A Soul-Crushing Taste Of The Darkness Of Social Media

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What do you see when you look at this picture?

Do you see love? Beauty? Joy? Fatherhood? Childhood? Family? Fun?

I don’t know what I see anymore.

At first look I felt a rush of excitement and pride at the capture of a wonderful moment between me and my daughter. I couldn’t wait to share it with my family and friends. I remembered how enjoyable the shoot was: Sienna doing anything asked of her; tickling Sienna while gorgeous sounds of her giggles echoed throughout the room; playing our special “Sharknado” game (in which I pretend my hands are sharks while Sienna squeals in delight) in front of total strangers. She was so beautiful and happy that day. You can see it in her face. And I loved it every bit as much as she did. And I loved the photo. I even marveled at how they made it look like I’m not balding.

Then all of that joy was ripped from my heart and my soul crumpled like a tin can beneath someone’s foot. I can’t look at the picture without thinking of hatred, darkness hiding behind keyboards and computer screens, disgusting images and words. The comments. The comments crushed me into near oblivion.

The photo appeared on Instagram as part of Dove Men+Care’s “First Fatherhood Moments” campaign – a collection of shots of dads with their children that captured a moment of pure jubilance between a dad and his kid(s). To the right of our picture stood a quote: “Having kids teaches you to use your imagination again. Learn to see the world through their eyes – in every first discovery and experience.” – Lorne J. Care Makes Dad Stronger

And below that were the vicious, revolting attacks. Some complained simply because they didn’t want ads in their Instagram feeds and I get that, but you have to accept ads if you want free services. Others focused on race, how there’s no possible way Sienna could be my kid because she’s darker than I am. That’s pure ignorance and saddened me for the most part. But then there were the utterly vile, obscenity-laden, pornographic words about Sienna and I – things I planned to do to her sexually because of the tilt of my head and Sienna’s positioning – some directed specifically at my 3-year-old little girl. It was those odious, vulgar and downright nasty comments and their accompanying ghostly laughter that broke me – literally making me queasy and weak – and wrenched all sense of exultation from my body and my mind’s perception of the image. Just like that beauty morphed into salaciousness.

Still I shared the image on Facebook accompanied by a warning about the comments and the words, “I feel sick.” The response was overwhelmingly supportive and outraged. In the FB Dad Bloggers group, people remarked on the adorableness of the picture and offered the following advice:

“Never read comments. Never read comments. Never.”

“Dark side of social gives cowards a sense of courage.”

“F**k the trolls!”

“Ignore the nonsense. Some insignificant dbags on the Internet don’t matter in the grander scale of life.  Some people are just out to be vile a-holes, it would have been on whatever picture they saw that day.”

“You can’t let idiots get you down. I know, easier said than done, but half of those comments are from kids thinking they’re funny and the rest are just Internet bottom feeders. Anyone that takes the time to post hate on something beautiful has a lot of problems and you (and your daughter) are not one of them.”

Some shared the Instagram link on their own pages. Others flooded the image’s comment section with positivity.

I thanked them for having my back, but still I felt horrible. I took Sienna to a play place to try to get away from things, but despite doing my best, the juxtaposition of the picture and the awful comments left me uneasy and unsteady. Then I received a deeply apologetic e-mail from Dove Men+Care informing me they were pulling the photo to protect Sienna and I from even more illicit, repulsive remarks (and to disassociate the brand from such negativity, of course, which I completely understood). They wanted to make sure I didn’t take it personally and noted people to contact in case I just needed to talk. Later in the day, I received a second e-mail from Dove Men+Care following up to make sure I was ok and again asking if I needed to talk to someone. I seriously doubt most corporations would act in a similar capacity and I thank Dove Men+Care for their, well, caring.

Still, the fact that they pulled the ad was like another punch in the gut even if I agreed with the move. I e-mailed my parents, sister, friends and therapist to tell them the picture was pulled and that I was upset. All told me that it wasn’t my fault, that I did nothing wrong, that it wasn’t a personal attack, that it’s a special picture and I needed to ignore these horrid comments.

I reported back to the Dad Bloggers group that Dove Men+Care pulled the picture. Some reported the worst perpetrators to Instagram. Others tracked down their names, addresses and phone numbers. They all suspected the commentators were JHS/HS punks and some wanted to contact their parents. I’m not sure if they did, but I appreciated the support nonetheless. And then Mike Tremoulet of Spoon and Knife nailed it and put a lot of things in perspective:

“here’s another angle: Play the numbers game a bit. Currently, there are 308 comments on the picture, according to my browser. A chunk of those are from dads like us who point out what a great picture this is. Another chunk are upset that Instagram is now inserting promoted pics/ads into their stream. That has nothing to do with your picture and everything to do with how Instagram works (and no, they’re not the worst commenters).

I’m going to be conservative, on a quick scan, and say that half of the comments fall into those categories. That means, ballpark, about 150 comments we’ll call nasty. (You can use your own adjective there.)

There’s one other statistic you aren’t as likely to see, so I’m going to put it in all caps here. THIRTY THREE AND A HALF **THOUSAND** PEOPLE LIKED YOUR PHOTO. Let me say that again. THIRTY THREE AND A HALF **THOUSAND**. These people didn’t just see the photo, they STOPPED AND TOOK THE TIME TO DOUBLE-TAP, OR PRESS THE HEART, AND LIKE YOUR PHOTO. If I’m shouting, it’s so that you hear this louder than the nasty commenters.

For comparison, I’m happy if any picture of mine gets more than 10 likes. 33.4 THOUSAND!”

That also means, if I round the numbers a bit and break out a calculator, LESS THAN HALF OF ONE PERCENT OF PEOPLE WHO SAW YOUR PHOTO HAD SOMETHING BAD TO SAY. **LESS THAN HALF OF ONE PERCENT!** I think it’s a very safe bet that any celebrity or public figure on this planet would ABSOLUTELY DREAM of having numbers like that.

You want a meaningless (though admittedly not quite equal) comparison? Barack Obama has about a 46% approval rating now. Congress, a 19% approval rating. (Gallup, both). YOU HAVE A 99.6% APPROVAL RATING! SHOUT THAT FROM THE ROOFTOP! NINETY NINE POINT SIX PERCENT APPROVAL!

Lorne, congratulations!!! You’ve had a viral moment, complete with the good and the bad. I’m sorry it’s had its rough parts, but I’m proud of you (and the picture is awesome, and your relationship with Sienna is inspiring.)

THIRTY THREE AND A HALF THOUSAND!!!”
As a person suffering from depression, this is the story of my life. I’m super-magnetically drawn to the negatives and usually am unable to see the positives or if I can, the awfulness, as little as it might be, overwhelms any sense of accomplishment or good. Mike’s words opened my eyes to that and helped steady the ship.
So where does this leave me? Half of me wants to stare at the picture until my eyeballs pop out of my skull from exhaustion in order to take back agency and power. I’ve spent my entire life ceding all power to others, desperately needing everyone to like me, living my life for other people. Gradually, as the years go by, I’ve gotten better and stronger, but I’m nowhere near where I want to be. I still fear and expect judgment. I so want to be able to look at this perfectly captured image of Sienna and I and heed the advice of dad blogger Jayson Merryfield of In The Moment Photography
“If you want to focus on the positive, just remember how this picture will be received by those who know and love you. No one is going to read the comments. No one will see the hate, the blind bigotry or just plain obscenity that some people feel permitted to spew onto the internet.

What they WILL see if this picture. More importantly, what your daughter will see is this picture. She’ll see it today, and tomorrow, and in 15 years on her wedding day when it’s a part of the slideshow (if anyone still does those in 15 years). Maybe you print it out and put it in her room in a little frame. Maybe you make it the wallpaper on your phone so she sees it now whenever she grabs it to play Angry Birds. 

What this picture represents is a complete, unadulterated good thing, and what the dozen or so vile commenters can’t hide is the fact that 33,400+ people saw your picture, saw the joy in your daughters face and the connection that the two of you have, and they liked what they saw.”
But can I? I still see the nefarious comments each time I look at the picture. Will that fade over time? How will I react the next time I’m faced with social media’s terrible side? I hope it’ll be with newly developed power.
Have you experienced the dark side of social media? I’d love to read your stories. 

Firefly®’s Star Wars Lightsaber Toothbrush Makes Brushing Fun For Sienna – FINALLY!

“Sienna! Time to brush your teeth!”

No Sienna.

“Sienna! Time to brush your teeth!”

No Sienna.

“Don’t make me count!”

Sienna solemnly appears in the bathroom, head down, feet shuffling. She hates this. She hates brushing her teeth. She’s 3 years old and wants to play and brushing her teeth is an annoyance of epic proportions. I’m sure most of you parents of toddlers have experienced the sudden lethargy when it comes to teeth brushing. It’s frustrating for us as much as it is for them. It was especially frustrating for me because Sienna outright refused to do it herself despite wanting to take control of every single activity in her life. I had to stand there and command her to open her mouth, teeth together, stop eating the toothpaste and chomping on the brush. Torture. Pure torture. I couldn’t understand it and I needed a solution. Then a friend of mine told me about Firefly®’s Star Wars Lightsaber Toothbrushs and our lives changed. There were 2 choices: a blue Obi-Wan toothbrush and a red Darth Vader. No question. Welcome to family, Darth! I’ve been teaching Sienna about Star Wars and this toothbrush fell right into my desire to share one of my favorite childhood loves with my daughter.

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How did Sienna react? Check it out:


Utter fascination! You press a button and the Dark Sith Lord tells you to join him to complete your training or you just hear his famous breathing. Suddenly you’re awash in a blinking red lightsaber complete with the glorious lightsaber sounds. The sounds and lights keep going until it’s time to stop brushing at which point Vader tells you that your skills or complete or more importantly, “The Force is with you!” which Sienna always repeats with a wide, gleaming smile on her face.

And most importantly, Sienna DID IT ALL HERSELF!!! I just had to do a quick brushing afterwards to make sure she got all of her teeth for the Tooth Fairy wants nothing less than pearly whites.

Here are some images from Sienna’s first brushing with Firefly®’s Darth Vader Lightsaber Toothbrush:

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Firefly® gets it. They’re able to instill healthy habits and allow toddlers and kids to take control of teeth brushing without them even realizing it. Lights, sounds, favorite characters and play. And it works. It really does. Within a few days Sienna fell in love with brushing her teeth.

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And it’s fun for us parents too. I love hearing Sienna talk about Darth Vader, swing her lightsaber and happily say, “The Force is with me!”

To make things even better Firefly®’s running a #BrushBattle Sweepstakes until the end of June. Just enter your info and you have a chance to win a trip for 4 to an awesome California theme park! Of course, if you enter, it means I have less of a chance of winning, but I’ll allow it.

So go out and pick up one of these fantastic Firefly® toothbrushes. You won’t be disappointed.

May the Force be with you!

Disclosure: The writer was compensated monetarily or via product for this post.

Pop Secret, Star Wars™, Feeling The Force & Secrets Of Being A Stay-At-Home Dad

There’s a call and refrain in my home whenever my daughter and I are about to watch a film:

Me: MOVIES!!

3-yr-old Sienna: POPCORN!!

I love the movies. I love going to the movies. I love watching movies at home. And I love to share my love of movies and the magic within with my daughter. That, to me, is a secret of stay-at-home dad (SAHD) success – sharing your passions with your children. Now this doesn’t mean that we’re watching movies day and night. It simply means that us watching a movie together is something special and when at home, when we don’t have to spend a gazillion bucks on popcorn at our local multiplex, we get to enjoy a scrumptious bag of Pop Secret Pre-popped Popcorn which makes things so easy since the snack’s already made!

And if there’s one movie saga about which I’m insanely passionate, it’s Star Wars™. I started sharing my love for Star Wars™ with my daughter early. As soon as she could speak I had her saying, “Chewie, come here!” when asked what Han Solo said. I mimicked Darth Vader’s breathing, Chewie’s howls, Yoda’s vocals. Now at 3, despite never seeing any of the films, Sienna knows the good guys from the bad. She sings “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Yoda”. Together we play with little Star Wars™ dolls (graciously given to Sienna by her aunt). But while I share my passions with my daughter, I mostly let her dictate the course of play and imagination which as an adult is often difficult, and that’s another secret of being a SAHD – don’t just play with your child, crack open your imagination like an egg and let the creativity flow through you like The Force.

Then something glorious and strange happened. On May 4, 2015, Pop Secret debuted some awesome packaging for their delicious new line of flavors including Kettle Corn, Salted, White Chedder, Homestyle and the brand new Extra Cheesy starring some pretty well known characters who you might know as Chewie, Artoo, Darth and more.

PS_SW_ExtraChessyThe glorious part was that Pop Secret had teamed with my beloved Star Wars™; the strange part was that I began to feel an odd shift in balance when I gobbled my Pop Secret Pre-popped Popcorn, like there was something around me that I could control with my mind – a force of some sort. I’d heard something about Pop Secret and Jedi powers, but frankly, I thought it was nonsense until I started eating this convenient and quality snack from bags embossed with my favorite Star Wars™ characters and all sorts of Star Wars™ trivia. I felt it. I felt The Force flow through me. So I tested it on my wife and here’s what happened:

All the rumors were true! But I had to use my powers for good, right? Like teaching my daughter to use the potty which unfortunately didn’t work. Apparently I needed to refine my Force training which I shall continue to do.

As soon as she opened that box, saw Chewbacca’s grinning face and heard me say it was special popcorn, she ran to get her Star Wars™ dolls. I opened the bag and it was play time:

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Sienna gobbles down Pop Secret Extra Cheesy Pre-popped Popcorn surrounded by her Star Wars™ friends

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Sienna matches her Chewbacca doll up with Chewie’s face on the Pop Secret bag

And while I had to take away the popcorn after a bit to prevent us from downing the whole bag, we spent hours playing with her Star Wars™ dolls who also, happily, found a new home which leads me to my final SAHD secret – don’t immediately throw away boxes just because they’re empty…sometimes, they can become canvases for beautiful works of art or in this case, where the artwork was already on display, sometimes they can become a treasure chest:

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Sienna’s Star Wars™ dolls in their new Pop Secret home

There’s something else very special about Pop Secret Pre-popped Popcorn that I’d like to share, something on a very personal level. For the last few months, my wife has battled stomach issues (nothing serious, thankfully) and has been forced onto a strict diet that’s eliminated so many snacks she used to love – but not Pop Secret Pre-popped Popcorn. Pop Secret is non-GMO popcorn, has no preservatives, 0 grams of trans fat and best of all, is 100% gluten free. In fact, just this past weekend we had a long postponed movie night party for my wife’s birthday with 6 of our friends which coincidentally had us watching the original Star Wars™. Amidst all the pizza, chips, pretzels and cookies, it was Pop Secret Pre-popped Popcorn that truly enhanced our movie night because my wife could happily partake.

Now it’s your turn. Remember that video you watched earlier and those rumblings about Pop Secret and The Force? Well there’s more to it than you might have thought. Pop Secret and Life of Dad have partnered up for a #PopWars Video Contest where the lucky winner will take home over $1000 in Pop Secret and Star Wars™ prizes. All you have to do is create an fun, uplifting video showing how Pop Secret Pre-popped Popcorn gave you or your family the powers of The Force. Videos will be judged on creativity, theme, and brand involvement. And make sure to tell everyone why you’re the ultimate Jedi and why your video is the best using #PopWars! For full details please visit http://popsecret.lifeofdad.com.

And may Pop Secret Pre-popped Popcorn, my SAHD secrets and of course, that little thing called “The Force” be with you.

Disclosure: I have partnered with Life of Dad and Pop Secret and was compensated for my participation in this promotion.

The Mighty; Dads 4 Change; Huffington Post; Dads Behaving Dadly 2

Hi everyone!

Some very cool things have happened to me lately. A site located at www.themighty.com contacted me and asked to run a post of mine. This has never happened to me before, someone contacting me to run something I’ve written. The Mighty was created to improve the lives of people facing disease, disorder or disability; to inspire people; and to generate a community of sharing and caring people. I’m awfully proud to now be a part of The Mighty. It’s a wonderful site and I do hope you check out not just my piece, but many others. They’re truly spectacular! You can find my piece here.

I’ve also written a piece for Dads 4 Change in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month about a terrific initiative called This Is My Brave, an annual and expanding performance in which people suffering from mental illness brave the stage to read their words, sing, play music, etc., as a way to both create a caring community and to educate people who don’t have mental illness about what it’s like to have it. You can read that piece here.

The Huffington Post was also kind enough to run my 5 Reasons Why Facebook Is Dangerous For People With Depression.

And finally, Dads Behaving Dadly 2: 72 More Truths, Tears and Triumphs of Modern Fatherhood is available to order from Amazon and B&N. It’s an amazing book filled with stories from dads from all walks of life and makes the perfect Father’s Day gift. I’m proud to say I have 2 stories in the book and I’m also proud to be among such incredible writers. Click the picture below to order the book for the dad(s) in your life! You won’t regret it!

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Thank you for continuing to support me! In addition to my regular blog posts, I’ve got some cool stuff coming up soon so be sure to check back frequently!

5 Reasons Why Facebook Can Be Dangerous For People With Depression

 

Last week I fell into panic mode. It started with intense chest pains each time I logged on to Facebook to check the groups I belong to as well as scroll through my main feed. Each visit became shorter as the physical symptoms of anxiety and depression overwhelmed rational thought. By Tuesday I had a full-blown anxiety attack and needed my mom to watch Sienna lest my little girl see me hysterically crying; screaming, “It’s all crashing down! It’s all crashing down!” while I sat against a wall, head in my hands. What exactly was crashing down is meaningless in hindsight because of the utter absurdity of the thoughts careening through my head: I suck; I’ll never be as good as HIM; I’m a failure; My family would be better off without me; I’ll never be successful enough. I’ve invented enormous expectations for myself thanks to those placed on me as a kid by family and school.

On Tuesday I wrote a message in a dad bloggers group to which I belong that indicated I was giving up on Facebook and leaving the group because I believed I’d never reach an elite blogging level that would lead to sponsored campaigns, TV appearances, and going viral. My post elicited a bunch of worried comments, phone calls and IMs that I ignored because I felt I didn’t deserve them. I believed myself to be an outsider, a kid not invited to a birthday party. I spent most of the next three days in bed with Elaine and my parents watching Sienna. I stuttered my way through therapy, but found no relief. I didn’t fully recover until Saturday or Sunday and now I’m slowly getting back on Facebook, but I need to limit myself because I still get chest pains, though minor at the moment.

Just imagine – a huge anxiety attack followed by three days in bed feeling pathetic, insufficient, alienated and even suicidal all because of the thoughts triggered by a social media platform.

That is depression mixed with Facebook.

Facebook and its impact on mental health has been researched for years. Multiple studies have shown that the amount of time and the ways in which people use the social media platform can, in fact, lead to depression. The University of Missouri, for example, released a study in 2015 indicating Facebook causes feelings of envy which can in turn lead to depression, but what if the user already has this overwhelming, narcissistic, mentally and physically taxing disease? In order to illustrate how dangerous Facebook can be for depression sufferers for those that don’t have the disease – and to reinforce you are NOT alone for those that do – here are five major effects Facebook has had on me.

1)   Isolation – Depression is an isolating disease because you spend your life horrifically alone in your head. Imagine being in a room filled with friends, family and loved ones and still feeling utterly lost and abandoned. Now compound that with staring alone at a screen reading about other people’s lives, hoping and waiting for someone to comment on or like something you wrote. This can trigger a sense of bleakness to the nth degree in a depression sufferer.

Even more interactive Facebook components such as participating in a discussion or conversing via IM can have detrimental effects. The people with whom you’re interacting are flesh and blood, but they’re not physically in your presence; online they’re wisps in the wind. If they’re “Facebook Friends” and nothing more, they can be reminders of the lack of closeness in your life - whether real or perceived. My two best friends, for instance, live in Maryland and Florida while I’m in New York. Each time I interact with them on Facebook it’s like a piercing reminder that they live hundreds of miles from me and I’m lucky to see them in person a couple of times a year. When I close the computer I’m almost immediately punched by a deep sadness increasing my loneliness on the friendship front.

2)   Comparison Game – Depression sufferers almost always reflexively play the “comparison game” in almost every form of life. They devote huge amounts of energy in measuring themselves against others and irrationally coming up lacking. It’s an awful form of pessimism, fixation and envy. Combine that with Facebook and this damaging “game” worsens. Such aggrieved people see a friend excitedly announce a new job on Facebook and think, “Why not me? I’m worthless,” and off down the rabbit hole they go. Logically they know all they’re doing is feeding the disease, but this isn’t a rational game.

This is the depression aspect that most afflicts me. I log on to Facebook, see that a friend from elementary school’s just bought a new house, look around my small apartment and lament that I have so little financially – this despite knowing I have a beautiful, loving wife, an incredible daughter, and a great deal of caring friends and family. I chastise myself for not having the money to provide my family with a house. I hate myself for not being able to afford the “American Dream.”

My thoughts, my unrelenting self-thrashings, happen so quickly that it’s nearly impossible to breathe. I see words or pictures and within seconds my chest hurts and my hands tremble. I compare myself to other dad bloggers. I look at their poetic writing styles, book publications, television appearances, viral posts, brand campaign invitations, and I feel miniscule. Does it matter that they’ve been blogging for five years compared to my two? Do I think about how their kids might be older than Sienna giving them more time to blog, to spend on Facebook, to make names for themselves? Do I think about my own accomplishments as a blogger? No. Instead my self-loathing increases; the disease digs its talons even deeper into my brain.

The comparison game is also addicting. Sometimes I spend hours on the site scrolling trough post after post, my feelings of inadequacy intensifying to the point where I’m on the verge of tears. Yet I’m unable to stop until Elaine, seeing my pain, slams shut the computer for me. I’ve yet to find a way out of this trap, to avoid this trigger. I’ve spent a lot of time in therapy trying to figure out a way – deep breaths, shouting at myself that I’m being absurd, snapping myself with a rubber band each time I have a negative thought – but it remains troublesome. Hopefully my therapist and I will figure out something that works for me.

3)   Fantasy/Reality – Piggybacking on the comparison game is the fact that Facebook posts never show the full story. That friend who got the new job might have marital issues or suffer severe debt. The friend who bought the new house might be alcoholic or abusive. In my experience, the majority of Facebook users post only things of a positive nature, but a depressed person cannot see this and instead takes everything at face value. If so and so bought a house she must have everything she wants in life. She’s better than me. If so and so got a new job he’s clearly rolling in dough compared to my living check-to-check. He made it. I didn’t.

Depression fills in the blanks with fantasy allowing absurdity to consume truth. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent envying friends’ Facebook lives only to find out they’re unhappy beyond the screen. And while these revelations might help get me to see reality initially, depression refuses to lift its boot from my neck. It pushes harder than before forcing me to expend so much energy in reminding myself that what I’m reading or seeing isn’t real that eventually I give out. I move on to someone else and that awful jealousy over what may just be a happy mask returns with a vengeance.

4)   Arbitrary Numbers – Like all social media platforms, Facebook is a numbers game. How many friends do you have? How many people commented on your post or picture? How many likes did your video get? If you suffer depression and receive few comments or likes on a picture or post, you’re predisposed to taking it personally – they didn’t like it so they don’t like me. Rarely does it enter the brain that people might not have seen it or are too busy to comment.

Further, people with the disease are inclined to “collect” Facebook friends even if they don’t like the person. This happened to me when I friended someone I thought I was close with between elementary and high school. Truth is, he was always an arrogant jerk who often belittled me. After a year of him ignoring me, making snarky comments and untagging himself from pictures of the two of us, I decided to unfriend him, but I couldn’t make myself do it. Something in my head told me I deserved this humiliation. It took me months to finally do it and when I did, when I finally pressed that key as my fingers trembled and tears streamed down my cheeks, it felt like less like relief than failure.

But the worst Facebook numbers game (at least for me) is how many people send birthday greetings. I always send out birthday wishes figuring it takes just a few moments of time to bring a smile to someone’s face, and while I know I shouldn’t expect it in return, I do anyway. Each year I’m afraid to check Facebook until because I think I might jinx something. Usually I get 100+ birthday wishes which is nice, but still bugs me. Remember, depression is narcissistic. This year I discovered that only 36 out of my 600+ Facebook friends sent me birthday wishes. The sheer grief, the magnitude of self-hatred I felt in that moment sent me spiraling. I wound up bawling in my Elaine’s arms. It didn’t matter that all of the most important people in my world called me nor did I care that Sienna was able to understand and wish me happy birthday for the first time in her life. Only 36 people sent me sent birthday greetings on Facebook!

Depression is like living with blinders on. You can’t see the good, only the bad. Hence I was obsessed with my other 500+ Facebook friends. Why didn’t THEY wish me a happy birthday? I cried myself to sleep that night thinking of numbers: 36 out of 600+. It turned out that during one of its upgrades Facebook changed my birthday to private which explains why I received so few posts. And while that revelation made me feel a little better, the sting still lingered. It’s absolutely insane that I disregarded the real life love I received on my birthday from my best friends, my family, my wife, my daughter while pining for birthday wishes from online friends, many of whom I barely know, but that’s what the disease does. Arbitrary numbers and depression mix about as well as onions and milk.

5)   Falling Behind – It’s impossible to keep up with Facebook because people are always posting one thing or another. Thus it’s highly plausible that as a user, you’re going to miss cool pictures, announcements or humorous posts. And the more friends you have, the more you’re going to miss. When faced with this, depression sufferers often feel like they’re falling behind which leads to guilt that they’re letting their friends and family down.

This happens to me constantly. I scroll and scroll and scroll, but I just can’t keep up. It feels like I’m in a race running through thick mud as the finish line moves further and further away. Negative thoughts bombard me – What did I miss? Will my friend hate me because I didn’t like a picture of his kids or comment on his post? What if I missed a birthday? What if someone said they were having a baby? I CAN’T KEEP UP!!!

And then the debilitating guilt and fear and the horrid, selfish aspect of depression set in. I’m letting people down. My friend will hate me because I didn’t comment on their post about their daughter’s first word. They’re not going to like something I post out of spite. They’re going to forget me, unfriend me, even banish me from a group. It’s a vicious cycle because the more I spiral, the less I check Facebook and the more I “fall behind.” And even though I know it’s illogical, I have immense trouble stopping my depression from ensnaring me in its massive grip.

These are just five reasons why Facebook can be dangerous for those suffering from depression taken from my own experiences with the platform and disease. I’m sure there are many more. If you’re on Facebook and suffer depression, what aspects do you find exacerbate your mental illness?

We’ve Started A New Podcast About Pop Culture Fathers

Hopefully the start of an ongoing series, here’s a podcast Christopher Persley​ of The Brown Gothamite​ and I did for City Dads Group​ about pop culture dads. In our first episode we tackle “black-ish”. Chris and I got lucky in that we were able to ask Anthony Anderson some questions as well. Whit Honea​  of Honea Express​ adds some commentary at the end. Check it out! Very proud of it! Please let us know what you think! You can find it here!

The Mess I Got Myself Into

Toddlers come with many rules. Think Gremlins on steroids. I’ve gotten the major ones down: don’t not toddler-proof your home; don’t expect your children to remain angels upon turning 2 or 3 because tantrums will come when you least expect them; don’t think your kid’s going to eat that peanut butter and jelly sandwich she asked for – she really just wants to watch you squirm when she takes 1 bite and demands yogurt instead. But there’s one rule, one that’s insanely integral to child-rearing that you don’t even think about it until after you’ve experienced its dire consequences: no matter how tired you are never unwittingly fall asleep on the floor while playing with your kid. It happened to me. Don’t let it happen to you.

I awoke confused, face itchy and red from the carpet, drool still sliding down my cheek. Sienna wasn’t in the living room where I lay amongst books, Sesame Street figurines, superhero action figures and too many blocks to count. I stood up, rubbed my eyes and looked at the clock on my phone. Forty-five minutes. I’d been conked out on the floor, dead to the world, for 45 minutes whilst my child had the run of the place.

“Sienna!!” I called, looking around to see if anything was broken. Outside of the mess my daughter and I had created prior to my unexpected nap, the living room looked pristine. That’s when I should have known I was in for something bad, but instead I felt like I’d dodged a bullet.

“Sienna!!” I called again, walking down the hall to the kitchen where I found only our cat, Gleeb, in a perfectly clean room. Was it me or did he have a look of fear in his eyes?

Not in the living room. Not in the kitchen. Both my daughter’s bedroom and our bedroom’s doors were closed and she’d yet to master the childproof plastic things we’d placed on the front door knob which meant she there was just one more place she could be – the bathroom.

Now, we usually close the bathroom door, but for some reason I’d forgotten to the last time I used the…um…potty. Maybe it was because I was so tired. Maybe I was in a rush to get back to playing with Sienna. I don’t know why I didn’t close it and so I throw myself on the mercy of the court of fellow parents. Wait…I don’t have to do that. You know. You already know.

I heard something ripping from just beyond the partially opened door.

Please tell me she just tore up a roll of toilet paper. It can’t be that bad.

I opened the door and found my smiling daughter standing on the toilet gleefully tearing open one of my wife’s tampons.

“Daddy!!” she yelled. “You awake!!”

She threw the partially opened tampon on the floor or what was now, basically, a garbage dump. It was if my bathroom vomited – cotton pads, Q-Tips, mouthwash, toilet paper and my wife’s assorted creams, cleansers, make-up removers, lotions, gels and myriad of different tampons littered the floor. Since our bathroom is so small I literally could not see the floor tiles.

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Sienna’s bathroom destruction

I sighed deeply, my body deflating as I contemplated how much work lay ahead, knowing it was all my fault. I broke a rule.

“Daddy!” Sienna said. “Look what I did!” Her beautiful face shone with the cheerfulness only associated with a toddler who knew she got away with something.

“It’s beautiful, sweetie. Now let’s clean up.” How could I chastise her when it was my fault for falling asleep?

“Okay!!!” she said, jumping from the toilet.

I opened the closet across from the bathroom, grabbed a plastic bag and began the tedious job of placing each bottle back on the shelf, trying to figure out which tampon went in which box (I gave up after a couple of attempts) and playing 500-Q-Tip pick-up. I have to say Sienna was quite helpful, I have to say. I also have to say that I was thrilled all of the bottles seemed closed, that the floor wasn’t a mess of gels and lotions.

That was until Gleeb walked in and I saw his matted fur.

“Oh no,” I said. “Oh no no no no!”

“What is it, Daddy?”

“Oh boy.”

I reached down, felt Gleeb’s gray and black back and sure enough, the poor thing was covered in some mysterious cream. I wasn’t imagining things. That WAS fear in his eyes!

“Sienna?” I asked, knowing full well the answer to my question. “Did you cover Gleeb with cream?”

“No,” she said sweetly.

“You didn’t?”

“No.” She smiled. “Gleeb has cream?”

“He does and now we need to give him a bath and this is not gonna be fun.”

I put tied the now full bag, closed the door, started the tub, and picked up a clearly frightened Gleeb who immediately started clawing the air and my arms. Sienna stood by watching.

I placed Gleeb beneath the faucet and then came the howls, nay screams as the poor cat thrashed in the shallow water like a drowning victim.

“What’s wrong with Gleeb?” asked Sienna.

“You know how you love to sit in the bath and splash?” I said. “Cats clean themselves with their tongues. Most cats hate getting actual baths.”

With one hand holding Gleeb, I slathered shampoo on the poor cat with the other. Sienna stuck her head past me so she should get a better look.

“Bubbles!” she said happily, ignoring my bleeding arms and the terrified cat now so soaked he looked like he’d lost 5 pounds.

“Yes,” I sighed. “Bubbles.”

I did my best to get all the cream off Gleeb’s fur, turned off the faucet and covered the trembling cat with a towel. I dried him as best as I could and released him into the hall so he could lick his wounds. I’d have to worry about my own later.

Now even more thoroughly exhausted from cleaning the bathroom and cat than I was before my surprise nap, I carried Sienna back to the living room thinking about this new rule I’d have to deal with each day as a stay-at-home dad – never, ever, under ANY circumstances, accidentally fall asleep on the floor while playing with your child.

I’m Back in “Dads Behaving Dadly 2: 72 More Truths, Tears and Triumphs of Modern Fatherhood”

I’m proud to announce that around June 1, 2015, just in time for Father’s Day, I’ll have 2 stories featured in Dads Behaving Dadly 2: 72 More Truths, Tears and Triumphs of Modern Fatherhood”.  I was honored having 2 stories featured in volume 1 and I’m even more so getting 2 in volume 2 considering the competition was that much fiercer. Many thanks to co-editors, Hogan Hilling and Al Watson! Will post more updates as they become available.

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A Birthday Full Of Surprises

Sometimes the groundhog is unrelenting. Sometimes he refuses to talk Old Man Winter out of releasing us North Easterners from his icy grips despite the turn of the calendar. It snowed on the first day of the spring here in New York, a day usually earmarked for rebirth and the end of winter’s cruelty. But instead 3-5 inches fell from a dull white sky. Still it was a special day for Sienna turned 3 on that snowy first day of spring…and turning age 3 is both magical and full of curveballs.

We held a large party for Sienna’s first birthday at my parents’ house. Few kids attended, but we were surrounded by friends and loved ones who laughed as Sienna painted her confused face with chocolate cake. We didn’t do much of anything for Sienna’s second birthday. I think we went out to dinner to celebrate, but honestly, I cannot recall for “birthday” still meant nothing in Sienna’s mind. But it did this year. I’m sure if she completely grasped what “birthday” means but she knew it was a momentous occasion revolving around her and that was enough.

“You know what’s coming up on Friday,” I asked?

“My birthday!!” Sienna gleefully yelled, emanating so much excitement she probably glowed in the dark.

“And what does a birthday mean?”

“Presents!”

“What else?”

“Balloons! Cake!”

“What type of cake do you want?”

“Chocolate!” she said, stretching the word out so I could fully understand her desire. She might as well have drooled, jaw wide open à la Homer Simpson.

“Do you want ice cream cake or regular cake?”

“Regular!”

“I guess we’ll have to see what happens,” I said with a wink.

Now, I don’t want my daughter to always associate all of these superficial things with birthdays, but I have no problem with it at age 3 for I felt just as much, if not more, ebullience as Sienna. I’d gone to Toys ‘R Us and picked up a bunch of little things for her to open including some Doc McStuffins and Mickey Mouse stickers, but also Iron Man and Captain America action figures (both Elaine and I want Sienna to inherit our nerdiness) to join her beloved Hulk. On my recommendation, my parents picked up a set of 100 Picasso Tiles (a less expensive, but just as wonderful version of Magna Tiles) that I knew Sienna would love since she enjoys building but isn’t quite ready for little LEGO pieces. We didn’t plan a party – no bouncy houses, no other kids. Elaine and I figured we had one more year to have Sienna all to ourselves before we had to deal with shelling out hundreds of dollars for a noisy, chaotic fête. Instead there’d be cupcakes at school, small presents at home, dinner and a more presents at my parents house and then 2 days later, a small celebration with our extended family. But sometimes a curveball throws off even the best planning.

The morning of Sienna’s birthday was perfect despite the snowy forecast. As with all school days, I woke her up, but this time I grinned widely and said, “Happy birthday sweet Sienna!”

“It’s my birthday!” she said, sleep melting from her eyes quicker than I’ve ever seen.

“That it is! Let’s eat and get dressed and get you to school where you can have cupcakes and everyone will sing ‘Happy Birthday!’”

We arrived at her classroom, cupcakes in hand only to discover the place was near empty. Three or four kids sat playing with toy cars or blocks, but I’d never seen the place so barren.

“Hi birthday girl!” her teacher, Miss Joanne, said placing a purple crown decorated with glitter spelling out “Sienna” and “3″ on my daughter’s head. Sienna smiled broadly and fingered the crown.

I gave gave Miss Joanne the cupcakes and learned that 7 of the 12 kids were home sick with the stomach flu. Elaine herself has suffered all week from a similar illness, though we’re not sure if it was a stomach flu or food poisoning. Either way it landed her in the ER because of the pain. But Sienna still had the crown and the cupcakes and enough kids to sing, so that was unfortunate, but ok.

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The birthday girl at school wearing her purple crown

The rest of the day went as planned. Sienna came home and opened her little gifts with an intensity that would probably scare off a few people. Seriously, the girl was so into unwrapping each present that I had to keep asking her to smile. But she loved each one, especially Iron Man and Captain America. She ran to get her Hulk figure and had me pretend to be both Iron Man and Cap while she voiced the Hulk. I explained that while Iron Man could fly and the Hulk could jump really high, Captain America’s power was super strength, so she solved that problem by sprinkling him with pixie dust (“Pixie dust away!” for all you “Jake and the Never Land Pirate” fans). We had a great time playing and enjoying ourselves as the afternoon bled into evening. Time to head to my parents. .

We walked outside into a spring world of pure white snow, Sienna happily catching flakes with her tongue.

“Daddy, you have to clean the car, Daddy.”

“I know, but don’t worry. It shall be done.”

I cleaned off the car and off we went to my parents’ house for meaning it was time to head to my parents’ house for eggplant parmigana, chocolate cake and of course, more presents. Balloons greeted Sienna as we walked through the door along with grinning grandparents. I think, like Elaine and myself, they shared our enthusiasm Sienna had started to understand the birthday concept.

The Picasso Tiles were an enormous hit as I’d expected. They’re colorful, magnetic and so easy to use. Sienna and Elaine built tower after tower with both fervor and deep concentration only for Sienna to suddenly grab the Hulk, yell, “Hulk smash!” and completely demolish their creations. I couldn’t have been more proud.

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Sienna deeply considering where to place the next Picasso Tile

There is one thing to mention before we get to the cake, the candles and the singing. When I was at the Dad 2.0 Summit in San Francisco less than a month earlier, I’d asked the people working in the Lee Jeans Denim Den, a sponsor booth made to look like an actual Lee store, if they made pants for toddlers. I honestly had no idea because just about all of Sienna’s clothes are hand-me-downs. They told me yes and I didn’t think anything more of it. The next thing I knew I received an e-mail from Lee asking about sizes for not just Sienna, but Elaine as well! Stunned, I responded with the information and asked why they wanted to know.

“It’s your daughter’s 3rd birthday! We want to do something nice for her!” read the e-mail, totally blowing my mind. And so a package came a few days prior to Sienna’s birthday with 2 pairs of jeans each for Sienna and Elaine. While Elaine’s fit just fine, Sienna is such a string bean that I had to pull out the adjustable straps at least 10 times on each side. Still, she looked great! I e-mailed Lee back and thanked them wholeheartedly, mentioning the straps, but saying it was perfectly fine. Once more I thought nothing more of it.

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Elaine and Sienna playing with Picasso Tiles and wearing their new Lee Jeans

Out came the cake – chocolate as requested – adorned with 3 flickering candles. Sienna stood on a chair not quite knowing what to do with herself, but clearly happy and maybe a little shy and embarrassed as we sang “Happy Birthday” to her. She’d experienced this ritual before (both Elaine and my birthdays were in February). She’d experienced in class, though it probably meant less to her because the few classmates there and her teachers remain mostly strangers. This was her mommy, daddy, grandma and pop-pop singing to her. So she stood there as we sang sometimes looking down at the floor, but mostly staring at us with her eyes as bright and dancing as the candles’ flames and then she blew out the candles, had a small slice of cake and raced back to the Picasso Tiles. All in all, a very successful birthday, but she still had the small party with the relatives to go.

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Sienna standing and smiling in front of her cake as we sang “Happy Birthday”

Saturday was a relaxing day. Nothing doing. Sunday arrived and we were all set to travel to New Jersey for Sienna’s party when she started complaining of stomach pains and developed a slight fever. Curveball. Should we cancel at the last minute after all of the preparation my aunt and uncle had done, after my cousins had set aside their busy schedules and roped their children together? The answer came in the form of a spray of vomit. Swing and a miss. Terror seized Sienna as she’d only vomited once before in her life (3 days later she’s well but fears eating anything lest she throw up). Her fever spiked to close to 101. Elaine and Sienna stayed home. I went to my parents to New Jersey, to the balloons and cardboard party glasses and presents and Hello Kitty ice cream cake awaiting the birthday girl. It was an unfortunate turn of events, but when you’re 3, you don’t remember such things and as adults, we were disappointed (my grandmother especially since she’s 95 and yearns to see her great-grandchildren whenever possible), but we barbecued and talked childhood illnesses and sang “Happy Birthday no Sienna!” (as suggested by one of kids) as Elaine texted me with positive updates.

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Sienna missed out on her Hello Kitty ice cream cake, but that’s ok. She’ll have plenty of more chances and she’ll never recall birthday number 3

Thus my little girl’s birthday weekend ended on a slightly sour note (very sour if you’re talking what that vomit must have tasted like), but on Monday she noticed 3 more balloons to add the the 3 she already possessed as well as 4 more presents to open and her tummy felt slightly better for a short while. But the biggest surprise (at least for me) came when I opened the door that afternoon and found a large box. Inside was a wrapped gift that Sienna, with her usual intensity, tore open revealing a very sweet card marking the passage into age 3 from Lee Jeans as well as another pair of pants and a really cool Kinetic Sand kit that Sienna’s had a ball playing with! Curveball. Swing and a high fly…and it’s outta here! Who would have thought that a short conversation with a sponsor at Dad 2.0 would have led to this icing on Sienna’s birthday cake?

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The surprise card, THIRD pair of jeans for Sienna (Elaine received 2 and I, of course, got 1 at Dad 2.0) and Kinetic Sand kit from Lee Jeans

There might have been tummy aches and vomiting and a missed party with the relatives, but the celebration with our core family, the joy in watching my daughter learn, at least partially, the concept of birthdays, and the utter random kindness from a Dad 2.0 sponsor made birthday number 3 one for the ages.

Depression Panel At Dad 2.0, The Loss of Oren Miller, Breakdowns And Recoveries

“You changed my life.”

The woman and I stood on the second floor of San Francisco’s beautiful Park Central Hotel amidst people, mostly dads, but plenty of moms, talking, laughing and taking pictures with friends they might have met just days before but knew intimately for years online. My hands trembled. I tried not to speak on account of my stutter. Just hours before a room full of listeners swayed in my watery eyes seconds before I collapsed, bawling, head in my hands filling each molecule of my body with sickening embarrassment. I knew not what to say to this woman who came up to me in the crowd and uttered that crazy sentence. What do you say to someone who just told you you changed her life? What does someone who despises himself say to a person giving him the ultimate compliment?

My skin prickled with shame and self-doubt. I barely met her eyes. I remembered her from the panel, though I can’t recall what she looked like, only that she had dark hair. I recalled her crying, voice shaking, when asking me how to go about talking to her husband who’d shut her out for two years as he sank into depression and I remember responding that I’d almost lost my wife because of the same thing, that when you have the disease you can’t see anything outside of your own head, that you can’t see how you’re affecting others. I advised her to talk with him, to say that although she couldn’t completely understand his pain, he needed to clear his haze enough for him to see how he was hurting her. I suggested she work together with him, perhaps go to counseling together. It’s one of the few things I remember clearly during the 137 minute session.

“You changed my life.”

I think I muttered a “thank you” but I’m not sure if I said anything else. I’d spent the weeks prior to the fourth annual Dad 2.0 Summit persuading myself that no one would show up to my panel titled “Depression Doesn’t Discriminate” because of the subject matter and the fact that it was scheduled to take place at the same time as two other breakout sessions led by and containing men I consider to be powerhouse dad bloggers, arguably some of the top writing today. This despite knowing that my great friend, Christopher Persley of The Brown Gothamite, one of the two best friends I’ve made since joining the NYC Dads Group, promised to be there to support me just as I promised to be there for him during his blog spotlight reading. I worried about how to dress even asking Doug French, one of Dad 2.0′s cofounders along with John Pacini, if I could wear my Yankee cap because I feel slightly calmer beneath its brim, a security blanket of sorts. “Wear whatever makes you feel comfortable,” Doug told me. “You’re going to do great and the panel will be packed.” The constant negativity permeating my brain went so far as to convince me that Doug and John chose my panel idea out of pity, perhaps one of the most irrational thoughts I’ve ever had. Yet I struggled to believe the truth – they felt this was a significant topic, one that would resonate with people.

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Panel description

In the days leading up to the panel dad blogger friends including Jeff Bogle, Chris Berhnoldt, Buzz Bishop, Chris Routly, Carter Gaddis, John Kinnear and so many more asked me why I was so nervous. Didn’t I read a blog about depression in front of 250 people at the previous year’s conference in turn receiving a shocking standing ovation (“shocking” being my word)? I consistently returned to the other two breakout sessions occurring simultaneously trumping mine because of their huge blogger personalities, though the real answer lay in my dichotomy of fears. Last year my terror dealt with potential failure. This time around I had to top what seemed to be a success (though I still have difficulty wrapping my head around that) and should I not, it’d go down as an enormous defeat and could be catastrophic, a thousand times more painful than possibly choking at the mic the year before. This time had expectations, particularly from the the part of my mind that applies megatons of pressure, and so I tore myself apart before anyone else could and hence my utter conviction no one would attend.

Scheduled for 10:45 am – 12:00 pm, the panel consisted of Dr. Will Courtenay, an authority on Paternal Postnatal Depression (PPND); Sally Spencer-Thomas, founder of the Carson J. Spencer Foundation (in honor of her brother who committed suicide) and an advocate for more resources and means (including a combo of humor and media) devoted to mental illnesses in men; Dr. Craig Garfield, a pediatrician at Northwestern University and researcher of mental health and fatherhood; and my chosen moderator and fellow anxiety and depression (as well as OCD which I do not have) sufferer, Katherine Stone, founder of Postpartum Progress, a non-profit designed to help women dealing with postpartum depression while educating both women and men about the condition; and finally myself, there to act as the “face of male depression” and to tell my story, real life incidents I’ve discussed and written about so many times I’ve lost count and yet each recitation or blog or article feels raw and spawns supreme apprehension.

A half hour before the panel commenced, we gathered in an empty classroom and went over strategies – Katherine with a quick mission statement and introduction of each panelist; Will, Craig and Sally discussing their expertise, theories and experiences using powerpoint presentations and videos as evidence; myself revealing my history, my breakdowns, my heart and soul; and then ending with a Q&A (at which I internally scoffed knowing there’d maybe be no one there to ask questions). Within the empty room we finally met each other in person; I’d briefly met Katherine at Dad 2.014 and we developed a rapport over Facebook, but Will, Craig and Sally I knew only from e-mails about the panel. I expressed my fear that no one would show up and my four fellow panelists assured me it wasn’t true and that what we planned to discuss was incredibly important, but all I saw was a podium; a long rectangular table holding a pitcher of water, microphones and folded papers containing each of our names; and a vast deserted room under fluorescent light…that is until Chris showed up and took a seat at the front so I could look to him for support.

“One,” I whispered.

As the clock ticked and Katherine, Will, Craig and Sally got settled, three more people entered the room.

“Two, three, four.”

“Stop counting!” whispered Katherine. Katherine told me beforehand that in her experience, it didn’t matter how many people showed up – a panel’s strength did not lie in its audience’s numbers. I refused to believe this. I continued counting under my breath.

By 10:45 am maybe two or three more people occupied previously empty seats.

“We’ll wait a little longer to start,” Katherine said. And then the door began to open and close rather quickly and I lost count somewhere in the twenties, but instead of relief, I felt even shakier for I couldn’t let these people down. Katherine began the program and – my deepest apologies to Will, Craig and Sally – I cannot remember anything the three of them said; I was just way too in my head. When Katherine indicated it was more turn to speak, my voice was a jittery mess, my lips stumbling over words (or at least this is how I recall it). I teared up a bit. I sat with shoulders slumped forward and hands beneath the table so no one could see them quiver. I would not have gotten through it had Katherine not showed genuine understanding about my vulnerability by keeping her hand on my back from the moment I began speaking until the end of the panel. I’m not sure I even looked at Chris in the audience. I hope I did.

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Katherine Stone lends me a supporting hand

Once I’d finished speaking I think it was back to Will, Craig and Sally, or maybe it was time for Q&A. I don’t recall. My mind might as well have been Play-Doh and my only memory was of the woman with tears running down her face, asking my advice, the woman who’d later come up to me in a happy and crowded room.

“You changed my life.”

I did notice my great friend, Aaron Gouveia of The Daddy Files, standing by the door with his wife, MJ, and I found that odd because his panel about the intricacies of blogging and marriage was one of those scheduled against mine. I’d learn later that we’d gone over the designated time allotment by 22 minutes.

At some point Katherine announced the end of the breakout session and it took literally seconds for me collapse into first sobs and then all out wailing. I overheard someone say (I think it was Katherine) that it was all the anxiety built up over the weeks finally releasing, that this cry was cleansing. The next thing I knew Aaron and MJ were by side, MJ speaking softly, but sharply in my ear.

“You did a good job. Say, ‘I did a good job.’”

“I can’t!” My eyes were squeezed shut, my head in my hands. How many people stood staring at me? What happened to Katherine, to Sally, to Will, to Craig? Did I thank them? Did I say goodbye? These people must think I’m a disgrace!

“Yes you can! Say, ‘I did a good job.’”

I mumbled something.

“I did a good job. Say it.”

“Ididagoodjob.”

“Louder! With strength!”

“I did a good job. Noooooo!”

“Don’t fall backwards! Don’t you fall back! I did a good job! Again!”

“I did a good job.” Where was Chris? Was he scared? He’d never seen me like this, only heard stories, read what I’d written. Did he hate me know?

MJ called me on it each time I fell back. Eventually my tears abated a bit, my breath hitched less. My stutter and remained. My hands kept trembling. I looked up and saw Chris. He seemed worried, not sure what to do. He asked what he could do and I said something like, “Just be here.”

Aaron, MJ, Chris and I went downstairs for lunch. I made weird sounds, the same type of bizarre morse code that uncontrollably comes from my lips each time I have such a breakdown. Chris and I separated from Aaron and MJ after lunch, my NYC Dads Group brother staying by my side making sure I was ok. I can’t thank him enough. I especially cannot thank him enough for writing this ridiculously wonderful post about me.

A few hours later a woman would tell me I changed her life and I’d be tongue-tied and insecure and ashamed and unable to accept it.

The conference officially ended later that evening with the announcement that the Dad 2.0 Scholarship Fund (which grants money to dad bloggers normally unable to attend the conference) would forever bear the name of Oren Miller, the dad blogger Facebook group founder, the person who united so many of us both online and off. Oren, the beautiful force behind A Blogger and a Father, had been battling stage 4 lung cancer for nine months, and the audience received the news with applause, whoops and cheers. Although I’d met him in person just a few times, I looked up to Oren with undeniable admiration, for not only did he lead the charge of modern fatherhood, not only would none of the things – Dad 2.0, Huffington PostDads Behaving Dadly, etc. - that had happened to me since he invited me into the group when it held just 256 members (it’s now over 1,050), he was battling his illness with a quiet grace via his words and taking the chance to appreciate his wife, his children, his family, his life. When he first diagnosed, we dad bloggers helped raise over $35,000 for him and his family to take a dream vacation. He was supposed to go to Dad 2.0, but unfortunately could not, but his closest blogger friend, Brent Almond of Designer Daddy, read us a letter from Oren at the conference about how honored he was to have his name associated with something so important.

There’s a reason I’ve gone in this direction, so bear with me.

I was afraid to check Facebook or Twitter upon arriving home from Dad 2.0, scared at the reaction to my panel, nervous about potential criticism. Elaine and my parents told me everything they read was positive, but I still couldn’t see for myself (long after what follows next, I read this amazing post about me by Christian Toto of Daddylibrium). When I finally did summon the courage to check the first thing I saw was a note to all of us from Oren saying that the time for further treatment had passed and that he only had a few weeks to live. I shut my computer immediately, stricken by the news, and for the next few days I tried to figure out what to write this incredible man. It took me three days for me to do it. Oren died at the age of 41 two days later. I took his death extremely hard eventually suffering a massive and frightening (to Sienna, Elaine and my parents) breakdown two days later, the day of his funeral which I desperately wanted to attend, but could not. The same images kept playing in my head: us sitting in his house in Maryland, listening to his little girl, Madeline, sing “Tomorrow” from Annie on a karaoke machine while Oren beamed with pride. Such a hopeful song in the middle of increasing horror. His wife, Beth, no longer had a husband. His children, Liam and Madeline, no longer had a father. I suffered survivor’s guilt as well as genuine loss, the loss of a great man.

A man who changed my life.

These are the last words I ever wrote to Oren. I don’t think he ever read them, but I’d told him in person before so I hope he knew:

“Hey Oren. I’ve probably started and stopped writing this message about a dozen times because I’ve been so stunned by the news. I can’t imagine what you and your family are going through and I wish I could do more than tell you what you mean to me, but at the moment’s that’s the best I can do. I’ll talk about the FB Dad Blogger site in a bit, but first I want you to know to me you’re the embodiment of love and fatherhood. That came to me through your writing. It was further shown when I first met you at Dad 2.0 last year and then the two times we met up over the summer. I know some days must have been horrendous as you’ve battled this illness, but I too know that your outlook on life is joyous and something I truly need to learn. Beth and Liam and Madeline are all wonderful and they’re so lucky to have you in their lives. Now to the Dad Blogger site and how you changed my life forever. I have no idea if you knew what starting that site would do, but in truth it created a family, one that it is incredibly important to me. Without you inviting me into the Dad Blogger group when it was 250+ members, none of what’s happened to me over the past year and a half would have ever happened. I never would have read at Dad 2.0. I never would have been published in any way, shape or form (and I can say this because I know my own crippling fears). I never would have appeared on any podcasts. I never would have appeared in Dads Behaving Dadly or had the chance to be in the sequel. I never would have submitted and appeared on a panel a this year’s Dad 2.0. Because of you I’ve addressed some of my major fears and dislikes about myself head-on. Because of you I’m more than just a depression sufferer, I’m now an outspoken advocate for stripping the disease from the shadows. This past weekend someone told me that after my reading last year, he went home and went into therapy. After my panel this year, a woman approached me and said I changed her life. Neither knew your part in it, whether direct or indirect. I might still have depression and anxiety, but your invitation into the dad blogger community has made me a stronger man, a better father and given me a tribe I can count on. I’ll never be able to thank you enough for that and you’ll probably say I never have to. But I’m going to anyway. Thank you. Thank you so much. I do hope you write back, but if you don’t, I understand. You’re probably getting a ton of these because you’re so beloved and revered and rightly so. I’d rather you spend the time you’d take to write back to me to spend with Beth and the kids. Just know I love you, man. I love and respect and admire you and yes, you did change my life and I will never forget that or make the mistake of regressing to what I was before. That is the Oren Miller effect. Love, Lorne”

Oren Miller was a humble man, but he understood how one person could change the life of another and then another and then another and so on and so forth. By changing just one life, whether it be through writing or just plain old simple kindness, you could start a movement and he did that when he founded the dad bloggers Facebook group.

So if Oren Miller could change my life, why couldn’t I have done the same for the woman who told me I changed hers at Dad 2.0 in San Francisco?

Perhaps it’s time I acknowledge that I did.

Me and Oren

(l-r) Brent Almond, Oren Miller, Dustin Fisher (of www.daddyneedsanap.com) and myself