You know what’s great about being a dad with one hand?
I still get to tell stories about my kids.
Tonight I was waiting with my daughters, Anna and Claire, while my son Sam had swimming lessons. All of a sudden my youngest (Claire) runs up to me, just sobbing. I was sitting on one side of a little picnic table, so she plopped herself down on the other. ”What’s wrong, sweetheart?” I asked.
With tears streaming down her face, she looked at me and said, “Anna says we can’t be bros anymore,” and then she let out a cry and burrowed her head into her crossed arms.
Trying not to laugh, I asked, “What does that mean, honey?”
“I don’t knooooooowwwwwww,” she bellowed.
“It makes you sad, though, huh?”
She nodded her head and then I asked her to come sit in my lap. We talked some more about it and it turns out Grace is Anna’s bro, not Claire. I told Claire that she and Anna will always be sisters and that, actually, bros is short for “brothers.” She BURST out laughing and covered her mouth. She thought that was so funny. ”You two will always be sisses, though!” I said. She loved that.
I brought Anna over and Claire explained the meaning of “bros” to her. She smiled shyly and then apologized. ”We can always be sisses, though!” Claire said. Anna smiled and nodded and then the two of them ran off to get cookies together.
Literally. They did.
These are the moments that fathers live for.
She came to me with a problem, I stayed calm, I talked her through it, those tears turned to smiles and we laughed together. It was like the freakin’ Cosby Show.
It doesn’t always go that way, as any parent knows. But, it’s important to appreciate the times when it does.
It’s also important to appreciate your bros.
Because, who knows when you’re not gonna be bros anymore.
And, to a certain extent, it probably means I’m lazy.
The thing is, I rarely take the time to figure out how to do things more efficiently. When I was younger my parents got me a myoelectric prosthetic arm. When you’re a kid, what’s not cool about a robotic arm, right? Well, I’ll tell you: taking the time to learn how to use it when really you just want to be outside playing. I never hated my myo or anything, I just didn’t need it. I knew how to do the things I wanted to do already and didn’t want to “waste my time” learning a new way.
I’m still like that. It’s not a conscious thing, it’s just my nature, I suppose. For instance, I enter data on a compter all day long at my job. There’s one particular sequence of keystrokes wherein I have to use keys on opposite sides of the keyboard and it’s quite annoying when doing it with one hand. About FOUR YEARS into my job, performing this sequence day in and day out, I thought to myself, “Ya know, I could probably reformat my keyboard to put that Tab button from the left side to the right.” It took approximately three minutes to do so and voila! Now it’s the easiest sequence I use.
My first thought wasn’t, “Wow, this is great!” It was, “YOU IDIOT! You could’ve done this YEARS ago!” But again, it’s just not in my nature. I do things how they work for me and that’s good enough.
Sometimes I feel bad about it. Like, I have one hand so I should be actively seeking out all the ways to do things more efficiently; finding all the one-handed tools people have invented to help me. My mom brought over an electric pencil sharpener yesterday (for the kids) and I was all, “Oh, hey…nice.” Truth is, though, I just use mechanical pencils or pens. And we have one of those electric can openers, but 9 times out of 10, I just use the manual one. It works fine.
One-handed pencil sharpener. So lazy.
And while I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with my affection for familiarity, there’s something to be said for learning to embrace uncertainty. At least that’s what my therapist says. In fact, Brené Brown says it isn’t enough just to embrace uncertainty, we need to lean into it. And while I struggle with that, I know I need to do more of it. Try new things and see how they go. There are about fifty things on my “Next Steps for Living One-Handed” list that I’m nervous to try, but I know I should just do them. Setup those speaking engagements. Write that eBook. Make that appointment. Record that podcast. Pen that kids book. Start the memoir. These all sound exciting, but they are also unfamiliar. The “What If” game steps-in and makes me hesitate.
Does that happen to you, too? Do you get stuck in the familiar and stay away from the uncertain? How do you push through it?
I’d love if you shared some of your successes and/or failures from leaning into uncertainty!
The truth is, and I know this from experience, if we live every day doing only what is familiar to us…life gets boring. We need to embrace uncertainly, accept conflict, and get excited about what things are going to look like on the other side. It can be scary and uncomfortable, but we need to do it. I just don’t see any other way around it. And I believe that the more we lean into the unknown and take risks and confront conflict, the more exciting and meaningful our lives will be.
Let’s make life exciting.
Let’s lean into uncertainty.
Tell about one practical way you can lean into uncertainty today!
Like when Claire, my 4-year old, explained away the pen all over her hand by looking at it cock-eyed and saying, “Oh, this? No, I didn’t do that today. It’s a stain from when I was, like, two.” So brilliant, I didn’t even argue.
And while they’re hilarious a lot of the time, they’re also kids. They fight and whine and get punished just like any other kids do. But, they love each other. Sam, my oldest, loves his little sisters so much. He’s a sensitive little guy and when they hurt, he hurts with them. I love his empathetic heart.
I love being their dad.
Classic Haack kids shot.
A couple years ago I learned how much I love my middle daughter, Anna.
The hard way.
I was reminded of it today when Bruno Mars’s “Just the Way You Are” came on the radio.
July of 2010, we were at the park for church and Anna, four at the time, darted across the bike path toward the lake…right as a bicyclist was rounding a curve. Neither my wife, Julie, or I saw the accident (which the doctor said was a good thing), but the impact was so hard, the lady’s leg was stuck in her bike frame. And Anna was in bad shape. My pastor ran to me with her in his arms, blood everywhere. A friend of ours, who happens to be a doctor, was in the shelter. He looked Anna over and very calmly suggested we take her to the ER.
On the way over we tried to engage Anna in conversation to keep her awake. Her responses her alarming. Clearly she wasn’t right. When he got to the hospital, everything went downhill. Anna was loopy and wouldn’t keep her eyes open. Then they tried to get an IV in her.
Worst experience of my entire life.
Four nurses, a doctor and my wife all tried to hold Anna as she shrieked and thrashed in her bed. I stood there and prayed. Then I dropped to me knees at the foot of the bed and prayed. Nothing. Eventually Julie grabbed Anna and held her to her chest…and Anna went limp. Her head dropped backwards and her arms went limp-noodle. ”What’s happening?!” Julie yelled. They took Anna, put her on the bed, and whisked her away.
We went out into the hall and as I held Julie, she crumbled in my arms. It was terrifying. All this from a bicycle?? I went outside and called my pastor to give him an update and as we were talking, I saw my dad and step-mom walking toward me. I had told them we were ok and they didn’t need to come, but they knew better. Strong move, dad.
I lost it.
I hung-up on my pastor and went to them. I could barely stand and started crying. No, not crying. It was that thing where you’re drooling and snotting and kind of cough-wailing. ”What if…something happens to her? I can’t handle that,” I cried. They comforted me and assured me everything would be ok.
And it would be.
Anna was transferred to UW-Children’s Hospital and the minute we walked in we felt a sense of calm. The doctors stabilized her in the ER first and then we were moved to a recovery room for her to rest. It was a long night of listening to and watching her breathe.
At one point, the doctor talked to us about the resilience of children. She assured us that Anna would be back to normal in a couple weeks. I looked at Anna’s face and wasn’t so sure. I want to post a picture here that I took in the ER, but I’m not going to. Suffice it to say, my beautiful Anna had cuts and bruises that I thought would stay forever. Would her self-esteem take a hit? Would she be stared at? I was thinking these thoughts as I drove home to change out of my bloody shirt when Bruno Mars’s song came on. I started crying as I listened to the first couple of verses. (Up until 1:28, it’s not creepy. Then it gets weird. Just listen to the first 1:28 and think about me singing this to my daughter.)
Before we brought Anna home, we warned the other kids that she looked different, but she’d heal. ”Let’s not stare at her, ok?” I said. When she got home, Sam and Claire gave her big hugs and treated her normally. ”I didn’t stare at all, dad!” Sam told me, proudly. At one point Anna looked at herself in a mirror and it broke my heart. What she saw scared her. And made her sad. All I could do was tell her she’d heal; just be patient.
Just as the doctor had said, Anna did heal. Completely. In less than two weeks. It was utterly amazing.
My angelic Anna ‘Nana.
Like I said, I love my kids. If you have kids, I bet you love them, too. And while I don’t think it takes experiences like this to know how much you really love them, it certainly proves it.
So, if you have them, hug your kids today. They’re probably going to make you cards or breakfast in bed and they’ll say all kinds of nice things about you today. But, honestly, we know it’s really all about them, right? Tell them you love them. Tell them how proud you are of them.
The kid at home plate dropped his bat, reached for the middle of his back, and crumbled to the ground in a heap. He started crying immediately. I just stood on the mound while everybody ran to him to make sure he was alright. Starting to get emotional, I saw my uncle walking out to me. ”Did you mean to hit him?” he asked. I said no, of course. ”I knew that already, because if you meant to hit ‘im you would’ve hit ‘im in the head,” he said as he winked and cracked a smile. I smiled, too, through tears, and understood his point. I didn’t mean to hit him. It was an accident. That’s baseball.
Like any one-handed boy growing-up playing baseball in the late ’80s and early ’90s (that narrows it down some, doesn’t it?), I idolized Jim Abbott. Every morning I flipped to the back of the sports section to see how the Angels were doing and if Jim was pitching soon. I collected every one of his baseball cards and bought the Scholastic book from school. The card shop owner where I purchased most of mine even surprised me one day with an autographed picture of Jim! I still have it all.
Why did I sign my name like that?
I stopped playing once I reached my teens, but still loved the sport and followed Jim. As his career petered out, Jim became a hero of days gone by. A hero I’d still like to meet someday. So, when I heard last year that he was writing a memoir, all those memories returned. I’ve been looking forward to Imperfect and it did not disappoint!
Imperfect is such a well-written book. Jim (and Tim) takes us through his no-hitter with the Yankees in 1993 one inning at a time, interspersed with stories of his childhood, pitching at the University of Michigan, winning a gold medal in the Olympics in 1988, and his professional career. It flows nicely and each part seems necessary. 280 pages, no filler.
Reading Jim’s book was an incredibly interesting experience for me. My lack of a left forearm has never been an issue. Never. It was never something I thought about, it never stopped me from doing anything, I never had horrible experiences of being or feeling like an outcast because of it, I never (consciously) felt like I had to prove anything to anyone because of it…never.
It was eye-opening for me to hear about Jim’s insecurities with his hand. He was very self-conscious and perhaps more self-aware than I ever was growing-up. ”I remember points along the way. I remember the faces, the events, the casual observations of classmates. I remember the long stares. And being glad my jeans had pockets. I remember the kids who took one look at me and said, ‘Your hand looks like a foot,’ observations that amused them to no end and yet for me had become a part of te routine. And I remember baseball coming to find me, pulling me along,” he writes. He had a difficult time coming to terms with his physical condition and that was powerful for me because I’ve had such a different experience.
I admire Jim’s vulnerability in Imperfect. He shares his successes and his regrets alike, both with honesty. I was surprised to learn about the situation that led to his departure from the Angels and appreciated his candor in telling how much he wished it had gone differently. And I laughed out-loud when he told about the impression he did when jogging to the dugout during his no-hitter.
The end of chapter 13, though, was my favorite part of Imperfect. In it, he talks about…the kids. ”I didn’t see them coming,” he admits. ”I didn’t expect the stories they told, or the distance they traveled to tell them, or the desperation revealed in them. They were shy and beautiful, and they were loud and funny, and they were, like me, somehow imperfectly built. And, like me, they had parents nearby, parents who willed themselves to believe that this accident of circumstance or nature was not a life sentence, and that the spirits inside these tiny bodies were greater than the sums of their hands and feet.” Amazing. He goes on to talk about his routine of meeting kids in every city and how it affected him as a person.
I’ll tell you right now that the most difficult part of the book for me was reading Jim’s own recounting of his decline as a pitcher. It was literally painful at times. You can feel the desperation and frustration in his story telling and even though you know how it ends, you want to believe that fastball comes back. It was even worse for me because I’ve grown-up a Brewers fan and that’s where he realized he was done; crummy ol’ County Stadium in Milwaukee. I felt bad that he had such a crappy time in Wisconsin, but…they were really bad at the time.
Lastly, I was intrigued by Jim’s concern for his wife and daughter. ”I had accepted my disability. I wasn’t sure if I had the authority – or the courage – to accept a disability for a son or a daughter, too,” he said. He worried about passing on his disability and went so far as to get genetic testing to rule it out. In this way, Jim is much more selfless than I am. I never thought about any of that when my wife and I started having kids. The difference, though, is one of experience, I think. Mine was relatively easy, so it didn’t matter to me. Jim’s was difficult, so he was much more aware and sensitive to it.
As a unique talent, Jim always wished to be known for his ability as a pitcher and not as a “one-armed pitcher.” He desired normalcy, though came to realize that his normal, though different than others’, was and is just as important; if not moreso. I love one of Jim’s conclusions as the result of his no-hitter: “In homes from Anaheim to Baltimore, in places where children wished only to be normal, to fit in, maybe the world took another step toward them, not away,” he says.
There is no doubt, Jim Abbott has made the world a better place. Not just because he threw a no-hitter, but because of the man he was and is.
I asked my kids what to write about and they all, in unison, shouted, “DRAW SOMETHING!”
“Draw what?” I asked.
“A guy with one arm!” Claire suggested.
“Yeah…YOU!” said Anna.
Sam kept playing the Wii.
So, they gathered around and watched as I drew what you see below. They also suggested I include them. And Captain America (the Wii game Sam was playing), but, “not mom.” Also, Batman because “he’s way easier to draw than Iron Man.” Probably true.
I also had to sharpen a pencil, which was a feat in and of itself. We have one of those old-timey crank sharpeners. I’ll tape it sometime.
I will sell this to you for $1,000. Or, like, $5.
I’d love any ideas you have for me to write about! What would be helpful for you? Otherwise I’ll just keep drawing pictures of myself. And my kids. And super heroes.
This is one in a series of posts I wrote about my second trip to Jacmel, Haiti, where I spent a week at Faith Orphanage. You can read more posts about my trip to Haiti here. I started to edit this piece, but decided to leave it as is. It’s interesting to see where my head was at just twelve months ago. What a difference a year makes!
The airport in Port au Prince is hilarious. You get off the plane and are greeted at the bottom of an escalator by a welcoming band, then you’re whisked away to the baggage area on a bus, then you go through customs (sounds official; it’s not), then you try to find your luggage in what is essentially a giant warehouse with sometimes-working conveyor belts. It’s one of the least organized experiences you’ll ever be a part of.
On my recent trip to Haiti, this wasn’t even the funniest part.
Having miraculously secured all of our luggage, we got in line to head out of the airport. While in line, a portly Haitian security guard wouldn’t stop staring at me. I politely smiled. Then, he pointed at his arm and moved it up and down, then pointed at my left arm, missing from the elbow down. I smiled again and nodded. Then he did the most awesome thing ever: he raised his eyebrows, made a frown and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “Ah well…sh** happens.” I started laughing. Hard. I’m not sure if that was the most appropriate response, but I can’t remember experiencing such an honest reaction from an adult before.
If I’m not cracking jokes about it myself, the fact that I have one arm never really comes up. I’ve been thinking about it a bit more than usual this year, though. In fact, in January (2011) I had a piece published on RelevantMagazine.com about it (read it here). So, on this trip, as opposed to the last one I took, I noticed it a lot more. For one, the kids were a lot more interested (read: fascinated) with my arm this time. They’d randomly come up to me and put their little faces close to the end of my arm and they’d grab it and poke at it and play with it. The fact that I allowed them to do this surprised them, I think, and gave them the freedom to explore. I already wrote about Jameley’s adorable reaction to all that. It got me thinking about the reality that they’ve probably never seen anyone with only one arm. In fact, I don’t remember seeing any one-armed Haitians on my last trip. (But, this time…oh, this time! I saw TWO! Two one-armed Haitians! I felt like Captain Ahab finding Moby Dick. Except, ya know, without all the revenge stuff.)
What’s weird is that, in reality, I rarely see any one-armers in America either. The fact that I was in an unfamiliar place that was so completely different from my normal daily reality, I believe, heightened my awareness of it. I mean, being white in a place where everyone else is really dark is one thing. But, being white and having one arm where everyone else is really dark and fully appendaged is quite another. I never really wonder what people are thinking about my arm in America, but when I was in Haiti, I was really conscious of it. And I think that’s good. It’s ok, at least.
Me and Jameley, our sponsor child.
In retrospect…how do I say this…the experience of bringing my one-armedness to the kids in Haiti was supremely rewarding. I’m proud of the fact that I was able to expose them to a physical difference they most likely have never seen before and helped them to understand that people with physical differences should be embraced and learned from, not shunned or ridiculed. It was refreshing to see their curiosity satisfied. It was also powerful to experience their acceptance and love. Impacting the kids’ lives in this way is something
I’ll never forget.
I’ll also never forget that security guard’s reaction. Classic.
Share something you’ve learned from someone who has physical limitations.
Here’s the thing: Volleyball has never been my strong-suit.
Maybe I just wasn't playing with the right people.
I like to play it and I’ve played it a lot…I’m just not very good. I was going to say that I’m not very reliable, but that’s not really true. You can rely on me to serve and spike well, and to struggle when it comes to bumping and setting. Bumping is the hardest. You have to hit the ball just right around your wrist or forearm to have any control and most of the time that hurts like the dickens. And what’s that mean, anyway? The dickens?
One thing I’m really good at, though, is trash-talking. You can hear my friend Jessica giving me the business at the end of the video below, but that’s only after I dropped this on her:
“How’s your throat, Jess?”
“Because it’s about to be sore from me SPIKING THE BALL DOWN IT.”