In an 15-16 month time period my father was diagnosed and ultimately lost his battle with leukemia, my daughter Isabella passed away and my wife was diagnosed with cancer while pregnant with our son Jaden. These events shaped me. They led me to a life of endurance sports and charity. They led to the belief that blessings come out of the worst of times and now they have led me to the 2017 Ironman World Championships.
Saturday, April 14, 2012
Running from Ritalin: A Hope for My Son
What does the movie Moneyball, the song Perfect by Pink and
a 5K in Agoura have in common?
Other than this post, probably not a lot of things. For me, though, they all led me to put
words to something I have been struggling to write. At one point this post was written to a series of
people……….my son included. Recent
events though have me focusing this entry on Jaden, my amazing 7 year old best
buddy. This post will be a mess of
thoughts that are in my head. They
may make no sense to anybody but me but they are eating me up and I need to get
them out of my head.
I always refer to Good Plus One as a blog but to be honest
with myself, I think it is hardly that.
I am not sure what a ‘blog’ technically is but I imagine the definition
involves a frequency of writing far more than I contribute. I started this site to track my wife’s
second battle with cancer. I
certainly have utilized it to help fight back against that cancer, the cancer
that took my father’s life, the cancer that attacks my friends (both virtual
and real life) and the cancer that looms out there waiting to attack any one of
us. This site is also a place for
me to go when I want to write………….I have hopes of writing a book one day. This site gives that hope……..well,
hope. My life is insane. Time to write is not abundant. I rest easy, though, knowing I have a
place to go when time permits itself.
I would also
like to think this site is a source of motivation for some. If it is not, I would like it to
be. I would like to inspire people. I would like to get people off the
couch for whatever reason that put them there. I would like people that have lost their way to read my
words and find direction. I would
like people that doubt their ability to find some faith and reach……….well, beyond
their reach. I want people that
doubt their ability to make a difference to know changing the world is a real
Although self-serving, I think Good Plus One is also here to
help make me a better person. By
putting my thoughts on paper, I center myself and make sure I am being the best
person I can be. I have somewhat
of a photographic memory (although I think it is fading a little bit with
time). What I see on paper, I
internalize. In college, I would
write notes for a test in tiny print on one sheet of paper. When I would take the test, I could see
the answer to the question on that sheet of paper as if it were sitting in
front of me. Seeing my words and
my beliefs and what is right on a sheet of paper commits them to memory and
assures I try to live each moment to the best of my ability.
At the very least, I would like this site to be a place my
children can one day go and understand what is going on in their Dad’s
head. I, of course, hope to teach
them that face to face but there are things going on today that a 4 year old
and 7 year old certainly will not understand. On Sundays, for example, my children know they will wake up
and Dad will not be home. They
know I coach a team and I can certainly explain ‘why’ I coach but there is no
way they understand all the nuances of what coaching for Team in Training and
fighting cancer represent. My
son Jaden is starting to understand what I do tied to a recent reunion with one
of his school friends named Eliot.
You see, Jaden’s
friend has been very sick and because of that has been in and out of
school. Oddly enough and
sadly enough, the sickness that keeps Eliot out of school is leukemia. Jaden knew this but recently put 2 and
2 together to realize that leukemia is why he will only know his grandfather (my
father) through photographs and stories.
How do I know that Jaden finally understands the evil that cancer is?
Well……after that reunion with Eliot, Jaden came up to me later in the day to
ask me a favor. He said “Dad, I
know you have a team and I know that Eliot has what your Dad had and I know
that your Dad died from what Eliot has.”
He then asked me a question that dropped me to my knees………”Dad, can you please save my friend?” My eyes water just thinking about that interaction. All I could tell my son is that I
was…..and would continue…… to do everything in my power to save his friend.
Today this post is not about fighting cancer (although I
always accept donations). It may
not motivate anyone other than myself and I am okay with that. It is written for my son Jaden and it
is written in the hope that his Dad becomes a much better and understanding
Jaden being sick = steroids = large child
Ever since Jaden was born, I wanted to write for him…………I
wanted to write to him. I wanted
to share all the thoughts I had watching him grow up………the good and the
bad. I wanted to share my thoughts
when I heard him talk for the first time, saw him laugh for the first time, saw
him take his first steps, saw him get 100% on a spelling test for the first
time, saw him get his first baseball hit and saw him cross his first 5K finish
line. I also wanted to share my
thoughts watching him struggle as a little boy to make friends………something that
was tough for me as a kid too.
Jaden was very sick as a baby and had to be isolated from other children
for the first 3 years of his life.
This isolation created some difficulty with social skills which, I
believe, still affects him today (I am not saying Jaden lived in a bubble but his exposure to other kids was greatly reduced).
I wanted to put to words my apologies for being an overprotective
Dad. I have a good excuse for that. Before Jaden was born, my daughter
Isabella passed away. When you
hold your child in your arms and that child is not breathing…………it is tough to
overcome and tough for the children that follow. I try to adapt.
I try to get stronger. I am
getting better but I have a ways to go.
Anyway, my hopes to write for Jaden never transpired. I still have the journal I purchased
for that very purpose but it lays blank by my bedside as a reminder of time
When my son finally grew out of his horrible allergies and
was allowed to enter the free world with the rest of the children, things were
a bit challenging for him. He did
not know how to share because he never had to share. It wasn’t that he was selfish, it was simply that he had
never interacted with other children before. He was thrown into a foreign environment and it was tough to
watch him struggle. I remember
taking him to the park. He would try so hard to get someone to play with him,
so hard to have someone be his friend. It was always awkward and it was rarely
easy. As his Dad, I just wanted to
make everything all right. I
wanted him to feel accepted and loved. Jumping ahead to present day, that is
where I find myself as I write this entry. I want to make everything okay but this time it is a little
more than just making friends.
Time passed and Jaden went to preschool. Things got a little
easier but Jaden struggled to make it through each day without trouble. He was
wicked smart but troublesome and it took a lot of patience on behalf of the teachers
to deal with him. I always
attributed these things to his first years of separation but every once in a
while I would muster the question to my wife about whether she thought he might
have Attention Deficit Disorder.
Truthfully, I didn’t know what having ADHD meant but I do know that I
feared the answer every time I posed it.
My wife would always assure me things were okay and we would move
forward in time.
Jaden made it to Kindergarten and was blessed to have an
amazing teacher. He dealt with
many of the same struggles but this is the first time somebody used the word
‘gifted’ to describe my son.
Gifted was a word I could deal with. Gifted is something that made sense to me because he was so
very smart. I figured that my son
must simply be bored because the work he was being asked to do was so easy for
him. I liken the way Jaden acted
to Chapter One of the Steve Jobs book where Steve would keep getting in trouble
at school because the school could not keep his interest. Somewhere along the way
I am sure I asked my wife the ADHD question and then tentatively moved past it
hoping it would fade into the distance.
In my mind I always use the 3 years of separation that started my sons
life as the reason for all of this.
I know this excuse will not always be allowed. At 18 it will no longer make sense but
I could certainly use the excuse at the age of 5-6. One other note here was given my son’s October birthday, he was the youngest
person in his class making my excuse even more plausible. He was socially
behind by 3 years and was among children that were all older…..thus more
mature……than him. My wife always
questioned whether we should have kept him back a year before entering school
but we always point to the fact that even as the youngest he is one of the
smartest and already bored. How
bored would he have been had we held him back.
On to the 1st grade. Same struggles. Same ‘Gifted’ terminology was used to
describe my son except this teacher was certain he was gifted. She was amazing and found ways to
challenge my son to keep him interested.
She would reward him by giving him more challenging things to do and she
seemed to relish in the challenge that was my son. The last 2 months of the 1st grade were magical
for my son. He had bonded with his
teacher and every single day was a good day. I finally breathed a sigh of relief that everything was
going to be okay.
The new year arrived and my son entered the 2nd
grade. Out of the gate, Jaden had a lot of struggles. My son does not do so well with change so we just figured
and hoped he was in an adjustment period.
He was very sad to be separated from his 1st grade teacher
but we figured he would slowly get accustomed to his new classmates and his new
setting. Some days were okay but
we started to have more and more calls from the school office. Jaden was a little more disruptive and
was not listening to the teacher.
This time, the ADHD question surfaced but this time it came from the
Vice Principal because every time she seemed to be at the school, Jaden was in
the office in trouble for something.
Again, my son is extremely smart and the ‘gifted’ term continued to be
used but I started to fear something else was wrong. I felt and, while writing this post, feel like the pressure
of this ADHD question has been building for years and I feel this insane weight
on my shoulders awaiting the answer. When my phone rings at work and I see it
is my wife calling, my heart rate goes through the roof at the fear of
receiving some bad news about the trouble my son is having at school. This fear is not about the
inconvenience. This fear is about
my son and how all of this is making him feel. I have tried everything I can and feel like a failure
because to date I am not making much progress for my son.
Some situations at school recently forced us to get Jaden a
counselor. This counselor has been
seeing my son weekly for a month or two and last week’s session saw the doctor
ask if I would attend my son’s session next Monday. My immediate thought was that he has finished his assessment
and is going to diagnose my son with ADHD. My wife indicated he is leaning that way and it FREAKS me
out. Don’t get me wrong, there are
far worse things my son could be diagnosed with……..I have experienced that
first hand on multiple occasions and I have witnessed it through friends and
family many more times than that.
My son could have cancer or some other debilitating illness and I would
gladly choose an ADHD diagnosis if I had to. That being said, I took a quick glimpse at the internet and
the brief things I read before running from the computer in a panic have me
incredibly upset. I do not want my
son to be labeled. I do not want
my son to struggle. I do not want
my son and will not let my son take medicine. If diagnosed with ADHD, Ritalin may be proposed as a
solution but I will be sent to prison before my son ever touches that
medicine. I have talked to people
that have been around others taking Ritalin. These children were said to appear like a cloud had come
over them and I even heard the word ‘zombie’ used. That will not happen to my son. I will quit my job and live in a box if I have to be there
for my son. My wife has already
quit her job, which will put a financial strain on the family, but I could care
less. She can now be at Jaden’s school
on a daily basis making sure that he gets through each day with success. It may be a temporary solution but at
least it allows some time to figure things out. This may all sound silly to those of you reading this. I have cried (in full disclosure mode
here) 5 times just writing about this.
I do not know if it is sensitivity tied to already losing a child. I do not know if it is simply a
father’s love for his child. All I
know is that I am terribly upset and just want my son to be okay.
Turkey Trot Finish Line
How does Moneyball fit into all of this? To explain that, I have to back up to
October of this year when I started running with my son. He was only 6 at the time so I would
not let him run too far but I did give him the okay to train for a 5K. It was something we could do
together. It was something I
thought he could use to channel his energy. It was also something his 2nd grade teacher was
very good at so I thought it might help my son to feel a connection. We started running with just a mile and
even in that mile we used a run-walk interval. I did not have any time aspirations for my son. I just wanted to have fun with
him. I would offer coaching
suggestions but just so he felt good about himself and so that he felt like he
was working towards something. He
has seen me coach at Team in Training many times and now he was able to have
his Dad as his coach. We had an
amazing time. The Burbank YMCA Turkey
Trot was his 1st 5K and we had a blast. I was so proud of my son. It was the first time he ran without stopping and he broke
30 minutes which was a target we threw out there for fun. After the Turkey Trot, my son took some
time off for the holidays…..sounds funny I know but to a 7 year old (he turned
7 shortly after we started running on 10/29/11) Christmas was much more
exciting than running.
I think it was not until February 2012 that the talk of another
5K came about. I let Jaden choose
a race and he picked the Agoura Hills 5K which was part of the Great Race of Agoura
which features a half marathon, a 10K, a kids mile, a kids fun run and, of
course the 5K my son would be competing in. We started training but it felt like we didn’t have too much
time before the race would be upon us.
I told Jaden we needed to get in 3 runs per week. I would give him 2 shorter runs and then
one longer one of 2.5 to 3 miles.
Up until this point in my son’s brief running career, I would have to
spend a lot of time distracting my son from the actual run. I would get him to talk about toys and
forget about running because he would get whiny and not really push himself if
he thought about what he was doing.
He had a great time but I think he was dramatic about it. Talking about Beyblades or Bakugans
would allow him to pass the time before he realized he had actually run a few
miles. It was not until training
for this 2nd 5K that I could just run with Jaden without any mental tricks. Every once in a while I would have him
do some running drills. It was fun for him because he got to sprint for short
periods of time and it made him really feel like a runner…….kids just want to
It is mid March and race day is approaching soon. I am flying home from a business trip
and decide to watch the movie Moneyball on my iPad. While watching this movie a light bulb went off as to why I
wanted my son to run and, truthfully why I think everyone should run. Approximately ¾ of the way through the
movie, things turn to the Oakland Athletics attempt at the American League
record for consecutive wins. This
team that started the year playing horrible…..this team that was not expected
to do much after losing some star players had won 19 games in a row. Nineteen games in a row is unheard of
and absolutely amazing. I am no
Oakland fan but I remember cheering for them as they chased this record. I am not sure if I cheered because they
were the underdog (I am a huge fan of the underdog) or simply because I was a
baseball fan but I do know the world looked on. On September 4, 2002, the Oakland Athletics were playing for
the record 20 game streak. They started
strong and took an 11-0 lead over the Kansas City Royals. It was only the 3rd
inning and the victory seemed inevitable.
Kansas City did not give up easily though and fought back scoring 5 runs
in the 4th, 5 runs in the 8th and tied the score at 11-11
in the top of the 9th inning. The
Oakland A’s has blown an 11 run lead which takes the game to the bottom of the
9th where Scott Hatteberg was brought up as a pinch hitter. Scott Hatteberg had a prominent role in
this Moneyball season as the Oakland A’s picked him up when nobody really
wanted him. It was a dramatic
moment that ended in dramatic fashion when Scott Hatteberg hit a home run to
end the game and secure that 20th consecutive victory. The movie does a great job of capturing
the moment and I do not own the words to do justice to the chills I get each
time I watch Hatteberg pumping his fist rounding the bases……that exuberant
feeling as his teammates rush the field literally going insane. I have had those moments in my
lifetime. I flash back to them as
if they happened yesterday. I can
remember every big hit or big moment I had that warranted a high five from my
Dad. It is that exuberance…..that
amazing winning feeling that running provides to everyone that gives the sport
a chance. Whether you are the
fastest runner or the slowest runner, crossing the finish line is a game
winning home run. It is the end to
a lot of hard work. It is the
culmination of a journey that every runner and walker gets to experience and I
so badly wanted my son to know what it felt like. I wanted him to know he was amazing and capable and a
winner. My hope was that running
with his Dad might lead him to this experience.
Pre race warm up
Well, this takes us to March 24, 2012. It is the Great Race of Agoura and a
very big day on many levels. I am
coaching the Summer 2012 Westside Marathon team with Lori Jomsky and this was
the day many of our amazing teammates would complete their very first 10K. It was the day they would put on a bib
and a timing chip and cross the finish line to experience what it is like to
win. This was of course also the
day that Jaden and I would be running in his 2nd 5K. I really did not know what to
expect. I did not want him to feel
pressure to get a PR. I wanted to
set up the day so that he was proud of himself crossing the finish line. As we were warming up to get ready for
the start of the race, I stopped Jaden and tried to feel out where his head
was. I told him that we should go
have fun and just use a sub 30 minute time as a general guideline. My son had other plans. He told me he wanted to go for the
personal record and, at that moment, I was just proud for his desire to do so. He was showing a belief in himself that
was great to see.
The gun goes off and the start of the race is actually
downhill. Consistent with what I
always say, I told Jaden that this was a gift and that we were going to take
whatever gravity would allow us. To get Jaden’s PR we needed to keep a 9:10
pace and the downhill had us way ahead of goal early into the race. I did not want to tell Jaden how fast
we were going because I didn’t want him to freak out. He was not working hard so I felt we were okay. The race continued and my hope was
simply to make it to mile 2 before Jaden started to hurt or break down. As it turns out, this is exactly what
happened. Mile 2 hit and I heard
the first whines coming from my son.
This is where I did everything in my power to distract him. I tried to remind him we only had one
mile left. I tried to remind him
we had run a mile together many times.
I tried to point out other kids approximately his age so that he would
stare at their backs and try to stay with them. I even risked telling him our average pace...8:08…far faster than he
had ever gone before. I told him
there was a slight chance at sub 8 (because we had picked up the pace) to which
he said nothing. One might assume
he didn’t care but I think that time sunk in because he held on strong. It was all working until mile 2.5 and
then the whine got a little louder.
Jaden wanted to hold my hand as we ran. I reached out to grab his hand, give it a little squeeze and
then told him he could do this on his own. At about mile 2.75, my son got very grumpy. No matter what I said, he loudly
replied ‘NO’. Literally,
this was his reply to everything I said because he was feeling some pain. I was just running beside him trying to
get him to stay tough. The pace
was all his doing and not influenced by me. Despite the whining and the ‘NO’ chant, he kept going and we
finally got close enough to the finish line that he knew where we were. As it does for most people, this sense
of being close to the end provided some strength and he drove to the finish
line. While I never stop the watch
crossing the finish line…….this time I did because my son would want to
know his time. I looked down to see we had
averaged under 8 minutes for the 5K.
My son closed out with a 7:40 mile, the fastest by far he had ever
run. Two steps across the finish
line, my son threw up a tiny bit.
I upset someone for sharing that I felt proud of my son when I saw this
but I am not here to impress anyone.
That is exactly what I felt…..proud. I knew he was not hurt. I knew he would be fine. I also knew that my son had not held back. Jaden believed in himself…..he left
everything out there on the course and that was an amazing moment for my
son. I showed him the watch and
could tell he was so proud of himself.
It was the Scott Hatteberg, bottom of the 9th homerun I had
hoped for. We picked up our
medals……..very important to a 7 year old……and on the way to the car I stopped
my son, made him look me in the eye and I told him to remember this
moment. I told him to remember he
is worthy and he is amazing and that he can accomplish anything in life that he
wants to. I told him to never
doubt himself for what he had just done was remarkable. For a little boy
that doesn’t always focus, he did not take his eyes off of me. It was a moment I will always remember
and, although he is young, I hope my son remembers it too.
Today is Saturday, April 14, 2012. In two days, I have to go see Jaden’s doctor. I have no idea what he is going to
say. I am afraid of what he might
tell me because I never want my son to feel different or ‘less than’. I do not want a label to affect how my
son feels about himself. As I said
above, I do not want a doctor trying to push medicine on my child. I lost one child. I will not lose another one to medicine
that changes who Jaden is. This leads me to the song Perfect by Pink. I have never heard Pink sing the song
but I recently heard a rendition on television and the words struck home for me.
ever ever feel
less than, less than perfect
If you ever
ever feel like you're nothing…..you are perfect to me.
To my son, I Love You and I Love who you are. You have the biggest
heart in the world and we will figure things out. Your Dad has not always been the best Dad on the planet and
you deserve that Dad. I have
yelled more than I would like. I
have showed less patience than I would like and less patience than you
deserve. I have been getting better. I will try even harder and I can see over the past few days that we are making progress. Always know that you are absolutely perfect to me. Together we will work hard to make sure that you do great things with your