For the Fellas

 

Men. Guys. Dudes. Brothers.

Listen to me right now. If I could, I would grab every single one of you by the lapels on your coat, pull you right to my face, and say, “Pay Attention!!”

Here’s why: There are two professional basketball players who have something very important to say to all of us guys.

So, I want all of you to go straight to The Players’ Tribune, a website where professional athletes connect directly with fans, in their own words. Once you’re there, read Everyone is Going Through Something, by the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kevin Love, about the panic attack that woke him up to his mental illness.

Then, read about DeMar DeRozan, of the Toronto Raptors, opening up about his struggles with depression and anxiety.

Go ahead, do it now. I’ll wait here.

 

Done? Good.

Could you identify with some of what you read? I sure could. I think lots of men can.

But nobody ever knows that, because to speak up about it is to admit to a “weakness”, which, of course, no real man can admit, right?

Plus, in our culture, “mental illness” is synonymous with “looney toons”, and it’s time we all get past that way of thinking.

What I hope sticks with you, fellas, from Kevin and DeMar’s stories, is that it’s okay to talk to someone about your mental health. You’re not any less of a man if you have a problem.

You hear me? You’re not any less of a man if you have a problem. And you’re not any less of a man for talking with someone about it. The fact I have to practically shout it to you just shows how much STIGMA is attached to mental illness in America. Especially, with men.

And, the way to make that go away is for more of us to talk openly about it, like Kevin and DeMar, and so many before them, and not just athletes, either. Men from all different walks of life.

Because, the truth is, big boys do cry. We just never see them do it.

Mental illness isn’t something that will just go away with time if you wait it out, and it sure as hell isn’t something you can fix, yourself; I don’t care how badass you think you are.

I’m gonna keep talking about mental illness. My mental illness. My depression. Because it’s something men need to talk about a whole lot more. Not just about sports, or cars, or politics, or women, or our physical health.

Our mental health is as much a part of who we are as the rest of it, guys. So, let’s make it part of the conversation.

I just want to remind you of what Kevin said at the end of his essay:

“So if you’re reading this and you’re having a hard time, no matter how big or small it seems to you, I want to remind you that you’re not weird or different for sharing what you’re going through.

“Just the opposite. It could be the most important thing you do. It was for me.”

It was for me. And, with all my heart, guys, I promise you, it could be for you.

It really is okay.

The Scary Guy in the Red Suit

 

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I don’t know how many of you ever had the distinct privilege of sitting in Santa Claus’ lap to tell him what to bring you for Christmas, (yes, tell, don’t ask) but trust me, it is an experience you will remember all your life.

Unfortunately for me.

 

Let’s face it, meeting Santa Claus is a bucket list event for any kid. I mean, we all write our letters to him, asking for what we want, (or maybe, email these days, I don’t know) but to get to meet the Big Kahuna in person??

Oh…WOW!!! Makes me nearly faint just thinking about it.

Just go to the mall, and spend some time around Santa, and you watch how many kids stand in line, accompanied by their harried, stressed-out parents, waiting for their turn with the Big Man. I mean, who knows when he’ll get around to reading your letter; here’s your chance to tell Mr. Claus directly. Big time-saver.

So, here I was, on my way to Leonard’s Department Store, in downtown Fort Worth, for my close encounter of the Santa kind. To describe me as excited that day would be an understatement. I was charged up, folks. I was ready for this; I had waited for this day my whole life. (I think I was about five.) I was even dressed up for it, in my finest gift-begging suit. With my hair perfectly combed, wearing my best cologne, breath mint in pocket, I knew I had this.

Claus, you’re mine!

 

So, I stood in line with the other kids, waiting patiently (not) for my turn. As I waited, I enthusiastically recited to Mom and Dad my entire request list. I don’t recall how long it was, but come on, I was a kid; you think it was just gonna be two or three items? No, sir, no Toy Express Lane for this guy.

But as I stood there, a curious thing happened. My parents noticed, the further up I moved in line, the less talking I did, and my excitement seemed to morph into trepidation, which then crossed over to fear. 😬😲

I don’t really have an explanation for what happened. I can only speculate in hindsight, the closer I got to the man, the more intimidating he looked to me. After all, I was meeting him for the first time, and we weren’t even properly introduced. I was simply picked up and set in the guy’s lap, for Pete’s sake. This scary fellow with the long hair and the long beard and the red suit and the prominent gut. I didn’t care that he was probably some poor store employee who got roped into this gig, and would rather have been off somewhere else, hitting the eggnog with an elf or two.

No, all I knew in that moment was, I don’t like this person. And so, from the time I was placed in his lap until the time I was removed from it, Santa Claus might as well have been sitting there holding a stuffed animal.

I didn’t speak. I didn’t move. I may not have even breathed.

I was frozen solid, a Rock of Gibraltar. You could have busted up concrete with me.

There’s photographic evidence somewhere of this incident, but ain’t none of you ever gonna see it, that’s for sure. Let’s just pretend it looks like this:

 

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So, I rode back home with my head hung in shame. I had my shot and I wasted it. A tragic event, one that would undoubtedly keep me in therapy for life.

You know what, though? Turns out, I didn’t need to tell him a thing.

Because, come Christmas Day, I still got what I wanted. Cool, right? 😏

Now, kids, I’m not saying that’ll happen to you, too. You’d better talk to Santa, if you get a chance, just to cover your bases.

He’s probably not really that scary.

The Weekend I Was Cool

 

I spent this weekend celebrating my high school class’ 40-year anniversary.

You heard me. Forty years.

(I know some of you geezers out there got that beat, but forget you. This is my story.)

I have to say, it was a lot of fun. The celebration lasted over the course of two nights. The first night featured an informal gathering at a bar with an outdoor courtyard, where a band played and we all tried to hear each other over the band, with mixed results. I SAID, WITH MIXED RESULTS!

And, obviously, seeing these folks for the first time since graduation was a bit of a shock to the system. Granted, some of them hadn’t changed much, if at all, but many of them had changed significantly. We were all walking up to each other, hesitantly, and saying something like, “I may have known you back then. Who are you?”

The second night was the official reunion, which featured (thank goodness) name tags! (Of course, many of us had to put on our glasses to read them.)  There was a buffet of hors’d’ouvres, a cash bar (which appeared to be doing very good business), another band and a dance floor, which many of us, yours truly included, made good use of throughout the evening.

And we all spent the time talking, laughing, eating, drinking, dancing, taking pictures and reminiscing. And I had a GREAT time!

Which, if I’m being honest, surprised me somewhat. Maybe I should explain:

 

High school, for me, was not always a pleasant experience. (Admittedly, I know it wasn’t for many other people.) I actually think it goes back to junior high, when cliques began forming among the students. You know how there’s always a certain group that you would just kill to be a part of, but you were pretty certain there was no way that was happening? A group that was just popular with everybody at school. The cool group.

I mean, yeah, there were some people I liked who liked me, and we hung out a lot together, but I still wanted to be part of that group. You know how it is. The desire for acceptance in your teen years is very strong.

So, I felt like I didn’t belong with those cool kids.

Well, as I found out this weekend, time is a great equalizer.

 

I had only been to one class reunion previously. My 10-year one. It was awful. Ten years after graduation, and people still gravitated to their old cliques, and I felt those old feelings of alienation. I swore I would never go to another reunion.

Then I got an email from my best friend from back then, saying he was flying into town for our 40-year reunion, and asking if I was going to be there.

Well, truthfully, I didn’t even know about it until I got his email. I knew, of course, that this was our 40-year anniversary, so I figured there was going to be a reunion sometime; I just didn’t know it would be this weekend!

So I thought about it, and I figured, well, maybe now, we’re all far enough away from the experience that I wouldn’t feel like that, again.

And, even though a little voice asked,  “But what if you do?”, I decided to go anyway.

And, amazingly, I found myself talking and laughing with people I wouldn’t have dared approach in school. We weren’t kids in cliques anymore; we were grownups, with families and bills and jobs and prescription medications. We were equals.

And I loved every minute of it. I’ll never, ever forget it.

Lawrence D. Bell High School, Class of 1977 Blue Raiders, it was an absolute blast! Thanks to everyone who contributed their time and effort to making these events as special as they were. The rest of us appreciate it more than you could know.

I wish you all continued happiness and blessings. And love.