Dear Jack: The Pirate’s Treasure and Saber Tooth You Found at Miramar Beach! (“Ride the Lightning” 2017 Toyota Prius Road Trip)

6 and a half years.

Dear Jack,

During the weeks leading up to our recent road trip to Destin, you had been telling me, “Daddy, I think we’re going to find treasure at the beach. Maybe even some bones. Maybe we can find a saber-toothed tiger skull because they’re the hardest to find in the whole world!”

I kept assuring you that if you looked in the right places, we just might find a buried something.

So during our 2nd morning at the beach last week, while your sister was out with Mommy and Grandma and Aunt Rebecca as they took the 2017 Toyota Prius Three to the outlet stores, you and I went out searching on the shore.

Just about 5 minutes into you playing in the sand as the water kept washing up and flooding your feet, I called you over to me, as I was just about 15 feet behind you.

“Jack, come over here. I think this would be a good spot to dig! The sand looks sort of different where this spot is.”

You rushed over.

After you dug down about 8 inches deep, there it was… a scratched up treasure chest!

With great excitement, you pulled the black metal box out of the sand. Fortunately, there was no lock, so you were able to open it right away.

Amazingly, there was a letter right there on top. We read it together:                                                                                          

July 1, 1733

To the Person Who Finds My Treasure,

If you are reading this, it is too late for me. This means my ship sank on the sea. I was keeping my gold safe in the sand, but now it is all yours. And one more thing, watch out for the dinosaurs and saber-toothed tigers…

Henry the Pirate

But you were more impressed by the gold coins inside the treasure chest. You counted them all: “Daddy, there’s 73 gold coins!”


This immediately inspired you to continue searching, as now you were becoming preoccupied with finding some bones in the sand. Just a few minutes later, a few feet away from where the treasure chest was buried, I started digging.

“Here, why don’t you take a turn now?” I suggested to you..

It couldn’t have been a minute later that you shouted, “Daddy, I found something!”

Without me having to explain anything, you figured it out:

“It’s a saber-toothed tiger’s tooth!”

And that tooth ended up being worth more to you than all that gold.

Love,

Daddy

This is 36: A Symbol of Our Love for a Decade, Broken and Restored

Travel back in time with me over a decade. On March 8, 2007, a month away from my 26th birthday, I walked into Kay Jewelers at the Cool Springs Mall in Franklin, Tennessee. A kind salesman, of Indian descent yet who spoke with an English accent, helped me find the perfect piece of jewelry.

I had only been dating this California girl for a month, but I felt compelled with all my being to spend $238 on a diamond bracelet as a gift to show her how serious I was about her.

It was simple: I knew she was the one. I knew that if she’d let me, I would promise the rest of my life to her.

This diamond bracelet would be followed by an engagement ring just 10 months later. But whereas the engagement ring (and wedding ring) would be taken off at times, like to wash the dishes and to get the rings cleaned, this special bracelet would ultimately never been taken off.

For the whole time we dated, then were engaged, then were newlyweds, then became parents the first time, then became parents the second time, then even saw our 2nd child turn a year-old and saw our 6 and a half year-old son prepare to graduate Kindergarten… my wife wore that diamond bracelet. For 10 years and 2 months.

And then, it snapped in two:

“Sad day—my heart bracelet broke after more than 10 years—I was playing with it on my wrist and then it snapped 😦   My arm already feels naked.”

The very next day I journeyed back to the same Kay Jewelers and happened to immediately see the very same kind man from a decade before, as if time hadn’t even passed. He was impressed that I remembered him from a decade ago, but he was even more impressed how well the bracelet held up for over 10 years.

He began looking at the snapped bracelet through a special microscope, confused on why a silver bracelet had not turned at all after so long. Then he began typing on his computer, searching the records on my purchase from March 2007.

Then he explained, “I figured it out… This isn’t a silver bracelet… it’s white gold. The price for white gold has greatly increased in the past decade. There is no way you could purchase a bracelet like this, for what you paid for it back then. Just no way. This would go for at least $700 or $800 today. At least that much…”

What did I know about buying jewelry back in 2006, as a 25 year-old? Well, just that this classy diamond bracelet seemed to perfectly match the special girl I was buying it for. I definitely had no idea that the investment I was making back then would transcend beyond a symbol of my love for her- that the investment would also be financial, as well.

So two weeks ago, I paid the nice man at Kay Jewelers $42 to send off the bracelet to be repaired, and just a few days ago, I picked up the bracelet- good as new.

That bracelet, and what it symbolizes, holds so much personal value to both of us. I’m very glad to see it back on my wife’s wrist.

This is 36.

Facebook Makes Close Friends of Acquaintances (and Acquaintances of People You Actually Know)

In 2017, the need to “catch up” with people has essentially become obsolete. We all mutually stalk each other on Facebook, on a daily basis, becoming instantly aware of each other’s highlight reels.

So really, what’s there to know about another person that’s not already on Facebook?

And even if it’s a bad thing going on in our lives, it’s almost a requirement; that you owe it to your Facebook friends to announce via prayer request or “send positive thoughts my way”, regarding what difficult time you are going through.

So not only do your close friends and family members already know everything going on in your life, but so does the guy who transferred to your school in junior high; who if you actually ran into him in person, you wouldn’t be able to remember his name… but you could probably tell him what movie he took his kids to see last weekend.

The level of intimacy that we used to have with the people we love the most has, by default, become cheapened to a fast-food version of the real thing; in which people we barely know can have the same concept of knowing us as our close friends and extended family.

It’s universal and it’s easy now. Scrolling Facebook doesn’t require much of us, yet it ironically can distract us from spending true quality time with the people we do love the most; with people we are physically in the same room with.

Perhaps the strangest irony is when people do gather together in person to visit each other, but then end up talking about what other people are doing and saying on Facebook… probably due in part to the fact everything else to talk about between them has already been said on Facebook.

It is as if our real lives and our online avatars have swapped places- and over time, we haven’t noticed. In fact, the abstract version of life has become more comfortable than normal life.

Isn’t it safe to say, that at least to some degree, the universal familiarity that Facebook provides for us also causes us to have to put forth more serious effort to maintain relationships with the people we are close with, but who we don’t actually see on a daily basis?

Don’t we all sort of miss actually talking to people and having something to say or something to ask?

I do. I miss the nostalgia.

Facebook is the modern day Tower of Babel and we continue to build it to the heavens,

with our “likes” and status updates.

This is 36: The CD Player in My Paid Off, 13 Year-Old Car Stopped Working… So I Now I Use My Shattered iPod from 2006

I have first world problems. And even then, the word “problems” is a ridiculous overstatement.

Two weeks ago, the CD player in my old (but paid off) 2004 Honda Element stopped working. I had just purchased every Metallica album for $5.99 on clearance at Best Buy… where they are apparently doing away with selling CDs now that most people just download or stream their music.

(In case you’re not aware of my premature mid-life crisis where I suddenly became a huge Metallica fan and legitimately taught myself to skateboard, read all about it here.)

So now, sitting in the cubby of my dash, there are several CDs that I have yet to wear out, including others I have kept in heavy rotation- until now.

It’s important to note that as a skilled driver in the Nashville area, I have accepted my fate that I will be in the car for a total minimum of 2 hours each day, to drive only about 38 total miles round trip for my daily commute for work.

Just me in the car with my thoughts for two hours, every day.

I depend on that solitude. It is good for my brain and good for my soul.

And that solitude has always been undeniably enhanced by the kinesthetic routine of physically placing whatever CD that I feel like listening to at the moment into the CD player to play through the speakers.

No streaming or digital files. Just a CD. Like in high school in the 1999.

But now, that American right has been taken away.

And it’s definitely not worth buying a new CD player for my car.

Hopefully, I won’t be getting a new car anytime soon. That’s right- hopefully, I won’t.

Last year between having a baby, paying cash for a new car for my wife, taking a big family vacation, and having multiple hospital stays for our kids… this year is all about saving our money to eventually buy me a new car in cash like we did for my wife.

I need my faithful Honda Element to hold up until we can buy me a new car, which will be well over a year. It’s almost like I pray every time turn I turn the key in the ignition, “Please don’t let this be the day it doesn’t start…”

With us being Dave Ramsey followers, I would feel horrible about myself if I had to finance a new vehicle. It goes against who I am as a person.

So here’s who I am as a person: I now proudly drive while listening to a busted iPod that has a battery that dies by the end of my 2 hour round trip commute, even though it’s fully charged when I leave the house.

Anything from before 2007 is on there, though. Time to get reacquainted with The Wallflowers and Sister Hazel.

This is 36.

That Moment You See an Old Photo and Remember the More Fun (Yet Less Responsible) Version of Yourself…

Earlier this week I received a Facebook notification that someone had shared a photo of me. I immediately found this odd, since I’m typically not in photos with other people unless it’s with my wife or kids, and it was my camera being used.

Then I looked and saw it:
“A little throwback for your Monday blues…”

Jeffrey A. Smith had shared a photo he had taken of me back in August 2005, from over 11 years ago, for my “moving to Nashville” photo shoot. I was 24 years old at the time. (See left.)

I immediately responded to his comment: “I don’t remember this guy! After nearly 9 years of marriage and raising 2 kids, I am far from the confused guy wandering out of the woods, ha ha!”

There’s something naturally funny about seeing an old photo of yourself, especially when it’s shared in real time like this.

To me, what is so humorous is not the long hair, the backpacker style pullover I bought while I was living in Thailand, or the really baggy jeans.

It’s not even the (angry?) look on my face which possibly seems to indicate I’m preparing to fight for my life in a Hunger Games scenario.

Instead, it’s the obvious reminder that who I was back in 2005 at age 24 is not who I am now in 2017, just weeks away from my 36th birthday.

I have been completely rewired since the day this picture was taken.

Sure, I do have vague memories of that guy in the picture. But that’s not me. I think of him as a guy I used to know back in the 2000s.

I don’t know, maybe I was more of a fun guy back then:

No real responsibilities. No real job. No family to support. Just dreams to pursue.

And now, nearly a dozen years later, I simply can’t relate to that guy in these pictures from that day in August 2005.

I am so grateful for how far I have evolved from that guy, actually. But if it weren’t for that guy, I could have never become who I am today. He had what it took to get me to where I needed to be.

It’s strange to think that people who haven’t been around me since high school, or college, or from when I first moved to Nashville, they knew that guy… not this guy.

I don’t know for sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

But I have to assume that most of us have a similar story. I have a feeling most people can understand how an old photo brings back memories of a former version of ourselves that immediately causes us to laugh- and to be grateful that we have been blessed with enough years to move beyond who we used to be, so that we could become who we are today.

The Awkward Paradox of Gender Roles in Parenting (in a Society Now Less Divided by Gender)

Last week I published Top 10 Masculine Traits of Men (Plus, “I’m a Masculinist, Which is Not the Opposite of a Feminist”), in which presented the theory that a man’s masculinity is subconsciously and collectively judged by society based on what extent he is perceived as being a confident, decisive, funny, healthy, physically active, emotionally intelligent, committed leader who respects women, helps his fellow man, and finds his identity in his skill set.

I had more than one woman respond by agreeing with these masculine traits, but adding that these traits would be good and beneficial for women as well. One told me, “I would say that perhaps we should change our expectations as a society so they are less divided by gender.”

Well said. So true. Very relevant to the conversation.

I feel that out of necessity and by default, our society is becoming less divided by gender. I find it simply irrelevant and outdated when advertising agencies (as well as people) make comments to insinuate that men hate and/or fear changing dirty diapers. Or when people call it “babysitting” when a dad takes care of his own children for the day while his wife goes out running errands.

Sure, I admit there is some personal awkwardness in always understanding my role in the household- to be both “the man” my wife needs me to be and at the same time for me to assume roles that would traditionally have been feminine.

It used to be that if a man was heavily involved in his children’s lives, as well as household chores, that man would be praised by society, and even by his wife, while she would be merely expected to do those things.

But it’s no longer ironic to see the opening sequence of Who’s the Boss?, as the ever-masculine Tony Danza vacuums the drapes.

Men clean toilets. Men do the dishes. Men feed babies. Men sit on the carpet and play with their kids.

None of this is ironic.

In fact, I would be willing to present a theory that a man who is a father and husband, but who is not heavily involved in household chores and the care of his children, is not considered a good dad or a good husband by his wife.

By today’s standards, a good husband is not simply a man who loves his wife, but who also is extremely actively involved in chores and childcare. The two roles are inseparable, now more than ever.

A failure to see that shift in culture is a failure to be relevant as a spouse and a parent.

To me, that’s obvious. To me, it’s not a theory. It’s simply fact.

But then again, this is coming from a happily married man who cleans the toilets and changes those dreaded dirty diapers.

35 Year-Old Husband and Father Learns to Skateboard, Embraces Metallica

I know it sounds like a concept for an article for a satirical website like The Babylon Bee or The Onion, but no, this is my real life story.

Yes, there’s something instantly ironic about a conservative 35 year-old husband and father of 2 who lives in a cul-de-sac who decides to teach himself to skateboard and finally fully embraces his hidden fascination with the legendary metal band Metallica.

One might even suppose I could be going through some sort of mid-life crisis, though I’m not sure if I’m quite old enough to qualify for that yet.

Maybe it’s my way of subconsciously proving to myself that I am not content with being a predictable suburban dad.

I wouldn’t deny that theory. I am aware that it’s fundamentally important to me to remain young in spirit, even as I mature as an adult. So that theory totally makes sense.

What officially started it all was back in November for my son’s 6 year-old birthday, when my wife and I decided to buy him a skateboard, on account of several of the other kids in our neighborhood having them. But how could I teach him to skate if I didn’t know how to myself?

So my wife ordered a skateboard online for me as well. After watching just 2 or 3 YouTube videos, and dedicating many of lunch breaks at work to practicing over the past several months, I have been effectively skateboarding.

It has served as a liberating yet legitimate work-out. It has not only exercised my body, but also my mind, as I have constantly had to balance in order to keep from awkwardly falling off.

Fate would have it that back in January, just 2 months after his birthday, my son had to be rushed to Vanderbilt’s Children’s Hospital after a random case of strep throat turned into a parapharyngeal abscess on his neck. As I stayed overnight with him a couple of nights, I spent some time watching videos on YouTube on my phone after he fell asleep.

It was then that I stumbled upon some Metallica music videos, and for the first time, I really connected with their music.

I realized that their complicated sound, vulnerably honest lyrics, and dark themes which are focused on human nature as well as injustice in the world, are in accordance with the emotional maturity I have gained over the past few years as I’ve evolved from Luke Skywalker into Han Solo.

In particular, I most relate to songs like “Sad But True” which explores the selfish side of human nature that we tend to forget or deny is there:

“I’m your hate when you want love… I’m your life, I’m the one who took who there…

I’m your truth, telling lies

I’m your reason, alibis

I’m inside, open your eyes

I’m you

Sad but true”

And from Metallica’s latest album is a song called “Am I Savage?” in which the video portrays a man around my age (who happens to look a bit like me) as he journeys through his average day with his loving wife and two lovely children; as well as time in the office.

The dichotomy of his actual presentation to the world is contrasted to the inner impulses he successfully manages on a daily basis, as the idea is expressed, “beauty and the beast are colliding.”

I also appreciate the Libertarian concepts found in songs like “Nothing Else Matters”.

So what may appear as a random phase in my life is actually a crucial chapter to the character arc of Nick Shell, the 35 year-old daddy blogger.

For now, my son is taking a slower pace on the skateboard, as he is starting out by just sitting on it and he scoots down the sidewalk. Plus, he enjoys chasing me around with a Nerf gun while I skate past him.

He and I are both growing up; despite the 29 and a half year difference and despite being in much different stages in life.

There’s a paradox in there somewhere… how we need to remain forever young inside yet we also have to embrace the responsibilities of adulthood in an imperfect world.

I’m right there in the midst of sorting that out.

As for my son, he’s perfectly happy with Power Rangers and Pokemon. Lucky place to be.