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A Letter to My Father

Dad,

I try to live my life in the most simplistic way possible.  People have a tendency to over-complicate easy processes, and make life difficult–but I have found an approach to life that works for me, which is:  work-hard, be a good person, never give up and protect family at all cost.  If I do the aforementioned items, most of the time, then life will fall into place.

You may know this or not, but I learned that approach from you and mom.  You modeled for your children (some of us absorbed the lesson more than others) how to be successful in life and in relationships.

It’s simple, yet effective:  work hard and do what needs to be done!

I’ve had to apply all that you taught me as a child out here in California.  You prepared me to be self-sufficient, and gave me opportunities that you were not provided in life, like college, and though I wasn’t mature enough to fully appreciate what you did for me then, I fully understand now.  I promise, just as you awarded me opportunities that you didn’t have, I will do the same for Lila, your only (for now) grand-daughter.

I know the last few years, in certain ways, have been emotionally and physically draining–and you may have even questioned your impact as a parent.  Dad, just know that your hard-work, tireless dedication, absolute support and love all molded me into the man I am.  A capable worker and provider–and someone who is working hard to be a better person and father each day.  I love you with all of my heart–always have and always will.  Happy Fathers Day, dad!

-Leif

 

Amazing Weekend and Sad Thoughts

I spent an amazing weekend with Lila.  Ly was out of town visiting family in Long Beach—so Lila and I ran around San Jose like two crazy people on a mission to have a great time!

We went swimming, bike riding, to the used book store, to Dave and Buster’s, to the movies and walked around downtown until our legs felt like J-e-l-l-o.  I must’ve hugged Lila 1,000 times throughout the weekend—I just never want to let that kid go.  She is my EVERYTHING.

I dropped Lila off at school this morning—it’s her last week of second grade.  I’m so proud to say that Lila is already reading on a 4th grade level—and she really has made strides in math…though we still have work to do.

As the years pass, and life continues moving forward—I have found comfort in the fact that I am good, at least, at one thing.  That one thing is being a father.  Some people are terrible at everything—so in my opinion, I am ahead of the curve. J

After 8.5 years, it is still hard for me to cope with the fact that my daughter is only with me 50 percent of the time.  People always ask me:  “how do you have the energy?  It always seems like you and Lila are doing so many fun things.”

My response is always:  “I have 50 percent of Lila’s physical time, and with that 50 percent, I am going to be a 100 percent father.  I will make up for time lost—you better believe it!”  And though Lila is only physically with me half of the time, she is emotionally with me 100 percent of the time.    A fathers’ job never ends—and is a constant learning experience.

As for Ly and I—we are doing well.  I really like her a lot.  I think over the years I have become a calmer person—I am trying my hardest to learn from past mistakes, and continue moving toward being the best me I can be.  It’s fucking hard, like any worthwhile venture.  You have to trudge along forcing behavior change—transitioning from unhealthy, to healthy behaviors.  Giving up beer for sparkling water was a bitch of a task—then cigarettes for mint Orbit gum (cigarettes were SO hard to give up)—and impatience for a more thoughtful approach to frustration.

What do I mean by more thoughtful approach?  Well, in the past, with girlfriends or during the early stages of parenting, I just said whatever diarrhea’d (made up this variation of diarrhea) out of my filthy mouth…for better or for worse.  Usually those words were fueled by frustration and selfishness.  I found myself regretting much of what I said—and it literally withered my relationships to the bone.  Now, prior to saying something stupid—I think about the end result:

“If I say this to Ly or Lila, or anyone for that matter—will I regret it later?  If I am mad right now, is it Ly or Lila, or anyone’s fault?  If not, why take it out on those I love or anyone else?  Don’t!”

Literally, that is my inner monologue and it has saved my family and me a lot of self-induced issues.  Do I slip up every now and again?  Yes…but I’m better 90 percent of the time.  Progress, not perfection as they say in AA.

You see, when I quit drinking—many of these other deficiencies started surfacing…and when recognized, they are easier to rectify when sober.  If you decided to quit, you can either relate or you will soon encounter the same scenario.

Addiction still has a stronghold on my life.  I realize I can help myself—but I can’t help those I love, unless they want the help.  Why mention this?

Well, my older sister is out of prison, and back living with my alcoholic parents.  She has been a heavy drug-user since the age of 13, and quickly progressed to heroin.  I am shocked she isn’t dead yet—but when you have my parents, the ultimate enablers, they will do their best to help you, even if you don’t want to help yourself.  I canceled a trip back home because my sister is living at my parents’ home, a 38 year old person, who after countless attempts, just can’t get her life in order.

I love my sister—but I will not love her to death.  After decades of dealing with her prison stints, relationships with tattooed felons and overdoses—I can no longer watch her kill herself and my parents.  My family has a long history of substance abuse issues—my aunt/uncle died of heroin overdoses, both sisters (and me) battle with addiction and my grandfather was an alcoholic.  I am determined to break this cycle!

I told my parents that I can’t have my daughter see her Aunt in this condition.  Lila has only met my older sister one time—and I’ll be damned if my daughter is subjected to my sisters behavior right now.  I pray for my sister always, and wish for her to be happy and healthy.  I also pray for my parents to find peace of mind, and accept who their daughter has become.

I also pray for you all and wish you a happy day, week, month and year.

Internal Dialogue

It has been three years since I stopped drinking.

I’ve said it several times, and I will say it again—the overall health benefits and enhanced ability to be a father keeps my hand from grasping any sort of bottle.  I sometimes get frustrated with myself because I see a frosty cold beer on a hot day (or any day really), and I salivate like Pavlov’s dog after hearing a bell.  It is only after I sit and reflect on how bad things got in early 2014, after many years of progressively drinking more and more on a daily basis, that I come to my senses and continue shunning the bottle.

I now understand more about my addictive personality, and how to avoid the aforementioned urges to drink.  You see–addicts/alcoholics never become free from the thoughts, urges and impulses that drove their active addictions—we have to learn how to manage those impulses and internally rationalize.  For me, it goes something like this:

Scene: sitting at a bar and restaurant with friends on a summer day:

Internal Dialogue—

“I want to drink that guys beer.  It looks so good.”

“Is just one beer ok?”

“You know damn well that one beer will turn into two, then before you know it you’ll have consumed 18 beers and several shots.”

“If I drink, I not only take a huge step back, I may black-out or do something to get arrested.  I can’t—it’s just not worth it.  I never want to be who I was before.”

You, just like I did, have to find the reasons why alcohol doesn’t fit into your life plan—and remember all of the pain drinking caused you and your family.  I destroyed relationships, gained a bunch of weight, developed anxiety and felt so uncomfortable in my own skin…to the point where it scares me to think about falling back into my alcoholic routine.  I would lose it all—and I’m not willing to lose all that I’ve gained in the last three years.

Find your reason—and never forget it.

I Hope

On this morning, dark clouds filled with precipitation spray the Bay Area with billions, maybe trillions of tiny droplets.

Splash.

Rain drops pitter-patter on the windshield of my car, a sound reminiscent of a drummer hitting a snare drum.

I’m driving north toward San Francisco—following a sea of red break lights up the 101.  Stop, go, honk—traffic brings out the absolute worst in people, and I’m not feeling so good at the moment.

I need to escape.  I need to break free from the stronghold of the nine-to-five schedule—wake-up, work, go home, sleep, repeat.  Today, I want to be free—not trapped by any sort of robotic routine.  I just want to wander around the city, and not think, not even once, about the plethora of responsibilities that I am committed to.  I often day-dream about having enough resources to travel the world with Lila and Ly—never concerned about money, just concerned about how many amazing experiences can be created in a 24 hour window.  I want to be free of the invisible shackles of this industrialized society.

I want purpose—and that purpose doesn’t reside in a cubicle.  Is purpose an illusion?

They say that those who consistently work hard and do the right thing will be rewarded.  Can that be true?  Yes—but I know a lot of people who worked their fingers to the bone, and some of them may disagree.

Hope is what keeps me going—keeps the dreams alive.  I must continuously remind myself to never lose hope…ever.

First Step in Recovery: Sobriety

Written 3/13/17

Lila, Ly and I had an amazing weekend.   We spent a lot of time outdoors–the weather in San Jose has transitioned from rainy to sunny and warm.

We went to see Cirque Du Soleil, and it was an outstanding performance.  We sat in awe as the performers displayed a series of unbelievable acrobatic feats, accompanied by a humorous and fun storyline.  Ly bought the tickets, and I am very grateful that all of us were able to enjoy the show together.

Lately, life has been….interesting.  I am trying to keep a positive outlook on things, but I’m struggling at work—as it has become clear that the leadership team at my agency isn’t motivated to make employee wellness and morale a priority.  My boss and I have had a few less than positive interactions—and i’m just tired of the sometimes counter-productive nature of government work.  On top of that, President Trump is cutting a projected $6 billion from the HUD budget, which will inevitably impact Public Housing Agencies (PHA) across the country (I am an Analyst at a PHA).

My objective is to look for new employment opportunities, and do my best to keep a positive attitude at my current job.  There is no use in complaining—I just have to focus on the positive and continue working hard to create new opportunities.  I am blessed with a beautiful family—and though my 9-5 isn’t ideal right now, we have everything we need in life.

Next month, I will be three years sober.  I find that it is difficult to write about drinking, as I believe my mind and body are free from the grasps of alcohol, completely.  What remains now is life, in all of its glory. In alcohol, I used to drown the components of life that I didn’t want to confront, and those components never went away, they just crept into a dark hole momentarily until the alcohol ran its course.  Eventually, I needed more booze to make the pain go away—but alcoholism never actually makes the negative things go away—as they are always resuscitated and come back 10 times stronger during spurts of clarity and cleanliness (a body/mind free of alcohol).

So what does make the undesirable aspects of life disappear?

Nothing.

It’s not about making the bad go away, and paving some sort path to absolute happiness.  No, that is impossible.  It’s about recognizing that sadness/negativity exists, and understanding that though life can be challenging, the challenges are what makes the beauty in life shine bright.

Those who never experience true adversity, will also never experience true happiness.

Am I sober?  Yes—and that was the natural first step in turning my life around.  However, I was naïve to think, three years ago, that recovery simply means I give up alcohol.  In fact, putting down the bottle is the first step in recovery, and sets the psychological foundation to take on what comes next…which is: “progress through evaluating life, pin-pointing areas of improvement, working hard and holding yourself accountable.”

Have a blessed day.

How to be a Good Parent

Over the weekend I received a nice message from a guy I grew up with.  He told me that I was an “inspiration” to him because of the relationship I have with my daughter.  He wants to establish the same sort of relationship with his son.

Now, keep in mind, a life conveyed on a social networking site is usually all candy-canes, butterflies and meadows filled with colorful flowers.  Rarely, does a person show the more challenging aspects of life to a social network—especially since only 300 of your 1,000 “connections” are actually a real friend.

Though, in this case, he is right—my daughter and I do have a strong relationship and connection—and I hope he can build that with his son over time.

My response to him was one of gratitude.  I told him that I appreciated his kind note, and that there are two main components to being a good parent.

  • Love your child with all your might
  • Try your hardest to be the best parent you can be

Literally, if you do those two things, you’re going to get it right most of the time.  Any parent knows that being a mother or father is the most rewarding, yet sometimes most challenging privilege on the planet.  At times I feel like a well-oiled parenting machine, and other times I feel like an old worn out engine that should be replaced.

I would need 100 hands and a Texas Instruments calculator to count how many mistakes I’ve made as a father—but I keep in mind that those mistakes happen, and will continue to occur because I’m putting in a lot of effort, and parenting is a “learn as you go” gig.

Do you know what my daughter sees?  Yes, ok, she sees me do or say stupid things sometimes—especially in public places.  Does that embarrass her?  Of course it does.  But you know what?  She ends up laughing and says the line I’ve heard so many times:  “it’s ok Daddy.”  Usually that line is accompanied by a big, warm hug—which certainly does indicate that everything is “ok.”

Now back to my point.

Do you know what my daughter sees?  She sees her father present and accounted for.  She doesn’t question whether or not I will pick her up from school on the nights she stays with me—since daycare, I walk through that school door, look around for her, finder her, smile big, give her a hug, sign her out and hold her hand as we walk to the car.

“You cool with chicken nuggets for dinner?”

“Yeah, Dad, I am cool with that.”

She knows, like Keanu Reeves in the movie Hardball, my ability to “show up” is unsurpassed.

When Lila asks for an assist with her math homework—I sometimes look at her assignment and mumble “what the…..is this common core mess?”  She doesn’t remember that I had to Youtube a “how to” on that lesson—she remembers that I took the time to research, understand and teach her how to work through the problem.

I don’t burn chocolate chip cookies, I just give milk an opportunity to shine every once in a while.

I don’t sleep in too late on weekends, I just get an extra hour of sleep to build up energy to do super awesome weekend activities.

Do I get frustrated sometimes?  Yes, probably more than I should—but when I act out of character, I take accountability.  I talk to Lila, I explain why I got frustrated:

“Lila, it was wrong for me to raise my voice yesterday while helping with your homework. I was frustrated because I had trouble figuring out second grade math. It was not your fault, and I need to do a better job.  I am sorry.”

“Ok.  I understand dad.”

Human beings make mistakes—and a very important character trait is the courage to take accountability, to admit when you are wrong and implement measures to remedy the issue.  If I am in the wrong as a father, I speak to my daughter like I would speak to an adult in that situation…with respect and remorse, followed by one of those big, warm hugs.

Children are experts in the art of observing, and applying what they observe.  The first place we need to look, as parents, if something isn’t going as planned, is in the mirror.  What can I do differently?

That is a question I ask myself on a regular basis.  Why?  If I continue to 1) love my daughter with all of my might and; 2) try my hardest to be the best parent I can be—I will always see an area where I can improve, and an opportunity to become a better father.

Lila has never asked about my drinking habit—I suspect she doesn’t remember how much I drank, or how it impacted my last relationship—she was only four years old when I quit drinking.  She does, however, notice that I don’t drink beer anymore—and I simply tell her that:

“Dad wants to be healthier and live longer so he can spend as much time as possible with you.”

When she gets older, I will be honest and open about my struggles with alcoholism—and what “would’ve been” if I didn’t quit when I did.  I will tell her because I refuse to keep secrets from my daughter—but also because I want her to feel comfortable approaching me with any challenge, problem or issue she is having in life.

You Are My Mirror

I’m not a big fan of looking in mirrors.  In fact, I’d rather only have one mirror in the house—one in a room with no lighting.

I don’t see what you see—I see something different.

I see an aging man with a face scared by years of smoking and drinking—grey hairs protruding from my chin, and the sides of my head.  I feel a light sensitivity that induces migraine headaches and disrupts my ability to think clearly, or store memories properly.

I wonder where the last ten years went.  I have a random collection of thoughts, images and emotions stored in my mind—sometimes it’s a struggle to recall a specific time and place.

However, there is an exception.

You.  You are my exception.

Instead of a mirror, I look into your eyes.  When I do so, I truly know that you see the good in me—that me that I can’t see.

You place your little hand on my cheek, and stare at me with those honest eyes—letting me know that I’m worth something.  Even if, at times, I don’t believe in myself—your belief in me keeps things moving forward.

When I look at you, I see me—and if I look long enough, it all becomes clear.  You are me, and I you—and we are in this together.

I’m not going to let you down.

I’m not going to let my insecurities take over.

I’m going to understand that the sad, confusing and hectic moments in life shall pass—and the happy, clear and stable moments shall overcome.  Always.

You, my dear, are my mirror.  For in your eyes I see my reflection—and in your smile I see my worth, my reason.

I love you.  Always and forever, no matter where in the universe I am loving you from.