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.