The other night I took my son to dinner. He was excited because he had a $20 gift card and he was going to pay. We stood and looked at the menu and he said we should get whatever we wanted, his treat. He ended-up getting two corn dogs with his kids meal. He handed his gift card to the cashier and when the young man ran it through…one dollar came off the total.

Sam’s brows furrowed and he snapped his head in my direction. I could see in his eyes the surprise, confusion, embarrassment and anger. I probably didn’t hide those feeling especially well myself, but jokingly said, “I guess it’s actually dad’s treat tonight.”

We tried to figure out what happened, when he’d actually already used it, but it was no use. And it was fine. “It happens,” I told him. We ate our dinner and had a nice time, just the two of us.

Today I was remembering when we used to go out as a family with my dad and step-mom. I was always prepared to pay, but was rarely ever afforded the opportunity. It got to the point where I’d do the dance of saying, “What? Really? C’mon, dad…you don’t have to pay for us…” all the while knowing full well that he wasn’t going to let me. One time he grabbed my card as I was handing it to the cashier and tossed it behind us. He was stubborn like that. And generous.

That’s what I’m remembering about my dad today. He was generous. He took care of everybody around him. And today I’m inspired to be more like him. To provide for my son, for my family, without a second thought. That my default reaction would be to say, “Oh, don’t spend that on me, Sam. Save it for a fun night with your friends!” To be stubbornly generous, like my dad was.

Mostly, though, I wish he was here to thwart my attempt to pay for dinner.

I’d point out the window and yell, “Dad! Look!” and hand the cashier my card.

I’m sure my dad would act mad, but I know he’d be proud inside.

Miss you, dad.

Is it ok to admit that we have weaknesses?

And if we do admit that we have weaknesses, is it ok to take it a step further and embrace them?

Last year at the World Domination Summit in Portland, OR, I had a conversation with my friend Chad wherein we explored the inherent strengths that present themselves in our perceived weaknesses. Personally, I think it’s smart to acknowledge the weak areas in your life so that you can at the very least be aware of them, but also, so that you can ask for help or partner with those who are strong in those areas. That said, I’m a huge proponent of focusing the majority of your energy on making your strengths even stronger, while minimizing the “damage” of your weaknesses.

The obvious perceived weakness for me is the fact that I have one hand. I’ve never personally viewed it as a weakness, but I know others do and are inspired by my ability to succeed in life despite my weakness. That should pretty much all be in quotes, but I think you get what I’m saying. In my case, I’ve embraced my “weakness” and have turned it into a strength. Because I’ve embraced it, I’ve been afforded innumerable opportunities to help others in similar situations via speaking and this blog and videos. I’ve been able to travel and interview amazing people, including my childhood hero! It’s opened the door to a lifetime of purpose and opportunity that I would never have had if I relegated myself to viewing my difference only as a weakness and choosing not to embrace it.

So, what’s your weakness? And how can you embrace it? How can you make it a strength? You might be thinking, “Ryan, my weakness is overeating. You want me to embrace that? How is that a strength?” Great question. I have the same weakness. And I think this is where it’s fun to get creative. Making unhealthy choices isn’t a weakness I want to embrace. But, it’s a weakness I can admit and ask for help with and as I develop healthier habits I can then use my experience as a strength, right? I can help other people by sharing my story, which also happens to be fantastic motivation in my quest to develop healthier habits! This is just one example and I know there are a million of them.

Now, don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying to give in to your addictions or unhealthy habits. I’m not saying to slump into your couch and mope about how weak you are. I’m saying to embrace your weaknesses so that you can become strong; so that you can use them to your advantage. So you can partner with others, honestly and vulnerably, and strengthen each other. So you can exert more control over your life and determine to live a better story than you’re telling now.

That’s what I want to do.

I’m still fleshing out this idea and would love to hear your thoughts about it. Please share them in the comments below!

It’s all about creating healthy habits.

A little over two weeks ago I wrote a post about being determined to get healthy again. The next week and a half was awesome! I ate well and tracked everything. I went to the gym several times and even restarted my Couch-to-5k program. I could feel the results and was even told my face had thinned out!

And then this last week happened. I ate things I shouldn’t have and then got frustrated when the scale showed the results of my lack of discipline. Instead of redoubling my efforts, I decided to just eat out for every lunch last week. I haven’t worked out all week. I haven’t weighed myself all week. I haven’t tracked anything I’ve eaten.

So…and pardon my French, but…what the hell happened?

51Ml+jD9l3LThanks to a confluence of “completely coincidental” circumstances, I started listening to Ben Dempsey’s Defy The Plateau podcast this week, then received an email that my Habit Journal was ready AND started reading Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit again yesterday. Simply put, my current habits suck. So, when I weighed myself last Monday and Tuesday and saw the numbers go up, I fell back into my already established habits and quit putting in the effort to develop the new, healthier ones. Duhigg says, “This is how willpower becomes a habit: by choosing a certain behavior ahead of time, and then following that routine when an inflection point arrives.”

Those dang inflection points are usually my undoing. I’m sure you can relate.

I’ve seen this pattern in my own life now several times, where I’ll go a week or so and do really well, then “fall off the wagon” because I “screw-up” or see the number on the scale go back up. It’s great that I notice it and now I feel like I even know why it happens, but it’s time to buckle down and do the work of developing the new, healthier habits. And I know I can do it.

The benefits of developing healthier habits are exponential, also. That’s what’s so cool about it! Study after study has shown that “once willpower became strong, it touched everything” (Duhigg). Even in studies where they only focused on one habit – study habits, for instance – participants also “smoked less, drank less, watched less television, exercised more, and ate healthier, even though all those things were never mentioned in the program. Again, as their willpower muscles strengthened, good habits seemed to spill over into other parts of their lives” (Duhigg).

Tomorrow morning I’m going to weigh myself to re-establish my starting point and start again. I’m going to begin my 4-week Habit Journal session and focus on my physical health. I will be prepared for the inflection points that will inevitably rise up against me and I will power through and ask friends for help when I need it.

This is a journey and I refuse to quit.

Have you ever developed new habits? How did that go for you? Share your story in the comments below!

UPDATE: For as horribly as I thought I did this last week, I ended-up only gaining .2 pounds. .2. Talk about making a mountain out of a mole hill!

“And people keep asking how I dropped all this weight

More work and less food on the plate

Man, just a simple plan with a little bit of self discipline

To keep writing, keep spitting, keep em listening

To keep on doing what I do to get a salary

My number one mission is to make my son proud of me”

– From Ordinary Guys by Blue Scholars

 

I just got back from the gym.

It wasn’t any easier than when I went on Monday.

Sure, my expectations might be a tad unrealistic, but still.

Last month Julie and I went through Michael Hyatt‘s Five Days To Your Best Year Ever course, which is essentially a goal-setting system to help you, well, have your best year ever. One of my goals for this year is weight-related; namely, losing a lot of it. See, I’ve gotten really big. And that needs to change. More than just losing weight, though, it’s really about getting physically healthy.

This is from 2010. I do not look like this right now. Neither does Claire, for that matter.

This is from 2010. I do not look like this right now. Neither does Claire, as long as we’re clarifying.

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We weren’t all shaking our heads.

Elizabeth Heideman’s recent piece on Salon.com about the Toyota and Microsoft Super Bowl ads, which featured two people with limb-differences, would have you believe that we – all disabled people and activists – were upset about them.

That couldn’t be further from the truth.

In fact, I believe her piece did more harm than good to an already nuanced conversation.

The fact is, differently-abled people aren’t represented very well in mainstream media. Some activists decry this injustice quite often. But then ads like these come out and those same people complain about them being “inspiration porn.” Frankly, it’s not a good look for our community. The other problem with Heideman’s piece specifically, is that the ads themselves don’t even meet the definition she herself puts forth in regards to IP. She says IP is anything that “sensationalizes people with disabilities.” To sensationalize something means to “present information about (something) in a way that provokes public interest and excitement, at the expense of accuracy.” There was nothing sensational about either advertisement. The Microsoft commercial is essentially a documentary about how technology has positively affected the little boy and his family. And the Amy Purdy ad…

Amy Purdy is amazing and the ad showcased her process and achievements well, even pairing her with the voice of Muhammad Ali, The Greatest of All Time! She was not presented as broken or needy; she was shown as powerful and able. Nothing about the commercial asked me or anyone to pity her in any way. In fact, that’s kind of the point here. It’s my opinion that something is only “inspiration porn” if it is perceived that way by the viewer. That is to say, if I see something and think to myself, “Boy, at least my life isn’t that bad,” then that’s on me, not whoever created the inspiring meme. That’s where education about the reality of having a disability comes in.

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Recently I attended a support group for survivors of suicide loss.

I joked a lot with my wife beforehand that what I was most looking forward to was the donuts. Seems like every time you see a group like this on TV or in the movies, there are donuts.

There were no donuts at the group I went to, though.

Lies.

Lies.

Even so, I’m glad I went. In November, I lost my dad to suicide very unexpectedly. It’s been a difficult grieving process for all of us, so going to this group was another step forward.

One of the first things I noticed when I got there was a little note on the table that basically said, “What happens in Vegas…stays in Vegas.” This type of support group is one of immense hurt and vulnerability, so the appropriate thing to do is to respect the privacy of those in attendance. That’s why I won’t be saying any names in this post and I’ll do my best to honor those who shared with the stories I incorporate here.

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“What’s going on around here?”

I heard a guy say that to his lady friend as a group of one-handed kids ran by them in the hotel last weekend.

What was going on was the annual Helping Hands winter event and it was fantastic, as usual!

This was the third year in a row that I had the opportunity to join over 400 people at the Helping Hands Foundation‘s winter outing in Massachusetts. The HHF is an organization that connects families of children with upper limb-loss and this event brings everyone together for fun, education and inspiration.

My travel to the event was as smooth as could be this year, even getting an entire row to myself on the leg from Chicago to Boston!

Obligatory picture I posted while 40,000 feet in the air.

Obligatory picture I posted while 40,000 feet in the air.

Once I hit Logan, I met-up with (eventually – I’m the WORST at trying to tell someone where to pick me up at an airport) the Farnhams who took me with them to the hotel. I was SO grateful for their generosity. And the conversation I had in the back seat with their daughter Tessa was delightful.

Jerry, Marty and a tired Tessa

Jerry, Marty and a tired Tessa

The first night was spent reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones, like Josh Kennison. Josh is a paralympic sprinter and has an incredible story to tell. I’ve always enjoyed seeing how much little kids love Josh and now that I’ve met him in person, I know why! Josh is awesome.

Josh and me.

Josh and me.

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Yesterday as I was walking into work, my boss’s boss was laughing as she held the door open for me. I asked her what was so funny and she says, “Bill saw you walking up and told me to give you a hand.” Bill is my boss’s boss’s boss.

I acknowledged the hilarity of the situation because, you know, I super like being employed.

Honestly, though, I love when people joke with me about my arm because it tells me they know me. Bill and Michelle felt comfortable making that SUPER CREATIVE JOKE THAT I’VE NEVER HEARD BEFORE IN MY LIFE because I’ve joked with them before.

And I love that.

Having a sense of humor about my situation, I believe, enables me to live my life confidently.

For one, it puts me in control. I’m the one breaking the proverbial ice; instead of me feeling awkward or uncomfortable, a well-timed joke can tip the scales in my favor when meeting new people. It also puts those around me at ease knowing that my difference isn’t a big deal.

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My dad passed on November 17th, which meant that the holidays would be hard. Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years would all be different this year. I’m still undecided if it’s just mean that they’re all so close together.

Or if it’s a blessing in disguise, to get them all out of the way.

This post is not prescriptive in nature, but rather my continuing experience through grief and into healing. I share it because we’re a community and it’s good to take care of each other. Thank you for continuing to care for me and I hope this is helpful for you, too.

Right off the top, I’m going to say this: I think next year is going to be more difficult. Maybe that’s naive, given it’ll have been a year, but I honestly still feel too close to everything to experience the whole weight of the change. Maybe I’m still in shock. Likely.

The holiday activities themselves went well, I thought. My son was sick on Christmas Eve, which stunk, but he got better quickly. And I’ve been sick for a week, which made New Years lame, but those things could (and often do) happen any year. As far as the actual functions themselves, I didn’t know quite what to expect, but they went as planned. My guess is that we were all just trying to get through them with some semblance of normalcy. We didn’t do any tributes. There was no crying (during the activities). There were lots of hugs and knowing smiles, though. It was good to be together.

My wife would say this has been too analytical so far, but that’s one way I deal with things. So, to her point, here are somethings that were hard. I missed him at the table at Thanksgiving when we held hands and said grace. I missed him laughing at the funny things my kids kept saying. I felt bad for my brother who cut-up the ham because my dad should have been doing that. I missed him at the Christmas Eve service where his wife, my step-mom, sang in the choir. He should have been there holding a candle and singing Silent Night and remembering Grandpa and Grandma like we’ve done in the past. I missed him when I saw his name in the program next to “Poinsettias in memory of…” I was upset when I noticed his name missing from all the presents. My heart broke for Donna who had to do it all herself. I can’t imagine writing “Love, Donna” all those many times, each one reminding her of his absence. It’s not fair. I missed him helping my kids put their toys together.

On the 27th, the extended Haack family had our family Christmas together. We’ve always had it at Lakeview Park, one of my dad’s shelters he tended for work. This year we changed the day and location and my dad was really nervous about it. He thought people would be upset. I told him as long as we were all together, who cares where or when it is? Every year my family has me pray for dinner and as I thought about it on the 26th this year, I lost it. I was thinking, “Should I say anything about him during the prayer? Are we all going to be crying? Should I just do it as usual?” And then I just screamed. “YOU SHOULD BE HERE! I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO THINK ABOUT THIS!” But that’s reality now. I got it out and moved forward. And the prayer was fine. The food was better.

Ultimately, the holidays this year for me continued to be an extension of the roller coaster of emotions that is my life right now. Julie and I got the kids things they loved and were excited about. We enjoyed our time with family and laughed a lot. And in the quiet, by myself, I missed dad. Not all the time, but a good amount. And I imagine this is what it will be like every year from here on out. Trying to focus more and more on those who are here: my wife and kids and family and friends. Meanwhile, remembering and missing dad.

This thought hit me today, too: While Death is relentless and its sting powerful and debilitating, the holiday season brings us Hope and in the long run, Hope wins.

Hope always wins.

Please feel free to share your experience below. Your experience of grief and healing is so valuable!

The Strangeness of Comfort

December 23, 2014 — 2 Comments

When our friend is hurting, we want to comfort him.

Even when we’re not sure how.

I want to try and describe what it’s been like to receive comfort and encouragement since my dad’s suicide. Not to embarrass anyone or to complain or anything, but because I’m learning that even comforting others can be messy business.

It’s been my experience that nearly everyone wants to help somehow, but very few really know how. Which is completely understandable. Heck, I don’t really even know how! One thing I’ve noticed is that people give advice that I know intellectually is good, but I still have a hard time putting it into practice. For instance, I’ve been told by many to focus on good memories of my dad. I’ve done this and will continue to, but at this point even good memories make me sad. They’re still shocking. Like, yesterday I was driving to meet some friends at a restaurant and passed my kids’ old pre-school on the way. I remembered my dad coming to their Christmas concerts and how he’d sit with them and help decorate cookies and let them show him around their classroom…and those are really good memories. But, they surprised me and they made me sad. And I know being sad is ok – even good – it’s just hard. Some day I know I’ll be able to remember things fondly, but it feels like that might be a while yet.

Then there’s this: My friend Cabell tragically and unexpectedly lost her dad when she was young and I remember her telling me years ago about this phenomenon wherein the one who needs comfort essentially has to become the comforter. This happens because people want to help, but they’re not sure what to say or do, so then it becomes my job to let them know that’s ok. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, it just…is. I find myself doing it quite often now. “I’m so, so sorry…I don’t know what to say…” someone tells me. “It’s ok. I know. Thank you,” I reply.

Even heartfelt condolences and encouragement are tough. I sent out an update for the Kickstarter project the other day and, honestly, I was scared to. I was scared because I knew people were going to send me messages saying how sorry they were and how much they cared about me and that they’d be praying for me and my family at Christmas…which is exactly what happened. I knew it would, too, because I know the incredible character of the people in the Living One-Handed Family. And I knew that every message would make me cry (they did), which is great, don’t get me wrong! I’m a huge fan of crying, I’ve just been doing a lot of it and it’s exhausting. And honestly, part of me feels like I don’t deserve it. Even so, every message reminds me that there are people who love and care about me and that makes me feel really good.

“So, what’s the answer, Ryan? How do I comfort those who have experienced tragic loss?”

I can tell you that for me the answer is simple: Hugs. Freakin’ hugs, man. I can’t get enough of ‘em. Hugs don’t need words. To me, hugs mean love. When you hug me, you’re comforting me in ways words can only dream about. “Man, I wish I could be a hug,” words say.

Some people don’t like hugs, though. And that’s ok. I pray for them.

In general, I think simply telling someone you care about them and that you’re there for them is enough. If you actually want to be a part of the healing process, ask how we’re doing, but I’ll be honest – it’s hard to know how honest to be when asked that question.

The truth is, comforting someone during and after a traumatic event is really stinkin’ hard. That’s just the truth. We all do our best to muddle through; the comforters and the comforted. Laugh together, cry together, get mad together, stare off into the sunset together…this is all messy, but as long as we know that, let’s just love each other through it the best we can.

And more hugs.

If you’re into that.