Had to Go Back to Go Further

“Are you going to pay the price? Are you going to sit in the chair and take the pain?” Reverend Bob asked. “Sure” I answered. I was the only customer in the place. It seems that most people who get tattoos don’t schedule an appointment for noon on a Monday.  Surrounded by 4 to 5 other tattoo artists and two girls passing a Playboy centerfold back and forth, Rev Bob went to work on my forearm.

“I’m not going to lie,” he continued “this is going to hurt.”  He was right. It hurt…a lot.

“So, what is this all about?” he asked.

“My Grandpa” I answered. Trying my best not to scream aloud, I shared a few stories.

I told him about how my Grandpa had a snake tattoo on his left forearm and how he would make it undulate by squeezing his fingers into a fist.

I told him how he tried to volunteer for the Navy in WWII but was kicked out when they found out he was a minor, how he was a barrel-chested boxing champion in Cincinnati, and how he drove a big rig for Roadway.

I told him how one time upon finding me in my Easter Whites he promptly took me outside to play King of the Mountain and how I charged forward repeatedly but never dislodged him.

I told him how we lost contact for a long time when he moved away.

I told him how we reconnected when I was in college, how he attended a couple of my football games, how he thought that I could go pro, and how I had to tell him that I play Division III and my career ends after college. Yet, I went on to tell Rev Bob how it makes me smile to think that he thought of me that way.

I told him how my Grandpa passed away soon after. But, I also told him how that was not the end of us and how he keeps showing up when I need him.

Rev Bob said “It’s funny how they do that.”

So, I told Rev Bob about the time when Kyra was pregnant with Dillon in San Diego and how desperate we were to raise him around our families on the East Coast. I told him how I went on the job market, how the only college to invite me to visit was UMW, how I did not get the job, and how hard it was to watch my wife 6-months into her pregnancy curl up in a ball and cry on the floor upon telling her the news.

I went on to tell him how my Grandpa showed up in my dreams soon after. I told him how he was driving a convertible, Kyra and I were in the back seat with all of our bags packed and he drove us to our old apartment in Richmond, VA. I told him how after that dream UMW called me back to offer me the job and 6 months after arriving in Fredericksburg we moved to Richmond.

I told Rev Bob that this tattoo is a tribute to my Grandpa.

I did not tell Rev Bob everything, though. Here is what I am telling you.

For a couple years, I have felt like I had more to offer, much more. Yet, at the same time, I felt held back. Naturally, but incorrectly, I looked outside of myself to understand why when I should have started with myself.  I was not bumping up against intellectual, material or temporal limitations. I was bumping up against emotional ones that often took the form of questions like: Am I capable? Am I worthy? Am I allowed to do this?

So, I decided that if I wanted to go further I had to go back.

I had to go back and salvage my identity. I had to go back and rummage around in my history. Claim the good. Relive the trials, triumphs and traumas. Reconnect with the memories, the people and the experiences that have forged me into the man that I am.

Today, tomorrow, and the next day, my task is to continue this process and live a life that honors my identity. Stop conforming. Stop striving to meet the expectations of others. Live, work, play, dress, speak, and walk in a manner that is consistent with my core. Take actions that build on my strengths, on my essence. If I do this, my second-guessing will take care of itself.

Now, the sirens of anxiety, fear and doubt will still call. And, there will be times when I heed their call. Yet, like Ulysses, I also have a mast.

Every time I roll up my sleeves to get to work, I will uncover a mark, a formula, that informs me how to conquer my sirens:

  • Get off the ground
  • Charge back up the hill
  • And, live a life bigger than what you ever thought was possible when that big loveable mother #%$&* was throwing your ass down the hill in your Easter Whites!

I often imagine how a rematch on that hillside would unfold between my Grandpa in his prime and me in mine. Could I dislodge him?

I don’t know.

But, I know one thing, when it happens, and it will happen, I will take my place at the bottom of the hill. He will take his place at the top. I will charge forward, we will lock arms, and we will hug a hug that puts a grizzly bear to shame.


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Thanks. – shawn

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Granpa's Tattoo