Episode 018 - Too Old For This

Earlier this month, I told a story at the Austin Public Library’s live storytelling event. This whole project is having the desired effect of making me more comfortable with public speaking, and storytelling themes are a fun way to have a built-in writing prompt. I highly recommend it as a creative outlet!

We have two more episodes almost complete. As always, please rate and review us in iTunes, and if you have a story you’d like to share with us or you’d like to be interviewed about a transformative experience in you life, let us know! i’m at rod@rodhaden.com.

Our theme song is “Start Again” by Monk Turner + Fascinoma.

Here’s the transcript:

So I am definitely way too old for this. Deep in a dark cave, with my heart pounding, and my lungs burning, and my limbs weak and shaky, I know, with absolute certainty, that I am going to have a heart attack at the age of 42 and die. And the rangers will have to come and fetch my body. And my son is going to be traumatized for life and have nightmares about dark, narrow spaces. And children who will never know my name will whisper stories about me over campfires: The Ghost of Enchanted Rock!

And actually, I didn’t die in that hole, so don’t be scared. It’s October, and Halloween is coming, but this is not actually a ghost story.

When my son was born, I became a stay-at-home dad. I quit my job, and I spent all my time with him. We went everywhere together. We did everything together. But as he started to get older and went from a baby to a toddler to a preschooler to an elementary school kid, I got more and more depressed. He went to school, and I didn’t know how to get back into the workforce. I didn’t know how to represent that time on a resume. I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. So because I didn’t know what to do with myself, I did nothing. I would drop him off at school, and I would go home and go back to bed. And I drank heavily, every day.And my marriage that wasn’t exactly rock solid to begin with, started picking up speed on its downhill race towards divorce.

So when my son was 7, and I found myself with him on top of Enchanted Rock, I was not in great shape spiritually, emotionally, and definitely not physically. I can tell you, it is a long, steep walk up that rock when you’re 50 pounds overweight and you have not exactly been keeping up with the cardio. So I was already spent when he noticed a little wooden sign that says, “Cave Entrance.” So I thought, “Well, let’s go check it out,” but it wasn’t like a cave. It was a hole in the ground, about two feet wide. And I thought, “Well, that can’t be it.” But a group of about 10 or 15 high school age kids came by. They were with a church group, and they started disappearing into the hole, one by one.

And my son said, “Dad! Dad! Can we go in the cave too, Dad? Can we go?” And I thought, “Oh, shit.” I had been a Boy Scout, so I had a flashlight with me, you know, “Be Prepared,” so I couldn’t use that excuse, but I started thinking, “What if I lose him down there? What if he slips and falls and breaks a bone? Or what if I do? His mother was already pretty annoyed with me at this point, and if I lost her son or brought him back in several pieces, it was not going to be good for the marriage.

But I had never discouraged him from trying new things and finding out what he was capable of, and I didn’t want him to grow up terrified of the world and all the many ways that it could hurt him. So I said, “Sure, buddy. Let’s go.” And we went down into that hole after those kids.

And he wanted to be the one to hold the flashlight, so I put the wrist strap on his wrist, and he was just bursting with pride and excitement. And I was the best dad in the whole world.

And then he scrambled off like a monkey, going after those older kids that were surging through that cave, and I was left in the dark. And I couldn’t see where to put my hands or my feet, and I was not the best dad in the world. I was just the biggest idiot.

But I managed to reel him back in with my voice. He came back, and he shined the light for me, and we worked our way through together. There was a lot of climbing and sliding and crawling. It was a very narrow, slippery space. And he kept calling out, “Hey guys! Wait up!” to those older kids. He is an only child, and he’s very sociable, and he very much wanted to be on their team. So I tried. I tried to go faster. But my heart was pounding in my ears, and I was drenched in a cold sweat, and that’s when I knew, I was not going to make it out of that hole. We were too far from the entrance to go back, I had no idea how far it was to an exit, and I did not have very much more left in me.

But at that moment, we heard one of the high school kids say, “Hey look, a light!” Thank God! And we came around the corner, and sure enough, there’s a gap in the rocks, and the sunshine is shining through, and all those kids have kind of bottlenecked at the exit, waiting their turn to climb out. So my son got to catch up with the kids at the back of the line and chat, and reminisce over the gave and go over every inch and remember every nook and cranny, and I heard him say, “Yeah, that wasn’t so hard.”

So no, I was not too old for this. But I was too far down a dark, deep hole of my own. And I started to climb back out. And within a couple of months, I quit drinking. I got back on track with the exercise. And within about half a year, I had accepted that my marriage was over, and I got a job and an apartment, and I started living again.

So my son, now he’s 11. When we go back to Enchanted Rock, which we do a couple times a year now, he encourages the people that we find there that are almost too scared to try. They stand on the edge of that hole, and they look down, doubting themselves, and it’s almost like he’s talking to that other version of me when he tells them, “It’s not that scary! You can do it. Come on, we’ll do it together. I’ll show you!” And he does.