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  • Writer's pictureSydney Davis

The Man in the Arena

Updated: Aug 14, 2023


I was named after my father when he gave up his hope of having a son instead. Surprise! I imagine that he thought he’d be a good dad for a boy but his fate was to raise three very different, spirited, and strong-minded women instead. His favorite expression trying to get all four of us (counting mom) out the door was “This is like herding cats” …the guy had a lot of females around and he did his best. I have been reflecting on Big Sid since this month we would be celebrating his 89th birthday. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on THE Sept 11 of 2001, he passed 5 short weeks later at 67 years old.

Like so many, I can definitely attribute big parts of who I am (and who I am not) thanks to his character and influence in my life. During a recent team coaching session, we were discussing the power that reflection can have in our lives and work if we give ourselves the time and permission to prioritize doing so…this is some of what I have learned when I lean into connecting to my dad and his powerful presence in my life.

  • Try hard but don’t take yourself so seriously that you lose out on having fun A high-achiever, my dad put his best foot forward into all of his endeavors…going to Annapolis, serving in the Navy, graduating from law school, and passing the bar in 4 states; he was a mover and a shaker. He was also not one to pass up on the opportunity for a good time, a grand adventure, or a practical joke and a good laugh. We grew up hearing stories of him and the other Freshman “plebes” stealing a meatloaf from the cafeteria, putting it into the dorm toilet right before a big inspection with a flag note attached reading “Do Not Flush – this may be a world record”. Big Sid wanted to laugh and make others laugh even in high-stakes situations.

  • “Don’t let the turkeys get you down” This was one of his favorite expressions and I heard it often…whenever I had complaints about mean girls mistreating me, hearing my frustrations in college that some professors were unfair or uncaring, or a boyfriend was behaving badly. It was a helpful and quick moment to “re-frame” that there are “turkeys” in the world and their behaviors can be difficult to tolerate but ultimately it was going to be my choice how much I let it really affect my inner state and ability to find joy still.

  • “Be in the arena” For better or worse, and in spite of making some decisions that had very negative consequences, Big Sid lived by this infamous quote by Teddy Roosevelt (whom he adored). He would risk everything – and I really do mean EVERYTHING - to pursue his passion and stay true to his next vision or dream; he lived by his own rules. I read this at his funeral when he was taken from us unexpectedly and too soon but even in death, I think he was still somehow honoring this sentiment…

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither knows victory nor defeat.”

When my father passed, it broke me open; heart and soul. I had the opportunity to say goodbye to him and his last question for me was “What do you want for yourself and your future?” At that moment, I was solely focused on my then-husband and his career and his dreams and wasn’t quite sure I even had many of my own. Looking back, this question really unraveled me. So, most of what I asked for was related to his career success versus my own. Our daughters were only 1 and 4 and they were my everything. After asking for their dad to be successful with his career vision (fast forward – he is!), I asked for what mattered most to me then– that I would be an amazing mother to our daughters and be someone who was strong, inspirational, and would make them proud. What I didn’t know was coming was that this ending was actually going to mark a new beginning…I would need to exit an unhealthy marriage and learn what my own dreams would require…I would have to go through something impossibly heartbreaking and hard with two beautiful tiny little girls watching my every move. I was at the beginning of a new phase of my life that would ask me to do hard things but they would all be worth it. Indeed, having the perspective I have now over 20 years later, I realize my dad was inviting ME to step into the arena he was playing in all along. I haven’t left since…and Big Sid delivered on my ask – I’d say my daughters are amazing young women who take pride and delight in their mama, and I am eternally grateful.

For any of you are in a moment of rumble or darkness – uncertainty or chaos – maybe you are “striving valiantly” in spite of the blood, sweat, and dust. And likely you are feeling as I felt in many of those years after I lost Dad and stayed true to myself in spite of it feeling impossible– frightened, alone, uncertain, and overwhelmed. I would like to offer you a candle or a bit of hope that even in our toughest times, you have angels around you if you are willing to listen and be open to their guidance. Dig into your own heart space and Inner Knowing and be kind, gentle, and compassionate with yourself when you follow that direction. You’ll know the way and you have the right people around you to help you.

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