‘I’m scared for you, right now.’
My Father- sitting on the sofa, leaning forward, his hands in front of him, palms down, pleading, motioning me to calm down.
Divorce wears you down eventually.
My Ex and I had amicably split up 6 months earlier. We’d kept things civil. No insults. Only one blow up over the phone.
Which I had just hung up.
My Father’s hands come down to his side.
‘I don’t think you’re hearing what I’m trying to tell you.’
The only asset she and I shared was our house. I had more equity invested, so we agreed that I could stay and attempt to pay her fair value for her end. If I could not make that happen we’d sell. There wasn’t even an argument.
The smart bet was on us selling. Keeping the house would be difficult. It would be easier, smarter to sell, to walk away, but I couldn’t.
Nor could I articulate why.
That summer I had hardly run 10 miles. I injured my back running (walking) the Boston Marathon; that had blossomed into psciatica; then I got walking pneumonia; then weeks before I was scheduled for a vacation to Paris I realized all this wasn’t just bad luck. Stress manifests physically. Something was wrong.
My marriage wasn’t working.
I was depressed.
Things came to a head. We talked it over. Rationally. We valued different things. This wasn’t going to work.
It was the right decision. The depression lifted…somewhat. My back improved. I began running again. I saw a therapist.
And I threw myself into work. I had to.
She moved out. An empty house. No furniture, save for the bed I was lying in.
Things were bad. I had to stand above it all. I had to look down and ask myself,
‘Who must I become to get through this?’
Keeping the house, refurnishing it from scratch, paying my spouse her fair share would cost. A lot.
Meanwhile all my bills had just doubled. And then there was lawyers, appraisals, court fees.
I had begun working for myself a year earlier. Things were heading in the right direction, but it was a rebuilding year. I had invested in an expensive marketing course that had yet to bear fruit. Money wasn’t tight, but my margin for error was close to zero. If I was going to stay I needed to grow. Quickly.
How the hell can I keep the house?
‘Who must I become to get through?’
I could never sell.
I couldn’t articulate why.
Be thankful for difficulty, for failure, for pain. Without them how could you truly experience joy? Growth? The moments that try you end up shaping you.
You can come out leaner, sharper, more powerful. Or you can let it dull you. How it plays out is always up to you.
And let’s be honest about my mindset. I was depressed. I’ve been struggling with whether or not to share this, but Anthony Bourdain passed last week and I’d be a pussy not to admit it. If admitting this makes me look weak to you then I suggest you read the immortal words of Mother Theresa when she bravely wrote ‘you can go fuck yourself.’ We clear?
Depression for me wasn’t like in the movies where the main character locks themselves in a moldy unfurnished apartment, forgets how to shave and shower and lives off pizza and take out. I carried on my normal life. I never thought about self harm, but there was no joy. I tried to do the things that made me feel good in the past, but every run ended with back pain. I shut off every movie I started to watch. I put down every book I began reading.
One day I went mountain biking in the middlesex fells and a few miles in, frustrated at my inability to enjoy myself even a little, I pulled off to the side of the trail and threw my bike into the woods. I sat there with my head in my hands for an hour talking to myself,
‘You will beat this. You will feel better.’
Lessons from running bleed into my life.
I desperately wanted to run a National qualifying 3:53 for the 1500 in college. I’d run 3:55 2 weeks into the season and then I had just plateaued. Week after week. 3:55, 3:56. Couldn’t break through.
So the final week before Nationals I woke every morning and announced to myself I was running 3:53. Every time I thought about the upcoming race I reverted to my affirmation.
I am running 3:53. I knew it like I knew the sky was blue.
I broke down the lap splits I would run. 31.2, 62.4… I repeated them several times a day. Memorized them. That weekend at Wheaton college I surpassed every split. 3:52.8.
And that is where I learned how to speak things into existence.
I believe in positive affirmations. Thoughts become things. If you tell the world you’re great, you’re right.
If you don’t, you’re right.
Affirmations are not want or need statements. Those just attract more want and need. They are I am statements.
I am running 3:53.
And you have to believe what you’re saying.
Negative affirmations also work. Thoughts become things.
I had blamed myself for a slow start in business, for my back injury.
For my marriage breaking.
I was starting fresh. You can talk out loud in an empty house. Time to get sharper. My friend Alan had posted a list of 10 daily affirmations on FB. That’s where I started.
HERE WE GO! Day 1, new affirmations:
I’m in control of how I feel and I choose to be happy.
Something amazing will happen today.
I attract wealth easily.
I wrote some of my own:
I’m going to attract two new training clients this month.
This is my house. I’m not leaving.
Adversity can sharpen you or dull you. Thoughts become things.
I worked seven days a week. I rose every morning speaking my success into existence. I went to sleep every night listening to a Wayne Dyer lecture on subconscious affirmations. I bought a white board and wrote down my goals. I erased them. Wrote them again.
To be a successful trainer you always have to be on. You have to be knowledgeable, you have to know your cues, exercises, anatomy, but more importantly you have to be someone people want to be around.
‘Who must I become?’
I had to fake it for a minute. I had to subvert the pain I was in. Thankfully I’m of Irish descent. Repression is default.
Business doubled in a month. That repeated two months later.
I spoke my success into existence. You will not convince me otherwise.
I was calling out affirmations, business goals. I was surpassing them.
2 new clients one month. 3 the next. Grow the business. Pay off the new furniture. Pay the tax bill. Pay the for the appraisal. Make X dollars in January. Make more in February. ‘Go go go’, ‘Can’t stop, won’t stop’, ‘I’ll rest when I’m dead’. Adversity is a hungry adversary but no matter how much money it asked I created more.
I attract wealth easily.
The question at the outset was could I afford to stay in my home and settle all associated costs. I had answered that. Now the question shifted.
Would the bank let me stay there? Could I refinance?
Remember 2008? Yeah. You can’t just get a mortgage anymore.
Let’s take a moment and talk about 58 Sawyer ave #3, or as I call it: home.
It’s beautiful. And somehow, even though I passed on it and waited 2 weeks to put in a bid I was able to buy it.
Yeah… I waited 2 weeks, in Boston, and it was still available. It was fated I would live here.
The house became more than a house. The marriage had it’s loving moments, but there had been less and less of that the past year plus. We had no children. We never even merged our bank accounts. There was no forward progress and that chipped away at me.
The only adult thing we had done was buying the house.
No matter how dysfunctional my life had been for the past few years I had put my head down and made this happen. A beautiful top floor condo atop Jones Hill in Dorchester. Busted my ass for two years to save for the down payment. The moment I returned from the honeymoon I announced I was saving over a thousand dollars a month for the next year, and I was buying a house. I saved twice that. I did it. I had help, we all do, but I made it happen.
No kids, no joint assets… just the house. A symbol. Of something. Something I couldn’t articulate.
I had moved every two years to that point. Lived in Brighton, Beacon Hill, South End, Dot Ave. 6 moves in 12 years. I was ready to buy my own place, build something.
But she and I didn’t share the same values. Or people change. Or it was never meant to be. Neither of us were wrong, just wrong for eachother.
So I would have to move again.
Twice that day I heard the worst possible news: There was no way I was getting a bank loan. Those who are self employed must show two years tax returns (I had one) and enough income over those two years to satisfy the bank. I was doing fine, but unbeknownst to me if you’re self employed lenders consider your income the amount you make after your tax deductions.
After deductions I wasn’t an attractive candidate.
I was going to have to sell.
I lashed in.
I mentioned repressing difficult feelings before.
‘No matter how justified you are in your anger or bitterness you’re still only hurting yourself’
I had repressed my feelings effectively for so long, but they were still there.
Life poured gasoline on them and dropped a lit cigarette nearby.
‘I am in control of how I feel and I choose to be happy.’
But am I?
I had been telling the world how happy I was, how locked in, and almost believing it. Now I couldn’t face another 14 hour day on my feet projecting relentless energy and optimism.
‘What have I done with my life?’
‘I hate myself.’
My ex called. ‘I’m sorry to hear that you’re selling. Is there anything I can do to help?’
She was probably being genuine but that’s not what I heard.
I heard her gloating. She hadn’t expected me to get this far. She wanted to make this call, tell me it’s okay I failed.
We chatted politely, but the gasoline leak trickled closer to the cigarette.
‘If there is anything I can do…’
‘Honestly… You can get off the phone with me because I’m really upset at you right now and I’m in too truthful a mood.’
‘You’re angry with me? What did I do?’
I suggested a few things. She didn’t take it well.
I hung up.
Minutes later there is Dad, his hands up. He knows how badly I want to stay in my home. He senses my hopelessness.
‘You’ll walk away from this sale with a lot of money. Buy another house.’
‘I want to stay here. If I had known this is where my life was heading I would have played it differently. Would have stayed at my old job, or skipped that marketing course. Saved more money.’
His hands are up, palms extended.
‘I don’t think you’re hearing what I’m trying to tell you.’
The story goes that for first minute or so of my life my name was Andrew Allison, but upon meeting me my Dad yelled ‘I have to name him after me.’
I give you my name.
Here I am:
Stephen Dodge Allison… II.
Technically I should be a Jr (Jr is to be used when the child is going to have the same name as his father. II is for when you are given the name of another family member (not the father)). I brought this up to my Mother once:
Me: You know, technically, I’m Jr.
Mom: I gave birth to you and will call you whatever the hell I want.
Interesting Woman Diane Allison. Growing up she would never let me wear cool clothes. Bart Simpson jersey? No. Looney Tunes jersey? No. And sports jerseys? Forget it.
‘You don’t wear another man’s name on your back.’
Your name is enough. Fill your own jersey.
But I was already wearing another Man’s name. And those shoes are impossible to fill. Believe me, I’ve tried.
I remember being in a neighbor’s basement during a neighborhood barbecue when I was 9 or 10. The men had gathered in the basement to watch the Kentucky Derby.
‘You know I have this kid who works for me…’ one of the men roared at the start of some story I’ve forgotten the heart of.
‘That’s nothing,’ added another, ‘You should see this kid who works for me…’ began a reply.
My first exposure to an American past time older than both horse racing and barbecues: men bullshitting.
My father watched silently from the corner, laughed when appropriate, but never added anything. I wanted him to take part so his place at the head of the universe would be confirmed, but he was happy to observe. We talked about it on the way home.
‘How come you never joined in?’ I asked him.
‘ You know how many men work for them?’
‘5. You know how many work for me?’
‘(a number significantly higher than 5).’
Dad will never brag. Real Gangstas don’t advertise. So let me fill you in on SDA I:
Class president in high school. First in his family to go to college and he went to two you may have heard of: Columbia undergrad, Tuck for grad school. Sent 4 kids to private school. Was ROTC in college, became a Major in the army. And though I always knew he was in the military I only discovered he was a major when I was 36.
‘How come you never told me that?’
‘Guess it never came up. Not a big deal.’
He had a very successful career as a CFO.
Two things I’m most proud of about my Dad: the way he took care of my Mother when she had cancer, and the fact that he has never lied to me.
The name weighs a ton.
ISL Championships: The biggest race of my senior year X-country season- There was Dad atop the hill with a half mile to go, his leg in a cast after breaking it that fall. He picked a spot with no other spectators. It was me, him and a great runner from Lawrence Academy on my heels.
I was dragging. I went out too fast, and now I was flat after two long uphill climbs. The Lawrence runner was coming. Blood in the water.
‘Turn the corner and sprint. Break him now,’ he barked.
When a Major commands…
The course ducked behind a 50 M tunnel of oak trees. For a moment I was hidden from my competitor. The meter was on E but I sprinted. When the Lawrence runner joined me seconds later I had doubled my lead. That was where I won the race.
I emerged from the tunnel and doubled back toward the finish. There was Dad, having covered about 40 of the 50 M with me (on his broken foot).
Best race of high school and I was arguably the second fastest Allison on the course.
That’s SDA II (8th grade) and SDA I wearing the tie.
Growing up I wanted to be my Dad. I wanted to be smart like him, wanted the same job. There were times I would emulate the way he chewed food because I thought it looked cool. That sounds weird… I can’t even explain it, but that’s how deep it went.
We stare at our heroes. Constantly comparing ourselves. Dad went to Columbia. I applied to Columbia, his school, pegged it as my #1 choice. And failed to get in.
‘That’s ok. I didn’t get into Bowdoin- you did.’
And that folks is arguably the reason I chose Bowdoin College. Did I realize it at the time?
I had no idea what I wanted to do when I was in college, so I figured I’d head into the family business. My Dad was an Econ major. I tried Macroeconomics: B.
Then Micro: C.
I was pulling A’s in most of my English classes. So much for the family business. From then on I was an English major.
We’re of different minds. His analytical. Mine creative. He draws the box to feel at home. I’m compelled to color outside of it.
As many times as I tried them on I never got his shoes to fit.
Sports were important in our family. We weren’t encouraged to play, we were told ‘you are playing and that’s it.’ My Father was a good athlete, but injured his knee early on during his football career at Columbia. He didn’t play again.
He did coach all of us. And he drove us all over New England to practices and games. He could be annoying on the sidelines, but he was always there. Growing up more emphasis was placed on how I performed in sports than how I performed in school.
Competitive distance runners have something that can’t be taught. Plenty of people run fast in high school off of natural ability and a desire to win. There is a ceiling as to where talent and game day competitiveness will get you though, and it’s pretty low. To reach that next level you have to push. You have to run 80 to 100 miles a week, you have to grate against the heartbreak of injuries, blown races, hard practices, bad weather. It has to be important to you. Something deeper has to motivate you if you want to hear your name at the awards ceremony.
‘Give it up for this year’s champion…
From Thayer Academy…
From Bowdoin College…
Stephen Allison.’ They never added my suffix.
I didn’t win them all, but when I ran the name became my mine. It weighed less.
Maybe it weighed on him?
My parents dated from Junior high. I know of one other couple like that. I happened upon a drawer full of thier letters from when Dad was at Columbia.
I don’t remember exactly how it went so I’ll paraphrase.
‘I have a test Monday, but it’s okay, because then it’s Tuesday. Tuesday is my favorite day. That’s when I get to talk to you on the phone. What’s your favorite day?’
Seriously? What. A. Geek.
I will often rewrite a text message 8x’s so I can convey how witty and charming I am. Apparently I have been wasting my time.
The content doesn’t matter as much as the sentiment behind it.
I go with you.
As much as I’d tried to write something like that it never felt authentic. I have forced it time and again, but love happens effortlessly or it don’t.
How can one who received such effortless love repay it. You can’t. You can only hope to pay it forward.
But I had just hung up the phone.
I was going to lose my house.
‘I don’t think you’re hearing what I’m trying to tell you.’ He says. ‘You lose the house and you still win. You get paid. You start over. You have a great business. You just keep growing it, buy another house next year.’
What I said next wasn’t as articulate as what I’m about to write, so I’ll paraphrase:
‘This isn’t just a house. This is a marriage. It was supposed to be build me up and it didn’t. I took a huge risk a year ago and had the rug pulled from under me. I stared rock bottom in the eye. I got so depressed by it I couldn’t watch a movie, or read a book, or ride my bike without throwing it into the fucking woods, but I didn’t flinch. For whatever reason I staked my comeback on this house. I said, ‘this defines me’. To come this far in such a short period of time and lose on a technicality hurts worse than ever.’
‘I wasn’t supposed to just wear this name. I’m supposed to pass it on.’
He took it all in, weighing what to say next.
‘I saw you struggle. Saw it for months. Saw it before you did. And if you don’t know how proud I am of how you’ve come back then I don’t think you’re hearing what I’m trying to tell you. But first I had to see you do it.’
‘Pay your bills. Get your self esteem back. Handle this on your own. I couldn’t help you live here if it made you miserable. What you’ve done is remarkable. You’ve proven you can handle it. I can help you.’
‘I dont want money.’
‘And I’m not offering money. I’m co-signing your mortgage.’
I give you my name.
No one gets through life alone. Everyone gets help.
I had help from Rachel, from Jamie, Lyndsey, from Cassie.
From SDA I.
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is a thing. It’s incredibly hard to open up, to be vulnerable. But everyone gets help.
‘Who must I become to get through this?’
It’s been almost a year. The ink is dry on the divorce. I own my home. Work is thriving.
I’m walking to work, the song ‘Thank You’ by Alanis Morrisette shuffles on. 5 am, I’m walking down Savin hill ave ‘unabashedly bawling my eyes out’.
Because I’m grateful. I’m grateful for every fucking miserable moment.
I didn’t have an option; this experience forced me to become leaner. Sharper. Stronger. More vulnerable. And now I speak my new self into existence.
HERE WE GO! Day 1: new affirmations:
I wear the name Stephen Dodge Allison. I wear everything that comes with it.
Happy Father’s day.
To everyone suffering from depression- become who you have to be. Don’t give up.
If you need a friendly ear firstname.lastname@example.org.