Tag Archives: Love

Roadtrippin’ Through My Mind

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Throughout my entire life, since flying is extremely difficult for people who require the use of a power wheelchair, if I wanted to take a trip or go vacation somewhere, I had to drive. Thankfully, my family has always been able to afford a wheelchair accessible vehicle that allowed us to travel like any other family of five despite my mobility limitations. To take full advantage of this mobility and freedom, during my childhood my siblings, parents, and I went on numerous family road trips all over the United States, and I have continued this custom now that I am an adult living on my own. Having a conversion van that gave me the ability to travel about the country, not only created the opportunity for me to see some amazing things, but it also helped me make some priceless memories with my family on the open road. In appreciation of this privilege I have had to see the world as a physically disabled person, I have decided to share with you five of my most memorable road trip moments, the number of miles driven on these excursions, and what these miles have meant to me.

Dallas — This was my first road trip without my parents. When I was 23 and in my first year of graduate school at the University of Kansas, my brother, sister, and I decided to take a “siblings vacation.” After deliberating for several weeks over where we should go, we decided on Dallas. My brother, who lived with me at the time, and I drove down while my sister flew in from New York, and we stayed right in the middle of downtown “Big D.” We ate great Tex-Mex and Texas style barbecue, went to the aquarium (manatees!), and visited the JFK Museum. It was a wonderful, fun experience with my siblings, but the most vivid memory from this excursion is making the drive home in a blizzard with my brother, and laughing nervously with him as we just hoped to get home. (Roundtrip: 1,038 Miles)

Scott Drotar Niagara Falls
That is a lot of water.

Niagara Falls — This was the first stop on our family vacation when I was 12 (Toronto was the second stop), and it was the first time that I was in awe of something in nature. The only way to truly appreciate the incredible beauty and raw power of “Mother Nature” is to see something like Niagara Falls in person. That is a ton of water coming over that cliff. What made this trip so special for me was that it was extremely wheelchair friendly, especially for a national park. I could get everywhere and see everything without any trouble, and even the famous “Maiden of the Mist” boat tour was totally handicap accessible (although I did need my rain gear). (Roundtrip: 1,032 Miles)

Galveston — This was my first solo vacation, which I made when I was 25. One of the things on my “Bucket List” was to take a trip on my own with just my nurse. After several months of research and planning, I came to realize that a cruise was the best way for me to go about this. It was a controlled environment with its own medical team (just in case), did not require any travel once you got on the boat (simplifying the logistics), and would give me the vacation experience I was looking for. So, I saved some money, talked one of my nurses into a free vacation (not exactly difficult), and we road tripped down to the port of Galveston to go on a week long Caribbean cruise. It was an amazing seven days, and I got to see and do some incredible things, but the most memorable moment was on the drive home when the fuel pump in my van went out in the middle of nowhere. We ended up being stuck in a small hotel room in Texas for two days, but my wheelchair accessible wagon held up after being fixed, and got us safely back to Kansas with a great story to tell. (Roundtrip: 1,614 Miles)

Disneyworld — This is the earliest family vacation that I can really remember. I was about 6 years old, and my family drove the entire 19 hours from Northern Indiana to Florida. I can still remember getting to meet Mickey Mouse for the first time and getting his autograph. As great as the theme park was though, my favorite memory from this trip is waking up as my dad was driving in the middle of the night and staying up with him while the rest of my family slept. That alone time with my dad on the open road was a big deal as a young boy, and remembering that time always makes me smile. (Roundtrip: 2,228 Miles)

Cincinnati — The Summer before I turned 14, my brother and sister both got to attend week long, sleep away camps, which is something that I could not do due to my disability. My parents decided that since my siblings each got a little vacation somewhere, that I should too, so they took me on a trip with just the two of them to Cincinnati for a few days. We window shopped, saw Ken Griffey Jr. play at Cinergy Field, and I got my parents all to myself. As much as I love my brother and sister and the trips we have taken as a family, this road trip will always be special since it was just my parents and me. (Roundtrip: 478 Miles)

Scott Drotar Ocean
Here I am experiencing the beauty of the ocean for the first time.

Every one of these road trips is special in its own way, and they all impacted my life and who I am today. We do not often think about how much our ability to travel impacts our life, but your experiences with the world around you plays a large part in shaping who you are. If not for the freedom to get out into the world (like my conversion van gave me), chances are you would be a very different person. Think about all of the cherished memories you have from your own family vacations and road trips. The moments fighting with siblings in the cramped back seat, and the first time you saw the ocean, breathed in that crisp, sea air, and just gazed out at that endless blue water. These memories are not only sentimental and emotionally special, but they also helped you grow and develop into the incredible person you are. All of the miles you travelled and places you saw had an influence on your life. They helped you bond with your family, learn about the world around you, and taught you many valuable life lessons that you have carried with you ever since. Be sure to acknowledge the effects these moments with your loved ones on the open road made, and also try to continue these fun-filled adventures with your own family. Most of all, remember that your mobility and ability to travel freely is a great privilege, and that there are people who do not have the opportunity to explore the amazing world we live in. Do not take this freedom for granted, and appreciate all of the incredible gifts these trips have given you.

Total Miles Driven: 6,390

Flat Tires Fixed: 3

Gallons of Gas Used: 391

Impact on My Life: Priceless

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A Recipe For Success: The Key Ingredient

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Scott Drotar Olive Oil Infuser
My olive oil infuser is my newest kitchen gadget that will give me countless hours of fun.

Since I have discovered my great love for the culinary world, I have gotten a lot of enjoyment out of reading everything I can find about cooking and going through hundreds of recipes. After learning some new information on a cooking technique or discovering an interesting recipe, I am always excited to get in the kitchen and apply what I have learned, experiment with recipes, and smile with delight as I dine on a delicious dish that I created. This time in the kitchen inevitability gives me even more new information that I want to try or another way to improve the recipe, which starts this culinary cycle all over again (and again, and again,…). Through all of my reading, cooking, eating, and repeating, I have learned so much about cooking and food, and the more information I gain, the more my enjoyment and interest in the culinary world grows. Of all of the lessons I have attained though, the most important lesson I have gained came to me the other day as I was browsing through recipes for flavored olive oils (there is a pin on my Pinterest Cooking Board). This moment of clarity taught me something that is extremely important to becoming a good cook, but it plays an even more vital role in leading a fulfilling and happy life.

We all have a few things in life that we really love to do. I am not talking about stuff you just “like” to do (i.e. watching a movie, playing Minesweeper, etc.). I mean those activities where time seems to lose all meaning, and you cannot help but smile when you do them. I once heard someone describe these events as the “things that make your heart sing,” and I thought that illustrated it perfectly. I have always known that mathematics, computers, and helping others made my heart belt a song like Pavarotti, but just recently, I discovered that I now have to add cooking to this list. I was just sitting there in my living room, reading recipe after recipe for different olive oil infusion ideas, when I had this revelation. It came to me when I was going to tap the icon for Pinterest on my tablet, but I accidentally tapped my camera icon instead. When the camera popped up and showed my face on the screen, I noticed that I had a great big grin spreading from ear to ear. This was not just a little smirk, but a beaming, Cheshire cat smile that lights up your entire face. I had had no idea I was smiling like a goofy schoolboy until I saw it on the screen (my heart must have been doing a solo), but it made me understand how much I love everything about preparing food. This realization is what gave me the perspective to learn a critical lesson about the act of cooking.

By recognizing how much enjoyment I get from spending time in the kitchen and reading about the culinary arts, I gained one of the most important lessons about cooking. It is one of those teachings that is almost universal, in that it will improve any recipe or dish you can dream up. You could even go so far to say that it is the key ingredient to making any incredible, edible fare (you thought I was going to say egg, didn’t you?). This culinary cornerstone is that you have to make it fun. I know it is simple and obvious, but that is what makes it so powerful. In order to be great in the kitchen, cooking has to be something that is fun, and you love

Scott Drotar Pavarotti
You need to find the things in life that “make your heart sing” like Pavarotti.

doing. If you are not enjoying the process of spending hours reading about emulsions and the intricacies of making mayonnaise (my Sunday afternoon), then you will never make a terrific, tasty mayo, because your heart will never really be in it. Unless your heart starts crooning like “Old Blue Eyes” every time you read the words “whisk thoroughly” or “simmer gently,” you are better off just buying a jar of Hellmann’s and spending your time on something you do love doing. Now, I am not saying that you cannot make good food unless you are crazy for cooking like some of us, not at all. However, you will never be able to achieve the same levels of culinary achievement, because you will eventually grow bored and tired of being in the kitchen and decide your recipe is “good enough.” This is natural too, since without the fun, cooking becomes work, and no one likes working (unless your work is fun, but then…*head explodes*). For those of us who love to cook, the recipe will never be “good enough,” or even complete, because you will always be itching to get back into the kitchen to try making it with some new technique or ingredient you read about in the latest “Cook’s Illustrated.” This love for cooking is what will allow you to go beyond “good enough” to create some beautiful works of edible art. It is also what will keep you in front of the stove for hours making some dish, smiling the entire time without a care in the world.

Having a joy for cooking and having fun preparing food is the key ingredient to achieving something great in the kitchen, and the same can be said for life in general. In an earlier post, “Find Your Passion,” I discussed how important it is to choose a profession that you love doing, regardless of the money, because that is what will make you happy in the long run. This concept of keeping things fun is sort of a corollary of that idea. If you make sure that the things you do, be it work or hobbies, are so fun that your heart breaks into song, you will get a lot more enjoyment out of life. Your job will not feel like work, and your hobbies will be like little, mental vacations, where you get to escape from everything going on around you, lose all track of time, and escape into something you truly have a passion for. Not only will you find more happiness through keeping things fun though, but you will also achieve greater success. If you are doing something fun, whether it is at the office or at home, you will not get tired of making minor improvements or modifications because it is “good enough.” You will always want to keep the fun train rolling by trying just one more idea, and this will allow you to accomplish all of the great things you are capable of.

Scott Drotar The Key Ingredient
As long as you remember the key ingredient, and make your life fun, you will achieve the great things you are capable of.

I know that you probably do not think of writing computer code, reading mathematical proofs, or even making infused olive oils as fun, but that is what makes this concept so great and universal. It does not matter what you love doing, just that you love doing it. It does not make a difference if it is geeky or weird, so long as you are having fun. If your heart is singing, that is all that is really important. It is this simple, straightforward nature of this valuable lesson that makes it a key ingredient in the world of cooking as well as life. What are the things in your life that make your heart sing? Think about the things you supposedly like doing, and really ask yourself if you are actually having fun when you do them. Perhaps you have some hobbies or interests that you do not enjoy as much as you think you do, and you could better spend your time on an activity that turns your heart into Wayne Newton. Most importantly, remember that no matter who you are, what you do, or where you live, that your life should be fun. It may not be fun all of the time, as bad things do happen, but for the most part you should enjoy living your life. If you remember this one, key ingredient, you will not only be Bobby Flay in the kitchen (I wish), but you will also have a very happy, successful life.

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An Emotional Lightning Rod

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Scott Drotar Give and Take
In order to maintain any healthy relationship, there has to be equal give and take between both people.

Pretty much everyone knows that any relationship, whether it is with a friend, family, or a romantic partner, requires a certain amount of work by both people involved in order to be strong and healthy. Not only do both people need to devote some energy to maintain these connections, but they also need to put in relatively equal amounts of effort, if they want the relationship to last. We all have had those relationships with people where you feel as if you are the only one trying to maintain your bond. These lopsided connections inevitably come to an end, because the individual putting their time and energy into maintaining the relationship begins feeling taken advantage of and resenting the other party. That is why it is so important when building and managing your relationships to remember that there has to be some give and take. While this may seem extremely straightforward and obvious in theory, it is much harder in practice, and it is something that I struggled with for a long time.

Like most people, I learned fairly early on that you have to put some energy into your relationships if you want to have any kind of social life. As a child though, your relationships are all friendships, and the effort required is as simple as watching “Power Rangers” every afternoon to discuss the next day at school or bringing an extra cookie in your lunch to give to your friend (to be a kid again, right?). As you get older and enter adolescence, your relationships start to get more complex. Your friendships become more intricate and begin to require actual effort to be maintained. Additionally, you begin having romantic partners, which brings about an entirely new type of connection to master. You go through the heart-wrenching experiences of being betrayed by your “friend,” having your heart broken, and all of the other teenage relationship issues angsty, pop groups sing about. These relationships continue to grow more and more complicated as you mature into adulthood and make your way out into the world, but thankfully you also get better at maintaining them. You learn the difference between lust, love, and “Love,” that a broken heart will eventually heal, and even though “rebound relationships” are fun that they never last. Then you finally get to the point where you have learned how to tell your “real friends” from everyone else, what to look for in a potential life partner, and that, even though you will never be able to completely figure out this whole relationship thing, you know enough to have healthy, strong connections with others.

While I went through this same social growth as a physically disabled person, or at least one fairly similar, I struggled with all of my relationships for a long time. I am not saying that I did not have any healthy connections with people, as I have always been close with my family and had a great social life, but it was very difficult for me. Internally, I had a hard time emotionally with nearly every relationship in my life, even if I did not show it on the outside. This difficulty with making and maintaining my connections with others stemmed from my feeling that every relationship I ever had would always be uneven, due to the fact that I require help with nearly everything in my life. I was convinced that any relationship I had would eventually end, because I could not reciprocate the number of things the other person did for me, and they would start to feel like they were my caretaker and not my friend. For a long time, as so often happens, this feeling of inadequacy became a self-fulfilling prophecy as I subconsciously sabotaged many of my relationships. Thanks to some great counseling and a ton of personal introspection though, I was able to gain some perspective and develop the tools to work on my feelings of social deficiency. This eventually led to an enlightening revelation that allowed me to build strong, lasting relationships and changed my life forever.

About four years ago, there was a three month period when several of my friends came to me to discuss something major in their lives. These were not conversations about hating your boss or having an argument with your boyfriend. These were conversations about things most people would not tell anyone other than their priest. I heard about how they cheated on their spouse, were abused as a child, and how they were the victim of domestic violence. I was also told about other, far more disturbing events that literally made me nauseous, but to protect the privacy of my friends, and spare you from having to envision these atrocities, I am not going to write about them. While hearing about all of these horrible memories from my loved ones was very difficult for me, and even though I would do anything to take away their painful past, I was happy that they told me. I felt honored that my friends trusted and felt safe enough with me to divulge their darkest memories. I was happy to give them an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, and a hand to hold, so they could talk about their past and begin to heal. It was after having heard several of these troubling tales that I realized something about myself and had a life-changing epiphany. I suddenly recognized that, even though I cannot help my friends physically, I can still give a lot to our relationship by helping them emotionally.

Scott Drotar An Emotional Lightning Rod
My mix of mental tools has made me an emotional lightning rod.

This period from my life made me realize that my high emotional intelligence, ability to communicate, and listening skills were a unique and powerful combination of tools that could help others. While I do not fully understand why it happens, this skill set has made me someone that people feel comfortable talking to about almost anything from their life, no matter how private or painful it may be. I am like an emotional lightning rod. I attract other people’s emotions, give them a safe, comfortable environment to discuss their difficult memories, and in turn get rid of some of their pain. Not only does this special ability help the individuals I care about cope with their unpleasant emotions, but it is also my way of putting effort into my relationships and avoiding the feeling of inadequacy that plagued my connections with others. It is how I can put something into a relationship and repay my friends for all of the assistance they give to me. It is my way of giving and not just taking, which in turn will ensure that my relationships with others will be strong, healthy, and last a lifetime.

Scott Drotar Maintaining Relationships
By putting in some effort and maintaining relationships, you will bring happiness to both your life and the lives of others.

Relationships are not easy. They are complicated, require a lot of time and effort to remain strong, and can make you feel awful when they fall apart. We are willing to overlook all of this however, because when you build one of those incredibly strong, close relationships with someone really special, you experience a feeling of bliss that is unlike any other. In order to have any chance of creating one of these life changing connections though, you have to make sure there is equal give and take. As I have said countless times before about other aspects of life, there has to be balance. Think about your close friends, your spouse or life partner, and your family, and then ask yourself whether your relationships with these people are balanced. Are you being taken advantage of by someone in your social world? Worse yet, are you not putting enough effort into a relationship and running the risk of losing someone you care about? Find the answers to these questions and take action to fix the broken connections in your life before it is too late. With just a little effort, you can strengthen your bond with others and bring happiness to the people you love most. This will bring more happiness to you as well, as these individuals complete the circle and put their own energy back into the relationship.

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Her Many Hats

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Scott Drotar Mom's Birthday
It is a big day for Roll Models, because it is the day that one of the most influential people in my life was born. Today is my mom’s birthday.

Today is a very special day both for me and for Roll Models. Today is the day that one of the most important and influential people in my life was brought into the world (many, many years ago). Today is my mom’s birthday. I was having trouble trying to decide what to write about this amazing lady, who will always be the number one woman in my life, and I thought that my writer’s block was because I had already written so many articles about my magnificent mom. I have shared with you the sacrifices she has made for me, how she is always ready at the drop of a hat to travel the 600 miles to come take care of me, and the courage she has shown in letting me live my own, independent life. I actually thought that maybe I had run the well dry on this topic and would need to come up with some other way to celebrate her birthday. After I thought about my creative constipation for a while and why I could not think of a suitable way to honor my mother on her special day though, I realized that my mental block was not because I had too little to write about, but because I have too much. There are so many incredible things I could share with you about this wonderful woman that it is hard to pick out just one. It would be like picking the best Beatles song or your favorite Robert Frost poem. You cannot pick just one since they are all great and meaningful in their own way. To solve this little quandary, I decided to not pick just one thing to write about, and instead tell you about several of the countless ways that she has made my life so successful and fulfilling.

My mother went to Ball State University and graduated with a degree in both instrumental and choral music education. While this is her only official academic training, like all mothers out there, she also has a thorough understanding of all of the various techniques necessary for raising happy, healthy, well-behaved children. Things like being nurturing and soothing when her children are upset, being the warden when they misbehave, and all of the other skills that moms seem to possess almost like magic. However, unlike most other mothers, whose role as caregiver and such decreases over time as their kids grow into teenagers, due to my disability my mom had to continue her caregiver role until I graduated and moved off to college. Not only did she have to continue to take care of me for 18 years, she also had to learn a myriad of other skills in order to keep me safe and make my life as “normal” as possible. When I think about all of the different things she had to learn to do over the years, often with no prior training or notice, I often think of her as wearing many different hats, each of which represents another part she had to play in the story of my life. Most of these roles were not things she had ever wanted to be or had much knowledge of, but if there was a hat she needed to wear to make my life work, she put it on without saying a word. To celebrate her birthday, I have decided to share with you a few of the many hats in my mom’s closet.

Scott Drotar Nurses Hat
While she received no formal training, my mom learned the skills she needed and put on her nurse’s hat to keep me safe and healthy.

One of the hats she wore the most, in fact she probably wore out a few, was her nurse’s cap. My mom has absolutely no medical training, nor did she ever plan on getting any, but as soon as I was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy she put this hat right on. My mom knows more about the respiratory system, physical therapy, and pain management than a lot of second year med students, and she learned it all on the fly, without any training, and without a safety net. Despite all of this, she absorbed it all and kept me safe and healthy my entire life. Another piece of headgear that she never would have dreamed of wearing is the trucker style hat of the wheelchair technician. My mother will be the first to admit that she is not mechanically inclined, and she has no interest in tools, axles, or motors. Even though she had little natural ability or previous interest though, as soon as my wheelchair broke down for the first time, she was happy to

Scott Drotar Chef's Hat
It is a-me, a-chef a-mommy.

put on that foam-billed cap and get her hands dirty. She is even more skilled than many actual wheelchair techs, because she often had to work with next to no tools (it never failed that my wheelchair would break down away from home), and instead just try to “MacGyver” a quick fix. One of the more fun hats she had in her arsenal is her nutritionist/dietitian/chef’s hat. When you have a physical disability that keeps you immobile and in a wheelchair, it is often very difficult to maintain a healthy weight. Most people who use power wheelchairs are either much too heavy or, as in my case, much too thin (this is a generalization not a rule). Throughout my life my mom has been painstakingly cooking anything and everything she can to try to entice me to eat more and fatten me up. Whether it was driving 30 minutes to get some fast food because that is what sounded good to me or spending hours in the kitchen after working all day to make my favorite meals, she was always quick to dress up like Chef Boyardee and put some pounds on me.

These are just a handful of the hundreds of different hats that my mom has worn over the years to make my life better. While I have taken over most of these jobs and wear these hats myself now that I am grown and living on my own, there is one role that I hope she never gives up. As great as she was as a nurse and as cool as she looked in her chef’s hat, it is the role she plays when she takes off all the headgear that is the most important to me. She is at her best when she is not wearing any hat, when she is being my mom. When she is being the person I want by my bed when I am sick and the person that texts me any day I do not post an article on my blog. When she is willing to, in an instant, learn any new skill or trade and wear any hat, if it means that my life will be better or easier, even if it is something she has no interest in. When she is being the woman who will always love me more than anyone else. That is when she is in her natural role, being my mother.

As I go about my life out here on my own, wearing many of the hats that my mom had to wear for so many years, I am so thankful for having the amazing mom that I do. I now know how hard it is sometimes to have to fulfill a role that you have no training in or desire

Scott Drotar Her Many Hats
I may be the one wearing her many hats now, but my mother will always play her most important role in my life, being my mom.

to learn at a moment’s notice, and I am thankful that my mother carried that burden for so long. I am also thankful that she not only wore all of these hats, but also taught me how to wear them as well, to prepare me for a life on my own. I am most thankful though that she will always be there playing her most important role, and one that I could never take over, of being my mom. I know that no matter how far away I move or how independent I become, that she will always be there for me, ready to do anything I need her to. She will always love me more than anyone else, and more than I could probably even fathom, and that is by far the most important part she plays in my life. To my mom, Happy ##th Birthday (I will not put the number for all to see). I hope you have an amazing, perfect day, and that dad is taking you someplace nice for dinner. Most of all, know that I love you. Even if I do not say it often, it is always true. You are, and always will be, the number one woman in my life, even if you do not get to wear any more terrific hats.

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More Than Blood

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Rarely a week goes by on www.scottdrotar.com where I do not post an article about my family and how great they are. I have written about my sister protecting me like a tigress watching over her cubs, the incredible sacrifices that my mom has made over the years to give me the opportunity to have the life I have always dreamed of, the unbreakable, indescribable bond between my brother and I, and the way my father refused to let my physical limitations prevent me from sharing his passion for sports. These posts, and countless others, have shown you how important my family is to me. While these four individuals who I am most closely linked to genetically will always have a special connection with me that no other relationship could ever come close to matching, that does not mean that there have not been other people in my life over the years that I would consider “family.” “Family,” and I mean family in a broader sense of the word, is so much more than biology and being genetically more similar to certain people than others. It is about sharing your day-to-day life with people, caring about their safety and happiness more than you do your own, and loving them in an unconditional, unquestioning way that is beyond words, yet you know it when you feel it. Relationships like this may not happen often outside of your actual family unit, but when they do, they can have an enormous impact on your life.

Scott Drotar Ed
Although we are not related by blood, Ed is definitely someone I consider family.

Whenever I think about my “family,” the first person that comes to mind is a close friend of my father’s, Ed. Ed initially entered into my world before I was even born as a lineman on one of my dad’s high school football teams many, many moons ago. After graduating and going off to college (ironically, to the same college as my father), Ed came back into my life (I was just a baby at this point) when he was hired as an assistant football coach under my dad, and eventually as a coworker of both my parents as a high school, English teacher. Even though my father and Ed were quite a bit different in age, their personalities and backgrounds were similar enough that they quickly became very good friends. For the entirety of my childhood growing up, Ed was always a big part of my life. We celebrated holidays together, he would babysit my siblings and I, and he even learned a lot of my care related to my disability. One year he even went with us on a road trip to Disneyworld for a “family” vacation, and if spending 22 hours in a car with three kids that are not your own does not make you “family,” I do not know what does.

Ed was like an “uncle” or “big brother” to me throughout my childhood, and during this time he taught me so many things about life and happiness that I still carry with me today. By living his life with a fun-loving attitude and smile on his face, he showed me that, even as an adult, it is alright to be a “big kid” sometimes. He also taught me that it is alright to like things that people think are uncool, childish, or geeky, through his love for things like “Speed Racer” and the television series, “Highlander” (he even had a replica of Duncan’s katana). Ed was a rather large man (he was often referred to as “Big Ed”), and while he was not unattractive by any means, he was definitely not a Calvin Klein model either. By getting to see him date women over the years, I learned that even though I am in a wheelchair, have a trache, and look different from what is generally considered physically “attractive,” that does not mean I cannot date beautiful women. He even taught me about how to approach and speak to women (or as he would always say “pick up hot babes”) with confidence and charm, because I have a lot to offer and the worst that can happen is they politely say no. Much to my mother’s dismay, Ed also told me that it was important to be a little rebellious sometimes, by taking me to see movies that my parents would not allow and sneaking me CDs of music with lyrics they would not approve of (he gave me a Kid Rock album in a Bon Jovi CD case for Christmas one year). And of course, the most important thing he imparted upon me was the delicate art of creating the perfect, chocolate milkshake (even John Travolta would agree that it is worth at least $5).

Scott Drotar $5 Milkshake
Ed taught me many important things about life, like how to make the perfect milkshake.

By far the most valuable thing that Ed brought to my life though was his role as a constant in my life, a “safety net,” that I knew was always there for me. I knew without a doubt that I could go to him with any problem I was having that I could not go to my parents with, and he would give me whatever help and guidance I needed. I felt this way because, just like the four members of my immediate family, we had been together for so long that we had forged a strong, unwavering connection. We had seen each other at our best, like when he won a trip to Vegas at a golf competition or when I gave my valedictorian’s speech to my high school class. We had also seen each other at our worst, like when I nearly died and got my trache or when he had some medical issues and found out he was diabetic. We had spent hours in a car together, gotten each other out of trouble, and probably more often, gotten each other into trouble, but throughout it all we always knew we had each other’s back, no matter what. Just like a toddler wants to know that their parent is sitting nearby before exploring their environment, Ed being a constant source of comfort in my life helped me expand my horizons. Having the knowledge that, if I needed it, someone was there to catch me if I fell, gave me the confidence to break some rules, take some risks, and live a full, exciting life.

Ed, or “Falcon Eddie” as I would call him, is definitely someone that is as much a part of my “family” as anyone else. While my parents, siblings, and I will always have a special connection with each other that is more powerful than any other, it is not because of blood or genetics. This unbreakable, familial bond is so special because of the time we have spent together, the memories we have created, and the unconditional love that we share. Since my immediate family has been a part of everything in my life, we share the strongest connection, but other “family” members, like Ed, who have been constants in my life are not far behind. Who in your own life would you consider “family?” Take the time to think about these people, and how much they have meant to you. Make sure that these individuals, who have had such a huge impact on your life, are aware of how you feel about them, because it is important to tell your “family” how much you love them. This is so important, since in the blink of an eye it could be too late, and you do not want to miss your chance to share your feelings with these major influences on your success. Telling them how you feel will not just bring happiness to their life, but it will also remind you of all of the happiness that they have brought to yours, which is what family is all about.

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His Greatest Achievement

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Scott Drotar Lifetime Achievement Award
My father was given a lifetime achievement award for his more than two decades of service to the students of John Glenn High School.

This year the school district where my father works awarded my very deserving dad with a lifetime achievement award for his nearly 25 years of service as a teacher and coach to the students of John Glenn High School (JGHS). In bestowing this prestigious honor upon him, I am sure that they will bring up the numerous teams he has coached, the dozens of different classes he has agreed to teach over the years, and his work to improve the school’s AP program for college bound seniors. While all of these accomplishments are worthy of praise and recognition, these types of things are by no means his greatest achievements as an educator. His most important accomplishments as a guide for his students did not occur in the classroom, on the football field, or softball diamond, and the impact that he has made is far more valuable than any tackling technique or test score. His greatest feats as a teacher are things that his students will remember and carry with them for the rest of their lives, as they mature into successful, happy adults.

One Summer several years ago, I had gone out with my father to run some errands around town, and he needed to stop by the high school to grab something out of his classroom. As he ran down to his room to grab whatever he wanted to pick up, I decided to stop in the school’s main office to say “hello” to my old guidance counselor. While I was in the office talking about my time at Notre Dame and such, the newly hired assistant principal of the school walked in. After introducing ourselves, I came to find out that even though he was now going to be my dad’s superior, he had actually been a student of my father’s years before at another high school. This was strange enough to hear, but as I was waiting on my dad to return, this young administrator told me a story about my father that I will always remember. Not only will this story forever remind me of how amazing and wise my father is, but it is a great example of the way he has made a lifelong difference in the lives of so many of his students.

Scott Drotar Young Teacher
Even as a young teacher and coach, my father was extremely devoted to making an impact on the lives of his students.

When my father was just starting his career as a high school teacher, he worked at a school in a rural, farming community in Northern Indiana as the government teacher and football coach. During this time, the new assistant principal of JGHS was a senior and both a student of my father’s as well as a player on his varsity football team. He was a popular guy and a leader on the team with a bright future ahead of him, but as so often happens with hormone crazed teens however, life happened, and he and his girlfriend got pregnant. An unplanned pregnancy is something that fully grown, mature couples can barely deal with, and for a couple of high school kids, who cannot even buy a lottery ticket, this type of situation is even more impossible to manage. A few days after learning this life altering news, this young father-to-be went to speak to my dad after school one day to discuss how it may affect his ability to remain on the football team. It was this conversation with my father that this young man credits with having the greatest impact on him during this trying time in his life. He even believes that without my dad’s guidance that he would not have been able to overcome this adverse set of circumstances and create a successful life.

After hearing about his life changing situation, my father had this troubled teen take a seat in one of the student desks in his classroom, and my dad sat down in a desk right across from him. Out of everyone this adolescent had spoken to about the pregnancy, this 18 year old was being talked to and treated like a man for the first time, because that is what he had to be now that he was having a baby. My father did not talk down to him as an adult to a child, but instead like a man, an equal, advising another man. My dad basically said that the most important thing was to do right by this child, and that he would have to sacrifice some things in order to make this kid his number one priority. My wise father did not pretend to have all the answers or know what to do, but by helping this young man gain some perspective and re-prioritize his life, he got him on the right track to overcoming this difficult situation. While he did not receive any specific advice on how to move forward, the scared, 18 year old kid that entered my father’s classroom that day left that room a much more confident, mature young man, thanks to the wisdom and guidance of my incredible dad.

This emotional, inspirational story about how my father helped this distraught teenager keep his life on track was moving enough on its own, but the look on the face of the now assistant principal made it even more powerful to hear. As I listened to him recount this tale from his past, I could see the tears welling up in his eyes as he remembered how my father had made him feel that day many years ago. The look on his face and the inflection in his voice made it obvious how much that conversation meant to him, and the immense amount of gratitude and respect he had for my dad because of it. You could tell that this young administrator truly believed that if not for the guidance of my father, he would not have been able to keep his life in order, graduate from high school, raise a family with his high school sweetheart, and become a high school principal. And while you would think that this sort of life altering event would be a one time occurrence for the careers of most teachers, and for lesser men than my father that would probably be true, but this is just the tip of the iceberg for Mr. Drotar. I cannot begin to tell you the number of former students and players we have bumped into over the years who have that same look on their face when they come up and shake my dad’s hand. Even though most of these thankful individuals did not have anything as life changing as a teen pregnancy to deal with, they all had the same feelings of respect and admiration for my father and the way he treated them as adolescents. They are all grateful for the way he treated them as young, emerging adults and the life lessons and wisdom he was always willing to share.

Scott Drotar His Greatest Achievement
My father has accomplished many things during his career, but his greatest achievement are the successful individuals out in the world whose lives he has touched.

Anyone who has worked with my father for any length of time would definitely agree that this recognition of his years of dedication and service to the students of JGHS is much deserved and long overdue. While this award may focus on his students test scores and the number of winning teams he has put on the field during his career, the people who really matter, the thousands of young men and women who have sat in his classroom, know that his greatest professional achievements have little to do with academics or athletics. His greatest accomplishments as a teacher are the happy, successful individuals that were able to grow into functioning members of society thanks to the wisdom my father passed on to them. These life lessons and guidance will never show up on any spreadsheet of test scores or in a box score of a high school football game, but that does not mean that they are not important. If anything, the fact that these words of wisdom he has shared with so many young minds were done without any recognition or acclaim makes his sage-like guidance that much more incredible. I want to say congratulations to my incredible father for this much deserved award for his life of dedication to his students. I am so extremely proud that I get to introduce you as my father, and I hope that the wisdom you have imparted on me has helped me to grow into a man that you are proud to call your son. You are a terrific teacher, an amazing coach, and most of all a phenomenal father. I love you and hope that you enjoy your time in the spotlight (although I know you will want to return to your spot behind the scenes as quickly as possible).

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If You Can’t Take Muhammad To The Mountain,…

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The Braun Corporation creates mobility solutions for people with physical disabilities.
The Braun Corporation creates mobility solutions for people with physical disabilities.

Today’s post is located on the BraunAbility Blog website. I discuss how my disability has impacted, not only my life, but the lives of my entire family in major ways. Thanks to my amazing parents, siblings, and the incredible bond we share however, we always find a way to focus on what is really important in life and make things work. By working together and combining our efforts, the five of us are able to overcome the obstacles presented by my physical limitations and lead fulfilling, happy lives together. 

***There was an issue with posting this article on the BraunAbility blog, as they are in the process of remodeling their website, so I am posting it here instead. My apologies for any confusion.***

Even though I am fortunate to have a van with a Braun hydraulic lift that allows me to travel as I please, this does not mean that my disability does not still present obstacles that make it difficult for me to travel, especially long distances. Without even considering the logistical issues that come with venturing far from my home, like arranging lodging that will meet my needs, finding a caregiver to travel with me, and being sure to pack enough medication and medical supplies, the physical toll that spending all day travelling has on my fragile, weak body is an issue that can make driving great distances very tough on me physically. While I can easily recover from shorter trips in my van, the cumulative effects of the repeated abuse from spending hours getting tossed around on the road are much harder on my body. Due to the nature of my disability and my chronic pain, every crack, pothole, and bump I hit during these long days on the highway hits me like a body blow from Mike Tyson, which for short trips is not a big issue, but withstanding this over an extended period of time is a completely different story. The total effect of repeatedly getting bounced around for hours on the freeway often results in me having to spend two to three pain filled days recovering for every day I spend on the road, so unless my destination is something really special, the trip is probably not worth it. Since I cannot travel long distances and live more than 600 miles away from my family, you may think that I lead a very isolated life having no way to visit my family for holidays and such. And for most people this may definitely be the case, but thanks to my incredible family and by making the most of the distances I can travel thanks to having my own vehicle, I have been able to not only maintain, but improve, my familial relationships and enjoy a fulfilling social life despite my inability to spend long days on the road.

Up until a couple years ago when my body could no longer handle the long drive to my parent’s home, like most families, during the Holidays my siblings and I would all trek to my parent’s house to spend time together as a family. These were always fun visits as they allowed us to practice our family’s Christmas traditions, escape from our busy schedules, and retreat for a few days back to the simpler times of our childhood. Two years ago however, it was fairly obvious that me making the 12 hour drive home was not a good idea, which meant that we could no longer all get together at my folks like usual. My phenomenal family however, was not about to let my inability to make this lengthy journey stop us from enjoying the Holidays as a group, so they adopted the old saying, “If you can’t take Muhammad to the mountain, you bring the mountain to Muhammad.”

Instead of everyone journeying to my parent’s house in Indiana, my loving mother, father, and siblings all travelled to my home here in Kansas City for Christmas. This allowed me to avoid having to spend all day on the road, while also letting us celebrate together as a family. While they were making arrangements to head my way, I was making the most of the mobility my van provides me to create the most festive atmosphere as I could for them. Having my own vehicle allowed me to make the necessary trips to do things like pick up the ingredients to make our favorite Holiday treats and shop for tinsel, lights, and other items to decorate my apartment. My ability to make these short trips allowed me to cook the same foods that my mom would have made back home and decorate my apartment like Santa’s workshop at Macy’s, which created a Winter Wonderland for everyone to enjoy. My family’s willingness to modify our Christmas celebration to accommodate my disability, along with me maximizing my mobility to run errands and such, allowed us to have a wonderful Christmas together despite the obstacles posed by my physical limitations. While doing all of this allowed us to continue our family customs, spend Christmas together, and enjoy the Holidays though, the most important thing was that even though we were not in the same city as usual, we were all together. In the grand scheme of things, this is really all that mattered in the end. Regardless of where we meet, so long as the five of us are together we know we will be happy.

This was our second year of holding our family’s Christmas gathering at my apartment, and I am happy to say that this year was even better than the first. Not only did I avoid having to spend a long day getting beaten up on the road, but we were also able to carry out our family traditions of putting up the Christmas tree on Thanksgiving night, opening gifts one at a time Christmas morning, and watching our favorite Holiday movies (“Elf,” “Christmas Vacation,” “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” etc.) together as a family. Even though I would like to think it was my improved decorations and other preparations that made our family Christmas so great this year, the truth is that the ornaments, garland, and Santa shaped sugar cookies had little to do with it. It was our strong family bond and our ability to focus on what I can do instead of what my disability takes away that really made the difference. In the end, the thing that makes the Holiday Season feel so special is that we are all together around our family Christmas tree on December 25th. No matter what city we are in, how many miles of tinsel we hang, or how much Christmas fudge we make (and eat), so long as the five of us get to wake up Christmas morning and sit together around our tree, it will feel like Christmas.

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I have discussed in other posts about how, due to the fact that I always need a caregiver with me, I am never totally alone or have complete privacy. This is something that took me a long time to adjust to and accept as a part of living with my disability, but by focusing on the positives of never being on my own, I have been able to come to terms with this part of my life. Things like always having someone to listen when I need to vent, always having a designated driver, and always having someone to have dinner or go to a movie with are all perks of living with a nurse constantly by your side. You would also think that never being alone would mean that I never have to worry about feeling isolated or lonely either, but unfortunately this is not the case. There are definitely days when I feel as if I am on a deserted island, thousands of miles from any other person, despite the fact that my nurse is sitting a mere five feet away. There are even times when I am surrounded by family, friends, and loved ones, yet I still feel like I am completely alone. These feelings of seclusion have taught me that there is a big difference between being physically isolated and feeling lonely.

Scott Drotar Loneliness
Even when I am surrounded by people, there are still days when my disability makes me feel very isolated and alone.

Being born with a severe, physical disability has given me a very different perspective on the world than that of an able-bodied person. Simple, everyday tasks like getting dressed, eating lunch, or going to the bathroom are things that most people do without even thinking, but for me they are activities that require quite a bit of planning and forethought. Even though I see things through another point of view though, most of the time I can bridge this mental gap between my perspective and that of able-bodied individuals by respectfully discussing how we see things. Thanks to my ability to communicate well with others, over the years I have been able to help the people close to me understand the way I see things and how my physical limitations affect my life. Being able to explain my perspective on the world to my loved ones has definitely made it much easier to cope and learn to live with my disability, but as gifted as I am at talking with people, there are certain aspects of my life that no amount of conversation could adequately explain. Certain parts of life just have to be experienced in order to be fully understood, and just like I will never be able to truly know what it is like to drive a jet ski or jump on a trampoline, there are aspects of my life that must be experienced firsthand to fully comprehend. It is this inability to accurately portray my thoughts and feelings on certain parts of my life that can make me feel completely and utterly alone, even with a crowd of people around me.

By far the most difficult aspect of my life to effectively communicate to others, even my family, is my chronic pain. I have been experiencing some level of chronic pain since I was 13 years old, and over the last 15 years I have suffered from pangs of numerous different types, over various parts of my body, and of all different magnitudes. I have learned countless methods to manage my discomfort, as I have used everything from opiate medications to physical therapy to meditation techniques to alleviate my pain. In addition, I have also developed ways to deal with the psychological and emotional sides of living in constant agony. While I have gained lots of tools to personally cope with my chronic pain, and these techniques have been critical in my being able build an active, fulfilling life for myself, I am yet to find anything to help me explain what it is like to live in unending anguish to others. There is no way to fully convey what it is like to wake up every morning for more than 10 years and hurt all over before you even open your eyes. There are no words to communicate how exhausting it is to rarely sleep more than two hours at a time because your discomfort is so bad that you have to wake up to take painkillers. There is nothing to accurately depict what it feels like to live every, single day suffering from pain that would destroy most people, knowing that it will never go away and will most likely only get worse. While I have the tools to cope with the pain itself, having to go through this on my own since no one else can relate to my situation can make me feel very isolated and alone.

While I do want to accurately portray how isolating my inability to explain this part of my world to those close to me can be at times, I do not want to give the impression that I go about my day with a brave face, but I am actually this depressed, lonely cripple with no will to live. That is not what I am trying to say, nor is it the reality I live in. The vast majority of the time actually, the coping strategies I have developed to deal with my aches, soreness, and spasms are more than enough relief to get me happily through my day. Just like everyone else however, there are also those days every now and then where my pain gets the best of me. Those days where I am so physically and mentally exhausted from constantly hurting that I just want to take a day off and let someone else shoulder my pain for a while. That is when my inability to share this part of my life with my loved ones can make me feel so alone that I might as well be on another planet.

Scott Drotar Unquestioning Support
The unconditional and unquestioning support of my family and closest friends is one of the things that helps me cope with my feelings of loneliness.

These difficult days that arise occasionally would probably feel much more isolating, be much harder to deal with, and quite possibly even become life altering, if not for the unconditional support of those closest to me and the recent social media boom. Even though my family and closest friends realize that they will never be able to truly understand what my chronic pain is like, they are still unyieldingly and unquestioningly supportive on my worst pain days. They know that they do not need to fully grasp what I am going through to take care of me. They just sit beside me, hold my hand, and do anything else they can to make me feel more comfortable. This unconditional love not only helps me to overcome my pain, but it also reminds me that, despite my unique perspective on the world, I am still connected to it and will never be completely alone. In addition to the support of my loved ones, the recent rise of social media sites has also helped alleviate my feelings of loneliness. Now that websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest have become household names, it is now extremely easy to connect with people of any age, race, or ability. By joining a few chronic pain themed Facebook groups and such, I have been able to interact with other people who are able to understand what I am going through and feeling. Through sharing my story and reading those of others in similar situations, I have actually been able to eliminate some of my feelings of isolation altogether.

It is important to remember that just because you are always around people that does not mean that you are never lonely. Often times, people do not even realize how isolated they actually feel, because they think that since they are always surrounded by people they could not possibly be lonely. In order to lead a happy, fulfilling life, it is important to recognize this fallacy, take a step back, and examine your social world and how you feel about it. If you do find yourself feeling secluded in certain areas of your life, turn to those closest to you for their unconditional support. Also remember that we live in the information age, and that you are never totally disconnected from the world. Find someone to share your story and what you are going through with, so you do not have to carry your burden alone. No one, not even yours truly, can be strong all the time, and there is nothing wrong with tagging in someone else every now and then. This will not only help relieve you of whatever burden you are carrying, but it will also remind you of how connected you really are to the world and the number of people you have who love you.

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A Mother’s Thoughts From The Road

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My parents love coming out to Kansas City to visit me. They get a small, much deserved vacation, they get to shop at all of the quaint, artisan shops in downtown Lawrence that they enjoy, and of course they get to see their oldest son. The three of us always have a great time together, them catching me up on their lives and other family news from back home, and me filling them in on my latest Roll Models ideas, kitchen adventures, and all of the other crazy experiences that make up my life. I usually cook something special for them one day, and they treat me to one of my favorite restaurants another. These long weekend trips are pretty much perfect, that is until their stay is over and they have to travel home.

Scott Drotar Goodbyes
My parents always struggle with saying their goodbyes at the end their visits.

Everything is always going well until it comes time for them to head back to Indiana and for us to say our goodbyes. My father, who is a man of few words, typically leaves me with some wisdom, a handshake, and then quickly walks away, but even without his rapid departure to avoid any possible waterworks, I can always see in his face that it is hard for him to say farewell. My mother is much more emotional, and is often fighting back tears before we even make eye contact. She feels very melancholy and almost guilty, that she is “abandoning” her physically disabled son, who she cared for every day for 18 years, and leaving him over 600 miles from his family. It is always a difficult goodbye with tears and a long hug. She gives me a kiss, says “I love you,” and slowly walks out my front door. It is always hard for me to watch my parents, who I love so much and owe so much to, leave me in such a depressing, heavy-hearted state.

Even though I could always understand on some level why it is so heart-wrenchingly difficult for my parents to say farewell, it was always something that I could never fully wrap my head around. I could grasp the concept of leaving one of their children, especially a disabled one, so far from family. This made sense to me, but what I struggled to understand was why it was not nearly so emotional and difficult for them to say goodbye to my siblings, who were in very similar situations. This last Thanksgiving though, my mom did something that helped me greatly in fully comprehending her tear-filled farewells. After having hosted a wonderful, food and football filled weekend with my parents and brother, I got on my tablet to respond to all of the emails and such that I had ignored over the last three days. By the time I had sifted through the myriad of emails that had accumulated and replied to the handful that were important, I saw that my mother had sent me an email while they were driving home. Her thoughts from the road, which I have included below, are very emotional for me to read, but they are also enlightening in that they give you a glimpse into her thoughts and feelings about my disability and our relationship. I hope you get as much from her sincere and honest depiction of her feelings as I did. If nothing else, please take her closing words to heart, as she succinctly and effectively gives you the formula for a happy life.

(My mother’s words are in italics)

Scott Drotar Primary Caregiver
My mom was my primary caregiver for the first 18 years of my life, which created a strong connection between us.

Traveling on Thanksgiving to be with family is as much a part of the holiday’s framework as is the turkey and pumpkin pie. Our family, over the years, has been lucky that the travels haven’t been very far. When Scott and Ryan went out to Kansas we decided to celebrate Thanksgiving there and our travels became longer and Thanksgiving more intimate with only our immediate family.

The first few years it was an adventure to Lawrence, Kansas, where Scott was in graduate school and Ryan attended undergrad for a year to assist Scott in his move to becoming independent and getting established in Kansas. Dan, Stephanie and I would travel Wednesday afternoon and evening to arrive on “Turkey Day.” We would go out for Thanksgiving brunch at a hotel in downtown Lawrence and then back to Scott’s for football and snacks. We would stay on Friday and wander through the wonderful downtown shops of Lawrence, Kansas, to begin our Christmas shopping.

A few years ago Ryan was back in Indiana at Indiana University, and Stephanie was working and going to school in New York City. Steph could not travel that year, so Dan and I picked Ryan up at IU and headed to Kansas for Thanksgiving. Our plan was to cook our Thanksgiving dinner at Scott’s apartment that year. Dinner went well, but Scott got quiet after eating and wanted to lie down. His temperature rose, he became nauseous, and in the blink of an eye we were heading to the hospital.

We ended up with Scott being admitted to the hospital. He was dehydrated, feverish, nauseous, achy, and had a headache. Doctors didn’t know where the infection was coming from, but it was there and didn’t want to go away. So IV fluids and antibiotics were given with adjustments being made every 8 to 12 hours and still no sign of progress. Ryan, Dan and I took turns staying with him. Hospital staff can deal with illness, but the intricacies of SMA, and all that goes with it, are beyond their immediate scope of care, so family cares for Scott while nurses, doctors, and medical tech deal with the immediate threat.We were there several days. Ryan and Dan were told not to leave to go back to Indiana, and Steph was on stand-by to travel to us. It was touch and go.

Scott Drotar Maternal Instincts
My mom’s maternal instincts make it hard for her to leave her disabled child 600 miles away from family.

Hours in a hospital are very long, with too much time to think, pray, plead, worry, and feel helpless. A couple more days pass and miraculously Scott’s body began to win against the infection. Dan and Ryan return to work and school, while I stay behind until Scott is released and home doing well. I send lesson plans by mail and phone (I was a choral director with concerts and community performances looming throughout December, but my colleagues and principals back in Indiana were wonderful, and everyone kept my work life going so I could be with my son).

I traveled home about 10 days after Thanksgiving by Amtrak, not wanting to leave my son but no longer needed. I had a husband and job to return to, but did not have any way to explain how emotionally numb I had become. Empty inside, but on the outside I smile, get through concerts and performances, watch my healthy students sing and dance and live their lives, all the while wishing my son could live a mostly carefree life also.

Scott is strong. He fights and puts on that same strong face for the world and teaches us all, every day, to make the most out of your life and deal with what you are given. I love and admire my son, and I am so thankful I have him to love and to teach me what is important.

Thanksgiving 2014 was at Scott’s this year again and although Steph couldn’t be with us, we had wonderful family time. We cooked, watched football, put up Scott’s tree, and watched Christmas movies. Normal and good…but deep in my heart I still fear the illness and how quickly it can change our lives.

Love and treasure family and friends, spend time laughing and talking, appreciating each small moment.

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One of the most confusing and complex emotions, and also one of the most important, is pride. What makes this feeling so difficult to manage is that unless you have just the right amount, it will have a negative impact on your life. If you have too little pride then you come across as having no self-respect and weak, and if you have too much you are an arrogant, pompous jerk. Even commonly used quips like “take pride in yourself” and “pride comes before the fall” show the duality of this aspect of human nature. Like so many things in life, the key to controlling this feeling is finding the proper balance. While this is no easy task, and it takes lots of practice, when you do finally find that perfect amount of pride the powerful feelings of success and happiness that come over you are well worth the effort.

Scott Drotar Achilles
Too much pride has been the undoing of many men throughout history and literature, like Achilles.

As someone who makes a living talking about his life, I have had a lot of practice learning to find that perfect amount of pride. Despite the fact that I have spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours working on maintaining an appropriate level of pride, I still feel awkward talking to people about my accomplishments at times. It is not that I feel like I do not have things to be proud of, I have achieved a lot and am quite satisfied with my success, but it is still difficult to recognize my accomplishments without thinking that I am coming across as a bit of a narcissist. When people come up to me and say things like “Wow, you went to Notre Dame and studied math! You must be so smart.,” “You got your master’s degree. That is so great!,” or “I think your success is so inspiring.” I never know how to react. If I respond with something like “Yup, I am a genius. Thanks for noticing.” then I may seem like an egotistical snob, and if I say “Oh golly…gee…thanks. It was nothing.” while staring at my shoes then I risk coming off as an insincere, overly humble fake. This common situation that we all have experienced in some form illustrates how hard it can be to manage this complicated emotion, and how failing to find the proper balance can negatively affect your life. Despite how hard it is to control and the detrimental effects it can have on your world though, the moments when you do find the perfect balance between hubris and humility make all of your efforts well worth it.

While I have lots to be proud of, and I could choose one of hundreds of examples from my life to show you the powerful, positive emotions that come from finding that perfect amount of pride, I am not going to, at least not in the way you think. Instead of sharing a story of my success and how great I am (in the span of two sentences I have been both overly humble and arrogant), I am going to share a different type of story with you. I am going to tell you about a time when I witnessed someone else experience the awesome feelings of happiness that pride can generate. This is not only the moment when I fully understood how powerful the effects of pride can be, but it also showed me an interesting aspect of this complex emotion that is often overlooked. Hopefully, you will find as much value in this story as I have, and you will be able to apply it to better understand and manage these complicated feelings in your own life.

As I have mentioned before in other posts, when I was in high school I was a huge geek. I was not picked on or anything, but I was definitely not one of the “cool kids” or considered popular by any means. That is why I was shocked when during my senior year I was voted to be one of the finalists for prom king. While I am sure this was meant to be an honor or tribute from my peers, due to my feelings on popularity contests this put me in a difficult position. I have always thought that popularity contests were one of the most demeaning, soul crushing things in our society. In my opinion, nothing good can come from holding a contest among adolescents that says these people are better than these people, based on no real criteria other than who is “liked” the most (whatever that means). Given my feelings on popularity contests, I did not feel comfortable being on the ballot as a prom king finalist; however, I also did not want to seem ungrateful towards the people who voted for me. In order to solve this problem, I decided to speak with the assistant principal to figure out a solution.

Without mentioning it to anyone, I got to school early the following morning and went to see the assistant principal in his office. Fortunately, he shared my thoughts on how damaging popularity contests can be on people’s self-esteem, especially for teenagers. He also understood why I did not want to publicly remove myself from the ballot out of respect for my classmates. After discussing some options to solve my predicament, we decided that the best course of action was to merely leave my name off the final ballot with the hopes that no one would realize it was missing or care enough to say anything. When the final votes for prom king and queen were cast a few days later with my name removed and no one seemed to notice, it looked as if our plan had worked. I did not have to worry about participating in a contest I did not believe in, and I did not insult my peers by rejecting their nomination. I was quite relieved and happy to be able to put this whole thing behind me, but it turned out that this event had one more life lesson to teach me.

Scott Drotar Pride
The way my father looked at me that day left no doubt in my mind about how proud he was of me.

As my dad, who was also a teacher at my high school, and I were on our way home from school that day, he brought up that he noticed my name was missing from the prom ballots. He also told me that the assistant principal had spoken to him about our meeting, and how I had asked to have my name removed. After he had explained what the assistant principal had said to him, he looked at me in a way I will never forget. Without saying a word, he expressed how much he respected my thoughts on popularity contests, how I was unwilling to participate in something I did not believe in, and the way I had removed my name without disrespecting my classmates. I could literally see how proud he was of me and the man I had become. While I had always known that he was proud of me, this was much more than that. In this moment of euphoria that was generated by his immense pride, our relationship changed forever (or at least my perspective of it). It was like in an instant he went from seeing me as a teenager to seeing me as a man. And not just a man, but a good man that he was proud to call his son.

In addition to showing the incredibly powerful feelings that pride can generate when managed correctly, this priceless moment from my life also illustrates another positive aspect of pride. As my father was glowing with feelings of satisfaction that day, I noticed that I too was experiencing an enormous amount of pride and happiness as well. Almost like a disease spreading from one host to another, the amazing feelings he was having were also occurring in me. Even though I had not seen my actions regarding the prom as anything special before then, merely knowing how much it meant to my dad brought about similar feelings of happiness in me. While it varies depending on the situation, this ability to spread from person to person is something that often occurs when someone feels proud. This makes managing your pride even more important, because in addition to being able to bring large amounts of happiness to your life, it can make others happy as well.

While it has been the undoing of many men, and despite the fact that it is extremely difficult to keep in check, pride can bring an enormous amount of happiness to your life. By making sure to maintain the proper balance of arrogance and humility, you gain access to entirely new levels of joy and satisfaction. Better yet, these incredible feelings of happiness will not only improve your life, but also the lives of those around you. Take the time to think about how prideful other people see you. Do you come across as a humble servant or a boastful blowhard? Try to be more aware of your feelings of pride and work on finding that perfect balance. It may take some time and practice, but I guarantee that when you finally experience that perfect amount of pride you will be glad you put in this effort.

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