What does it cost to live an inauthentic life? If anyone knows, it’s Alon Ozery. Born in Toronto to an Orthodox Jewish father and a British mother and then raised in Israel and educated in Canada, Alon didn’t come out of the closet until he had a wife and three kids. From his childhood on the shores of the Mediterranean to dodging young women and ducking work in the motor pool in the Israeli Army, Even The Sidewalk Could Tell relates to Alon’s winding journey to discover his true self.
A funny, heartwarming tale of honest self-reflection, this brave memoir shows what it means and what it ultimately takes to claim self-acceptance, create inner peace, and march forward into the best version of yourself.
This is the Author Hour Podcast; I am your host Benji Block. Today, I am excited to get to have a conversation with Alon Ozery. He has just authored a brand-new book; it’s titled Even The Sidewalk Could Tell.
Alon, we are so glad to have you here on Author Hour today.
Alon Ozery: Thank you, Benji. It is amazing to be on.
Benji Block: Alon, let us start here just for those who may be unfamiliar with you and a little bit of your background. Could you just tell us a bit of your story and your background?
Alon Ozery: Definitely, I am of mixed ethnicity and lived all over the place. My parents are both Israeli Jewish: Yemeni father and a British mother. We were born in Toronto, raised in Israel, and then spent most of my time in Toronto since then. I opened a business, grew fairly a bit, and became a fairly big bakery that sells products across North America. I got married early, when I was 24 years old, we had three kids.
Nine years ago, I came out to my family, and basically, here we are today.
Benji Block: Yeah, and I am excited to jump into more of that story, as that’s what this book is about. You said it was about eight, nine years ago now. So why was this the right time to write this book? And kind of explain everything that went into your story.
Alon Ozery: That is an interesting question. I never intended on writing a book and when I was in entrepreneur groups, people were asked, “Who want to write a book?” I would say, 80 percent of the participants would raise their hands and I wouldn’t. It was never on my radar.
But I guess these stories were brewing and I did start writing up two years ago or just under two years ago. I started writing stories from my childhood and my experiences and feelings and these stories just flew out and eventually I ended up with a whole lot of stories. Then I printed them out, laid them on the floor, and then put them in order, and then I could see a book forming.
So that’s my end. Of course, there were a lot of exterior help and people around me that kind of helped steer me towards writing a book. Philip McKernan is one of them, Jayson Gaignard was one of them, and Tucker Max also, Nikki Van Noy. So, all these people contributed to me believing that I can do this.
Pressing The Button of Authenticity
Benji Block: Wow. So, as you are writing the stories was that just for yourself, almost as a journal? Or who are you kind of imagining as you start to realize, this could be a book. Who is your ideal reader?
Alon Ozery: My story revolves around sexuality and becoming my true self, I am looking for my authentic self. However, the book is written not necessarily with sexuality in mind. So, when I decided to write the book, or the stories flowed, I was targeting 30 to 50-year-olds that are not feeling comfortable in their own skin. People that are not living their authentic selves. I think by reading somebody else’s experience— and it’s even better if they do not have that issue of sexuality because it is not too close to home, but— then they will recognize the things that I went through. You know, living in the basement and having these anxious moments, moments of anxiousness, and a bunch of things that I went through. Maybe this would help them realize, are they living their own authentic self? Maybe this will help them nudge them towards discovering who they are or what they need to do to get there.
Benji Block: I absolutely saw that as I was reading your book. When you hear the subtitle: ‘How I Came Out to My Wife, My Three Children and the World’, I am thinking this is going to have a certain bend to it from the beginning to the end. But honestly, as I am writing questions and thinking about what I wanted to talk to you about, I had a list of 10 or so questions before you even got to the part of your story of coming out, because you wrote this book so well and it was so relatable through and through.
We are going to jump into the content of the book here. I would love for us to go actually all the way to your childhood first and just talk to me about the transition of, as a kid, moving from Israel to Canada, and what do you remember from those early years.
Alon Ozery: As I said, our mother was British and my father of a non-Jewish family. Our father originated from an Orthodox Jewish family in the Center of Jerusalem, of Yemeni descent, so there is another aspect of that. Then when we moved back from Israel to Toronto, I was 16, and so much was happening. Think of your average 16-year-old moving to a new society. I spoke English— it’s very funny— I spoke English, but I could not write it as we spoke English with our mother. I managed to fool my teachers into thinking that I was good at writing English, which eventually cost me quite a bit because it’s not like you can fool people. Eventually, we have to write an exam and do some work, but they were the last two years of high school.
It was a very stressful time. We also lost our business; our father lost the business in Israel at the time. We came with no money, so I had to find a job, I wasn’t popular in school, I was extremely introverted, and I was scared of my own shadow, I’d say. But you know, life just takes you through experiences, so I did not live the typical teenage life. It’s funny when I say that. I think a lot of teenagers do not because there are a lot of people there that are very introverted and growing with time. Something like that. I wasn’t— girls, there were encounters with girls, but I wasn’t drawn to them. I thought I should be, but it was kind of buried. The sexuality element, I keep thinking about it today. I was the oldest son and there are traits that are attributed to all siblings where I had felt a lot of responsibility and I lived my life according to what I thought others expect me to be. Part of that was, fit in as a straight young male and I didn’t know any better.
Benji Block: Wow. So then after high school, you end up in the Israeli Military, that’s a twist in your story. Three years that you talked about in the book, and you learned some important things. But then you said you come back with two large questions looming over you that I think is extremely relatable. Who am I? and, What am I going to be? I think we find ourselves asking those types of questions throughout our life. How did you try to answer those questions in that time in your life coming back from the military? How did then you eventually meet and marry your wife?
Alon Ozery: So, just for the audience to know, the army service wasn’t a very serious service. I have asthma and it’s more of a Catch-22 story, where I was fighting the system and the system ignored me and didn’t know that I existed. That was my experience of the army. But, that kind of matures you a lot and I was aware my parents lived in Canada; I had to go that time to Israel to do that.
But when I got back, I was very driven. I was driven to succeed because we lost everything, financially, at the age of 16. And when we moved to Canada, I was driven to succeed. I knew I wanted to open a business, I was not sure first [in] what. I went to school, I wrote a business plan, I worked in the foodservice, and it was kind of the love of food and the love of bread which I got from my grandmother and aunt back in Jerusalem, that was one trajectory. The second one was, even until then I’ve never really had a serious girlfriend, and soon after I met Mary. She was fairly young, and we hit it off and things really got hot quickly. So, we got married fairly young. We got married twice, once in Canada at City Hall, and once back in Israel where she lived with her family a year later. Then it was off to two trajectories. One was business and that was very consuming. Fortunately, we saw some success and grew, and then the family part, where Mary was part of my business life because she helped with the restaurant. But within two or three years, she got pregnant and then it was kids and family and finances, and you know the story that all young couples go through. I parked, I guess, my sexuality deep, deep inside unknowingly. It was not even a conscious effort.
Benji Block: Yeah, you talk about a four-year period where you have three kids and the business is going on. So, you are devoted to the business and the family, and life just starts to go really, really quick.
What was the relationship like over time? Because it starts and obviously there is just so much going on, but you talk about the erosion over time of that relationship with your wife and talk about that internal growing need to kind of escape. You talk about trying to escape suburbs and also just that relationship and feeling different than your surroundings.
Alon Ozery: Yes, so we were entrenched in the suburbs, and I think they represented, at the time, to me conforming to just a regular family structure which did not fit me, obviously. I began traveling a lot more for business. Our business sold also in the US and Canada. I started attending all these food shows across the continent, taking every excuse that I could go and work. How can a wife stop her husband from providing for the family? And I used that to get away and drink and party and I still was not onto the sexuality issue, but I was definitely in escape mode from my surroundings. It was driving me. I wasn’t even aware of what is driving me, but I definitely went on for the ride. Yeah, that summarizes that period. When I came back it was kids and family and business and then escape, escape, escape until a certain point where I took this course, and the button of authenticity was pressed within me and that was— I did not know it was happening, but I did know inside that something shifted from that moment on.
Being Selfish Can Be A Good Thing
Benji Block: So, you take this course and authenticity starts to become, like, this theme. But what are you, now looking back, what were ways— you say partying, drinking— What was going on, internally? The feelings that you were feeling, was there an anger towards your wife and towards the life you are living? Was there just a growing frustration? What were some of the feelings you were feeling there?
Alon Ozery: I think you hit the nail on the head. It started as frustration, and I didn’t even know why. Then it turned eventually more into anger, and I didn’t know why either. I guess that inside, internally I knew it, but I could not say the words. Then eventually that drove me into the basement so I could not stay at home in the same bed or in the same bedroom.
A lot of couples at that time— I think it was towards the end of my 30’s— a lot of couples go through marital issues and we thought it was just one of those, or I thought. We went to a few couple therapists and I kind of fooled them. I seemed like the logical one and she was very frustrated and emotional and obviously, it went nowhere. We kept trying and that didn’t work until I realized that it was me. That kind of knowledge, or capsule, started surfacing. But I was so scared of that capsule that I didn’t know how to deal with it. But then there were moments in time that I did, and the biggest fear for me was not being in the household with my kids. I could not see my kids living under— and me living under a different roof. That was my biggest fear.
The sexuality issue, still I managed to go to an organization that deals with fathers, it’s called Gay Fathers of Toronto, went to one meeting. It was a horrendous meeting, and I wrote all about that experience. But it did give me a therapist that deals with sexuality. When I went to him, I think by the second, he did not ask the question immediately, but within a couple sessions, it was, “Alon, are you gay?” and I still could not say that word. My answer to him was, “I don’t know”. And then what he said was, “Well, you’ve been living in the basement for over a year, maybe you owe your wife an answer.” That resonated for me because to do it for myself, for some reason, was not good enough. I was trying to keep my part as a husband, as a father. But if I need to find out for my wife, that’s not selfish even though it was, but no it wasn’t. That was the last push for me finding out, because until that moment I have never had a physical experience with a man. For me, that was a point where, once I did experience it, that was the proof, and then I knew. So, that kind of pushed me towards that point.
Benji Block: It’s interesting how, you talked about earlier, the responsibility of maybe being the oldest sibling and that flushes itself out for different people in different ways. But for you, then coming to this point where he says, “You owe it to your wife”. It feels like it was a thread common through your entire story, right? Like this responsibility to, okay well, this is not the selfish thing to do, now I need to do this for her, and we need to have an answer here.
Alon Ozery: Yeah, I’d say, that was a huge learning for me was becoming selfish. It’s good to be selfish. Obviously, all with, you know, not to extremes but I was so unselfish for the longest time that it hurt people around me eventually, and myself also. So, part of the message is, take care of yourself and think about yourself. That’s okay and it is probably better for everyone for you to take care of yourself first and then look around and then you can breathe. It’s like being on an airplane and they say, “First put the oxygen on your face and only then take care of your kid”. I think us taking care of our authentic self is so important, and only when we are in harmony with who we are in the world, can we bring good to the world. Otherwise, we are in constant struggle and sending conflicting messaging, and frustrating ourselves and our surroundings. Maybe our spouses, maybe our family, anybody around us. Getting to that point is key.
Benji Block: Did you find yourself in that season or before this move to authenticity saying, “I don’t know a lot”? Not just to your therapist on sexuality, but just feeling that general, maybe background, of “I just don’t know, I don’t know how I feel” and that’s kind of where that frustration was brewing?
Alon Ozery: You know it’s so interesting, I think I knew. I kind of knew that I am attracted to men, but I have never tried it. So, I pretended as if, because I haven’t tried it and my explanation to myself was, “Maybe I am bi” and then, “Maybe—” and all these excuses and rationalization in my head explaining certain things and certain feelings. And the need and desire to fit in and to be the good son and to be who I thought I was supposed to be, was very strong. That has driven this life for, I would say, the first half of my life. Thankfully, that is gone. Today, that’s not driving me and that was a major force behind everything.
Benji Block: So, talk about the lead-up to the conversation you have with your wife. What was the biggest mind game? And then how did that conversation go?
Alon Ozery: Wow. So, those were— once I had the experience, I knew I had to talk to her. I knew she was the one person I had to talk to. So, that basically started the toughest three months of my life, waiting for the right moment and toughest months of my life. The moment came and I write about this in the book, about all the details. But I was, on one hand, terrified inside, and then the other I could see the end of it. I felt that there could be a sense of relief behind this. I was terrified of that moment. There was telling my wife, and then there was telling my kids and then there was telling everyone else. But I couldn’t think about it in that structure, I had to think about it like, this is a task-oriented way, where it’s just one person at a time.
It’s funny when, even today, this is eight years or nine years after, I still come out to people. It never ends. So, when I meet new people, they don’t necessarily know. You know, I don’t have it carved on the forehead, ‘gay’ in various situations. But if things continue, there is always that moment where, “Should I tell them, should I not?” And it’s not that it bothers me anymore, but it still goes through my mind, and I wait for the right moment to put it out there just so they know. So, I don’t feel as if I am hiding something, and I want them to know, just for them to be comfortable. I don’t want them to be uncomfortable even knowing that they think they know me but they don’t.
It never ends, it is an interesting process and it started as close to impossible and I had to spread out. Once I came out to my ex, my wife, it took me a long time to come out with the kids and to my father and brothers. Every time I had to gather energy and strength and mental capacity to do it. But as time progressed, those times have shortened.
Being Authentic Is Worth It
Benji Block: What would you say— you saw the light at the end of the tunnel, in a sense. You knew you had to have this conversation. You had expectations, obviously, going into that conversation. Then it happens, so then after the fact was there anything that surprised you about how you felt? What was the internal dialogue and how did that change once you actually came out to your wife?
Alon Ozery: I felt tremendous relief. Benji, when I went into this, I didn’t think— I felt that I was too old for dating, for some reason. I thought I would be by myself for the rest of time. I thought that, yeah, I didn’t see or feel like a future for me as a gay man, immersed in community and all that. I mean, I had friends, but I don’t know, for some reason, that’s how I saw it. But I knew that I cannot ignore this, and I knew I could not live this lie anymore. I knew that I had to share it and when I did, there was a huge sense of relief and fear.
So, it was a relief that I told her and then fear. “Oh my God, now everyone will know”. Now everyone will know, and I was again terrified of that. Today, I know how, you know, because you come out several times as I said earlier, I know there is a pattern. There is a pattern where you come out with shocking news, and everybody will talk about it for a couple of weeks and then they will be off to the next thing. I just need to carry myself through that period to get to where they are already bored with that news and there is nothing else to tell. So, I learned that you just have to carry your head high and look at people in the eye and show confidence and strength. Even if inside, you don’t feel that. You kind of fake it until you make it, and I think the faking it worked because today that confidence is there.
Benji Block: Wow. That is such an important learning for everyone. Whether it is regarding sexuality or not. But that idea that, when I am true enough and authentic to myself, even if it is dropping some sort of maybe bombshell news or information about my life, it’s worth it to be authentic and true to my own integrity because, in the long run, that’s going to serve me well and everyone around me well. That’s really a very important lesson that I think shines through in this book. When you think about looking back at the way you handled coming out and all of that. Is there anything you wished you could have done differently or maybe would have been different?
Alon Ozery: You know I do not like dwelling on the past and I am not that— it is not my characteristic. I love looking forward. So, I am kind of happy of how it happened. I am really happy that— I am happy when I knew, when I experienced it, I had to tell my wife at the time. I am really happy about that. I know I hurt her tremendously, but today, we are good friends, and we will be family forever. We have three kids together and we still share the same bank account, which is odd. But I always think of her, if it’s finances or the business and all that, I definitely keep her in mind. I would never, never abandon her. Her well-being is definitely on my radar.
So yeah, looking back is, I believe what happened was supposed to happen and it’s funny, I talk to the kids, and said, “Obviously what I did and what happened has affected you.” I do not know how or what and they have kids issues or teen issues or young adult issues. But I was very happy when they said, “You know, Dad, we always felt loved by both of you. No matter what happened, we always felt the love coming from you” and that is the most important thing to me. Maybe we did screw up here and there and didn’t do things ideally, but at least they felt the love from us, which is there.
Benji Block: That is so good. What are some of the biggest changes to your overall routine in life now as a result of those decisions eight or nine years ago? What have you seen develop in this new life of yours?
Alon Ozery: I think even the business did better after I came out. It’s odd, I suddenly— I don’t know why— I had a little more money. We invested so much time and every penny back in the business and we almost lost it a couple of times. But things started to flow better, and I can’t put my finger on it. But the moment you are living your authentic life— the moment I was— I think you don’t waste energy on nonsense or you, the moment that you encounter an issue that you identify, as yes, this is not for me, I just turn around and go or pick a new battle or pick a new goal, rather than dwell on it and bang my head against the wall, again and again, it makes no sense.
In that sense, life got much better. Also with friends, like I, as a young adult, I had friends but none of them were real. It’s as if, I do not know how to describe it, it’s as if there were a bunch of dirty windows between me and my surroundings and you could see them but there isn’t that good connection. And now, now I can touch them and hug and they are there, and we are there for each other and I discover amazing new human beings that surround me, including a lot of amazing women. I also discovered women after coming out. Because I always think there is this question between— and I hate using this term— but a straight man and a woman, like is there a potential for something or if they’re married or if they are in a relationship. There is something that stops them from having a really close relationship, potentially. Again, not all, I hate generalizing but I am. But, as a gay man, that kind of takes care of that. I’m really discovering amazing, amazing, women.
Make the Continuous Decision to Live Authentically
Benji Block: As we start to wrap up our time together, I would love to— I’m going to quote you real quick. You say, “When I compare where I am today to where I was even eight years ago the difference is immense. The fear and terror that constantly existed in the background has gone away completely”. That’s awesome to read. There’s people that are in the space like where you were eight or nine years ago, whether it’s when it comes down to sexuality or maybe it’s another area of their life where they just feel inauthentic or they feel that frustration. What advice would you give to someone that is on that authenticity journey? Maybe they are afraid to be more honest about who they truly are, what advice would you give today?
Alon Ozery: It’s murky waters. Inside, you feel a tenseness in your body, that the muscles are a little tight when you are not authentic. Even your walk is different. I walk differently now. What I would recommend is, to start taking action in investing in yourself. It could be anything, it could be go and do yoga— and the individual has to pick it. We all are individuals, and I would say go and pick a few actions that you can take, courses maybe that you are investing in yourself.
Reach out to your community, find out what exists around there and just start taking them. Talk to people that have gone through changes, ask them what do they recommend, and I wouldn’t overthink these things. Just go ahead and, if you are able to, take the course, go on a weekend, do the yoga, do the whatever. Don’t stop at one, you need to have a series. You need to have a bunch of things that you need to do and with that thought in mind of, I want to get to know myself better and I want to find out more about myself. So, it’s kind of a general answer, but I am a firm believer in taking action rather than overthinking. When we live in our head, it goes nowhere. But when we do things and then introduce ourselves— put ourselves in new situations with new people, different energies, different vibrations of energy, that will affect us.
So, let’s put ourselves with people that we want to be with, and try, and not get stuck there. If it’s good for us, fantastic. If it isn’t, let’s find another group that we think that we want to belong to and try that.
Benji Block: Great advice. So, the book is called Even The Sidewalk Could Tell. Everyone should go pick it up and read it. We hit some of the themes in the book but there are so many great stories that are unpacked. For those who want to connect with you further, what are some good ways they could reach out or follow what you are doing maybe online?
Alon Ozery: I have a website called alonozery.com, so you can reach me there. I communicate with everyone who reaches out. I have worked with a lot of entrepreneurs. I am happy to talk to people and if I can help even with a word, I’m more than happy doing that. So definitely connect, or [email protected], and I would be happy to communicate with you.
Benji Block: Amazing. Alon, it was so great to speak with you today about your book. I really believe that those who read it are going to be inspired and encouraged and your story is truly incredible, so thank you for taking time and writing this book, and thanks for being on Author Hour today.
Alon Ozery: Amazing, thank you so much for this, Benji. I am more than happy to. I really want this book to do good in the world and I believe that people who read it, it will push them one notch further to find their true self and find their authentic self. Thank you.