Origin

 

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Zero

My mother wrote songs as she rocked me

Singing lyrics aloud, her eyes blue on mine brown

A song of the mother Mary rocking the Christ child

A lullaby that soothed until heavy eyelids closed in sleep.

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Five

We cut holes in shoeboxes

Then covered them in paper, pink and red mostly.

Scissors sliced thick paper into hearts and letters

While scented colored markers etched our names

In grape purple and lemon yellow and licorice black.

On super hero valentines,

I wrote To’s and From’s to each member of my class

Except I wrote two for Michael, the boy who made me laugh.

I liked-him-liked-him

The way Chris liked Michelle and Jason liked Desiree.

At the Valentines Party, I placed each small card in each small box

And two in Michael’s.

But I only wrote a From on one of his cards, leaving the other blank.

If I gave two to him, the other boys would know I was different.

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Fifteen

“You are indeed one of Heavenly Father’s choice sons.

Do not in any way disappoint Him.”

The patriarch spoke kindly, firmly,

A direct message from God to me on his breath.

Weeks before, when I had told the bishop my shameful secret,

the message had been the same, kind and firm.

“God loves you, He does not tolerate sin.”

The words of the prophets, kind and firm again.

“Pray, do everything God says, and He will cure you,

Make you straight,

Because He loves you.”

And so I ket my eyes just that, straight

Focused, unerring.

Dad was gone,

And my stepfather spoke with fists and angry words.

I was a fairy, he said. I would never measure up to a real man.

But God, He heard. I just couldn’t disappoint Him.

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twenty-seven

She looked at me sincerely, tears streaming down her face,

And asked why, why after six years of dating, we hadn’t kissed,

Hadn’t held hands, not even once.

I thought of the familiar excuses, used again and again,

About trying to be moral and righteous,

About saying it wasn’t just her, that I’d never kissed anyone,

Never held anyone’s hands.

Those were true words, but not the whole truth.

She needed the whole truth.

“I’m gay,” I said. “But I’m trying to cure it.”

And she didn’t mind. And so we kissed, finally.

There was affection and regard and kindness behind it,

If not chemical attraction,

And relationships had been built on less.

And for her the feelings were real.

And so, three months later, we married.

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thirty-two

The day my second son was born, I got that same sense

Of holding my entire world in my hands.

That word again, Fatherhood,

Overwhelming in its possibility, its responsibility.

Here, a new miracle, different from his brother in every way.

But this time, our lives were different.

Early drafts of divorce papers sat on the desk at home.

I was sleeping in the basement now,

And her heart was broken,

While mine, though sad, had come up for oxygen

After three decades of holding its breath.

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thirty-eight

Pen to paper, I think back on six years of firsts.

First authentic kiss.

First try at an authentic relationship

And first authentic heartbreak.

First time dancing, euphoric and free.

First friends, real friends, finally, friends.

First realization that I like myself, powerfully,

And that I have no need to be cured of something that was never wrong.

First freedoms, from religion and deadly self-expectations.

I live now, loudly.

My sons thrive in two households, and they will tell anyone who asks

That their mother likes boys who like girls

And their father likes boys who like boys.

They are thriving, and smiling, and real.

And so is she.

And so am I.

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Underestimated

Underest1

“People have a habit of underestimating you, don’t they?”

I took a sip of my white wine, my facial expression not changing. “How do you mean?”

Tanner laughed as he flipped over the chicken on the barbecue. “Well, when I first met you, you came across as pretty put together. Confident, smart, like you have a lot of friends.”

I nodded, smiling. “I like to think those are true statements.”

“But there is a lot more too you, isn’t there? People see this guy who loves his kids and reads a lot but they don’t often get much past that, do they?”

I shrugged. “It takes a bit to get to know me, just like anyone. But yes, I would say that that is a mistake people make often. I have a blog, I write poetry, I’m working on a book, I read voraciously. None of those things make me any more or less special than anyone else, though. Everyone is deeper than what they appear on the surface.”

Tanner looked at me, narrowing his gaze. “Do you do it on purpose?”

I laughed out loud this time. “Do I do what on purpose?”

“Let people underestimate you. Is it on purpose?”

I shrugged again. “I don’t know. I guess to a certain extent. It’s not like I’m willfully hiding. I’m just comfortable in my own skin and I’m careful who I share my vulnerability with. That’s like a healthy human survival tip, though.”

This time he spoke without even turning around, cooking the chicken more. “So why are you single, then? I’ve got a husband, why don’t you have a husband?”

I laughed, giving a coy answer, but really the only answer there is to give. “I’m single because I’m not in a relationship.”

“Oh, come on! That answer is a copout!”

“No, really. First off, I’m pretty okay not being in a relationship. If it happens, and it’s right, I’ll give it a shot. Second, I don’t date much. Some, but not much. And when I do give it a shot, it turns out lame. I’m very clear about my communication and I feel like I have my shit together. I’m raising my kids, I’ve got a good relationship with my ex-wife, I like my job, I do what I love, and I travel by myself often. I’m not opposed to finding someone to share that with, but it has to be healthy.”

Tanner stayed quiet and I kept talking.

“I’ve been out five years. I started that with an infant and a toddler. That’s a lot for anyone to sign on for. And the relationships I’ve tried out since then just haven’t lasted, for their own reasons.”

Tanner turned off the stove and moved the chicken into the dish. “Want to know why I think you’re single?”

I rolled my eyes and laughed. “Yes, tell me, please.”

“I think you intimidate people.”

I laughed again, sharply. “Oh my god, I’ve been told that before like five times!”

“See? You’re intimidating!”

“How am I intimidating!”

“Well, what were you told before?”

I set my glass down and ticked off on my fingers what I’d been told in the past. “I’ve been told that I’m intimidating because I’m a good father and my kids come first. One guy told me it’s because I have big arms, but come on, you are in way better shape than me. Oh, two friends told me it’s because I’m a therapist and I make people feel uncomfortable because they feel like I can see through them emotionally. Um, um, oh! Kurt, my best friend, told me that it’s because I am direct with what I say and I don’t play games. And I can’t remember the fifth one. Oh, yeah! One guy told me I’m intimidating because I make eye contact and I compliment people too much.”

Tanner sat down with his plate of food and thought a moment. “Well, all of those reasons are ridiculous. You compliment too much?”

“Yes! I told a guy I had dinner with, on a date a few years ago, that he was handsome. And he told me he didn’t like being complimented, that he found it intimidating.”

“Ugh, that’s terrible. Seriously, I think some of the best looking people have the worst self-esteems sometimes.”

I laughed. “I know! So, what am I supposed to do to be less intimidating? Not be a good dad? Be a shitty communicator?”

“Well clearly not.”

“Honestly, I think a big reason I’m single is because my priorities are different than a lot of single gay guys, at least the ones I seem to meet. I like sex, but it isn’t my primary motivation. I like having a drink, but I don’t stay out and get trashed. I mean, I’m getting close to 40 and I’ve got kids.”

And then we were both laughing.

We stayed silent for a bit, then made small talk, two friends chatting and laughing over dinner, talking about movies and funny stories and life in our 30s. We talked about our families and jobs.

After dinner was cleaned up, Tanner slapped my shoulder once. “Well, when the time and person are right, you’ll make a great husband.”

“Ha, thank you very much, my friend. And thanks for the company tonight. And dinner! That was fantastic.”

I gave Tanner a hug goodbye. As he left, he stood in the doorway, turned back toward me one last time, and gave a ‘tsk-tsk’ sound.

“Yup. Completely underestimated.” Then he closed the door behind him.

And I, no less

Who am I to think I deserve good things
to think I am worthy of praise
that I ought to be discussed, thought about, regarded?
Who am I to think my words carry power
that they paint a picture
that they do anymore than capture a moment of my being
one that passes like any other?
Why would I want to be noticed or smiled upon
with patience and measured balanced time
with more than a casual mention?
What am I to do but
rise and toil
work and sow
plan and dream?
I, no more than anyone else, deserve such things.
And I, no less. expanse

Let me take a selfie

I blog. Obviously.

There have been times over the last few years of my blogging that men will flirt with me or chat with me a bit. I’ll invite them out for coffee, and they’ll respond with a ‘no thank you. I saw your blog, and I don’t want to be someone that you write about later.’

This is absolutely hilarious to me. I share of lot of myself on my blog, but anyone who thinks they know me well by reading things that I’ve written, well, they will be surprised when they actually get to know me and realize I’m much more complex than some words on a screen. I write about things, and about myself, but I am much more than the things I write about.

When I write about others, I do one of two things: I change their names and a few key components of their identity, and only share things that are sanguine to a topic or that I know they would be okay with me sharing; OR I get their permission to tell stories about them. I’m not a passive-aggressive individual who vents about strangers on my blog, naming them by name and publishing for all readers to see. That would be downright cruel.

I also share openly on Facebook, and on my YouTube channel. I share things I am comfortable sharing. I try to keep my Facebook page one of positive energy, wit, and inspiring thoughts and ideas. It can at times be a delicate balance. Oversharing is uncomfortable, as is public whining.

Recently, in a conversation with a 15 year old male, I was told that Facebook was for the “older generation”. “Kids are using Snapchat now. Facebook just kind of. It’s not really for us, it’s more for your age.” I was startled by this. But as I scrolled through my Facebook feed, looking at my friends and those who posted often, it did indeed seem to be primarily those in their mid 20s to late 40s. Funny videos, random statuses, and selfies.

Now I take selfies from time to time. I might send to a friend or two or I might post one on my Facebook wall in an attempt to, again, be either inspiring, witty, or funny. I’ll make a thoughtful face, snap the shot, post, and write some sort of line underneath.

In thinking about selfies, I realize there is a certain amount of ego involved in taking and posting them. There is an assumption that if I take a selfie, I not only like my face, I assume that other people will want to see it also, and that they are interested in what I have to say and show. I suppose there is some desire for validation and reciprocity.

Honestly, that’s a lot of the reason I blog. I have something to say and I assume people will want to read my words and share in my experiences.

Today, I made myself black coffee and, as I drink it shirtless, I snapped a selfie, contemplating how such a delicious drink is zero calories. Yesterday, I had a flat tire. While I waited for the tow truck, I snapped a selfie of my frowning by the tire. A few days ago, I snapped a selfie of me cuddling with my four year old. The day before that, I asked a woman to take one of me with my children in the swimming pool.

There is no hidden agenda when I post a photo of myself. Just like anyone on Facebook, I enjoy getting ‘likes’ and comments on my photos. It’s fun to have the ego stroked a bit. But the fact of the matter is, I have no idea if other people want to see my face, if they don’t want to see my face, if they are ambivalent to my face, if they are tired of my face, or if they wish my face was on their Facebook feed more often.

Again, I like the validation. But I post the selfies, well, for me. Which is another turn of ego I suppose.

I’ve written on Ego before, but I see it as a pretty healthy thing. I spent a bulk of my life kind of hiding in plain sight. So to be at a point in my life when I like who I am, when I like how I look, when I like how I present myself… well, I’m pretty damn okay with that.

So it turns out, at nearly 40, I might just be a “millenial”, one of that dreaded generation who texts too much, has too many apps, and is glued to their phones, posting statuses and Emojis and images of themselves on social media. I hashtag things. I share, comment, like, view, Tweet, Imessage, Snapchat, and download apps. It isn’t so complicated, it’s just this new generation, and I’m fully a part of that.

So as I engage in social media expression, at age 37, as a dad and a social worker and a writer, I’ll keep sharing what I choose to share when I choose to share it, and I’ll be just fine with having a bit of ego about it.

But first, let me take a selfie.

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the shark tooth necklace

I’ve always had a babyface.

When I was 17 and a senior in high school, I looked 12. When I was 20 and on a Mormon mission, I looked 15. When I was 25 and launching my career, doing marriage counseling for couples who had been together 40 years, I looked 20. And now, I’m 37 and look 30.

It isn’t such a bad thing now that I’m a bit older. I have a dusting of grey at my temples. I lost all of my weight years ago and I’m getting in great shape for the first time in my life, a slow and steady process over the past few years. I look old enough to have some basic respect in my field, though I have much more experience than many think at this point.

Growing up a gay Mormon kid (I know I mention it all the time, but it is my origin story), I was relatively accustomed to never speaking up for myself or taking care of myself. I was firmly in the service to others mold most of my life, trying very hard to cure something. I never thought of myself as handsome or attractive.

At 17, I took a trip to Hawaii with my high school band, a venture we had saved up for for 2 years prior to going. It was an epic week of playing band concerts and getting to see a place outside of southeast Idaho for the first time. Though there were chaperones, and though nearly every kid in the group was Mormon, I was away from all of the craziness going on in my house for the first time, and I remember feeling an epic sense of freedom, the first lesson I had that when things are crazy at home they can still be peace in the world outside.

I remember walking through a giant flea market, I think they called it a swap meet, where local vendors sold cheap T-shirts, art of sand and seashells, cheap hand-crafted clocks, fresh pineapple juice, and hundreds of other items. We were encouraged to barter with the vendors, talking them down from $8 to $7 and feeling powerful for having done so, not knowing the item only cost 50 cents to make. I bought items for my family back home, a coconut shell Tiki head, a little Hula girl doll, a swimsuit calendar full of men for my sister (who upon opening it later found a guy who looked bizarrely like me, except, you know, not 12 and in much better shape).

My friend Jen,a gorgeous girl with short hair that everyone in the school had a crush on, linked arms with me and told me it was time to get something nice for myself. (Many of my friends later told me they knew I was gay. I imagine Jen did also, though I’ve never asked her). She walked me over to a T-shirt vendor and picked out a tanktop for me. She made me try on a pair of sunglasses until she found one that I liked. Then, to top off the ensemble, she picked out a simple shark tooth on a necklace and placed it around my neck. All finished, she had me stand up and she looked me over.

“Chad! You look hot!”, she exclaimed.

I remember feeling a sense of elation, confidence, a burst of healthy ego. It wasn’t something I had ever experienced before. I knew she wasn’t in to me like that (and I wasn’t into her), but to have someone take the time to notice me, to compliment me genuinely… it was an amazing feeling.

Later that night, we went to a luau on the beach. I took off my shirt and sunglasses, put on a grass skirt, and kept the shark tooth necklace on. We all posed for photos on the beach.

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Fast forward 15 years to when I finally came out of the closet, and started realizing that not only was it okay to like other men, but that men, good-looking men that I found attractive… some of them also found me attractive. It was a powerful feeling, one of wonder.

Sometimes I still feel like that scrawny kid on the beach of Hawaii in a shark tooth necklace, realizing it is okay to feel just a bit selfish, to be just a little bit handsome, to enjoy the attention of others. Not only is it okay, it’s kind of crucial to healthy development.

Yesterday I went to a hot yoga class for the first time. The room was something like 80 degrees and it was packed with people. Beautiful people. Shirtless, shoeless, beautiful people. There was a moment half-way through where were were all in mountain pose, arms to the sky, everyone glistening with sweat as beautiful music played behind us. I scanned the room for a moment, seeing muscular calves, strong backs, lean stomachs, beautiful tranquil views of serenity on faces, fingers pointed toward skies. I looked at my own reflection in the mirror, strong chest and shoulders, thick arms, rooted feet. And I had a beautiful realization.

I fit.

I have always fit. With those around me. I spent so many years not fitting and it felt wonderful to fit. I too was beautiful. And not because of the size of my calves or pecs, but because I care about myself now. I take care of myself now.

I pictured the shark tooth necklace around my neck and grinned widely, showing my teeth. Then I closed my eyes and, fingers pointed toward the sky, joined the serenity.

 

Hollywoodland

hollywoodland

While I walked the streets of Los Angeles a few weeks ago, I automatically pictured myself living there and wondered what it might be like. I learned major lessons about myself when I moved to Seattle briefly, the primary lesson being that me in another place is still just me, just in another place. I think people romanticize ideas about themselves with fresh starts, that if they were in a different home, a different job, a different situation, that with just the right opportunity they would thrive, be happy, find love, be powerful, have success.

And as far as opportunity goes, Los Angeles has it in spades. Entire companies looking for writers and actors and producers and cameramen. Start-up companies, production studios, agents in every direction. And literally millions of people seeking to make successes of themselves. The city must be rampant with ego and heartbreak, rejection and depression, a never-ending thirst to find the next best thing, and constant compromises to sacrifice some ideas for others in order to find new chances and hopes.

I pictured myself seizing my own opportunity, my own ego and desire for success, and transplanting myself here. I pictured getting some room in a crowded place and filling it with cheap furniture, knowing I would swiftly tire of my roommates. I pictured myself finding some day job to support myself while I waited for my social work license to activate in California so I could do therapy on some corner, subletting from someone. I pictured myself getting a lot of date requests initially, being new blood in town, but not being able to ever go out because child support and living expenses and daily bills, and then those interest levels dying down after I had been in town a few weeks. I pictured myself finding local coffee shops to write in, streets to walk, parks to read in. I pictured myself finding a new routine, a gym, a grocery store, a favorite divey restaurant.

I pictured myself traveling back to Salt Lake City every month, at no small expense, renting cars and finding hotels or friends to stay with while I spent powerful moments with my sons, my lights and life. I pictured sunlight and beaches and palm trees and lots of thinking. I pictured writing and writing and writing as I watched the people and had new experiences, and then talking to others over and over about how I want to do so much with my life, write a book, have my blog and my LGBT Snapshots Channel on YouTube be incredible successes. I pictured moving to a new apartment, then another, trying to find my feet as I made new friends.

I pictured the seasons passing quickly. Valentines Day, Easter, Independence Day, Halloween, birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and then a New Year, all while my sons age and grow and me in daily contact but not there with them. I pictured that new year, my energies still pooling toward shifting ideas of success but just not quite grasping it on my terms, and having to make the inevitable decision of trying to keep knocking on doors for more and more opportunity, or changing my very idea of success itself.

I pictured waking up and looking at that famous Hollywood sign on the hill, longing somehow for the days when it said Hollywoodland, and then realizing one day that it was just big letters on a big hill.

All these thoughts in my head, I sat down on a bus stop bench and felt the sunlight soak into my skin. A young black teenager with saggy jeans and a hoodie, scruffy facial hair and sunglasses, sat next to me and struck up a conversation.

“Hey, man, do you mind if I play you one of my tracks?”

I turned, not surprised somehow, though I should have been. “I would love that.”

He pulled a discman out of his backpack and set it on the bench, then began to play a remixed Reggae soundtrack, explaining how he was trying to find a new and unique sound, telling me how he loved music, especially Electronica, and how he just wanted people to hear how he heard. I told him I loved the music and asked him how old he was, and he smiled, a big bright full smile, and told me he was 16.

I told him he was an amazing talent, and to keep it up. He vowed he would.

Then he asked me, “What are your talents, man?”

Again, somehow unsurprised, I tilted my head slightly, thinking about my answer.

“Well, I have a lot I’m bad at, but a few things I’m great at.”

He laughed, “I know how that is!”

“I’m good at helping people. I’m a writer. I’m a teacher. I love the human story. But more than all of that, I’m a dad.”

The young man nodded a few times. “I can respect that.” And then his bus came, and he shook my hand and boarded.

I looked back at the Hollywood sign, thinking of ambition and dreams and the ground beneath my feet, then I called my sons.