I Will Die as the Most Open-Minded, Teachable Old Man You Know

Nearly 20 years ago, in May 1997, The Wallflowers released the final single from their most famous album, Bringing Down the Horse. That song, “The Difference”, has always intrigued and confused me.

The chorus is simply this:

“The only difference that I see is you are exactly the same as you used to be.”

How can the difference be that nothing has changed?

After two decades of attempting to unpack this riddle, I now believe it to mean this:

The narrator is saying that the other person was known for always evolving as a person. But now after seeing them again, the narrator has observed that person has finally reached a point of being… settled.

And that surprised the narrator. So the only difference he saw after all these years in between was that, finally, the other person remained the same since the last time he saw him.

Perhaps, there is some assumed irony in a possible role reversal: Now, the narrator has evolved as time had passed, yet the other person had not.

I feel this way about the high school version of myself. I went to school with the same 183 people for 13 years, yet I’ve been out of school for nearly 18 years.

The people I grew up with have a memory of what I was like back in the 1990s, yet there is a good chance the 2017 version of me is much different; for better or worse.

While it is very important to reach a point of stability in life, I feel it’s just as important to find ways to positively evolve despite that comfort zone.

The day I stop evolving as a human being is the day I stop being relevant. So always expect me to be in some kind of new transition that I am sorting out. Always expect a constant character arc with me. If you don’t see me going through some kind of new phase of change and growth and maturity, that’s when you should be worried about me.

It’s fundamentally important to me to be relevant, because I interpret being relevant as being alive. I feel connected to the world when I can share my current personal evolution with anyone in my society who will listen.

I suppose I will always need, and find, an audience. It’s not that I crave attention- it’s that I crave intellectual exchange and the personal growth that comes from it.

A trait of emotional intelligence is that a person embraces change instead of fears it- and is always learning, instead of thinking they already know everything.

Granted, I am not the epitome of the adage, “Don’t be so open-minded that your brains fall out.” Obviously I do not personally adopt any new ideas that are inconsistent with my moral code. Yet at the same time, I have no desire to judge other people when their personal beliefs don’t match mine. (That’s another sign of emotional intelligence.)

There’s a stereotype about men in particular, that as we get old, we get set in our ways; close-minded to new ideas. But I want the entire world to know now, that will never be me.

No, it’s not my destiny. No, I won’t ultimately became the very person I fear.

Here’s what sets me apart from me for that stubborn old man:

I find my identity in exploring new ideas. I find strength in seeing life in ways I hadn’t before. This is what has always worked for me.

So for me to become set in my ways, it’s heresy against my values.

If there’s going to be any irony with this concept, it’s that I am close-minded to being close-minded.

I will die as the most open-minded, teachable old man you know.

 

Dear Holly: The Giant Rat Who Came to Breakfast (and the Return of the Ewok)

10 months.

Dear Holly,

Sunday morning, with Nonna and Papa in town, Mommy had made breakfast for us all. I immediately noticed that you and I had matching “bedhead” hair. The conversation topic was the fact we heard coyotes howling during the night.

Somehow, that discussion inspired me to run in my closet and pull out my “rat pack” puppet. I had bought it right before you were born, as I had planned to use it as a character on one of my children’s programs on my YouTube Channel. But I haven’t had the time to dedicate to making new episodes since you were born.

I got the hunch you would find an appreciation for who I call Magellan the Mouse.

And I was right.

At first, of course, you were skeptical of the giant rat who was apparently trying to share your Cheerios with you. You weren’t afraid of him, you just didn’t know if you were in the mood to share your food with a non-human.

You eventually warmed up to him, though. Then you weren’t so much annoyed with him, as you were just confused on his origin story.

How had you never met this friendly rodent before? After having lived on this planet for nearly a whole year now, and in our house, how does a giant rat just show up?

Why did everyone else just instantly welcome him, like we’d always known him?

But that’s how it is for you. Being the baby of the family, you’ve just learned to roll it, whatever it is… including a giant rat who wants to help you eat your cereal.

A few hours later after lunch, you were winding down, getting ready for your nap. I have no idea how my Ewok action figure from 1983 showed up with your toys, but you chose to clench it in your little hand as Mommy wrapped you up in a blanket to feed you your bottle and then to rock you to sleep.

But before you actually fell asleep, Magellan the Mouse made one more appearance. I have a feeling he’ll be sticking around.

Love,

Daddy

Dear Jack: Our “Skate-and-Shoot” Game in the Cul-de-Sac/Leaving for Spring Break

6 years, 4 months.

Dear Jack,

This past weekend while Nonna and Papa were staying with us, they were able to catch a glimpse of a game we recently invented, where I ride my skateboard down the cul-de-sac and you shoot me from our driveway, using your Nerf dart gun. I call our game “shoot-and-skate”.

The chamber of your Nerf gun holds 3 darts at a time. You’re such a good shot that normally, I feel about 2 stings every time I skate past you. I am very impressed with your shooting skills.

I love the challenge of having to not only skate downhill, but also avoid very fast travelling Nerf darts… without crashing.

Afterwards, you and Papa went hunting for arrowheads in the woods, as Nonna carried your sister. She loved the hike as much as you did. However, no American Indian artifacts were found this time around.

When we got back inside, you decided to demonstrate your creative artistic skills by creating a mask of a Siberian Tiger. Your sister amazingly wasn’t afraid of you when you wore it.

Nonna and Papa took you back to Alabama with them when they left on Sunday, as this week is your Spring Break.

I know you’re having so much fun right now, but Mommy and I definitely miss you. It is noticeably much quieter without you in the house. And of course, your sister misses you too.

Yesterday I watched her crawl up to the bottom of the refrigerator where your picture is hanging, and she tried to grab you out of it.

Yeah, she misses you.

Nonna is doing a great job of sending me pictures from her phone, showing all the fun you’re having on Spring Break in Alabama.

I want you to keep having fun, enjoying your time off from school.

But we will be really happy to have you back at our house, even if the noise level increases greatly.

Love,

Daddy

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.

Top 10 Masculine Traits of Men (Plus, “I’m a Masculinist, Which is Not the Opposite of a Feminist”)

I recently compiled the world’s first official Top 10 List of Masculine Traits in Men.

My list is a reflection of what society as a whole deems as important to the overall definition of masculinity. That’s not to say a woman can’t have these attributes, but I am presenting a theory that when a man is the opposite of one of these traits, it typically serves as an indication that society will see him as less masculine to some degree.

With no further ado, here is my list of the Top 10 Masculine Traits of Men; which are not necessarily listed in order of importance, as I believe that part can depend on the individual man himself:

1.      Confident (believes in himself)

2.      Respects Women and Helps His Fellow Man (loves others as himself)

3.      Finds Identity in His Unique Skill Set (is aware of what he’s good at)

4.      Healthy and Active (eats right and exercises)

5.      Decisive (can make a quick decision even when it’s tough one)

6.      Committed (especially to family and career)

7.      Leader (knows how to manage and motivate other people)

8.      Good Communicator (can make complicated concepts seems simple)

9.      Funny (knows how to use humor as an effective social tool)

10.  Emotionally Intelligent (doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve, nor does he keep all his feeling bottled up inside)

Ultimately, the fact I created this list is proof that I am a masculinist with a masculinist mindset. After I Googled the term, I learned that “masculinist” can be an adjective or a noun. I identify more with the adjective (“characterized by or denoting attitudes or values held to be typical of men”) than the noun (“an advocate of the rights or needs of men”), as I’m not worried so much about the rights or needs of men.

Instead, I enjoy serving as a spokesman for what masculinity is all about. I am proud to represent husbands and fathers from a positive point of view, which I feel is rare in media.

Being masculinist is not the opposite of feminist. I am for equal rights, and in favor of catering the needs of both women and men, acknowledging there are some exclusive differences.

I celebrate women. I celebrate men.

It’s just that I know a lot more about being a man.

Dear Holly: Having a Much Older Brother Makes Your Life More Interesting

10 months.

Dear Holly,

I had never considered, until this past weekend, how dramatically different your life would be if you had an older sister, instead of an older brother; an one who is significantly older: Jack is nearly 5 and half years older than you.

When he is a senior in high school, you’ll be in 8th grade. Not only is he a different gender, but he’ll also always be in a different stage of childhood.

And I really like it that way.

I like how he naturally takes care of you, even if I’m understandably a little nervous…

Saturday morning as Jack was getting excited about me taking him to go see Kong: Skull Island, he chose to take on the persona of King Kong.

He built a mountain out of his stuffed animals and our living room sofa.

You were just watching in curiosity, from the kitchen floor as you meticulously dissected a patch of tissue paper.

“Grrrr! Roowwwrrr! Woohrrr!” Jack beat his chest as he gave you a scary look as he tossed debris at you, including a sock and a small stuffed animal.

You weren’t too impressed, but you were paying attention.

Then on Sunday evening, as Mommy was preparing dinner, Jack decided to give you free wrestling lessons.

There shouldn’t have been a big smile on your face the whole time, but there definitely was. You loved it!

I think one of the many advantages of having a much older brother is that, by default, you have no fear.

Not only are you used to the likes of a Kindergartner who pretends to be an angry roaring ape, and who wrestles you on the carpet, but you instinctively know that he’s also quick to protect you with that same strength.

Yeah, things would be much different if you had an older sister instead.

Love,

Daddy