Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Upbeat Dad: The Day in 2002 That Started It All

All this week we're doing special posts to celebrate reaching the 50,000 hits milestone on our blog. Today's post is one that's literally been almost 10 years in the making. You see, long before I even thought of the name "The Upbeat Dad," there was a turbulent period that I went through that set in motion a series of events that has now resulted in the formation of this organization.

Anyone who's known me well for the past 10 to 15 years can attest to the fact that I've had the desire to impact the world with a positive message of hope from the mid '90s. Specifically, I wanted to become a motivational speaker and author - somewhat like Tony Robbins, Zig Ziglar and Les Brown. This desire was in place long before I met and married my former wife.

I was just another Certified Public Accountant but I had an awakening of sorts about my life's purpose. I can assure you that my plan for successfully impacting the world didn't include this script: get married and have a child. Then when the child is 3 years old, get divorced and live the life of a single/divorced dad for 7 years. Then get remarried and have another child.Then start a blog about the whole experience. Such a plan wasn't in the cards. I’m a “family first” person and I thought that my first marriage was for a lifetime. But as the expression goes, I had to play the hand that I was dealt and that's that.

With this post, I won't take you through the entire story of what occurred during the difficult period of my divorce. I write about it enough on this blog. You can read The Story Behind The Upbeat Dad and How I Could Have Become a Deadbeat Dad for more information.

What I seek to do here is to open the window for a moment and show you the day that I decided to start this movement. We now call it the Upbeat Dad but at the time, I was just trying to make sense of all that happened and wanted to share some encouragement with others facing a similar plight.

It was shortly after the divorce was finalized in July 2002. I had been through the drama and trauma of a messy divorce. Literally, at least once a month for the previous 10 months, I had been in family court dealing with some issue. Then after that I had some post-divorce custody issues that had me again as a regular in the courthouse for a while longer.

I'll tell you here that I had some real heavy issues to sort through - no fun and games here. This was no routine divorce - it was messy from day one. But when the dust finally settled, there remained a wonderful 3 year old child – a daughter – who was loved by both her mom and dad.

For most of the time going through the process, I found myself perpetually behind the 8 ball - responding to different issues. I was determined not to let the moments of turmoil cause me to lose heart and give up. My daughter was the focal point of all of this experience and I had to keep that in mind.

One day in late that year, I found myself to be at a real low point. It seemed like not too long before, I had things going so well: a beautiful wife, wonderful daughter and a dream job with a multinational investment firm. We lived in a nice house on the lake in sunny South Florida. Life was good - it really was.

But here I now was: divorced and lonely; practically homeless - and I really would have been had it not been for my sister and her family. They housed me for 18 months during the divorce and its immediate aftereffects. I lost the house and everything in it. My credit was ruined. I even contemplated filing bankruptcy.

It was a really rough patch. My American dream was now a living nightmare and that was just the reality of it. I lost so much weight from the stress of it all. I wasn't clinically diagnosed but I'm pretty sure I suffered from depression for a while there.

With that as the backdrop, let me now share with you how this lemon of a situation became the refreshing lemonade we now call the Upbeat Dad organization.

As I had done a few times in my life before, I turned to paper and pen. I began writing down my thoughts about my plight. More than that, I began devising a plan to get myself out of that pit. That wasn't me - being down and depressed and lonely, even as I was surrounded by the love of family and friends. I’m better than that.

My sister and a friend from church had previously suggested that I start some type of support group for men who faced the horrors of the family court system. That thought was in the back of my mind as I began to write.

After a couple hours, when my writing was done, I had about 12 pages of stuff to sort through. After I reviewed it, here was my plan of action:

1. I'm going to get through this no matter what - and live a more meaningful life than I had before.

2. I have to forgive my ex and forgive myself for all that transpired. We didn't get married to end up in such a heated court battle. Neither of us was 100% to blame so I am prepared to shoulder my share.

3. I'm going to focus 100% on our daughter - her well-being is the only thing of the marriage worth focusing on

4. I'm going to share the journey with others and encourage them - both men and women – to hang in there and stand up for their kids.

That was my personal "to do" list - written almost 9 years ago.

From that process, my first writing in this new mission was a poem of love written to my daughter. It was written a couple days after that moment of reflection. It's entitled My Child, My Love, My Angel. She had just turned 4 years old and certainly could not read it yet. But it's something that I acted out in my love and care for her.

I hope you enjoy reading these words because they were a source of healing for me and I believe that, if you're now in a similar plight, they will have a similar effect on you:

My Child, My Love, My Angel
By Rodrick Walters © 2002

My child, my love, my angel, my daughter, you’re the one,
Created in God’s image, you are a work well done,
I’ll never forget the day we met, that late mid-summer eve,
You made my day and how I prayed that you would never leave;

The joy is mine to see you grow and blossom every day,
Amazed to see you flourish, grow sweeter day by day,
To know you is a wonder, to father you, divine,
It’s such a thrill always know that you’re forever mine;

You’re smart, you’re sweet, intelligent – that is your claim to fame,
Just promise that you’ll never forget the means from which you came,
Humility, sincerity, integrity are best,
Hold on to these and never leave, and you’ll pass life’s great test;

I hate to know you suffered at the end of Mom and Dad,
I know it hurt to see you lose the happy home you had,
But one good thought that gives me peace and makes me sleep at night,
Is knowing that the birth of you is one thing we did right;

We can’t go back, my child, my love, to turn the hands of time,
Life must go on, and on, and on, it’ll somehow fall in line,
I’m here for you to care for you, to be your dad, your friend,
This precious love I have for you will never reach an end;

I’ll never find the words to say, just how you make me feel,
I’ve seen in you a dream come true; I know this love is real,
No matter where this life may lead, my love, just always know,
You’ve made my life much more complete than you will ever know.

And thus started the journey that we now know as the Upbeat Dad organization. If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t do a thing differently. That’s not a claim of perfection on my part but the experience has been worth every moment.

The struggles have made me stronger and I believe that the bond between my daughter and me has been more fortified as a result. She’s a happy, well-adjusted child who officially becomes a teen next month. She continues to have the love of her parents. Plus she now has a loving stepmother and a little baby brother.

Life is really a beautiful experience – even with the mountains and valleys. If you’re now at the stage where I was so many years ago, hang in there. I can’t say I know exactly how you feel because each person’s experience is unique to them. However, I can relate to the disappointment of a lost love. And when a child is caught in the middle of it, it really can be traumatic. But you know what? As my mom always says, “The darkest part of the night is just before the dawn.”

You can and you will make it through. Very soon your crying will become laughter and your mourning will become dancing. Life goes on and life does get better. I hope that these words find a resting place in your heart – a place where they encourage and empower you to bounce back like the champion you know that you are. Keep your head up because you’re destined for great things.

There’s no way I could share these words with you and our other readers had I not experienced the difficulties myself. If you’re going through a challenge now, how will you use the darkness of the moment to shine a light of hope so others can also be encouraged? These experiences are really your gift – as difficult as they may be. Embrace them and use them to inspire and empower others.

Do enjoy your day.

The Upbeat Dad

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Celebrating 50,000 Hits For The Cause of a Lifetime!

This past Friday, we reached a significant milestone on our blog - 50,000 hits! If you've followed our posts for any length of time, you'll probably know that we launched in early October of last year. So if you do the math, you'd see that this feat has been accomplished in less than 10 months. It's quite significant, in my view. All this week, our posts will commemorate this milestone in different ways. And at the end of the week, we'll do a giveaway of some items that are quite precious to me. 

When I started the Upbeat Dad blog, I wanted to share a message of hope with others. I don't believe that I've shared this before but this isn't the first blog I've had. A little over 3 years ago, I started another blog. The emphasis on that one was general motivation. I wrote about the timeless principles of success and tied those principles to current events to show how they can be applied to any situation. 

I thought the concept was great. One little problem though: no one knew it was there. Every blog post was consistently read by only 3 people - yes, 3, and I was one of them! The other 2 were my then-girlfriend (who's now my wife) and a coworker friend of hers. How about that, huh?

I reflect on those days now with a smile. The concept of sharing general motivational messages is fine but the concept of the Upbeat Dad speaks to a deeper issue. Interestingly, I still write about the very same concepts and principles, however I share them in reference to the subject of fatherhood. Success principles such as persistence, determination and resilience are what helped me through some of the challenging experiences I’ve encountered on my fatherhood journey.

To me, there’s no greater cause than to stand up for children. This blog and the entire Upbeat Dad vision is the cause of a lifetime, in my view. Did you know that in the United States alone, 24 million kids go to sleep every night in a home without their biological father? There are consequences that result from such statistics. Specifically, 

  •           71% of all high school dropout come from fatherless homes (National Principals Association Report on the State of High Schools)
  •           85% of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes (Center for Disease Control)
  •           63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes (U.S. D.H.H.S., Bureau of the Census)
  •          85% of all youths in prisons grew up in a fatherless home (Fulton County Georgia jail populations & Texas Department of Corrections)

According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, children from fatherless homes are:

  •           5 times more likely to commit suicide
  •           32 times more likely to run away from home
  •           20 times more likely to develop behavioral disorders
  •           9 times more likely to drop out of school
  •           10 times more likely to abuse chemical substances
  •           9 times more likely to end up in a state operated institution
  •           20 times more likely to end up in prison
  •           5 times more likely to be poor

As I’ve considered the plight of children as a result of these issues, I’ve embarked on a journey – a campaign, if you will – to impact the lives of men, women and children with the message that kids need actively involved fathers in order to be the best that they can be. I’m not formally trained as a counselor or therapist. I’m not a psychologist or anything that would give me a degree. However I’ve had extensive experience being a dad – trained in the school of hard knocks. It hasn’t been all glamorous, trust me. Here’s a quick view of my fatherhood résumé:
  • 1998 Became married father of a daughter
  • 2001-2002 Had “eye-opening” experience with divorce and saw how the family law system functions to essentially isolate kids from their dads
  • 2003 Became a distant parenting dad with my child living over 1,100 miles away and coming for “visits” during holidays and summers
  • 2007 Became a full-time single dad of my child (then a 4th grader)
  • 2009 Got remarried
  • 2010 Became dad for a 2nd time – this time to a son.

So that’s my résumé. Do I get the job?

Really though, it’s been an interesting journey – one that has had many twists and turns. My blended family of 4 didn’t come together overnight. We’re a happy bunch but the journey to this point has been challenging. Through this blog, I seek to empower others with different posts that they can apply to their lives immediately. Fatherhood is an all-encompassing experience – one that affects men, women and kids. So I’m happy to share with others, knowing that they stand to benefit from the message.

As I started the blog, I expected to find an audience to hear the message. What I didn't anticipate was the overwhelming response from the general public. I believed that the message would appeal to a certain niche in our society but what has occurred is that it has not only reached that niche but it has reached into so many other areas. Both men and women, whether they're married or not, and whether they're parents or not, are active readers of our blog. 

The number one feedback I hear from others is that our message is so needed. It warms my heart to hear that we're making a difference through this medium. Every so often, I am asked the question, "How do you get so many readers?" My response is always, "Content is king." I even wrote a blog post about it - Content Is King. But that's the key.

I don't have the sophisticated tools that stack the numbers in my favor. I haven’t employed a huge PR firm to bombard media outlets with our message.  I simply write from the heart and share what I believe to be life-changing posts on matters that have impacted my life. Then through the use of social media tools - our Facebook page and our Twitter account, I share the message with the world.
Our message has been readily received all over the globe. We have readers on every continent except Antarctica. Do they have the internet there by the way? Our top 5 countries are: United States, France, Canada, United Kingdom and Russia. It’s really been awesome to know that families from every background are being impacted by this message. I’ve been interviewed twice by the BBC. I’ve had so many doors open – all as a result of this simple, yet profound message.

Another thing I find interesting is that 60% of our readers are female. How about that huh? I think that’s great because fatherhood affects us all. Having men and women involved in this vision is key, in my view. 

I cannot take sole credit for what's occurred. I have my wife to thank immensely for her involvement. I write the posts and tell her what I'd like to see in the finalized product. She then adds photos and presents the written words in what I consider to be a way that appeals to the eyes. It's inviting, in my view. So she's very much a part of this project.

Most of all, I credit you with the spreading of our message. If you weren't reading, the journey wouldn't be quite as much fun. But as you read and share with others through social media or other means, you help to get the message to those who can benefit. And as you interact with us on our Facebook page and on Twitter and your comments on the blog, it's just gratifying. So I thank you for sharing and for caring. 

Not long ago, we celebrated 10,000 hits. Today, we celebrate 50,000. Before long, it’ll be 100,000. Then 1,000,000. The sky is the only limit. And as I always say, each hit represents a life that can be touched in a meaningful way. So that’s what keeps me going. It’s all about empowering others. Otherwise, it’s just useless chatter.

All this week, we’ll be sharing different posts to commemorate this significant milestone. But quite frankly, in my view, we've only just begun the journey. There's just so much we have planned with our organization. We've already started phase 2 of our vision with our Upbeat Dad Community Forum.

And let me tell you something exciting: behind the scenes, we're working on some initiatives that we believe will make a lasting impact on our world for years to come. We haven’t even scratched the surface yet, as I see it. Our blog is an important part of our vision and mission but it’s not the organization itself. There’s much more to come so stay tuned.

My greatest thrill is knowing that others are positively impacted by our message. So as you read and share and come back, I believe that lives are being enhanced. And that really adds fuel to my fire. It’s as fulfilling an experience as I could imagine. It’s all about you and your families.

Enjoy your day and do come back often. I believe that you’ll enjoy the journey with us.

The Upbeat Dad