Daddy’s not invincible: coping with trauma

A baby's hand is pressed against a bigger father's hand.

Her screams cut me deeper than she meant them to, but the facts were clear: I was deficient, and this helplessness was a new layer to my trauma.

To her I’m a constant; one of two people she knows to rescue her from the hunger she can’t yet understand, and the fear of loneliness she knows only by instinct.

But in this state —without use of my arms after a vehicle crash— I could feel the vulnerability of not fully acting as the big, strong daddy my 7-month-old needs me to be; the one who can lift her the highest, and embrace her the tightest.

Or the one who comforts her when she cries.

I maneuvered my fractured left wrist to her one side, and my separated shoulder and damaged right arm to the other, as I bent into her bassinet as deeply as I could.

With every ounce of my strength and coordination, I pulled her small, emotionally-exhausted frame to my chest in a kind of desperate bear hug.

By the time my wife returned to the room my daughter had calmed.

But I had not.


As a journalist, most often I had heard PTSD mentioned in the context of war, or perhaps in the residual and still serious challenges of a survivor of violence or abuse.

But in the days and months after a car slammed into me, I began to realize that the physical consequences of the collision were only part of my injuries.

As my family drove me to doctor visits I’d have to close my eyes when going through intersections, as my irrational, damaged self worried that another crash was imminent.

Even months later, after a long process of physical therapy and the purchase of a car I felt safe in, I would flinch if another car sped too fast or too close to me.

A study on PTSD after vehicle crashes said many symptoms don’t surface until the return to normal activities, and anxiety in cars is one of those symptoms.


“Although complete driving avoidance is rare, most motor vehicle accident victims subsequently experience distress when driving or riding as passengers. Patients may report self-imposed limitations on their driving (e.g., only in daylight, only on city streets) or general uneasiness when in a vehicle.”


PTSD is pervasive and pernicious because it can surface in many ways, in many parts of your still-healing life.

From re-experiencing the traumatic event during the day or while sleeping, to anxiety, or sleep problems, or heightened emotion, or an absence of emotion, studies show the possible effects of PTSD to be wide-ranging.

This, compounded with whatever other physical challenges are left by the trauma, is an immense strain by itself.

But babies don’t understand that.

Still dad

Through the tears of a baby’s loneliness, or hunger, or instinctive fear the wolves are coming, it’s hard to explain the complexities of injury.

Babies often work on a reactive level: when hungry, cry; when scared, cry; when tired, cry; if diaper is uncomfortable, cry; and so on.

Parents learn to decode these cries, and respond appropriately.

And picking up the child is often a given, and the most basic of aid.

As a dad, I feel the immense joy and responsibility of holding the tiniest family member in my much larger arms. I’m the strongest, the protector; the one who can open pickle jars; the one who bounces, rocks, and sings the youngest to sleep.

Until I’m not.

At times in this recovery process I could feel the temptation of admitting the trauma stripped me of my fatherly identity.

Because I can’t lift the child, or unlock the pickles, I must not be performing my role as protector and provider.

Even through the mist of psychological healing, I’ve come to reinforce in myself the antidote to that temptation: the true strength in fathering is in being present and aware.

Experts advise PTSD sufferers to focus on the things in your control, and still being attentive if not fully able is something I can control.

My wife and I are a team in parenting and in life, and adapting my activities to help the team in a different way is something I can control.

I’m still very much dealing with the trauma of my car crash, even nine months later, but I have indeed improved: I can lift my children, and play guitar and sing silly songs for them, and drive a car, and use a fork — it’s a normalcy that seemed so foreign just months ago.

Being aware of the changes you’re experiencing, and the lasting effects of a trauma, are not always easy to admit or identify, but it’s an important step on the road to recovery.

Self care and attention to mental health are acts of strength, and service to the family.

And it’s something — even if you need help to get there — that you can begin to control.

Baking Vlog Ep. 8: Stop trying to be perfect

It’s been a while since my last Baking Journalist episode. I had been mulling over the topic of not being perfect, or needing to fail, to make progress in journalism and in bread baking. 

And then I was hit by a car.

I couldn’t bake, or type, or do many of the things we don’t often think about every day. All of the sudden I had a lot of time to think about those things, and so much more. 

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Battered not broken: reflections from a scooter crash

There is a split-second for your body to prepare for the trauma before the car slams into your left side, and a leisurely ride into work on a sunny day becomes an exhausting and painful day at the hospital. 

Your fight-or-flight instinct is sparked by the adrenaline pumping through your vulnerable shell: your heart pounds; your muscles tense; your awareness is heightened, just as the worst of your situation becomes the prime object of your focus.

The hood of the car is, all at once, a white blur streaking toward you, and also a crystal clear threat to your existence.

As the collision strips from you the handlebars–and with them your ability to control your destination–you hold out your hands to catch yourself from a fall that you won’t be able to avoid. Continue reading “Battered not broken: reflections from a scooter crash”

Remembering Kevin McGinty

Kevin McGinty was one of those people whose generosity of spirit cut through the callousness of a world drenched in cynicism.

He could be cynical, like all of us, but I only heard it in the form of his jokes, or anecdotes, or a few words of encouragement.

As I heard of his death today, I wanted to offer an anecdote of him that I remember daily.

[Listen to a special program in tribute to Kevin]

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Your quality known among your enemies

It’s a powerful scene in the movie Kingdom of Heaven, in which newly-minted Christian knight Balian (Orlando Bloom) releases into freedom ‘Saracen’ knight Imad ad-Din al-Isfahani…on account of his quality.

Balian had fought and defeated what he thought was Imad’s master, over a horse found on the master’s desert plot. Balian ordered Imad to take him to Jerusalem, but then released him and gifted him the horse.

“Your quality will be known among your enemies, before ever you meet them,” Imad says, before riding off.

He recognized the goodness (or at least capacity for mercy?) in Balian.

Continue reading “Your quality known among your enemies”

As the headlights swerve toward you, don’t panic

It wasn’t until long after the car had passed, and I had escaped unscathed, that I realized I hadn’t panicked.  I remember hearing once that traffic incidents often happen near home, probably because we let our guards down.

Maybe that was in the back of my mind as I rode my scooter, on my street, three houses from my home, and I saw the headlights veering toward me.  Cars park along one side of my street, so it’s not unusual for a car to drift farther than necessary.  I watched closely though, shifting closer to the sidewalk on my side of the street.  The headlights kept coming. The speed was noticeable.  I moved even farther to the sidewalk.  Then the headlights swerved quickly toward me, then away, and the car passed.

I stopped, letting my scooter lean beneath me toward the sidewalk as I looked at the car, waiting for some sign that the driver was aware.  It appeared to run a stop sign and hurry away.  After continuing home, and taking stock of what had happened, I realized: I didn’t panic.

It may seem like a silly thing to think about, “did I, or didn’t I, panic, and why, or why not?”  But I’m very aware of how much control over my reactions I do or don’t have in situations.  As a radio host, I’ve been told I’m uncannily cool under pressure, under deadline, under the constraints of a clock. The fact about radio, though, is whether or not I hit a post (speak within my allotted time) or not, is not a life or death matter.  Of course I have pride in my work, a deep work ethic, and a desire to do my best for my listeners, employer, and self.

Continue reading “As the headlights swerve toward you, don’t panic”