One of my favorite memories of childhood was playing wiffleball in my backyard.
My brother, some kids in the neighborhood, and I spent hours back there pretending we were Lenny Dykstra, Doc Gooden, and numerous other 1980’s era players.
We coined it the “Backyard Wiffleball League,” and it was serious business.
To the left of the field was our above-ground pool, there was a large tree in the outfield area, and our deck offered an enticing short porch in left field.
I often practiced my switch-hitting skills and perfected a curveball that, when it caught a bit of air, looked like a young Gooden’s nasty sweeping overhand money pitch.
I don’t remember the last time I played out there. My parents sold the house around 2000 when I was 23, but we played the last game many years prior.
We weren’t conscious that it was the last game we would play. We grew out it. As we got older and stronger, every time we hit the ball it would clear the fence or deck. Besides, as we entered our teenage years, there were girls to chase and beer to drink, so playing games of wiffleball would no longer feel fun.
I find myself missing those innocent long days, which felt never ending. I know twenty-four hours is twenty-four hours, but now each day feels shorter. In those days, two hours felt like two days. Two hours now feels like two minutes.
There was nothing to do and no real responsibilities to attend to. As autumn fell and the days got shorter, we would stay out until neither batter nor fielder could even see the ball. That’s when we knew it was time to go in for the night.
Your last time is inevitable
We often remember the first time we do something, but not the last. The sad reality of life is that at some point there will be a last time we do all things that bring us joy.
Time is merciless. This point became clear a few weeks ago when my son, who will soon be six, was laying on the couch with me, his head buried on my chest. He still loves to cuddle. One day, he won’t want to anymore.
There will be a last time, and when I realized it I got sad.
If you live life right, though, it shouldn’t make you sad.
Living life right, in this context, is slowing down to truly experience each moment.
When I was in my backyard, I was present in each moment, undistracted. I lived each experience, and that’s probably why I still remember snippets of those moments.
As I grew into adulthood and life responsibilities became real, I stopped experiencing many moments. If you’re doing something, even something you enjoy, and thinking about five other things, you aren’t present. You might be there in the flesh and going through the motions, but your mind and heart are not there.
I’ve been trying to work on being present more often, though I admit it takes a lot of effort.
I try to always remember that whatever I’m doing could be the last time. Do I want to be present the last time I do something I enjoy?
If I’m not conscious about being present, I’m often not. I have to remind myself to slow down and focus all my attention on what I’m doing.
When my son was laying on me and I slowed down and became present, I noticed the way he would sneak a glance over to my face a few times to smile, though I think he was making sure I was still awake. If I wasn’t present, I would have missed that detail. Lack of presence means the loss of many details.
My mantra I find myself repeating in my head when I’m engaged in something I enjoy is:
Anything else can wait
When I follow my own advice, I’m able to experience a moment. When I don’t, I miss the experience.
The next time you’re doing something you enjoy, try to notice how many times your attention turns elsewhere.
It’s probably more than you think.
It reminds me of a portion of the Zen Evening Gatha, which is often chanted by Zen practitioners:
“Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. Each of us should strive to awaken. . . . . . awaken, Take heed. Do not squander your life.”
I don’t want to squander my life or lose opportunities. Do you?
When you live life in this way, you know that you left nothing on the field and that you sucked as much joy and presence out of each moment you could. There will be no what ifs or regrets, which are the true tragedies.
Slow down. Cherish. Anything else can wait. Actualize this during your special experiences because, like me on the wiffleball field in my backyard, one day will be the last time.
In recent weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of fear. There are few emotions that affect our ability to reason more than fear, particularly the fear of death.
As a nation, indeed as a world, we’ve been grappling with this kind of existential fear for the past several months.
There is fear of the unknown, fear of getting sick, fear of dying, fear of our way of life evaporating before our eyes, fear of going broke.
We seem to have broken down into two camps. The first are those who are allowing their fears to overwhelm their ability to reason and, as a result, are living in a state of suspended animation, somewhere between fully and halfway living. The second are those who are controlling their fear, transcending it, and using it to make their lives better.
Fear is a natural part of life. Anyone who tells you they never feel it is lying, crazy, or both.
On its own, the feeling of fear doesn’t equal weakness; but how we react to it determines whether it is a positive or a negative in our lives.
Let’s define the word. The Cambridge Dictionary defines fear as “an unpleasant emotion or thought that you have when you are frightened or worried by something dangerous, painful, or bad that is happening or might happen.”
The key to the definition is the last three words – “or might happen.” The things we fear might happen, but they also might not, and this uncertainty debilitates us and causes anxiety for many.
I have many fears, including losing my ability to support my family, not being able to defend them if called upon to do so, and dying young suddenly so I can’t grow old with my wife and see my kids grow up.
Those fears are a part of my life, but they don’t control me. If I let them control me, I would never take any risks and would live a safe, antiseptic, and ultimately unhappy life.
Life is unpredictable. Bad things do happen to good people. How we react to these possibilities tells us a lot about ourselves.
Control Your Fears
To me, Mike Tyson is one of the baddest men who has ever lived. People of my generation remember when, before the shocking Buster Douglas fight, Tyson seemed to be invincible. He exuded a cocky confidence every time he went into the ring that drew people to him. He seemed fearless and unbeatable. Yet, despite this façade, even Tyson felt fear every time he fought.
“Fear is the greatest obstacle to learning. But fear is your best friend. Fear is like fire. If you learn to control it, you let it work for you. If you don’t learn to control it, it’ll destroy you and everything around you…So one must never allow fear to develop and build up without having control over it, because if you don’t you won’t be able to achieve your objective or save your life.”
I love the analogy of fear to fire. Flames, on their own, are not something to be feared; in fact, fire is life-sustaining and necessary to life. It becomes dangerous and deadly when it is allowed to spread uncontrollably. The key to staying safe around fire is to control it and use it for your purposes.
Tyson notes, contradictorily, that fear is both an obstacle to our learning and also our best friend. How can it be both an obstacle and our best friend? Think of the fire analogy again. When fire is used to cook our food and sustain us, it can be thought of as our “best friend.” When it’s burning down our homes, it’s an obstacle. It can be both sustainer and destroyer.
If we remain irrationally afraid of fire even when it’s controlled, we won’t be able to live very long. I’m thinking of my furnace that burns in my basement. Those flames heat my house, provide me with hot water, and ensure I can cook my food. It’s fire under control. If I let a fear of fire control me, I would be cold during the winter, hungry, and taking only cold showers.
I respect the fact that my furnace is potentially dangerous, and I would call a trained professional if I had major, potentially dangerous, issues with it.
The fact is without feeling fear, we would be completely reckless, so it acts as a mechanism to provide us with good judgment. It’s our best friend because it prevents us from acting stupidly to our detriment. We allow it to become an obstacle when don’t control it.
At first blush, this sounds like a good thing. After all, who wants to feel physical pain. Yet, it is extraordinarily dangerous because that pain acts as a mechanism that regulates our actions. We generally fear pain and without that fear we are more likely to put ourselves into dangerous situations.
Fear acts like our pain response. It regulates how we act so we don’t do reckless things without considering the consequences and taking precautions.
Tyson, importantly, focuses on that fact that we have to control our fears. Returning to the previous section where I discussed the things I fear, if I didn’t have those fears I might act in an incredibly reckless way. I might take actions that could harm my ability to support my family or that would cause me to die very young.
My fears, thus, force me to exercise good judgment. Yet, they don’t paralyze me or make me indecisive. In fact, they do the opposite. I’ve learned to control them by thinking through and preparing so I know how to react if I find myself in one of those fearful situations. Think of it like soldiers drilling and training for war. They train so much to ensure their actions become automatic in chaotic situations.
I don’t want to lose the ability to provide for my family, but if something were to happen I’ve built a network of people, learned skills, and would take any job, no matter how menial, to provide. I also take steps to not do stupid things that could lead to a loss of my job.
Sure, I fear not being able to provide, but it’s under control because I take reasonable steps to prevent it from happening AND I know what I would do if it were to happen.
I don’t want to die young, but I’ve ensured I have sufficient life insurance to continue providing and have given my family many good memories so that when remembering me they would smile and know that I loved them.
I also obsess over keeping myself healthy by physical training, eating right, and taking the proper supplements. These are steps I can take to keep myself in the best health to hopefully prevent that fear from coming true.
Sure, I fear leaving them too early, but I’m taking to steps to make it less likely to happen, and I’ve prepared so if it does happen things would be as easy as possible for my loved ones considering the circumstances.
Jeff Putnam in his book Setting Yourself On Fire discussed some of the darkest and most defining times of his life to show how he overcame his fears and rose from the ashes to create the kind of life he wants. I highly recommend this book to all, particularly to those going through difficult circumstances.
What is to be done?
The key actions to control your fears and turn them into your best friend are:
Search your mind and heart and name your fears
Acknowledge those fears and don’t ignore them
Take reasonable actions to prevent them from happening in the first place
Prepare your response and make plans if they were to come to fruition. This includes running through different scenarios in your head, in a sense drilling your response so it becomes automatic
By taking these steps, you will eliminate the uncertainty and better control your fears.
Life is never a perfectly safe endeavor. There is always some risk inherent in it. Don’t let that risk prevent you from living life on your own terms. Fear can be an impediment to action or it could provide us with the tools and motivation to act. The choice is each of ours.
We are living in a particularly fearful time. You can see it in people’s faces. Fear, however, doesn’t have to be an obstacle. It could and should make us stronger, more resilient, and more prepared to deal with anything life throws at us.
Young boys are often taught that their
innate qualities and nature are, in some way, defective, and that they must
bury those parts of themselves to fit in to the dominant culture.
While I can’t directly control what my
son is explicitly and implicitly taught in school or in the media, I can
control the lessons we teach him in our home.
The most important lesson I teach him
is that masculinity and men throughout history are heroic. I will ensure that
he internalizes this positive message and always remembers it.
He will know that male kings,
presidents, emperors, philosophers, poets, artists, scholars, novelists,
artisans, builders, farmers, soldiers, fathers, and so many other anonymous hard-working
men through millennia, built and shaped our world, and continue to do so.
They created democracy, wrote most of the
great works of literature we still study today, refined philosophical thought,
created much of the art in our museums, designed and built the great
skyscrapers and bridges that are ubiquitous throughout our world, discovered
life-saving medications and vaccines that saved untold numbers of lives and
alleviated suffering, defeated our enemies and died in horrific numbers keeping
our world safe, and lived quiet unassuming lives raising and protecting their
families and passing on important lessons to the next generations.
Men throughout history have been and
continue to be heroic. This is the
message we must teach our boys in our homes because we know that revisionist
history wants to focus exclusively on the negatives perpetrated by some men
My son and I will continue looking at pictures and videos of American soldiers, many of them so young that under new laws they would not even be allowed to legally purchase cigarettes today, storming the beach at Normandy, and dying by the thousands in the desperate quest to free Europe from the Nazis.
We will watch Civil War movies featuring thousands of young men marching towards each other in formation with full knowledge they would probably be cut down by a musket ball.
We will discuss the role of monks during the Dark Ages who painstakingly hand copied great works of ancient literature, thereby preserving those works for all posterity.
Push Back Against the Cultural Narrative
Modern society today tries to tell
boys, like my son, that he is responsible for the ills perpetrated by others in
the past. He is given the message that there’s something wrong with him, and
that he should sit still, shut up, and comply.
not a chance I will let that happen.
Fathers of sons must counteract these
messages that our sons are bombarded with in school, on television, and
everywhere else they turn to remind them that masculinity is heroic.
This is why it is so important for
fathers to be familiar with history – real history – not the politically
correct stories that masquerade as history today. We must be prepared to
inspire our sons with tales of heroic men throughout the centuries who, through
their actions, built and sustained the world.
At that same time, we as fathers must always
demonstrate to our sons our own heroism by forging ahead against the culture by
taking care of our bodies and health, improving our minds and spirits, financially
providing for our families, and protecting our families in every way possible.
It is up to us to push back against
the dominant cultural narrative before our sons internalize its false premise.
If we don’t do it, no one else will.
Never Cede Your Responsibilities to Anyone Else
Our sons must also know that they do
not have to do great public acts to be heroic. Countless men throughout the
ages and today lived quiet anonymous lives leading and protecting their
families and shaping the next generations. They are no less heroic than great
leaders of nations.
My son and I talk about when violence
may be the answer. The fact is that sometimes it may be necessary, but those
instances are rare, and must be reserved for proper purposes.
We discuss justice, and what it means;
honor, and how to maintain it; true friendship, and how to find it; and
marriage and family, and how to find a wife who will be a true complementary
As he grows up, we will continue to
discuss what it means to be a man and the responsibility we have to protect our
family from all kinds of harm. He will understand that if he acts in certain anti-social
ways that there may be consequences. In short, he will learn the lessons that I
learned and that generations of boys learned until recent times.
Fathers, our sons are counting on us
to encourage their innate curiosity and desire for action. They need us more than
ever to teach them how to be men, heroic men, who will lead in the future and
help shape the course of world history.
Let us teach them well, and never cede
this responsibility to anyone else.
Hunter Drew recently released a wonderful new resource called Fatherhood for Modern Times, which is an actionable guide for fathers today. I have been working through it and finding different strategies to implement in each chapter. It is a multimedia guide and includes a video and audio file for each chapter of the book. Check it out!
It seems hard to believe how much the
world has changed in the last two weeks.
The Governor of New York has asked New
Yorkers to not take part in any non-essential activities, and to stay home and
away from other people as much as possible. This means we are effectively
quarantined at home, and I’m not dreading the next few weeks. Things could be
much worse than being asked to stay home with my family.
After a crazy past week, things should settle into a routine. The teachers spent last week scrambling to put into place a distance learning plan, so the kids are beginning school remotely again.
I’m determined to use this time wisely and productively.
There is no way I will ever be a Netflix and Chill kind of guy, and I have to ask my wife or my daughter how to even turn on the TV.
Here are ten things I’m doing during this unexpected time home:
Write at a minimum 2000 words a day. I’m working on a few different projects, and this will provide me the opportunity to spend more time writing.
Work on a new language. I’m currently working through Pimsleur Spanish. I’m on Day 3 and enjoying the way the material is presented. It’s time to learn a new language! Thanks to those who voted on my Twitter poll and helped me choose Spanish.
Reading Classics I haven’t yet read. I’m currently reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Next up is Orwell’s 1984. While I have read 1984 in the past, it was many years ago and, besides, I think it’s a lot more relevant now than it was a few weeks ago.
Finish audiobooks I’ve been working on for a while. I am currently listening to Sex at Dawn and I Am Dynamite (a biography of Nietzsche). It’s time to finish them.
in the woods with the kids. My kids are growing up as urban/suburban kids.
We are going to change that by hiking many miles of nearby trails.
Continue my daily meditation practice and increase the
time for each session.
This has been going well since the New Year, and I am going to continue.
Lift weights in the basement. It doesn’t have close to the variety of equipment I have in the gym, but that’s not an excuse. It’s time to get creative and not let my workouts suffer.
Yard work. We have been putting off some cleanup of our backyard for too long. Now is the time to do it.
Schedule an hour each day with my wife to just talk. I described a good way to spark conversation here. I enjoy our talks and we are going to have them every day.
to wake up early. I
like to wake up before the rest of the house stirs so I can spend it alone
planning and thinking through plans. I can’t let this slip.
Although we are living in a weird new
world filled with uncertainty, if we use this time wisely we will look back on
it as a time of productivity and increased closeness with our loved ones.
The fact is, though it may not look
like it on the surface, we agree.
His counterpoint to me was that we must
be prepared to be judged truthfully by others based on the “quality of [our] character,”
like Martin Luther King spoke of, and if we argue against that we begin falling
into the SJW way of thinking, which posits we can define ourselves in any way
even if it doesn’t comport with reality.
To Charlie, if I or anyone else says,
“I’ll do what I want and not care what anyone thinks;” it should be viewed as a
dangerous excursion into new left thinking.
“If no one else thinks that we are handsome, rich, kind, strong or smart, we’re probably not. If anyone and everyone can claim those virtues for themselves then those words will become meaningless. We should accept that some other people’s opinions are important. But those other people need to be our own community that we trust. They need to be our brothers. How you get these brothers is an impossibly long and nuanced process that is as human as humanity itself. But if you’re looking for a good start, do 31DtM and bare your soul to other men who are doing the same damn thing.”
In fact, his conclusion aligns completely with how I think and my initial premise, which I believe I didn’t articulate sufficiently. He cites this portion of my piece:
“But, if we use our freedom to forge our own paths and take responsibility for our own lives, no person and no situation has the power to represent a hell on Earth for us.”
I want to be clear that when I speak of forging my own path and similar language I am referring to forging it independent of society as a whole or from others who probably don’t share my values. In my piece, My Personal Declaration of Independence, I went into some detail about my battle with eliminating the need of approval and validation from other people who haven’t earned the right to speak into my life.
I acted in this manner for much of my life, regardless of whether those individuals shared my values and worldview or not. I will stand by my language as it refers to those who don’t share my values or worldview. I am no longer held hostage by their opinions or expectations of me. If I allow myself to slip into that way of thinking, it would represent a sort of hell on earth for me.
With that said, I fully agree with
Charlie’s conclusion, particularly, “We should accept that some other people’s opinions are important. But
those other people need to be our own community that we trust. They need to be
our brothers. How you get these brothers is an impossibly long and nuanced
process that is as human as humanity itself.”
have articulated it in my original piece, but those who know me well know that
the opinions of those who share my values and who I know have my best interests
in mind do mean a great deal to me. In fact, as my brothers in the Fraternity
of Excellence know, I am constantly seeking out their thoughts and opinions on
a wide range of situations. While they don’t get to define me as an individual,
I do expect to be judged by them if I am failing in some way, and I welcome it.
That’s what our brotherhood is all about. We work together, and sometimes have
tell each other when we are fucking up.
the “community” that I have that Charlie referred to as being important, a
community we are both part of.
to me, is to pick those who you allow to have some voice in your life wisely.
If you properly curate this part of life, you will welcome their judgments of
you because you will know their actions, words, and beliefs are meant in good
faith and for your good.
Likewise, don’t let those who don’t
deserve a voice in your life have one. If you do, they will represent a type of hell
on earth for you.
Charlie is one of the smartest men I know. He recently released a course on philosophy, Epistemology 101. I am buying it to broaden my knowledge. You should too (not an affiliate link).
It’s likely that every male who is a member
of Generation X watched 1988’s movie, Young Guns, many times.
I know I did. It’s quite possible that
I watched it a hundred or more times.
The movie was a romanticized telling
of the story of Billy the Kid and the Regulators, a group of young men Billy was
associated with who sought to avenge local merchant John Tunstall, whose murder
kicked off the Lincoln County War in New Mexico.
What’s not to love.
Young Guns II gave us Bon Jovi’s Blaze of Glory, which I continue to
believe is one of the best songs in their collection.
In the first movie Billy, played by
Emilio Estevez, gave his famous “Pals” speech when Chavez, ably played by Lou
Diamond Philips, sought to leave the Regulators, saying:
if you got three or four good pals, why, then you got yourself a tribe. There
ain’t nothin’ stronger than that.”
This speech was created for the movie, but it captures a real truth that all men should internalize and strive to achieve.
Find Your Tribe
the word “tribe” traditionally refers to a group of families who share the same
culture, language, and traditions who have banded together, it has been
co-opted in modern colloquial parlance to refer to a group of unrelated friends
bonded by common interests who have, in a real sense, become a family, even
though they are not blood related.
Tribe equals family.
The fictional version of Billy the Kid was on to something.
I know the term “tribe” is used by marketers when identifying the demographics
of potential customers, but I am using it in a much more important and personal
man should have at least one, but preferably several good male friends that
become, in effect, family to them.
the modern world where extended families often live far apart from each other
the concept of “family” has a different understanding than it did hundreds of
years ago when multi-generations of blood relatives lived together or nearby in
the same village.
many people don’t have the fortune of having extended family nearby. And, when
they are, oftentimes deep-seated family issues exacerbated by the modern world prevent
families from getting along, let alone acting like a “family.”
We all simply need family support and structures, and our friends can – indeed should – provide that for us in part.
What Does Male Friendship Look Like?
is mature friendship and immature friendship.
friendship includes the posturing and flexing you see competitive young men
sometimes do in the presence of other young men. Not yet experienced at life
and its complications, and unsure how to manage their emotions, some friendships
among young men is of the immature variety. They constantly seek to outdo one
another and impress each other. Some of the features of these immature
friendships are what far too many writers on culture call “toxic masculinity”
and unfairly and incorrectly ascribe to all men.
feature of immature friendships is the tendency of some groups of young men to lack
a moral compass – in effect they lack the ability to say “no” to each other –
and there is no one friend willing to step up to be the moral lodestar of the group.
me explain. True friends don’t let other friends get themselves into trouble by
doing stupid things without calling them out or trying to talk them out of it.
True friends know each other well, and care for each other and seek to stop
each other from doing something that might mess up his life. They look out for
each other. Within immature friendships, too often no one looks out for the other
to say, “maybe we shouldn’t do this since it’s not right or it will hurt us or
immature friendships include an element of non-friendly competition. Men are by
nature, competitive and, yes, my goal is still to outlift my friends in the
gym. That’s friendly competition. There are no consequences if they lift more
than I do, nor will I try to sabotage their efforts. Within immature friendships
it becomes unfriendly when, deep down, your “friends” are hoping for you to fail,
or in extreme cases, actively working to ensure your failure.
the last five years, I would say many of my own friendships were of the
immature variety. There was simply no one there to tell me “Chris, you are
fucking up and you are being an asshole, cut the shit.” Instead, most of these
immature friendships had the complete opposite dynamic, and my friends
encouraged me to do stupid shit, because that’s just what we were all doing,
and I would ruin the fun if I didn’t.
friendship, on the other hand, the “pals” mentioned in the quote I began with,
is characterized by a deep concern for the well-being of the other, which means
looking out for each other at all times.
concern is manifested in your friends calling you out on your bullshit. The
fact is they probably know you better than almost anyone and know when you are
posturing or acting in a way antithetical to your values or well-being. I think
of the scenes in the old cartoons where there is an angel on one shoulder of
the protagonist and a devil on the other shoulder, and both are telling him to
act in certain way. A mature friend acts as the angel on your shoulder calling
you to be the best version of yourself, and the immature friend can be viewed
as the devil on your shoulder telling you the complete opposite.
friends celebrate your victories with you unconditionally. They root for your
success and are genuinely pleased when you achieve it. Likewise, they mourn
with you when you don’t.
With mature friends, you can completely be yourself without any filter. You can express concerns, fears, disappointments, and confusion and, likewise, don’t have to hide your joy when you succeed. Immature friends want what’s best for them, and the relationship is built around how they can benefit from the friendship. Mature friends truly want what’s best for each other and think about how they can be helpful to the other friend.
the past five years I have been blessed with mature friendships with two guys.
In many ways, we couldn’t be more different; in fact, the only thing I think we
have in common is our shared love of working out. We don’t all get together in
person too often since it’s hard to make that work with our busy lives and kids
and wives. Yet, we talk in some way pretty much every day. We help each other
in our various business pursuits without any expectation of compensation. We
are a sounding board for each other about business, marriage, fatherhood and,
yes, working out. We share our daily ups and downs with each other. Yes, there
is a lot of shit-talking that takes place, but it’s all in good fun.
know everything about me and know how I think, and the same is true vice versa.
By now, they can tell from the tone of a text message if something negative is
going on in my life that I haven’t shared and will not be shy about asking what’s
have been there for me, selflessly, whenever times have been rough, and I know
they will continue to be there in the future. I hope I have also been there for
them in the same way.
have seen me and heard me at my worst, and also at my best.
I’m not sure how I would have gotten through some difficult situations, all of
which were caused by my own faulty thinking, without them recognizing it and
showing me my errors, even when I resisted. And, oh do I resist when I think I’m
right about something and someone confronts me about it.
are the people I would want my wife to call for help if anything were to happen
to me who I can trust with my family, my finances, and any secrets I may have.
is mature friendship, and I am thankful for it. They make up my tribe, family
in the deepest sense of the word.
know it is not easy to develop such friendships, though I do believe men have
an easier time forming them than women do. As an observer it appears to me that
some women are more likely to smile at a friend to her face and talk negatively
about her behind her back than men are. That’s just my own observation
unsupported by any empirical evidence that I know of.
recent months, my own circle of trusted men has increased with my membership in
the Fraternity of Excellence (FOE). Just last night, I participated in a face-to-face
Zoom call with about 30 other men where we discussed the concepts of integrity
and authenticity with each other. Besides getting to know each other online and
through face to face calls, it seems that every day there is some kind of unofficial
FOE in-person meetup happening.
you are a man who is having difficulty finding mature friendship, as I defined
it above, I encourage you to give FOE a try, even for a month. The men inside
push each other to be the best we can be, call each other out when we are not
acting the best we can, and support each other through difficult times. I know,
besides the friends I described above, that the men in FOE are also there for
me, and I for them.
I didn’t get my first tattoo until I was a month away from my 41st birthday.
Usually when you get to that age inkless, you remain that way.
I’ve come to realize that my tattoos – nine as of this writing – represent something deeper to me than mere self-expression.
Instead, they are, in a real way, my personal Declaration of Independence.
What am I declaring my independence from?
From the need to seek the approval of others.
From the overwhelming desire to somehow “fit in” for bosses, co-workers, acquaintances, and anyone else who is not part of the small circle that makes up my immediate family and even smaller circle of true friends. In “fitting in” I now recognize that I sacrificed part of what made me, me and I sublimated the parts of my personality that others might criticize just so I could meet their expectations.
From the stress of always having to be on guard and wear a mask to avoid the fear of judgment.
From avoiding conflict at any cost, including my own self-respect.
It seems hard to believe, but I spent about 40 years like this.
Trying to fit in.
Afraid to express my true self for fear of judgment and condemnation.
Afraid to take professional risks because of fear of failure.
From the only perspective that matters, my own, my tattoos represent my statement to the world loudly proclaiming that I simply don’t care for their expectations and judgments. In short, I simply don’t give a fuck, I’m a free man, and I won’t live to please anyone else.
As Mark Manson pointed out in his book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, we have to choose what we give our fucks about because some things deserve our time and attention and some don’t.
And I realized somewhere around my 40th year that I gave way too many fucks about what other people thought of me, even though most didn’t really care about me or my well being. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I recognize it clearly now.
This manifested in different ways, but all of them included some form of avoiding conflict, spending my energy hiding my true thoughts to fit in, melting into the shadows in many social situations to avoid being noticed, and failing to take actionable steps to improve my situation and follow my own dreams.
I remained content with the status quo, even though it was an inferior way to live, and I felt stifled, like an automaton who existed purely to please others.
While I’m not the smartest person out there, I’m not stupid either. I am able to state my positions on a variety of issues and show why I believe my position is the correct one.
But, by and large, for about 40 years I held back. I gave a fuck. I was not allowing myself to be independent. Why? Fear of change. Fear of judgment. Fear of taking risks.
When I experienced this shift in my thinking, everything changed. I am now willing and ready to take risks, and seek them out. I don’t want to fit in; in fact, I want to be weird and considered “out there.” I identify with the dreamers and doers, including those considered outside the mainstream or on the fringe. In fact, these are my people, and perhaps they have always been. These are the people who are doing something, and also don’t give a fuck about what is expected or demanded of them.
These days, I hope that anyone who actually would judge or condemn me, does. Their opinions are like wisps of smoke rising from a candle flame, barely perceptible and quickly evaporating into nothingness.
I’ve developed enough life experience to understand that anyone who claims to have it all figured out is probably more lost and fucked up than anyone else is, including those they criticize for not fitting in. Many of those who present with their shit totally together are playing a grand hoax on the rest of us.
If conflict over important topics come, I now welcome it. I don’t seek it out, but I’m not going to avoid it to keep the peace. I simply don’t give a fuck.
My tattoos, which all, in their own way, carry deep meaning to me, and me alone, represent this Declaration of Independence, and it took me some time to understand why all of a sudden I felt the urge to get one after the other. After all, they do hurt and can be expensive. Under my old ways of thinking, I would be crushed when anyone expressed to me any disapproval of my choices, especially for something personal like a tattoo. I embrace the ink in my skin as symbols of freedom from the fear of judgment. In fact, one of my recent tattoos I put on my wrist where I can’t hide it. Don’t like it? I don’t care. I won’t give it a second thought.
Sometimes a tattoo is just a tattoo. Sometimes it’s a symbol of independence from a form of slavery, which is exactly what seeking approval and validation from others is.
I hope one of the lessons I impart to my kids so they don’t waste forty years is to blaze their own trails without fear.
To accept being considered weird if that’s what it takes to follow their dreams.
To understand that if someone is human it means they have their own past issues, present problems, and anxieties about the future, so it is unnecessary to stress about their opinions or judgments. Those who you want so much to seek approval from are no better than you.
To think for themselves, even if their opinions are not popular.
To declare their independence early in life and never look back.
And, if they want to get tattoos, get them. I want them to live life on their own terms.