Friday, November 27, 2015


Ah, Thanksgiving. The day I’m most embarrassed by what an ungrateful piece of shit I am most of the time.

I have a wife that’s too pretty to be with me, but pout because I want her to be more enthusiastic about having sex with me – which she does regularly despite how unfulfilling it is for her. Imagine you live in a shitty studio apartment and you ask Michelangelo to paint the ceiling, AND HE ACTUALLY DOES. Anyone with an ounce of decency would think, “Holy shit, Michelangelo could paint anywhere, but he’s painting MY little ceiling? How lucky am I?” not, “Why am I the one who always has to initiate the painting?

I have two incredible children – ages three and one – and I love them more than anything in the world, but get frustrated because even after hours of playing they want more attention from me instead of entertaining themselves for a while so I can tweet about bullshit.

I have a job that isn’t difficult and pays more than I deserve to make, but I come home every single day and complain because it is creatively unsatisfying and I don’t feel like I’m contributing to the world.

Today, my wife and children and I were unable to spend Thanksgiving with our family, but were invited by our close friends to have dinner with their family. It was fantastic. Better than I deserve.

Have you ever caught yourself complaining about a life that is so much better than you ever believed it would be? I have an amazing spouse, wonderful children, a good job, and generous friends. I don’t deserve it. And I don’t mean that in a humble, ‘aw shucks’ sort of way. I did nearly everything in my power as a young man to die alone and well before my time.

Many people who battle addiction and alcohol abuse don’t get the help or the second chances they so badly need. Many people who suffer from depression aren’t lucky enough to find a partner who sees through it and hangs in there when it isn’t pretty.

I’m not a man of great faith, which is strange because I’ve received the grace many do not. I struggle with that. I struggle with understanding what led me to have so much, and maybe that’s why I struggle with accepting that I do.

I am thankful. For whatever combination of great family, white privilege, and dumb luck led me to second, third, and fourth chances when so many never get a chance at all. I am thankful for my family, my job, and my friends.

I am thankful that tomorrow I get another chance to be a better man.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Outside The Box

Before taking our newborn baby home from the hospital, we attend an information session for new parents. The head nurse of Labor & Delivery – a petit woman in her early forties – speaks directly to the mothers, though some information is clearly aimed at fathers as well.

“Ladies, for six weeks, nothing goes in your box.” In case we are fuzzy on the definition of nothing, she rattles off a list of things that could reasonably be placed in one’s box. “No penis, no tampon, no douche, nothing. I mean it.”

“Sleep!” she follows with misplaced enthusiasm. “This is where dad’s ears perk up, right?” I don’t correct her, but in the paraphrased words of Renee Zellweger in the climactic scene of Jerry Maguire, she had me at “nothing goes in your box.”

Six weeks is enough time to draft a novel, lose three pants sizes, or learn the foundation of a foreign language. I suspect it will also be enough time to go batshit when denied my favorite recreational outlet.

Week 1. Summer had a C-section, so most of our first week is spent in the hospital. The image of my son being pulled from a gaping whole in my wife’s stomach is burned in my mind. A miracle, sure, but not exactly a turn-on. The pullout couch in the cold hospital room is like sleeping on a pile of rocks in a walk-in freezer. So we’ve both been emotionally and physically tested. And only one of us got killer pain meds. One week of celibacy is in the books. Piece of cake.

Week 2. Summer’s pain fades and her enthusiasm and energy are back. The woman of my dreams has never looked better. Motherhood adds a unique grace to her already amazing personality. Also, her boobs are humungous and I am not allowed anywhere near them. How long has it been? Just two weeks?!?

Week 3. Summer was in a wedding less than 21 days after giving birth. It’s hard to appreciate how insane that is if you haven’t been through childbirth. She spends the week thinking out loud about her appearance. “Ugh, I am so fat. Nothing fits. This is seriously the most pale I’ve ever been in my life.” She doesn’t know how beautiful she is. I tell her repeatedly, but she thinks the lack of sex has made me overly complimentary. That's not it. Her hotness is effortless. She rolls out of bed looking beautiful. We spend so much time in sweatpants, I actually forget how stunning she is when she is all done up. It nearly takes my breath away when I see her at the wedding.

For the next week, I find myself enamored by Summer the way I was when we started dating. I wonder how long it’s been since I looked at her this way. I wonder if she feels that too.

Week 4. Summer calls me at the office. She just left a check-up with the lady parts doctor to make sure everything was healing appropriately. 

He said I can start exercising…and having sex.”

Already? That’s…nice.” If I weren’t sitting amongst co-workers, it would have sounded more like, “Start undressing, I’m quitting this shitty job right now and I’ll home in 22 minutes.”

I don’t quit my job. I sit at my desk for another three hours, doing a pretty spectacular impression of someone not daydreaming about sex. On my drive home, my mind races despite the distribution of blood to another organ. My excitement, among other things, came back down to Earth when I remember we have two children, one of whom I need to pick up from daycare.

I walk into the house and three typically chaotic hours follow. Feed the baby, chase the toddler, change the baby, make dinner, do the dishes, build a Lego tower, feed the baby, give baths, brush teeth, change the baby, read a bedtime story, read it again, one more time for good measure, and feed the baby

When both boys were finally asleep, I walk up to Summer, put my arms around her waist, and kissed her neck. 

Baby…I’m exhausted,” she says. “Do you hate me?”

Eh, what's another day?

Thursday, August 28, 2014


For nine months leading up to the birth of our first child, I obsessed over the unknown. Who will he look like? Will he inherit his mother's kindness? Will he inherit my insecurity, and if he does, will I be able to help him handle it? Am I really cut out to be someone’s dad?

Witnessing my son’s birth was like being grabbed by an invisible hand before carelessly walking into a busy intersection. Pay attention. Keep your eyes up. You matter. The moment I laid eyes on Gabe and heard his first cries, I knew my purpose in life. I started looking both ways.

"It's going to be OK."
The second pregnancy was different. I didn’t obsess over it. I knew how to be a dad. I knew the struggles and the rewards. It was more operational. That worried me.

People love a leap of faith, but mostly retroactively. Arriving at the hospital Tuesday morning, hoping to feel an equally strong connection with our second child after a relatively melancholy pregnancy made me nervous. When Gabe was born, I cried my eyes out. Sitting next to my wife in the delivery room, I hoped the child we were about to meet would generate the same response. Anything less would seem unfair to him.

At 12:07 p.m. I heard Cooper’s first cries. It didn’t hit me the way it did with Gabe. It was different.

There were tears of joy when I met Cooper, but like everything in my life, they were more controlled than when Gabe was born. I no longer walk carelessly into traffic. I am a better man, confident in my ability to raise these boys to one day be good men.

When the nurse wrapped Cooper in a blanket and handed him to me, his crying began to calm as I softly whispered, “It’s going to be OK. Daddy’s got you.” And with those words, calmness washed over me as well.

I love being a dad. I love leaps of faith. And I am absolutely in love with Cooper Lee Friis.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Generosity of Strangers

My son was eight months old the first time I took him on an airplane. He threw a massive fit during the 20-minute descent, but the people around us were remarkably kind. Everyone was sympathetic to my wife and I, and especially to Gabe. I was inspired.

I recently shared a theory with some co-workers: “the world would be a better place if we treated everyone like they're traveling with a young child.” A co-worker who was clearly not moved said, “I’ve got the perfect solution – two types of planes, one for people with kids, one for people without.”

His idea was popular among the largely childless group, which did not give me a ton of confidence as my son and I prepared to fly to Iowa to visit relatives. Maybe I’d gotten lucky the first time and people are not fundamentally generous and understanding just because you have a child.

We ran into a highway closure on our way to DFW Airport, which caused us to arrive less than 30 minutes before takeoff. I hustled in, carrying a large duffle bag, a car seat, two carry-on bags, and my son. I had our boarding passes on my phone, but we were too late to check bags, so I had to lug everything through security.

With 20 minutes until takeoff, we took our place in line – about 40 people deep. I called my wife to tell her we were not going to make that flight. The next one to our rural Iowa destination was scheduled to leave seven hours later.

The only thing I hate more than being late and asking for help is being stuck in an airport for 8 hours with a two-year-old. I asked an airport employee watching over the line if there was anything he could do for me. He allowed me to use Priority Boarding, which was nice of him, but there were still ten people ahead of us in this shorter, but equally slow-moving line.

A man in his forties, traveling alone, was directly in front of us. He sensed my uneasiness because I am horrible at hiding negative emotion, especially when I am carrying an apartment worth of stuff and a little human. He asked when my flight left.

“Less than 20 minutes,” I said.
“Go ahead of me,” he said.

That set off a chain reaction, and every single person in line let us cut. Thanks to the generosity of strangers all we had to do was make it through security and run like hell. I hurried to put my shoes back on and collect our bags, then picked up Gabe and hauled ass through the airport.

When a two-year-old mocks your heavy breathing as you run through an airport, there is a good chance you are not in peak physical condition. It was like Fat Dad CrossFit, and I was fading. That’s when another man in his forties, traveling alone, asked me which gate I was heading to.

“B32,” I said.
“B34 – let me take the car seat,” he said.
“Are you sure?” I asked.

I barely finished the question before he nodded, grabbed the car seat, and power-walked the remaining six gates alongside Gabe and I. At the gate he dropped off the car seat, and I tried to thank him as sincerely as I could while being told to hurry onto the plane.

“No problem," he said. "I’ve been there.”

If we had separate flights for people with kids, most of the people on our flight wouldn’t have seen what a perfect little traveler Gabe has become. And I wouldn’t have been able to receive the kindness and generosity of total strangers with nothing to gain.

My theory holds.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Let Freedom Ring

It’s the Fourth of July. My wife and I look up, awestruck at the production. It’s majestic and grand, no doubt, but also uniquely personal, like we’re the only two people who truly feel the magnitude of each boom.

“If the Cubs ever win the World Series,” I say, tears welling up in my 32 year-old eyes, “I think it will feel just like this.”

With one hand still gripping my son’s midsection, I raise the other over my head in a fist and pump it in appreciation, because here, in my uncle’s bathroom, amidst the sounds of a mid-afternoon pool party, my two-year-old son has finally pooped in the potty.

Independence Day, indeed.

Aside from working as a bouncer at a college bar, parenting may be the only opportunity to look someone square in the eye as they shit their pants while you physically remove them from a party. But as a parent, you have to let the belligerent patron back into the party, and repeat the exercise several times a day, for several consecutive days.

There are countless joys associated with parenthood. The long and winding road of potty training is not one of them, but receiving an emotional shot in the arm from seemingly trivial things certainly is.

There are times I miss the ways we used to celebrate Independence Day. Pleading with a toddler to use the toilet at a friend’s house while people swim and grill and drink and laugh is a sobering experience. But there is no buzz like watching your child’s eyes light up as they figure out something that has eluded them.

Yes, I felt like a psycho walking around the house clapping intermittently until the adrenaline of a two-year-old pooping somewhere other than his pants or the bathtub wore off. But, hey, that’s the game.

If there is one thing Cubs fans and parents know, it’s that even when life isn’t sexy, you can have a lot of fun celebrating the little shit.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Best Place in the World

“Iowa is the best place in the world…to be from.”

That’s how I described my home state when I moved to Dallas five years ago. It was a passive-aggressive statement meaning, “I had a nice upbringing, but man am I glad to be out of there!”

Everyone is from somewhere. Our relationships with our hometowns can be as complicated as any in our lives. The more you embarrass yourself in one town, the smaller that town feels. My already small town kept shrinking as I fumbled my way through the front half of my twenties.

At 26, I received the kind of grace boys without direction or confidence should be so lucky to receive. I met a girl who believed I was worth loving. I didn’t know why she wanted to be with me, but I did everything in my power to be the kind of person who deserved to be with her. And things turned around.

A year into our relationship, we left Iowa to seek opportunities a big market could provide. I never stopped to consider whether I was running toward my ambitions or away from the places and people who knew my failures. It was a both. I left Iowa fueled by equal parts ambition and shame.

In Dallas, we established a life together. We made great friends, grew our careers, and finally our family. I had grown as a person, but was still insecure and felt like a fraud. In my mind, people from my hometown knew what a screw-up I really was.

So I distanced myself, first with miles of physical distance then miles of emotional distance. I buried the earliest pieces of my personal journey out of fear.

In April, I decided to take a giant leap out of my comfort zone and read a personal essay about a key piece of that journey in a Dallas storytelling showcase called Oral Fixation. Standing in front of more than 300 people and delivering a personal story was cathartic, even a little fun. It helped that all but four of those audience members were total strangers.

Last week, the video of my reading was posted online. I shared it with friends and family, hoping a few family members would watch it and enjoy what they saw. I was blown away when, almost immediately, my old friends and classmates started sharing the video with incredible words of encouragement and praise. I practically walked on air as people I hadn’t spoken to in years told me they were proud of me.

This isn’t a story about my journey or the man I’ve become. It’s about the power of owning your personal story and sharing it with others. Our stories connect us to the places we’re from. No matter where this life takes me, I am always going to be Blake Friis from West Branch, Iowa.

And, for me, that’s the best place in the world to be from.