Yesterday, I completely bombed an interview I had been looking forward to for the past two weeks. It wasn’t because I wasn’t prepared for the questions, but I don’t think I was mentally prepared to be telling my story at that time. I kind of froze up and found myself babbling and going on tangent often. It wasn’t a good interview at all. I’ve worked hard all my life (first job was when I was 11 cleaning batting cages and basketball floors at an indoor sports facility), but that doesn’t seem to have earned me the respect and/or dignity from the labor market at this juncture of my career. Former President Barack Obama once said in a State of the Union Address that “if you worked hard, chances are you’d have a job for life, with a decent paycheck and good benefits and the occasional promotion”, but that doesn’t seem to be the case — at least, for me.
I was laid off from my job in 2017 due to job elimination. I remember being told I had about 30 days to look for another job within my company. At the time my company was going through some turnover and many of the execs and directors were either moving on to different jobs or leaving the company entirely. Around this same time, my wife was pregnant with our first child and still working at her job towards the latter portion of her third semester. It was a precarious time because she was having some issues with carrying him to term and her job was pretty exhausting. I knew it was important for me to find a job that would allow me to support my family, but that also wouldn’t be as demanding as the roles that I had been in for the past 4 years. My goal was always to move in to middle management, which would utilize the skills that I had built up over my time in other careers and allow me to then be responsible for the deliverables and the people underneath me who are assisting in providing said deliverable. At the time, I was an analyst building models and allocating ‘numbers’ to other organizations and it just wasn’t something I found interesting or intellectually rewarding. In my opinion, I don’t think I was necessarily wanted in that particular organization and I didn’t have a lot of background in doing the role, so every cadence of the allocation was a test of will and fortitude and never one of learning and growth. All that said, it didn’t work out for me and I moved into a different role and that new role was then eliminated one year later.
Being laid off gives you a lot time to think. My time was consumed by my son.
My son Broyce was born early in June of 2017, it was the week that the US announced that it would be withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement. He had a difficult delivery into this world and so I am always looking at him with this sense of a conqueror as well as this sense of protector. He’s 4 years old as of today and is incredibly bright and fun to be with. He loves learning and acting out cartoon skits and books that we read and watch each day. He loves imagining what could be and getting others to join in on the possibilities.
He’s completely into trains of all kinds and types. He recently began learning the different types of trains and where they are found within an environment. As a 2 year old, he would take a train over the tracks and watch the wheels and its movement to exhaustion. I was always curious what he saw as he repeatedly did this and was completely fascinated at how anyone could be so into one particular thing. He also loved seeing trains pass by our apartment as well as whenever we drove past one. He’d stop whatever he was doing and stare at them until they were no longer in eyesight. His fascination with trains makes sense when you think about it. As humans, we are hard-wired to fear snakes, spiders, and heights. Those things have been killing people since the beginning of time. Cars are still “new” in evolutionary comparison. Things that large and that fast shouldn’t exist. Its like watching D.K. Metcalf run the 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine, there’s something fascinating in watching that, right? I think that we are just so used to seeing these smaller WRs and RBs run the dash at those numbers that seeing someone of his size and stature do it refreshes the premise of the event and allows us to re-imagine the idea of the combine, the position, and the player.
My son isn’t used to anything. He sees a train its no different than the first train he’s ever seen.
Being a dad has been the greatest joy of my life. I was never someone who debated about whether or not to have a family. It’s something that I had wanted ever since I was a kid. I wanted what I didn’t have. Now, I did debate ‘who’ and ‘when’, but I always knew that I wanted a family.
My dad and mom split up around the time I was 6 years old. They probably were separated or on the verge of separating when I was bout 5 years old, if they were being honest. My dad had lost his job at my grandfather’s construction company and he just didn’t want to go back to working in those environments again. He was a hustler at heart, so the streets were the things that he found to be more rewarding in the face of adversity for doing the mundane and ‘right thing’ as paid labor. As I’ve grown older and had more conversations with him, I don’t necessarily disagree with his reasoning, but I don’t condone it either. Eventually, he got caught up in some dealings that went south and he was arrested and charged with a crime that put him away for several years. I was around 11 or 12 at the time. That’s the ‘age’ when your parents go from authority figures/heroes-role-models to ‘actual people’. That never happened for me and my dad. We never got to really know each other. What did he like doing? What were his experiences growing up? What were his goals in life? And there’s the simpler stuff too. Like, how do you tie a tie? Or grill a burger on a barbecue grill? Or, paint a house?
I had to figure those things out through trial and error (and a lot of luck). Now, my prayer is that the good Lord allows me to do those things for my son and I am conscious about doing those things and being around to do so.
The one constant thing in my life has been exercise. Ever since I enlisted in the Marine Corp at the age of 18, I’ve done some type of training/physical exercise as a practice or ritual. When I returned to Chicago after my military discharge, I immediately signed up at the local gym. I went to the club all the time! It’s where I made most of my friends that I still talk with today. The club became my community. My wife was a member of my gym and took aerobic classes taught by one of my good friends wife. I didn’t know this at the time, but she was there as well. My best man was a member of my gym and was the first person I met there when I signed up. There was always a level of support that I got from that community. Maybe not to the degree that many would deem ‘support’ but I knew that those people were community and there was a level of camaraderie there that was familiar and endearing to me. Much different than my time in the service and far more familiar than any job I had worked at.
When my wife and I had our first child and she went back to work, I was home with our son full time. Often, it would be days before I would see another adult; weeks before I would see friends. In the beginning, there was lots of attention given to our new family member, but as the days would go on, many people stopped checking in on us.
I’ve been giving more thought to the idea that “our friends can be our family”. That’s the premise of TV shows like Martin, Seinfeld, and Living Single. We can all leave our hometowns behind and have exciting adventures in the big city with people that we meet. And those people will love us and take care of us and be there for us. But, its been my experience that life is more like what happened to the actual actors on Friends. Their TV reunion was the first time all six had been together in years, which is kind of wild when you consider the premise of the show as well as the duration of that time those actors worked together. That’s not to say that they didn’t care about each other, but that they had grown apart. They were living in different cities and working different jobs and had a million different things happen to them that they didn’t share as a group. It couldn’t be the same as it was when they were all single and working on the same TV set.
As an American adult, financial security and social mobility seem to be the means to an end for the most part and many of my generation pursue that at a high clip. My mother was probably an innovator in this area as her and I moved all around Chicagoland area at an early age as she sought better work, communities, and schools for me and a few years later (after divorce) my youngest brother. Both her and my father grew up in Robbins, IL but I had several places I could say that I “grew up in” (including Bremerhaven, Germany) as I never lived in any place for more than 4 years. My mom tried to create community wherever we lived and thus I’ve sort of innately done that as an adult.
I was incredibly nervous the first time I went to a run group. I had joined because I had taken up running the year before the pandemic kicked off as a means to continue my exercise regimen. I had received an email from the shoe store that I bought my first pair of running shoes from and thought it would be a good opportunity to learn more about the activity and the sport of running. The first Saturday of our long run there was about 75–100 people outside in the wee hours of a cold December morning. I didn’t know what to expect, let alone if I going to be physically able to keep up with the people in this group. They were all smiling and lively to be there and it was like 17 degrees outside. Not only was I nervous, but I was also a little cold. I didn’t know anyone but remember one of the members walking up to me and introducing themselves and asking me if it was my first time there. I talked to him for a few minutes and then he set off to speak to someone else. I followed suit and sparked up a conversation with the young lady standing to my right and before you know it, a few other people had joined in on our conversation. Eventually, the chatter died down and they formed us into smaller timed groups and I got to know the people in those groups next. From the outside, no one appeared to have a similar background or interest as I did, but I was hopeful that through the run I’d find at least one person to cling hold to. But, nothing like that happened. There was an email later that afternoon celebrating the completion of the run that day and encouraging us to come back next week for our next run. That was like 2 years ago and I now sit on the board for the runners association and often find myself trying to figure out “what am I doing here”. At its core though, I think I am trying to find community within there but I don’t think I’ve given it enough of a chance for many reasons that some might say are excuses, while others might seem to see as being fair.
Making the commitment to go every week is (and still is) hard. There are always other things to do. Sometimes you are tired or you had a long week or you just don’t feel like it. It gets even harder once you get married and have a kid.
Nor are people always easy to deal with. You may not have a lot in common. You have to search for things to talk about on the run or afterwards. You can try to be vulnerable with people and they won’t always respond how you would expect. And, you certainly won’t always agree with them on how they see the world or things going on in the community.
I currently am wrestling with the mood disorder called depression. I was diagnosed with it just a couple weeks ago. It actually came as a relief rather than a feeling of shame or guilt. But, it hasn’t made me more hopeful or optimistic that I’ll ever come out of it. In fact, I often wonder how much ‘more’ damage I’m doing to relationships I’ve developed over the years due to my lack of enthusiasm about being in communion with those relationships.
One thing I have learned from all of these experiences is that you can’t worry about things that you can’t control. I can’t control what will happen to me today or tomorrow. I don’t know how long I will be here for my son (or vice versa). All I can do is make the most of the time that I have with him.
A fraternity brother who worked for a good friend of mine, asked me in a text one day what he could do to help me and I told him, “nothing. if there was anything I did for him or that someone wants to do for me, just pay it forward to my son. He’ll need it more.” My dream is that my son doesn’t have the same childhood that I did. Not that mine was a failure, but I think that the lack of a community is one that I needed and missed out on in my childhood. I want him to wonder why his dad’s friends always come over and watch the games with him. Why they always invite him to their houses. Why he goes for runs with these people all the time. Why there are so many of them at his games. I hope that he gets sick of them! But, none of that happens without me sowing the proper seeds. That means investing in other people, so they can be there for him. (Thanks for reading- Brace)