It was the second game of the baseball finals. My son’s team won the first game and another win would secure them the championship. But the good guys found themselves trailing late in game two. With only an inning to play, the top of the batting order came around. If a rally was going to happen, it needed to happen then.

And it did. A leadoff single, followed by another put runners on base. A strikeout came next laying a thick blanket of tension over the spectators. But our team kept hitting, and a base-clearing triple made the game closer. Another few hits, they had rallied to take a one-run lead. With two outs, the bases were still loaded, and my son stepped up to the plate.

It’s impossible to describe the feelings I had watching him knock the dirt off his cleats with his bat. Being down so late in the game, I had already resigned to a loss. The excitement of coming from behind already had my heart racing. With my son at bat, my heart felt like it was trying to escape from my body.

I watched my son as he stood in the batter’s box and took the first pitch. There are no called strikes off the pitching machine, so he watches the first pitch to get the timing. He looked up at me and gave me a thumbs up.

The next pitch came in. My son took a big cut and fouled the ball back to the backstop. He did the same with the following pitch, so he stood in the box with two strikes, two outs, and the bases loaded.

epilepsy dad baseball hero heroes seizure

My heart went from thunderous pounding to absolute silence. I stopped breathing. This is one of those scenarios that I replayed over and over as a kid. Now, my son was living it. The chance to put the game out of reach for good. The chance to be a hero.

I wanted him to get that big hit that I imaged myself getting when I was his age. I wanted him to be hero. I wanted for him to hear everyone cheering his name. I wanted him to come back into the dugout and have his teammates tap him on the helmet in celebration.

I thought about how hard this kid had to work just to be on the field. How he had two seizures earlier that morning. How he put up with the ketogenic diet every day. How he takes a handful of pills every morning and night. How much these games take out of him. How much he gives of himself in these games to contribute, even if that means that is all he can do that day.

I wanted the universe to balance things out.

My son stood in that batter’s box and got himself ready for the next pitch. He went through his setup routine and eyed the pitching machine. With a three-count from the coach, the ball left the machine. I held my breath and watched my son take a big swing over the top of the ball.

The mighty Casey had struck out.

epilepsy dad baseball hero heroes seizure

My heart sank as my son walked back to the dugout. I didn’t know what to say to him. I wasn’t sure how he was going to react, so I waited for him to say the first word.

He looked at me and said “I hope I get to hit again. Next time, I’ll get a hit.”

He walked past me and his coaches and teammates tapped him on the helmet and said “nice try”, and “good job”, and “nice swing”. Then the team, my son included, took the field with smiles as they looked to protect their lead.

I walked over to talk to my wife. We both wanted him to get that hit. We felt like the universe hadn’t given us what we needed for things to feel fair. But after I told her what he said, we both fought back tears.

It wasn’t about being the hero or winning a championship. It was about being on the field. It was about being a part of a team. It was about doing the best he could. It was about getting hits and striking out. I had gotten so wrapped up in wanting him to feel like a hero that I almost forgot to be grateful that he was there at all.

There will be plenty of opportunities for him to be a hero on the field. But every day, he teaches me lessons about what is important. He lives fearlessly in spite of his challenges. He lives generously even when things are taken from him. He lives every day pushing through failure and willing to try again. He lives his life with a smile.

For that, he’s my hero every day.

Doing The Best I Can

As parents, we have to figure out what lessons we want to teach our children. The balance of our “when I have my own kids, I will/will not” promises are finally called due. We get to decide what to keep from our own childhoods and what to throw away. But knowing what to keep isn’t always clear and, worse, it can be terrifying. It involves shifting perspective enough to question some fundamental truths.

When I was growing up, I never thought anything I did was good enough. I took little joy from what I achieved because there was always someone who did it first, faster, or better. There was always room to grow. Accomplishments were expected but rarely celebrated. Humility was a virtue and pride was a sin. These messages became the foundation for how I felt about myself and how I lived my life.

It wasn’t always obvious to me that this part of my philosophy wasn’t something that I wanted to pass on to my son. After all, I turned out okay. I am humble and grounded. I’ve had amazing experiences. I have a good job and the best family. Knowing that there is always someone better means striving to work harder, to learn more, and to do better. It made me a perpetual student and a life-long learner.

This spirit of growth and learning is one that I want my son to have. But before he started having seizures, I wouldn’t have thought to teach him that lesson in a different way.

I remember sitting by his bedside in the hospital. The dark room was lit only by the light coming from the EEG monitor that showed constant, wild activity. His body had gone toxic from a bad reaction to one of the medicines we hoped would stop his seizures. It didn’t. The seizures raged on, and the toxicity left my son immobile, ataxic, and unable to form thoughts or words. I felt helpless. I was afraid. I prayed. This lowest of points stretched on for days.

When he could start to form words again, it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen, and we cheered. When he could hold his frail body up by himself, we cheered. When we left the hospital, even though our boy was not quite himself, it was another cause for celebration. With each milestone he passed, we cheered. If he stumbled, we acknowledged how hard he was working. There was no “but”. “But, you used to be able to do it better.” “But, those other kids are faster.” For the first time in my life, I saw what it meant to work hard and to do your best and for that to be enough. “That was great, buddy. You worked so hard to do that. I’m proud of you.” Full stop.

I hate epilepsy. I hate what it does to my son. But I would hate myself if I didn’t learn the lessons that this experience is teaching me. I don’t want to raise a child that always gets a trophy. But I also don’t want to raise a kid that thinks there is a trophy for everything and that he never gets one. I want him to be proud of doing the best that he can. That should be a good feeling, not one that should lead to shame. Epilepsy showed me how dark things can be, and these moments of grateful hope and joy can shed a little bit of light.

It turns out that this approach has led to my son working hard and liking to learn new things. Except he feels good about where he is. He is also braver than I ever was, willing to try new things outside of his comfort zone. He’s also a good sport and as grounded as any 7-year-old should be. Those qualities that I had hoped to pass on to him are there. Except his motivation isn’t based on feeling less than everyone else. His motivation is based on being the best him that he can be and being able to feel joy in that.

Before you feel bad for the other little boy in this story, this experience has taught me the same lesson. In celebrating my son’s accomplishments, I’m starting to acknowledge my own, too. Just a little. But I’m doing the best I can.

Why I Signed Up For A Half Marathon

I used to hate distance running. Growing up, I was a sprinter. The act of running was confined to short, powerful bursts, and it was over before my brain could register what was happening and commanded me to stop. That style of running served me well in sports and in getting away from my sister.

When I joined the Army, I knew there would be running but I felt misinformed as to how much running there would actually be. On the first morning at 0-dark-30, I discovered another level of distance running. I also learned that you could run up the same hill multiple times without ever running downhill. That experience challenged my sense of physics as well as my body every day for eight weeks. Filling up the rest of the day was running between buildings and tasks any time we were in a hurry and, in the Army, you’re always in a hurry. While the amount of running went down after basic training, there were still physical fitness tests that included a two-mile run at a pace that caused my lungs to burn. I wish had a fitness wearable to track all those miles. I would have rolled the digital odometer more than once.

When I left the Army, I couldn’t escape the running. I worked in an office of young, single twenty-somethings and there was always a 5K on the beach to support the whales, or the dolphins, or the turtles, or a 5K to support people that run 5Ks. After doing so many charity runs, I just kept running until running had become a core part of my workout routine.

I’m still not very good at it and it’s rare that I do a distance greater than a few miles, but the mental block that prevented my younger brain from enjoying the experience seems to have faded and my 5-mile jog along the water in Seattle has become a favorite tradition when I visit.

Five miles, though, is considerably shorter than the 13.1 miles that I’ll need to do to cross the finish line in November. When I think about how far I will have to run, I get nervous. When I look at the calendar and when I see that there are only a few weeks left, I get discouraged and negative. There’s not enough time left to train. I can’t do this. I start to question my life choices. Well, at least the one about signing up for the event.

Why, then, did I sign up?

Sometimes after a hard run, maybe it felt longer or I stopped more times than I wanted to, those fears and doubts come rushing in. But as I painfully climb my way up the four steps to our apartment, when I use whatever energy I have left to push the door open, I’ll hear “Daddy, how was your run?”

No matter how far I ran or how hard it was, I’m instantly energized. I don’t think about the pain or the negativity or the nerves. I think about my son and why I am running.

My son wakes up every day and takes a handful of pills. He may have already had a few seizures that disturbed his sleep. He has to will himself to get ready for school. He eats his high fat, mayonnaise and soy flour donuts and drinks his vitamins that sometimes upset his stomach. The drugs kick in and his brain swims in mind-altering medicine. His school is crowded, loud, and hard, but he walks through those doors and up those stairs and waves back at us as he passes through the glass atrium with a smile.

epilepsy dad half marathon philly athletes

I’m running for my son. I’m running for that smile. I wanted to do something hard because he runs a marathon every day. I want to see my son at the finish line and tell him that I did it for him.