The formative years

by Jeb

formative-yearsSo I thought long and hard about whether to write this post. There was a time not long ago when I wouldn’t have even considered it, actually. But these last few months have been rather pivotal for me…many separate pieces of this complex puzzle of life coming together, beginning to connect in just the right way that I might see more than I have to this point. Dig deeper, as it were.

And then, of course, there’s been you. Oddly (or not?), much of my pause comes not from how you all will receive this, though I do recognize there’s a risk here, but from how those I know well, personally, will respond. Many of these thoughts, these feelings, these parts of me have never been shared with anyone, and those that have only with some of my immediate family. And so this post may betray a trust among my closer friends…the trust they’ve established with me that allows them to label or categorize me in some certain way. This post may defy those labels and, therefore, dissolve that trust. 

But because of my interaction with you, and because of the way that interaction - here, as well as there with you, in your spaces - has impacted me, I suppose you could say I’m emboldened. Maybe that’s not the right word. No, I’m sure it’s not. Regardless, I write this blog, this How To Matter, and clearly I’m searching for something. And while not always (or ever) uplifting and light, it nonetheless accurately reflects my hopes, my fears, my insecurities, my strengths, my vision. And I guess I feel compelled to shed some light on the origins of this outlook, mostly because keeping the secret feels too much like shame, and I don’t feel that anymore. If anything, I’m proud. Proud of where I am today, of the love that I share with my family, despite the odds that may have seemed stacked against me. And I’m ready for that pride to take center stage, to drive my decisions, color my behavior in a way that is so much different than it’s predecessor.

I do recognize, though, that this move is somewhat selfish. You haven’t asked to sit in front of this window. It’s not safe to assume you want a closer look. But for me, I think the drawing of the curtains will be important. The transparency, as a posture, in stark contrast to my guarded nature…I think it’s necessary for progress.

I’m going to be 37 this year. Nothing special about that age, or perhaps of any age, really. But as it comes on the heels of one the most difficult years I’ve experienced, I’ve spent a lot of time looking inward. When the illusion of an imagined life begins to fade, there’s nothing left to do but reflect. Such are the origins of this blog, in fact.

So what have I found? Well, there’s the long answer to that question, and then there’s the short answer. Door 2, please, because really, the short answer is enough. Like a picture, it says so much.

Self-esteem. Rotten self-esteem, that is. It’s been a constant companion of mine…from the single digit years to this very day. Even when I was full of piss and vinegar it was there, down below, orchestrating.

It’s causes are no mystery, not to me. The trick is, naturally, one of admissions. To admit that these events continue to affect me, some 30 years later, is to relinquish control. It reeks of finger pointing and blame and this is exactly why, to this point, I’ve been resolute in my determination to stuff it down. I rarely share my success, my accomplishments. God forbid I burden someone with my challenges. But alas the time has come to accept the hold it’s had on me. To forgive myself for my shortcomings, and to shed that skin.

Now then…

When I was 4 years old, my parents divorced. I don’t remember much of that time, but there is one thing that sticks to this day. Having moved with my mother and two older brothers shortly thereafter from Pennsylvania to California, I was in very unfamiliar territory. Literally and figuratively. “Why did your parents get divorced?” I can’t say for sure how many times that question came at me, but it seems like hundreds. And the answer I gave every time…”My dad travels a lot for work and is always away. It was just easier. It’s not because they don’t love each other.”

It’s not because they don’t love each other. I held on to that for so long. Eventually I realized that it simply wasn’t true and stopped saying it. I don’t remember when that was. But the admission of this hard and cold truth translated into something even bigger, and far more damaging. I don’t know the psychological term or condition that results when a child realizes that perhaps a parent doesn’t reciprocate the love he feels, but I’m sure it’s not good.

A few years down the path, my mom’s brother - my uncle - came to live with us. As it was told years later by my sobbing and sorrowful mother, she felt it was important to have a male role model for we three boys. Had that cunning mother fucker not betrayed her trust, had he not sexually abused her boy, that probably would have been a good plan. But he did.

I can recall, along the way, in the years that passed, feelings of despair from time to time. Much of my time was spent worrying for my mother, ironically. Even at that age I could sense the guilt she felt over the divorce. That may be why this little secret remained buried until a few years after I was married. And truthfully, had the admission not been forced upon me, I may still be harboring it.

A small child, youngest of the bunch, I know my mother’s burden was not mine to bare, but I couldn’t help it. It worsened in the summers when I would spend 6 weeks with my dad and step-mother. Seeing the lavish lifestyle they enjoyed and contrasting it with the struggles and stresses and responsibilities my mom shouldered, it was just too much. It would have been so easy for him to give her more money, but he didn’t, and so we struggled more still. And my resentment grew, as did my certainty that he simply didn’t care.

The intersection of these two realities, both occurring between the age of 4 and 12, created a somewhat shaky foundation upon which to build a life. The structures that resulted were equally unsteady, as were the destructive behaviors that lived within them.

Time alone became a respite…a breading ground for fantasy. A way to imagine myself  so much better than I was. To picture overcoming great obstacles, righting wrongs, thwarting evil against all odds…and to be given a hero’s welcome upon return. But this time alone also fostered the growth of a rather large chip on my shoulder. Not one I usually let others see. Just something to hold on to when the world seemed set against me. I still struggle with the consequence of that chip…the divide it created between me and the rest of the world. Maybe it served a purpose once. At the time it felt justified. Today it just feels like a mistake.

My desire to please others grew from this, of course, as did my need for reassurance from them. Both reflect my broken spirit.

But more prevalent than these tendencies has been my never ending search for something more. Something different. Something better. I’ve spent so much time chasing that green grass and romanticizing the effort, yet I never stopped long enough to recognize that the  pattern of success followed by failure which had emerged was almost surely caused by this lack of commitment. I never took the time, never devoted the discipline and focus to considering my lot, and to fixing the broken parts. Facing these things, this year, has not been easy for me, nor has admitting that perchance the ideal I’ve been searching for doesn’t exist. At least not where I thought it would.

And yet there is the good. Always the good.

But the effort has been worth it. I know that this, as with so much in life, is a process…not one that necessarily has an ending. Luckily it’s the beginning that matters most. Having taken these steps, having started down this path, I’ve been able to see the things that I’ve previously viewed negatively in a new light. I’ve been able to appreciate these experiences as perhaps necessary evils that, when added to their wonderful counterparts, all served me in some way, helped me to arrive at this very moment, as I am.

I met my wife in 8th grade and surely because of my past was able to recognize, even then, that she could, and would, save me. Having now known her well over half my life,  I find it difficult to make much distinction between us.  We are two sides of the same coin, though perhaps a puzzle analogy is better. Regardless, our fit is unique, and perfect, and surely this wouldn’t have been true if either of our pasts were substantially different.

I’ve always considered other’s feelings when making decisions about behaviors that might impact them. To this day I am exquisitely sensitive to how my actions affect others, particularly with regard to their sense of self worth.

Loyalty is paramount to me. Above all else, I am a father and a husband, and could never imagine separating the two. I can recall a time when my boys were very young (they are 8 and 9 today) thinking, for the first time, what it might be like not to live with them. In other words, what it might be like to make the conscious decision to leave them behind for a different path. I simply couldn’t do it. Not wouldn’t do it, though I wouldn’t…but couldn’t. It’s not in my constitution nor will it ever be (please understand, I’m not making a judgment on anyone who has chosen that road, just offering my experience with it).

I feel a great, and positive, responsibility in my role as a father. I’ve experienced the magnificence of a soul re-emerging from a dark and winding road, and each time (you’ll recall the afore mentioned pattern?) I imagine what it might be like were I not returning from such a distance. How much higher, and further, might I soar? And so it’s up to me to ensure my boys never have to pose such a question. That they might arrive at the age of 18 (or 25 or 37), self-esteem fully in tact…this is a worthy goal, and my guiding light.


The thing of it is, I don’t consider my story particularly unique. Yeah, the details may be different than yours, but we’ve all held a pile of shit in our hands at one time or another, right? I think, perhaps, I’ve just held onto mine a bit too long.

Maybe that’ll be my new tag line going forward…, helping you to drop that big pile of shit you’ve been carrying around. If nothing else, I think it would produce some good search engine keyword traffic.

So I guess that’s it then. I’ve told my tale. Certainly could have been longer, but I think it’s plenty…for now.

A tragedy? A comedy? Tough to say just yet. There are probably a few more details to work out on that score. But as my friend Detlef says, God is in the details. My hope is that you’re fleshing out yours along the way as well.

If I’ve alienated any of you with this post, please accept my apologies. But as I said early on, it was a bit of a selfish endeavor…much more for my benefit than for yours.

But then again (and this is where I will end)…as I was writing this last night, Richard posed a question on Twitter. The short conversation follows:

Richard: What insights did you find today? …insights as in “into” yourself…

Me: timing…hmmm. my insight today is that it may be time to share my story. if only for the telling.

Richard: hmm…perhaps you underestimate the power of each and every story to help others frame their own?

Me: mayhap that’s true. hope that it is, in fact. always a silver lining.

Richard: then there’s the cathartic value of putting the details to words…finding the patterns and humor where there seemed like none.  perspective is a funny thing some times…

Me: yes, i’m finding it just so, actually.

Indeed I am. Cheers.

No related posts.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Completing the circle — How To Matter
08/24/2009 at 11:24 pm
Goodbyes and new beginnings (manifesto sold separately) — How To Matter
11/04/2009 at 6:30 pm

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

1 jebdickerson 03/07/2009 at 12:32 pm

When the illusion of an imagined life begins to fade - My Story.

This comment was originally posted on Twitter


2 Eric Schiller 03/07/2009 at 8:34 pm

I think by writing the stories of our lives down, we in a way reshape them and change our outlook on the future. Your post is inspiring. Thanks.


3 Jeb 03/08/2009 at 9:10 am

Hi Eric…
I like that, and I think you’re right. The writing, and the introspection that it requires, is tangible, it transforms thoughts and feelings into something more, something more to work with. Even now I can see my path veering off in a new direction.

Thanks bud…


4 Jay 03/08/2009 at 6:13 am

man oh man brother- that must have been tough to write. I see a lot of simularities in our past- my abuse was more physical but the pain and years of strife that follow have a simular ring to them. You could not possibly alienate anyone with this story- I have only grown closer to you Jeb- the fact that you came out of this past and became the person you did speaks volumes about your nature- you could have turn the rage inside of you against the world, but instead you embrace the world and share your heart- Bravo Jeb!

Get Jay’s content here..The Sunday Ponder


5 Jeb 03/08/2009 at 9:22 am

Hey Jay,
You know, it was easy to write, actually, in the sense that it felt right to express it, on paper. What was difficult was hitting that ‘Publish’ button. I suppose I spent so much time thinking that this particular part of me made me so different, something/one to avoid, even, that I feared it would turn people off. Unpleasant things, for many, are best left where they are, you know? Don’t focus on them, don’t shine the light of understanding and awareness upon them. Just turn away. Hit delete. Unsubscribe. Go look at pictures of cats with funny expressions on them instead.

Cant blame those that do, really. Did it long enough myself. Thanks for sticking around Jay, and for your very kind words. Truly.


6 jayfrawley 03/08/2009 at 6:15 am

My friend @jebdickerson shares his heart and pain with the world. - his courage is my strength today!

This comment was originally posted on Twitter


7 jebdickerson 03/08/2009 at 9:54 am

They telling of my own personal Old Testament…ala @kt_writes .

This comment was originally posted on Twitter


8 Richard Reeve 03/08/2009 at 3:56 pm

I am honored to have been in even a small way a part of seeing your story into the world in this way. Courage is the hallmark of knights and heros, and you my friend have displayed great courage. Millions of adults share stories that are analogous in the details as well as the inner torment. The key is to walk the journey to liberation, that the horrific details can from that new reality be seen as the factors that led to the “newness” of life…”all things can be used for the glory of…” I think the saying goes.

Get Richard Reeve’s content here..Corbin on Symbol


9 Jeb 03/09/2009 at 12:42 pm

Richard, our Twitter conversation was just the latest in a long line of meaningful conversations that, truly, have helped bring me to this point. I’ve never studied the topics you write so thought-provokingly about, but they’ve opened my eyes to a new way of thinking about my experiences, and I’m so thankful for your efforts. You’re a great example of the impact one can have when in harmony with one’s true self.

I suspect I’m not alone in my gratitude for the great work you’re doing. Thank you Richard.


10 tess dickerson 03/08/2009 at 7:54 pm

You make me smile, laugh, cry, love and very proud! I am honored to be your puzzle piece. You are the best example of what a husband and father should be and I am thrilled that you invited me along for the ride. I love you and our life…always!


11 Jeb 03/09/2009 at 12:47 pm

Yes, my love, we reflect each other well don’t we? Thank you for dropping by - oh, and hanging on so long. :)


12 CCSeed 03/09/2009 at 9:45 am

two of the most courageous posts I’ve ever read on blogs…Screwed up Texan : and Jeb :

This comment was originally posted on Twitter


13 pattidigh 03/09/2009 at 9:49 am

RT @CCSeed 2 of most courageous posts I’ve ever read on blogs Screwed up Texan: and Jeb:

This comment was originally posted on Twitter


14 ryanstephens 03/09/2009 at 9:51 am

RT @CCSeed 2 of the most courageous posts I’ve ever read on blogs.Screwed up Texan & Jeb

This comment was originally posted on Twitter


15 Henie 03/09/2009 at 11:53 am

My dearest Jeb…

Though you may not fully realize yet, you have become the light through the tunnel…not the end of the tunnel…but the light “through” the tunnel!

Your courage is remarkable, that you would share the sighs of your soul, is a thunder this world could certainly have more of!

To every descending experience always comes a re-birth! I thank you for sharing your “joyous re-birth!”

Choice is synaptic as you already know…I believe all those who have the privilage of turning the pages with you on this experience will walk away with so much respect, gratitude and hope…and as one whom I know only through words, I feel a fortunate closeness so deeply embedded in my heart!

Jeb, as a single parent to my 16 year old son, I hope he grows up to be of the same caliber of a man as YOU!

Love, Joy and Serenity Always,

Get Henie’s content here..Guess The Photo Charity Contest (12for12k)


16 Jeb 03/09/2009 at 1:00 pm

Boy, Henie, I’m not quite sure how to respond to that. Every time I catch a glimpse of you/your words/your work, I can sense what a genuine and caring person you are. Thank you so much for extending your very nature in my direction.

I like that idea of being the light through the tunnel. I think it’s an ideal we all strive for, though perhaps not so intentionally, or stated in such a way. But thinking of it just so is a bit of a game-changer, actually. Imagine how each of our contributions might change if we acknowledged that we are, in fact, the light through someone’s tunnel. That we have the ability to shorten another’s suffering. To inspire them to carry on. To coax out the very best in them.

Maybe one day there won’t be so many tunnels…until then, I resolve to be the light. Thank you so much for shining your own on me.


17 Trina 03/09/2009 at 3:46 pm

Something drew me over here after reading Kristen’s compilation of ‘our’ community. I am awed by your sharing, your realizations, and how you have broken the cycle. Congratulations.


18 Jeb 03/09/2009 at 4:37 pm

Thank you Trina…yes, what a great post Kristen shared with us, eh? She’s a master! Thank you for coming by and for your kind words, I hope we can connect again sometime.



19 Screwed Up Texan 03/09/2009 at 5:39 pm

“The thing of it is, I don’t consider my story particularly unique. Yeah, the details may be different than yours, but we’ve all held a pile of shit in our hands at one time or another, right? I think, perhaps, I’ve just held onto mine a bit too long.”

It is empowering to let go, isn’t it. (period on purpose)

Get Screwed Up Texan’s content here..Shed the Shell of Shame


20 Jeb 03/09/2009 at 6:00 pm

Yes, I think it is, actually. Thank you for stopping by S.U.T. BTW, are you still screwed up? Or do you think you’ll be transitioning over to something like “Moderately Unusual Texan” at some point?


21 Zoe 03/10/2009 at 9:46 am

You wrote this post with such graceful courage. I don’t think you should ever have to apologize for such thoughtful, meaningful honesty.

Thank you for sharing more about your path.

Get Zoe’s content here..Why I’m Living in Perpetual Beta


22 Jeb 03/10/2009 at 10:16 am

Thanks Z-dub. Old habits (apologies) die hard…


23 Kristin T. (@kt_writes) 03/11/2009 at 11:57 am

Yes, graceful courage indeed. I’m so glad you shared this (and sorry that it took me a few days to get over here and take the time to read it).

The themes you’re dealing with are very much like the ones my life and writing revolve around: A life that didn’t turn out like I expected. A junk heap that has slowly, miraculously been redeemed and transformed into something beautiful. A realization that while I wouldn’t want to live through what I’ve been through again (mainly my own divorce), I also wouldn’t want to be the person I was before that.

Thanks for being such a kindred-spirit and online friend. Blessings and peace to you.

Get Kristin T. (@kt_writes)’s content here..A springtime brainstorm


24 Jeb 03/15/2009 at 9:23 am

Hi KT,
So riddle me this…how did that junk heap transform? Was it a seemingly accidental alignment of all the good things? Or purposeful? What sorts of internal battles did you fight to achieve said redemption? Were there pivotal moments you can think back to and say “There! That was when it started to turn”. Or was it so slow and gradual and below the surface that you hardly noticed until one day you stepped back and realized what you had?

Mostly, I’m curious about that identity shift…because really, that’s what I believe is at the heart of such change. We begin to see ourselves - on every level…conscious and unconscious - as someone and somehow different. Worthy of that something beautiful. I give that lip service…I say I believe I’m worthy. But still I think there’s an undercurrent of something different, something that detracts. It’s not as strong as it was. There was a time when that undertow regularly swept we seaward. Now my footing is better, but not without peril altogether.

Growth and progress is rarely easy I suppose…


25 jebdickerson 03/15/2009 at 9:25 am

my much delayed response to @kt_writes comment. your input is welcome (and appreciated). . sorry KT…

This comment was originally posted on Twitter


26 Rashin D'Angelo 03/19/2009 at 5:54 am

Your path is truly inspirational and reminds me of the symbol of Phoenix, which burns itself to ashes only to be regenerated. For most of us who have experienced trauma (who hasn’t?), healing happens through our wounds. I know mine have made me a more compassionate and conscious person. It sounds as if you have been on a long journey and are emerging not only with more awareness and courage, but perhaps a deeper connection to the core of your being; the essence of true freedom. Thank you for sharing your personal story.

Get Rashin D’Angelo’s content here..“Hello?” He said. “Hello,” she said.


27 Jeb 03/19/2009 at 1:04 pm

Hey Rashin,
That is a really super way to think about it. I do feel as though regeneration is afoot. Despite the distance between then (my youth) and now (my non-youth :) ), it seems as though I’m finally moving on. Letting go of the monster’s hand, so to speak. It’s amazing how different the world looks when you’ve progressed down the path a ways. Whether leaving a job you hate, a relationship that doesn’t serve you, or something more traumatic. Once you’ve moved on, you wonder what took you so long.

Such is the nature of progress. Thank you Rashin…perhaps we’ll meet soon.


28 Klaus Holzapfel 03/19/2009 at 7:03 am

Alienating? Are you kidding? If anything you are lightyears ahead of many others who have inner or outer constraints to share their story. EVERYONE has a story to share.

And nobody’s story is all good. Looking at both sides of the coin makes you a whole being. That is what leads to a balanced life down the road.

It took me some time to post about things like epilepsy in my teen days or a suicide attempt later on. Had I read your post earlier I might have been insprired to share my story sooner.

You are living a life of integrity by coming forward with your struggles in life.

Has anyone thrown you under the bus because you shared? No one? There you have it: That’s another story to share.

Reading your story and also sharing mine gives me a much better understandin of what “coming out of the closet” really means. It is not just some saying any longer.

Get Klaus Holzapfel’s content here..What part does gender equality play in my personal life?


29 Jeb 03/19/2009 at 1:14 pm

I know…those fears were unfounded, but powerful nonetheless. You know, I lived my life to this point rather closed in. It might not appear that way (completely) to people who know me, but nonetheless, it’s so. I agree with you that everyone has something…some story to tell. And as I emerge from that ‘closed in’ way of life, I wonder what it is about the human condition that dissuades us from opening up completely. It’s a question for the ages my friend…one that, if an answer could be found, would likely change the world.

Regardless, here I am. Thankful for the path that brought me to this place, and more so for you and your kindness. I think the power of the internet is more potential than anything. That potential is tapped and unleashed when real, human, face to face connections come from it.

I’m looking very forward to meeting you my friend, thank you for being here.


30 shar 04/01/2009 at 7:24 am

heart expanding lightness of being
crystal micromoments of clarity
connected with each other always
love(cannot be defined) yet universally felt
fills my being
our paths have crossed in this lifetime
grateful for the moments shared
and grateful for your sharing
kisses and hugs and giggles
i would have loved for you to be my dad.


31 Jeb 04/01/2009 at 8:39 pm

Awe…Shar! Fancy meeting you here. It’s a shame the intersection of our paths was so brief, but life is a windy road my dear, and i suspect we’ll meet again. Thank you for the lasting mark you made on our small family. There are ‘Shar References’ sprinkled about on many of our days. We’re all better for your influence.

Thank you Shar.


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