I’m Illogically Scared Of Returning To Dad 2.0 Summit

Tuesday, the 10th of February, 2015. Birthday number 41. Nine days until I leave for San Francisco and my second trip to the Dad 2.0 Summit. I’m normally antsy on my birthday, focusing extra hard on the past, lost opportunities, goals unaccomplished. The slightest thing can knock me down a rabbit hole of anxiety and churning negative thoughts. It’s the same feeling I have on New Year’s Eve, an annoying and unfortunate part of depression. I open Facebook, a site I’ve had difficulty visiting for the past few weeks; I check a little each day, but feel overwhelmed by those that can spend so much time writing, reading and commenting on blogs or opining on threads. I’m envious of them. at times I feel lost in the dad blogger community. I notice a post from Aaron Gouveia. His wife is coming to San Fran and both will speak at the conference. I’m excited! Aaron and I hit it off at last year’s gathering. He visited us in New York last summer while Elaine, Sienna and I traveled to the Boston area to spend time with his family later in the season. I can’t wait to see his wife again. But then it hits me. If Aaron’s wife is going to the conference it means only 1 thing – they’re speaking on a panel about blogging and marriage and that panel is scheduled to run at the same time as mine, one about how depression doesn’t discriminate. Excitement replaced by dread. Chest fills with cement. Eyes water. Elaine wants to know what’s wrong.

What’s wrong is that Aaron is a dad blogger rock star. His page, The Daddy Files, annually ranks as one of the top dad blogs in web land with good reason. He writes with precision and passion. He captures the smallest memory or parenting moment in beautiful language. He’s unafraid to tackle the most controversial topics. And he’s fast. As soon as something happens in the world, he writes about it. I’m often too late to the table on political issues such issues as paternity leave, abortion, a celebrity or personality talking poorly about fathers, etc. He has over 4500 Facebook followers; I just broke 500. Immediately I saw everyone in the conference – all 350 people – running to his panel as if Elvis and the Beatles were throwing a concert despite some of them being ghosts or zombies while tumbleweed drifts through mine. I stutter my fears to Elaine.

“You’re being irrational! People will still go to your panel! Get out of the whirlpool and tell Aaron how you’re feeling!”

“I can’t talk to Aaron,” I said.

“Of course you can! He’s you’re friend!”

After awhile I recover long enough to have a rather good birthday until late at night when I check Facebook and find only 30-something people have wished me happy birthday and only a few are dad bloggers. Tears flow. My body shakes. What happened? What happened to all the dad bloggers I thought I’d connected with at last year’s conference? Irrationality rules as I decide they’ve abandoned me, that they consider me so unimportant that they didn’t take the few seconds to write me their best wishes.

“It’s a Tuesday,” Elaine says, rubbing my shoulders, trying to comfort me. “I know you’re hurt but maybe people were busy. Maybe they didn’t check Facebook. Maybe they meant to write it and forgot.”

But I wasn’t having it. The lack of birthday wishes from my dad blogger community reinforced the sense of abandonment I’d imagined when I pictured people scrambling to get into Aaron’s panel as mine stayed empty.

This is what depression can do. Despite your own self-loathing, you need everyone else to like you, to acknowledge you.

My mind’s gone to awful places as the conference has drawn closer. Even though it’s nonsensical, I feel like I’m going to be ignored and eclipsed. Last year I spoke in front of an audience about my battles with depression and received a standing ovation. I still struggle with that. My brain won’t let me trust it. I won’t let myself trust it. As much as I tell myself it was real and that people were proud of me, that I’m accepted as an important and perhaps influential voice in the dad blogger community, my mind nags at me like a bee bugging picnickers.

It’s all fake. They pitied you. They tolerate you. You’re NOTHING! In fact, this panel you’re on, the one you submitted, was only accepted because they felt sorry for you!

Reality check – there is no way Doug French and John Pacini, the co-founders of the summit, would have spent so much money to fly in depression experts and choose your panel submission over others unless they considered it worthy and significant.

But still I’m afraid.

And I’m frightened of being eclipsed. I got that standing ovation last year. What if a blogger spotlight reader gets one this year? What happens to me?

Reality – nothing. Irrationality – I’m forgotten entirely.

The battle persist in my head as my anxiety grows even though I see the contradiction that getting that ovation clearly meant I made an impact. My thoughts must be wrong.

A couple of days ago I gathered the courage to call Aaron

“You’re being ridiculous,” he said. “It’s not about who’s on the panel, it’s about content and your content is much more important than mine. Plus the first thing I thought when I was invited to participate on this panel was that I wouldn’t be at yours to support you. That’s killing me. You’re gonna be great! Just like last year! And yes, you’re beloved by us dad bloggers.” (I’m paraphrasing)

After talking to Aaron I felt a little better, but it’s now the week of the conference. My flight leaves in three days. My anxiety’s gnawing at my stomach. I feel the walls closing in, the pressure of 350 people crushing me. And yet, I’m excited to see my friends and to once more take part in this crucial conference about fatherhood and how its portrayed in media. I somehow won a free stay at the hotel. My parents gave me miles for the flight. I don’t have to pay for the conference because I’m on a panel. I’m crazy lucky. I can use my money for all sorts of things because I’m not paying for anything major. I get to visit LucasFilm! And I’ve written plenty of blogs about how much I loved Dad 2.0 the first time and what it means to me.

I’m anxious and frightened and eager. I need to stop putting so much pressure on my myself and stop playing the comparison game because I have a voice and that voice matters.

photo 2

UPDATE: A dad blogger friend told me that my birthday didn’t show up on his calendar and to check my Facebook settings. Sure enough FB changed my birth date settings from “friends” to “just me” hence the lack of well wishes. Why they did this, I have no clue, but he made me feel tons better because now I know for sure that it wasn’t about me. Damn you FB!

An Important Call From Hogan Hilling, Editor of “Dads Behaving Dadly”

Hello,
I have lived with the stigma about how men don’t ask for help and the running joke about why men won’t ask for directions.
Fatherhood is no laughing matter and a huge responsibility. No man should and cannot do it alone. And the best resource dads have is other dads.
As the author of “Dads Behaving Dadly: 67 Truths, Tears and Triumphs of Modern Fatherhood,”www.dadsbehavingdadly.com, I am asking for help to provide an event that will give dads an opportunity to network with each other in a face-to-face setting.
The Dads Behaving Dadly Convention is for All Dads. Dads with different family dynamics, income levels, religions and ethnic backgrounds ……..working, at-home, divorced, single and step dads and dads of children with special needs…….Fatherhood issues don’t discriminate.
Please visit and read the information about my Dadly Convention Campaign athttp://www.gofundme.com/ktlyzw. If you like the presentation, please make a donation. No amount is too small. With the success of the LA and Orange County Dadly Conventions I plan to expand to other cities in the USA and Canada.
Bill Carroll, KFI 640 Radio Personality, who interviewed me on his show last Thursday agreed to be a guest speaker for the LA Dadly Convention. I need funds to make it happen.
Keep On Daddying,
Hogan Hilling
Hogan, America should take lessons from you. - Oprah Winfrey
 
Author, Speaker & Life Coach
Twitter @TheDadGuru

Depression And The Path Not Taken

I nearly had a massive panic attack upon viewing Ava DuVernay’s Selma last week, but it’s not for reasons you might think. It wasn’t DuVernay’s masterful direction especially during the “Bloody Sunday” sequence or David Oyelowo’s gripping portrayal of Martin Luther King, Jr. or the film’s heady and timely content. It was a name that scrolled by during the credits, a simple name that squeezed out my breath sending me stumbling out of the darkened theater and into 1995, the year of my biggest regret.

The name, let’s call her “Joan Morrison,” appeared next to the title “Unit Publicist.” Back in 1995 Joan was a secretary at a publicity firm at which I interned leading to the ONLY positive work experience in my life. Unlike other companies, this particular firm rewarded its interns for their hard work with knowledge and professional benefits. I’d sit for days happily stuffing envelopes until my hands blackened with ink because I knew that around the corner something special would happen – working a press junket for a film and learning exactly how they worked; getting to sit next to Steve Buscemi at lunch and talking to him about his then upcoming directorial debut; working the red carpet for a film’s premiere; sitting in the VIP section with Catherine Keener as the bass pumped and colored lights swirled at the party following a movie screening. The rewards didn’t even have to be that amazing. They could be nuggets into the business’ inner workings, advice on how to succeed in the industry. I treasured every prize I earned and worked harder than I ever did in my life. I loved everyone with whom I worked. There was no tension, no drama, no games. And because of my hard work I received a job offer at the end of my internship, the chance to be a personal secretary for one of the firm’s higher-ups. I held in my hands a golden ticket, an opportunity to work for a company I knew loved to promote from within, one that nurtured and respected me as an intern. And I turned it down. I turned it down because I was 21 and still had a year of college left. I turned it down because I intensely feared my parents’ disapproval. I let them, without them knowing, choose my life’s path. A few years after I turned the job offer down, Joan was promoted to Vice President of Publicity for the entire east coast. Meanwhile, during an awful senior year within which I struggled to concentrate and suddenly found myself lost and near-paralyzed while writing class papers, I suffered my first panic attack.

In a moment of irony, the film’s inspirational theme song “Glory” by Common and John Legend eased from the emptying theater’s speakers as I wobbled towards a wall and slid down until I sat on ugly red carpeting amongst spilled popcorn next to a huge cardboard cutout advertising The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Heart pounding, my forehead beading sweat, I took out my phone and frantically Googled information on Joan Morrison’s rise as a Peter Jackson-esque battle raged through my head.

That could have been me! That SHOULD have been me!

You never would have met Elaine. You never would have had Sienna. You have the loves of your life.

I could have been famous! I could have been the golden child of the family instead of the black sheep!

You’re NOT the black sheep! This is just where you go!

I am! I failed at work! I’m a failure! 

YOU HAVE A BRILLIANT AND BEAUTIFUL AND HEALTHY DAUGHTER AND AN INCREDIBLE WIFE! SHUT THE HELL UP!

My life could have been so different! I could have been a success! I could have had money! I could have been someone!

My shaky fingers scrolled through article after article: a picture of Joan wearing sunglasses on the steps of the Alabama capital building head turned slightly away from the lens preventing me from making a positive ID; Joan and another important woman mentioned in Variety; Joan’s official job title – Vice President of Publicity for Paramount Pictures.

Put away your phone and get up! GET UP!

I turned off my phone and clung to the banister weaving slightly down the stairs. A blast of sharp wind smacked my face as I opened the outside door. A car honked at me in the parking lot because I failed to look both ways. I found my car, got in and sat breathing shallowly with my arms and head on the steering wheel.

I could have been Joan. I could have been Joan. I could have been Joan.

Every so often I regret turning down the job and wonder, but here I was feeling the full weight of my life’s biggest crossroads almost 20 years later just because I saw a name scroll by amongst hundreds of others. Miraculously I made it home without causing a 12 car pileup.

Work remains my biggest trigger, the biggest force behind my depression and anxiety. Growing up work was a touchy subject in my family; to me it hovered over everything like a pesticide. I associated my father not with love and family, but with work, with suits and ties (he is no longer like this). I associated my grandfather handshakes, short conversations and work. As each grandchild graduated it seemed to me we were measured by our jobs and salaries. Before my 2nd nervous breakdown in 2010, my core belief was that work equaled identity and that I’d failed in the eyes of my family, especially my father and grandmother. I’d been a lowly secretary for nearly ten years with no hope for upward mobility. Each day I’d scroll through employment ads but my chest would fill to bursting and I’d have to turn to something else. I was that anxious. That scared. That depressed. I despised myself and fell deeper into the abyss with each passing day. Nothing else mattered or if it did (such as marrying the love of my life) despair quickly gobbled it up.

When I got home I immediately grabbed the computer and continued searching for Joan. I found an old Twitter address and sent her a message, but Elaine forced my laptop shut when I told her what I was doing and why.

“It might have been a different Joan,” she said logically. “There are probably tons of Joan Morrisons.”

“The odds of that are near impossible,” I stubbornly countered.

“Even if you had taken that path you don’t know if you would have made it. You can’t predict that your issues wouldn’t have gotten in the way. And you wouldn’t have me or Sienna.”

That much is true, but I couldn’t help to not just imagine, but glorify the path not taken. Of course I would have made it because history proved that that internship was the only enlightening, humanizing work environment I ever experienced – I kept in touch with my former employers through college and when I told them that I’d be traveling through Europe upon graduation, for instance, they hooked me up with a short job at the Cannes Film Festival and gave me tickets to MTV’s enormous gala (for those wondering, the firm did not have any openings when I graduated and the ensuing internships I took were horrible, soul-sucking experiences). Clearly I would have thrived at work meaning no work trigger, no depression, no anxiety. In my head which always extracts the negative from any situation, I convinced myself that none of the issues I experienced during childhood nor my predisposition to depression or the whacked out brain chemical imbalance I have would have reared their ugly heads in my perfect life. Rather, I would have followed what was then a passion and what now alludes me creativity- and work-wise; the passions that are Elaine and Sienna stood right in front of me as I tore myself apart imagining what surely would have been my sublimely accomplished and lucrative life, but I couldn’t see them.

Most depression sufferers do this. When languishing through an episode we can’t see anything but our own twisted minds. We aggrandize the what ifs, the things we don’t have, the choices not made, the paths not taken, at the expense of the positive people, events and choices in our lives. We also refuse to deal with reality or grow because we’re afraid of getting the tiniest bit more hurt than we already are.

Facts:

  • I am alive
  • I’m married to a wonderful, intelligent, funny, gorgeous woman who loves me because I’m me; next year is our 10th anniversary
  • I have a beautiful near 3-year-old daughter who loves life. learning and spouting out 80s catchphrases
photo (5)

My beautiful Sienna

  • I’ve never had a better relationship with my family including pre-1995; my parents often tell me how proud they are; my sister and I went from no relationship to a great one
  • I’ve held true to my beliefs in being loyal, kind and considerate and have the same best friends now at near 41 that I did in elementary school
  • I hold a master’s in media ecology from NYU and bachelor’s in English from the University of Michigan
  • I am a proud stay-at-home dad
  • I’ve delivered a speech about depression and fatherhood in front of hundreds of people, I’m published in a critically acclaimed book, appeared on numerous podcasts and I’ve found my place in a community of dads and writers I value beyond words
  • I may not be growing by the leaps and bounds my mind demands, but I am growing each and every day

Reliving “The Decision” (sorry LeBron James…my decision came long before yours) wreaked havoc on my weekend leaving me splayed on the couch like soft boiled cabbage, eyelids fluttering to stay open, my concerned daughter asking me if I’m “awake” (meaning “okay”). One name appearing on screen during Selma‘s credit roll took me back to the crossroads of 1995 as quickly as Marty McFly’s DeLoreon causing a near panic attack and another bout with depression, but the truth is it was just another trigger. I’ll never know what would have happened if I’d taken that job, but I can’t change the past. All I can do is try not to be so negative about it and instead concentrate on what my life is now – the passions that are my wife and daughter; growing my blog and improving my writing; learning how not to be so afraid. Who knows what’s around the corner?

What are your biggest regrets and how do you prevent them from overwhelming you?

My Daughter And Nightmares – Garbage Trucks And Bears And Owls, Oh My!

It’s 4 AM on a Saturday…or is it Monday? Thursday? Never mind. It’s happening every night.
The regular sleep sounds fill the room
’til the whimpering starts, then the wails begin
And I trudge towards Sienna in the gloom

Sienna, now less than 3 months from turning 3, is at a beautiful stage in her life. With each second, each breath, her mind blazes with imagination. A sweet request turns Daddy’s hand into any character – Captain Hook, Baymax from Big Hero 6, Scooby Doo. Stuffed animals converse. Putting on a silky cloth turns her into a princess or a superhero. I sit there watching her with wonder. What’s going through her mind? What does she see that I don’t? But with your child’s Big Bang of imagination comes dreams, particularly scary ones. Currently Sienna’s besieged by nightmares. Each night she wakes up crying, asking for Mommy or Daddy. Each night one of us slips into her room to comfort and hold her, tell her everything’s okay and that she’s safe.

It started with garbage trucks. Every Friday night sometime between 2 and 5 a massive garbage truck snorts and squeals and bangs and screeches as it empties the dumpsters across the street. Awakened by the racket, Sienna screamed for Mommy or Daddy for help. I’d go in and pick her up, her little heart racing against my chest, tears like rivulets running down to her chin and falling onto my shoulders. I’d stroke her sweaty hair and tell her it’s okay. It’s just a garbage truck. I’d take her to the window to see the big green truck with blazing white headlights pick up and empty each dumpster until the noise finally stopped and it chugged down the street and out of sight. I’d hug and reassure her as I could and then I’d gently put her down amongst her stuffed animals hoping she’d feel safe.

“Daddy! Don’t go!”

And I’d be forced to sleep on the floor, the carpet rough against my skin, no blanket to protect me from the draft coming through the air conditioner. Other times I’d bring her into our bed where she’d fall asleep instantly, warmed by the heat generated by Elaine and myself.

It didn’t take long for the garbage truck to enter her dreams. Even on nights when its presence was unscheduled, Sienna would wake up in a panic.

“DADDY!!! MOMMY!!!”

Into her room I’d go imagining it from her perspective – a green metal monster with white hot eyes gnashing its metallic teeth, crunching its prey under the harsh yellow of streetlights.

“Scary garbage trucks” she’d whimper as I held her close.

“It’s just a bad dream, sweetie. A nightmare. Mommy has them. Grandma has them. Pop-Pop has them. I have them. It’s not real.”

“Don’t go.”

And I’d once more find myself on the floor after she’d calmed and I’d placed her back in bed. After weeks of suffering such nights, my back tight the following morning, we decided it was best to to just go in, hold her, tell her she was safe and leave the room despite her pleas and after a time they died down. The garbage truck still awakens her and she wails through the baby monitor, but once it’s through she’s able to return to sleep on her own.

Next up were “big bears” and I have no idea how they entered her dream state. We hadn’t read stories about bears. She’d seen bears at the zoo, but never their faces as they tended to just sleep the day away. I asked her teachers if they’d discussed bears. They hadn’t. It’s an unsolvable mystery. We tried Mommy/Daddy magic in which we’d create a spell used to repel all big bears. Holding my fingers splayed like the Emperor in Return of the Jedi, I’d put on a face of deep concentration and shoot imaginary sparks all around the room while deepening my voice and saying, ”Go away big bears! Go away big bears! Go away big bears and crickets and praying mantises too! BOOM!” I’m not sure why Sienna wanted crickets and praying mantises in there, but who am I to argue? I just want us both to get a good night’s sleep. But still her screams pierced the night and I’d find her sweaty, big beautiful brown eyes leaking tears.

When that didn’t work we told Sienna one of her toys, a cool light-up wand given to her by one of Elaine’s friends, had the power to repel big bears. “Make sure you keep the wand besides you,” I said. If you think you see a bear point the wand, light it up and yell, “Go away big bear!” We thought the wand would give her control and power over these ursus plaguing her nights. It didn’t. Nor did taping a sign to her door that read, “NO BEARS!!”

“Big bears trying to eat me!”

“It’s just a dream, sweetie. What does the sign on your door say?”

“No big bears.”

“That’s right. Any bear that wants to get into your room will read the sign, shrug and walk away because they’re not allowed in.”

You know what solved the problem?

yogi

One day I decided to show Sienna a bit of Yogi Bear on YouTube and she laughed and laughed as I’d do what I think is a really good Yogi Bear impression:

“Hey Boo-Boo! How’s about a pic-i-nic basket?”

“Big bear’s silly!” Sienna would giggle, a sound like tinkling glass that makes my heart swell. “Big bear wears a hat! That’s silly!”

Yogi cured Sienna’s bear nightmares for whenever she’d mention them I’d bust out my impression and she’d crack up. “Silly!! Big bear wears a tie!”

Now it’s scary owls trying to eat her. Again, I have no idea where this came from. She has a Hedwig doll for which I paid $30 at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando and she LOVES it. During this nightmarish stretch of owl nightmares, she’s clung to Hedwig as if he were her savior. According to Sienna he’s a “good owl” who in her dreams “protects” her from the scary ones. She carries Hedwig from room to room along with her precious scarf, always hugging and talking to him, but still, every night, I’m up at least twice trying to calm my little girl down and convince her that the owls in her head aren’t real. They’re just figments of her imagination morphed into bad dreams.

photo

Sienna cradling Hedwig

I even tried returning to pop culture by showing her this beloved Tootsie Pop commercial:

So now Sienna thinks owls are silly creatures that eat lollipops. Problem is now the scary owls won’t stop biting her until she gives them her lollipops so that plan backfired a bit. I’m not sure what to do next, but I do know that my daughter’s imagination is running at full speed and of that I’m proud and even a little bit jealous. What I do know is that Hedwig remains her protector in her dreams and is really working off that $30 I spent on him.

So what creatures or things are giving your kids the nightly fits and how are you handling it? Are your kids scared of ghosts? Hyenas? Pickles? Please share your stories in the comments section! I’d love to read them!

Hanukkah, Christmas And The Best Of Both Worlds

Fact: Christmas can be oppressive for us Jews especially when we’re children. It seems everything out there is Christmas. Every TV special. Every house decorated with streams of ethereal lights. Santa in every commercial touting all the great new toys his elves are toiling away at when he’s not at the mall letting kids sit on his lap and ask for presents. Stockings. Tinsel. Incredibly beautiful indoor trees housing stacks and stacks of presents. Candy canes. A grandmother that was run over by a reindeer. The Nutcracker. Rockefeller Center. A date that doesn’t move around each year. An eve.

What did we have? 8 nights of lighting candles and saying a prayer. An electric orange menorah in the window. Dreidels. A boring song about dreidels made out of clay. Delicious latkes (ok, I can’t complain about that one). Chinese food on Christmas Day. There were presents, of course. In our case we’d get a big one on the first and last night of Hanukkah and small things in between. The holiday couldn’t even figure out how it wanted to spelled!

I wanted Rudolph. I wanted Frosty. I wanted Santa. More than anything I wanted to cover our house and bushes with a fantastic array of twinkling lights. Each year I’d beg my parents for lights, but the closest we came was a paper “Happy Hanukkah” to hang in the window that no one could see after dark. My parents felt for me for I’m sure they were envious as kids as well. They’d put presents by the chimney. They had one of my dad’s best friends dress up as Santa just for me.

“You’re not Santa!” I said in my brattiest tone. “You’re Mickey!”

As an adult I so appreciate my parents for trying especially since Christmas now seems to start before Labor Day making it even more onerous for Jewish people. Which is why I’m so happy for Sienna who gets to experience both holidays even though Christmas is a bit wacky (my wife’s parents are of a Christians but of a sect that doesn’t celebrate the holiday, so my wife didn’t even have Christmas growing up. She does now).

Sienna stares at our menorah (my late grandmother's) as the window reflects our little Christmas tree

Sienna stares at our menorah (my late grandmother’s) as the window reflects our little Christmas tree

Sienna gets to enjoy the power of both holidays. She gets to help Mommy trim our little silver Christmas tree covered with blue lights (silver and blue – the colors of Hanukkah). She gets to help Daddy screw in the electric menorah’s lightbulb for 8 days. Perhaps next year we’ll move on to actually lighting candles as well. She can watch holiday themed Sophia the FirstMickey Mouse Clubhouse and Jake and the Never Land Pirates without feeling like an outsider. She gets to revel in Santa’s ho-ho-ho and jiggling belly and enjoy the big Christmas tree in our building’s lobby while also pointing out the building’s silver menorah. We listen to her sing herself to sleep. Sometimes it’s a the Dreidel song. Sometimes it’s a Christmas tune.

She celebrates with her parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and great-grandmother during Hanukkah, 5 kids running around the house opening presents, spinning dreidels, eating chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil. Meanwhile her aunt, uncle and cousin are driving up from Louisiana for a special Christmas visit and we’ll spend Christmas Day with my wife’s family. And boy does she get presents. So many presents we’ll probably need a second apartment in which to store them. But what I love, what I experience through my daughter, is not feeling left out. I feel her soaking in both holidays on an equal plane. She loves evenings when both the Christmas tree and menorah alight basking our living room in a festive glow. For her, “Happy Holidays” truly means “Happy Holidays.”

10882159_10205706701011853_5354265862061265837_n

Sienna and one side of the family pose for 4 generation Hanukkah picture

Religion has yet to play a role in the holidays. I’m not religious. I’m an agnostic, but I somewhat follow Jewish customs. My wife is spiritual, but not religious. We have plenty of time before we have to deal with the religious angle and I’m curious and a bit fearful of what will come.

But for now Sienna gets the best of both worlds (or at least the worlds of Christmas and Hanukkah). She gets to enjoy her dreidels and candy canes; trees and menorahs; presents and presents. It’s a joyous time of year for her and a jubilant one for her parents. I for one have banished holiday envy from my heart as I give a Hanukkah gift to my wife and receive a Christmas gift in return.

I even get my festive lights.

My Safe Place

The theater’s always dark. Sometimes it’s empty. Sometimes it’s packed. Sometimes you’ll see dribs and drabs of people scattered throughout. Sometimes they talk or look at their phones which irritates and forces me to shush them. Often I’m alone, but sometimes not. My Sno-Caps are usually gone by the end of the trailers. My small Diet Coke makes it about halfway through the film. The movies is not a means of escape. My mind remains present. Always critical. Always analytical. I don’t get swept up in movies. I’m too busy appreciating or disliking editing, cinematography, score, acting, directing, etc., but this doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy what I watch. It doesn’t mean I can’t get blown away by something truly amazing up there on the screen. I also worry too much about what others think of the film and my opinion of it. Too often my opinion gets lost in this obsession to be right. Regardless, what’s most important is that when I’m in a movie theater my anxiety level decreases to the point where I can breathe.  The movie theater is my safe place. Just being there releases the choke hold anxiety has on me. Even if it’s just for a little while.

Not too long ago my wife and I met with our financial advisor because we’re having money issues. He chastised me for going to the movies. “You know you can just wait for it to hit cable or Netflix or on-demand? That’s what I do.” His words slapped me and in that moment I hated him.

“You don’t get it!” I wanted to yell. “I don’t get that same sense of relief, of freedom. “I’m a stay-at-home dad with depression and anxiety issues. Sitting those 2+ hours in a darkened theater helps my chest loosen. I don’t have many hobbies. I don’t spend money on clothes or collections. I’m with my daughter every single day. Isolated. Alone. Doing my best to mask my depression and anxiety. I love her so much, but sometimes I need out. I need a dark room with a large flickering screen. The more anxious I get (and I’ve been highly depressed and anxious the past 6 weeks) the more I want that darkened theater. The more I want to see WildWhiplash, Birdman. The more I want my Sno-Caps and small Diet Coke. Seats that aren’t always comfortable. I DON’T CARE!! DON’T TAKE AWAY MY SAFE PLACE!!”

I hadn’t realized the movies is my sanctuary until we met with our financial advisor. Not until I felt it yanked away. I feel safe with my wife, but sometimes I can’t see her eyes or feel her hugs past the chest constriction. That’s when I need to get out. To get in the car, drive to one of my regular theaters and let my mind follow Eddie Redmayne’s Oscar-caliber performance in The Theory of Everything or the positively mind-blowing editing work in Birdman as my chest slowly decompresses. That’s when I need my safe place.

Elaine, my wife, told me that when I had my last nervous breakdown I was too afraid to go back to the movies. I don’t remember this at all. She thinks it’s because I was too afraid to let myself enjoy any aspect of my life. Instead I lay in bed shaking and crying and stuttering until one day I moved to couch and planted myself in front of the television. I don’t know when I returned to the cinema. Maybe I finally heard the calling of the gorgeous Landmark Loew’s 1930s movie palace just blocks away from us in Jersey City, NJ, a place that feels frozen in time. Red velvet walls. Golden staircases. A giant screen on which you can watch anything from silent features (complete with an organ accompaniment) to 80s classics like The Goonies. At some point I went back. At some point the movies became my safe place.

Now in Queens, NY, as I continue to slog through my depression and anxiety, as I raise Sienna to best of my abilities, the cinema remains my Fortress of Solitude even if I happen to be with someone or the theater is packed to the gills. I crave those evening when Elaine comes home at 6 and I can catch a 7:30 show. The darkness, the trailers, the Sno-Caps, the small Diet Coke, the film, the seats, the screen. They all combine to alleviate my anxiety for a few hours until those credits roll.

I can’t give it up. We’ll have to budget accordingly, but I can’t give up the movies. It’s too important to my mental health. I’m thankful Elaine supports me on this and in fact is the one who pointed it out. I’m lucky to have such an understanding wife who knew immediately that the financial advisor hit a nerve that sent my mind to the edge of an abyss – no more movies…EVER. She is the one who called the theater my safe place. And so it is.

What’s your safe place?

Listen To Me on City Dads Group MovemberDads Podcast About Depression

Proud to have been a part of City Dads Group’s MovemberDads podcast titled Depressed Dads: Parenting Through the Darkness. Appearing along with myself are Ron Mattocks of Clark Kent’s Lunchbox and Ryan E. Hamilton of Life of Dad and it’s moderated by Matt Schneider of City Dads Group and the NYC Dads Group. Many thanks to Josh Kross for editing it. It’s a really important topic. Hope you listen and let me know how I did.

 

 

My Body Image Post Up on HuffPost + More

Thank you to Huffington Post for publishing my story about Sienna getting pressured about her body and marriage on Halloween when kids should just be having fun dressing up and getting candy!

And on the heels of that, please check out this terrific post from Mike Reynolds of Puzzling Posts who also talks about body image issues, both male and female.

My Appearance on Parent Nation Radio!

Yesterday I was a guest on Tara Kennedy-Kline’s show, Parent Nation Radio! We discussed depression, how mental illness is still mostly hidden from society and raising kids while battling the disease. Here’s a link to the show. Let me know how I did!

Stop Pressuring Girls/Women About Their Bodies And Marriage Already!

October 31, 2014. Halloween. Sienna dressed as Snow White. Yellow skirt. Blue top. Red bow in her hair. A plastic jack o’lantern in her hand waiting to be filled with candy. She’s 2 1/2 years old. She still doesn’t quite get the trick or treating concept. But that’s ok. Mommy and Daddy are proud. So proud. Mommy missed trick or treating last year and she’s super excited. And then we knock on the door. The man opens. He’s 50-ish. Salt and pepper hair. Taller than me. He hands Sienna 3 mini Reeses Peanut Butter Cups. And then he says it:

“Don’t eat all of that tonight or you’re gonna get sick and fat and you’ll never get married.”

Excuse me? Seriously, excuse me???

My wife and eye exchange a glance of anger, surprise. I grit my teeth through a smile.

“Don’t worry,” I say. “She’s not eating any of it. That’s our job for now.”

My head swirls. My daughter, my little Snow White just experienced the first crush of societal pressure heaped on girls and women about body image and marriage. I’m just so thankful she didn’t have a clue as to the negative and destructive power behind this man’s words.

But I did. My wife did. And I wanted to throw this man against the wall and scream at him:

“How dare you???” YOU are what’s wrong with this world! YOU are the cause of eating disorders and depression, of mental illness and suicide!! YOU and people like you!! Do you work in advertising, perhaps? Film? Television?? Do you enjoy spreading this propaganda?? This societal sickness that steals female empowerment, wrecks self-esteem and replaces them with a desperate need to compare themselves bodily and matrimonially, to starve themselves to death, to sit in therapists’ offices bemoaning that they’re 30 and not yet married. WHAT THE EFF IS WRONG WITH YOU??? Here’s an idea…read something about female body image disorders. Jean-paul Sarte wrote that ‘words are loaded pistols’ and you just pointed one right at my beautiful little girl. HOW DARE YOU???”

Instead I made a joke and my wife laughed, but as we left his door for the next, anger bubbled in us and the joyful playfulness of Halloween felt tainted. Our innocent Snow White just experienced the evils of the world even if she didn’t realize it.

1385445_10152465744246732_6025605435811111999_n

Does this little girl look like she needs to be worrying about body image and marriage

Sienna’s still too young to feel the backhanded sting of slings and arrows, still too young to study herself in the mirror, tearing herself to shreds because her 12-year-old waist is thicker than Mary’s or her belly’s too flabby so she needs to diet, diet, diet. Or she’s 28 and crying that no one will marry her because she’s too ugly, too fat despite her being positively gorgeous. Right now it’s just “green day” at school and she needs to wear a green shirt and bring in a green toy. Right now the world is an abundance of wonders.

“I want to touch the moon! I’m taking my flying carpet to China! Leaves are falling! Leaves are turning yellow!”

get-attachment (1)

Leaves!

And that’s what it should be. That’s what it should be for everyone. This society has a deep-rooted, systemic sickness, a hatred towards girls and women with even an inch of extra meat on their bones, a brutal “tsk-tsk” for unmarried women. Society, thanks to unrealistic portrayals on magazine covers, in commercials, print ads, media of all forms, causes females to turn on and rip each other and themselves apart rather than band together as the beautiful people they are, and it causes men to objectify them. Sienna’s gonna face it. There’s nothing I can do to stop it except educate her as best I can, but what is one voice against the relentless, insidiousness media, the never necessary taunts in school, the comparisons, the scale, the mirror. How much can I do?

2 1/2 years old and already the pressure starts.

That’s why we need sites like A Mighty Girl. That’s why we need female superheroes. That’s why we need podcasts such as this one by City Dads Group in which Jeff Bogle of Out With The Kids and Mike Reynolds of Puzzling Posts discuss “the uphill climb our daughters still face in the 21st century and the role that we as dads can play in challenging the long-held beliefs and stereotypes that are foisted upon women and girls.” That’s why we need people like Christopher Persley’s column, Advice for my Daughter in which successful women provide advice for his 3-yr-old girl as well as the world at large.

I will educate my daughter as best as I can. I will raise her to avoid the societal pressure pitfalls that have led to my own battles with depression and anxiety (different pitfalls, of course). I will raise her to be strong, to fight back, to be herself and be proud of who she is. I will raise her to realize how ignorant a 50-ish man with salt and pepper hair can be.

Who’s with me?