Being part of a team
If I flexed any harder, I'd probably pull a muscle....
I joined my first teams when I was seven or eight. Rugby and "kiwi cricket".
The two things I remember about cricket are that it was played with yellow plastic bats, wickets, and balls, and made no sense.
The two things I remember about playing rugby were that my mom made me my own jersey out of a red sweater with a white dress shirt under it because it cheaper, and that it also made no sense either.
But I do remember swelling with pride at that temporary feeling of belonging that came from being a part of something collective, and the positive mentorship that came from an adult that for a few hours a week truly wanted me to feel safe and welcome. Those feelings lingered, and my place on a team flourished and developed when I moved to Canada when I was nine. By then, I was a full-blown massive kid. I also spent the majority of my childhood to that point outside playing, because that would give my former stepdad the peace and quiet he needed to drown himself in a bottle of whiskey. Children were meant to be neither seen nor heard according to him. So, I was a pretty good athlete at this point.
My dad, upon seeing a thirteen year old sized nine year old get off the plane from New Zealand, immediately signed me up for football.
For my first practice, he had to fully dress me because I had no idea why I would need pads or a helmet, or what they were for. I was shown where to line up on the defensive line and instructed "get past that guy."
Okay, no problem. I grabbed him with one hand and threw him on the ground and watched the kid with the ball run past me and jump over his offensive lineman laying on the ground wondering how he got there. "Oh, you're supposed to tackle the guy with the ball whenever you can." OHHH now I get it! This was the pivotal moment where sports got easy, and I found my place of welcome and belonging. By 11, I was 5'9" and 185 pounds, and towered over my opponents and teammates alike.
According to my dad, as a child of the 1990's, I was gonna be this guy when I grew up
My body had other plans. I grew 10 inches, and didn't gain a single pound. My physique went from Spike in Little Giants, to more of a real life Gumby.
Went to bed like this...
....Woke up like this. Every day clearly NOT arm day.
My sports focus shifted from football to basketball. Going 1-17 in three seasons of football, and finishing my last season as the leading touchdown scorer with two didn't do my career any favours either.
Basketball was my sense of self and normalcy for a very long time. The kid with ratty clothes and no money in his pocket became the kid everyone wanted to pass the ball to and relied on for rebounds and blocked shots for 32 minutes a few times a week.
I had no clue how to carry a conversation or relate to others, and sauntered home to my books and stereo in my smoke-filled house after the game. We only had one TV, and it stayed on A&E about 16 hours a day with a chain smoking retiree sitting in front of it. Rockford Files and second hand players lite really didn't cut it for me.
Basketball opened doors though. I got to travel. First, all over Ontario with a variety of OBA teams. Then, I struck gold when my high school got a new teacher who was also the best high school basketball coach in the city, Gar Leyshon
I got the reps, coaching, and confidence I needed to fully thrive. The skills, success, exposure, and stats came together and I became a highly touted recruit. I played on Team Ontario and won a national championship, and was named the MVP of the Gold Medal game.
Look at all those megapixels. I'm front row middle of the photo since you can't tell.
Being good enough at something to be known and wanted for it was the best feeling on the planet. For the first time in my life, people sought me out, said nice things to me, and made me feel like they wanted me around. Teachers at my high school literally passed a hat around the staff room at Gar's behest to raise enough money for me to join a team out of Toronto that travelled the US for AAU tournaments. I blew out my knee in my last year of high school, but still got offered a Division 1 scholarship.
This is the face of a guy shooting a free throw while being booed by 23,500 people
Being in a strange country and unable to do the only thing I found success and a place of belonging at for an entire year changed everything. I felt disconnected and lost for my first year of college in the U.S.
I developed a staph infection as a complication of my first ACL surgery, and was on crutches for seven months. As such, I didn't have to do anything with my team for my first season. I fell into a crowd of freshman dudes at my dorm, and began partying my face off after never having drank prior to that due to being raised by an abusive alcoholic dickhead for a stepdad.
I pledged and received a bid to rush for a fraternity, Theta Chi. I felt that was the family and support structure I needed due to being such a stranger to my own teammates. I made it all the way to hell week, before I found out that they wanted me to spend five days at the frat house with no sleep, and then give them $800 a semester afterwards.
That's a no from me, dog.
From what I understand, I am actually on the composite fraternity photo for the 2001-2002 school year, because by then it was assumed that I was in and was too late to take me off.
Season two in North Carolina, I was able to play. My teammates embraced me like a brother, and I had tons of fun. My ex temporary frat brothers quickly became an afterthought. By the end of the season, we went 8-20 for the second year in a row and all of our coaches were fired. My best friend back home in London had just finished his first year on the basketball team at our local university, Western, and told me he was having the time of his life.
He also told me that his little brother was heading over to my house weekly to help my dad out, who wasn't doing well at all on his own. My dad had retired from the RCMP in 1996 due to health issues, and essentially had done the opposite of what doctors would have advised to manage them, and continued to spiral via sitting in his laz-e-boy chain smoking, drinking beer, and eating potato chips all day.
By this point, I felt it was time to go home. Like in the movie, "The Blind Side", I too would have scored in the 98th percentile in protective instincts, and would've went to the ends of the earth for the very parents that provided me very little in terms of love, guidance, or the things I needed to develop and thrive into a successful adult like all parents should.
I walked away from my full scholarship, came home, and settled into a life of living with and caring for my dad, attending school and playing basketball on my own dime, and working part time on the side to help alleviate the burden (read:drinking money).
If I did anything, I had a ton of fun. I relished in the brotherhood of the basketball team, and also found another brotherhood in my new job working as a bouncer at CPR Tavern and Barney's Patio.
Nineteen year old Jer got a job there for $6.75 an hour to have some money in his pocket. Thirty-six year old Jer still counts on many of his closest friends today as being from that security team. Including the co-worker whose sister I ended up marrying.
I still keep in touch with all three of these awesome dudes today.
Working as a bouncer at a popular college bar is not an honourable position to the public. I got called some variation of "you're just on a minimum wage power trip for the rest of your life, you high school drop out loser (homophobic slur) (derogatory comment towards my mother)" so many times, that we ended up inventing an imaginary school that we all graduated from called Bouncer University, where the motto in Latin was loosely translated to "On a minimum wage power trip for the rest of our lives". We even made shirts, so that we could show these entitled clowns that we did in fact get our degrees in bouncer studies with a minor in pottery by unbuttoning our work shirts to show them our school pride.
Bouncer University shirts were popular enough to be bought by security at five different bars in downtown London.
I stayed working in the unglamorous world of puke, blood, tears, pee, broken glass, lies, and fist fights for seven years because I had found my new family. I moved in with a few co-workers, and our life long friendships continued to grow and flourish. Unfortunately I had surrounded myself moreso with guys into arm curls, beer, belching, and video games and less into prudent financial decision making, career planning, hygiene, and goal setting. But I had found my family either way.
Working as a shift worker in healthcare, I was able to keep part-time bar jobs right up until my now wife said to me "dude, you're engaged to be married. You need to stop working in bars around all these drunk floozies."
I already naturally got the concept of happy wife, happy life and SEE YA, there went my letter of resignation.
Moving in with my wife, getting married, and starting a family, life changed a bit. My best friends were on a bit slower of a trajectory than I was, and they were still CRUSHIN EM hard and staying up late when I was already in diaper changing and going to bed early mode.
My dad fell ill in 2008, and was in hospitals and long term care homes for the last eight years of my life. My best friend moved to Alberta in 2006. Although I was with the girl of my dreams, the loneliness on the friend side was a little bit real due to my closest family members being hours to countries away.
In 2013, I made a new friend at work. He had two small kids at home and one on the way. I was two months away from having my first, and knew that I needed to surround myself with a new social circle if I wanted to become the dad I always wanted to have myself. I'd always been the type to learn from those older and more experienced and model their behaviours. Parenting to me seemed no different. Dad Club London was born over wings, beer, and playoff hockey at a now defunct and long gone East London "Wild Wing" franchise.
Our very first logo
What we had envisioned at the time was a group of hopefully around fifty dads getting together a few times a month for both playdates and adult time, and having a medium to connect and share and support each other online in between meetups.
What actually happened far exceeded those expectations. Fast forward six and a half years later, and we went from four to over three thousand, to now our current level of 1,350 registered and dedicated members. We are a registered non-profit that carries $5mm in liability insurance, and has an optional voluntary donating program for our members that has raised over $10,000 in capital for administrative expenses, and another almost $130,000 to be donated to persons and organizations in need in our community.
I created the family I never had. My wife has four awesome brothers and loving parents who are all local, and have taken me in as one of their own. I've also been lucky to replace the local family I don't have with a dedicated group of brothers in fatherhood who have been soul-filling in their presence, support, and sharing of ideas.
I flipping love these guys...
I replaced my football team with my basketball teams. I replaced my basketball team with my bouncer team. I replaced my bouncer team with my dad team. My kids are so incredibly social and outgoing due to the opportunities we have been able to create for kids to interact and play and bond. I've also been able to go from being the shy, quiet, nervous introvert to someone who has forced themselves into being comfortable being outgoing and a leader and a connector. Every single day, my heart is filled with gratitude that we have created a platform where strangers who would otherwise never even meet can come together with a common goal and create and foster true and meaningful friendships from it.
Dads from all walks of life came together to be the best dads and create the best community and future for their kids
I never really noticed it, probably because I was so busy donating so much of my limited free time, but something was still missing. I didn't figure it out until July of this year.
In July, I usually get annual bloodwork done by my doctor. Part of being not nearly as young as I used to be. Unlike Chris D'Elia, I'm not the youngest man alive.
I got a phone call from my doctor with those bloodwork results while standing on a dock in the Kawarthas. The spotty cell phone reception cut in for long enough to hear that I had elevated cholesterol, uric acid, and liver enzymes.
Prior to this moment, I had only been used to superlatives from doctors. You know, "you're so tall. You're so handsome. You were the inspiration for the movie Universal Soldier" type stuff.
My wife had joined a gym the month prior, but I was unable to go with her because I had hurt my knee in the Dad Club 3 on 3 for charity tournament. I drove left and was faced with either travelling or jumping off the knee that had been operated on seven times. I pride myself on not turning the ball over, so I picked jumping off my bad knee and putting myself on the shelf for two months instead. But I made the hoop though. Legends never die.
Hearing this news was a massive kick in the pants. I hadn't stepped on a scale for over a year, because my anxiety was triggered by not seeing numbers from my sports days, and instead seeing numbers from my dad bod days. Not knowledge is the opposite of whatever power is.
My wife's new gym, Fit Club Bootcamps became my first stop upon my return to London.
The guy on the left, owner Cory Bannon, basically saved my life. Hyperbole + truth.
I went to my first class, and the warmup was to run around the plaza that the gym is located in twice. I finished dead last in a class with 21 females, and kind of secretly hoped that the workout might be done at that point? I got absolutely crushed by a 5'2 dynamo spark plug of a trainer named Candace, but I was hooked. Someone who knew more than me, was better than I was at stuff, and wanted to see me succeed was in charge and telling me what to do. I wasn't the leader. I was being coached again. I found the confidence and drive to push past my self-imposed limits and go harder and do more and lift more and sweat and suck wind and debate puking, and not want to or be allowed to give up on myself or tell myself I wasn't good enough, or run away to things that made me feel less uncomfortable. I kept going back. Again and again and again. Unlimited passes are amazing. It got easier. I brought some Dad Club London friends.
We started our own fitness-based mini family. I went back to the doctor a few months later for a sore throat that I thought might be strep. He walked in looking at his clipboard reading off why I was there, looked up and almost fell over. The bloated sallow shitty weight of being lost fitness wise and treating my body like skid row was gone. My energy and confidence had exploded while my Jabba the hut face had vanished. I got my swagger back. He repeated the bloodwork, and lo and behold it came back excellent.
I keep going every single day I can. My resting heart rate is down 9 beats a minute since I signed up. My strength and explosiveness have skyrocketed. I have found that last missing piece - that place I can go and be pushed and prodded and encouraged to dig deep into the darkest recesses of my self doubt and insecurities, and explode through them to victory. I finished dead last in my first workout. Two months later, I finished first. I keep coming back and going hard, and feel like I belong. I have re found that spark I lost when I last hung up my sneakers in 2007 as part of the Fanshawe Falcons basketball team, and that part of me is back with my Fit Club Bootcamps and Dad Club London teams, and the loving family I wake up to and come home to every single day. Life is a beautiful journey, and when you know that you're home and have found your family, your place, and your sense of belonging, then everything else seems insignificant by comparison. Thank you to everyone who played a part in that journey. Life is in the lessons.
(This blog is way longer than I thought it would be, and totally unedited. To keep my posting every day streak alive, I have to post it anyways since it's 11:56 PM. I'll come back and clean it up later, time permitting).