Speaking At Dad 2.0 Challenges My Defenses


The word careened through my flabbergasted brain because it was the only one that made sense.


I remained at the podium staring into a fog of bodies united in a standing ovation, a cacophony of applause stinging my ears.

My defenses screeched and shook. Pity. It had to be pity.

I recalled someone telling me before I read from my blog to focus on him if I got lost or scared. Now I couldn’t remember who told me that and it didn’t matter anyway because I couldn’t see any faces.

At some point the room quieted, the audience took their seats and I left the stage. My body trembled. Slowly tears began to fall. Someone asked me if I needed help, if I needed to leave the room for a bit. I nodded and was led down a hall framed by companies sponsoring Dad 2.0 and into a room. Jason Greene, Kevin McKeever and Chris Read were with me speaking words of praise and comfort, but by the time my sister-in-law arrived and gave me an enormous hug, the tears were no longer silent. I cried loudly. I sobbed in shame and fear and anxiety and relief. Jason and Kevin kept telling me how proud they were. Chris told me the story of his own reading the previous year, how he was so wrecked afterwards that he had to return to his room to recuperate. Either Jason or Kevin or maybe both told me I was the star of Dad 2.0 2014, that I would be thing most remembered about the conference.

No one pitied me, they said. Rather the room coalesced in genuine awe at my bravery and my raw, powerful words. My mind screamed at them to SHUT UP!!!!!! JUST SHUT UP!!!!! My mouth kept returning to the pity thing, the disbelief thing, the distrust thing. It’s not real. It can’t be real.

Chris (I think it was Chris) told me to get ready to hear a ton of compliments, but even so I had no idea what I was in for. There was no way for me to prepare because this would be an experience so foreign to me that my usual coping mechanisms of self-deprecation, sarcasm and deflection (something the great Whit Honea told me he shared with me) could never work. As person after person after person (men and women both) congratulated and praised me, called me brilliant, courageous, a hero, I felt like I was stuck inside a hornet’s nest getting repeatedly stung from every direction because the fact is I, and my lifelong, irrational, negative defenses had NEVER received such validation; I didn’t know how to deal with it. I called Elaine and left some unintelligible message. I called one of my best friends who finally helped me calm down. All the while my sister-in-law and brother-in-law stuck close by.

People who I knew only via the web, people like Carter Gaddis, Aaron Gouveia, John Kinnear, Oren Miller told me to just relax and accept it, but how could I yield to something I didn’t trust? Each time someone came up to me, I stammered a thank you. Often I stared in confusion which I can only hope didn’t make them think I was insane. Lance Somerfield, co-founder of the NYC Dads Group, and a man I so, so wanted to please, told me how proud he was, told me I was a special part of this community of dads.

When I asked a question at a panel titled “Parenting it Forward: Compensating for Our Own Flawed Fathers” given by Charlie Capen, Ryan Hamilton, Eduardo Vega and moderated by Caleb Gardner, the first words spoken to me were about my reading and then room burst into applause. WHAT THE HELL????

When I went out to dinner with some of the guys, I learned that another table was talking about me and my reading. Again…WHAT THE HELL????

And as my defenses kept scrambling to regain finger- and footholds, a fellow dad (I’m not sure if he wants me to name him), came up and said he was so nervous about talking to me, but he wanted to because he felt like I “got it” more than anyone else at the conference; how he’d planned to leave until he heard me speak; how he too suffered from mental illness and it concerned him in his role as a father; how if I was brave enough to get on that stage, he should be strong enough to talk to me. We spoke for a long while acknowledging our similarities. We hugged. I teared up. I felt I had touched someone who truly understood.

As the conference continued, I somehow was able to compartmentalize the terror and unworthiness I felt and began to feel a camaraderie I’d never before experienced. Despite my anxiety, I felt a little at peace. I felt like I belonged. And that’s something else I didn’t know what to do with because I’d always believed myself to be the outcast.

I refused to look at Facebook for 5 days because I couldn’t bear any discussion about me. I’ve slowly gotten back into it, but I feel like I’m drowning. I feel like I’m obligated to “like” every single thing, to read and comment on every single blog written by my new friends because I owe them lest they abandon me. In the near two weeks since I gave my reading, I’ve been inundated with friend requests, instant messages, e-mails, blogs written about me, quotes about me, tweets about me (I joined Twitter right before the conference and have no clue what I’m doing). And I’m having so much trouble. My therapist, Elaine, my parents, my sister, my friends, my family, all told me how proud they are, how I deserve every little bit of praise I’m receiving. Fellow dad bloggers have written that I don’t owe anybody anything except to keep being myself, but that can’t be true, can it? Because my frigging defenses keep screaming that I deserve none of this! Nothing makes any sense anymore! And yet, in a haze I bought a ticket for Dad 2.0 2015 because I so want to see everyone and feel that esprit de corps.

And two days ago, one day after my 40th birthday,  it was my voice screaming those phrases as I had the worst panic attack I’ve had in years. It began in front of Sienna and my mother-in-law (who speaks very little English). The trembling, the tears. The facial twitching. The stuttering. I texted my mom who came running. I used a translator to explain to my mother-in-law I was having a panic attack. I held on until my mom arrived. She took me to the bedroom where I fell into hysterics, repeating how I didn’t understand anything and didn’t deserve all of this ridiculous recognition and how I could never ever ever live up to this. I thrashed and cried and moaned through a session with my therapist, begging for Elaine to come home, my therapist telling me this is where I go, that my defenses are now fragile because of the influx of validation, they’re struggling to keep hold while a new me is fighting to be born. My mom stroked my head. My therapist told her to give me a diazepam to help calm me down and I fell into a bitter sleep with the words, “Help help help” leaving my lips.

I don’t remember when I woke up, but I was shaky. So shaky. Sienna was still awake, but it scared me to go near her because I didn’t want HER to be frightened of me. My mom stayed and took care of my daughter. I returned to the bedroom. When Elaine came home she held me tight. She explained that I finally got what I craved (approval, affirmation, acceptance), but because I was emotionally stunted, I didn’t know how to traverse these new, wild waters. She said that half of me wants it all to go away, but the other half is thrilled, a huge dichotomy, like I’m now playing the role of Two-Face in the Batman comics, but I’m only villainous to myself. She said that when I had my most recent nervous breakdown, it was like an angry 6 year old took over and right now I’m an adolescent looking at this new tribe in black and white: popularity or abandonment. And thus the desperate, nonsensical belief that if I don’t “like,” read, and comment on everything, they’ll all go away. I also needed to learn how to manage my time, to stop looking at things like a mountain and instead concentrate on one thing a day (Kevin McKeever had written me the same advice). I still don’t know how to do that, but I felt warm in my wife’s arms. Loved. I listened.

And yet I woke up jittery and Sienna throwing tantrums, being a normal toddler, made things worse. My mom had to take her for the day and then for the night. I needed time to recover from this last panic attack, one of the worst in my history. I needed to sleep. A lot. I needed to veg. I needed to THINK and think clearly. I woke up today knowing I was going to write, feeling the little sparks emanating from my fingertips. Is this blog too long? Is it exactly what I wanted to say? Does it matter? I’m trying not to let the latter question stop me.

All I know is that I found my people and I’m putting myself out there. I’m going to do everything I can to trust them and to hell with my defenses. It’s going to be a slow process as I try to accept all of these accolades and let them grow within me until they eventually destroy (or at least overtake) the defenses I’ve built up over 40 years. I won’t be able to respond to people immediately. I won’t be able to keep up with every conversation or read every blog and tweet, especially since my daughter comes first. But I’m part of a community now. An important, loving, caring community. I’ve never had that before, so bear with me.

I humbly thank everyone who came up to me, wrote to me, tweeted about me, friended me, wrote about me, believed in and continues to believe in me. I especially thank Doug French and John Pacini for inviting me and allowing my sister- and brother-in-law to be there in New Orleans (I had no idea I’d need them as much as I did) and I thank my sister- and brother-in-law for being so kind and loving and supportive. Thank you to my friends and family for your encouraging e-mails. Thank my parents for giving me this time to heal and for being so proud. Thank you to my therapist for all your help (don’t worry, your job’s far from over). Thank you to Elaine for your love, compassion, words, hugs, kisses and for giving birth to our incredible daughter, Sienna.

But most of all, thank you to myself for going to Dad 2.0, for getting up on that stage and bearing my heart and soul in front of 200+ people, and for beginning what could become one of the most significant journeys of my life.

I still have more to write about my Dad 2.0 experience, but I can’t say when it will happen. It’s enough for now that I got this out.

Regardless, I can’t wait to see my people again at Dad 2.0 2015!

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.