would not soon be forgotten, but Eric wasn’t a hero for winning gold (he didn’t), and he wasn’t a hero for breaking any records (he didn’t). Eric was a hero for a different reason. Five months before, the OIC, has invited a handful of athletes from small countries to compete even though they didn’t meet qualifying standards. It was the Olympic Committee’s way of spreading sport around the world. Eric, who’d never taken an interest in swimming before, answered the call and began swimming laps. The largest pool in his town was 20 meters and had no lane markers. He swam any way, every day. No one took his Olympic dream serious. His mom thought he must have just wanted to see Sydney. Eric trained and trained for a five months. Then he found himself at the Olympics, on the edge of the pool, competing in the preliminary rounds of the 100 meter freestyle heat. The two swimming against him false started and disqualified themselves. That meant that all Eric had to do to win his heat was swim and finish, but it would be no small task considering the fact that he’d never raced more than 50 meters before.
The gun went off and Eric flopped himself into the water. He flailed, struggled, kept his head above water and swam. But he made it to one end of the pool, did an awkward flip turn, and swam back. He said the last 15 meters were very difficult. He looked like he might drown. It didn’t matter. The crowd loved him and cheered loudly for his success. He made it and climbed from the pool. The crowd went wild. His time was 1:52 seconds, a full minute slower than the fastest swimmer, but he’d won the hearts of everyone who watched. He was a hero for following-through on his dream. A person unafraid to live their dream. A brilliant reminder to all that life is about inner-triumphs, not outer-achievements. Still dripping wet, Eric spoke to the audience through an interpreter. He said, “I want to send hugs and kisses to the crowd. It was their cheering that kept me going.” The following day he declared that he hoped to “find a good coach” and swim in the 2004 Olympics.
I don’t care what rank you graduated. I don’t care about your GPA. I don’t care about your resume. I am standing and giving you an ovation because you dared to follow your dream, jump into the pool and you swam all the way to the end. So you are my favorite Olympians. Family and friends, please say NOTHING WHATSOEVER today to diminish these great graduates, or imply that they anything less than heroes. Please don’t rob them of this great moment by questioning their next step or their ability to get a job. Let today be today and tomorrow be left for tomorrow. Today they are champions and nothing less. Put reverence in your heart for them, buy them a drink, take them to dinner, rub their feet, make them a special meal, tell them you are proud of them, that you love them, period.
Finally, I promised you a gift. Point to yourselves. (People point to their heart) Notice that 95% of your are pointing straight to your heart. We point there because we know that is where we truly reside. Now point to where we manage our careers from and from where we do our To Do Lists? (People point to their heads). That’s the problem. Follow your heart, let it guide your life, and you will be most successful. It is your inner elder.
You are all unequivocally great. I love you for it. Thank you and best wishes graduates of Harper College.”
I often like to share this ancedote about Ali and the Stewardess. It just cracks me up that she delivered a knock out punch to the champ!
There are a handful of people who TRULY made me want to be a better human being…. Not because of their success. But because of their HEART. Muhammad Ali is among that truly select group.
To me Ali represents the impact that love fully-embodied can have on the world. Ali showed everyone watching what it looks like to love all people, to radiate joy, and to rise above oppression, judgement, and prejudice, to live with passion – and to confidently embrace self-love. (“It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am.”)
Ali demonstrated the conviction of peace when he refused the draft into war. “I ain’t go no quarrel with those Vietcong,” he said “My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, some poor, hungry people in the mud, for big powerful America, and shoot them for what?” Ali said in an interview – and was swiftly banned from boxing for 3 years during the years experts say would have been his best professionally. It also resulted in a five year jail sentence that was overturned. But he lived his conviction for peace. Beautiful and epic.
Ali had a special place for children. After the biggest fight of his career when the world media wanted to celebrate him, he was no where to be found because he was far from the stadium doing magic tricks for children. That’s heart.
Thank you Ali for being one of my greatest inspirations and for filling the world with your spirit. You will always live on in my heart.
I just unfollowed best-selling author, Gary Vaynerchuck, (Author of Crush It). I’ll share why I did (and it’s purely personal bc he seems like a great guy).
Gary V has been broadcasting a message of “hustle your face off” for a good five years now. He preaches what he himself describes as an “insane work-ethic.”
If hustling your face off is for you – hear me please – good on you. Hustle creates great results. Behind every great endeavor, is a lot of hustle.
But an insane worth-ethic is just not for me anymore. Nor is “hustling my face off.” Honestly, I don’t even think it looks good on Gary V. To me, he looks really tired, stressed and full of tension in his videos lately. Reminds me of what an Native American Chief once said to Carl Jung:
“Chief Mountain Lake: ‘See how cruel the whites look, their lips are thin, their noses sharp, their faces furrowed and distorted by folds. Their eyes have a staring expression; they are always seeking something. What are they seeking? The whites always want something. They are always uneasy and restless. We do not know what they want. We do not understand them. We think that they are all mad.’
To me, Gary V comes across as a guy that has no concept of “enough.” He seems to work for the sake of significance. More. More. More. More.
I have undergone a personal change in my life, and for me now, life is better when I infuse all of my days with as much ease, presence and joyful action as possible. Yes, I take actions on my dreams because I still have dreams and love realizing them. But “hustle” is a word I’ve basically eliminated from my vocabulary. It’s been replaced by “create joyfully.”
I like my new way much much better. I found hustle was an awful boss. Hustle didn’t have as much time for my kids. Hustle didn’t condone a long coffee with a friend. Hustle didn’t have room for a day off to do nothing but relax and get back in touch with the quiet voice inside. Hustle loved every time I’d end a long work day wiped out spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. Hustle kept me in my mind and out of my heart. In other words, hustle didn’t give a shit about soulful things.
Today, I have the highest regard for actions that come from inspiration, ease, presence and joy – these are the actions I trust in. Not actions that come from stress, tension, exhaustion, and a mind that can’t get enough.
And I like my face. I don’t want it to fall off. And I like my face much better when I look relaxed, content and at peace.
I’m almost 50. My priorities are changing. I can feel it.
Today I was driving back from helping clean up a tree that had fallen at my rental home downtown. I was the third wheel helping the gardeners. I marveled at how skilled they were at their job. They took enough tree limbs, branches and vines to cover half of an entire basketball court, and then methodically chainsawed it, raked it, bagged it and stacked it so well that it all fit into the back of their pick-up truck. They put more fallen tree into the back of a pick-up truck than I could have imagined would fit into a cargo ship.
There was something that seemed to peaceful, organic and real about their work. I watched them thinking that maybe I’d enjoy being a gardener. Sometimes my job speaking and writing can seem so self-centered and so self-promotional. But I do it because it’s me. It’s what I do. It brings me fulfillment and it’s a way I try to be a helpful human being. But I needed that tree removed just as much as anyone needs another “talk” or “essay.”
Anyway, on the drive home I pulled into a charging station to recharge my car. I drive an electric. Well, right beside the charging station was a man sleeping on a concrete block. Homeless for sure. I felt bad for him. It looked like an absolutely terrible place to sleep. Hard surface. Hot sun. Roadside fumes. Noise.
I thought about waking him and asking if he was hungry. It takes 30 minutes to charge up, so I thought I could use the wait time to get this man some lunch. All too often I don’t help the homeless person I pass. I’m callous. I look away. Not always. But too often. But today, I just wanted to help him somehow.
He was wearing black sweat pants, and a blue hoodie. He had gray Converses on. They looked new. The sweat pants and the hoodie, tattered and dirty. He had the hoodie pulled up – I suppose it was playing the part of a blanket – but what struck me was his solid white beard, trimmed very close to his face. I liked his beard. Between his fairly new Converse shoes and his trimmed beard, it seemed like life wasn’t kicking out all his teeth. I spoke to wake him. No response.
I guess he’s really drunk and out of it, I thought to myself.
I looked around and saw a Mexican food joint a block away, just beyond the Starbucks. Starbucks seems stupid when you’re thinking about getting something to help another hungry human being. I go there all the damn time, because my life is luxurious every damn day. But my guess was that this man would appreciate a burrito more than a grande, double-shot, carmel machiatto with extra foam and light ice and a twist of cinnamon.
I walk over and get the burrito. I’m vegan but deep downside I believe meat is going to satisfy this guy up more than just rice and beans, so I order a carne asada burrito. I’m remembering right now, that I’ve actually handed a homeless person a vegan burrito in the past, and he took one bite out of it, asked where the meat was and handed it back to me with a “no thanks.” Yeah, this is no time to promote a vegan diet.
I walk back to him. He’s still sleeping. I notice I’m a tiny bit afraid of waking him. What if he jolts awake and screams at me with huge, wide open eyes? What if he immediately grabs my arm and bites my face? What if he’s on drugs and mistakes me for an attacking animal? These are the stupid thoughts I have right before I put my hand on his leg and shake him awake.
His eyes open very slowly. Like they haven’t opened for years. And then as they achieve their goal, they clearly show that they are very unsure as to what’s happening. They are trying to focus on me, to find an answer.
What I notice most is their spectacular blue color. They are the bluest eyes I have ever seen in my 49 years alive. They are like a metallic sky blue on a $50,000 automobile. If this guy was standing next to Paul Newman, no one would notice that Newman’s eyes were blue. I am absolutely amazed at these eyes.
Are you hungry? I ask.
He nods. And then his eyes find the bag of food I’m offering. It’s in one of those flimsy white plastic bags they always give you when you order take out. More plastic to choke the world. Why did I allow them to place one single fucking burrito in the plastic bag when I was only going a block?… I must have been thinking about the homeless guy.
He quickly opens the bag and pulls out the burrito. No time for talk, he gets the first bite in his mouth as fast as possible. And then a sip of the drink I brought him, which is water. His eyes glance at me approvingly, but then he begins coughing, doubling over to expel what comes out as druel. It’s like a gag reflex. But he sits up, looks me right in the eyes and rubs his stomach. And then resumes with another enormous bite.
No words from him yet. Not a one.
Are you okay? I ask.
He swallows. And then tries to speak.
But I can’t make out what he’s saying. Maybe his voice is severely muffled. Like a sock is permanently lodged in his throat. Or like he took a hard punch to the vocal chords. Maybe he is only saying one word. I’m confused. His voice is unexpected.
What’s your name? I ask.
He extends his left arm and using his finger draws something on his forearm. I don’t know what he’s doing, so he draws it again. E – D.
Oh, your name is Ed?
He nods his head. His blue eyes staring directly into mine. And he continues to eat.
I should have been sure by now, but I’m not.
Ed, can you speak?
He shakes his head no and makes a shallow attempt to say it also. But it’s clear. Ed has very little ability to speak. But his eye contact is excellent. And his eyes are so so blue. They are unreal blue.
I felt like sitting there with him. I could have gotten in my car and passed the time on my phone, but I felt like sitting with him. I don’t know why. I do know, but it’s feels like a stupid reason. I’m trying to offer this other person a meal and a little companionship. I didn’t just want to offer food. Seems people need both.
Since Ed is eating and not a talker, I manage the situation with silence and only two other remarks.
There is a beautiful large bush in front of us. Most of the leaves are green, but a few new ones are red. It’s pretty when you really look at it.
Beautiful how this bush has red leaves and green ones don’t you think Ed?
He nods and looks me in the eye.
Then we sit in more silence while he eats.
“Ed, I asked for chips to go with your burrito. They should be in there,” I say.
Ed, finds the chips in the white plastic bag. They would have been missed otherwise because they are enclosed separately in their own white plastic bag. For fucks sake! It’s killing me. Then Ed unties the small plastic bag and finds 2 tortilla chips. TWO. Just two fucking chips. Now I remember the man behind the counter looking at me like I was a freeloader when I said, “And can you throw in some chips with the burrito.”
Ed is eating the last chip and then excitedly points at something flying by.
It’s a radiant yellow butterfly. It looks like a fluttering slice of the sun.
I don’t know what a butterfly symbolizes but I see it and wonder.
When Ed is done eating both chips, he points forward at a Starbucks cup discarded on the ground in front of us. He gets up and retrieves it. He places it, the foil and the napkin into the white plastic bag. He looks at me and smiles. Then he rubs his stomach and smiles more. But he’s going now. He attempts to speak again. This time I know what he’s saying: “Taking trash.”
He grabs the only other bag he’s got, a black duffle bag, offers me his hand and goes.
Ed was really hungry. That was easy to see by the pace he ate at and by the first bite going down wrong. I don’t know why I don’t help homeless people more often. I’m trying to open my heart as wide as I can and I know it has the capacity to be much more open than it is. I know it does. I can feel it. Especially in moments like this.
Yesterday, I was having a parental breakdown. I was doing my best to not completely lose my #!@!. I just wanted the sound of my son’s voice out of my head! I was suffering from a total loss of patience, and on the verge of being a complete A-hole to my child.
I don’t know exactly why I lost my patience, but I was hanging onto friendliness by my fingernails.
This is my confession….
My son Will is 7 years old. I would throw myself in front of a train for him without a moment’s hesitation. He is everything wonderful and good in the world, and completely innocent in this story. But yesterday, I was utterly annoyed by his every utterance.
Recently, he hit a new phase in his development. I call it, “Never stop talking, ever, ever, Say everything I think, I talk therefore I am, When it doubt, say it, The best thing about life is talking, Silence is Death, Dad who do you think would win?”
For the past 4 days, it’s been like being locked in a room with Robin Williams – while he’s on LSD! I’m hanging onto my sanity by a thread.
I usually love the sound of my son’s voice. I am usually present to his every question and conversation. I usually am calm, loving and nice.
But I’ve been with my son, non-stop, morning to night for 96 hours. My wife’s away in Cancun at a resort drinking Mai Tai’s… whatever… And my son’s school hasn’t been in session since Wednesday… So say this with me slowly, “N-o-n s-t-o-p, R-e-l-e-n-t-l-e-s-s, H-e-l-p-M-e-!”
Imagine being locked in a room with Robin Williams while he’s on LSD… Really, let that soak in.
And then please, immediately come over to my house, and club me unconscious.
These are exact quotes from my son yesterday in a single hour.
“Dad, Dad, what would you do if a friddle frog came into our front room?”
(followed by chanting “friddle frog frog frog frog frog frog frog frog” for I believe to be a year and a half.)… [I have zero idea what a friddle frog is and nor do I care].
“Dad, Dad, look. Dad, look! DAD LOOK! Look at me throw the ball. Look at me touching the cat. Dad, look at the cat looking at the ball I threw!”
Then without pause or a breath…
“Dad, Dad, do you know what Swinter is? It’s a combination between summer and winter!”
Followed by YET ANOTHER ROUND of his new game called, “Dad, Dad, Who do you think would win?”
(The rules are simple. Ask Dad who he thinks would win. Propose two options. Tell Dad if Dad’s answer was right or wrong! The following is but a miniscule sampling of the surveys I have undergone whilst locked in these rooms with my boy over the past 4 days…)
“Dad, Dad who do you think would win, Superman or Batman?”
… Batman. “Right.”
“Dad, Dad who do you think would win, Bernie or the Pope?”
… Win what?! “Bernie would win!”
“Dad, who do you think would win, A fork or a spoon?”
… I don’t know, the fork? – “Right!”
“Dad, who do you think would win, A ball or a football?” …
Huh? – “The football!”
“Dad, DAD who do you think would win, the Sun or The Hulk?” ….
The Sun?? – “Wrong!”
“Dad, DAD DAD who do you think would win, my foot or my face?”
… I don’t understand. – “My face!”
I know YOU read these remarks and your heart is warmed. You think they are cute, I get it. But you have the luxury of READING them, in your own voice – once – and then moving on, perhaps to a far-away, silent corner of your mind where no other voice or sound can reach. Me… No such mercy. I was being bombarded with this game all morning, all afternoon, all evening. It was like Chinese water torture.
Secondly, you have the luxury of a full tank of patience as you read them. Patience, that battle-hardened quality every, I mean EVERY parent, needs to develop in order to make it through each day without breaking a LOT of things. Patience, of which every parent quickly learns is a lot like a tank of gas – it is an exhaustible resource. And many days, it will run out! And when it does, you’re screwed!
Patience officially turned to fumes in my being on Saturday at around 11:30 a.m, somewhere between the questions, “Dad, Dad, who do you think would win, Minions with their Fart Machine or Dr. Suess?” and “Dad, what would you do if a piece of bread came to life with arms and hands and started running around the house?”
I told you, Robin Williams on LSD. I wanted to shoot myself.
This must be why someone invented the Serenity Prayer.
Now, lest you think I’m a parenting wimp, WRONG. I’m a battle tested veteran. I’ve been a stay-at-home father for five years now. I live on the front lines Monday thru Sunday! Battle-hardened stay-at-home mom’s are my comrades. So I’m hard, but somedays, I just want a way out.
Maybe it got worse because lately my son is prone to continually circling me. Tightly. Orbiting my body so close that I have to say, “Will, h-o-n-e-y, please back up, because you’re stepping on my toes.”… Yes, 7 year old boys show their love by proximity and word count. I get it…. But I’m a quiet, writer type and I feel like a monk at a Metallica concert.
At about 5 p.m., my son and I were driving to the fish store, and he was just talking and talking and talking and talking and talking, about past, present, future and Dr. Duffenshmarz, and dinosaurs, and Home Alone, and Legos, and our pets, and Bernie, and fish, and possible fish names, and The Odd Squad, and bagels, and God knows what else because I was just trying to hold my shit together and keep faking interest with “Mmm”, “Interesting,” “Yes,” “I don’t know” – when suddenly I look up and see a Wine and Liquor Store, something I never go in, a dirty place I think of for alcoholics – but I SO WANTED TO GO IN.
I would have, anything to dull the sound, but for a small voice inside me, still fighting to be heard over the clamor that whispered, “No. NO! Way over the line! Suck it up Patrick. Drinking, is NOT an option – Till he’s in bed.”
I come home from the fish store and find throw up on the kitchen floor – green leafy hurl – because our asshole cats chewed up the plant my son was growing for a school project. I have to clean the litter box and make dinner, unpack the groceries, unload and load the dishwasher, help name the new fish, remind my son to not circle me so closely, play 19 more rounds of “Dad Dad Who Would Win?” and 3 rounds of Hide and Seek which ends because I step in a small lake of dog pee. Make no mistake, I want to return all the pets to their rightful adoption shelters, but there’s no time, because I have to get my son ready for bed, and read him a book, and answer the question, “Dad, do you think we should name the new fish, Rainbow or Rainbow Road?” for which my internal answer is “I don’t give a shit,” but my external answer is, “I don’t know son, what do you think?”, for which his external reply is, “Dad who do you think would win, Rainbow fish or a Shark?”
THIS IS AN EMERGENCY, somebody, please, quickly put an I.V. of wine into my arm!
My nervous system is flashing red. I would kill for a happy hour. I have failed to be a really loving, fun, good natured dad today. I have faked kindness since morning. My only victory is not being a complete a-hole to an innocent 7 year old, very sweet, boy who completely lacks all ability to read another person’s social cues.
I tuck my son into his Star War’s sheets, give him a kiss while secretly, internally counting down the seconds till I can be alone in silence with a drink in each hand. But he’s not done talking…
“I love you.”
And there it is. The reason I wouldn’t trade the job of Dad for anything in the world. But Dear God, please turn this water into wine.
I gave two keynote speeches this week, one to a large hotel chain and the other to professionals at colleges and universities, and I’m happy to say both talks were on the topic of coming from the heart more often.
Connection, empathy, kindness, love, heart – these are the new essential “brass tacks” in business because they create loyalty, wow, delight and fulfillment.
When I was 26, at the start of my career, I wrote these exact words. I called it my Manifesto for a Great Life. They were meant to help me reach my dreams. Now at 49, I’m astounded at their Truth.
Like most 26 year olds, I had very little money, very little talent but very big dreams. Steve Montaño and I both had summer jobs at Electronic Arts testing video games. We still laugh about that job today.
I was living in the Western Edition of San Francisco, a poor neighbor wherecops told you to not walk at night because of all the shootings. My desk was made of milk crates and piece of plywood I found in an alley. I wanted so much to become a professional, inspirational speaker with a published book. And I dreamed of having a Jeep. And good looking business cards.
So many days and nights I was afraid I wasn’t good enough. And that my dreams might not want me back. I’ll never forget the hard fails on my first talks. HARD FAILS. I had the 7 credit cards I was using to fund. I dreaded the time of the month when bills were due.
But I also had inspiration, courage, and passion pumping through my veins, beating in chest. And one day I wrote out this “Manifesto,” that I hoped would help me to make it to the kind of life I was dreaming of.
I wrote the Manifesto out by hand and hung it on my wall where I worked.
Last night I found it again after years, and as I said at the beginning of this post, I was astounded at it’s Truth. Maybe something larger than me was helping me write these words back then. Giving me guidance.
This morning I thought to make it into a poster to share with you.
I met Aaron A Fortner just about a year ago. We met because of work, had a nice conversation over coffee, then we agreed to something really unusual. Something guys basically never do.
I said, “Hey Aaron, how about we have coffee and just talk about life about once a week, for the entire year? We won’t try and figure out some way to work together. We’ll just talk about life. I think it could be rewarding.”
I was looking to fill my life with more real, authentic, non-facebook, non-work, friendship in my life. Being a full-time father, a husband and a careerist – well that keeps you pretty busy. Time to just hang out with a friend, what’s that?
But more than being busy, the reason for my suggestion ran much deeper.
I know a lot of guys whose every friendship is really just an extension of their work. Their guy friends are co-workers, colleagues, associates, or collaborators. Their friendships happen through work meetings, or mastermind meet-ups. Everyone is viewed as a “friend” but it’s really just “work” that bonds them together. Their circle of friends might as well be called “professional association meet ups.” This is a real guy-thing.
I started noticing this five years back when I left a business I was involved with where I had “friends” all over the world, but the minute we didn’t have work in common, all the friendships dried up overnight.
Nowadays, I seek to fill my life with friends who do not value me through the lense of work. Life’s too short. And I’m clear that friendship isn’t real if it only happens through FB and the occasional meet up where you hug your buddy and say, “How’s it going? What’s up with your work?”
Aaron said yes to my suggestion and our unusual guy-friendship experiment over coffees began.
Could we sustain it?
Would it fizzle quickly without the usual guy-bonding agent of work?
We kept making the time. Kept having coffees. And kept work talk to a minimum. And about 3 months into it, it started to fizzle. We went a month without a coffee meet up, a single text or call.
It was failing, because there was no work to make the guy-bonding thing easy.
Work has urgency. Work has bottom lines. Work is a strong bonding agent for guy “friendship”, like an epoxy. But non-work based conversations, was proving about as bonding as Elmers-glue. Nice but easily dissolvable.
Add to it that we were trying to bond over coffee, not alcohol. Yeah, we were way out on a limb here.
But we picked back up in May and continued on. And then a funny thing started to occur… Life kept happening to each of us, ups and downs, rewards and pains, and we kept sharing the experiences over coffees.
Somedays, I’d walk into the coffeehouse happy and share why. Somedays I’d walk in down and be real about it. Other days, it’d be coffee to mostly hear about Aaron’s tremendous personal breakthrough. And then of course there were days where something was weighing heavy on his mind.
Funny, I barely knew shit about the day to day workings of Aaron’s incredible career, but I came to know the inner workings of his day to day feelings.
At just about 1 year of this friendship developed 95% over coffee conversation, one day as Aaron saw me approaching, I was so completely out of sorts, he took one look at me and said, “Buddy, what’s the matter? Talk to me.” 6 hours later, he’d help me turn around a really shitty day.
So work never became the glue btwn us. Or alcohol. Or adrenaline sports.
We’ve never done a work project together. We’ve never done any J.V. of any kind. We’ve never invested a dime on one another’s endeavors. I don’t believe the guy’s ever seen me speak or stopped by my website.
Instead, it was the consistent sharing of our journey as two people just trying to navigate this crazy thing called life that created a true friendship, an actual one, one that has zip to do with Facebook, until this very post.
The whole thing taught me something about friendship.
True friendship isn’t easily forged. Nowadays the word “friend” is as simple as a button “Accept Request” button, and often just as hollow.
Nowadays, too many men fill their lives with “friends” who are in actuality, just colleagues, and I feel bad for those who confuse the two. They are far from the same thing.
An actual friendship takes a ton of conversations to develop. But is worth every dollar you may spend for coffees.