I have spoken about mental illness and love at a wide range of events. Below are a few noteworthy talks with video clips when available.
I am a strong believer in speaking up about mental illness, and am open to future speaking opportunities. Visit the Contact Me portion of this website to be in touch if you are interested in pursuing a speaking opportunity.
-The Moth Main Stage, at Cooper Union in New York City in February 2013. Video produced by thnkrtv. -SMITH Magazine 6-Word Memoir Storytelling Event, at the 92nd Street Y in New York City in February 2012. Video produced by SMITH Magazine. -TEDxMonterey "Leading Out" Conference in April 2013. Video forth-coming. -Keynote speaker at "Link Up And Live," the 2013 Gala and Fundraiser for Crisis Link, the Northern Virginia Suicide Hotline.
Back in September I read an article in the New York Times called “Pot for Parents.” It’s written by a dad from San Francisco. Here’s the opening line:
“The youngest of my three daughters was born around the same time I became a card-carrying medical cannabis parent.”
The article continues to explain his history with medical marijuana to help his stress, anxiety, and lower back pain…and then how it has made him into a better parent. Let me quote the article further.
“Here’s what a typical weekday evening exchange between me and my oldest daughter once looked like:
Child: Daddy, can you how me how to make a Q?
Father: sipping bourbon and soda, not looking up from iPad–just make a circle and put a little squiggle at the bottom.
Child: No, show me!
Father: Sweetie, not now, ok? Daddy’s tired.
It’s different now:
Child: Daddy, can you show me how to make a Q?
Father: (getting down on the floor) Here, I’ll hold your hand while you hold the pen and we’ll make one together. There! We made a Q! Isn’t it fantastic?
Child: Thanks, Daddy!
Father: Don’t you just love the shape of this pen?
It’s the same with my middle child:
Child: Can I watch a video?
Father: Of Course!
Child: Can I watch a video?
Father: Why don’t we read a story and then pretend we’re in our own video! Go pick out a book, and I’ll go get the finger puppets.”
It’s a very funny article–the guy wittily writes that pot is associated with short term memory loss, and the writes the exact same thing a second time–but it hasn’t stuck with me for 6 months because of its humor. It has stuck with me because it is is the first time I’ve ever heard someone claim that smoking pot makes them a better parent.
There’s that scene in the movie, no movie in particular, just any old movie, where the woman is frustrated with the man because he’s out doing his thing. Maybe his thing is driving motorcycles, or surfing, or playing music, or whatever it is, but it’s his thing, and it’s largely what first attracted the woman to the man in the first place, but as she fell in love with him, she realized that this thing might at times be too big, too powerful, and it would cause friction between them. This scene, the one that is no movie in particular, just any old movie, is the one where the woman is lost in that friction. She feels she is losing the man to his thing. She’s home alone, and he’s out feeling life explode in his veins, and she’s wondering whether he’s coming home, and if she can keep loving him while he still has his thing.
You know the scene I’m talking about.
I believe that every man has his thing, his thing that he loves and gets lost in and in many ways makes him who he is.
But as all men know, when you fall in love and get close to sometimes, you sometimes have to make compromises. Your thing can’t always come first. Sometimes the other person has to come first.
And when you become a dad, those “sometimes” become “a lot of the times.” And if you’re a full-time stay-at-home dad, “a lot of the times” becomes “pretty much all the time.”
My thing is being active. I’ve at times thought that my thing is surfing, but I’ve realized that surfing is too fickle to be a thing. The waves aren’t always good, and you can’t invest all your happiness into something as dynamically unpredictable as surfing. For me, surfing is my favorite way of being active, but it’s the action, the being outside, working my body, that I love the most. I have always prided myself on my physical fitness. I aim to be in the type of shape where on any given day I can either a) run a half marathon, b) swim 2 miles, or c) bike 50 miles. I’m proud to say that I have achieved this aim for most of my adult life.
Since I’ve become a dad, my time to exercise, and pursue my thing, has plummeted. I sometimes go running late at night, when I should be asleep, because it’s my only chance. Or if it’s the middle of the day and I just can’t take it anymore, I bring the baby in the jogging stroller. But the truth is, more frequently than not, I simply don’t exercise. And as those days stack up, one after the other, I am afraid. I am afraid that I might be losing my thing.
Once when I was wearing our son in the baby bjorn, I guess I was standing a certain way and my wife looked at me and laughed. “You look like Zach Galfianciakshdies” she said, which was funny because she didn’t know his last name.
But it was also funny because I don’t have a beard. I hardly ever wear sunglasses. And I have yet to be described as “portly,” so it’s not like the physical description was apt. The entire comparison was based around one criterion: the baby bjorn.
I believe that the baby bjorn has become the symbol of the modern dad. If you google image search Baby Bjorn, the first image is of a dad…not a mom, but a dad. Second image is a couple and guess who is wearing the bjorn? The dad. It isn’t until the 4th image, from the official baby bjorn website, that you see a mom wearing one.
The bjorn is our interpretation of mom jeans, our calling card, our way of broadcasting out into the world, “I am Dad, hear me roar.”
In Season Two of the television show Friday Night Lights, Tammy Taylor tells her husband, Coach Eric Taylor, that he is a molder of men. That’s how she put it–molder of men. You see, Coach Taylor is a high school football coach in the fictional town of Dillon Texas, in a television show that might be one of the greatest shows of all time. It’s based upon the Buzz Bissinger book about the real town of Odessa, Texas. These towns–the real one of Odessa, the fake one of Dillon, and probably a whole bunch of other towns just like them–are absolutely rabid about high school football, and pretty much every teenage boy in the town aspires to play football and make it to State. To these boys, the varsity football coach is god. To this town, he is their messiah. He delivers them into victories and glory beyond their wildest dreams.
But Coach Taylor isn’t just about winning, even though his team wins a lot. And, I should mention, his team always wins in the last 5 seconds of the game, which is one of the few dramatic flaws of the show. But Coach Taylor wants more than just to win football games.
In Season Five, a different character named Billy Riggins, once again calls Coach Taylor a molder of men. Riggins is a new dad, and he wants a job coaching alongside Taylor, to learn from him, this molder of men, so that he can best prepare himself for fatherhood. Billy seems to think that Taylor’s admirable qualities are contagious.
And so even though this is just a tv show and it’s not real or anything like that, I decided that when our son was born, I was going to re-watch Friday Night Lights. All of it. My wife and I had already seen it before, but since I was up rocking Jonas from 2-5am, getting him used to the new, daunting world, I figured I may as well cozy up alongside Coach Taylor, to see what I could learn from him.
Coach Eric Taylor. Husband to an ambitious wife, Tammy Taylor, and father to a beautiful and generally-well-intended teenage girl, Julie Taylor. Later in the show Coach and Mrs. Coach have a baby, the little Gracie Belle, who I’ll go ahead and say it, looks kind of weird. A molder of men, surrounded by women.
And also, a man who is not my typical role model as a man. I’m sort of the exact opposite of a Texas high school football coach, as a San Francisco surfer who spends most of his time barefoot and hasn’t combed his hair in over a decade. Me and this fictional man have different visions for how we want our lives to look, but I can still see that many of the steps he takes to get where he wants in life leave footprints that are worth following.
In the first month of my son’s life, I watched all 76 episodes of Friday Night Lights. And so here, in brief, is what I learned about manhood and being a father from Coach Eric Taylor.
One morning this summer we woke up to feed Jonas, and we finally got him back to sleep around 4:30am. I had set my alarm for 5:15 because I wanted to go for a swim in the bay, so I figured what the hell, that’s only 45 minutes from now, I may as well stay up.
I read a magazine profile to kill some time and the next thing I knew, it was 5:20, and I had to get going. I needed to be home by 8am, so I timed out the morning perfectly. Leave the house at 5:30, get to Aquatic Park around 5:55, change into my wetsuit, jump in just as the sun was making its grand entry into the day, swim my two miles in the bay, get out, change, and be home by 7:45, which built in a 15 minute buffer for the unknowns like traffic, wetsuit mishaps, and finding the right filter on instagram for my obligatory photo of the sun rising over the San Francisco bay.
I grabbed a banana from the kitchen and went down to the garage to get my swim stuff. I rounded up my wetsuit, my towel, and my two swim caps, which is standard for cold water swimming. Even the brave souls who swim in the bay without a wetsuit wear two swim caps, to protect them from the ice cream headaches.
But I couldn’t find my goggles. I tore through the garage, to no avail. I hustled upstairs and looked through my gym stuff there. No goggles.
The best place to see different parenting styles on display is at the grocery store. I find the parent that most impresses me is one I’m sure we’ve all seen before. She’s the mom who is in the produce section, and she talks pretty much non-stop to her baby. Like this.
“Honey, this here is an onion. Mommy needs to get onions for the soup she’s making daddy tonight. It’s his favorite soup and it’s supposed to rain later so I thought it would be a good idea to make the soup for him. Will you help mommy make the soup? We need to get three onions for the soup, let’s count them, 1, 2, 3. Good job! We also need peppers, one red one, and one green one. Here’s the green one. What else do we know is green?”
and so on and so forth, and I’m standing there with Jonas and a bag of carrots thinking, “Goddamn that is one good parent.”
I took Jonas to his first baseball game on August 15, 2012. It was a day game at AT&T Park in San Francisco, with the home team Giants pitted against the unexpectedly dominant Washington Nationals.
I can easily recall the exact date of the game because we were given a certificate to commemorate it. When we first got to our seats, I told the usher who greeted us that I was here, with my son, for his first baseball game. The usher beamed with pride and excitement, “well then, you have to go get his certificate!”
In AT&T Park, near section 119 on the promenade level, there is a guest services office where you can stand in line with a bunch of other kids who are there for their first game. They are there with their parents (mostly dads, I should clarify) and when it’s your turn, you give the kindly old lady your child’s name, and she prints out a certificate, welcoming your son or daughter to life as a fan of the San Francisco Giants. It’s pretty cool.
Do yourself a favor. When you are up in the middle of the night, with your new baby crying because he wants to eat, even though he just ate 90 minutes ago, and two hours before that, and you’re at the peak of sleep-deprived frustration, do not go on the internet. Do not go on the internet to google phrases like “4 month old up every 2 hours at night” because you will find your way to discussion boards, hosted at websites like circleofmoms.com and whattoexpect.com, and you will read the comments on these discussion boards, and you will want to kill someone.
Listen to the full story by clicking play.
Here it is, the notorious “fly by nursing” gif. Feel free to save it for use later.
My favorite time of day is the morning. It’s been this way for a while. I like to be up before everyone else is. Not that I actually enjoy waking up, because no one likes that, but when I can coax myself out of bed, I love to observe the stillness of a world that is otherwise bustling the rest of the day.
Now I have new reasons to love the morning. I wake up to the gentle cooing of our son, who is wedged between me and my wife in our bed. We tend to bring him to bed some time in the wee hours of the night, and while I’m vaguely aware of that happening when it does, it’s not until morning that I really appreciate that he’s there.
Our son was wide awake. In the middle of the night, he’s not happy to be awake. But when the morning finally comes, he greets the day with a big smile and the unpredictable arm thrashing that is characteristic of babies his age. My wife was still asleep, resting before her day at the office. So I scooped him up, shuttled him to the nearby changing pad, and checked to see what the morning had in store.
He seems to really like being on the changing pad. I put on soft music, and we make eye contact and both laugh as I unsnap the many buttons on his clothes. And then I delicately peel open the soggy diaper. For that brief, revelatory second, we typically stop our banter. I’m focused, caught up in the examination, and he seems aware that I need to pay attention. But this morning, during that moment–during that fragile, delicate moment–my son pooped.
Contributor to "How'd We Get Here" Education Website at KQED
Writing and Editing | San Francisco Bay Area, US
6 years of history teaching and coaching experience, now branching out into the world of writing and journalism. Primary interests include all things the ocean and good, pure living.
Working on publishing a memoir called Where The Road Meets The Sun. Writing has been published in The New York Times, Surfer Magazine, KQED, The Bold Italic, 7x7, Gizmodo, Scuttlefish, Ocean Beach Bulletin, The Inertia, amongst others.
2012 - Present
Contributor to "How'd We Get Here" Education Website / KQED
2011 - Present
Writer / The Bold Italic
2011 - Present
Writer / 7x7
2010 - Present
Associate Editor / Ocean Beach Bulletin
2010 - Present
Writer / The Scuttlefish
Researcher / MYOO
Writer / Inhabitat.com
Writer / Shmoop
Independent writer for the AP World History curriculum
History Teacher / Woodside Priory School
History teacher, coach of soccer, swimming, and water polo