Nov. 23, 2020

Becoming a Better Man with Corey Cepeda

Becoming a Better Man with Corey Cepeda

Corey Cepeda's transformation to become a better man didn't happen overnight, but that journey did begin one night in a jail cell long ago.

That night, on his knees on the coldest concrete floor in an intimate jail cell, he committed to ending his rough lifestyle, a typical example in the pattern of fatherlessness led him there.

In the darkness of that oubliette, his soul noticed the light - his decision to forge checks meant that he would miss his first daughter's baptism. A kenshō moment where he glimpsed his true nature and like a seed that can't be unplanted, would change him forever.

He grabbed the Bible, dropped to his knees, and started his process of transformation by surrendering. And asking for forgiveness from a higher power.

Corey's determination and commitment to changing his life is an inspiring story of personal realization, clear awareness, and what it really takes to climb up a better man.

 

OUR STORY

Hey there, welcome to Season 3 of Belly of the Beast Life Stories with David All

This third season of life is a rare collection of stories of men that grew up without a biological father around. It's helping me comprehend my own life story of fatherlessness, and showing folks that it's a pattern worth breaking to be a better man. At some point during this season, I'll share my own belly story, but until then, good men like Corey are standing for all of us to share their story, to inspire us and give us courage to reveal our own true nature.

That's the purpose of this podcast as I comprehend it today: Wisdom for our Soul -- Courage for your Journey. This is your podcast for extraordinary personal life stories.

Each story illustrates the nature of personal transformation. A change that forced us down into the dark, gooey stage of life where we found our purpose and climbed up a new person.

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A podcast where you can feel safe to listen and know that you're not alone. Transformation is scary, but not a single butterfly has ever attempted to climb back into the cocoon.

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Thank you for listening.

Warmly,

David All

Creator, Storyteller, Producer

 

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Transcript

David All  
Hey there, welcome back to Belly of the Beast Life Stories, I'm David All. This podcast is for extraordinary personal life stories. Each story helps us illustrate the nature and pattern of personal transformation. I know transformation can be scary. I feel your hesitation to even listen to these stories. But listen, listen, and you will hear your River. And you'll remember that little creek still bubbling up. Like those old coho salmon on the ranch, swim on back and take a good look. Remember, remember that the change in your life that forced you into the dark, gooey stage of life It wasn't unicorns and rainbows. But that is where you found your pot of gold. It's still there by that old Creek that's bubbling up 100% pure, fresh, clear purpose, and it's flowing right now into your River. And that river is making its way into the fast ocean. That is the point of this podcast as I comprehend it today. The simple idea that listening to someone else told their story helps us remember how to get back home to our little old Creek, where everyone has purpose. We all find wisdom for our soul. But for you, it's courage for your journey. I've got another one for you today. If you'll listen. Corey Cepeda has an extraordinary personal life story of fatherlessness that you need to hear. Season Three has brought me to my knees back at the foot of my own little creek. And here I am. You can almost see me picking up these old rocks, rolling around in it, sifting through it all to see what's there. I am the lucky one getting to research and listen to all of these extraordinary stories of men. I find nuggets of gold in each shake of the pan. This Old River of fatherlessness Well, it's our third season of life. It's also my home. You can see in here it flowing right through me. But it's also flowing right through about half of the men you've met in your life. Fatherlessness. LT Bourne told us the story of his quest for purpose in episode one fatherlessness. Christian Long revealed a raw, honest glimpse into a lifelong relationship with many fathers, but not a single dad until he looked in the mirror to see that Dad staring back with grace. And that old President Elect Joe Biden, I told you his story of fatherfullness at the outset to show all of us men, what we could have had in our life, what we've hungered for, as a way to show us what we can be when we break the pattern. Corey Cepeda, he's next up. His extraordinary personal life story is one you need to hear. So let me catch you up. Let me introduce you to Corey.

Corey Cepeda  
And that first step for me was focusing on myself. Being alone. Figuring out who I was as a man, as a person, as an individual. And then taking that and stripping away the bad, keeping the good, and filling in the holes of the new person that I wanted to be. So it was extremely important for me to isolate myself and just work on me and not have a lot of people around me influencing me in ways that were positive or potentially negative.

David All
Corey and I are in the same Facebook group called the Minnesota Men's Conference. This incredible network of Kings, Warriors, Magicians and Lovers. Old Men, mature masculine men that know about Iron John. This is where I started to remember my little creek up the river. Corey lives in Minnesota, a father to two daughters, a husband, successful career man. And at one point, a self described playboy bouncing from Woman to Woman, selling drugs and weapons, and even wound up in a jail cell convicted of a felony for passing bad checks. That's the textbook pattern of fatherlessness; a pattern that Corey has broken. You see, growing up, Corey always knew about his biological father and his mama always told him his daddy was just a phone call away, and even kept that number in plain sight on that blue dish that Corey never reached for. Within reach, perhaps, but no boy would ever try. In those formative years, a violent adult male filled that void of Father, an older male who beat the hell out of his mama. It sure scared Corey, a witness to those atrocities. Scared for his mama every night as he slept outside her bedroom, asking in the darkness whether all little boys grew up this way. And up until he was 14 that was the adult that molded his pattern. That man sold drugs and weapons. Corey followed suit. The pattern took hold. And our story begins when Corey found himself on his knees, praying to God for the first time and finally feeling some relief. Back in that jail cell. Rock Bottom, the point closest to the edge in the pattern. Corey had missed his daughter's baptism because of his illicit actions - that broke him down and forced him to change his story around to choose to climb up a better man. And this story has an interesting twist. One you might not expect a happily ever after perhaps as Corey calls it. Corey, his biological father did come back into the story when his mom split with that cruel person they even remarried when Corey was 19 and are still married today. Forgiveness, forgiveness. Forgiveness is what a boy of any age can gift to his old man. It's barely a reach; hardly a try. Corey, welcome to Belly of the Beast life stories. Let's pick it up right at that moment when you were on your knees sifting through it all. What did you discover?

Corey Cepeda  
Yeah, thank you for having me. You know, I think back to that time in my life, where I was a young man who did not think about God or pray to God ever at all. But knowing that I always felt my life was compelled by what I called at that time a "higher power." After the birth of my first daughter, I knew even before her birth I wanted to be and would be in her life, but I don't know if I was ready to grow up yet to take that responsibility. Being put in jail for check forgery was definitely my wake up call in so many different ways and knowing that I was in jail missing her life was just a very devastating point for me. I didn't know where to turn, I had nobody to turn to I just felt very alone, very afraid. That I was... my daughter would grow up you know without me and I knew at that moment in time I needed to change. I had to change. So without any fear of being made fun of or caring about what anybody would say I - got down on my knees in my cell -- it was a two man cell but 10 men total shared the cell. I grabbed the Bible that was available to me and I asked God for forgiveness for everything; for everything that I had ever said or done against him or anyone. I asked God for forgiveness for not living up to his image and life that he had given me. I asked God for guidance on how to be a better man how to be a better person. How to leave the lifestyle behind that I had been living, partying and smoking weed and drinking and hanging around all types of silly people. I just asked God for everything. And it was like what everybody described to me. It's like what everybody describes now; there was just this unbelievable calm that came over me, my my body felt at peace. It was like a flush that started from the top of my head and worked its way all the way down to the very bottom of my pinky toe. It was this soothing, relaxing, gentle, I guess for lack of a better term, embrace. And I knew, I knew at that moment, I was going to be okay, there was nothing that would not work out for me in my favor, I knew that something really incredible happened to me, something really amazing happened to me, that I could not put into words at that moment in time. But I knew that I would be okay. And it really was from that point in time that I, I made the conscious decision that I was going to be a better man, I was going to be that man for my daughter, I was going to be that role model she needed. I was just ready to commit at that point. And after I served the rest of my jail time, and I was released, that's really when the challenge started for me. Because I -- you know, when you're in jail, it's very different. You, you have all these amazing ideas of what you're going to do and the road you're going to travel, but when you're out, and you have nowhere to go, you have nobody to turn to, in the old thoughts start creeping back in. That's when the road really gets hard. And that's when I said to myself, okay, did I did I say those things for the moment, or did I really mean them. And that's when the struggle started for me. I was homeless for a short amount of time, I didn't have anywhere to stay. I had this really old blue truck that I lived in for a little while, I ended up eating out of some dumpsters. But I was just resolute to the fact that I wasn't going to go back to any of my old friends. I had my mom and my dad that live, you know, a good amount away from me, probably two hours away from me that I could have gone to. But I was very determined to do this on my own, I was going to stand up on my feet as a man and become a better man on my own. And that's what I did. After a short while of living in my truck, I got my first job working at a candy company in the town where I was living. They took a gamble on me and was willing to hire me as a candy packer, you took orders for this vendor and you would just essentially pack candy in boxes. And that's really what got me on my feet was being able to work there and save some money and get this really tiny studio apartment after a few months. And from there, it really was just kind of a wash, rinse repeat effect for me. You know, just just waking up every day saying to myself, I'm going to be committed, I'm going to be a better man. I know I've got a second chance. I know I've got another opportunity to do things right. And just doing that motion every day showing up to work working my hardest. And doing that and all the while keeping that memory that feeling that I had in that jail cell that calming soothing feeling in the forefront of my mind that God was still with me every step of my journey. And that's really kind of that whole effect of being in jail it really just was a 180 for me it was a complete turnaround. It was a really amazing experience.

David All
I would love for you to take us back before we go forward into your story I want to I want to go back actually to that may be one of those nights when you were sleeping outside of your your mama's door. And can you just describe the feelings that were going on inside of you?

Corey Cepeda  
Terror. Pure terror. I don't even know if that does the feeling justice. Me sleeping outside of my mom's bedroom on her floor came from an experience I had one night when he was over visiting us - visiting my mom I should say. And I remember that night like it was really yesterday here I sit you know 46 year old man and I remember that day like it was yesterday. He came over and both him and my mom went into their bedroom and nothing up to that point seemed very odd or peculiar but about an hour into him being with us. Like I started hearing my mom choking and not knowing what that sound was right away. It didn't sound right so I knew something was wrong. Jumping off the couch, I remember kicking open the door to see him laying on top of her choking her. It was a very traumatic, unbelievably violent thing to see. And me kicking in the door startled him to have him kind of roll off of her and stare at me. So I, my action kind of stopped his action. And in that moment my mom was coughing trying to catch her breath and you know, gain some air in her lungs. And once she was able to compose herself, you know, she looks at me and I'm standing in the doorway, my eyes swelling and I, I don't believe I said anything to him. But I remember my breathing being very labored very nervous, and I was shaking uncontrollably I wanted to run in but something felt like it was stopping me from doing that. And, and when my mom finally was able, at a point to catch her breath, I remember her saying, It's okay baby, it's okay. Close the door. It's okay. And, and I can remember hearing her but not feeling like I was able to move it was very, I was just very frozen in that spot. And eventually, she came up off the bed and grabbed me and hugged me and brought me back out to the living room and just said to me, oh, it's okay. It's okay, honey, you know, he won't be here too much longer. And it was shortly after that, that he got dressed and walked out. And I remember as he was walking out the door, he stopped and one of the middle hallways and kind of looked back around at us at me and gave this smirk, as if to say, you know, it wasn't a big deal there. You know, this was kind of a day in the life of to him. And I'll always remember that look on his face of not caring. But it was that singular event. Moving forward that caused me to sleep outside her bedroom door, every time he would come over to visit my mom because I had no more trust in him at all. I was always ready, and waiting to hear that sound again. I was ready to burst in the room at any particular point in time if needed to save my mom's life, no matter what night of the week it was. And I remember asking myself many nights laying out on my mom's outside of my mom's door on the floor, you know, was this normal? Is this the way a little boys grow up? Not really looking for, you know, an answer, but just knowing something wasn't right. In the essence, you know, feeling like this is a normal way to grow up, but at the same time not really looking for an answer, if that makes any sense. But I did that for many, many years. And there were many nights to where either one of them would come out to use the bathroom in the middle of the night and trip over my body because I had fallen asleep on the floor you know ready to protect her but falling asleep too. They would come out and trip over my body and you know say go to bed get climbing your own bed, you know climbing your own room, and eventually I would but waking up in the morning my my first thought was thought and feeling was of terror. Wondering was my mom alive? Did he do anything to her while I was sleeping in my bed? So the first thing I would do was go and run to the door and crack the door open just to make sure she was there. But that was something I did for many, many years growing up. 

David All  
Man, that cruelty. I want to know how that cruelty showed up in your own life and how it took hold in your own pattern that sort of led you into that jail cell and that lifestyle.

Corey Cepeda  
Yeah, it never, you know, for me it manifested more into having a very quick temper a very quick anger at others that I felt were ever disrespectful to me. I never and to this day have never felt a need or a want or a desire to put my hands on a woman and never have I; the anger more manifested itself towards other men. You know, you grow up to be that big macho machismo guy who nobody's going to disrespect you and you are the man and you want your respect. And I expected that respect. So anytime I ever got into a confrontation with anyone, my anger was very quick, fast and in a hurry. I had what some would probably call a hair trigger. You know, it's very quick to snap off on somebody and want to fight or won a battle because I wasn't going to be disrespected. In high school though it was very different for me because I was a very quiet, shy, reserved kid. I didn't want a lot of attention in high school nor did I get a lot. But after high school I definitely was in that mindset where you know, I'm my own man. I'm not going to be disrespected and for me, showing aggression showing anger was very easy for because it's what I grew up seeing, I didn't grow up seeing diplomacy, forgiveness, any of those types of features. It was always very quick to be aggressive, quick to be violent, not just from, you know, my stepdad but from his family as well because they were very, they were a very deep rooted, Southern Baptist family they believed in spare the rod spoil the child, they were not a family that hid their feelings or emotions about giving out spankings and doling out spankings and how they all grew up. So I was very much surrounded by aggressive people who were very loud and boisterous and very open with their thoughts and opinions. So for me, it was just very natural to be that same way, because I didn't think it was wrong, I didn't think it was, I didn't think there was anything different about it. It's just all I ever knew growing up. So if you were going to be disrespectful to me, I had no problem being disrespectful back. And I had the tongue and the anger and the fighting spirit to back it.

David All 
Breaking your pattern meant choosing to end your lifestyle as a playboy, and gave up women all together, in fact, to focus on rebuilding your relationship with your daughter. Why was isolation or just being alone, so important in this part of your life story?

Corey Cepeda  
You know, given up those triggers, I grew up an only child, I do have an older half brother and half sister, but I did not grow up with them. And we are not close by any stretch of the imagination. I am my mother's only child, my father had, you know, as I said, my half brother and half sister. So growing up alone has never been really an issue for me, being alone has never been an issue for me. So knowing what those triggers were, for me, really forced me to want to need to be alone. So I could really just focus on the healing of myself. I knew if I had surrounded myself with the same individuals or looked for comfort, in other people, I probably would have gotten what I've needed in some instances, but it would not have been a true case of healing, necessarily, it would have been, you know, great, it's great in the beginning at first, but I could still see myself falling into those old patterns. And my whole thought process was really just working the hardest that I could to be in my daughter's life to be a good father for her to be a good role model for her to really change my train of thought, to rewire my thought processes, my thought patterns, my habits, my daily habits, I made a pact with myself, and that in that jail cell, and I made a pact with God that day that I was going to turn my life around. And I was very sincere and honest about that. And I wasn't going to fail at that, because I did not want my daughter to grow up without her dad. So I was willing to do whatever it took to break my old habits, my own patterns. And that first step for me was really just focusing on myself being alone, figuring out who I was as a man, as a person as an individual. And then taking that and stripping away the bad keeping the good. And filling in the holes of the new person that I want it to be. So it was extremely important for me to isolate myself and just work on me and not have a lot of people around me, influencing me in ways that I didn't see were positive or potentially negative.

David All 
You put some miles on that old blue truck.

Corey Cepeda  
Oh, yeah.

David All
You talked about your role as a father to Kaylee, your oldest daughter, as really this consistent driver of your hunger to be a better man. And part of what you just talked about with us was that commitment that you made, you said you would be willing to do whatever it took. And you mentioned to me that when you split from Kaylee's mom, as part of this, getting away from folks that were triggers for you. Getting away from the patterns of the fighting and the battles that you're having with that woman. That led you to endless hours of driving two and a half hours each way to be with your daughter. And you mentioned that you still grieve this lost time. You say that there's a quote quote, a faint sadness that washes over you when you think about that time. What did you think about on those drives to be with your daughter?

Corey Cepeda  
I would think about everything, you know, I, I was so determined to be in Kaylee's life, that there's really no distance that could have kept me from her, you know. And eventually the distance did grow bigger with her eventually moving to South Carolina with her mom. And that's a whole different, you know, part of the story. But in that first beginning time when they lived in Jackson, Minnesota, I was living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. And you're exactly right, I would drive two and a half hours one direction to pick her up. And then I would drive up to North Branch, Minnesota where my parents live, which is another 45 minutes past Minneapolis. So eventually, three and a half hour car ride -- four hour car ride from Jackson to North branch. And this is all done in a Friday. So we would get up to my parents house, spend Friday, Saturday with my mom and dad because I really wanted Kaylee to have that family foundation with my mom and my dad. So we would spend that time on Sunday morning would come, we'd have to be gone by 12 o'clock or one for me to have her back to her mom by five and then we would make that journey from North branch down to Jackson, I would drop her off and then I would have to drive back up to Minneapolis. And we did that for nine years. In the younger years when Kaylee was, you know, still a baby, her mother and I split when she was two. You know, it's easy to keep little ones occupied like that you tell silly stories, Scooby Doo stories she always loved for me to make up stories of Scooby Doo, characters and Scooby Doo things and I do my silly voices and she loved that. She got older, you know, you'd have to get a little more creative. So you'd put some colored pencils and paper in the backseat and let her draw. Eventually you get the DVD player, you know, you just talk about life in general. But oftentimes my mind would kind of wander in those quiet moments to thinking of the days ahead what life would be like when we wouldn't be making these journeys anymore. How would we keep in touch? You know, how would Kaley view these moments of me trying to stay in her life when she looked back on these with the same fondness that I do with the same reverence of appreciation? You know, your mind just kind of drifts into the future of all the what ifs and and that's where I found myself a lot was just thinking into the future. Definitely thinking into the past as well. How did we get here? You know, how did my life's journey lead to this moment of me sitting in this vehicle with with my daughter. But for the most part in those quiet times, I just would really think about how appreciative I was to have her with - me how appreciative I was to bring her to spend time with my mom and dad and have those family moments. And really just enjoying her presence, enjoying her life. Even though she's a grown woman now and you know, she's doing fantastic and she's doing well. I still look back on her life and think of those car rides and think about how much quality time was lost. I mean, yeah, you're in a car, you're with them. But is that really quality time? Is that really the time you want to spend with your child driving in? The answer is no, you don't want that to be your quality time. But ultimately, that was a majority of our time, you know, four and a half hours up to my mom and dad's four and a half hours back to bring her home. That's essentially the equivalent to driving from Minneapolis to Chicago. That's a that's quite a trip. You know, when just one weekend and you do that for nine years. That's a lot of miles you put in. So I think about I would think about the future I would think about the present I would think about the past I would think about just everything and ultimately my hope would be that she would grow up to realize and appreciate how much time I put in to be with her and she has and it's paid off.

David All
Corey let's take a break and we'll come right back. 

Corey
Sounds good. 

David All (Enabler Segment!)
Well, folks, we completed our first orbit around the sun with these extraordinary life stories helping folks find their home. One year ago on November 18, Holocaust survivor Martha Sternbach started us out with her Belly story. And since then 10,000 folks have listened to one of our stories. We've earned more than 100 5-star ratings on Apple podcasts. We are making an impact. But we can do more if you'll join us. This podcast is free to listen, and always will be. But you know me, it's much deeper than that. Our website at belly story calm states very clearly that this podcast is not for sale. Our podcast is a sacred space where you can feel safe to listen. No advertisers, no outside influence. Folks are standing with us to enable our mission to heal, inspire, and shape lives with extraordinary personal life stories. My brother and sister, my friend, James short, and now, our beloved Ann Flaherty has joined us by making a donation to our cause at bellystory.com. Instead of ads, a poem or lyric for your soul. And Flaherty. I'm dedicating a lyric by Van Morrison to you... Our very first enabler, and our latest to support our mission at belly story calm. You know, when 'Dark night of the soul' was released by Van Morrison, the music blogs missed it all together. They called it a six minute rambling Ode to depression. But you know this pattern, you know what the song is about. So here it is a great reminder that you have a ghost that you can always return to that well. 

Van Morrison: Dark Night of the Soul (lyrics, read by David)

Something else don't stop that longing
Or something new or something old
I'm on my way to understanding
Things that I might yet not know

In the dark night of the soul
In the dark night of the soul

Sitting here but I didn't plan it
Well the plans of mice and men have gone astray
Standing here on the landing
Looking at a brand new day

In the dark night of the soul
In the dark night of the soul

Meditate on this and it will be revealed
Meditate on this and you will get healed
Meditate on this and you will feel whole
Get the vision of the ghost, again

In the dark night of the soul
In the dark night of the soul

Sitting here but I didn't plan it this way
Well the plans of mice and men have gone astray
Now I'm standing on the landing
I'm looking for a brand new day

In the dark night of the soul
In the dark night of the soul

The soul, the soul, the soul
The soul, the soul, the soul

David All
We're back with Corey Cepeda. Corey, you were living your stepfather's story, a copy, the life of the Playboy selling drugs and weapons. At one point you told me you're sitting outside of a nightclub talking to another girl, when like a lightning bolt, your mind shifted to your stepfather. You realized then that your formative years around that man was to show you what a man is, and is not. You made a choice then to forgive that old stepfather. And you shifted your life. Why did you forgive your stepfather? And how did that help you heal?

Corey Cepeda  
Yeah, that was a really amazing experience for me. And and I still to this day, I asked myself why at that exact moment did I have that thought about him because there is nothing in that point in time that I should have thought about him. Sitting outside that nightclub that night speaking with the young lady I was very much in my element very much in my my zone, if you will, you know just trying to get to know someone a little better eventually get their phone number. And just like an epiphany. I had like, I don't know if you want to call it a vision or whatever the the correct terminology would be but it - My mind went to him so quickly. And it was like this flood of emotions that just overwhelmed me to speak to me to say you know, Corey, you didn't grow up in that type of lifestyle to ever be hurt or harmed yourself because I was not physically. But [I was] put in that situation to really see how to treat people: what a man is, and is not. And what a husband is and is not. And what a father is and is not, and what a role model is, and is not. And little Could I have ever known that that message that I was receiving wouldn't really be used, or utilize till years down the road to my current state and time. But it was so amazing to me because I thought to myself, wow, I forgive him. I realized the lesson that was taught to me, if that message had been one year sooner what I have had the same response, I don't know, if that message would have come later down the road, what I have had that same response, I don't know. But at that exact moment, in time, it was like a veil that had just been lifted. It was the same experience I had had, where I just felt the soothing, calming feeling come over me. And I was, I was ready to start a whole new journey of experiences and forgiveness. And once I was able to forgive him, once I did forgive him, there was no more resentment, there was no more feelings of anger, or there was just no more feelings. It was, I know, some people say, Oh, I felt I feel bad for my abuser. I feel bad. Like there's just no more feelings period. And every feeling I had was gone. I actually, very weirdly say that it was the best worst childhood I ever had. because it gave me such an incredible experience, to look back on in so many different ways that I can only appreciate now as a man, that it was easy for me to forgive him at that moment. Looking back on my journey, I say everything I went through, had a profound experience on me in both good and bad ways, my incredible exposure to music, my incredible experiences on in violence to see how you know, it affects people decades after it's been exhibited. And to know that people do need forgiveness in their life. So that moment, that night was just really incredible for me, I was really ready to just leave the past of my childhood, in the past and be done with it and move on and start a new chapter in my life.

David All
When your stepdad and your mom split up, your biological father returned to your story. It sounds like it wasn't an easy process to reconnect. But you both did the work. And now you two are pretty close. This quote unquote, happily ever after story took work. And I want to know what you did to make it work?

Corey Cepeda  
Yeah, so the the funny part about that whole journey is when my mom split for the final time with her boyfriend, she actually took my dad back to court for more child support, because he was paying something very menial per month, I think it was like $30 per month for me which you know, back in the 80s might not might have been a lot of money but to a single mom was not a lot of money. So she ended up taking him back to court. And it was because of that moment where she took him to court they actually rekindled their relationship and started my father and I's reconnection of being in each other's life. And after that, you know kind of journey started of course I had all those feelings of you know, who are you to try to be in my life now and who are you to tell me anything and you're not my Dad, you're not my father and I don't know if i ever really said I hate you. But I think if he read between the lines, he he understood my feelings and my displeasure for him. But having him around because my mother and him were working things out forced me to, you know, face my feelings of resentment against him. Once my mom and dad moved in together, it was your very much your typical adversarial two male two men two Puerto Rican men under the same house. You know, butting heads all the time. I was not willing to concede on much and we fought a lot and only did we did we start to want to make connection after we went to counseling once we went to counseling and we were able to say what we wanted to say or what I needed to say, in a controlled environment where feelings could not be hurt, or you would not take what was said personally, did we really start to make a connection, he could really understand the damage and devastation that was caused from him not being there and witnessing what I witnessed. And the more interesting part of all of this, though, is, you know, my dad had a lot of his own struggles with chemical dependency issues as well. He was addicted to alcohol, he was addicted to crack cocaine. He was very much a playboy himself. He bounced from women to women, he was married twice, my mom was his third marriage. So it was really interesting to see the parallels, it is interesting to see the parallels of my dad growing, you know, me growing up without my dad, the life he lived. And then me growing up with my mom's boyfriend and the life he lived, it was almost inescapable for me I was I was bound to live that life no matter what side of the railroad tracks I grew up on. But maybe it was better that my dad wasn't in my life. Because if I had witnessed those things from him, of all people from him, maybe we would not have had our happily ever after. To me, my memories of my father are almost non existent. I don't have that many memories of my dad. So every, every memory that was created really started at the point of the healing process. Did it feel like it at that time? Absolutely not. It felt very much confrontational when my father came in, but I wasn't thinking of it that way. I wasn't thinking of this as my healing story. So my thoughts, my my memories of my dad looking back on it now came from a point where I needed him the most, getting ready to grow up to be a young man and a man and, you know, eventually a father and I, and I needed him to be there for me. And so I was willing to put in the work to listen to him apologize and to listen to him say he was sorry. And he was willing to listen to me too experience the traumas and the terrors of what my mom and myself went through and hearing him be willing to accept that and see him accept that was definitely a big plus for me, because it gave me the closure that I needed to let go of those feelings of anger at him and let go of those feelings of abandonment with him. And once him and my mom married, you know, life was a perfect nobody has a perfect life. But once him and my mom married that that really was kind of like the Okay, this is our This is our perfect journey. Now. You know, we've been through all of this anger and resentment and fighting to now finally have our, our happily ever after moment. And we were good at that point. Even though my dad to this day still lives with a lot of those resentments, I don't, we both just had to have the ability to have a lot of forgiveness in our hearts of each other and of ourselves. And to really just embrace each other because I love him and I loved him, and I needed him. And I know he loved me and needed me and we both wanted to be in each other's life. So forgiveness along the way was a huge thing for the both of us. It really helped heal us in very amazing ways.

David All  
You also talk about the shot for your biological dad to show up as a grandfather to your two girls. What's that like in your heart when you see him showing up that way for them?

Corey Cepeda  
You know, I know my dad, I think better than most people. And my dad when the day comes, my dad has to journey home to heaven. I know he will still live with the guilt of feeling like a failure as a father to all his children. But the one thing he will not be able to say is he feels like a failure to his two granddaughters. My journey to stay in Kaylee's life was not just about me but it was definitely about my dad as well because I wanted to give him that experience of being able to have a second chance at family and I did not want Kaylee to grow up not knowing what my side of the family was like her side of the family was like so my dad absolutely took advantage in every conceivable way to be with Kaylee and Payton. You know that you you do all the things that That you missed with your grandchildren that you missed with your children going up taking them fishing, going out to little events at the Target Center, you take them to the como zoo, you get into water balloon fights, you know just just the little things that you want to create memories with and he's taken full advantage of that with both of them he's very loving and caring and nurturing to the both of them. He gives him still the same advice to this day that he gave me growing up which I find very hilarious you know, just kind of life repeating itself in some ways. He has taken this second chance at redemption, I call it to really just run with the baton and love his grandchildren, love his granddaughters in every conceivable way possible. From having the the forts making the forts and the late night movies. Payton's spending the night or spending the weekends up at a grandma and grandpa's house. He's just done everything I think he can do to make up for the time lost between him and I to spread that love to them as well. And it's really awesome to see because my daughter's love their grandparents, you know, like any grandchildren should. And it's very visible when we go and visit them. It's it's not this fake, contrived, forced thing. They very much have an endearing vision for both of them. And he's, he's appreciative of that second chance.

David All  
And I want to hear more about Kaylee and Payton. Part of your story includes another woman, a wife, a mother of Payton, who's 10 years old today, and Kaylee's 23 now.

Corey Cepeda  
Correct.

David All  
You chose them. You chose this lifestyle, and they are choosing you. My question is, have you forgiven yourself for the pattern that you were sort of carrying out?

Corey Cepeda  
I've come to terms with some of the things I've done in the past. You know, one of the interesting things is, I find myself very much living a parallel road to my father in some ways and in the regards that I too carry a lot of guilt still to this day about Kaylee and her childhood, wondering what life would have been like for her had her mother and I chose to work things out and stay together. I do think of that a lot with Payton. And it's interesting because Kirsten and I that's my wife, we just had this conversation the other night in bed, where I said, you know, to me, Payton is my redemption, she's my second chance has been my second chance at being everything to her. I did not get to do or be with to Kaylee. And that's not to say I love one of my children more than the other. That's you know, it's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is, she's just giving me every chance to be the best version that I've always wanted to be. I knew instantly when I met Kirsten, I wanted to be with her. There was no doubt in my mind. She's one of the very few women ever that I've met that I was at a loss for words, I did not know what to say when I first met her. She was that beautiful to me. She literally took all the words out of my brain and out of my mouth and I could not speak it was kind of like a made for TV moment I felt at a loss. But I knew I wanted to be with her. When we found out we were pregnant and going to have a baby. There was never any doubt in either one of our minds that you know, we'd be together we'd be a family I just had said to myself, okay, this is my chance to do and be the man that I know I can be for both her and you know, the little one that was on the way. And so that was really my commitment to Payton and to Kirsten was to say you're going to get the best version of me now and moving forward. Because all of that lifestyle that I had is so far removed and I've learned so much from it. Up to this point. Now I can take those life lessons and implement them how I need to and do things that I haven't gotten a chance to do before. So being with with Kirsten and having Kaylee and having Payton and making sure they have a close bond has really been an amazing challenge. But I don't use that in a negative way. I just say, you know, you want your family to be close and you want them to be together and all have love for each other. But when there's a very big age difference between your children, they just think differently. They act differently. They're in different spaces and time. As I mentioned before Kaylee was living that point when Payton was born, Kaylee was living in South Carolina. So we would fly her out to Minnesota and spend summers and holidays with us and you know, we would soak up as much time as we could and have them be together and then ultimately, Kaylee moved out here to live with us. So just trying to blend the family the best we could and be the best supportive husband and supportive dad and supportive everything and give Payton that those little things that I never had a chance to do with my dad growing up, falling asleep in the bed with her things I didn't get a chance to do with Kaylee. You know, reading stories in the bed, making the forts just doing all of that fun little dad stuff, for me has been a blessing and to this day still continues to be a blessing, giving her life's wisdoms and advice when she faces challenges and challenging her to be a better person and learn compassion and learn forgiveness and not judge people and, and how to be strong and stand up on your own and all the things that I never had a chance for my dad to do with me or my mom's boyfriend to do with me or I feel like I didn't get a chance to do with Kaylee I get to do through Payton now. And it's very gratifying. It's very satisfying feeling to know that I'm getting to live my best life now with Payton and and also to see Kaylee flourish as well. You know, she's she's doing very well in her life. She's going to college, she's living on her own. She's, you know, going to be a teacher. She's working with little kids right now. And she has some of her own skeletons. I don't want to sit here and make it seem like she's not plagued with any sort of, you know, past memory she does. She has her her moments where I know things get her down. But to think about how her life could have turned out, she could have taken that road where the 'oh woe is me' kicks in. I never had my dad as much as I wanted to growing up that that could have very well been her but she hasn't she's she's decided to say no, you know what my dad went above and beyond to be with me. He did more things that most dads do who live in the same cities with their own kids. My dad did all of these things, and I love him for that. So I'm living my best life right now. It's pretty awesome.

David All  
Corey, let's take a break, we'll come back for some closing thoughts. 

Corey Cepeda
Sounds good. 

David All
If you're a good man, if you're making the lifelong climb. Like me, you may start to shutter or just notice that it doesn't feel great when you see or hear the term toxic masculinity. For my next episode of Beyond, I'm going beyond toxic masculinity. And to do that I'm starting with what it means to me as I'm out here communing with nature, I'm learning to reconnect with my own masculinity. Old Iron John. And I'm reading what other good men have to say about it. I'm learning about the King's, Warriors, Magicians and Lovers. And I want to invite you to join me in my research helped me see around the band. Send me your ideas and articles. Videos are the ways masculinity has molded your life. Let's go beyond masculinity together. Let's demystify this balancing force in the world. Reach out my email is belly@mountethos.com. That's belly@mountethos.com. 

David All
We're back with Corey Cepeda. Corey, I would love for you to do a bit of fathering for us. And to do that I would love for you to go back to the very visceral image that we all have of us sleeping outside of the door and hearing your mom getting choked in the room. And you're scared. You're scared for your mom, you're scared for yourself. Can you father, that young boy for us based on what you know today. 

Corey Cepeda
Wow that's really deep. You know, I think if I were to father myself, in that moment, I would just really want to wrap my arms around that little boy and tell him it's going to be okay. I think I would have multiple dads there, you know, the the different personalities of what was needed in that moment, I, part of me would want to be that loving dad that just threw his arms around me and said, it's, it's going to be okay son, you know, this, this isn't normal, we'll fix this, the other, the other dad would want to rush in there and beat beat my mom's boyfriend up for for doing that to her, and cause him the same pain and trauma that he caused my mom, I would want to, you know, tell that little boy that, you know, things are gonna work out in the end. And really just allow me to cry if needed and, and break down if needed. Because in that moment, I didn't cry. I didn't. I didn't really have any other emotion. And once I kicked that door open other than just to freeze. And and so I my emotions were everything but nothing It was it was fear. It was terror. It was anger, it was sadness. It was it was so many things, but nothing, not one emotion came to the forefront. So I if I had a chance to be a dad in that moment, I would, I would just want to wrap my arms around that little boy and tell him it's going to be okay. Your your life is going to turn out alright. In the end, this is just one unfortunate, sad moment that you're experiencing. And things will get better in the end.

David All  
Corey, thank you so much for the story. You know, for me personally, as I'm listening to you now. I'm just feeling so many of my own experiences in my life come up. And I know that our listeners are feeling the same way. So I want to thank you for standing for us today, having the courage to tell us this story. 

Corey Cepeda  
No, thank you. I appreciate having this on. You know, this has been an incredible journey. And I I'm not afraid to tell it my daughters know my life story growing up, I don't hide it. I know, it's a need to hear it to understand who I am and how I grew up. And it's, it's, it's my journey, and I'm not afraid of it. You know, I'm not afraid of it anymore. I need to accept it. And I have anybody that's willing to listen, if it helps you heal in your journey, then that's exactly what I'm going to tell what I'm going to share.

David All  
You've been listening to Belly of the Beast life stories with David All. And I hope that you feel the purpose bubbling up in your Creek. We're doing our best to bring you the highest quality podcast. And that's a big investment on my part. If you'd like to chip in five bucks or so, visit bellystory.com and be an enabler to our show. Our team is grateful that you choose to listen. Milos Broceta is our unicorn, our magical sound engineer. Artie Wu, well, he's our sage, our wise advisor, pointing out what's already there. There are folks that transcribe these stories for for the folks that are hard of hearing composers and musicians that create these emotional ballads and tunes. And an artist somewhere in the world makes this illustration that you're looking at so that I can craft a cover for you. I create this podcast for you. I am responsible and accountable for all of it. Join me at bellystory.com. I need you to cross the line. Be a part of our story and not the product of someone's podcast that they're selling. There is a difference. Thank you for listening. Thank you for rating our podcast on iTunes. Thank you for letting me know that our story matters to you. I hear you and stay tuned, I'm working on some stories that you need to hear.