dad from day one: He Who Dies Happy in Old Age, Still Dies

Thirty weeks.


Ironically, while waiting for my first child to be born I am accompanied by thoughts of the finality of my own life.  Having a baby is such a huge milestone, such a life-changing event, that my mind skips decades ahead to when my kid will graduate high school, to when I will be a grandparent, and ultimately, to my inevitable passing into eternity.  In my mind, all those big events are strung together like bubbly Christmas lights from 1988.

My wife and I have this agreement that concerning our own inevitable deaths, we will die healthy but of “natural causes” in our sleep, both at age 92, holding hands.  And I would assume that most happily married people would wish for the same thing- to be able to raise their children with their spouse, to grow old with their family, and to pass this life in our right minds – not lonely and suffering in a nursing home.  I don’t consider a sudden brain aneurism, a car accident, or being mauled by a bear while hiking through the woods.  No, you see, I have carefully planned out my own “natural causes” death in a romantic and perfect way.

And that’s the only way I can think about the end of my life- with optimism.  Assuming I will live a long, happy life, giving all I can to my family.   It’s the only way I can think, because even now, two months before Baby Jack is scheduled to arrive, I am responsible for another life.  I have to be here to take care of him.  And my wife.

I truly am incapable of trying to fathom how so many people in the world don’t have a solid understanding (or at least some kind of basic perspective) of what happens after this life, and that they don’t think about it on a daily basis like I do.  How the afterlife is completely something to be considered, how beyond heaven and hell issues, this dream of life is the prequel to eternity.  And now, already, a new soul has been created, and I had something to do with that.  I have changed the course of eternity.

This baby is not just a body; he’s got a soul.  A soul that will need guidance for this life and the eternal one.  And I have to be here for that.  Even if these thoughts may seem dark and depressing to some, I refuse to ignore the reality that life and death are intertwined.  As much as I “try not to take life too seriously” like all those stupid bumper stickers and annoying e-mail forwards tell me, I still take life seriously enough to think about this stuff.

All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography:

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com

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Picking Up Where We Left Off Last Time: Going Back to the Future After “To Be Continued”

The phrase “to be continued…” is a way of life for me.

In the summer of 1988 one of the things I remember most is watching reruns of The Incredible Hulk with my mom.  So many of the episodes ended with “to be continued…” flashed up on the screen.  For some reason, that really excited me.  Even to this day, if a TV show ends with that phrase I like it more than a regular episode.

Yes, closure is an important part of life.  But in my mind, the door is never really closed just because time separates me from another person.  (Obviously, I’m not including the given exception of ex-girlfriends. Instead, I’m referring to everyone else.) Childhood classmates and guys from my college dorm.  Anyone I’ve ever met in my life- I don’t forget them.  I may not remember many details about them- but at least in the smallest of ways, I remember them.

Therefore, something I have to remind myself of is this- my way of thinking and exceptionally good memory are not necessarily the norm.  Just because I can remember specific quotes from something someone said in 5th grade, it doesn’t mean they do, or necessarily even care.  The file folder in my head for that person reads “last seen: May 1998- to be continued…”  Theirs for me reads “last seen- sometime in high school- relationship terminated/cancelled”.

When I am reacquainted with a person I haven’t heard from in years or decades, I have this habit of immediately bringing up the first positive memory I have of that person.  For me, it’s like time never passed.  Interestingly, that’s how I think it will be after we die and are reunited with people in eternity.  Since time doesn’t really exist in the afterlife, we just pick up where we left off.

I Should Have Punched That Punk Kid from Flintstone, GA in the Face, Back in 1988

Sounds like someone’s gotta a case of the Shoulda Coulda Woulda’s…

In the spring of 1988 when I was 7 years old, I was in Flintstone, Georgia at a family reunion at my grandparents’ duplex house.  There was a boy from the other side of the duplex about my age who was outside playing while I was.  We started chasing each other as some sort of “tag, you’re it” deal.  As he was getting near, I hugged the tree, which was the “base”.  He couldn’t tag me if I was at the base.  So he gave me some kind of classic line like, “I’ll teach you to mess with me!”  Then punched me in the stomach, hard.

I was so surprised by his bi-polar behavior that I just stood there at the tree, shocked.  By the time I realized what had happened, he had wondered back over to the front porch of his side of the duplex, sort of grinning at me.  He won.

That was 22 years ago.  But I’ll never forget it.  Mainly because since then I’ve wished I would have found a way to punch that kid.  I was being his friend and he just punched me.

This isn’t a grudge I’m holding.  It’s not a matter of forgiveness being withheld.  I’m dealing with no bitterness here.

It’s just the principle of the matter.  He needed to be punched by me.

As a boy, you’re secretly always looking for a reason to get to punch someone.  I had my chance, but blew it.  My parents would have been proud of me.  I was just caught so off guard.  Dang it and dag gum.

As an adult, you can’t punch other deserving people the way you could as a boy.  Stupid lawsuits.

For the philosophical version of this, read: Redo  http://wp.me/pxqBU-F7


The Politics of Making Friends

Sometimes a friend is just that not into you.  As for myself, I live by The Orange Cat Theory.

In 1985, when I began preschool at Mother’s Day Out at the First Methodist Church of Fort Payne, I was introduced to the concept of friendship.  For the first time in my life, really.  Because from ages 0 to 4 all I really knew was family.  But now that I had been dropped off with kids my own age, I began to grasp was a society was.  Within this group of people were even closer groups of people.  Called friends.

The catch phrase of 1985, the thing I heard the most at preschool was this:  “I’ll be your best friend…”  If a classmate of mine wanted one of my cookies, wanted to hold my stuffed animal, wanted to cut ahead of me in line, I heard:

“I’ll be your best friend…”

What went through my head as a 4 ½ year old was, “What if I don’t want you to be my best friend?”  Did my classmates not assume I already had a best friend?  Should my true best friend lose their status with me on account of a cookie?  Did I look like the kind of kid who was “best friend deprived”?

Was it not enough that Alex Igou and I played with our toy fire engine trucks together during “free time?  And that Simon Millazzo and I always sat next to each other everyday as we waited for our moms to pick us up?  And what about the fact that I went over to Russell McElhaney’s house and saw the GI Joe fort his brother made in the backyard and that his mom was the first to introduce me to a delicious dessert called the “brownie”?

The promise to be my best friend was being held over me as a bribe, but I had no interest in taking it.  And this, in 1985, was my introduction to friendship.  Twenty-five years later, I don’t have acquaintances offering their conditional friendship.  Because I know, just like I did as a 4 year-old, friendship shouldn’t have to be conditional.

Yet I still see some complication in adult friendships.  When the relationship is perfectly mutual, 50/50, that’s when things come easy.  But looking back on my lifetime of friendships, even starting around age 10, I can think of several friendships where it wasn’t a 50/50 deal.

I was always the one going to their house; they wouldn’t come to mine.  I was always the one to call them; they wouldn’t call me.  I was always the one to set up plans; they didn’t include me in their own.  I took the initiative in the friendship.  And I never questioned the authenticity of us being friends.  Because it’s in my nature to be the initiator, the one who calls first, the planner.

But by high school, I realized that I felt I was having to “earn” certain friendships.  That I was having to prove myself good enough, or even more illogically, that I was cool enough for them.

It all goes back to the summer of 1988 when my mom took my sister and I to this lady’s house to both choose a pet cat for ourselves.  We got out of our Bronco II and went into the friendly woman’s kitchen, where we saw a litter of kittens.

For some reason I was always drawn to the orange cats (probably had something to do with Morris the Cat).  So I wanted the orange cat in the litter.  I stretched my arm to him.  The orange cat seemed indifferent towards me.  While that was happening, my mom must have noticed the white and brown spotted cat fighting for my attention:  “Nick, pick the cat that comes to you on his own.”  So I walked away with that cat.  I named him Gabriel.  He liked me.

Most importantly, from that day I learned a valuable lesson about relationships:  Choose to be close to the people that show the most interest in you.  Because that’s a sign of a good friend.  Choosing my friends this way has definitely paid off.

And sure enough, the few times I did spend effort on recruiting an “orange cat” for a friend (applies to romantic interests as well) it never worked out.  My Orange Cat Theory has proven true in my own life.  When it all comes down to it, Morris the Cat isn’t as cool as he thinks he is.

The Orange Cat Theory:

As opposed to choosing a relationship based on your own preconceived notions about someone who seems really cool but causes you to reach out to them, instead look around first to see if someone is reaching out for you.  Choose “the cat that comes to you on their own”, not the orange cat.

What Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences Taught Me about Why I Have Such a Good Memory

 

In 1988 for Ms. Riddle’s 2nd grade reading class we had to write a poem telling about a time when we really wanted something for a long time and finally got it. I remember Susan Johnson writing about getting to go to the beach. And Diego Reynoso wrote about getting a pet dog. That was the general idea of the assignment. I, on the other hand, wrote a poem about how happy I was when my dad went to the True Value hardware store and bought an adapter so I could play my Atari games on the TV in my bedroom.

Ten years and 3 weeks ago I walked across the stage for my high school graduation. All seniors had been given a document from the principal listing the proper attire to wear underneath our gowns. We were clearly told to wear black shoes. The token rebel thing to do was to go barefoot. I, instead, chose to wear canary yellow Saucony tennis shoes and hold out a stick of Mentos candy to the audience as I crossed the stage. It’s simply what’s expected from the kid who was voted “One and Only” for the Senior Who’s Who.

One question I have consistently been asked throughout my lifetime is, “You just HAVE to be different, don’t you?” Assuming it must be true, I would always casually agree. But then two weeks ago my wife came back from one of her Master’s classes for Childhood Education and dropped some science on me. Having learned Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligence (1983), she told me that I am a “visual-linguistic learner”. That’s when it was officially confirmed: Yes, I HAVE to be different.

 

I have been hard-wired to seek out the road less travelled, every time. Not a rebel in the expected way, but a rebel in the fact I am prone to find a different perspective on everything I encounter in life. I was never the annoying kid in class who tried to argue with the teacher. That kid always annoyed me. But I was the kid who, when given a project, always ended up with the weirdest possible submission and was able to pull it off.

Noted, my long-term memory is often exceptionally unbelievable. In high school, many people were forced to be made aware of my obsession with 1980’s trivia, since I could correctly tell the year of any movie or song, my specialty being 1983. In college, most people who knew me were forced to be made aware that they could name any celebrity and I could accurately tell the height of that celebrity. I’m simply not much fun to play against in modern trivia board games like Scene It or Trivial Pursuit and being the first to solve the puzzle while watching Wheel of Fortune just comes natural.

And it turns out I’m not the only one. A quick visit to Wikipedia helped my life make a lot more sense:

“Verbal-linguistic Intelligence

This area has to do with words, spoken or written. People with high verbal-linguistic intelligence display a facility with words and languages. They are typically good at reading, writing, telling stories and MEMORIZING WORDS ALONG WITH DATES. They tend to learn best by reading, taking notes, listening to lectures, and discussion and debate. They are also frequently skilled at explaining, teaching and oration or persuasive speaking. Those with verbal-linguistic intelligence learn foreign languages very easily as they have high verbal memory and recall, and an ability to understand and manipulate syntax and structure. This intelligence is highest in writers, lawyers, philosophers, journalists, politicians, poets, and teachers.”

Being raised my whole life in the South, people from the North and out West have always questioned my lack of a Southern accent. Because my mom moved from Buffalo, NY when she was 14, I always assumed that neutralized me. But after realizing anyone who’s ever met my mom says she actually has one of the biggest Southern accents out there, I’ve recently come to terms with the truth there is another reason people think I’m from Pennsylvania or Ohio.

The reason: I am overly aware of how words are supposed to sound. I could never bring myself to say “Eh’ll seeh yuh nehxt Tuesdee, Eh reckin!” (“I’ll see you next Tuesday, I reckon!”) For me, that’s a sin. That’s breaking so many rules of pronunciation and is a threat to clear communication. I never realized I was so OCD about words and speech.

Speaking of communication, when I met my wife for the first time on October 5, 2006, it was her beauty that captured me from across the crowded lobby. Anytime I revisit that event with her she confirms it was because I was good at telling stories and entertaining her that caused a random new stranger like me to be able to steal her attention. (I purposely stood next to her as we waited in an hour long line- that’s how we met.) As we began dating four months later (to the day) and immediately fell in love thereafter, two particular things attracted her most to me: 1) I knew “who I was” and was confident in that, 2) She knew because of my random knowledge that we would never run out of things to talk about.

Not because I was suave and charming, but because my randomness of speech worked for me.

So thanks to Howard Gardner, it’s safe to say I’m not that weird after all. Actually, I am- but at least now I have been diagnosed. While I may be a bit of a prodigy at a few things, any talent I have in other fields is completely absent: Math, science, multi-tasking (driving while talking on a cell phone), and sports (except Corn Hole and Mario Kart Wii). Like by magnetic force, I am drawn to what is offbeat and untrendy.

This, has been my version of a Top 25 or a “Which Power Ranger Would You Be?” quiz.

The other intelligences…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_multiple_intelligences

John Mayer’s Battle Studies: The Newest Installment from the Half-Jewish, Tattoo-Sleeved Guitar God

There are certain male musicians who while they seemingly have a unisex audience, it’s mainly women who are openly proud fans. Key examples: Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban.

Then there are those male musicians who seemingly have a feminine audience, yet they also earn the genuine respect of men who recognize their talent despite their charm. Key examples: Michael Buble and Jason Mraz. But the epitome of this category is none other than the 6’ 3”, tattoo-sleeved, half-Jewish, Connecticut native, John Mayer.

His most romantic songs are typically my least favorite- “Your Body is a Wonderland” and “Come Back to Bed”. What draws me most to his music is a quality found in his lesser hits like “83” and “Something’s Missing”. Half nostalgic, half philosophical.

In reviewing any genre of entertainment, I can’t say any one thing is the best. I can only say what is my personal favorite. Because my favorite is simply an opinion; I am not qualified to declare what is best- that would go beyond a matter of opinion.

That being said, my favorite John Mayer album is his 2003 Heavier Things. It features the hits “Bigger than My Body”, “Daughters”, and “Clarity” (“ah whoo-ew… ah whoo-ew”). Along with its less featured songs “New Deep”, “Home Life”, “Split Screen Sadness” and “Wheel”.

The cover of this album itself perfectly captures the style and direction of the music. It represents a simple sense of timelessness, yet at the same time somehow reminds of me of Eric Clapton and/or Sting between 1988 and 1993.

I say that to say this. John Mayer’s newest album, Battle Studies, is a hybrid of two of my favorite things of his: 1) The album Heavier Things and 2) his very much underappreciated song “I Don’t Trust Myself with Loving You” from his 2006 album Continuum.

Very bluesy: “Fell down on my knees, asked the Lord for mercy, said ‘help me if you please’” (“Crossroads”).

Very jazzy: “Who says I can’t get stoned?” (“Who Says”)

Very soft rock: “I’ve got a hammer and a heart of glass- I gotta know right now which walls to smash” (War of My Life).

I decided half-way through this decade that John Mayer is incapable of releasing an album that isn’t good. I stand by that. Battle Studies is completely up to par with all his other recordings. But just like how Dave Matthews Band will never be able to top their Crash album, in my mind John Mayer will never be able to top Heavier Things.

Actually I see Battle Studies as a direct sequel (yet not necessarily a continuation) of Heavier Things. So in other words, I love it.

A year ago I posted a review of my favorite albums of 2008, and in a prophetic moment, I praised the then unknown song “People are Crazy” by Billy Currington. A few months later it was released as a single and went to #1.

Therefore, I will predict the soon-to-be hits from Battle Studies. The most obvious is the industrial-infused groovy tune “Assassins”. John has never sounded more like an African-American lead singer of an alternative rock band than he does in this song. Maybe it’s because this song has so many Michael Jackson qualities about it.

Like it was written with “Smooth Criminal”, “Dirty Diana” and “Give in to Me” in mind: “I work in the dead of night when the roads are quiet and no one is around… I’m an assassin and I had a job to do… Little did I know that girl was an assassin too.”

Another song destined to be a radio favorite is “Half of My Heart”. Perfect catchy melody. Perfect opening line: “I was born in the arms of imaginary friends.” Perfect choice of a female vocalist to do a song with: Taylor Swift.

The only downfall is that there’s not enough Taylor Swift in this song. She just does background vocals towards the end. Every time I hear it, I keep hoping the song has magically changed since the last time I heard it and that the song has become a true duet like the immaculately crafted “Lucky I’m in Love” by Jason Mraz with Colbie Caillat. Great song though: “Half of my heart is a shotgun wedding to a bride with a paper ring.”

Often when a musician or actor becomes a superstar, showing up in the tabloid magazines, the authenticity of their art suffers. Despite dating Jennifer Anniston and Jessica Simpson (to name a few) , his art hasn’t suffered (just his personal reputation). He’s still got the talent. Just as much as ever. Going beyond the rut of “the same three chords” compositions and “I miss you baby” lyrics.

And not that this takes away from his music at all, but this lifestyle definitely shows up in his song content. Like in “Perfectly Lonely”- “Had a little love but I spread it thin. Falling in her arms and out again. Made a bad name for my game ‘round town.” It’s also evident in the future hit which will inevitably be featured on several romantic comedy soundtracks, “Heartbreak Warfare”.

Gone is the charming, mysterious John Mayer from the beginning of the decade. Gone is the gentleman. Apathy and aimlessness are starting to show up in his attitude and lyrics. I don’t like his music any less because of it. But I do recognize the change.

Though this may actually be hurting him with his current single, “Who Says”, which is his lowest charting single, breaking his string of 5 consecutive Top 10 singles. This song much departs from his former classy charm, containing lyrics like this: “Call up a girl I used to know, fake love for an hour or so” and “I don’t remember you looking any better. Then again I don’t remember you”.

Not to mention the song’s constant references to marijuana use.

John Mayer is suffering from what I call “King Solomon Syndrome”. King Solomon had it all: Extreme wealth, fame, and wisdom. And 700 wives. And 300 concubines. But by the end of his life when he wrote the book of Ecclesiastes, he said it was all meaningless. None of it made him happy.

At least at an early age, John Mayer recognizes something’s missing.

Related Post by the Same Author:

John Mayer’s Stupid Mouth  http://wp.me/pxqBU-wz

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on John Mayer, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog” by clicking on the link below:

dad from day one

Snail Trails: Your Memory May Be the Only Proof an Event Ever Happened

Nothing, not even a blank screen. Then suddenly on April 20, 1983, life as I know it began. Not the day I was born, but the day my memory started. With all my family gathered around me at the kitchen table, my first memory of life begins with a song- “Happy Birthday”. Maybe I was simply overwhelmed by that many people in the room at once. Maybe I thought the song had a sad tune. Maybe this is where I got my fear of being in front of a bunch of people with nothing to do or say. But all I had to do was just blow out that giant number “2” candle on my Mickey Mouse cake. Instead, I cried.

Flash forward to the summer of 1985. I put on my cowboy boots, grabbed my He-Man lunchbox, stood by the front door, and announced to my mom, “Okay, I’m ready for school! I want to meet friends.” I wasn’t even enrolled for pre-school yet, but my mom took care of it and a month later I was present at First Methodist’s “Mother’s Day Out” program (the year before Kindergarten: 1985-1986).

Though I was four years old, I can specifically remember that Simon Milazzo had a toy dog that I liked so much that my mom bought me one like his. I remember Meg Guice crying one day because somebody ate her pineapples when she was looking the other way. I remember Laura O’Dell gave me a valentine with a scratch ‘n’ sniff vanilla ice cream cone that smelled really good, while Alex Igou gave me a valentine with Darth Vader that said “Be Mine or Else…”.

I remember having a daily “play time” where we all went to the dark green carpeted fellowship hall where we were often forced to play “Duck, Duck, Goose” or sing and act out “The Farmer and the Dell”. Meg Guice would always want to be the wife when “the farmer chose a wife”. I never wanted to be chosen to play a character.

Instead, one day I wandered off to play with my fire truck. Alex Igou also managed to escape from the group, going to the opposite side of the room. We both got in trouble for doing this so the teacher put us in “time out” together. Alex said to me, “Do you like your truck I got for you?” (It was the one he gave me at my birthday party.)

I used to think I was weird for having such detailed and vivid memories from such an early age. But while in my Childhood Developmental Psychology class in college, the professor asked those of us who had a vivid memory from age two or younger to raise our hands. Twenty-five percent of us raised our hands and then had to share with everyone what our memory was. We were told that having a memory that clear from such a young age isn’t common, but it’s not abnormal either.

When I think of elementary school, I don’t remember much about what I learned, but I definitely remember clear conversations and events starring my classmates: In 2nd grade (1988-1989) while in line for a relay race during P.E., I was standing next to Cody Vartanian and Charles Robertson. In honor of the new Nintendo game, Cody said to Charles, “Skate or die!” Charles firmly responded, “I don’t have to skate if I don’t want to skate and I don’t have to die if I don’t want to die”.

Last week I told the story of breaking up a fight while dressed as a giant wolf exactly ten years ago, during my final month of high school (see “Cry Wolf”). I feared that it may come across like I had in some form exaggerated the details. According to my memory, no one I was friends with was there to witness it. So I was much relieved when Adrianne McClung Smith commented on the story, saying she was fortunate enough to see the event in person.

For many childhood memories we have, however, there was not a “constant” in the equation. In other words, without someone else who was there who still remembers a specific event taking place, in essence it only happened in our own minds. It makes me think of the “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it…” question. My immediate response was always to ask if I could put a tape recorder in the forest before the tree fell. My next response was to realize I didn’t care if anybody heard the stupid tree fall anyway.

In the same way, I exclusively hold thousands of memories recorded in my mind. Memories about people I grew up with. Memories these people would never have known happened unless I tell them. Since I am the only person to verify such specific events, in theory they happened BECAUSE I remember them.

All anyone else can do is question the validity of my memory. But I know for a fact these memories are real, not simply evolved from a dream or an old snapshot. Everyone else has this ability though, at least to some degree if nothing else. Every person alive owns exclusive copyrights to memories involving other people.

I am constantly disappointed with the sad truth that even in the year 2009, there is no such thing as time travel. So badly I want to go back to those actual random memories; I want to replay them. In the back of my mind I’m hanging on to this thread of a hope that somehow someday I can revisit my past. Not to change it. Just to see it again, like a good movie.

This hope that when I get to Heaven there will be a series of doors with a different year written on each one, allowing me to revisit- in the likeness of Disney World’s Epcot Center how you can visit several “countries”. Evidently I have a condition which causes me to leave a trail of me behind throughout the history of my life, like a snail. At any given point, I am living in both the present moment and simultaneously each year of the past since my memory began in 1983.

As a writer and as an every day conversationalist, things seem incomplete to me without a nostalgic year or story in there somewhere. Some people have a habit of going off on “rabbit trails”. I end up on “snail trails” instead. My short-term memory is awful- I can’t remember who won American Idol last season. But my petty long-term memory is a little bit Rain Man-esque.

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on nostalgia, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog”:

dad from day one