Acknowledging depression/anxiety and moving beyond

I’ve spent like a month writing and then crossing out how I want this to come out. I go through bouts and depression and anxiety. They’ve been more frequent lately, and I can’t quite point out the cause. When my head doesn’t just feel static-y, I just replay a bunch of hypotheticals over and over again. Maybe I’d still be playing football had I negotiated better in BC? Maybe I’d feel more complete, more whole if my big brother was mentally “there”? Maybe my heart would be healthier if I learned to be better at letting go? Maybe I’d be in a better place mentally had I not spent last year’s off-season in LA? Moments I feel like talking about things, feelings – they come and go. I wait for them to go, until they linger too long, and then I write about them. This is the best way I know how to share my feelings, insecurities, regrets, and flaws without feeling like a burden to others. Eventually, things get better, clarity will come, whether permanently or fleeting. I’m being vague right now, let me try to change that.

I’m in a dope coffee joint in St. Paul, Claddagh Coffee. Irish themed joint, dope décor, some live folk music while I’m going back and forth from writing a letter to a friend, checking my phone far too often, and closing my eyes and rubbing my temples (does this ever actually help when your head hurts or is it a placebo effect type thing?). It’s in the 20’s and flurrying outside, it’s gray, and I’m tired for no particular reason. I’m trying to force myself to write, feel some sort of creative wave/energy, but I’ve got nothing. I can barely focus on this book I started four months ago. Maybe it’s the winter blue’s (because winter starts in early November here), but I doubt it. I miss friends, close friends.

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In the past 18 months, I’ve changed careers, chosen to go back to school (in Canada), had my heart and willpower all the way broken, used bodies as band-aids to cover up said heartbreak, not kept up with those I’ve considered dear to me, moved across the country and (in the process of moving) back. My body feels better than it has in a long time, but I still toss and turn in my sleep, wake up with my back hurting, and grunt like a senior citizen when I sit down or get up. I’ve drank myself to sleep, multiple times. I’ve isolated myself, pushed people away, and half the time, it hasn’t even been a conscious thing. I just acknowledge these folks in my head and then forget about it.

You know how whenever you’re in a dark room, you move real slow, with caution, because you have no idea where you’re going or what’s ahead, or even in that room with you? I’ve got no idea where this path is taking me, because my head/heart are leading me nowhere specific. So I’m moving through life, baby-stepping in no particular direction, hands out Frankenstein-style tryna feel my way to some sort of buoy, I guess.

I used to observe and appreciate the more minute details about coffee joints like this. The uneven stone block walls downstairs contrasting with the upstairs brick, wooden bar, nature prints on the wall, the curves on the patterned ceiling, the smell of cinnamon and the grinding of coffee beans amid conversations about bad dates and strangers’ family drama in the background. Less and less have I been able to focus on those details, write anything of quality, feel like I’m not just going through days on auto-pilot. Honestly, even this writing is shit – I don’t know if I’d still be reading it. I know this isn’t a forever type feeling, but I’m trying to be in the moment, regardless if it feels mad sucky. This moment feels like it’s been stretching far too long, this funk floating over me like smog in LA. I just needed to acknowledge it and get it out there, because I take the time to share the good things that happen in my life, interesting things. It’s only fair to myself and others that I don’t falsely advertise a carefree existence where everything is sunshine and rainbows and interesting and amazing 24/7.

Life is still an adventure. Not every moment is going to be enjoyable, or exhilarating. Some are going to suck, and that’s fair, even though it may feel unfair. It feels cruel right now to be so full of second-guessing my path in hindsight. It’ll get better, it just hasn’t yet.

 

 

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Thank you, football.

10 months ago as of writing this (May 8th), I got a call from Brock Sunderland, newly hired GM of the Esks, telling me the team was releasing me. I instantly hated this motherfucker. No contract re-structure talk, no nothing. Shit really sent me into panic mode. I was 27, only a season removed from a decent year, and the income I was depending on coming up in a couple of weeks was… GONE. I couldn’t believe it was over. Just as I’m starting to come to terms with my situation, one game into the season, my guy JC blows out his achilles, and I’m getting texts from (Coach) D Max and (Coach) Bene we’re in Brock’s ear, we’re campaigning for you, etc. I didn’t wanna put my faith in shit, or get my hopes up, but then Brock called and brought my ass back. Early on in my return, I made up my mind that this season was gonna be my last one, and I made peace with it all throughout the season leading up to the end.

At the conclusion of the season, I was surprised when in our exit meetings, Brock said they’d love to bring me back, and we’d start negotiating a contract. (I dropped off my initial proposal on a fucking cafe napkin. Brock or Nate will tell you. I had to make due with what was available at the time!) Anyway, the number I had in mind involved up-front money, which shows commitment — every pro football player knows this. Because that salary/housing stipend/playtime incentives they offer don’t mean shit when they can cut your ass at anytime, and sacrifice some quality to save some of that $quantity. Anyway, after some real brief negotiation and a contract not a whole lot different from the number he initially threw at me back in exit meetings, Brock said they couldn’t gimme that up front money, and I’m totally fine with that – so I told him I’m closing the door. We had a great dialogue, we were honest with each other throughout the process, which was was very important to me, and I truly believe if I needed his help with something in the future, he’d make himself available. I appreciate and respect him for that shit, for bringing me back, and giving me the chance to end things my way. MY terms. I can’t emphasize what this means to me — few players get a chance to do really do this.

I don’t love playing football anymore. I don’t watch sports when I’m not playing them (other than an occasional Lakers game, of course). I love the guys I’ve shared the locker room with over the years, love the platform collegiate/professional athletics gave me, but it’s time to move on. I’m 28, in relatively decent health, and I’ve got a bright ass future. I’m going back to school BY CHOICE (those who didn’t know me through early high school years don’t know how crazy this is to me), I’m working on my writing craft every day, and working on what’s underneath this flesh and bones package as life comes. I mean, who would’ve thought the nice little Jewish boy from West LA would pick up a game at 17 years old that’d carry him through school and several years of employment?

Football delivered me to different countries, amazing experiences, opened me up to new passions, connected me to so many incredible individuals man. Feels like just yesterday I was doing push-ups at The Fountains apartments in Moorpark, eating hot links for 6 meals straight, studying film with DeAndre, Pac, Newell, and Tim trying to make it the fuck out of JuCo.

I appreciate the organizations that gave me a chance. Thank you to all my coaches and teammates (way too many to name), love y’all. The amazing support staff I’ve had over the years from the equipment guys (JP, Milt, Kato, Weezy, etc.) to athletic trainers (Billy, Oelke, Natezilla, etc.) to people who have to deal with shitheads like us daily (Pelsh, Kris, Deeds, Monique, Jess, Bobby, etc.), strength coaches (Boyko, Dev, Marco, etc.)… this list could go forever if I let it. But man, it’s always been bigger than me.

I’m so scared, nervous, anxious, at times apprehensive, but above all, excited and curious for this next chapter in life. Just as football has never completely defined me, it is a scar, a mark that will always be a part of my identity. Gave me the discipline and tough love I needed from 7 am sand dune runs with Coach Moore at Hamilton to pre-meeting lifts / Sportcore with Biggs and Menard.

Anyway, if you’re still reading this, congrats to you too. Chances are, football led to us meeting to some degree – I promise you I could break it down for the majority of the people who do read this. There is adversity ahead, and through that adversity… well, that’s how souls grow. And grow beautifully. No rain without rainbows (SEE WHAT I DID THERE?! Hahahahahahabuy my e-book ‘_’ #shamelessplug).

This seems like a good place to end this for now. Adios, football.

-Hoff

Photo Sep 10, 4 17 33 PM

Why I came back to football — Part II

Part II of a non-linear series of events intertwining football and life outside of it.

June, 2014: In the first pre-season game, I played well – first live game action since pre-season 2012 – but played through a high ankle sprain I sustained in the first quarter. I didn’t practice all of the following week, and when I gave it a go on the opening kickoff of pre-season game #2, I simply couldn’t explode or move laterally, and came out immediately following. And now making the team all of a sudden was no longer a sure thing in my mind. That Saturday when I went to Wally’s office, he informed my they were going to keep me on the team on IR – a move, he told me, which was extremely rare for American rookies. I was grateful, if for no other reason than the full paycheck. My plan to pull my weight financially sprung into action.

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A week after I’d found out I’d made the team, I booked an Amtrak back to Washington in a week’s time – when the team would be playing away. My ex and her daughter had come up for that second pre-season game, then ended up leaving early after we had fought. (By this time, my self-esteem had already plummeted – I had known she’d been in communication with her ex, though I didn’t know to what extent. Financially I was scraping the plate, doing whatever I could to avoid asking my parents to loan me money, another thing that brought me so much shame when I had. Whenever we fought, I wouldn’t talk to anyone about it because I didn’t want to be a burden on them, so roughly once every two weeks, I’d drink, enough to put my mind at ease, go to sleep, and instantly convince myself to forgive in the morning. I was living at this woman’s house, and in love with her and her daughter. How could I even THINK of leaving this all behind?) A couple hours after she left, said ex-boyfriend sends me this message:

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I had suspected – knew, really for some time that this had happened, so I can’t say I was completely caught off guard, but getting that fucking message. It felt like a baker was violently whisking my internal organs around.

The following week of practice/rehab went by dirt slow, but when July 3rd rolled arounbd, and I boarded that 6AM train southbound, a feeling of calm enveloped me. I hadn’t told her I was coming back. I’d simply grab my limited possessions, toss them in my Subaru, still parked in the driveway, and drive back up to Vancouver that evening. Leaning my head against the glass window, few other people boarded that train as I fell in and out of asleep on that 10 hour trip to Cowlitz County.

I arrived at her house and began to pack my shit, sift through shit I wanted to keep or leave, and debated leaving a note, when I made the decision to confront her. I had to hear her admit it. Why? Hindsight 20/20, I should’ve just bounced. Really, hindsight 20/20, I shouldn’t have stuck around this long, but alas, neither of those things happened.

So she gets home that evening, her little girl bounding up the stairs into the spare room (where I’d been packing) after seeing my shoes kicked off in the entryway, and that calm that I’d carried with me on that train ride back was vaporized the minute she buried her happy little face in my side as she wrapped her arms around my leg. Thoughts started running through my head – sitting at the kitchen table helping her with her homework, reading bedtime stories to her, playing the “math game” and the “fruit game” on the way home from school. Replaying these and other similar memories, I never stood a chance.

Her mom followed her into the room, smiling, until she saw my clothes and knick knacks folded in stacks next to duffle bags, responding by promptly sending her little one off to bed.

It’s still so clear. Her closing the door, taking a seat on the carpet in the middle of that now nearly empty room.  Me momentarily continuing to pack and ignore her before stopping, slumping down against the west wall. I stared into her eyes with rage, disappointment, disgust and confidence – the kind of confidence one gets knowing something someone else has to them without that someone knowing you know, if that makes sense. My facial expression turned hers from inquisitive to worried.

I told her about the message. Is it true? I asked gruffly, trying to disguise the hurt my heart was drenched in. I had already decided it was true, half-expecting denial, when her eyes filled with tears.

Yes.

Man.  Up to that point in my life, I don’t know that I’d ever felt that low. I ignored the tears rolling down my cheeks and nose, asked her the questions – since when, how many times, when was the last time, etc. None of this mattered, why was I asking it? In my mind, I tried to take responsibility like how could I have prevented this, if only I wasn’t in Canada, but obviously (in hindsight, again) the responsibility/accountability/shitty judgement lies with the person who chooses to cheat.

We both cried hard as fuck. I don’t remember shedding tears like that, like a little ass kidd. I felt so fucking weak, raw – like I’d peeled back all this flesh from my body only for her to fling acid on my exposed organs and tissue. I told her I needed to think about what I wanted. (What the fuck?! Stick to your guns, Hoff!)

The truth is, though I told her I needed a couple weeks to think, I forgave her that night when we got into bed. I got a lump in my throat writing that shit. What the fuck, man. I stayed.

I fucking stayed.

I remember getting a text from a family member the following day saying “Happy Independence Day! ;)”, and feeling so gross at what I’d decided, what I’d sunk myself deeper into. I had told them I was going there to leave her for good, and instead, I’d simply left my resolve.  My hypothetical backbone freed itself from my skeleton, fled out the window, and drowned itself in the river nearby.

I justified my decision with give it time and I love her daughter, I have to be there for her and this is my FIRST love. My very first time I’d been in love. And what a winner I’d picked. My weak heart, leaking self-pity and unrequited love all over the place, wasn’t ready to let go.

Not yet.

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Disneyland, 2015

Why I came back to football — Part I

Part I of a non-linear series of events intertwining football and life outside of it.

After being released by the 49ers at the end of December, I decided I was going to visit one of my best friends in Thailand. I’d had a workout with Green Bay, where they ended up signing someone else because I was “too small”, and I had been telling my friend I was going to visit him for the longest time, so I did.

Several weeks after traveling through Southeast Asia on a life changing trip, I returned to LA, 10 pounds lighter than when I left and with no real work experience. So after some consideration and some e-mails, I got a reply from Portland State University Football’s head strength and conditioning coach, who said he’d love to have me on as an intern. So with that, I packed up some things and drove up the I-5 to the Portland area, where I stayed about 50 minutes away in Longview, Washington with another friend’s family.

A couple of months before leaving LA, I had started long-distance dating a woman from just outside of Portland, who would later become my girlfriend and then my ex, in what I confess was a very forced and one-sided relationship. I put myself through way too much in this relationship, and in hindsight, it’s hard to believe I tolerated all of the shit that I did in the beginning. But I was 23 had never, ever experienced this kind of love before, and so I wanted to make it work – to force it – so that I could prove to myself I could love another and be in love/a long-term relationship. Also, this woman was a single mother, and it did not take long at all for me to fall in love with her daughter as well. I hadn’t grown up around a lot of younger kids and I’d never been a babysitter, so being with my ex was the first long-term exposure I’d had to a kid.

2014-05-25 09.46.13.jpg                                    05/25/2014 — Cannon Beach, a few days before leaving for training camp

Glossing over a lot of details, I pretty much had moved in with this ex after just a few months in the area. When the internship at Portland State concluded, I balked at a couple of graduate assistant positions at Division I universities in order to remain close with this woman and in this relationship. Between the 70+ mile round-trip commute for the internship and my travels, I had burned through most of my savings from my practice squad money, and I was applying for jobs left and right. Sales at a flower shop, lumber manufacturing factory worker, granite/general labor handler, performance coach, I applied for them all. Here I was now 24 with a Bachelor’s Degree struggling to find jobs that paid a little over a minimum wage.

Finally, I heard back from Woodland Middle School, where I was interviewed and subsequently hired as a paraeducator, or assistant teacher. It was a relatively cool job – I’d rove around to different classrooms, help out with work or discipline here and there – kids would look me up on their smart phones (so goddamn 2014-2015, right?!) and then ask for my autograph when they found out I had played professional football for a blink of an eye, which was weird but also felt kinda dope. But the problem was, this job paid once a month, and I was struggling to cover living expenses on less than a grand a month, even living at my ex’s house.

Around this time, I had found out my ex was in constant contact with HER ex. My intuition had told me as much before, there were SO many signs and I had been warned by good friends who knew her, but I ignored them. In any case, it was devastating and I had never felt so low (*boyyyyyyy was there more to come*). Fighting was rampant between us, my self-esteem was plummeting, and meanwhile, my finances dwindled ever lower. At the time, I attributed a lot more of my AND our problems to my monetary issues. I felt the time was now or never to push the button to erase this problem and alleviate some of the pressure.

The BC Lions had been in contact with my agent since my release from San Francisco (and earlier, St. Louis) in 2012. I decided against going north in 2013 after looking over the roster, where I didn’t find familiarity in a single name, nor did I find another WSU grad on the roster. Now in January 2014, struggling to pay for groceries and having to ask my family for help [what felt like] constantly, I called up Ryan Rigmaiden from BC and told him I was ready.

For the next few months, splitting time between LA and Washington while still with my ex, I lifted several times a week, picked up jobs here and there from temp agencies, started substitute teaching, and after school/work, I would find an open grass field out nearby in rural Washington. Uneven and riddled with potholes, I put myself through some conditioning and re-familiarized myself with some of the drills I figured I’d go through at the pre-training camp workout in May.

May 17th arrived, and I showed up in Seattle with my ex and her daughter for the workout, surrounded by over 100 other cats, rocking their Sunday best cleats, headbands, various swag that didn’t have shit to do with ball. I came with my red and white Nikes I’d rocked at WSU back in 2010, ran a 4.5, killed the position drills/one-on-ones/yada yada, and subsequently talked to Wally and Neil, who said they’d see me in a couple weeks at camp. It had been fun to put the cleats back on, but the passion wasn’t there. I didn’t feel like the football player I once had inside. Instead, the shit was just another job.

It’s funny, between practices at training camp, I received a call about that granite/general labor job – it was at a factory in Woodland, the overnight shift – 6pm thru 6am – and starting pay was about $12-13 an hour. The guy on the phone I spoke with for the interview said he knew me through a Facebook acquaintance or something, I don’t recall exactly – all these blows to the head later, bound to not perfectly remember things (just kidding, Mom and Dad, don’t worry!). Anyway, he knew I was a ball player and after I told him where I was, he told me to keep playing ball for as long as I could. A lot of guys would love to be where I was, I could always come back to that type of work later, I’d be miserable, etc.

Even though football was just another job, which I didn’t love at all, it would seem like I took his advice. And the rest is… well, to be continued and shit.

10338225_10152038760905927_447755513516451093_n.jpg                                                               First training camp – Kamloops, 05/2014

Look the homeless in the eye — what do you see?

While toying with the idea of starting/latching on to a non-profit for providing meals to homeless folk this past off-season, I spoke to a man named Adam in the LA City Council office. In addition to a plan, we discussed stigmas surrounding homelessness. A couple of stats he hit me with really stood out to me, the first being that on average, a homeless person is the FOURTH thing people will notice/acknowledge when walking by them on the street. The top three? Other people (because keep in mind homeless people… are humans just like us, for fuck’s sake), buildings, and cars. Buildings. And. Cars.

The second stat he laid out – which I knew to a limited extent – was that you can summarize the homeless population into three categories. One is the people who are truly down on their luck, whether they’ve been fired from a job, left a bad domestic situation, etc. Two is the substance abuser, whose addiction has the best of them. The third and final category – mentally ill. The latter two categories, in particular, often go hand in hand. Given the information I found out and know, it’s hard for me not to have a soft spot for the homeless. After all, my older brother, Jonah, suffers from severe bipolar & schitzoaffective disorder.

Jonah had his initial psychotic breakdown when I was 9 or 10, and since then, has been in and out of various assisted living housing and hospitals. That’s about two thirds of my entire existence. The memory of him as a highly-fit, star point guard at North Hollywood High in LA and future scholar at Berkeley has greatly faded, replaced with the image of a highly paranoid, 300+ pound dude sitting in a 6th behavioral ward of a hospital in a dark green gown, breathing heavily and babbling away about various delusions. Each time I visited him this past off-season, sitting in the glow of those bright, humming lights at Southern California Hospital, all I could think was that if not for the support of his family (by which I really mean our parents), he could just as easily be another homeless person. Another statistic in those above categories.  I see my brother’s face, his crazy-intense eyes, in the leathery face of the homeless man with the oil drum belly and disheveled hair at the bus stop on Pico & Overland. I see him in the clusters of folks that dot the 3rd Street Promenade clickety-clanking their change cups as people walk past them like they’re a part of the landscape. He is everywhere I look driving around downtown.

I can’t pass these people without seeing the humanity in them, you see. Their untold stories in their faces, their bare feet calloused and dirty like my own brother’s. I think of how lonely they must be, how starved they must be, for compassion. How can people not at least acknowledge their fellow humans when they walk by them, ignoring their outstretched hands and hearts? I see my brother in each of these people. I see their missing families next to them. Their desperate stares. God, they haunt me, not always, but man, sometimes, they just cry out to me, drowning in their situation. I feel helpless so often when I lock eyes with them. Again, not always, but so often, my heart breaks and breaks for them. That could be Jonah. That could be my big brother, man…

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Jonah, circa 2009.

 

“i’d give up a limb to _______” + responding to a response

I read a response to my blog post which was reposted on 3downnation, part of which said:

“You got to put on a uniform and be part of a professional team. You walked out on to the field in front of thousands of fans who adore you and what you stand for. I would have given a leg or an arm to be good enough to earn just one game of that!”

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This is my response after reading this comment and the rest of it. (In advance, just so we’re clear, I’m aware of figurative versus literal.) Nonetheless, I stand by all of this.

I don’t think I can judge you off of one response to an article any better than you can myself off of my own perspective in this specific piece. I am not an article, you are not a single reply. Regardless, I’d like to challenge this reply. You’d give up an arm or a leg? How about your back – would you give up a healthy spine in your 20’s? Would you give up that arm or leg not instantly (which I question, as well), but slowly, over a period of months, years? Would you take a needle to your knee at half-time so you could finish out a game with a sprained MCL that you’ve already taped up, braced up, and taken painkillers for? Would you act like you didn’t get your head absolutely fucking rocked on that previous play because you’re worried about keeping your job to provide for your family?

I may not know this person who responded personally, but from my interactions with a fair amount of fans over the years, I’ve gleaned that a lot of people love the idea of playing professional football, the adoration that Western culture has for professional athletes, and the idea of “playing a game for a living”. Not that I don’t appreciate or benefit from those things myself, but please don’t tell me you’d give up an arm or a leg, because many of us athletes have sacrificed just as much, if not more, over a long period of time – both mentally and physically, just “playing a game”. Please don’t mistake my specific perspective in this article for an overall lack of gratitude.
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“i’d give up a limb to _______”

gobs of thick oozing
blood pour out near the elbow joint
the rusted blade seesawing
easily through flesh, then laboriously
through bone
catching every now and again
on an errant push or pull.
the cascade of sweat from your brow
is nearly identical
to the red liquid
tumbling to the ground
like a leaky faucet.
you lie flat, as pale as a half-sucked
jawbreaker, the stained blade
breaking free
cutting through the air
as your mutilated arm lands
with a dull thud
on the cold
colorless
concrete
floor.

Wireless Wednesdays + offering (poem)

For awhile now, I’ve re-grown an old habit of mine that I noticed and bothered me significantly. I stopped letting myself just have down time, to notice my surroundings and sit with nothingness. I’d bury myself in my phone, looking for stimulation from the screen (as so many of us constantly do.) It bothered me more than anything that I was doing this because I’m a huge believer in being able to sit alone with your thoughts and being able to be okay with them, and I was not living by this. In order to revert back to being less dependent on my devices for stimulation, the past three Wednesdays, I have gone wireless — as soon as 12AM hits, officially marking Wednesday, I do not touch my phone or go on the internet on my computer until 12AM Thursday hits. I admit, I’ll still watch a little bit of TV at night, but I skate past the temptation to peruse various social media outlets for the sake of “needing” to be stimulated. I’ve made an effort to go out and sit at cafes, for hours — reading, writing, observing, listening, etc. This most recent Wednesday, I finish my last Khaled Hosseini novel, a hardcover copy of A Thousand Splendid Suns, and began another book with it still sitting on my table at Remedy Cafe. A woman in her 50’s, maybe (I’m a pretty subpar judge of age) approached me and asked me how the book was. I said it was incredible, to which she replied it was next on her list. So I handed her the book and said it’s yours. She stood there with her mouth open for a couple of seconds, before she hugged me and thanked me, saying she would pass it on when she finished. Maybe she will, maybe she’ll forget, but I just thought this interaction was amazing, and probably never would’ve happened with my phone/laptop on me. I feel like I came out on top in that scenario, not that it’s a competition, of course. I guess the moral of the story is this: move a little slower. Take a little longer. Otherwise, you might overlook something simple, and amazing.


i have come to squeeze
the black night sky
until its color returns
like python eggs
bright and shining
full of unhatched
promise.
i cannot squeeze this
darkness forever
but
i will grip
with all of my white
knuckle might
if your daylight
lasts a single
breath
longer.

       offering

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My Sweaty Little Weakness

She swings from monkey bar to monkey bar, wavy reddish-brown hair trailing her to the rhythm of seagull calls and her own high-pitched excitement. Tiny hands working dexterously, she misses a single blue bar in the middle and falls into the dull beige sand, sending grains flying in every direction. It’s a party in the park, and we’re the only two attending on the overcast November afternoon. I scoop her up by her scrawny little shoulders to a playful shriek, as she squirms, attempting to run back to her latest playground challenge. I watch her, in her tie dye shirt and wrinkled jeans, sweat beads forming on her pale, freckled forehead. She’s a dead ringer for her old man. 5 more minutes, I tell her. Her smile dims, as she mumbles okay. What a tough life. I pull her tiny body into mine and kiss her temple, my lips lifting the saltiness from it. My fingers begin rapid-fire tapping up and down her ribs like a furious piano solo until she wriggles, then crumbles with unapologetic laughter and an open-mouthed, scrunchy-eyed expression of joy. I love you, little princess. She looks at me. I love you too, Daddy. I point to my cheek, where she plants one on me and runs off as soon as I release her, carrying my whole heart with her.

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Do NOT be ashamed of who you WERE

In December of 2015, I went to Israel with a group called Taglit-Birthright. To summarize for those unfamiliar, up to the age of 26-27, if you’re Jewish, or half Jewish, you’re eligible for a free 10-day trip/guided tour of Israel, 2 meals a day and room + board included. It was a really dope experience, considering my expectations were set pretty low based on the large group and guided tour part.

One night, we were back at our hotel, playing these sort of icebreaker games or whatever, when the game turned to the subject of stories about “being arrested”.  I recall feeling nervous right away – that’s a big thing to share in front of strangers, I thought. I debated only sharing about getting arrested for curfew violation at 13, but decided I’d share when it was time. Leading up to it, only several others had stories, mostly things associated with drinking or weed or whatever… shit I refer to as “socially acceptable” crimes, almost always harmless to others, known to draw a laugh or two. Then I shared my story.

I won’t go into detail – if you really want to know, you can ask me off the record, but it happened when I was 16. I had decided to share because that night, what I did, who I was when I did it, is so far removed from who I am now, I just figured it would prompt maybe some follow-up questions and that was it. Instead, I was met with this pretty awkward silence, and the game promptly ended; only one or two people (in a group of 35-40) approached me and said things like “it’s all good now” or “I have a friend who something something similar…”. I remember thinking at the time that I couldn’t recall ever feeling so judged, and that I would never share that story with anyone that I wasn’t extremely close to again. After all, it had happened over a decade ago.

I messaged my friend the next day who had gone through the same incident with me and repeated back to him what had happened. The gist of his response was essentially this:

We have nothing to be ashamed of now. We were kids going down a shitty path. It doesn’t define who we are, but it played in a role in the men we are today. Look at the person you are now – that shit is a part of who you’ve become. Don’t trip on those who can’t/don’t try to relate, we’ve turned out just fine.

Immediately I understood – he’s totally right. I am the man I am today in part because of that experience. Can’t expect all groups of people to understand how it feels to sit on those uncomfortable plastic ass seats in the back of a police cruiser with your hands cuffed behind you. Not a lot of folks know the relief of being run down by K-9 dogs that luckily only bite through your baggy ass hoodie, and not your skin. It was the wake-up call I needed. It brought me to football, which helped put me through university, and I’ve been fortunate to play now as my profession, on and off, for 5 years.

It took me awhile to turn into the calm, weird (?), earthy, dorky dude I am for the most part – it’s an ongoing process, really. But hey, like old Kanye said, everything I’m not made me everything I am. I AM a good person. If you feel like you’re a good person, or you like yourself, or something along those lines, feel this:

Don’t let anyone make you feel bad about the person you were – it led to who you are.181457.jpg

Roughly around the time of the incident, give or take a year.