I had an incredible conversation today with my Mother-in-Law. Now, on the record, she’s “Mom”. I’m drawing distinction in her title because I think it makes the rest of what follows that much more powerful. I love my Mumma. She’s a world-changing human for me. A function of her being the “everything” woman in my life until I met my wife. (Note: Sisters play a different role, I’ve already written about that).
But calling out the “Mother-in-Law” is important here. Because she plays a bridge role. She’s a Mom, but she’s not my original mom. So I get that POV without that legacy or honestly, that baggage. I get all that love, but she also acquired me as a “son” when I was pretty much fully baked (30 lbs overweight, all my edges formed) vs my mom who acquired me as an idea, no edges just hope and potential.
It’s fascinating. I’ll write about that later (maybe Mother’s Day); but today, I want to talk about the talk we had today.
We were chatting about parenting. Seated in a couch facilitated triangle, fairly equilateral; with Priya at one vertex, Mom C at another and me at the third. I’m not sure what sparked it, but at some point … perhaps because my mind is racing with thoughts on how to keep making this course at Rutgers better … something took off for me and I can’t shake it.
We were talking to my MIL (aka GOAT MIL) about her POV on her generation and their kids. It was powerful. She was talking about the things on her mind, and on the mind of her friends, about their kids — who just so happened to be me, my wife, and our peers.
The conversation took a powerful turn when we were talking about our kids and I asked her, point blank, what she thought of our parenting. Obviously, she thinks we’re doing a great job but it took a while to get to the moments where she thought we were over-parenting or could do better. She’s one of the few people for whom criticism isn’t a natural instinct. But we got it out of her.
Sometimes she wished we weren’t so tough or, that we let things go. And in digging deeper, we learned that was because there were times as she reflects back on her children, that she wished she had let more things go.
I had a Black Mirror moment. I felt my consciousness skip. My vision distort. And I saw two conversations playing out at the same time.
The way we got to that conversation created an opening for me to fundamentally evolve as a parent … especially with her help.
Let me explain.
In one channel, was the conversation my MIL was having with their friends. Which was very much a “why doesn’t ‘x’ generation listen to ‘y’ advice, we’re doing it for the very incredible and inarguable ‘z’ reason?”
In the other channel, was the conversation I had with my kids ALL F*CKING DAY today. Which was very much “do x” because otherwise “y’ completely and avoidable BULLSH*T is going to happen for “z” ABSOLUTELY ABSURD REASON!
That’s a real moment.
But the timing was awesome. Because of the juxtaposition I was able to hit a moment of contrast.
The problem with being a parent is you get a lot of advice, but not a lot of coaching. You get a lot of criticism but not a lot of mentoring.
Let’s get to it: you get a lot of guilt, but not a lot of empathy.
Which made the moment tonight (Merry Christmas!) a lot of eye-opening fun.
“What would you tell me if you were focused on what you would have done differently instead of what you think we’re doing wrong?”
The question was surprising. The conversation was stilted. Partially because I was lost in the question.
I couldn’t shake the discussion.
I want to avoid the details explicitly because what I took away felt most important: as a parent, where’s the coaching?
When my team at work, works through decisions I spend lots of time talking through what to do, avoid, based on their job descriptions and the realities of the world. My success as a leader is contingent upon my ability to synthesize and translate back.
But for a parent? There’s nothing other than pregnancy and delivery.
We don’t get feedback. We have conversations with our peers in the moment which gives us other in the moment POVs. What would happen if our parents, as grandparents of the child, started to think of themselves as coaches. As people who went through this once before and now have the ability to iterate. But also as people with a unique perspective on the origins of our behavior — likely because our behavior is a result of their parenting.
Imagine if … your parents / parents -in – law pulled you aside periodically and instead of saying “stop being so strict” said “hey, what your kid is doing? Well, you did the same thing And what you’re doing in response as a parent? Well, that was what I did to you … but it was wrong. If I had to do it over again? I’d do it this way. I’m sharing this so you know I’m with you, but also, so you can get better and we can evolve the trajectory of our family.”
Literally, let’s make the family tree better.
It’s not a complex topic; but it’s a valid and exciting one.
I can’t stop thinking about it right now. My head is exploding. It creates incredible space for parents and grandparents to discuss grandkids but most importantly … it evolves the family tree.
Happy I had this moment with one of the greatest women I’ve ever met — my MIL. Who has agreed to try this with me starting tomorrow. And wow. Am I excited to have a coach of her caliber guiding me through what’s next.
As parents, we don’t get to spend enough time on what’s next and how to get better. How to evolve. In search of truth. I see this as a narrative altering moment. What if my mom approached me as a coach? As someone who talks to me about her experience and what she hopes for me instead of her needs and what she expects of me?
The elephant in the room is that as parents, you’re experiencing everything for the first time alongside your kids. Maybe with a second child you get to evolve but the truth is, you’re likely just subsisting. In that moment, there’s nothing harder than trying to survive while feeling like you’re being judged.
In the short term, the discussion for me is how do I build a bridge. Between my parents generation and my kids generation. How do I focus on translating — by using the moments where my family is criticizing me to reflect how I am critical of them.
Those are nice thoughts.
Here’s the big one: how do I live knowing I’m doing my best as a parent, and how do I die knowing I left nothing to chance?
The only scenario? To open the door to the most important and informed people providing me with feedback in a way that I’m likely to listen.
Sender > Message > Channel > Receiver
Communication without acknowledgement of that truth isn’t communication. It’s just noise. I want to turn grandparent feedback into more than noise. If we do this, we’ll create a flywheel that’s more powerful than time (because it will be time with context).
When you see me making a mistake with my kids, lean in. But when you lean in, open up. Talk to me about your experience and what you would have done differently. Not just my experience and what you think I’m doing wrong.
There’s something beautiful there that a blog won’t capture. This was a start.
That’s how my Tuesday morning started. Tuesday, because it was the day after Memorial Day.
The Tuesday after Memorial Day was designed by someone who hates only one thing more than children — and that’s people who have children. There’s an amazing tension with that Tuesday. Your kids have now spent enough time talking about Summer Camp to know the school year is ending, but they’re not educated, informed, or synaptically advanced enough to understand when the year ends. Separately, they get the pump fake of a long weekend and enter Tuesday looking at you with “WTF” sharpied on their foreheads like Zach Braff and “Balls” in Garden State — but not so literally.
The day after Memorial Day for a parent is like waking up to the cryptex in a Dan Brown novel — your kids are operating with a code and a sequence that you need to spend hours deciphering. Nothing makes sense on the Tuesday after Memorial Day. Kids are primed and ready for summer vacation and then have to go back to school for three more weeks. Everything stinks for everyone.
That was this past Memorial Day.
Why? Because flying in and landing on the tarmac just in advance of the holiday weekend we had an exceptional lineup of events (COVID, birthdays, the loss of loved ones, starting new jobs and just, life).
After a hell of a 4 weeks going into Memorial Day, I didn’t even have time to think about the day after (and if you’re wondering, “The Day After” sounds like the title of a post-apocalyptic narrative because, it is, thank you 80’s and the Cold War, and also, welcome to Putin and our Remix). I didn’t have a moment to think about anything.
When you’re really tired, even your panic and anxiety looks at you and says “Ok. We get it. We’ll wait.”
I woke up on the Tuesday after Memorial Day ready to take on the world … for about 15 seconds … until my daughter’s alarm went off and the reality of my To Do list snapped into place like a Tik Tok chiropractor showing off for the “opportunistic” videographer.
“It’s going to be 90 degrees today and I didn’t put the kids lunchboxes in the freezer. They’ll have temperature regulating lunch boxes that will regulate … equivalent to the surface temp of the sun!”
At this point, I’m a failure. I mean, I’m likely a failure in training running up to this moment but this moment is when it gets real.
“I’m going to make my kids a turkey sandwich … that’s going to turn into a panini by 9am.”
That’s how I felt. I love paninis? But only deliberate ones.
I handled business upstairs post-alarm. Got the kids mobilized. Dressed. Ready. And I descended the stairs.
Why? Because my house is only two stories and I was upstairs.
I walked up to the freezer to open it and get ready to make space for some lunch bags. I know the instructions say these lunch bags need hours to transform from room temperature to cold temperature holding vessels — but also, screw you, I’m American and these rules don’t apply to me.
I was ready. To excuse my failure. To prepare my children for a sh*tty ass lunch (at least from a temperature standpoint). I was ready.
And then, this happened.
My bad@ss wife was two steps (and two backpack zippers, one freezer drawer pull) ahead of me.
Their lunch bags were more than cold. They were cryogenically ready for whatever I needed them to hold. Hell, I double checked my organ donor opt-ins with optimism.
My bad@ss wife covered for me. And this moment was maybe, the highlight of my weekend.
Not my kids smiling post first roller coaster.
Not family time at LEGOLand resort.
Not promotions, and bonuses, and successful conversations at work that transform our sense of self and value professionally.
In the freezer.
My wife. Stepping up. Like whoa.
My wife and her moves around a freezer drawer are PRECISELY what make the world go ’round, the right way.
Which brings me back to the title of this post. And I’m excited to share this with the three (3) people who will make it this far.
The secret to life and happiness isn’t “hard” to find, it just means working through a lot of boring stuff that happens just before something works. The bills are paid. The fridge is stocked. The lights turn on. The gas tank is full. The calendar is updated. The clothes are washed.
The secret to life is not missing the big little things that keep life moving forward. That make moving forward possible.
Let me put a point on it; this past week, the secret to life, was bags in the freezer. Specifically, it’s not bags in the freezer when somebody asks you to put them there, it’s bags making it to the freezer when nobody’s watching.
Friction is not having bags in the freezer when they should be; friction is also having to ask someone to put bags in the freezer where they should be.
Most human beings will put bags in the freezer if you ask them to.
People who love you will put bags in the freezer when you wished they would have.
But love. Well, love is when people put bags in the freezer, against their standard OS, regardless of whether you asked them to or not, only because they subconscious (not their conscious) knows what will delight you. It was my job to put those bags in the freezer. But that’s why we do better in teams.
Put that sh*t into a process map.
I’m sharing this because I woke up on Tuesday morning feeling all of the above pre-freezer drawer open, and feeling overwhelmed by the rest of the above post-freezer open.
I had another moment similar to what I’ve had the past 12 months. One where I realized that I’ve found someone who’s worthy of infatuation but deserving of my love.
When you’re young, it’s hard as hell to differentiate between love and infatuation. You just don’t know enough or feel enough. You don’t have enough experiences.
As you get older, you start seeing the difference. You infatuate at first sight; but love, well, love is what happens when you’re infatuation meets conflict, tension, and a slap in the face.
Infatuation is pre-Will Smith Slap, love is when you carry that infatuation well after the slap was televised.
The difference between infatuation and love, is how you recover from friction.
The past 2.5 years have been sandpaper in a f*cking jockstrap levels of friction.
It’s not been easy. But I’ll tell ya. The past 18 months have proven that my wife, this wonderful woman, is the antitdote for friction during infatuation.
She’s the person who sees that Tuesday after Memorial Day coming; who lets me say dumb things like “let’s take these lunch boxes out of the freezer for the weekend to make space for ice cream”.
She’s the one who let’s me say all that, be totally wrong, tucks me into bed so I can count sheep and sugarplums…
…and then descends the stairs …
…and then finds lunchboxes that I’ve archived and filed away better than <<insert world’s greatest archivist’s name here>>…
…and drops them in the freezer.
The difference between infatuation and love, is how you deal with friction. It’s Mike Tyson’s best quote brought to life, about everyone having a plan until they get punched in the mouth. Friction is the punch in the mouth.
Infatuation, is crumbling in response.
But love. It’s when the punch sets you straight not knocks you down.
Infatuation is just like that. It’s everyone being infatuated until they get punched in the mouth with what the world needs.
Love, is getting punched in the mouth, and waking up to find lunchboxes in the freezer.
Love, is having Priya, as your wife in response. May you all be so damned lucky.
I don’t know … maybe you use it for fuel? Because we’re still trying to figure out where you get all of that energy from.
When we started planning your birthday, well, the world happened. Job changes. COVID.
Whatever suggestion we made for your birthday, you responded with the all-time classic Jaanu “shore”. Which, if you’ve never heard before, sounds like it’s somewhere between a sarcastic dismissal and the most sincere buy-in to a suggestion one can make.
Anyone who knows you, knows you’ve found a way to do and feel both at the same time.
What you really wanted all along is what you shared with us, just like last year: “I want our family to be together, just like last year.”
Now if you remember last year, it was an epic failure of a birthday getaway. Yet you don’t; and actually, because of you, most of us remember a hiccup in the venue and location but also remember the extraordinary time we had when we got back together.
So this year, we leaned into creating space for the family to be together.
And we did.
And we were.
And we laughed a ton.
At LEGOLand Resort. At home with the family after. And then with your friends, in a bit of impromptu birthday singing at the Metuchen Pool.
As we look back on you and who you are, the thing I share with everyone who asks about you is the same thing: “Nobody in the world makes me laugh as hard and as often as Jaanu”.
I wish I was the only one to believe that, but your energy, performances and relentless slapstick comedy keeps our house light and laughing even when sometimes, we just don’t want to. At some point you’ll read this when you’re older and I’m putting it here: the number of times your Mama and I are trying to discipline you for something and you say some ridiculous things that make us laugh, can’t be counted or tracked. Really. The person who’s talking to you has to keep a straight face while the other one of us gets to laugh silently in a part of the house where you can’t see us.
Homie. This happens weekly!
Today you Make Me Proud Because of the way you make the world feel and laugh. But what I love most about how you make people laugh, and how you’re able to make people laugh, is that it comes from who you are. You feel feelings deeply. There’s nothing superficial to you. There’s no show or artifice. So the reason you make people laugh is because you yourself are feeling that joy so deeply, at that moment.
And that’s Money.
As you emerge into Age 6, I’m excited to watch you harness that joy, and to start creating space for yourself to feel all of your other emotions at their fullest, without feeling the need to wallow in them. You’re too wonderful a kid not to allow yourself more space and grace to feel tired, to feel hurt, to feel sad, or just, to feel responsible for bringing joy to everyone.
Just because you can and have, doesn’t mean you’re required to.
You, Jaanu, are the life and joy every family needs and deserves. Know that your Mama and I count our blessings for you every moment of every day.
Spring is as hopeful, optimistic and vibrant a time as the calendar affords. The past few days put the best of what makes Spring such an incredible time of year forward, especially here in the Northeastern US.
Spring is about revival, growth, vibrancy; an emergence from what was … well, winter.
Spring is a celebration which explains why it’s greeted with festivals. In Thailand, it’s Songkran, a multi-day water festival, whose name originates in Sanskrit meaning “to move forward”. In Mexico, there’s the celebration of the Spring Equinox at the Teotihuacan Pyramid, where people wear white to soak up the energy of the sun while climbing the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon.
In India there’s Holi, which at its most fundamental spirit, celebrates the arrival of Spring and all the beauty and color it brings.
We celebrate Holi by stuffing ourselves with indulgent treats and showering everyone with a wild assortment of colored powders. Think of the world’s largest pillow fight where everyone is armed with a stunning array of colored baby powders with a shared purpose: to cover as many people and as much earth with that powder as possible.
To participate or observe is to feel the best one can feel. True happiness, hope, optimism. It’s the food. It’s the color. It’s the energy. And it’s the bright smiles peeking through those powder dusted faces of all ages.
Walking away from Holi feeling hopeful for what follows is a promise. (It’s also an amazing life lesson: no matter what the world throws at you, throw color back.)
Which is why I’m choosing this moment, at the seasonal, philosophical and physical start of Spring, to share that I’m leaving my “partnership” at Boldr, and am hopeful and optimistic for what’s next.
Boldr is the Best Work I’ve Ever Been a Part of
I joined Boldr when I met the company’s founder 5 years ago at a conference. His mission and goal of building a world-class, purpose-driven outsourcing company was hard not to love. David’s story was wonderful, and love it I did.
I joined his Board immediately. And over the course of the next 5 years I worked as a coach, as an advisor, and slowly found myself unable to resist doing more and more to support the mission, to support the people, and to support the companies and organizations who chose to invest in Boldr.
As the company worked through some trying times, many of which many small or emerging businesses would understand (losing its largest client, struggling to balance cash flows, balancing employee health with client need), I was invited and I agreed to join full-time as President and Board Chair. The timing was fascinating as it coincided with the emergence of COVID-19 which we started feeling first-hand in the Philippines in late 2019, and which nearly leveled the business (the world?) in 2020.
We found our way through it together by prioritizing our team members and our clients. We proved that by doing the right thing, over and over again, you’d ultimately get to the right outcomes. When a crisis hits you don’t start from the outcomes you desire and work back – you don’t have that luxury – you start from the moment you’re in, respond like hell, and work forward.
I’m proud of what Boldr has become during my time there, especially the last two years.
The company has been celebrated and rewarded with a strong pipeline and clarity for what’s ahead. More importantly, we built the next generation of leaders for Boldr and they have the brains, the shoulders, and the hearts (compassion, empathy, love for themselves and one another) to carry Boldr forward.
To the Team who Made me Feel Like I was at my Best
The thing about teams is that you can fail as a leader all by yourself; but you can only succeed as a leader with your team. I’ve done both. This was the latter. The team I inherited, collected, built and worked with directly at Boldr (that’s every single one of the 1,050+ of you on the commercial side of the business at our peak in December) took me from Winter to Spring. You delivered Boldr and me your competence, your confidence, your capabilities, and in so many ways, your trust and friendship – and I indulged, like the greatest desserts Holi has to offer.
Anyone reading this can now understand why the hardest part for me of resigning in January was knowing that I would no longer meet with these Team Members with any consistency anymore. The last two months have both been and felt like winter.
To our team, thank you. I love you. And in such a short time, I already miss you.
The Worst Goodbye is the One That’s Never Said
My time at Boldr helped me get closer to working on the areas where I’ve received my best feedback: working with people and setting them up for their success. Sometimes that means they stay on the team, sometimes that means they pursue a new role, and sometimes that means I encourage them to say goodbye.
See, I’ve never felt hurt by the people who want to say goodbye and do.
For the past few months I struggled about my place at Boldr. As we looked at the best way forward for Boldr, I realized that there was no better time for me to say goodbye.
2021 was an exceptional growth year. Our next generation of leaders were primed and ready for what was next. The pipeline we’d built for 2022 was delivering even better than our historical growth rates would have assumed. And after the company’s incredible growth of the past few years, Boldr was embarking upon another cycle and iteration (sparked also by that B-Corp certification!)
Looking Forward and Building on What Spring Brings
I ran through my personal favorite exercise on agile self-reflection, “Happy, Proud, and Not Yet Satisfied”, and found myself with an abundance of things I want to do next (if you have 20 minutes, I encourage you to do this exercise yourself).
I’ve got a lot of things on my mind and much still to reconcile, but professionally, I’m leaning into three projects all at varying levels of success and maturity.
People have consistently turned to me when there’s something they want to synthesize and articulate. I also love hearing people’s stories and helping them find the passion, truth, and confidence to tell that story with greater power and conviction. On my birthday in 2021, I launched My Authentic Story, a unique approach to helping people and organizations unearth, frame and share their authentic stories. I have 6 clients right now and I love every moment of every one of those interactions.
If you’ve heard me talk or read something I’ve written in the past few years, you’ll know I believe that the organizations that succeed over the next decade and beyond will be those who put their full energy toward supporting, equipping and unleashing the talent and potential of their people. I have two consulting projects with incredible organizations allowing me to explore whether I enter via the People organization or as a leader and partner on the Executive side who operates as a strong ally to the People organization. My talk and my experiences at HR Transform last week still have me spinning in the best of ways.
If your organization is looking to explore bringing an employee success strategy to life in a way that transforms your culture while sparking commercial success, let’s talk.
I’ve published three kids books on social issues over the past 12 years and I’m incredibly proud of each. I’ve had a fourth in the queue for the past year and let it stagnate; I’m eager to pick that story up and bring it to life while hopefully creating ongoing momentum for the premise itself. It’s amazing what a kids book can capture and convey (global water crisis, sustainability, interdependence, bullying, childhood cancer). I’m excited to write more.
To Spring, and to the friends and family who joined us in that small Holi celebration in our yard yesterday, thank you for bringing it all back, full circle. You helped inspire this post and how I wanted to handle sharing this message.
This past weekend, this past week, felt like Spring again for me personally and professionally. I needed it. It was a perfect transition of seasons.
What a year it’s been. I’d say, a Miracle (head nod to plugging in my phone in the car this AM and Apple Music spitting out the song I rocked you to sleep with countless times during that first year of yours). We’ve watched you move from first grade to second grade; with a full summer of incredible transformation in-between.
Today My Love for you Is … Happy, Proud … and Satisfied. Fully and infinitely. Let me explain why.
We’ve watched your reading take flight.
We’ve watched you take on math with gusto.
We’ve watched you conquer lego sets beyond your years.
We’ve watched you bring your painting to life, and we’ve watched you start to bring your brother along.
You’ve started defining your likes very clearly — whether it’s stepping away from soccer and into basketball, or stepping away from dance and with greater commitment to Tae Kwon-Do.
You assert yourself. Nothing makes me happier than watching you assert yourself. And let me be clear, at the same #$%&ING TIME, nothing frustrates me more! But we’ll get to that tension in a moment.
But if there’s anything to focus on for this moment, well, it’s your swimming. Holy heck, your swimming. Watching you take on swimming with such conviction and relentlessly committing to being able to swim on your own … magic, I think that’s most emblematic of who you are.
You have this innate desire to be incredible at what you do. You’re wickedly competitive (you get that from your Mama). It’s not simply a choice to be incredible, however, it’s to be witnessed as having performed incredibly well.
Taking on swimming at camp, where we couldn’t watch you progress every day, was the perfect scenario. You were able to hone your craft until one day, at the Metuchen Pool, you were ready for the swim test (which you then proceeded to knock out of the park).
It was at that moment that I realized our job is going to be less about pushing you to do great things; our job, as your parents, is going to be doing more and making more space for you to stop and celebrate how wonderful you are.
And I’ll tell you, Magic, it’s hard. It’s really hard to be your Buhboo. It’s hard to balance all of the amazing things you do so well with all of the potential I see ahead of you. I’m still learning how to be a parent. Every day you’re learning how to be a kid, just remember, I’m right along side you, learning how to be a parent to you in that moment.
I’m still learning.
Swimming was your emblematic, personal highlight, for the completion of your 7th year. But I’ll tell you, the highlight of our time together was the breakthrough conversation we had about that point above: about how I’m trying to do a better job balancing my role as your Buhboo.
The breakthrough conversation was after your first week of second grade, where you had gotten in trouble for being so chatty that your seat had to be moved!
You took the feedback to heart. From us. From your teacher. And you changed your behavior. Magic. It was magic.
That night, after we heard from Ms Santasieri, we all spoke as a family and then I tucked into bed next to you. (I’ve enjoyed our nighttime chats, and I’m happy I’m able to make more space for you and your brother just before bed, thanks for making that ask for me on Father’s Day). We talked about that delicate balance I have to strike in your life; the difference between wanting you to be happy in this moment, and wanting you to be your best self over time.
You were not yet 8 and you were a young 2nd grader, but you understood that dynamic in your soul and in your heart. And it’s been wonderful to watch you repeat that to me in those tough times where I have to shift from purely loving you in this moment, with making sure you don’t forget all you’ve done (and all the times you’ve doubted yourself before taking the next step) and all you’re going to do (you, at your best, I truly believe, Magic, is the best this world can offer).
Which is why today, I’m locking in that when it comes to you, please know, in your heart of hearts, that I am always Happy, Proud, and Satisfied. Whatever you are, makes me my happiest, my most proud, and my most satiated.
I can embrace this because I know your competitive fire, your integrity, your passion, your focus will drive you to create a personal flywheel for yourself that the world has never seen before. And our job is to make you feel safe enough to experiment, to test, and to work through and toward your inevitable and ultimate greatness (and whatever you choose to be great at!)
I know the world also, will try to extinguish that fire, to break that integrity, to confuse that passion, to divert that focus … and I’ll be with you, every time that happens.
To remind you, that your best self is better than the world has ever seen. And then, create space and spaces for you to choose what you want to pursue next. (Create space for love and greatness, right Magic, don’t chase either, just create space.)
Your Mama and I are always and forever, Happy, Proud, and Satisfied of who you are in this moment. And infinitely supportive of who you want to be next. Why? Because as we spoke about that one night in September, your life is not about what we want for you, but rather, how you want and choose to define and pursue what being your best self means to you.
This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for some time. My drafts folder has been littered with attempts at this for a while. I always end up deleting what I start. My hope is that I won’t tonight.
The world has been through so much the past two years. More than we deserve (I believe this) but also, exactly what we deserve (I also believe this).
Like any traumatic situation (pandemic, quarantine, recessions, etc), what follows can be seen as obvious and logical or transformative and illuminating. I love the concept of “Post-Traumatic Growth”.
I know that some people find this blog when they’re trying to understand me. As a potential hire. As a potential partner. As someone in a meeting with them. Period.
But I write this blog because I know that in my family, most men are always fighting with our genetics and our history on sustainability. I write this blog as a way to make sure that my kids know me. And hopefully as they get older, whether I’m whispering in their ear directly, or if they’re pulling me into their conscience deliberately, there’s a representation of my POV. For them. As their Buhboo (read: Dad).
As we hit the apex of the holiday season, I want to share something that’s the hardest for me to share. So hard. Because I spent a lifetime doing it.
Anaiya and Jaanu, please, don’t chase love.
I don’t want you to chase it. I don’t want you to feel like you have to chase it. I don’t want you to feel like you need, or should, or have to chase it.
Please. Don’t. Chase. Love.
Instead? Do something I’ve failed at until now. Frankly, until you.
Create space for it.
Realize you’re loved. And therefore, let love in, and let love thrive. Just don’t feel like you need to find it. Pursue it.
I write this because you two made me realize that I don’t need to chase love, instead, I need to acknowledge it. I need to make space for the love that exists, to thrive.
You two make me realize the best edges of my potential.
Anaiya: The way you block out the world for what is right. The way you care. The way you troubleshoot. The way you commit. The way you consume (information, wow do you read!) The way you ignore the crowd and love what you love. The way you sense how people feel and make sure to include. You are the best extrapolation of some modest instincts I have on that front. And wow, the way you make me feel cared for, heard and loved.
Jaanu: The way you love. The way you forgive and forget. The way you keep your circle and cycle close. The way you release emotions without fear of judgement because you know, holding it in is way worse long-term than sharing and working through it together. And man, the way you make me feel meaningful, important, and loved.
I’m writing this post now because I want you to know that you two never have to chase love.
Don’t seek it. Don’t pursue it.
Just be you. Your incredible best and amazing selves
And as a subset of that, create space for love.
Let the world love you as you are because I assure you, it will. Don’t spend time chasing love, instead, spend time creating an environment around you where the love for you thrives. I’ll tell you, kids, I missed that mark badly.
As we enter 2022, I am so immensely proud of you two. Knowing that even with my social fragility, I’ve played a role in what you are today. And I hope with posts like this that we create an environment that celebrates you as archetypes for what should follow.
I love you. I’m proud of you. You’re incredible.
Don’t make my mistakes (that I’m fixing!) Don’t chase any form of love. Instead, be you; and make space for love to come to you.
In doing so, the right love will inevitably come to you.
FWIW, I’m already there. In whatever space exists. Because you deserve it.
Create space. Find space. Pursue space.
But homies. Please. Learn from my mistakes and don’t chase. Just allow. Allowing, is inevitably more powerful than … chasing.
Someone I love reached out a few weeks ago to ask me how to navigate a complex personal situation. Out of respect, I’ll anonymize and abstract the situation here; in essence, the person who reached out to me found themselves in the midst of a pattern and repeated interaction that to them, seemed to be creating stress and also had a simple solution that involved the individual they were interacting with to “let go” of doing this one thing. It seemed so simple. And if the individual let it go, the person who reached out to me was convinced that everyone’s life would be easier and nothing negative would come of it.
For the first time, I shared a deeply personal approach to these situations with someone else: stop thinking of this situation as a problem you can solve, and start acknowledging this as a condition you will have to live with and find a way forward with.
This may be controversial; but I believe strongly that treating some challenges as conditions is a tactic you can use to put concepts like “choose your battles” into practice. Everyone knows they have to choose their battles; but nobody tells you what to do with the battles you choose…not to choose. And without a deliberate plan for those unchosen battles, they end up lingering, they end up resurfacing, and you end up having to revisit them as decisions as a result of them remaining unsettled as well as unchosen.
What do I mean when I say “condition”?
First, let’s define “condition”. Personally, I’m not the healthiest. I’ve had 10 surgeries in my life: a corneal transplant in my right eye, both ACLs, one meniscus, a compound rotator cuff and posterior bankart repair, wrist, jaw, abdominal hernia, and two topographic laser corrections to my left eye. I also have at least 4 more procedures ready to go when I’m ready, not to mention a near certain tear of my left shoulder (which I won’t repair), and up to 60% hearing loss in both ears (which has affected my ability to and desire to socialize).
Those are conditions. I don’t wake up every day complaining about my eyesight and my degenerative eye condition because there’s nothing I can do about it. I find a way forward. I am not going to have shoulder surgery on my left shoulder (the juice is not worth the squeeze at my age) so instead, I switched my tennis backhand from a two hander to a one hander. I can do very little about my hearing loss so I’m now enjoying more time with my thoughts and with experiences where sound is less important (I read more than watch or listen, for example).
Let’s be clear: we all have conditions we live with. When they are things that happen to us, our bodies, our minds, our experiences, we find ways to accommodate them. However, when they are imposed upon us, or brought into our lives, by external parties (family, friends, co-workers) we don’t allow them, or ourselves, the same grace and space, to treat them as conditions. We struggle, we engage, we battle, we debate, we try and fix … but I for one (I’ll stop saying we, as that’s not fair) can do a better job thinking about the challenges people bring to me not as disruptions but as conditions.
In doing so, the path forward is less about finding an answer, and more about simply finding a way. Sometimes, finding a way is the only way.
Taking this approach also fits what I hope and what I see as my world view more and more. It makes me realize I am more a part of the system than an individual of matter. It places pressure on me to be empathetic to an extreme.
Because there’s more to this approach than just us. When we look for solutions we do see a path froward. But in seeing the path forward, we don’t always see the other person. For who they are. For their context.
It’s always easy to solve someone else’s problem.
I’ve spent the past year, and very aggressively, the past 6 months, focused on becoming a holistically healthier human being. The amount of pressure I allowed myself to feel was unhealthy. And the number of excuses I made for myself to remain unhealthy, to make unhealthy choices, was exceptionally problematic.
One of the biggest changes I’ve started making for myself is to pull back from finding solutions unless I’m asked, or unless it’s an absolutely critical part of moving forward. This is important at work. This is also important at home, most importantly with my kids, where I’m not yet ready to treat their quirks as conditions…c’mon folks, they’re only 7 and 5. They’re human experiments, testing boundaries; they don’t have hard coded conditions yet. So it is important in that context that I work through their thinking with them. But outside of my kids, in most cases, thinking in terms of conditions is a healthy mindset.
Thinking in terms of conditions also allows me to remove steam from the pressure cooker. If I know I have a plan for dealing with a battle not chosen, then I’m more likely to pick and choose fewer battles.
I had an intense work conversation recently; and I realized that not only was I not being heard, I was very unlikely to be heard. I hadn’t and haven’t been heard. But it very truly isn’t my fault or my problem to fix. It’s a pattern I can’t change. Instead of allowing myself to be continually frustrated by it, I decided to take my own advice.
And treat certain dynamics as conditions. Since that very poignant moment and realization, I find myself liberated, positive, and energized again at work.
I’ve always said that “why” is an important question, but for all intents and purposes, “how” is the most powerful one. Embracing the mindset at critical moments requires that you shift away from “why” (which in many cases, can be asking a question the answer to which changes nothing, which are questions I often choose to ignore) and lean into “how”.
And for that step, for Kenny Rogers playing in the background while I figure out what condition my condition is in, #iamgrateful and #iamthankful. Here’s to being healthier with every day.
This is a hard one to write. But I’m writing it. Because if I don’t, I will miss the opportunity to bring the accountability I’ve brought to the rest of my life to the most important people in my life: my kids.
This post isn’t for anyone else; this post is for me to read and reference over the course of the next 12 months as I hold myself accountable to continuing to grow, improve, evolve, get better, as a Father.
Today was an exceptionally tough Father’s Day. The range of emotions I continue to work through, balancing the day-to-day effort I make and the perception of that effort is … dissonant. I haven’t found a way to reconcile the reality of it all but I know it won’t be for a lack of effort or self-awareness.
In a sense, it parallels the experiences I find myself in across my personal and professional interactions. Which in some senses, makes it easier to therefore find healthy ways forward. 2021 in many ways, has been my healthiest year on this planet. Not my easiest; but in many ways, my healthiest (honestly, I think with each year, you gain more perspective, more responsibility, increased expectations, and as a result, in some senses, with each year, it all gets heavier to carry; the question is whether that weight is harder, which is a separate discussion for a separate day).
Juxtaposed with that weight associated with growth, is this increasing sense of responsibility.
See, Anaiya and Jaanu, you grow and transform at such an extraordinary pace on a daily basis. It’s impossible to keep up with your progress. And what I think really resonated with me over the past year was the fact that to keep up with you, my growth as a Father needs to keep up with your growth and evolution as a human being.
It’s 10:51 pm and I entered today fully expecting to take another step forward as a Father. One way I planned to do that was to ask my children to tell me what it was they wanted me to do better in this upcoming year.
It’s always hard to hear; what you can do better. But this evening, before the kids went to bed, it wasn’t harder, it was simply a bit more clarifying.
When you ask a question, expect to hear the truth back. Otherwise, don’t ask the question.
For Anaiya, her ask was that I find more time to put her to bed during the week. There are so many reasons this has become a near impossibility, but when I look at them, in reality, they’re more excuses than reasons. I’m excited to look back on this past year in 2022 and see if Anaiya remembers what she asked me, and, see if she acknowledges any progess I’ve made. I’m excited for it.
For Jaanu, perhaps the most heartbreaking, was that he asked me to be more patient with him when he’s not listening. What’s hard is that since the last time I truly raised my voice at him, in January, I’ve made an active effort to be patient with him and talk him through calming him down. It tells you how fragile our children are; because for all that effort I think I’m making, he still remembers … the times I’m not.
I feel the weight of the world after these two conversations. Because I know that even here, I feel very little space to reason, to rationalize.
All I have are expectations.
And like everywhere else, when it comes to expectations, you can have them thrust upon you, or you can ask for them, seek them out, and make them a choice.
I want to be the best Father I can possibly be; which is why I promised myself that as hard as it was going to be to hear, and as many excuses and rationalizations as I could make about what I heard, the only thing that mattered was the honest answers to my questions.
Because in pursuit of being the best Father I can possibly be, I’m not looking for validation, I’m looking for motivation.
Anaiya and Jaanu, thank you. For relentlessly holding me to a higher standard.
Thanks for raising the bar on me, about me, for me.
At 11:53 pm on December 31, 2020 I finished the last sip of my Manhattan. Turned and celebrated New Year’s Eve and swinging into 2021 with Priya who then proceeded to turn away from the start of Pixar’s Soul and call it a night.
I stepped into the kitchen and made another Manhattan just after midnight. But instead of using my Woodford Reserve, I turned to a Zero Proof Whiskey Alternative I’d discovered at the start of the pandemic, Ritual. It was sweeter. It was lighter.
It was a start.
Having that Woodford Reserve still there on the counter was going to be too tempting; so I packed it up, along with all of the other liquor and beer we had upstairs (wine stayed for Priya) and took them down to the basement.
It was truly a start. My goal was to do a dry January and depending on how it went, I had mentally prepared myself to take a crack at a dry February as well.
It’s Father’s Day (2:03 am, Sunday, June 20, 2021) and I’m proud to say that the sip I took at 11:53 pm on December 31, 2020, is the last sip of what anyone would qualify as an alcoholic drink I’ve taken since; though it’s not the last I’ll ever take by any means (that’s an important point to make as well).
This post is not to sell you on the merits or value of a dry sprint. Rather, this post is to share what I’ve fallen in love with along the way and in my active quest to find things to sip, to savor, to indulge in even, things that scratch the itch to drink when I have it (say, a Hazy IPA, a rich Stout), that offset any social pressures when I socialize (a Gin and Tonic, a Cocktail), and that give me alternatives to the more sugary options we feel stuck in when we do give up alcohol (is sweet the only baseline flavor available to me now?)
Finally, I’ll update this list as time, tastes, and new experiences require. My first step today was to get this down to make it easier for me to support the people who’ve reached out to me about my approach to this experience.
In Pursuit of the Ideal “Time-to-Sip” or Ready Made vs Mixed, vs Crafted
There are many ways to organize this post; I ended up settling on how I think about drinks as someone with a fairly busy schedule: time-to-sip. In other words, I’ve organized this post by the effort required and time needed to get from thirst craving to first sip.
Ready Made –
The nonalcoholic, zero spirit industry is booming. The trend has some health driven catalysts, but as with all things, it’s also a byproduct of shifting generational tastes and the nature of generational reactionism (it doesn’t matter what you do when it comes to tastes and styles and indulgences, subsequent generations will naturally react and pivot more than copy). Nevertheless, the byproduct is an extraordinary assortment of now off-the-shelf, ready made alternatives to alcoholic beverages that I enjoy and even prefer.
I’m separating “mixed” from “crafted” for a reason: stirring is a hell of a lot easier than measuring, weighing, calibrating, tasting, and presenting. Think of the difference between a Jack and Coke and a truly exceptional Whiskey Sour. Mixing the right zero spirit beverage requires a creative palate and knowledge of your audience; understanding that some people may be more forgiving because it’s nonalcoholic, and some people are more forgiving when it’s alcoholic. Let that sink in, and then laugh about it.
There is one book and set of recipes that transformed my experience here. I’ve only had the chance to attempt two recipes from it, but, simply by reading through the recipes, I’ve also created and experimented with a third on my own that I’m extraordinarily happy with.
Non Alcoholic Beeror “Near Beer”
I’m not going to spend any time on Lagers / Pilsners. You can find these anywhere, and have been able to for decades.
What I was most surprised by, was the broad number of options available … that had depth and breadth of flavor. As someone with a well stocked beer selection, kicking back with a Heineken 0.0 wasn’t going to suffice.
Athletic Brewing Company – Run Wild IPA, Free Wave Hazy IPA, and All Out Stout. First and foremost, all three taste good (IPA), to great (Stout) to virtually indistinguishable (Hazy IPA). These are good drinks and objectively good beers. What makes them additionally worth referencing is they are all available on Amazon, so add them to your next Prime order, get them on a recurring delivery, and you’ll never be wanting. The cans also have a great feel and texture to them, a high quality finish. If you are trying to mask your sobriety (short or long-term) than these are excellent options as well as without deep inspection and attention, nobody will know the difference — in can form, or if poured into a glass.
Bottom Line: ABC has the better stout. It’s richer and more complex.
Brewdog AF Series – Hazy AF IPA, Punk AF Robust IPA, Wakeup Call. These fit the same pattern as the Athletic Brewing Company. They tend to be deeply similar (Hazy AF), while also being lower calorically than Athletic Brewing (Punk AF is 37 calories vs 70-90 for ABC). Similarly available on Amazon and in a variety pack and at about the same price. The key reason I lean toward ABC is they have the Free Wave Hazy at my local liquor store otherwise, if I’d seen these first, I’m certain I’d have embraced Brewdog first and more often but if all things are even, I’d go with the Brewdog IPAs.
Bottom Line: Brewdog has the better IPAs. They’re bolder, more complex, and have fewer calories.
I also encourage you to connect with your local brewers to see who’s making great versions of local beers in low or non alcoholic options. There are some well reviewed stouts I can’t get my hands on in NJ but would do just about anything to find a way to get into my fridge. Wellbeing Brewing (great name) isn’t one I’ve had luck with as of yet
If it’s not clear, I objectively enjoy the taste of a great IPA and a smooth stout. It’s not the alcohol that makes them something I want to drink, it’s the flavor profile and how it complements times of day, foods, and moods. I’m thankful to the brewers who are bringing their profiles to the market in NA and LA forms.
HopTea – I’ve been a fan of HopTea for a couple of years now. I stumbled across the brand at my local WholeFoods as I was looking for low calorie, low sugar alternatives to coffee, that I could enjoy on a hot day. HopTea are carbonated, hop-infused, teas (green, white, chamomile, and recently, hibiscus, with zero calories and solid doses of caffeine and hop-forward flavors to carry you through. You can find many “Hop Water” type clones but from my experience, HopTea is the runaway best for those looking for caffeine, hop notes, and brisk alternatives.
“Zero” Cocktails (aka Mocktails, but wow, I hate that label)
Beckett’s Nonalcoholic Tonics – These are an absolute runaway favorite on the taste side of things. We’ve tried them all, the Stone Daisy Lime Margarita, the Flying Mule Moscow Mule, the Mystic Dove Paloma, and the Juniper Sky Gin and Tonic. Each nailed the flavor of their alcoholic sibling without being overly sweet to compensate for their lack of “spirit”. The downside is that they tend to skew a bit more expensive unless you buy in bulk (about $4/bottle if you do buy in bulk and include shipping) and what they win you over with by being low in calories (~30 calories per can/bottle) they likely get you with longer-term by using Stevia as the sweetening agent. For me, I can never have enough of these on hand or in the fridge, which is doubly troubling given that they appear to no longer be distributing through Amazon.
Of the nonalcoholic cocktails, Beckett’s was the only one I truly enjoyed in Ready Made form. I tried Spirity for example, and was deeply unimpressed; not because of the flavor, but because of the expectations of the label (if Spirity would have called their Negroni a “botanical, nonalcoholic beverage” I may have managed it differently).
Elixirs and Botanicals
As mentioned above, if Spirity recategorizes themselves, I’ll put them here. For now I’ll focus on the creators of nonalcoholic beverages who aren’t trying to recreate a cocktail but rather are trying to explore objectively great and satisfying flavors for complex beverages that also happen to be nonalcoholic.
Kin – Kin was the first creative, deliberately nonalcoholic cocktail I purchased. I was one of the first to try the High Rhode and I loved it as a novelty. It was expensive, but it felt like an exceptional investment (from the packaging all the way through). Kin kicked off a category branded “euphorics”, more often referred to a “nootropics” but these are effectively botanicals that also claim to have some mind altering/state altering/mood altering/brain boosting capabilities. I never felt that with High Rhode, but I did feel like I had a unique and tasty spirit in my hand — and no hangover the morning after. Since Kin’s release, the market has flooded and I find some of the alternatives, particularly Curious, to be a preferred alternative for me. That being said, I’m excited to try their new Lightwave flavor, which is focused on “calming” and features vanilla, saffron, and reishi.
Curious Elixirs – I loved my Curious Elixirs subscription. The care they take to introduce you to their perspective and approach on each of their 5 elixirs is great for someone taking their first step into complex nonalcoholic beverages. If you don’t like the subscription you will, at the least, walk away with a point-of-view and a way to explore additional options as a result of the initial sampler. These are also on the more expensive side. That being said, my recommendation is to sign up for the sampler and buy the additional order of Curious No. 5 (not included in the Sampler). You’ll find a range of booze free cocktails that are made to be poured into glasses, shaken/stirred with ice, and served garnished. If you wanted to make these a true cockatil alternative though, I believe you’d want to move these to the “Mixed” category and since they’re all sugar free, explore creative ways to add a sweetening agent (think simple syrups, honeys, etc). Curious No. 5 is my favorite; some people think it tastes like balsamic vinegar.
Betera – Very similar to Curious, but with more of an emphasis on “bitterness” as an attribute. Where I found Curious to be spicier and bolder, I found Betera to be brighter and more bitter. The botanicals were more pronounced here and I enjoyed each flavor, drank them faster, but felt less satisfied after each. In the end, I felt like I was drinking an unsweetened fruit juice, and not necessarily in the best way. I see Betera as having a very distinct flavor profile and a very tight audience. That being said, as with all, I highly recommend getting an initial sampler to get you started and find out where on the spectrum of available nonalcoholic beverages you reside.
One thing I have learned is that nonalcoholic spirits I’ve tried do not work on their own. So though they may be positioned as spirits you can include in the Ready Made category above, it felt disingenuous to put them there. Actually, I’d even put Betera and some flavors of Curious in the Mixed Camp simply because making them enjoyable requires more than opening a can or a bottle and moving the container to your lips.
Time-to-sip in this category is a range, but it doesn’t require much foresight, much planning, a variety of utensils. It’s the difference between making cheese sauce for your macaroni and cheese the Kraft way, or the way that starts with “stir and whisk your choice of fat with the flour…” (the latter, is obviously, is Craft, and not Kraft).
Let’s start with assembling the spirits that change you from a person who serves non-alcoholic beverages to a person who has a non-alcoholic bar.
Nonalcoholic Spirits – Replicants
Ritual Zero Proof – Ritual makes a range of spirits. Their Rum is their best option, though I found their Whisky to be solid when mixed thoughtfully. I don’t use Gin in my cocktails so I saw no need to make that purchase. And as someone who tends to struggle mightily with Tequila (thanks again to the guys at my bachelor party), I’ve avoided Ritual’s Tequila. I use their Rum in fruit juices, I use their Rum in teas, I use their rum in seltzers and sodas. As nonalcoholic spirts go, it’s a top notch option, and if you’re getting the Rum for the first time … just go ahead and get their Sampler Pack (Whisky, Gin, Tequila). Thanks again to Amazon for equipping us all to live a healthier, more booze free life.
Lyre’s – As a brand, Lyre’s is a pioneer. They create entire environments around the concept of the “sober bar”. It’s only recently that I found their Spiced Rum. It’s different than Ritual’s approach to rum and I believe the goal for Lyre’s is to substitute for Spiced Rum more literally than Ritual proclaims. Lyre’s is not a spirit I would have on its own on the rocks, but with a splash of anything that augments the flavor profile (ginger ales, pineapple juices, seltzers and sodas) it’s a great way to go. As the summer is upon us, I just refreshed my Lyre’s and if I’m using my own behavior as a signal of interest, I purchased Lyre’s Spiced Cane Rum instead of Rituals — though part of me believes it’s because I’ve had more Ritual than Lyre’s and I’m still formalizing my choices. Note: As the weather opens us up to in-person gatherings, I’m eager to attend Listen Bar.
Free Spirits – I have not tried these but I’m excited to. The way they describe the bourbon is what has me intrigued even though the reviews are challenging to get past.
The above represent the best options for spirits replicated in nonalcoholic forms. That being said, I am starting to believe that similar to excellent vegan and vegetarian food where focusing on “mock meats” (seitans, impossible and beyond burgers) is inevitably short-sighted and a limiting factor. What I’ve started finding true excitement in is with booze free, nonalcoholic beverages that are deliberately and unabashedly nonalcoholic. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it may not lead you to achieve your own greatest potential. In the end, the above are the best karaoke singers of the nonalcoholic world; sometimes though, you want to taste originals.
Non-alcoholic Spirits – True Alternatives
Seedlip – For many, Seedlip is where the bar starts and ends. I’ve found them to be solid, botanical mixers — but prohibitively expensive for the end result. I recommend a Seedlip sampler if for no other reason than the beautiful bottles and the universe of beverages crafted around the experience. They’re a great way to take your first step into a nonalcoholic bar. If you’re like me though, I think with some experimentation you’ll find that a better way to get the Seedlip type experience in a wider array of options and in a much more affordable investment, is through the next option on this list…
Bitters – Yup. Bitters. The assortment available on Bitters is truly incredible. And in a side-by-side comparison of Seedlip and Tonic vs Soda, Bitters, and Tonic, I was effectively able to recreate the general Seedlip taste without the cost. The proof is in the usage; my Seedlip Spice 94 is hovering near 1/2 used, while I’ve torn through several bottles of Bitters in the same amount of time (and to be clear, any usage of Seedlip has been forced and deliberate as opposed to instinctive and a default). Aztec Chocolate Bitters. Angostura Bitters. Orange Bitters.Branded Bitters. Smoked Herb Bitters. The best part about Bitters is that a 3-4 dashes (instead of 1-2 in spirited cocktails) can push the flavor profile far; and Bitters double as an excellent way to bring grilled fruits and vegetables to life (don’t sleep on cooking with Bitters folks).
In addition to the Ready Made items above, I see some assortment of Seedlip and Bitters as a necessary shelf in any truly well stocked nonalcoholic bar with any hope of providing your guests with exciting options that make them forget (or at least embrace skipping) the traditional boozy cocktail.
The list of items you can use to mix with the above is exhaustive; I’d say long and distinguished but that would take me down a Top Gun rabbit hole few of us have time for. That being said, there are a few core mixers I recommend having on hand that give you an excellent set of beverage aids to augment and extend the items above.
Sodastream – Simple. ‘Nuff said. Get a Sodastream. Carbonation brings nearly all of the above items to life and a near infinite stream of soda water means you never run short. The syrups are on you; go for it if you want. I’ve never used them. But the Sodastream is steady flowing in our household so much so that it owns a place on our counter, near our sink, second only to hand and dish soap. Also, if you’re looking for ROI, the Sodastream we have is about 18 years old. When I was 18 I dressed terribly, had ragged hair, rarely shaved, and wore crappy cologne — all this to say, Sodastream is in way better shape at 18 than I was.
Cherries – Get. Good. Cherries. I found these Fabbri Amarena Cherries at Whole Foods has a really great stock on hand which has been a game changer; but any liquor store worth its margarita salt will have at least a few for you to choose from, none of which will disappoint. The cherries and the syrup will put you in position to transform the look, texture, and taste of all the spirits above, but you’ll find their utility expand dramatically as you look to enhance the botanicals and elixirs without losing the essence and philosophy behind why they were made.
Cocktail Crate – There are tons of mixers, but I am set on Cocktail Crate as my go to. I love everything about them. The breadth of flavors and syrups is outstanding. They’re available at my local grocery stores. And the bottles have a shape and form that help them fit perfectly in a bar, or in a cabinet — not too tall, not too wide, not too deep (part of stocking a bar is being able to stock it, and it’s these mixers and aids we’ve outlined here that take spirits and give them range). I don’t have a strong, comparatively informed opinion here. If you find better mixers with the range, convenience, and stocking/storing function, comment back. My two favorites from Cocktail Crate are the Old Fashioned and the Ginger Bee but you can’t go wrong.
Simple Syrups – I can’t overstate the value of a rich selection of simple syrups. Cardamom is my knock ’em down, drag ’em out favorite, but it barely wins in a Fight Club battle with Rose. For many, the simple syrups will be the best way to make the botanicals sessionable vs simply sippable. They’re also something you can have a lot of fun with on your own (making homemade simple syrups and infusing vodkas are two simple, highly effective ways to personalize beverages — high ROI for little risk and investment.) Please, if you can, avoid Torani. And a second please, don’t hesitate to use that cardamom and/or rose syrup in your cold brew coffee.
Teas – Finally, don’t underestimate the power of Teas to color, to flavor, to augment the beverages you’re creating. Teas come packed with flavor, with aromatics, with caffeine, and with antioxidants, making them an excellent partner and aid to your bar. One that more bartenders, alcoholic or not, should incorporate into their arsenal.
I’m still learning here; but outside of experimenting on the above, if you’re interested in crafting nonalcoholic cocktails the single best and most comprehensive investment you can make will be this book from the team at Alinea, Zero: A New Approach to Non-Alcoholic Drinks (if you’re here, get the Reserve Edition, it’s stunning).
When you shift to Crafted, the list of ingredients is extraordinary. I spent $150 on utensils and ingredients just to make the breakfast stout. 90 minutes later, after realizing how much I’d messed up, I was left with … a really solid nonalcoholic beer and tons of lessons and inspirations on how to improve the recipe going forward. I simply can’t recommend the book enough as more than anything, it will transform your thinking around what’s possible in the non-alcoholic beverage arena.
Paying it Forward
I spent the past 6 months trying to avoid telling a sober story, and wanting to tell a story of creativity, exploration, and what to me still felt indulgent. I didn’t get there right away, but I’m right there today.
At 5:20pm ET on Father’s Day, the sun is blaring, the Suns / Clippers game is on in the background.
And I’ve got a bright, crisp, nonalcoholic espresso stout in my hands.
The Ready Made, nonalcoholic beers made me rethink what was possible in this category.
The Mixed, helped me understand how to bring flavors together.
The Crafted, equipped me with the materials and some of the technical know how to believe that I could make this one myself.
That’s right, the espresso stout I’m drinking right now is my own. Powered by Decaffeinated coffee, Barley, Cacao Nibs, and Hop Pellets … and some powerful carbonation from that Sodastream.
The past six months, I don’t miss the alcohol. I’ve found a universe of flavors where “missing” isn’t the feeling. I’m more in a position where I want those flavors at times too. And with a healthier foundation around what I consume, I do look forward to returning to the drinks I want. And to having less of a binary decision-making process when “What would you like to drink?” is the question coming my way.
People have to wonder if you’re scripted. There’s no other answer.
How is it, for a boy of 4, when granted any wish for his birthday, almost as if given a genie in a lamp, turns quickly to his parents and without batting an eye and without missing a beat, responds with more confidence than an honest man on trial:
“I want the whole family together.”
Except with you, there’s no cliffhanger.
There’s no clause to follow. There’s no extension of the ask. There’s no “I want the whole family together, so I can get more gifts.”
There’s just you.
Expressing your incredibly kind, warm, loving soul, in the most authentic of ways.
When we got the family together, and when the house we rented tortured us into leaving after 18 hours, you know what made everything ok: knowing that you would be more than ok.
I realized that the house, was for us. The pool was for us. The game room was for us. The weekend plans were for us.
The “us” was for you, and the “us” was all you needed.
As much as you find excitement in new things; gifts, toys, foods, experiences. What’s so magical about you is that consistently the simplest things make you happiest. And nothing makes you happier than time with the people (family and friends) you love.
You remind me of what’s important every morning and every night. You teach me what the world sometimes makes me unlearn.
And it is undeniably the thing that makes me proudest of you.
At age 4, going into age 5, you make me proud because your greatest and most authentic happiness comes from the people and in the ways that the entire world is taking courses, setting reminds, seeing coaches and actively seeking to get back to.
Time. Attention. To and for. The people we love.
I am proudest of what you love, of the way you love, and how simply, easily and clearly you’re showing the world, what love means to you.