The Shadow Knows

13 10 2011

Remember that lame (but still kinda cool) superhero movie that Alec Baldwin was in way back in the 90’s? Come on sure you do, he put on fake nose, red scarf, and a hat in which he stalked evil doers? For the 95% of you that didn’t see it, the movie was “The Shadow” and while it was really cornball, I, of course, loved it because I am a total geek.

Now do you remember?

Anyway, The Shadow was about a rich playboy named Lamont Cranston (really?) who, at one time, was a naughty man. He is forced to look at his naughty bits, repents, and gains the ability to blend into shadows and, more importantly, to know the hidden evil thoughts of others.

I am bringing this particularly painful piece of the 90’s back into your thoughts, (“He throws a jab at Baldwin”) because I love the concept of a guy who by acknowledging his own inner negativity gains the ability to see it in others. This is a really cool idea; and I think Carl Jung would have thought so as well. To Carl’s thinking, the shadow, unlike Alec Baldwin, isn’t evil, (he bloodies the nose!)  Rather, it is the repository of all of the things we don’t accept about ourselves. The things we don’t choose to be part of our public personality.

"Lemon, get me a barber."

For instance, as a kid, when I was told by an older kid that it was rude to ask for a snack at a friend’s house. That part of me that thought it was reasonable to ask Mrs. Madison for a cheese stick when I got peckish from a long afternoon of shooting down Cylon Raiders on my bike, was hucked into the box labeled “not ok for use in public” right next to eating Cap’n Crunch in my Aquaman underoos.

Under normal circumstances, it is a great survival mechanism. It saves us all from the loneliness of social outcast-edness (?) But problems arise when we either by our own shame or someone else’s put a part of ourselves away that doesn’t need to be. Like asking for a snack when you need one, which is not only entirely acceptable, but a healthy and mature show of assertiveness. (Take that, Gary Emblinson!)

Some of us find it necessary; to look at those boxed shadowy items and reassess whether they need to be in there or not. However, as anyone that has done it can attest, the process of removing said items can be painful, because it took a lot of shame to get those buggers in the box, and taking them out means you get to feel all of that shame and learn to let it go.

What I meant to ask for.

Sometimes you don’t get the choice because the little shadows are insistent, when they are ready to come out, they come out whenever and wherever they want.  “Hello Mrs. Madison, I’m hungry, can I have a breast?  I mean Banana!”

The point to all of this is that, like The Shadow, when we go in there and look at what’s in the box, we get to know ourselves better. And the familiarity with those shadows helps us to recognize them in others. We get to feel compassion for those shadows in our fellow humans.  And that allows us to connect on a deeper level. We also get little hidden gifts from them. For example, I heard a story of a grown woman who rediscovered a passion and talent for art after like thirty years. She had pushed it into the shadow after a teacher reamed her for coloring the sky orange in class. She didn’t remember the story, until she looked in the box. She just knew that she didn’t like to draw.

Me, when the shadows started “whack a molling” out of the box and screwing with my life, I got help.

Unfortunately, they don't fit anymore.

A fantastic therapist can make the process a lot smoother and somewhat less publicly embarrassing. That is not to say that it has been easy or devoid of public embarrassment.

I thankfully am still working on it and occasionally, I get some real gold out of that box. I continue however, you will be glad to here, to leave the ill-fitting Aquaman underoos out of public view.


The gold of grief.

10 10 2011

I recently got to watch a good friend, a supportive, wise and wonderful friend, move on. There was no argument, fight, betrayal or blame to be laid, just a pure parting of ways.  I was given (and I am still receiving) the privilege of experiencing the grief that comes from knowing that without a doubt, I will never again have this very relationship.

It doesn’t usually happen this way, when friends part there is most often a big bang type of event that propels the pair out of the gravitational pull of friendship and because of which they either abruptly or gradually float away to form other connections. However, in the rare occurrence when a close relationship ends while the bond is still strong, while the mutual love and respect still exists, when events just force an ending, there is an opportunity at, as James Hilman calls it “Soul Making”.  The “Soul Making” happens because it takes a monumental effort to hold the beauty of that connection until the moment when it no longer is. As humans, we have a strong urge to turn away from the utter surrender that grief pushes us towards, because it really hurts and there is nothing to stop it. My friend once told me that in any relationship there are three persons participating, you, your friend and a third. This third, “other” is created by the connection between you. Equal parts you and them. You and your friend grieve over the apparent “death” of the third.

For me, in this particular case, I knew that the ending was coming and had even done some preparatory work to steel myself for the pain and loss that I was sure to come. I took pains to coach myself that I must honor this ending, as deeply as I honor the relationship itself. I told myself to be aware of letting anger creep in to cover over the pain. But, like living in earthquake country, there really is nothing you can do to truly be prepared when it comes.

So on this particular morning, as I walked trying to get my groove on, I started noticing a particular edge on my thoughts. A little shard, that was removing the softness out of my voice, and making my gratitude feel hollow. I struggled trying to find the cause of this disturbance for the whole of my morning. Later, as I sat to look over my schedule, I realized that this week I would see my friend for the last time. I hadn’t actually forgotten the meeting, I just kept myself from really seeing it until then. So in true human fashion, I immediately tried to think of how to prolong the meeting or skip it altogether. But there was no prolonging or avoiding the certainty of this ending, and as the cold reality of seeing my friend only this one more time crept over me, I grieved, like I haven’t in a long time. Nothing hollows one out like an unavoidable loss.

My friend, once told me about a quote by John Keats, “Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason-“ Being at the end of a close relationship is an exercise in Negative Capability. It’s like a game of hot potato with your heart. If you can hold this grief, if you can live in the fire long enough for it to give it’s gold, you become incalculably rich. The pain is the price for getting to always hold dear, a relationship that is priceless. The pain is an indicator of just how much value both of us placed on our connection.

Because I choose to honor the grief, I get to truly miss my friend. The grief will evaporate soon and I will forget my friend’s face, wisdom and laughter. But I will always have the part of me, my half of the third, that has forever been transformed by the connection, and the knowledge that a part of my friend will touch everyone I connect with in the future.

I loved my friend

He went away from me.

There is nothing more to say,

the poem ends as soft as it began

I loved my friend.

Langston Hughes

Clubber Lang and the unexpected day

6 10 2011

Ever since I decided to make the great leap away from the safe shores of day job and dive in the mighty current of self employed…ness, I have found myself filled with this amazing energy. It oscillates between blissful creative excitement and unfettered monetary panic. Most of the time, I am easily able to practice what I preach and coach myself into a better emotional space if panic sets in. Today however, my anxiety treated me exactly as I did my high school gym coach when he tried to motivate me to try any other exercise than freestyle sulking.  (Which, l lettered in) It smiled politely, shook its streaked hang-bang over its eyes and then flipped me off.  I spent my breakfast trying not to rush over to my computer to check craigslist for a job. Which I know, (from other stressful moments) would only generate more stress.

one half of what is needed for a rough day

Yes, today was one of those days that, I’m convinced, inspired the birth of both the chocolate croissant and chili cheese tater tots. Neither of which, are low carb. I reluctantly forced myself out of the house with my walking shoes on, and by the end of my powerwalk, I did manage to change my state and motivate myself to go out and do some face to face promotion.  I showered, man-scaped, got my meet and greet clothes on, and headed out with flyers and business cards in hand.  As I walked towards my first target, I started to become aware that I had the beginnings of a migraine forming behind my right eye.  This mini-graine grew steadily as I made my way from store to store and opportunity to opportunity.  By one o’clock, I had done pretty damn well despite the insistent hammering that Clubber Lang was doing on my optic nerve.

I pity your head, fool!

So far, I had heard, “put the flyer up there” ,“sure, I’ll come”, “great, I’ll be there” ,and finally “yes, and I’ll drag my husband along”.  Feeling good about myself, I reasonably chose to get gas, head home and see if I could get Clubber to hit the showers.  At the gas pump, as the meter was spinning up an obscene number for 10 gallons of gas, a big black SUV pulled up to the pump adjacent to mine and out stepped a busy, but cheerful Gen X parent.  I thought, “this would be a great moment to practice my cold approach, if only I didn’t have this stupid headache.”  Then a voice, calm and collected asked me a solid coaching question, “What would you do if you could not fail?”


Damn it, I was trapped.  I ended up having a 10 min conversation with this parent of four.  “We will definitely be there, and I think my husband would agree

that we could benefit from coaching.”  I (quietly) celebrated on the drive home,while trying not to vom from the Rocky III beating my brain was taking.

“Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus .”

Three advils , a bath and a 30min nap later Clubber was done.  As I sat in the after migraine glow/stupor, my wife came into my office literally jumping for joy and exclaimed, “I just won $500 in groceries from Trader Joes!”   Man, that is around a month’s full of groceries, at a time when money is really tight. As we were celebrating, the phone rang, it was a friend that I hadn’t talked to in like 14 years.

By friend I mean, great friend and mentor whose love and honesty changed the course of my life. This person, whom we shall call G called me today after 14 years to say that she had seen my website and was amazingly proud of me.  As we caught up, she said, “even though it is hard and scary, this is the perfect work for you to be doing. “ And that’s Jenga, just what I needed to hear at just the right time.  Tonight as I was taking the trash out, I looked up at the Boss, and thought, “You, my man, are totally a class act.”

Building an awesome day.

4 10 2011

Cheaper than prozac.

Lately, I have been upgrading my habits a bit, nothing huge,  just tweaking my operating system to a more forty year old friendly interface.Little things like taking my melancholy for a walk rather than out for a Monster Taco, or choosing to acknowledge that I am a little annoyed rather than making threatening remarks to the security camera at the ATM. As part of this retooling, I have started to take myself for a 45 min power walk in the mornings.Not that kind of Power walk, not the Dan Ackroyd penguin waddling to the sounds of DEVO kind.

Too much gold here.

I mean a fast paced walk where I tell the Boss ( not Springsteen but close) how absolutely f-ing stoked I am about being alive, healthy and in an amazing relationship. I get myself all revved up about my life then I remind myself what my goals are and how I will work towards them during the day. It is like spinning up the hyperdrive and then feeding coordinates. It really makes me feel motivated.

So yesterday, as I was walking, I told myself in no uncertain terms that I was going to find or create opportunities to increase my coaching practice. By told I mean, Charlton Heston on the mountain, two tablet holding commanded my subconscious to get off of its sub-ass and help me make something happen.

Thou shalt carry a firearm to church!

I got home took a shower and made one phone call. By the end of the day I had booked a workshop, a monthly parent skills group and a gig at an local event doing hourly group coaching sessions. (Cue the lightening crack and the fleeing toga clad extras)

I had so much momentum that at the grocery store I attempted the dreaded cold approach. For those who don’t know, the cold approach is walking up to an unknown but potential client and giving them your pitch and business card. This can be a very risky maneuver, if handled wrong you can get anything from a defensive glare eye blast to the awkward slow monosyllabic withdraw. I usually don’t try this approach as I get so nervous that they will be offended that I stammer and apologized in advance, like so much Woody Allen.

Not an inspiring parent figure.

But not yesterday, both times (yes twice) the parent was super excited to talk about coaching and took a few of my cards for friends. This is for me is the equivalent of a turnaround jumper from the three point line. The closest I ever came to that was almost sinking one for the other team in seventh grade.

I highly recommend this to my fellow under motivated Gen X adults. I’m not the only 30 to 40 something to have felt the pang of shame when we are referred to as the slacker generation. However, if you look at the top grossing movies made by some of our peers, there seems to be a common story of the grown up child trying to find his or her responsibility. (That’s right Apatow, I’m calling you to the mat) I know for me motivating myself to start a career took having and raising a child.

Think fast Byrd Turd!

I was pretty settled into painting signs and playing videogames until then. But I digress, If you choose to try this routine, I guarantee that you will get a little out of it, my high school gym coach would say, “exactly as much as you put into it.” Then he would throw the basketball at me.

Soapbox Time!

2 10 2011

Ask anyone who knows me, and they will all tell you that I get really excited about new things.  Some would politely call me

Not worth the accident.

Sanguine, others would (and have) said, “do you think anything that doesn’t come out of your mouth?” You know who you are, and I am still sorry for almost making you wreck your car over Azaleas. You gotta admit it was a BIG bush.

Suffice to say, I have a somewhat over enthused response to certain stimuli, like seeing Ziggy Marley at WonderCon. I like this part of my nature, I see it as unconsciously throwing little surprise parties for my inner child.

Total comic book geek.

However, I have become aware, in the past few years, that it is not always necessary or appropriate to interrupt a conversation because someone is wearing a H.R. Puffinstuff t-shirt or there is a raga version of “MacArthur Park” playing during dinner.

After getting some really kind feedback about this, I decided it was time to bring a little more awareness to my level of distraction. Ever since I saw StarWars as a child I have had a fondness for new age/ self help stuff, so I started there. I started reading about calming techniques, breathing exercises, mindfulness, Zen, Transcendental Meditation (TM), yada, yada and, yada. I hadn’t realized that there were like hundreds upon hundreds of meditation and calming techniques. Every single religion has its own form or forms of meditation.

Being me, I got really excited about meditating. I eagerly tried as many as I could, not T.M. though because they want literally $2700 to learn it. I am not knocking it,

David Lynch and Russell Brand can afford it.

I just can’t justify spending that kind of cash for meditation. I would try deep prayer for a while, then mindful walking, chanting on the way to work, then creative visualization. What I found was, surprisingly, all of them work. Really, everyone that I tried had an amazing effect on my ability to focus.

Here comes the soapbox, meditation has been studied scientifically since the (surprise) 60’s. In particular, Transcendental Meditation was the subject of a study done in the early 90’s. The study found that having a large number of people meditating 20mins twice a day dropped the crime rate in Washington DC by 20%. A link to the study is at the bottom of the post.

"Om, Doon't taaze mee bro, Om, Doon't taaze mee bro."

Over the years since then, I have had periods where I meditate everyday and periods where I forget for a month or so. It is amazing that I let my practice lapse as meditation totally changes my day. No lie, I do everything better when I remember to practice. Especially Parenting! When I practiced regularly, I was able to remain calm, centered and even playful during the craziest kid dramas. I was like a Jedi,

Child: “AAHHH, I want a Coke tm Slurpee tm!!!!”

Me:  “These are not the treats you are looking for.”

Child:  “These are not the treats I want, may I have Brussels Sprouts instead?”

(This was a dramatic reinterpretation, not a real parenting event. This is in no way intended to represent my actual son or parenting skills.)

So, obviously, and despite the long windedness, I recommend some form of daily meditation. There are many to choose from, and not all are tied to a particular religion, so you should be able to find one in your size and fashion.  Or you can do what I do and try to use them all. (Just like Pokemon tm ) I promise you that you will not regret it.

Soapbox officially put away.

Click to read article on TM study.

Welcome to parenthood, Gen X (part 2)

30 09 2011

So,  I had my fathering role model and plenty of motivation to power my transformation from loving, cool and pop culture savvy dad to Gregory Peck inspired, awesome, eat your pudding loving heart out Cliff Huxtable, SuperFather!


My head swam with fantasies of long bonding moments and poignant life lessons. As I set out to be more fatherly I realized that I had no idea how to parent like Atticus Finch. I thought about how he talked, his facial expressions, his body language, and his sense of values and I could not apply it to any of the parenting situations at hand. “Patrick, can I have another brownie?” “No son, you see, it’s never ok to kill a mockingbird.” “uh…ok” (munch munch)

Not an all purpose parenting tool.

How was I going to make this thing happen? I new that something had to change in my relationship with my son, because was not content with being a fun dad, and I was definitely not OK with being a strict, overbearing, and emotionally distant father. I wanted to be a good dad. I wanted to know that I was doing my best to create a healthy, happy, responsible,  and conscious young man.

I thought about Atticus Finch, fathering and the times when I learned great and important things from the adults in my life. I realized that it had nothing to do with what they were saying, it was who they were when they weren’t parenting that inspired me. Atiticus Finch was a great parent because he was a great man. He stood up for his values, and taught them to his children not by lecturing , but by following his own integrity daily. The answer was clear, I needed to quit focusing on teaching my son to grow up and start helping me grow up.

"Namaste." "No, its a caterpillar."

I want to be clear that I have always been interested in self discovery and growth. Reading self help books and spiritual texts had been a hobby of mine since my rebellious teen years. Yes, reading spiritual texts is rebellious, if you grow up in a Sunday Catholic household. This insight was different than when I decided to only bow to people instead of shaking hands. (this commitment lasted only one hour, then I ran into a guy who used to pick on me in school. I wasn’t bowing to him)

I wanted to own the qualities that I saw in Atticus Finch not behave like I did. So that day I started on the long and sometimes painful process of sorting through my values one by one to see if I actually valued them at all. Many were not my values, they were just picked up on the way. What happened was remarkable. My relationship with my son started to change. Not overnight, but slowly a little here and a little there we became something more than buddies who could laugh when Brock Sampson killed someone in a particularly skillful way. My relationship with me changed, I stared to feel like a good father. One who painted his nails, regularly.

But I’ll write about Eddie Izzard some other time.


Welcome to parenthood Gen X!

29 09 2011
Hi, welcome to my blog. I have recently started working as a Parent andFamily Coach. As you can imagine in this line of work, I now spend far more time thinking about parenting than I did when my son was growing up. Actually, I thought about it plenty but it was not always pleasant thoughts. Lately as I consider the trials and joys of being one who has “offsprung”,

One listens to the Ants and one uses borax to chase them out of the kitchen.

I find myself in awe that not only am I a parent but I devote my professional life to parenting. The awe factor comes from the feeling that it wasn’t very long agothat I sat listening to The Cure and expounding to my friends about how the human race is over populated and doomed anyway.

I was convinced that not only was I unlikely to produce an heir but that the whole notion of heir-dom was, as Andrew Macarthy put it in “Saint Elmo’s Fire”, “…made up by people who were lucky to make it to twenty without being eaten by dinosaurs.” I was far more interested in eyeliner and worrying if I would ever learn to play the synthesizer like Nick Rhodes to think what I would actually be like as an adult. I don’t think I am alone in this feeling. I’m sure that I am not the only Gen X dad to explain to his son that he probably shouldn’t sing “Dear God” by XTC in class.

Not in Class!

It is strange to feel so close to my teenage years while watching my son go through his. I believe that our generation is probably the first generation to be really unprepared for adulthood. This is evidenced by pop culture. All of the big comedies revolve around mid to late 30 somethings struggling to grow up. All of the big action movies are obviously (and to my delight) being written and helmed by guys who spent their afternoons and Saturday mornings in fantasy land. (looking at you Michael Bay and Christopher Nolan). I don’t think that our child like qualities are bad, quite the opposite.

Not age appropriate

As a parent, I really enjoyed turning my son on to The Cure, Kids in the Hall and many other things that I enjoy. Though to be honest Highlander was probably a bad choice when he was seven. “ You’re going to love it, it has immortals, swords and, oh yeah, beheadings.”

I got to be a good buddy to my son as he grew up, and it was awesome. That is until he made it clear that he didn’t need a buddy. He needed a Father. (insert lost expression) As he grew up, I realized that I had to grow up too, and fast. I quickly tried to figure out how to be a good father, and over did it. This led to power struggles and yelling. And let me tell you, nothing makes you feel like the adult you despised as a teenager than yelling at a 10 year old. This was the reason I didn’t want to grow up in the first place. Yet, there I was, transformed into a loud overbearing dad. I was stuck, I could continue being a cool but ineffective dad or I could change. No, I did not read an amazing parenting book that altered my family forever. I did however, start searching for the perfect father to emulate. Some one I would have wanted to be my dad. I watched men with there kids in public and talked with other dads I encountered. What I saw mostly were men trying really hard to be good dads but falling into the same traps as I was. Like me they would step from being the best buddy a kid could have to the loud tyrant without much middle ground. I was quickly getting discouraged so I changed tactics.

Strong yet lacking humanity.

I scanned the media that I had consumed throughout my life for great fathers. Let’s see, Optimus Prime, strong, caring, and can turn into a semi. I had two out of three. Bill Cosby, fun, caring and likes pudding. OK but no. Darth Vader, No.

Finally by the deductive process I hit upon Atticus Finch. Atticus Finch is probably the greatest dad in literature.

He is kind yet strong, smart yet accessible, and above all chill. Atticus Finch took no shit but never had to raise his voice to prove it. He could set limits with his kids but be totally loving at the same time. That’s an adult I could respect, even if he didn’t paint his nails.

Super Dad!

Continued next week… Patrick

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