Years ago, I read a quote that’s resonated deeply with me since I read it:
“A rigid sense of identity is a sure block for flow.”
I’ve been a lot of things in my life as I’ve navigated each chapter it has presented me with. In each of these chapters, I found myself fully immersed in that particular shade of color for my life. Yet, each chapter came to a conclusion with as much surety as it had a beginning. Some parts stuck a little more than others, while there are other things I’m glad are in the rearview mirror.
How you look at things matters a great deal with how you accept them. Difficulty, for example, can feel like a weight crushing down on you – and it often does. The critical mind asks “Why is this happening to me? I don’t deserve this.” While the optimist sees the scenario like a fully-loaded Olympic bar, and screams out “one more rep!”
Some of the greatest individuals I’ve ever met have been people who managed to walk through the storms in life with a smile. As Thomas Paine said:
“I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.”
Since I was 19, I’ve actively had mentors in my life, and I’ve taken their lessons to heart as I’ve grown into my own skin as a man. I found my first mentor after my older brother suggested I reach out to a man who was known to be a serial entrepreneur. So, I found him on Facebook and sent him an introduction message, where I shared with him that I was interested in entrepreneurship and if he’d have the time to mentor me.
He did. I learned a lot from that man in ways you might not expect. He told me that before opening up his first coffeeshop, he went to visit over 1,500 other coffeeshops in the nation – simply to see what they were doing well.
What was his takeaway? Every single coffeeshop with low ceilings was packed from the moment it opened until it was closed. Why? He concluded that it gave the environment a homey feel. He lowered the ceilings in his first of many shops, which he eventually went on to sell for millions. He also shared with me that he was the one who’d clean the toilets at that first location, roast the beans and personally talk to customers to listen to their feedback.
Wisdom is the sort of thing that you can’t always identify through a standardized lens. Much less, an academic approach. It might have taken 1,500 visits to learn that low ceilings were a winner, but I’d venture to say he was glad he went to each one.
After his chain sold, one of the first things the new management did was rip out the lowered ceilings in the first shop. Business hasn’t been the same ever since.
I heard from that man this afternoon, which is a testament to the journey that mentor and mentee can take when they begin their journey together. Oddly enough, I’ve found myself sharing what I know with his son on several occasions. It seems like things truly do go full circle.
Around that time, I also lost my Father. That chapter of life has been seared in my memory like a scalding hot brand on the back of a farm animal. I’d imagine the brand would hurt a lot less than the phone call I got that Sunday morning from my Mom; telling me that Dad had finally taken his last breath.
There’s a part of me that still wants to scream when I think about those times. There’s also a part of me that hasn’t stopped, somewhere out in the ethereal.
I learned something at that time; no boy ever buries his Father, regardless of how old he is, because when the Dad is gone, but boy becomes a man. Not because he’s grown into one, but because he can no longer be a boy. It’s an eviction from boyhood and all of the simplicity that goes with it.
For years, I’ve wrestled with that dilemma and tried my best to navigate my 20’s and early 30’s without the guidance and support that only a Dad can bring.
“Atlas, you always need to use the right tools for the job” I found myself telling Atlas this afternoon while we were at Lowes. My Dads words, now coming out of my mouth to my Son.
I’ve never been able to understand how some people can look at difficult scenarios and seem to be thankful for them. I certainly wish my Dad were still here. Yet, it’s in acceptance of all that occurred that I’m able to find the gratitude hidden beneath the surface level of pain and circumstance. It’s because I know the pain from the loss of a Dad that I now hold Atlas close every night he falls asleep with more love than I know how to describe with even the most eloquent of words.
In Atlas, I see an incredible young man in the making. I also see a younger version of myself that somehow reflects my present. There is a young man that loves adventure, is eager to ride a motorcycle, create, love and who never deserves to be treated poorly or told he’s ‘too much’. Together, I find the fabric of my life meeting with his, and finding wholeness in the parts of both of us that have been ripped apart. It’s the most beautiful dichotomy.
A man can never be made to feel like a man by anybody other than a man. It’s simply how it works, and I’ve yet to find an exception to this rule. It’s my job to be a Dad for Atlas, but also to be one of many men who I hope can help him on his journey to actualizing as one – and feeling like one – just as many men have poured into my life with the offering of their time and breath.
When did I start to feel like a man? I mean, really feel like a man; knowing in my head and heart that I AM one? Largely, in the last year. However, that feeling crystallized very recently when I got a phone call from one of the best men that I know.
He told me: “Aaron, I’ve watched you over the last two years and you are nothing like who you were when I first met you. You’ve stepped up to the plate as a father and have finally become a man, and one I’m proud to know.”
Those words were a brand in and of themself, but not in the painful way I felt when I lost my Dad. Rather, it was the words of affirmation that every young man wants, hopes and needs to hear. Unfortunately, very few ever do. And that’s why we have such a shortage of grown men in the world; nobody ever stopped to tell them that they are one, and I think that counts for an awful lot.