Avoiding Our Inner Jack Walsh

This article was originally published in The Patch on April 7, 2013

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In retrospect, the separation should not have been a surprise. However, at the time it came like a punch to the gut. After 16 years of marriage, I was now a single Dad.

As one would imagine, family and friends played a huge role in getting me through that difficult time, filling needs within my physical and emotional worlds. However, my spirit also needed healing. Since I am a man without a religion, I turned to music to soothe my soul.

REM took the first turn: “It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.” When doubt set in, I turned to Anthrax’s Finale: “Now I’m free, now I’m free, me me me, finally!” Then it was time to fight and Limp Bizkit’s Boiler took a turn: “But sometimes, some things turn into dumb things, And that’s when you put your foot down.” That agonizing series of “whys” at the end of the song let me know that Fred had also been there.

However, the biggest push from culture came from a movie that I had not seen in many years. Even before the separation was final there a little voice in my head acting like Jiminy Cricket who was constantly reminding me not to turn into the Dad from Pretty In Pink. For those unfamiliar with the movie, Jack Walsh’s wife left him and he never recovered. As a result, family roles have switched and as the movie begins his teenage daughter, Annie, is taking care of him.

Jiminy’s voice got a lot louder days into my new life when my daughter told me that she was worried about me. That is all that it took for me to end my pity party. At the end of my six sessions my therapist told me that I came into her office the first time looking like an old man and that I now looked like I was ready to face the future. She was right.

When my daughter was having trouble learning to ride a bicycle, I told her that to be successful she had to accept the fact that at some point she was going to fall. Once she stopped fearing the fall she was able master the task. The fact still remained that I had fallen pretty hard off of the relationship bicycle. I also knew to get Jiminy to leave me alone I would have to conquer my fear of falling again and get back on. To my family’s surprise, and I am sure unvoiced concern, I signed up for Match.com.

Somehow I avoided any horror stories from my online dating experience. I fell really hard for the second person that I met and luckily for me, and for this story, she fell for me. Within a month of my divorce being finalized, I was married again.

My second marriage is everything that my first was not. I am sure that maturity plays a role in its success. Learning lessons from past failures also helps. However, I believe choosing to be successful is even more important than these. I now understand that I cannot be responsible for the actions of my spouse, but I am responsible for how I react. Knowing how to successfully negotiate potholes in a relationship prevents them from becoming fights that turn into the scars. These scars are like emotional dead zones that eventually doom a marriage.

My story is one that is shared by many people. However, some opportunities at a second chance are so significant that they are truly inspirational. For example, I believe that  nothing exemplifies the power of personal choice in recent news more than the story of Brian Banks.

As a 17 year old, Brian had the world in front of him. He was “a phenomenal young athlete; a nationally ranked linebacker with a scholarship to attend USC and a solid chance for a future NFL career.” However, his dreams came crashing in around him when a classmate accused him of raping her.

Brian faced 41 years in prison for the crime, but plead no contest in a plea deal that resulted in him serving five years. Upon his release he would serve five additional years on probation and had to register as a sex offender. His chances of a NFL career were over and justice was served.

Except for the fact that he did not commit the crime.

After Brian’s release from jail he was contacted by his accuser who wanted to “let bygones be bygones.” He agreed to meet with her in person and in a secretly recorded conversation she admitted that he had not raped her. This eventually led to his exoneration for the crime. Now at an age where most NFL players are contemplating their retirements, he has signed a contract with the Atlanta Falcons.

Prison is an environment based on survival of the fittest. It is a place where petty criminals can become hardened thugs. For others it simply breaks their spirit. Brian Banks endured all of this knowing that he was an innocent man. Despite this experience, he still chose to keep his dreams alive.

There is still a lot of time before the start of football season and Brian is in no way guaranteed to be on the team for the first kickoff. However, getting as far as he has shown the strength of his character. The choices he has made will serve him well no matter what his future holds.

At some point in our lives we all must face what seems like an insurmountable obstacle. We can choose to wallow in our grief or to look for our second chances. In Pretty in Pink Jack Walsh took a long to time to face his demons and the fact that he had been overwhelmed by his loss. However, by the end of the movie we are left with the hope that he has the strength to move on. It is a potential that exists in us all.


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