The End


Our memories are mostly memories of memories. We can trust the big ideas. The details are more suspect.

We pave over the particulars of our past with things from other events or things other people have told us about their experiences of the same event. It’s one of the reasons, besides the fact that people are fantastical liars, that we get caught telling tales so often.

Our past exists in a Gordian Knot of stored data in a biological wet organ just big enough to grow inside our skull. And so over time, all that’s left is the general idea of something that once happened to us. And even then only if we all agree on what that idea was and write it down. So that’s what I’m about to do, lest I forget this one and it vanishes like Roy Batty’s teardrops in rain.

Trust the big idea of this one. The details are post script constructs.

Ten years ago this week, I sat staring at a clip board at my desk in my troop space. On it was a long list of things that needed to get done.

Weapons inventories. Manifest check sheet. Will. Power of Attorney. Classified hard drive storage.

There was a line through each of them already.

The phone in the middle of the desk I shared with my Troop Master Chief rang. He picked it up, muttered a something inaudible and hung up. Then he looked at me. Of all the things I remember that day, it was the look.

We were due over at the North Island Naval Air station with the rest of my troop to get onto a C17 headed for Balad, Iraq in about an hour. But something had happened and we had to head over to the meeting room in SEAL Team ONE. And that something could really only be one thing.

Dan Cnossen, one of the Team’s platoon commanders, was injured in Afghanistan. He was a part of the team that had left the week before with some of my operators and analysts. I knew Dan a bit. Not that well. He lost both legs but survived.

We were about to say goodbye to our families on the tarmac, but the Skipper wanted us to know what happened to Dan. And to remind us that no one says nothing to no one. There was a process underway to let those who need to know, know.

This was the work.

As for Dan, he’s since gone to grad school at Harvard and won two Para-Olympic Gold Medals in the Bi-athlon. It’s true what Ruth said about people you know. If they never quit, they’re damn hard to beat. And there’s clearly no quit in Dan.

I left my wife and three kids on the Tarmac that day. It was the last time I would see my middle son before he was diagnosed with Autism. It was the last time I would see my youngest before he could walk. I slept on top of a conex box in a sleeping bag for the next 15 hours or so before we landed in Iraq.

I felt as bad as I’ve ever felt in my life. For a few minutes and then I buried it.

Those are the details of the day.

The big idea was that it was the end. Whatever I had built myself to be able to do, was done. All that was left was six months to play the game I’d spent the previous 15 years preparing for. And while many, maybe even most of my generation will tell you that the most important time in their lives was when they served, I won’t.

Because the most important time in my life was the ten years since I stopped.

None of us, no matter who we are, can fight forever. And few of us can find a market that fills up our lives talking about what it took to fight. The rest of us need to move on.

I put my family back together. I put myself back together. I found that kid that raised his right hand on the courtyard in Annapolis 20 years earlier who saw that world through bright eyes. Who hadn’t yet buried a lifetime of pain in the desert. Who hadn’t yet clung to countless unsustainable life hacks to numb the pain.

I founded a non-profit with my wife to help families with special needs.

I found a career in an industry that let me build on the experience I had but insisted I grow beyond it.

I found my voice in writing; a few million visits to this site, articles in the Washington Post, Playboy and a dozen other online venues.

I found faith. And in it, I found the strength to walk the next leg of the journey; the journey of a special needs father.

This blog is winding down. I’ve said most of what I need to say about politics in America. It’s not going anywhere. If I need to, I’ll say something here from time to time. But there’s work to be done. There are men out there on the same journey I’m on, in pain. Men who don’t know how to be who they are through the grinding task of special needs parenting.

It’s an unfair task. But I think I can help.

This September I’m launching a blog to provide some words of encouragement, hard lessons learned and a little salt and light to the fathers of special needs children. I know they won’t ask for help. I know they won’t tell people they’re hurting. I don’t need them to. I’ve been there.

And I’m coming to them.

Thank you all so much for the years of following this blog. You are all the reason I wrote. I hope it helped.

And if you’d like to follow my new page, I’ll send one last post with the info when we get it out.

24 replies »

  1. What a wonderful thing! There seem to be blogs and articles aplenty on all topics geared towards moms, and hardly anything for dads. You are doing a great thing!


  2. Your new blog is very much needed. I am best friends with parents of a special needs daughter…it is a challenging road and support from others makes all the difference.


  3. I wish you the best in your new endeavor, which is much needed. As a retired teacher of middle school, I know how important it is for families to have support and resources for their lives with special needs kids.

    At the same time, I’ll miss how you explain history and politics; you make so much sense and it’s helped me in this chaos we have now. So, I thank you so much, and hope all the best for you [and that you’ll pop back here a few times a year when the rest of us are confused]. ~ Sheri


  4. I often refer back to previous blog entries for myself and others who can benefit from your perspective. They have helped me clarify my thinking and better articulate those thoughts. I do hope these entries will remain available for review. Thank you for being there and I wish you well as you continue to make a difference.


  5. Sean, I first heard of you on the Cleared Hot podcast. I have really enjoyed reading your work. Your faith and how it impacts your worldview has been especially inspirational. I will miss your regular posts, but keep doing the good work.


  6. I wish you well, I hope you keep your blog posts available for rereading or sharing. I am really disappointed that reasonable assessments and opinions do not sell. This is our new world.


  7. I have valued the opportunity to get to know you a bit and hope our paths continue to cross. I’m glad you are continuing your work and focusing your attention on men who want to be more present and loving (and maybe they don’t even know that about themselves, yet!). All the best to you, Sean, and to your lovely and loving family.


  8. Thanks for your service (all of it including this blog). Sorry to see you go from this space but happy you’re continuing to be productive to the people around you. Good luck.


  9. Best wishes and good luck as you start your new adventure. Thanks for making these past few unsettling years a little more manageable. Your thoughts and insights were very helpful.


  10. Beautifully explained as usual. I’m glad for the new arena your writing and perspective will serve. But darn! I have not found another voice or viewpoint quite like yours in the midst of our turmoil and divisions. Thank you for your thoughtful writing. I will miss your clarifying contributions. A lot.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I do not remember how I got hooked on reading your blog.
    You entered my life & gave me much to think about in many areas. I am among those who would like to continue following. I have a 16 year old grandson on the spectrum and I see the difficulties and blessings that came with the diagnosis when he was just turning 3. I, as the mother of the son, knew that something was amiss and could not share with my husband or the parents.
    They were there immediately to notice themselves and made those first moves to get the ball rolling. He has grown so much with all the love and caring. Some days though I wonder to myself about how it impacts his life –
    I am so pleased that I might continue sharing your writing as they may allow my son to see that he is a good man doing a great job at raising his sons with his wife at his side. It is not easy. But they are making it work.
    Thank you for giving perspective to the world around us. We’ll be out here doing some small thing to carry on your other work by supporting others that need that extra thought or hug.


  12. Dear Sean,

    Words cannot express the gratitude my husband and I feel toward you for sharing your words of wisdom with us over the last 4 years. You made a deep and life-long impact on us, and I know you will continue to have a great impact through your next journey. I often share your posts with my two friends who have children with special needs, and I am glad to hear you are going to continue with that work.

    Blessings and peace to you and your family, Jennifer Sullivan and Cory Mleynek Arvada, CO


  13. Sean, I am new to your blog! You are so eloquent, and your voice is important to be heard. I worked with children ‘on the spectrum’ with craniosacral therapy, yet the most important piece of their therapy was to find ‘another grandmother’-and for the parents, ‘another good mother’ that could listen to them, offer them encouragement and support. I am trained with dream translation, and found helping them translate dreams into something useful became an avenue of connection to the profound depth of Spirit. I hope to find you easily as you move into your new venue. Blessings all the way!


  14. Oh! I will miss your blog. It’s the only one I read regularly. I understand why you need to refocus, only want you to know that your voice in this space will be missed. Bon Voyage!


  15. Dear Sean, like others, I’m actually not sure how I found your blog. Chartwell West is (was) one of the two blogs I follow. I have read it with great interest and felt like I learned something each time. I will miss your thoughts and the way you express them. In any case, your new endeavor is really important. Best Wishes and good fortune to you and your family. Dan


  16. Dear Sean, I found your blog through my husband. Though I was initially skeptical due to my liberal leanings, I found good sense, thoughtfulness, thought-provoking info, and even a sense of relief and peace in your blog that somewhere, there are people who are looking to build bridges and find a way back home to this great country of ours. I so appreciate your service to the people who had the great fortune to read your blog and follow your journey after your official service. The impact you have left on me is infinite, and I will take my reflections stoked by your thoughts to help make this a better, more reasonable, more peaceful place for our country and world. One person at a time like you did with us. All the best to you and your family. You will be of great service to those who are in need of your words…they may just find they needed them after they read them just like I did 🙂 Barb Gibson