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

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.

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

Dear Jack: You and Your Sister Can Entertain Yourselves Now, Sort of…

6 years, 4 months.

Dear Jack,

The only thing Mommy and I are used to you spending your own money on is stuffed animals. You’ve got a bedroom full of them; literally hundreds now.

So you can imagine how surprised I was when you decided to spend your last $6 on a coloring activity kit.

And then the following weekend, after Mommy revealed there was still a $25 Target card left over from your birthday, you spent it on two packs of Pokemon cards.

I think it’s so cool that you’re at the stage now where you and your friends take your Pokemon cards to school and trade them. You are serious about stuff.

When we got home from Target, you immediately set out all your new cards, along with the ones you already had in your collection.

Very carefully, you began placing the cards into their holders. You spent a solid hour doing this.

Never once did you smile, nor did you talk. But you were in your glory.

Meanwhile, your sister was being quiet and sneaky.

She had discovered both her diaper bag and Mommy’s purse there on the floor. Holly took it upon herself to unpack them both.

Applying Mommy’s Chap Stick wasn’t as easy as she thought. She didn’t realize the cap had to come off first. Yet still, Holly felt like a big girl at least trying to put it on.

Mommy and I have noticed that the chaos is becoming a little more organized these days.

Sometimes the two of you can entertain yourselves, other times you can entertain each other.

Either way, it’s freeing up your parents to be able to get more housework done, while you do.

This past Sunday, we even had enough time to lounge on the couch as a family, just playing and talking. Mommy smiled in amazement, “Man, we never get to do this as a family.”

Things are getting a little bit more relaxed and balanced now. The chaos is a little bit more organized these days.

Love,

Daddy

Dear Jack: The Cowboy T-Rex, Because… ‘Merica

6 years, 3 months.

Dear Jack,

Like me, you may never really dedicate yourself to team sports. Sure, you may play soccer a year here and there, but really I predict your extracurricular activities will be in the field of art; as was the case for me.

I come home from work each day to see such masterpieces, which are just casual drawings from school. But they are full of thought, detail, and character.

This painting of a sheep impressed Mommy and me so much we have decided to keep it aside so that you can enter it into the Williamson County Fair.

And this amazing painting of a fish is proudly hanging on our fridge.

You particularly delight in drawing dinosaurs. It’s so impressive the way you can just draw these different types just from memory, in addition to being able to immediately tell me the correct names of each one.

But I must say, my favorite recent drawing of yours features two personified dinosaurs. On that fateful Saturday morning at the kitchen table, you asked me, “Daddy, which kind of hat should this T-Rex wear?”

I effortlessly suggested a cowboy hat, which you immediately agreed to.

You then decided that the country T-Rex should be wearing overalls and holding an American flag. I love how you automatically knew how to make that connection from just a cowboy hat.

Next came another T-Rex. In contrast, you drew him wearing a pair of shorts, a baseball cap and a waving a Digimon flag.

There are two ways of interpreting this piece of art.

Either the two dinosaurs are about to engage in a duel, using their flags as symbolic weapons…

Or, they have decided to become friends, despite their cultural differences. And that likely is the case, as you created speech bubbles for each of them, so they could say “hello” to each other.

You finished off the drawing by turning those speech bubbles into smaller versions of the dinosaurs, which wore hats just like the actual dinosaurs wore.

Yeah, you’re going to be an artist.

Love,

Daddy

How Southern am I? You Decide…

How Southern am I? You Decide…

I have lived my entire life (35 years) in the South. Sure, I’ve traveled the world, spending weeks at a time in Thailand, South Korea, New Zealand, Trinidad, and Equator… but as far as permanent residence, I was born and raised in Fort Payne, Alabama; and only lived in the South.

After I graduated high school, having just turned 18, I went to college in Hudson, Florida and then Lynchburg, Virginia. Then I moved to Nashville, Tennessee; where I’ve been for over 11 years now.

The very first “record” I ever heard was by the Country group, Alabama (who happen to be from my hometown). It was their 1984 Roll On album that I would lip sync to as I walked around on my parents’ bed, pretending it was my stage.

I am a Southerner. It’s true.

But… how Southern am I?

Here’s the evidence I’ve got going against me.

First off, I don’t have a strong Southern accent. It’s there if you’re looking for it, but it’s never been enough to convince anyone I’m actually from Alabama.

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Then I explain to people: My mom moved from Buffalo, New York (which is near the Canadian border) when she was 15. Eight years later, when she was 23, I was born. In other words, I was pretty much born to a Yankee mother; at least, she was at the time.

Plus, her parents were the grandparents I was around the most, as they only lived a few miles away: A full-blooded Italian grandfather named Alberto Victoro Metallo from Kenosha, Wisconsin and a full-blooded Mexican grandmother whose maiden name was Delores “Lola” Gonzales Mendez from Buffalo, New York. Growing up in proximity to such Old World influence and foreign culture, it undeniably watered down the sweet tea of my Southern raising.

It ultimately gave me the ability to hear everyone else’s Alabama accent, which I likely disassociated myself from, subconsciously.

The Southern Accent became as noticeable to me as the Midwestern Accent, like I had heard on TV; meaning it sounded theatrical, not natural, to me.

But it’s not just in my more neutralized accent, it’s also in my detachment from Southern culture. I didn’t grow up watching sports, since my dad (who actually is a full Southerner himself) was into karate instead. Therefore, I wasn’t too interested in playing sports. Admittedly, I barely understand the basic rules of football.

Instead, I was interested in exploring the woods and riding my bike. I grew up in the mountains of northern Alabama, surrounded by DeSoto State Park, DeSoto Falls, and Little River Canyon.

However, going back more the way of the Southerner, I regularly attend monster truck shows. If I could own any vehicle, I would either choose a Toyota Tacoma or a Jeep Wrangler.

I’m in the midst of a minor identity crisis. How Southern am I?