For Love or Touchdowns

JAD Truth loveFootball for me, as a younger person, was key in helping me believe I was loved. As long as I was scoring touchdowns, I thought people loved me.

My brother Rick was my mentor, both for life and, most certainly, for the game of football. He believed I was destined to follow in his footsteps and find a place on a Canadian Football League team.

All i really wanted was to be loved.

“We can promise to cover all your schooling costs if you choose to attend our University. We’d love to have you play with the X-Men here at St. Francis Xavier.” That promise was made in 1973 and confirmed a dream I had long held that it was possible to be awarded a football scholarship; something no Dolan had ever done.

Football brought me friends, adventure, commitment, dedication, devotion, risk, challenge, discipline, fantasy, notoriety, a sense of belonging, confidence, opportunity and love. It’s gifts, to me, were vast.

My bantam football year, 1972, was amazing. My brother Rick was the head coach and my other brother John helped out as an Assistant Coach. 

I was awarded “The Most Inspirational Player” for my team and received “Top Running Back” from the League. Again, it was the feeling of being loved by my big brothers and a host of other people that moved me the most. 

I left the Catholic high school most of my siblings attended and found myself at a Protestant school on the other side of Calgary. With no real connection to anyone, it was football that connected me to this new world.

“Aren’t you the catholic kid that played football with St. Francis? I’ve heard you’re an amazing player.” This was my first informal greeting I received shortly after arriving at my new school. I still remember, amidst the anxiety of those brand new surroundings, feeling loved because of football.

From high school I moved onto the next step, so I thought, in my growth of becoming a professional football player. This is when I began to feel afraid.

The laughter disappeared during practices. I’d hear coaches scream, “Rip their heads off!”, “Hurt them so they’ll remember who they played!”

It was language that was hard to hear; energy that was frightening. Most difficult for me was not being able to find anyone to share with that I was scared. 

Even though my brother was coaching this junior team as well, he too was suggesting that I was not being tough enough to the opposing players. I felt shamed.

This experience was nothing like my amazing years in high school. Add to that the heightened call to violence. Suddenly football was less attractive. My limited time with junior football was horrible. I quit the team.

I chose to return to high school for a fourth year and very much looked forward to playing another season. I knew love was there for me and no one ever wanted me to hurt anyone. I deeply missed this safe harbour.

There was a ruling, from the High School Athletic Association, that would not allow me to play my fourth year with my high school team because of the experience I gained in junior football. I was confused and devastated.

I was never able to tell my brother how terrified I was playing on that junior team. He stopped showing any interest in football as it related to me. The chasm between us deepened. 

The following year I headed to the University of Alberta.

What got me there was the attention I received from the Golden Bears Head Coach. I felt he really cared about me as he enticed me to attend the U of A. I can see now it was the feeling of love or my sense of what love was.

Boy, was I wrong.

When I got myself onto the practice field for the first time, I walked over to the Head Coach and respectfully said, “Proud to report to practice, Chief.” He glared at me and sharply shouted, “It’s Coach! And don’t ever tell me how you feel!” Embarrassed, shamed, feeling unloved and clearly wanting to bolt, I instead turned around and headed into practice.

I made the Golden Bears team of 1977. 

TKD UA

I remember wanting to ask my former high school coaches if feeling so afraid was a normal response to playing on a university football team. I never felt comfortable asking a question for which I thought I’d get laughed at. 

In time, the fear I was experiencing was overwhelming. I’d liken it to the effects connected to post traumatic stress disorder that I read about. The violence I experienced as a member of the U of A football team was even greater.

Sometime during that season I walked away from the team. I never talked to anyone about it. I returned to Calgary.

Being so unconscious, in my life at the time, I eventually returned to the game. This time it was with the University of Calgary. Perhaps being at home would allow me to feel loved.

Not only did that end up being untrue. The fear for the game steadily increased. I became a master at avoiding what I thought would hurt me during practice and also chose to use a separate locker room from the team so I could feel safer.

It amazes me that no one ever suspected the fear I held or how it was that no one ever asked me about it. For me, there was no way I’d ever let someone know how terrified I was.

In what became the last game I ever played in 1980, I sustained a pretty significant head injury. I believe it was classified as a third-grade concussion.

Although I didn’t get it at the time, the injury – my bump on the head – woke me up to the terror that the game I used to love was now causing me. I’d never play again.

After coming out I remember my dear friend Shelagh, one of the few to support me and a wife of one of my teammates, saying she always wondered why I would hang around with the football wives and not my teammates at the football parties. Clearly, it was my need to feel loved and safe.

The dreams I have today of playing football always create immense anxiety, fear and trauma for me. I’ve wondered how I could make them stop.

By telling this story and no longer feeling ashamed of sharing how scary football became for me, I am going to trust that my dreams will change.

I choose to make the generous assumption that I was doing the best I could at the time even though it might have been for either love or touchdowns.

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1967

dreambig“We live on welfare. How do you even think of a place called Hawaii?” That was my Mom’s reply when I shared that one day I’d love to live in Hawaii. I was in Grade 3. That’s when the dream began.

Canada turned 100 years old in 1967. I turned 9. I clearly had no idea of the road ahead, but a part of me fantasied about living in Hawaii.

I remember imagining all the trappings of Christmas without the snow. To an elementary school boy, growing up in freezing cold Calgary, it just didn’t seem to compute. But it didn’t stop the fantasy.

December was the start of repeatedly having to listen to my Father sing ‘Mele Kalikimaka’ from Bing Crosby’s White Christmas album. It might have been my siblings’ hell, but I loved it.

Yesterday, August 30th, 2016 marked my one year anniversary of living in Honolulu, Hawaii. The entire day was filled with gratitude, mostly to my husband, for the profound love and support of allowing me to be with him.

I spent much of the day remembering the innocence of the dream I held and what it must have taken for me to never let it go.

On many occasions and mostly from my family I heard this comment, “Who do you think you are dreaming of living in Hawaii?” It was a rhetorical question to which I always had an answer, but one that I’d never share.

As much as the fabric of dysfunction was woven into my early childhood experiences, specifically the impact of alcoholism, sexual abuse, violence, poverty and devastating secret keeping. A part of me would not let Hawaii go. I think it was my safe haven.

The dream wasn’t rooted in an intellectual or even a curiosity focused understanding of Hawaii, where it was, who were its people. No one encouraged me to explore it. If anything, many scoffed at me for having it at all and blatantly invited me to discard it.

Mom used to call her family her ‘tribe’. It was a description that never sat well with me.

Every Dolan had a well-defined function and position within the tribe and there was no straying from what you were supposed to do and who you were supposed to be.

Dolan’s don’t dream. If I dared to dream my story was that I would be kicked out of the tribe.

The Hawaiian Islands have gifted me with so much in my lifetime. The greatest of these gifts was the introduction of who I know today as my husband. We met on Maui seven years ago with a mere twenty minute conversation to bind us.

While on Maui a few years ago I turned to Adam and shared, “Of all the schemes I could conceive or dream of to get me to these islands, I never thought it would be love that would allow me to live here.”

As I basked in a playful, one year celebration of living here yesterday, which included a yummy veggie burger and an awesome chocolate shake, a few revelations touched my heart.

TKD MilkshakeMy family needed me to be the dreamer. They needed me to be the one to break the chain of life without dreams. They couldn’t themselves, therefore they could not be my cheerleaders. It was I who needed to be my own cheerleader.

1967 was the beginning of my dream towards Hawaii, yet more profoundly it was my journey towards knowing that regardless of the question, love is always the answer.

 

 

TKD Lighthouse walk

Loving my new backyard.

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Remembering

A number of years before my Mom passed away, she called and asked “If I was to gift you with something, what would you like?”

Mom and I had an agreement. It was very simple: the only gift I wanted was a lovely handwritten card and the latest photograph taken of her.

So her question that day was a little puzzling.

“I really want to make you something”, she went on to say. “Something that will remind you of me and the special connection we have.”

Mom had a history of giving me really tacky gifts, hence the agreement about a card and a photograph. Of course I never told her the real reason why I didn’t want any gifts.

So feeling a little surprised by her question and already sensing a decline in her health, I said “Surprise me.” She quickly quipped, “Thank you dear, what fun.”

Months later, on a trip to Calgary to visit, she excitedly met me in the hallway of her condo and said, “I have a surprise for you.” She grabbed my arm and hustled me into her home.

“Remember when I asked you if I could make you something?” to which I quickly replied, “I sure do.” I remember suddenly feeling a little nervous as I glanced at a neatly wrapped package on her kitchen table.

Mom loved to do “crafts”, meaning she excelled at piecing together bits and pieces of nearly any material and calling it art. She was immensely proud of her creations and there was never a time I didn’t praise her efforts. She spent hours, days, weeks and months on her “special projects”.

I pride myself on living light and free, with no true attachment to the few material things I have. In fact I have a rule: if something material comes into my life, I choose to let something go. It keeps me from accumulating stuff. The men I have loved in my life know this all too well, not only having heard my “hang on tightly, let go lightly” soliloquy but also knowing this had most assuredly applied to any gift they may have given me.

Decades ago, my Mom had gifted me a rather hideous brass dolphin with a dangling cut glass pendant. I made the mistake of telling her I had given it away. I quickly endured the shaming wrath of Dorothy Dolan when it came to letting her gifts go lightly. Hence the invention of the card and photo gift exchange.

With great excitement, Mom demanded that I open the gift.

It had been a long time since I had received a wrapped gift from Mom. I had gotten used to peeling open the envelope of a greeting card, reading words of love and seeing another wide eyed smile of my Mom.

As the wrapping paper pulled away from the box, I remembered a commitment I made to myself when it came to Mom’s gift giving, “Never judge a gift by the box.” I giggled as I remembered this mantra.

Mom loved scotch tape. It always took careful slicing skills, with one of her old butter knives, to make sure what ever lurked within the box came out in one piece. All I remember hearing Mom say was, “Be careful dear.”

When the hermetically sealed box was finally opened, the first thing I noticed was a pink coloured top hat. I felt Mom squeeze my arm as I slowly pulled out a ceramic clown.

Clown Princess 2Its nose and lips were painted red and in the spirit of Mom always making sure her hat and shoes matched, the shoes were also pink.

With a long history of receiving “special gifts”, I was aware of my first thoughts and über careful to make sure I didn’t use my out loud voice.

“I made it just for you. Think of it as one of the last gifts I’ll give you.” My heart sunk, my eyes welled up with tears. I was speechless.

With glee that I hadn’t felt from her in years, she implored excitedly, “I wrote a special message on the bottom. Turn it over.”

At first, because of my tears, it was a challenge to focus. But as I steadied my breath and quickly wiped my eyes, the inscription, written with a black Sharpie, came into focus. “To my Princess, love always, Mom.”

Clown Princess 1“It’s an early birthday present dear. I hope you like it.”

Mom raised 10 kids in a small one-bedroom house in northwest Calgary. When she sold the house it was knocked down and a children’s daycare was built on the property. The daycare seemed like a fitting tribute to her. So, when I felt moved to let this gift go, after Mom passed away, I chose to take it back to Calgary.

One of my siblings had planted a tree at the daycare as a sapling, and which now towered over it. Keeping in my mind and heart that I was only letting go of the object not the memory, I placed the clown against the tree. I imagined a small child the next morning discovering it and, in that moment, I felt my Mom squeeze my arm.

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Stripped Naked

“Why didn’t you come over to me?” she asked. I playfully responded with, “Girl! Because you were a little slow with your customer.”

Her colleague, who was waiting on me, and the colleague beside him both let out this loud and scary, “Whoa! You didn’t just say that to her!” It felt like the whole Post Office heard their comments. I literally stopped breathing.

Months ago I met this amazing woman, full of life, and always engaging, she works at the Post Office here in Honolulu. She is super helpful, very funny and I love my connection with her.

Last Thursday my husband and I completed the first six lessons of Brene Brown’s ‘Living Brave Semester’. It is based on Brene’s book called ‘Daring Greatly’.

One of the assignments from Lesson Six was to create a manifesto.

A manifesto is a written statement declaring publicly your intentions, motives, or views. In essence it’s declaring to the world what you’re all about.TKD Manifesto

After I regained my breath, from the “Whoa!” comment declared by her co-workers I instantly recognized I was in deep shame. All I wanted to do was sprint out of the Post Office.

The gentleman helping me slid my package my way and said, “Here you go, she can help you.” I felt some relief. He instantly drew it back stating, “She’ll never help you again.” Terror was now layered over shame. How mean of him I thought.

As I turned toward her I could see the impact of my “… you were a little slow with your customer” comment and I felt deeply saddened, pained and confused. I had no idea that could be one of the worst things I could say to her as she performed her job. Especially as her colleagues continued to rib me for what I said. Her hand went up and I heard her say, “I’m not talking to you.”

Brene’s work teaches about shame. The devastation of it and how to become resilient to its toxic impact. I’ve read all her books. Now I needed the wisdom to apply it.

As I stood waiting for my transaction to be completed I could feel the energetic weight of the elephant that had sauntered into the Post Office. The man helping me was silent, as was the colleague beside him, as was my best helper, she like me had disappeared.

I began to draw on what Brene taught about shame and what I learned. After all, I just completed Lesson Six – Daring Greatly – the night before.

In those moments, which seemed like they would never end, I recognized the deep shame I was in. In previous shame episodes in my life I could never recognize the symptoms.

I remembered Brene stating, “Shame hates to be spoken.” That inspired a quiet whisper to myself, “You’re in shame. I love you. Just breathe. And get out of here.”

Fear, confusion, frustration, nervousness and deep sense of desperation coursed through my body as I exited the Post Office.

In a panicked attempt to connect with her by using a bit of levity I said, “Good-bye.” She threw up her hand and repeated, “Not talking to you.” My heart sunk.

As I walked home I suddenly remembered a line from my Manifesto, “With each fall I rise.”

“Shame derives its power from being unspeakable. Shame hates words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to wither.” Thank God I remembered that quote from Daring Greatly.

It was time to share my story of this incident with my husband. He’s the foundation of my ‘shame resilience’ support group. The withering of shame needed to begin.

He listened. He never uttered a word. He reached out to hold my hand. I knew he knew what I had just gone through. I felt exhausted.

The two predominant values that I move through life with are courage and clarity, both of which I was able to declare because of my work with Daring Greatly.

It is taking an enormous volume of courage to share this shame story and even more to be 100% responsible for what unfolded because of my inappropriate, unfeeling, and careless comment.

I’ll draw on clarity, knowing the importance of empathically reaching out to her, to inspire me to take a copy of this blog, along with a card and a bottle of wine as a way to apologize for my comment.

Of this I know for sure; even though I felt stripped naked by shame, using language and this story has brought light to it and destroyed it.

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Elementary School Intention

 

LB stepsI love remembering Mrs. Lamb, my grade one school teacher. Every morning she would sing this to us, “Good morning to you, good morning to you. We’re all in our places with bright shiny faces, now this is the way to start a new day.” She made me feel special.

I have many teachers who changed the course of my life. Mrs. Lamb did it with such grace, love and wisdom. And she did it with such simplicity considering the times, circa 1964.

I had little to be proud of in my elementary school days and what I wanted to share about my family during ‘show and tell’ was strictly off limits. I already knew I was not supposed to share family secrets.

I wonder how so many adults in my life were clueless to the impact of the antics that went on in the Dolan household. Alcoholism, violence, poverty and neglect had to have been so evident in my behavior as well as that of my siblings. Yet no one said a word. The sixties were a time when being a good neighbour meant minding your own business.

School became a safe haven for me. I loved being there, staying there for lunch and making sure I took my sweet time walking home after the final school bell rang. The consensus by my family was that school wasn’t all that special. No one ever praised my progress at St. Peter’s.

Besides the daily singing by Mrs. Lamb, she always encouraged us to share our dreams. This was particularly hard for me because there was no one in my family that had any dreams or, at least if they did, had the courage to share them.

With some gentle, loving encouragement and, as I reflect, not one ounce of shame, Mrs. Lamb sat fascinated as I shared with the class my dream of one day living in Hawaii.

I knew nothing of Hawaii and, as a child of a welfare family, the last thing I was supposed to have was an idea that one day I’d like to live there.

Yet as I remember the innocence of sharing my dream, what readily comes to mind is a question Mrs. Lamb had for me, “Tommy, what do you imagine the people of Hawaii to be like?” she asked.

“I think they are friendly. They smile a lot. They have no snow to make them cold and they get to play in the ocean all the time.” My classmates laughed. Mrs. Lamb said, “I think you’re right. I think they are lovely people.”

For some odd reason that day I told my Mom about the dream I shared. Her response was simply, “Yes dear. Where the hell is Hawaii?”. Needless to say the sharing ended promptly.

In junior high, at the same school, a boy named Francisco, from Spain, joined my class. His parents moved all over the world and one day, during recess, he shared that his family was going to Hawaii for Christmas. He told me he’d bring back a t-shirt for me. I was in awe of him and couldn’t wait for school to start after the Christmas break, in 1971.

Sure enough he brought back a t-shirt with a large Hawaii #71 emblazoned across the chest. I was in heaven.

The response at home wasn’t all that enthusiastic. First of all I was reminded I’d never live there and, secondly, everyone laughed because #71 was a number that did not correspond to any Calgary Stampeder football star my family liked. I don’t think I ever wore that t-shirt.

In high school, I met many friends who had been to Hawaii. In fact, I fell in love with a young man who would go to Hawaii twice a year with his family. He was kind enough to bring puka shells back for me.

My high school football coach would ask me to watch his condo while he and his wife, with a group of friends, would jet off to Hawaii. I remember sitting in awe watching Super 8 movies of Hawaiian people they had filmed who smiled a lot, played in the ocean and whom I was sure had never experienced snow.

It wasn’t until my university days that I began to notice this pattern of being surrounded by the energy of Hawaii. Yet I was still too unconscious to get a sense of what I was setting myself up for.

In 1984, I finally made it to Hawaii, the island of Maui to be exact, for my honeymoon. It was then I began to feel the island call out to me. I literally felt a pull to live there.

Fast forward nearly 9 years later, I had come out, and the call from Maui was still incessant. On a scouting trip to Maui in 1993, the island opened up for me and I was able to spend nearly a year living there. In that year I learned to listen to my intuition. I called my time there, while journalling, “A Year of Listening”.

While meditating on the beach one morning in 1995, I heard a whisper to leave the island and go to Vancouver. I knew no one there, but I had learned to listen, so off I went.

From 1995 to 2015, I built an amazing life in Vancouver. The bounty of people, opportunities, lessons and love were unimaginable. My time there was balanced with many visits to Hawaii.

In 2009, I chose to close down a highly successful consulting business as, again, a whisper beckoned me back to Maui. A colleague asked, “So what’s waiting for you on Maui?” I responded only with, “There is something there for me.” So off I went for a month.

On June 5th, having been there for a week, I stopped by Little Beach. I had just finished a long walking meditation I had been taught by a Buddhist monk. I was tired and laid down for a rest.

After what seemed like hours of rest, I was stirred and awakened by an energy directly in front of me. My sleepy eyes opened to the glare of the sunlight off the ocean and I watched as a man walked gently across my path. I remember thinking, “Oh I didn’t know there were others on the beach.” Back to sleep I went.

Shortly thereafter, I again felt the same energy, this time to my right. As I turned to look up, I could sense this same man looking down at me. Having lived on the island I had learned that if my eyes connected with another person’s eyes I was to go over and say hello. So that I did.

He introduced himself as Adam. We had an amazing twenty minute conversation and then he left to celebrate his birthday. He lived in Honolulu.

For the next 6 years, I would travel between Vancouver and Honolulu falling deeper in love with Adam on every trip.

On February 20th, 2015, we were married. On December 8th, 2015, I moved to Honolulu. Two weeks ago we submitted my application for permanent residency to live in the United States, specifically Hawaii.

I never stopped listening to the whispers that have me here today. And, at its epicenter, is Mrs. Lamb, who kindly held my elementary school intention to, one day, live in Hawaii.

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