Interviewing the #UndauntedMAN? Featuring David Elliott

It was August 2017 when I posted the first in this series, an interview of Jodie Pierce, an author friend of mine who has survived inspiringly despite the way life has conspired to totally kick her in the face. She lives with several mental health diagnoses, has survived traumatic domestic abuse, and still walks around with her shoulders back and her head high. In September, the interview featured Elizabeth Brico, who took time from her own blog to chat with me about her own experiences with mental illness, domestic violence, and even heroin addiction. She's doing her best to rock life these days, and I was so proud to have been able to shine a spotlight on her here.

In October, Maria Hernandez (nominated by Elizabeth Brico) shared her story of adoption, her struggles with confidence and finding her place in the world, as well as some of her journey through living with postpartum depression. She had a moving sense of positivity, and was such a joy to work with! November brought Keisha Harold to the blog (nominated by my sweet cousin, Dana), and Keisha shared how her faith in Christ helped her turn her life around after childhood violence and her own battles with addiction led her life down a path of toxic relationships. Her story and her perspective were incredibly inspiring!

December's Undaunted Woman was Elizabeth Legere, who I met by accident in the Dollar Tree This woman has come to be such a sweet source of blessing and inspiration in my life - she has survived serious health issues in both herself and one of her children, horrific violence in relationships, and so many other things - but she's standing strong, staying positive, and rocking life as a mother of two, a full-time college student, and my personal Jamberry Consultant. Oh yeah, and she manages a regular day job too, because she's unstoppable.

This month my Interviewing the Undaunted Woman series is branching out to include an Undaunted Man among its ranks - David Elliott, of the Single Dad's Guide to Life. David and I have been working together all month, writing like maniacs as BLOGuary tore through our lives like a whirlwind. It was great having a writing partner this year though, and while I can't say blogging six days a week (daily except Sundays) was any easier this year than it was last year, I can say without a doubt that it has been much more fun.

So, considering the partnership for this month and the things I've learned about David's personal story, it seemed only fitting to set him in his rightful place among the ranks of the Undaunted. But first, go get yourself a cup of coffee and a sandwich - he's wildly entertaining and a pretty decent blogger in his own right. Forgive us both for the length of this post.


Tell me about yourself - what's your story, and how did you become an undaunted man?
Way back in the ancient times, when people wore bell bottomed jeans and thought shirts with collars open down to their belly button and wearing gold chains was fashionable, a baby boy was torturing his mother with a 23 hour delivery. Ok, maybe my story isn’t that bad. In truth, I grew up in a fairly strict conservative home in La Mirada California, which given the proximity to L.A. seems like an paradox, but was true nevertheless. Whatever my origins, I grew up lower middle class, and bland.

I don’t think I had to turn into anyone else until I got married to my now ex-wife. Back in the spring of 2005 I married a woman who would change my life. I suppose no one gets out of marriage without their lives changed in some fashion. And while I knew there were issues there, I didn’t realize how difficult they were going to be.

Most of the issues we dealt with at the beginning were external. New Job. Moving. Getting pregnant right away. All of those things would have been difficult at the very least. Multiple major life changes create chaos. But then her brother started dying of cancer and all hell broke loose. It’s not that he started dying. It’s that they screwed him up in the process and practically gutted him along the way. Most of the last eight months of his life were spent in hospitals.

I went into super husband and father mode. I took on every last little thing as my ex-wife sunk into depression and despondency. I don’t want to get into all of her issues necessarily. It’s the ones which related to me, which made life hard. She wouldn’t clean. She wouldn’t cook. And she didn’t work. She practically never left her room.

But when she did finally begin to leave her room the depression became something else. Maybe it was there all along. Maybe not. But her depression revealed itself to be part of a larger personality disorder which involved manipulation, lies and being gas-lighted.

Coming from the conservative background I was raised in, I didn’t believe in divorce. Unfortunately, not believing in it doesn’t stop you from doing other stupid stuff to try to deal with the pain inside when every day feels like a constant rejection. And after every time we were intimate she would tell me about all of my problems and how I wasn’t enough. It doesn’t stop it from happening either.

It’s the things I did during this time which still haunt me. And it created the perfect storm. Eventually it would lead to me hitting rock bottom, sitting in the apartment my ex and I were vacating, staring at the ceiling tiles and thinking my life was hopeless.

Honestly, when my ex told me she was leaving me, part of me still wanted to figure it out, no matter how much pain she had caused me. And another part felt relieved not to have to deal with her. (A belief I now realize was ridiculous.) The one thing I feared the most, however, was what would happen to my daughter.

I would love to say the court system is even-handed in this country. And maybe part of it tries to be. But my experience with the courts is favor goes to the mother. I won’t get into my frustrations with this as they are long and not really part of my story. But when the crashing realization I wouldn’t get my daughter even half time fell on me, I realized how much more I needed to become for my daughter.

I had to overcome the fears her mother would encourage about me, and get beyond the barriers to communication which arose as a result of the crumbling marriage. My daughter’s mother had years to poison feelings toward me. And it’s not that my daughter didn’t love me. But my daughter feared me, which hurt almost as much.

I knew I needed to make a turn around. It began with taking the time to spend quality time with my daughter every weekend. This meant outings and playtime and all forms of engagement. And slowly but surely, things began to turn around.

I learned so many things from this time. But the biggest thing I learned from this is about what is possible and what is not possible. It comes down to a realization about what I can and cannot be responsible for. I am responsible for what can and cannot be done only as regards to myself. And if I live up to my own expectations, it’s the only thing I can hope for.

So much of me had been tied into what others thought about me. The truth is, the most important person in this world I need to please is myself. Not in some egocentric way or hedonistic way. But I needed to live up to the expectations I set for myself at the end of the day and not worry about what others thought. And this would make me the most happy. This would make me an undaunted man.

Coming from a single mom perspective, I'm horrified that your daughter's mother would want to turn your daughter against you. As the mother of abandoned daughters, I can't imagine wanting anything more than for my daughters to have a healthier relationship with their dad - and for me to be able to trust him with them - regardless of how he and I now feel about each other. But I can imagine how the relationship stuff really gutted you as a man, too. So have you ever struggled with confidence and/or self-worth? If yes, how did you overcome that struggle - and if no, how did you avoid it?
I really struggled with self-confidence for years in school because I was a really shy boy and had a hard time making friends. And when my parents switched schools when I was eight I lost all my friends and connections. It took years to rebuild them. And it really didn’t happen until I started making friends with people at church in high school that things started to turn around.

First, my friends helped me find the things about myself which I found valuable. They made me realize I had a lot to give. Second, they encouraged me to step outside of myself and become more than the kid I was before. They ended up changing my views on a lot of things. This doesn’t mean my parents taught me poorly. It’s just my friends helped me get rid of the negative self-talk and negative self-image which had built up over years.

And then going off to Berkeley was a big boost of self-confidence. Not only the fact I was capable of getting into a school of Berkeley’s magnitude, but going out there and being able to be me and draw other people of like minds and interests to myself changed me. It seemed to turn things around.

It's amazing how much a little independence can change your confidence and impact how you see yourself as a person. What's the one thing you've survived that makes you feel most like an "undaunted man?"
If I was to discuss one thing which I survived and made me realize I could get through anything it would have to be my divorce and the relationship with my daughter. Bottoming out on both of those things, I knew things needed to change. But at the same time, so much was out of my control. Dealing with divorce and rebuilding the relationship with my daughter made me realize how much I could do. It made me realize I could accomplish anything, and that I could face any obstacle.

I've definitely been there. Divorce is such a common thing in our society; there are so many people who think nothing of it, expect no damage, even plan for it in advance. But it wrecks everything when you have you whole self invested and end up losing out. But these days, what aspect of your current life do you find most rewarding?
It depends on what you mean by rewarding. From one point of view, the part of my life I find the most rewarding would be the growth in the relationship with my daughter. She inspires me to be a better person. And I cannot imagine where I would be without her. As far as personal accomplishments, beginning my blog and starting to write and see people respond to my writing is very rewarding in a different kind of way.

It's funny how those two things can be so connected, and yet so separate. Parenting colors your whole world - it must, in order for it to be done well, I think. But all the same, you have to have something of your own, and I can definitely relate to how meaningful it can be for writing to be that thing. So tell me this: qhat's your favorite successful strategy or coping mechanism for dealing with challenging people or situations, and how is that strategy impacted by what you've survived?
For me it’s the serenity prayer. It comes down to remembering the things I can affect and the things which I have no control over. And then I do the things I can to improve the situation and relationship and give the rest to God as I really have no control over the rest. And if things change, great. And if they don’t, I realize I am not the one who can change them.

That's a strong perspective, actually - or maybe I just say that because I agree with it. Remembering where the end of your own power lies is powerful in itself, and knowing that you've done all you can provides a certain relief. What other men do you most admire, and why?
I don’t know off the top of my head. I would say I have had difficulty with some of my father figures. They have not worked out like I would have liked. I realize no man is perfect, but when physical and sexual abuse by male role models have occurred in your past, you don’t really want to be like those men.

I can say I want to be more like Jesus or Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King. They all had character traits to be admired. Whether forbearance, generosity or love for fellow man, they exemplified amazing virtues I would love to emulate.

I begin to see more and more why you fit so well into this series; with that being said, what one quality serves you best as an undaunted man?
I would say my perseverance serves me the best. I think it makes me keep trying even when all hope seems to be lost. Of course there are things which I cannot accomplish. But for those things I can, the belief in myself and my drive to complete something when I start it no matter how long it takes has served me well.

Perseverance is definitely a good quality to have. what one quality are you most looking to improve in yourself?
If I had one thing I wanted to improve about myself it would be my defensiveness. Maybe it’s from years of abuse. Or maybe some part of me feels a need to be right. Probably, it’s a bit of both. But I get defensive sometimes when people say things about me. Obviously, no one wishes to be run over. And we do need to protect ourselves from others who would run us over. At the same time, it’s not always a good look when someone says something and we take it as an attack. Sometimes they don’t mean anything negative and the defensiveness kicks in. It’s not a good look.

I can relate. I think when you've survived hard things, it makes it really hard to let your guard down or stop yourself from internalizing things. It makes me defensive too - or maybe just more sensitive to perceived slights and rejections, even when the other side of me believes the slights/rejections to be unintended. So if you could do any one thing right now to help other men become undaunted, what would you be doing?
Honestly, I would be doing exactly what I am right now. I love to write and communicate. And I think this forum best suits me for reaching out to other men who have struggled through similar situations. I want to let them know I can be there for them and help them out. And above all, I want them to realize they are not alone. The one thing which hurts us more than anything is the fear we are alone in our problems. When we feel alone, these problems overwhelm us. I want other men to know when they are struggling with divorce, I get them. When their coping mechanisms hurt them even though they are just trying to get by, I know what that’s like and have been there. And when they need a listening ear, I hear them as well.

If you actually forced me to think beyond this, I would have to say I would go to more divorce workshops and work groups. Women are really good at the banding together thing. Men, not so much. We feel like we need to tackle problems alone. Because sometimes we feel like a failure if we feel we need to reach out to someone. As a man, I get that. But as a divorced parent who has been through a lot, I know I need to feel heard. I would go to places where other men could feel heard.

Understandable. Men are still only human, after all, and still just as subject to the emotional need for companionship and to be understood. With that in mind, if you could stand in front of every man on the planet right now and speak into their hearts, what would you most want to say to them?
Life is a journey. We plan, sweat, and work to get what we want. But because life is a journey, it takes us on detours, back streets, and side roads. We may have all the plans in the world, but nothing turns out exactly as we think it. Don’t be upset at this prospect. And certainly don’t give up hope when things do not turn out as planned. Because one of the constants of the universe is nothing turns out exactly as we would like.

What you should remember when things change is that you now have a whole new set of opportunities before you. Think about where you stand now. Think about the possibilities in the future. And then go for it. For me, it’s like a road trip. I start at point A. I have a point B in mind. How I get there will never be exactly as planned. But my favorite part of any road trip is those unplanned things which occur. Whether it’s driving through large redwood trees or skipping rocks on a riverbank, I never forget those times. Those times I remember long after the road trip concludes. Your personal journey should be the same way. Start at point A. Head towards point B. But take time to appreciate how you get from point A to point B and don’t be upset when things don’t go as planned.

Thanks for being such a good sport with this interview, David, and for being so open to being honest and vulnerable with your answers. Having a man among the interviewed gives everyone a richer look at what it takes to be undaunted - to walk through life looking for the best, with your heart ready for the good but your mind always prepared for the bad. Life is different after you've seen the dark side of it, and being able to keep moving forward is admirable.

But you're right - it is easy for women to band together, and I think that has made it simple for me to interview women here. We understand each other in different ways, and it's sometimes easier for us to be vulnerable because we're already expected to be that. But for a man, I know there's a different level of openness required in order to be able to take out the baggage and sift through it in front of an audience. Thank you for sharing so much of that here.

If there was anything about this interview that inspired you or something you felt you (or someone you know) could relate to, make sure you leave a comment below - I'd love to hear from you, and I'm sure David would love the gesture of appreciation! Be sure you check out his blog, too - it's a great place to hang out!

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