Breaking Patterns

I sat in my aunt and uncle’s house on Sunday, mere days before Dad 2.0, anxious about having to talk about the conference but wondering why I received zero congratulations. I sat on the couch waiting, butterflies fluttering throughout my torso and into my throat. Nothing from my aunt and uncle. Nothing from my cousins or their spouses. I couldn’t understand it, especially from my grandmother who supposedly was “thrilled” for me and cried when she read my post about Sienna and the moon. Wasn’t this supposed to be a big deal of sorts even if it made no sense to me why I was chosen? Even if I was having trouble accepting compliments and validation? Face-to-face with my extended family and there…was…nothing.

I asked Elaine her thoughts and she said maybe they were afraid to say anything that would upset me. My mom said the same and asked if she should investigate and if it turned out that there was a moratorium in place on talking to me about Dad 2.0, should I give my consent to lift it? I said yes. What followed was some whispering amongst my relatives while I sat, nervous, not knowing what I should with my hands. On one hand I dreaded the compliments and discussing the summit. On the other hand I craved them. My mom came back smiling and said that that’s exactly what was going on. My relatives were afraid of upsetting me, once again understandably walking on the proverbial eggshells.

I come from a very small family. I have one sister, an aunt (my dad’s sister) and uncle, two cousins and unfortunately only one grandparent (we’ve lost two and the other I never knew). I have a number of second cousins, but I rarely see them. Since I was born, we’ve gotten together with my aunt’s family about eight times a year, so if you think about it, I grew up with my cousins, though we’ve never been particularly close. We rarely see each other outside of holidays, birthdays celebrations and the like, and because I’ve suffered depression since around age nine and because I was a very angry and morose child, my kin (had to use that word!) tended not to know what to do with me. Depression can be a very selfish disease. One of its consequences is that it affects everyone around you without you realizing it. I remember a time before my first breakdown when my sister yelled at me to open my eyes to how my mood and behavior impacted my parents. It was the first time I saw the egocentric aspect of depression, but I was still too weak to act on it.

So even though my cousins and I can now sit at the “adult table” and even though my entire extended family has experience enough to discuss anything from politics to raising children, we generally don’t, and since my breakdown in 2010, it’s gotten a bit worse in terms of avoidance of certain subjects. I get that, but it also hurts and sometimes it’s not conveyed to me that that’s why there is no conversation. Thus it builds up in my head (Why? Why? Why?) and leads to further anxiety. For example, there was a miscommunication about Sienna’s 1st birthday that led to anger on both sides, but it took forever to resolve because we didn’t talk to each other directly. Likewise, this past fall, I unwittingly hurt one of my cousins when I wrote something on my blog, but it wasn’t discussed until I broke down in front of my uncle, hyperventilating, tears streaming down my face, my chest like concrete. He took me for a walk and I told him how I felt everyone hated me and was angry with me and how guilty I felt, how the last thing I ever want to do is hurt anyone. We sat on a stoop and I went deeply into my childhood and how I wish there was more communication in our family to draw us closer together. He had his arm around me, talked about his own childhood, insecurities and wishes. He even teared up a little. He assured me that no one hated me. No one was furious at me. Everything was water under the bridge. Everyone loves me. When we got back to my house, I talked to my cousin about the incident and everything was ok. I’d been advised not to bring anything up, but I had to lest I explode which, of course, I eventually did.

So here I was again with my family wondering why no one was talking to me about my upcoming adventure in New Orleans, about how I was chosen to read from my blog in front of 300+ people. Once it was cleared up and my mother handed my nearly deaf grandmother a sheet of paper on which was written, “It’s ok to talk to Lorne about New Orleans,” things got better. I spent an hour using my dad’s IPad to explain the conference to my grandmother. She read the piece I’d been asked to read. I told her how I was advised to create business cards but made the mistake of writing, “For the first time in my life I can say, ‘Here’s my card'” which only reinforced in my brain the poisonous “success = money/job status” mantra that permeated my life. (ASIDE – that I recognized my negative phrasing is significant. It’s something I couldn’t have done before). I asked my grandmother if she was proud of me. She said she was “mesmerized” and then added she was excited to see where this leads. I took this part as if being invited to read at Dad 2.0 still wasn’t good enough for my grandmother even though she probably didn’t mean it that way.

I felt drained when the conversation ended, took a deep breath and shook it off. I went into the kitchen where my cousin told me he was proud, that he loved to read my blog (I didn’t know this…or I did and swatted it away like an annoying fly because I refused to accept it) and that I was going to do great in New Orleans. As the day continued, I received compliments from everyone and though they still stung, they didn’t destroy me or create a massive panic attack. I was glad I addressed the lack of communication, breaking the pattern of an innocent, yet hurtful, miscommunication roiling in my stomach only to morph into rage. I took action even if I timidly used my mom to solve the mystery.

By the end of the evening all was well. At one point I sat talking about Frozen with my cousins’ kids and we all watched a clip of “Let It Go” on my phone. I observed Sienna (who’s never seen the film but has heard the song countless times) interacting with her older cousins, singing along in own way, mimicking the gestures of Princess Elsa and I felt…rich. I wish for Sienna to develop a closeness with her family early and it’s partly my job to move things in that direction. It’s time for me to speak up. It’s time for me to stop relying on Elaine and my mom to diffuse and/or explore these situations. And I will. Yes the compliments about Dad 2.0 stung and added to my anxiety because I still feel underserving, but at the time I need to hear them if I’m to grow. I need to hear that my entire family loves and believes in me. One day I’ll believe it myself.


Sienna and her cousins watching and singing along to “Let It Go” and yes we immediately got her off that table!

Gynecomastia Survivor – I’ve FINALLY Been Published!

The Good Men Project published a piece I wrote about the psychological effects of having gynecomastia (male breast enlargement) between the ages of 11 and 29 and then having to work through the condition’s repercussions during these last 10 years. The condition was a major contributor to my depression. This is the first original work I’ve ever sent in and had accepted and it feels…bizarre. To read it, please click here.

Time To Fight My Fears Of Success And Failure


“I can’t…I can’t…do this.”

“Look at me!” Elaine grasped my arms, her eyes trying to magnetize my own so I’d stop staring everywhere but at her. “You can do it.  You can. Stop saying you can’t. You can. Say you can.”

“I ca…ca…can’t.” Chest locked in a vice. Left side of my face twitched wildly.

“You can. Don’t say you can’t. Not in front of her.” Her grip tightened. I looked down and saw my daughter, my beautiful little girl. Her eyes a mix of confusion and concern with maybe a dash of fear. I took a deep a breath.

“I can….I can…I can…I can…I can…”

“Ok. I got this,” Elaine said. “Hug me and then go to the bedroom. We’re a team. You take care of me. I take care of you. You have nothing to prove.”

We hug. I set off for the bedroom, my mind imprisoning me once again. I try to read – ironically Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. No attention span. Sleep. I need to sleep. I sleep for 4 hours.

How did I get here? Just 20 minutes before we were at Sienna’s music class and having a good time. But it was her last class and I had to sign her up for a new one which cost $470. That’s a lot of money. I have to pay off a few thousand dollars of credit card debt in the next month. Our finances are weak and it’s my fault. It’s my fault. But I’m getting birthday money in a few weeks. In a few weeks I’m turning 40. 40! How? How can that be? And I’m going to see my grandmother for the first time since she learned about me speaking at Dad 2.0. I’m not sure how much she understood of what my mom told her, but apparently she’s thrilled for me. She keeps reading my Sienna and the Moon blog and crying. She said it’s a huge honor. That’s not what I expected. I expected something along the lines of maybe he’ll actually do something with his life. Within 20 minutes I went from quality family time to being gripped by the cold hands of anxiety thanks to an insane thought process coupled with physical manifestation of emotion…again.

“I’m so glad they chose you to speak!”

“You’re an incredible writer!”

“I’m really proud of you and how far you’ve come with your blog.”

“The star of our NYC delegation will be Lorne Jaffe, who has been selected as one of five ‘spotlight’ speakers. Lorne will read one of the many frank, touching posts from his blog.”

I can’t take the validation even though I’ve craved it my entire life. WHY CAN”T I ACCEPT IT?? I don’t understand! The compliments enter my ears only to be instantaneously attacked by black thoughts and accusations as if they were extremely malevolent viruses.

“You don’t deserve this!” “You’re not worthy of it! “You still won’t amount to anything!”

I had a piece I’d written years ago just accepted by The Good Men Project (GMP). They even asked me to be a regular contributor. I felt a moment’s elation following by relentless skepticism and vehement negativity. I’m not being published in print so it doesn’t count. I didn’t receive any money so it’s meaningless. The site must accept everything. The site probably asks everyone to be a regular contributor. It couldn’t possibly be that what I’d written is actually good. I had to post in the Dad Bloggers group to ask if GMP accepts everything and was assured that they don’t. That was almost a week ago. I frantically check my e-mail awaiting a report that my piece is live. Will it ever happen? Did they forget about me? Does it even matter?

In 10 days I’ll be on a plane to New Orleans. In 11 days I’ll be at a podium reading from my blog in front of more than 300 people.

I am petrified.

What happens if I falter? What happens if I succeed? How can I top it…ever? I don’t have the artistic talent that so many other bloggers seem to possess; ones who write and illustrate brilliant and creative children’s books; ones who draw remarkable cartoons emanating the joy in even the most mundane aspects of being a stay-at-home dad; ones who post 3-4 times a week; ones who come up with scintillating titles that immediately make you want to read their words; ones who blog like poets and apply fantastic quotes to their lives.

And hence the comparison game continues. Why can’t I just accept myself for who I am? Why can’t I stop hating myself?

It’s all happening so fast, squeezing me so hard I can’t breathe. New Orleans approaches like a tidal wave. Compliments I can’t comprehend fill my ears, but my mind bars them from taking root and growing.

What happens when I get back from Dad 2.0? What happens when it’s all over?

I’m terrified this is the pinnacle of my life, of my achievements. It’ll be like a deflating balloon, an unfed fire. I’ll never be able to top it. I’ll never be able to sustain it.

This is what’s been going through my mind the last few days, this almost tangible fear of success and failure. This is all so weird! (A term my therapist claims I use whenever something is good and drags me out of my mental hell of comfortable pessimism).

Am I doing this for everyone else or am I doing it for me? I feel like I’m doing it for everyone else, but that’s just my old screwed-up brain talking. This is about me growing as a person and a father. This is about me facing and tackling my fears. This is about me standing at a podium, reading from my blog, imagining I’m a hero to Sienna. This is about me learning to accept accolades because I deserve them. This is about me having the guts to send what is an emotionally raw piece to GMP whether they accept it or not, whether they pay me or not. This is about me trusting Elaine when she sees I’m having trouble instead of me trying to prove that I can handle everything. This is about me letting my mom know (as I did today) that I was struggling and didn’t want Sienna to see me like this…could she please take her for a bit? This is about me pouring my heart and soul into this blog and helping others stricken with depression and anxiety.

It’s time to realize that my speaking at Dad 2.0 will not be the zenith of my life or achievements. It’s a milestone. It’s an honor. Nothing less, possibly more.

The real pinnacles (because there are many) of my life and achievements migrate each and every day when I see Elaine and Sienna; when Elaine tells me she loves me; when Sienna speaks new words; when I’m stunned again and again by Elaine’s beauty; when Sienna kisses my nose; when Sienna sees Elaine and I embracing, happily yells, “HUG!” and vaults herself into our arms until we’re wrapped together as a family.

My fears of failure and success will not dissipate like overnight mist. They might be with me my entire life. But it’s time I fight. It’s time I yell and scream as loud as they do. It’s time I realize I have lots of people in my corner and it’s time I accept that I deserve them.

I never again want to stand trembling, stuttering and look down at my daughter and see a mix of confusion and concern with a dash of fear. I want her to see a person ready to stand up for himself TO himself.

I want Sienna to be proud to have me as a father.

Most importantly, I want to be proud of myself.