Five Questions: Chad Brokaw

Five Questions - Chad Brokaw

Chad Brokaw is an actor, father, and man of God.

Chad and I met almost fifteen years ago on the set of a music video in L.A. We were both cast as extras and spent our time between takes chatting about life and art. We hung out quite a bit for a few years before life got in the way—as it tends to do—and lost touch for many years. Our paths eventually crossed again earlier this year, and I felt compelled to have him as a guest for Five Questions. Both of our lives had changed on many deep and emotional levels, and it was great to have that same connection despite the space and time between our meetings.

We covered a lot of bases in our conversation including Chad’s divorce, his being a role model to his daughter, Christianity’s influence in his life, making time instead of not having time, and Shia LaBeouf even gets a sarcastic reference or two. Meet Chad.

How do you define being “in love”?

I think the word love is extremely dynamic. If you asked me in my 20s, I’d say butterflies in my stomach, goose bumps, “I’m so excited to see her.” If you asked me when I was going through my divorce what being in love is, I’d say it’s complete bullshit. [Laughter] But now—as a dad, and someone who’s endured a divorce—it’s a choice, not a feeling. I have to choose being in love and being in love doesn’t limit itself to just my significant other. Though I certainly am in love with my girlfriend. But I’m in love with my daughter, and I’m in love with you—I’m being in love. Anywhere I go and whomever I interact with. My beliefs—I’m a Christian—Jesus commands me to love him, to love others, and love myself. Just being in love is a choice.

I got trapped in the feeling part of it. My feelings were the truth and they kind of betray you.

Me: Do you think you felt that betrayal going through the divorce?

Chad: That was the hardest I’ve felt it. The awakening outside of it was my expectation that somebody needed to love me back in order for me to love them. And now I know that it’s a state of being. I can be in love and it has nothing to do with what you guys do. You can be whatever you’re being. I can still be loving. And that awakening has freed me. I’m still developing that, what that means, it’s dynamic. Ask me when I’m 60 and I might be like, “Nope! That was bullshit too!” 

Me: That’s the best part about growing! It’s all bullshit!

What's your greatest fear?

Missed opportunity. There’s a moment. We get all these moments, I love it. But I’m not able to have that moment [or opportunity] because I miss it or that I get in my head or I’m not walking that designed path—not that there won’t be moments in the other path—or I’ll be on my deathbed and I’ll be like, “Oh man. All the things I could have done. That I didn’t use up the chances I got.”

I’m 40 now. I think I’ve wasted a lot of time. It’s beautiful. I’m not complaining. It was an awesome learning experience, but being 40, I realize that my time is super limited. I have a certain amount of hours, days, and years left. I mean, it could be over tomorrow, right? So to be OK with running on empty, to just give everything I’ve got, just put it all out there, and be less self-focused and more outward focused. What can I give in this moment? It’s not about me. One thing that helped me a lot is choosing that you cannot inconvenience me. Just choosing it. So that would eliminate any complaint of being stressed about not having enough time. I realized when I shifted into the thought that I can’t be inconvenienced, my day got extended. Does that make sense?

Me: For sure. I totally understand that. A lot of people I meet—generally it comes down to music for me—but I’ll meet people who say, “I used to play guitar.” And I’ll be like, “Why did you used to play guitar?” And they’ll go, “I don’t have time.” But I feel like they probably didn’t make the time. Because if you love something…

Chad: …you make the time.

Me: Then I took that on myself, where if I’m not doing something, it’s because deep down I don’t want to. So I try not to lie to myself anymore. So if I’m like, “I want to learn Italian.” Which I tried. And then I stopped. I didn’t make the time. That was my reason. I didn’t do it. It was my fault. I can’t blame anybody else. I can’t blame time. If you want to do something, you just make the time. 

Chad: You just make it. 

Me: Your days become longer because you’re doing the things you love to do. You’re living deliberately. 

Chad: Living deliberately. On purpose. Intentional. If I’m intentional, then I can actually breathe my last breath on my death bed saying, “I didn’t miss an opportunity because I was living with intention.” And as the great Shia LaBeouf said, “Just do it!” [Laughter]

Me: Oh my god, a Shia quote! [Laughter]

Chad: I want to show up to the grave on fumes. I want to be out of gas, pushing the car, just out. Done.

Me: That thought is huge. Living through my strokes—that experience you just said a minute ago—this shit could end right now. You could be hit by a car in a minute and that would be terrible, but we don’t know. So what are we doing? Why am I wasting my time? 

Chad: And that makes your No’s much clearer. I have Yes’s that are automatic. But I can also see when things are not aligned to the opportunity. A lot of times we get roped into things we had no business getting into, but I can just go, “No.” Because that doesn’t align with my…

Me: …goals. Core beliefs. 

Chad: Yeah. So I can just say, “Thank you very much, but no.”

Me: You mentioned something earlier that fits into this. We don’t have to get into details, but it was about the, um…

Chad: You can say it. The two girls on a boat. 

Me: The title of your autobiography. [Laughter]

Chad: Dude. I’m 40. I better have a story of two girls on a boat.

Me: But what you said was like there were two girls on a boat, but when you got back to your real life, it didn’t jive with what your goals were. 

Chad: Right. It’s like, “What do I want?” It’s pleasing in the moment, but am I on the right trajectory of where I want to be. I have a daughter so she’s my anchor. I can say to myself, “Am I being the very man I want her to marry someday?”

Me: No pressure.

Chad: The best pressure. 

Me: I look forward to that if I ever do have that pressure. And I have the pressure in a way smaller dose because I’m an uncle. 

Chad: But you said it before: “I want to be a positive role model that isn’t her dad.” Because he’s a given. And that’s so awesome because it’ll put ease on the dad so she doesn’t grow up with daddy issues looking for a man that’s amazing like dad and she didn’t see it in anybody else. No she was surrounded by awesome men, so men are awesome. 

Me: I appreciate that, man.

Circling back to the idea of when your actions aren’t aligning with your core beliefs or goals, that’s when you need to make an adjustment. I was able to do that because I loved dating because I met a lot of wonderful women and had some really great experiences. But I couldn’t find someone that I could really sit with and do the boring shit with. Like go on errands and really enjoy her company. So being able to recognize that and then meeting a girl and knowing that it’s not clicking and just saying no. That’s really hard to do when you’re lonely and when you’re feeling desperate and when you’re feeling like, “I don’t know what the hell is wrong with me.” You want someone to just validate you. But that’s not where it comes from. It comes from your Self.

Chad: I went through three years of the choice to be alone. I tell some people that and they’re like, “No way! Three years??” And I talk to other people and they’re like, “Yeah, I’ve been single for 16 years. Tell me about it.” Three years was a huge deal for me and it was excruciating at times. But there was—how am I ever going to hear the voice of God if I don’t know what it’s like to be alone? If I’m never alone with Him, I always have noise or something else filling it in. So that was a huge learning time for me. Then I built up enough in myself that I didn’t experience loneliness even though I was alone, and it actually became fitting to add someone to me. I became whole enough that I didn’t need a woman to fill a void.

Me: You asked me something like that at lunch regarding a girl I’m dating. Like, “Are you trying to get something?” And I appreciate the way you framed that, it’s a valid question. And my answer was no. Just like that. I love that idea that you’re not two parts of a whole coming together, you’re two wholes. With a W. [Laughter]

What’s the most difficult thing you’ve ever had to do?

Accept divorce. I’ve done some hard stuff. But accepting divorce was surely the hardest. I was growing in crisis and reading my Bible. I’d go to the park and just read the Bible out loud. I’d read a book of the Bible out loud. That was my thing I was doing. When my wife at the time was saying she was filing and that I’d be getting papers pretty soon, if I could just sign them. I wanted to fight. I did not want that. I even voiced it in so many ways, like, “I’ll make it hell for you.” She’s Colombian. I was throwing all this venom stuff out. I felt awful about it. It took my legs out. So I got into scripture and there were two verses. To love thy enemy. We’ve all heard that one before. I’ve been very lucky, I don’t have any enemies. But my wife at that time was my enemy. There was something stabbed in me, like a sword, and it was being turned and curling my intestines around and she was going to yank it and pull all my guts out. My enemy. Right? She’s the one that could stop the hurt. And she wouldn’t do it.

I asked, “God, how do I love somebody like that? Instruct me to love somebody like that.” He gave me what I call God Goggles. He let me see her as he sees her. I don’t know if that was—I don’t want to put this on God. He’s like, “I never gave Chad goggles.” But I believe he did. And I saw her as this amazing mom and this cherished child of God. She was radiant of life and all this light. And I thought, “This is how he sees her!” And then I looked over at my daughter and I thought, “That’s her mom.” This was in kind of a dream. And then my daughter looks at me, and she’s seeing how I treat her mom and that’s the kind of guy she’s going to go find. So if I’m spewing venom and saying all these things, she’s observing that.

In this moment of me asking God, show me how to love my enemy. He does, he shows me. But then he goes a little bit further and actually teaches me why I need to do that. That I have an impact and an effect. It’s not just between me and my wife, it’s my daughter and whoever she goes into relationship with and it affects a lot. So surrendering that and loving my enemy was super hard in accepting divorce. Then I read the scripture that if the woman asks for divorce, you give it to her if everything has been done to try to reconcile the marriage. So then I thought, “OK. Just do it.” I didn’t even read it, I just signed it. I’m a good dad, so I doubted she’d try to take my daughter away from me. So I just signed it. It was the hardest thing ever and I did it in a second. As soon as it was over, I put it in the mail and it was gone and I got so strong. Dude. I got so strong. I felt that anything in life that seems really hard, just do it. Just do it!

Me: Shia LaBeouf, baby! [Laughter]

Chad: Right? But just rip the Bandaid off and move into it. And on the other side of it, you’re OK. You’re going to be good. 

Me: It’s like falling into the pain, right? And facing it. I had a conversation the other day about the idea that all our past fears and past pains are just rotting corpses in a field and we can either build a super tall house and ignore the rotting fears, or we can get down there and face them. And that’s what you did. The fear, the anger, the venom. And you faced it and signed the papers. You felt strong because you were able to do the right thing even though you felt terrible. That’s such a beautiful experience. And you were so emotionally tied with another person, I can’t even imagine.

Chad: You break up with someone you love and it sucks. It hurts. But you walk away and with time, you’re fine. But we share a daughter together, so I had to keep looking at my open wound constantly. “Oh yeah, there it is! Still there!” [Laughter]

What's one thing you don't know now, but feel compelled to know before you die?

It’s God. I don’t know God. I know something of Him, but I feel like He’s something that we’ll never know. I just keep chasing Him. It excites me like nothing else. That there is a Creator. And He existed always. He said, “Let there be life.” He created life. And he gave that very life the ability to create within itself. It makes sense to me. Nature is all life-giving. The whole thing is a big cycle of creating life. Humans are able to create. Trees are able to create. Animals. Everything’s procreating and growing. I’m sensing there’s a design to it. I’m feeling it. But do I know it? No, but I want to know it. I want to know: How connected is it? When I see in my peripheral the grass is moving in the wind, is that connected to this moment and us? Does it have a say in how this goes? The wind blowing on my face right now, is that confirmation from Him? There’s a song I’ve been chasing. I’m not a musician, but there’s a song that He’s singing to us. That everything is an opportunity to uncover a little bit more of who he is. It’s in my daughter’s eyes, in my lover’s kiss, in this conversation, it’s in the wind that touched my cheek that gave me confirmation that, “Yeah, keep coming after the song.” It’s me. I’m in all this stuff. I’m in everything, but I am just me. I am the me that I am. I think He calls me to love Him before anything else, and to want to know Him before anything else. Not because He’s an egomaniac or some crazy god that’s up there going, “Y’all love me! Yeah, love you some God! Tell me good things about me!” [Laughter] No, I think He’s doing it because I need to put Him first. I need to put Him there so it aligns things properly. When I put myself first—though I’m important too, He commands me to love myself—then I fall into all the traps. It’s all on me. That’s why AA works. Higher power, service to others, share your story. Higher power. You have to give it something greater than yourself or it’s all on you and it’s a snare, a trap. You’re going to fall into it. 

Me: I find that interesting. For me, I believe in a greater power for sure. But I believe the higher power is within me. Is that what you’re saying?

Chad: It’s within me, but it’s not my Self. I’ve invited—my belief is that God came to Earth in the form of Jesus Christ and He died on a cross. He left the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is here and we ask Jesus into our hearts and the Holy Spirit fills us up so we can be in the right relationship with our Creator. So I can again walk in the garden with God. I can walk and talk with Him. Not that I was void of that before, but it’s now Other. God, the only God, is living and present within me. Before I felt that spirit reality, I was chasing the song, even though He wasn’t within me yet. But I was still following the song that He was singing to me. What was within me—He says, “I knew you before you were in the womb.” He had a hand on me before I was even born. There was a plan for my life that He designed. He intimately knows me and understands me. And in His timing and in my timing, He knew I would meet him again and then he would come within. So there was something in me that I knew wasn’t there and that’s why I was following the song, and then when it came in, I understood. But I’m still following that song to know Him even more. 

What will you miss the most when you’re gone?

I’m glad we already touched on my beliefs. [Laughter] There is a heaven that I believe in that I’m going to and apparently it’s awesome, so I won’t miss this! [Laughter] 

I’ll miss my daughter. I don’t know what heaven is. It seems like it’s a great place. I know I’ll probably be in a different body, maybe not flesh, something that maybe can travel through other dimensions, maybe I can see my daughter. But it feels like from the  that there is a separation that I’m not going to be able to cross over and do that.

That all aside, just Chad Brokaw—and I’m knee-deep in my Bible, so that’s part of me—but me thinking about what I’m going to miss… The thing that’s coming up is that other body or expression of me in heaven won’t be this. I’ll miss this. This is messy. This is not perfect. I remember when I figured out that girls poop. [Laughter] I was like, “NOOO!!!” It messed my world up. But the messiness of it is what makes it beautiful. We don’t have it right. We’re doing the best we can and we’re just trying to make the best choices and we have good intentions and we fall on our faces but we pick ourselves up. There’s something really spectacular about humanity and this experience. This life experience. I’ve seen some dark stuff and I only have to watch the news or get on Google for a second and I can see how awful the world is, but I can’t stay there. I know there’s awful things happening, but overall, this is a once-in-a-lifetime—oh, I did see something on Facebook, so obviously it’s true—but the chances of having a life, of being alive, are like winning the lottery 40 times in a row consecutively. So the chances that you have the opportunity to experience life are so small.

It’s pretty unique and special. It’s a gift that I get to do this. I think I would miss it. Just like anything when it’s over… It will never be this again.