40 By 40 #12: Get a Tattoo
“Whether we remain the ash or become the Phoenix is up to us” — Ming-Dao Deng
When it comes to lists such as mine, usually undertaken by people perhaps in a “mid-life crisis”, there are sometimes a few items on them that are pretty common, almost cliche. One of those I think would be to get a tattoo, particularly for someone such as myself who never has had one before. Tattoos are becoming more and more common, the cultural stigmas associated with them are fading away, and it feels like it is now more common today to meet people who have them versus those who don’t. I don’t have the numbers for that, it’s just how it seems to me.
Throughout my life there was never really a moment where I gave serious consideration to getting a tattoo. Back in High school and College, when many of my peers were going out and getting them, I never really felt the same urge to do the same. My attitude wasn’t that I didn’t like them or thought they were bad. I just figured that if something was going to be permanently put onto my body, it would need to be something truly significant to justify it. I had thought as an athlete if I was ever part of a championship team that maybe that could be a good justification to get one. But that never happened. Maybe as a tribute to a loved one who had passed or had come into my life? If I thought about getting one for my wife or my kids, it was never really a strong desire. It just wasn’t something I had a desire to do. But then things changed.
As I’ve written previously, 2020 and 2021 were very difficult years for me. Virtually everything I relied on and believed to be true were torn down, bit by bit. If my life, beliefs, and relationships were a house, they were burned down to a cracked foundation, in the end leaving nothing but ashes. Rather than burying myself in those ashes, I decided last September to rebuild my foundation, and my home. To rebuild my life stronger than before.
I was familiar with the legend of the Phoenix previously. As a history student I knew the roots in ancient Greek and Egyptian culture. I knew the cultural impact, lending its name to a city and a Wisconsin University among thousands of other worldwide references. I read Harry Potter to my kids, so I knew Dumbledore had one as a pet. It wasn’t until I decided to rebuild my life that it took on a much more personal meaning for me. If you are unfamiliar with the legend, basically the Phoenix was a mythical bird that lived for eternity. As it aged and wore down, it would eventually be consumed in flames leaving nothing behind but ashes. Out of those ashes though something magical would happen. The Phoenix would be reborn and fly from the ashes, stronger than before.
It should be obvious now why that story and symbolism struck so close to my heart. I decided I wanted a permanent reminder, visible not only to myself, but to anyone who would ever see me in short sleeves. I wanted a reminder of where I have been, and how far I’ve come, and how no matter what future fires I face, I’ll be resilient and rise stronger than I was. So I decided my tattoo would be a Phoenix.
Once I knew what it was that I wanted, the next step for me was trying to decide how I wanted it to look, and where would it go. Where it would go felt easy for me. I’m a pretty traditional person, so on my bicep seemed obvious. As far as the subject, I knew I wanted a Phoenix, but in what style? I started googling images, both realistic and more abstract. I found some images that had the look I was interested in, but I wasn’t sure about just grabbing a random google image, so I was still in a bit of flux. I had started sharing my idea with people as part of conversation, and thankfully one of my friends Jess was able to combine the images I liked with her artistic talents and made a design for me. As soon as I saw it, I knew it was just what I had been looking for. As a bonus, she even incorporated the letters E and H into, as well as an M, initials for my kids names and my last name. I was so happy to finally have the design I liked, which I thought would be the hardest part. That’s what I thought until it came down to finding an artist.
Having never gotten a tattoo before, I was completely clueless about the process. I didn’t have a go to person, so I started asking those I knew who had them where they had gone. Everyone I asked seemed very happy with the person, or people, who had done their tattoos. So I gathered quite a few names and businesses. The problem was trying to get these artists to get back to me. I learned quickly that in the tattoo world, things don’t always operate the same as with other businesses. That was discouraging for me for a while, and it drew the process out a bit. Finally though I was able to make contact with an artist that a few of my friends had recommended. I got the appointment made for May 1st, and the countdown began!
In the week leading up to the appointment I was very nervous. I wanted a chance to talk through the design and make sure it would be just how I wanted it. I wasn’t able to have that conversation until my appointment, but once I was there and met Scott I calmed down. He had been doing it for years and knew exactly what he was doing. He had the design I had sent him and got it printed out and traced onto my arm so I could see how it would look and make sure I was all good. Now that all that was taken care of, it was time to get it done.
I had heard from friends who had tattoos about what it would feel like, and everyone explains it a bit different. Depending on where you are getting it, and how big it is, the pain can vary. My artist described it in a way that I can’t repeat in this article, but was very funny. When he started doing it, it didn’t hurt as bad as I expected. I kind of described it as feeling like a pair of hot tweezers kept pinching me. The process did not last that long, there was a short break in between. In just over an hour I was all done. Towards the end the continuous pinches were starting to get to me a bit, but I was able to hold on without crying. He wrapped it up, gave me my after care instructions, and that was that.
It’s been almost 3 weeks since I had it done, and I love it. The healing process went smoothly, and of course I love showing it off. The kids thought it was awesome, and were excited to see that their initials were a part of it. Many people have told me that once you get your first tattoo, you want to keep getting more. I don’t know if that will be true for me. I didn’t mind the process, and I’m sure I could come up with more ideas. However my attitude has remained the same, if I’m going to get one, I want it to be significant to me. This one certainly is, it is a reminder to me that my past is my past, and that I have a bright future ahead, and right in the middle of that future are my kids. I didn’t choose to remain ash, I chose to become the Phoenix.
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