Text Box:  I'm from Los Angeles, CA.  North Carolina (where my friend Derrick is from) seems like half a world away (I've only been there once for a layover to connect to another flight).  Having said that, as a recently divorced father of three boys myself--I marvel at the amount of miles my buddy has logged in the past year and half to see his son Braxton.

I first met Derrick back in 1989 when we were teammates on a flag football team at Pointsettia Park in Hollywood.  He was brought to our team  by a common friend (Lonnie White), who had befriended him when they were in training camp together with the New Orleans Saints.  As former college athletes and aspiring professionals, we joined forces with a team loaded with similar talent--forming one of the most formidable flag football teams in the city.  Thus, the intensity level of our competition was unparalleled. I immediately bonded with Derrick because of the professional way he went about his business, and how focused and committed he was to winning.  If he was gonna play, he was all in....never doing anything half ass or half speed.

Text Box:  Although we didn't see each other as often after I got married, I still considered him to be a good friend--often running into him weekly while I was working out at the stairs in Santa Monica.  We always seemed to have in depth conversation, offering support and encouragement to one another in various aspects of life.

Over the years D.T. (his moniker) observed me raising two sets of children and bringing them with me to work out: first my step children Evan and Camille (my wife's children from her first marriage), and then in later years my three sons--Chad, Matthew and Ross.  As we both progressed towards the age of 50, Derrick began to express his desire to have a family---specifically a son.

 Text Box:  As these conversations progressed into 2010, he began dating a woman from N.C. named Amanda.  After a tumultuous 4 year-- long term relationship (and at the precipice of a breakup), Amanda announced that she was pregnant.   Although Derrick was initially emotionally confused by this turn of events, he became enamored with the idea when he found out he was having a son.  The universe had given him exactly what he had asked for; albeit under less than ideal circumstances. The old saying, "Be careful what you wish for"-- was clearly in play here.

 On March 16, 2014 Braxton Taylor was born, and thus began the adventure of D.T. & B.  As I have observed my friend and his evolution over this time period, I am both in admiration and fascination with his growth as a man in general, but as a father in particular.  To effectively manage fatherhood, a tumultuous relationship with his baby's mother, and the geographical constraints he was facing (and continues to face) is an incredible feat. Part of the reason I am blogging about this is because he (and other dad's in similar situations) don't give themselves enough credit for all the things they do right.

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D.T. has maintained much of his health and sanity via his workouts, as he always was and continues to be a workout beast... The gym, the beach and the stairs in Santa Monica, all being a part of his weekly regimen.   He may not be aware of this, but his consistency and discipline in his workouts help fuel his outstanding efforts as a father.

 As the early months of Braxton's life went by, D.T. made bi-monthly visits from L.A. to Raleigh to see his son; but I knew in my heart that this wouldn't last.  These visits were in addition to paying monthly child support, and this put a squeeze on his finances like never before.

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I knew that once he became smitten with his son, there was no turning back.  I could see that the emotions of not seeing his son everyday had started to take a toll on Derrick, both emotionally and psychologically.  As a father, I know the emotional connection I have with my sons--and how it runs so deeply within me that there are no 'words' to describe what I feel for them.

 

As more time passed, Derrick's visits became more frequent (astoundingly he has actually visited his son in Carolina 11 times, and flown them out 3 times in the 19 months Braxton has been alive)--- and as expected his bond with 'B' (as he affectionately calls him) grew stronger; so much so that saying goodbye to him after his 'cross country visits' became more and more gut wrenching.  D.T. would often call me or text me, sharing his depression and despair about the geographical distance between him and his son.  Although North Carolina is still some 3000 miles from L.A., the stronger he built the bridge to his son's heart, the more magnified the distance seemed to be. Braxton might as well be on the other side of the world.

With that and all of these emotions swirling around against the backdrop of a strained and often times dysfunctional relationship with his son's mother; Derrick's suffering increased exponentially.   The lack of cooperation in the areas of fair communication left him only one choice: to file legal paperwork and increase the frequency of his visits; while simultaneously trying to build some form a 'working relationship' with is ex.  D.T. has shown great courage and resilience in taking this position, whereas most men would simply walk away from the problem. His love for Braxton would not allow anything less than the 110% he is giving.

As I watched D.T. go through this process and the challenges that go with it, his stress level was more palpable.   Although he maintained his physical prowess through keeping consistent with his workouts, his lack of restful sleep, emotional stress from the situation caused him to suffer a few serious injuries (muscle pulls, etc..) while working out.  These injuries have a direct (albeit un-substantiated) correlation to the high levels of duress he has been under the past year and a half.  As an objective observer I see things that he simply cannot see.

The psychological toll has been has been the most glaring dynamic of all, in that his worry and anxiety over when and how he might see he son again (Amanda, the babies mom--would often threaten to cancel or modify visitation plans) kept him perpetually "out of the moment", thus inhibiting his creativity and ideas for other business opportunities--and keeping him from reaching his full potential.

 I know the intensity of this array of emotions, and the destructive effect they can have on you--- as they tend to slowly eat away at you if you don't have the support. Text Box:  Personally the longest stretch for me without seeing my sons (since getting my visitation back) has been six days, as every other week I have a stretch from Thursday to Thursday when I don't see them. Those stretches are agonizing for me, as my boys seem to change so much over that short period of time.  I can only imagine the despair he must be feeling during the long stretches of weeks when he can only hope to 'Facetime' with his son Braxton. 

 As a father I know that Derrick.... Misses his touch

As a father I know that Derrick... Misses his kisses

As a father I know that Derrick....Misses the wonderfully innocent smell of his hair, when he is holding him and buries his nose into the crown of his head.

As a father I know that Derrick...Misses preparing meals and feeding his little man.

As a father I know that Derrick....misses bath time, misses cuddling with him until he falls into a deep sleep, and longs to hear his cries in the middle of the night.

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These daily rituals are all apart of fatherhood that I have personally witnessed D.T. excel at, and I know that he wants and deserves a chance to do this every day.  This is my prayer for him, and I am confident that his time and opportunity will come.   Just like in his football career, I know that as I watch him in his preparation for this ultimate leadership role--he will be ready.

D.T. my brotha you are a hero in so many ways to me, I believe in you as a father and now it's time to share your remarkable story of courage and persistence with the world. You have inspired me to be hopeful and persistence in my struggles with child custody, I hope that this piece about you will serve as an inspiration in others.  I want you to know how much love and respect I have for you--and how much your struggle has given me hope when things look hopeless.   The struggle continues, and you WILL CONQUER without a doubt; for that is Karmic Law in the universe; what goes out must come back. 

 

 

 

 

 


 

I 'Kneed' Some Help-- Training to be a better Dad

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Dad warming up for two on two 
Circa: May 2015

" Zero--Zero, check ball"... It's  Ross (my youngest son) and I VS Chad and Matthew (the two older boys).  Playing two on two on an outdoor court at Balboa Park in L.A., going to 11 by ones--with a 13, 12 and 11 year old needing the 'old man' only because they were short one. History would be made on this day: This would be our first real two on two game of basketball EVER played.

The game starts out innocently enough, a few coachable moments where I can teach them the game... defense, rebounding, spacing, how to set screens etc... Then in an instant it gets serious, Chad grabs a rebound out of nowhere over me and lays the ball back up!  I'm stuck flat footed on the concrete.  Two minutes I later I'm chasing a loose ball out of bounds... my mind says sprint but my three time surgically repaired knee says otherwise and buckles after a semi-sprint for the ball.  I catch up to the ball, but well out of bounds.  I grimace and slap the ball the ball together between my hands, so loudly that it startles Matthew.

"Dad, who are you mad at?  Are you upset with us?" He asked cautiously as a he tried to gauge my level of frustration.

"I'm disappointed with myself Matthew.  I want to enjoy a simple game of two on two with my sons, and my knee just won't cooperate.  It is really depressing that I can't even sprint after a ball some days, or jump," I said intensely.

As we continued, I had a few bright spots with Ross.  I showed him how to run the pick and roll, play better defense on Matthew and threw him some nice dimes (passes for you non-basketball people reading this) for easy layups, most of which he either missed (because he was surprised to get the ball in his hands) or he took off balanced shots that were rushed.

"It's okay son, those were good shots!  I will keep feeding you the ball, and you will find your rhythm--you just need to get your momentum going towards the basket and square your shoulders."  Truth be told, I was marveling at the way he was able to change direction and contort his body--things that I used to be able to do but now only dream of doing.

The remainder of the game--involved me hobbling around, half guarding Chad and barely being able to box him out on rebounds when he missed (which wasn't often).  Even though they were winning--Matthew was also getting upset at Chad for not passing the ball more, even though he was killing me every time he touched the ball.  Matthew also played well, and accounted for almost half their points, but I guess his brother did not make it fun for him.

When they scored their final basket, and closed the game at 11-2, it was a relief for me... as well as my knee which had now swollen and stiffened up.  But more importantly than that, it gave me a chance to talk to Matthew about team work.

"Hey man, why are you upset?" I asked right after the final point was scored.