Hat Tricks

If you’ve seen a photo of me, odds are I’m wearing a beat-up old Yankees cap. If you’ve met me in person, I probably was wearing either that hat or a NY Giants cap. Maybe a University of Michigan hat or one advertising my love for Breaking Bad. Maybe you think I’m a die-hard Yankee fan (I was, but not since 2001 when the dynasty broke up and the front office started making all the wrong moves…again). Maybe you think I’m losing my hair (I am a bit). Maybe you think I’m uncouth, unstylish or lazy. Maybe you haven’t noticed or thought about it at all even if I feel you have. Now that I’ve been chosen as a Blog Spotlight Reader at this year’s Dad 2.0 Summit, I’ve been thinking about it a lot because the fact is, I don’t know if I can get on that stage without it. My hat is my security blanket.



I normally feel uncomfortable in front of people, have felt that way for as long as I can remember, but I feel completely exposed if I’m not wearing a hat, as if someone, anyone can directly see the chaos, self-loathing and anxiety constantly cannoning through my mind. When my head’s covered, I feel less naked. Not in control – not by a long shot – but somehow more protected.

I started wearing a hat during day camp when I was free from school and family rules. I was able to slide the brim low so other kids couldn’t see my fear, especially when I developed severely emasculating gynecomastia (male breast enlargement that was finally corrected 10 years ago) at age 11 followed by a massive thatch of thick, black back hair (95% of which was zapped away over the past 3 years). I was already being bullied by kids and authority figures and already feeling unloved, cast out and like a failure by the time I started wearing my hat religiously (sometimes carrying it in my backpack and putting it on after school, for instance), but the onset of those two physical conditions forced me to be of aware of my body at all times coupled with a desperate need to hide it. My hat, I felt at the time, made me a little less conspicuous, though the irony is that it became just more bait for camp bullies (cruel games of keep-away, for instance). Even today it giveth and it taketh away. I feel a nagging need to wear my hat to feel better, but I also wonder who’s looking at me, who’s talking about the freak who always wears that damn battered Yankee cap as people sometimes did in college when I almost never took it off. Sometimes I wonder if my hat’s actually keeping me prisoner.

When I first started seeing my current therapist (my 4th and best by far), she asked me to take my hat off during session; I think she recognized instantly that I cling to it. It’s been around 6 years and my therapist says I’ve made enough progress that it’s completely my choice regarding wearing it, but still, one of the first things I do when I sit down with her is take off my hat. Sometimes I glance at it longingly and when things get very intense I’ll unconsciously reach out to touch the brim that normally shadows my face only to settle for nervously combing my fingers through my hair.

Sienna has no idea why Daddy’s always wearing a hat at family functions or when people are visiting or when we’re out in public, but she loves to play with it. She grabs it off my head, eyes and mouth all smiles and laughs, and tries to put it back on myself or Elaine. I don’t wear it when we’re alone in the apartment, but if she sees it she starts yelling, “Hat! Hat! Hat!” and clamors for me to put it on.  My heart aches when she does this. Sometimes with love, but other times with uneasiness because I don’t want her to think of me of weak (and yes I know that’s irrational).


Sienna tries to uncover the mysterious within Daddy’s hat

So will I wear it on stage at Dad 2.0? I have no idea. Can I? That’s one of things I’ve been fretting about. How do I have to dress? I know I’m going be nervous as hell and as I wrote earlier, I’m not sure I can handle going up there without it. When asked his advice on dress, Jason Greene of One Good Dad wrote me that I shouldn’t feel scared people will judge me for wearing it because this is a community that doesn’t scrutinize. But then I also think about what it might symbolically mean for Sienna should I not wear the hat, should I display that extra courage. Is it enough that Daddy’s confronting his overwhelming anxieties by not just going to this conference, but speaking at it? She’ll be 22 months at the time. She could care less. And yet I feel like I shouldn’t wear it because I’d be setting an example. I want my daughter to look at me as a strong person and father. I never want her to feel the need to carry around a security blanket, particularly when she’s nearing 40.

Even if I don’t wear it at the podium, I’m sure I’ll be wearing it most of the time. If anything it’ll be an easy way for you guys to recognize me. Just look for the terrified guy in the old, threadbare Yankee cap.

An Amazing Response To A Bully

I’ve written about bullying for a long time. How I was bullied by so many people for much of my life. How my father’s bias against overweight people in general and his sarcastic comments in specific (“You’re gonna be as big as a house” or “Overweight people can’t be beautiful” despite both his wife and son being on the heavy side) helped prevent any sense of my own self-worth from forming. I also want to repeat that my father is NO LONGER that person and each time I bring up things like this, it makes both of us feel extraordinarily guilty, but it’s important information for parents to know and for people to have in order to understand the near-40-year-old I’ve become.

I’m talking about it today because my wife showed me an incredible video. I don’t know how long it’s been around, but I suggest everyone watch it and learn from it. The video is an editorial response by a journalist to a letter she’d received remarking about her weight and how as a person in the public eye, she needs to do a better job of promoting a healthier lifestyle, especially for girls.

As the father of a 20-month-old girl, I will be sure to bookmark this video and show it to her when she’s ready to understand it, both to prevent her from ever becoming a bully and to understand how to respond to a bully.

And as I said, every parent should watch it. I urge you to watch this amazing video

What Kids & Parents Should Take Away From the Miami Dolphins Bullying Situation


Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito (68) and tackle Jonathan Martin (71) looks over plays during the second half of an NFL preseason football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013 in Miami Gardens, Fla Photo- Associated Press/Wilfredo Lee

1) When a 310 lb professional football player can be bullied, anyone can. Kids and parents definitely need to know this. It doesn’t matter what you look like, how tall you are, how heavy you are, whether you’re male or female, how old you are; anyone can be a victim of bullying which has reached an epidemic in schools across the nation. As NY Jet, Bart Scott, said on ESPN Radio: “Anybody can be bullied, it’s not about size.”

2) Don’t be afraid to step forward. Children are often way too scared to say anything to anyone about being bullied. I was that way as a child and in fact, it’s a trait that’s followed me into adulthood. Bullied kids feel like they’re alone. They feel no one will believe them should they speak up. They feel no one will do anything about it and that the taunts and punches and threats will just get worse. There’s a lack of trust in the system – teachers, principals, guidance counselors, peers, parents. Documentaries such as Bully highlight this distrust, fear and, as far as the system goes, failure to help. I’ve experienced it myself. In 6th grade I was being harassed by the kid who sat next to me in the classroom. Following months of whispered teasing and under-the-table kicks, I went to my teacher (a bully herself) to complain and asked to change seats. She didn’t believe me and worse, accused me of making it up. If children are to learn to trust and feel safe, they need the system to come through. Jonathan Martin stepped forward despite knowing that the culture of professional football and the locker room dictates never to call out a teammate, especially in the press. He decided he’d had enough and placed his trust in the Dolphins organization and the NFL to do something about the situation. Bullied children should look at Martin and do the same. Step forward. I know that should Sienna ever be bullied, I’d want her to tell me, to trust that I’ll not just believe her, but I’ll take action.

3) Tied into the fear of stepping forward is this: the potential repercussions from speaking up are worth it. Some NFL players, including Antrel Rolle of the NY Giants, have accused Martin of not being man enough to stand up for himself. According to Rolle, “Was Richie Incognito wrong? Absolutely, but I think the other guy is just as much to blame as Richie, because he allowed it to happen. At this level, you’re a man. You’re not a little boy. You’re not a freshman in college. You’re a man.” Sorry, Antrel, but this is an outdated and way too common belief that actually perpetuates bullying. I don’t care what level you’re at – grade school, high school, a 30-yr-old at work – not everyone has it in them to resort to violence to stop a bully, nor should they have to. Too many parents, especially fathers, of boys share this thought and actually bully their kids into fighting. How is this good? Many told me I was more of a man when I chose not to challenge a guy who bullied me at Sienna’s Halloween party. This holds true for Martin and for any kid who follows the same route. Sure there will be idiots like Rolle, but not resorting to violence is the way to go. Parents need to teach this to their children. Perhaps doing so will help prevent kids from turning to guns and thus lower the probability of future Columbines. As NY Jet, Bart Scott said on ESPN Radio, “Thank God he (Martin) didn’t bring a gun to work and start shooting.”

4) There might actually be positives when it comes to bullying and social media. Cyberbullying, like regular bullying, is out of control. Just this past September, Rebecca Ann Sedwick jumped to her death due to insane social media harassment from a gaggle of girls. Sedwick was 12 years old. One of the final messages she received was: “You aren’t dead yet…Go jump off of a building.” Such bullying via sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., happens all the time. In fact, it happened to Jonathan Martin, but Martin turned it around on his bully. He saved Incognito’s hateful texts and emails and used them as proof which got Incognito suspended and, perhaps, banned from the NFL. Children should look to Martin as an example, as should parents who need to teach their kids about the dangers of social media and that should they be harassed, they must save everything to use as proof. This is actual evidence of bullying instead of the my word vs. his/her word of the past as I referred to above during my 6th grade bullying story. Authority figures also need to learn not dismiss such evidence and instead treat it as extremely serious. We might just save a child’s life.

I know we’ll never put an end to bullying, but there’s no reason why we can’t curtail it and learn from publicized incidents. The Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin incident is a perfect way for authority figures to teach children that bullying can happen to anyone; that one need not be afraid to step forward; that there’s no need to turn to violence; that the repercussions of stepping forward clearly outweigh not saying anything; and that social media can be used against a cyberbully. Now we just need to learn and teach. We need to protect out children. It’s the first rule of being a parent. Thank you Jonathan Martin for setting such a wonderful example.

More Links About The Miami Dolphins Bullying Situation

Ann Liguori of CBS New York writes that Jonathan Martin, the victim of teammate Richie Incognito’s bullying, a sets a powerful example for kids everywhere for stepping forward

Meanwhile, Antrel Rolle of my beloved NY Giants, claims Martin is just as much at fault for not standing up to Icognito. Hey Antrel, it’s not so easy for everyone no matter how big you are or how much you bench press.

Brent Schrotenboer of USA TODAY Sports details Incognito’s long history of bullying

Bullying in the Miami Dolphins Locker Room

Amazing how bullying even exists at America’s highest level of professional sports and between teammates. This isn’t even hazing, which I’m against, but straight out bullying including social media and racial slurs used by a white player against a black player. Good to see the Dolphins refusing to stand for such behavior and for setting an example for young football fans by saying they will not tolerate bullying.