dad from day one: Passing on the Family Name

Thirty-six weeks.

It wasn’t until this weekend while visiting my parents in Alabama that I fully realized something: When Baby Jack is born, he will be the only male Shell (beyond me) to pass on the name, unless I eventually have another son.  My mom was telling me how we will need to get a “generational picture” taken, including my grandfather (John Shell), my dad (Jack Shell), myself (Nick Shell), and Baby Jack.  My dad only has one brother (Johnny Shell) and he only had daughters.  And I have no brothers.  So Baby Jack will carry on the Shell name, which translates in German as “loud and noisy”.

While the namesake is just that, a name, it still carries on an idea of the people with that name.  Not only their bloodline and physical characteristics, but also a reputation of that name.  When I think of what the Shell name stands for, I think of my grandfather (who I call “Paw Paw Shell”), my Uncle Johnny, and of course, my dad, because they are the three male Shell’s most closely related to me.  They all work very hard, will do anything for the family, will not tolerate any b.s. or drama, are extremely down to Earth, have a passion for classic cars, prefer The History Channel over watching sports on TV, and will always choose the great outdoors over the city life because they all live in the wooded mountains (which is different than living out in the country, by the way).

Physically, male Shell’s are between 5’ 7” and 5’ 11” (no shorter, no taller), have dark brown or black hair, have a thin frame, have a fairly prominent nose (not noticeably huge, but never smaller than average), are known to show up at each other’s houses unannounced, and have a weak spot for Moon Pies.  For me, there is just something about being “a Shell” that is distinguished.  Not in a classy way like the Vanderbilt name, or Presidential like the Kennedy name, but it’s the idea that when you meet someone with the Shell name, you’ll never forget them.  Shell’s stand out from the crowd.  Not in a “loud and noisy” aspect like the name actually implies, but set apart in a sense that if you know one of us, you know all of us.  And really, that’s how I imagine most families are.

It’s in a man’s heart to want to pass on the family name.  Not just for the sake of legacy, but also because of pride.  And while pride is typically a bad thing, when it comes to family, pride is a necessary staple.  I am proud to be a Shell, and proud to bring another one into this world.

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



People are the Meaning of Life: The Rich, The Poor, and The Loved

There are three types of people in the world. The rich, the poor, and the loved.


© Peter Menzel from the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats

I recently watched the deleted scenes from the holiday movie Love Actually. The camera zooms in on a poster of two African women in the hot desert. They are carrying baskets full of corn on top of their heads – a scene that would cause many viewers to assume they live a difficult live. As their camera gets closer to the shot of the women, the picture comes to life.

Through subtitles at the bottom of the screen, the viewer learns that these women are indeed quite happy. They are simply carrying food from their garden as they do each day, talking about their husbands and their children. The scene closes with one of the women with her husband, looking out across their small plot of land. They lived a simply life, but were quite content. They had each other and had enough to eat. Though it wasn’t a feast.

A few weeks ago I viewed a slide show called “What the World Eats”. Each slide featured a family from a different country pictured in their kitchen with all the food they eat in a week’s time. One of the poorest families featured was from Ecuador. Their kitchen was simply a corner of their hut. They only ate vegetables, I’m sure not by choice. But they sincerely looked happy in the picture. They had each other and enough to eat. Though it wasn’t a feast.

Here is a link to that slideshow I saw :,29307,1626519_1373664,00.html

While much of the world experiences constants civil wars and famine and corrupt governments, not all “poor countries” are suffering. They just live on a lot less than us. And are happy. Not all cultures require a family to own a large house and a minimum of two cars.


© Peter Menzel from the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats

Subconsciously, I have been pitying every foreign country poor enough not to have their own national brand of vehicles or their own equivalent to American Idol. But perhaps, they have been pitying me, the Capitalist. Living in a land where it’s easy to end up focusing on chasing money for an entire lifetime.

My church has a ministry where they take in refugees from northern Africa, Iraq, and Southeast Asia. The church helps them to find jobs and an apartment to help them “get on their feet”. Some of them have expressed that life in America is not as easy as it has been romanticized.

While it is the land of the free, it is also the land of the working. Many are surprised by how many hours Americans must work a week to support their families and keep up the maintenance of even one car, which is all but necessary in our culture.

Obviously they are glad to be here instead of imprisoned in a refugee camp in a country plagued with violence, racism, and religious discrimination. But to be an American typically means a person must work the majority of the hours of the week.


© Peter Menzel from the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats

From what I’ve been hearing from people outside this country, something Americans are known for is being obsessed with their work. But I don’t know. I’m not an outsider.

I do know I only have about 3 quality hours (at very best) each weekday with my wife. Because she’s in her Master’s classes all day Saturday, the only day we really have together is Sunday. And by then, we’re exhausted from the work week. I’m realizing I envy families who actually get to spend time with each other.

My wife has said several times that she would have like to live in the pioneer days of covered wagons and schoolhouses in the West. Not me. Too hot. Too cold. Too easy to get sick. To easy to die. No thanks.


© Peter Menzel from the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats

However, this is the only life I know. If I never knew the comfort of an air conditioner in a house or road trip in an SUV with a CD player, then I wouldn’t know what I am missing.

I thank God for my life in America in 2009. Such a blessed country.

But in my time of seeing happy, simple families in poorer countries I have traveled like Trinidad, Ecuador, and the northern mountainous villages of Thailand, I became aware that I wanted what they had.

A big house and trendy clothes and new cars mean working more to keep up with the high overhead. I try to imagine a life where the picture is so beautiful, even if the frame isn’t fancy. That’s the life I’m aiming for.