dad from day one: Baby Jack is Born!

Born on Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 8:50 PM

22 hours 20 minutes of labor

8 pounds 6 ounces

20 ½ inches long

Head full of black hair

There is only one person who directly assured me back before we knew the gender of our baby that he would be a boy.  That was Tommy Huong, a Vietnamese co-worker who had already predicted the gender and birthday of another coworker (he has evidently memorized the 12 year patterns of the Chinese calendar).  So last Friday (the day after the due date) when someone at work suggested we all do a “baby pool” to predict when Baby Jack would actually be born, a better idea instantly surfaced:Go ask Tommy!

I ventured over to his desk and as he turned around it was as if he already knew why I was there, being that he was too far away to have heard the recent conversation.  “When was the due date?” he asked me.  “Yesterday,” I answered.  Tommy turned to his calendar and without any hesitation, placed his finger on Tuesday, November 16th.  “Tuesday, he will be born Tuesday.”

So we enjoyed the weekend.  Then I worked a full day on Monday.  That night around 8:45, my wife said I should finish the last two episodes of Dexter on the disc from Netflix so we could mail it off the next day- and so I have could time to watch my new favorite show before our schedules became forever changed.  I watched my two 50 minute episodes of Dexter, walked to the bedroom in perfect time to hear my wife proclaim, “I think I’m in labor.”  And she was.

From 10:30 Monday night until 5:11 Tuesday morning, she labored at the house.  Then we drove in the rain to the hospital; a 40 minute ride.  After laboring for 12 hours without any pain medications, she then pushed for four more additional hours while not furthering past the 8 centimeters mark (and 100% effaced).  By that point, it became clear that after making it that far, she no longer had the strength to push without some outside help.  So my wife chose to get an epidural.  Because ultimately, we wanted to do everything we could do to avoid major surgery.

But even after several hours of the epidural, it took everything she had to push our baby out.  In fact, if it weren’t also for the diligence and determination of the midwives to honor our request of avoiding a C-section, cutting the baby out of my wife’s stomach would have been the only option.  But the midwives tried every trick in the book, and finally, it worked.  In the end, Baby Jack turned out to be one big Bambino.  The first words my wife said when she saw him coming out was, “You’re a big baby!  How did you fit inside of me?!”

I realize that the expected Hallmark way to portray the first time I held Jack is to say that I cried, as the emotions surrounding the miracle of life flushed through me.  But for the fact all my emotions were exhausted from helping my wife suffer through over 22 hours of labor, here’s what I thought instead: “You’re darker than us!  If anyone should be Mario, it’s you!”

I’ll explain.  A few months ago I told the story of how the name my parents gave me while my mom was still pregnant with me was Mario.  My mom is half Italian and half Mexican, and therefore, dark skinned.  The name Mario would not only have represented my dark skin, but also cover both my Italian and Mexican heritage.  But as soon as I was born, my pasty skin and seemingly American features brought cause for a name change.  Therefore, a few hours after I was born, I was named Nicholas- a less ethnic name that still points to some kind of a foreign background.

So 29 years later as I held my own son for the first time, I had the opposite reaction from the one my mom had when I was born.  Because as of now, Baby Jack doesn’t necessarily especially look like my wife or me, but instead what I would imagine Super Mario would have looked like when he was first born.  One of Jack’s noticeable features his full head of black hair.  I think he has “Gerber baby” lips.  And as I have already studied his profile multiple times, it’s safe to say he has an Italian nose- which I am so proud of!

My parents holding their first grandchild for the first time.

Right before we were released from the hospital, Jack was circumcised.  I felt really bad for him, yet at the same time realized that I don’t remember my own circumcision.  It’s still sad to think about him having to go through that though.  He’s holding up just fine and so is his mommy, despite a drawn out entrance into this world.  God has answered all of our prayers for his and my wife’s safety and health; we are so grateful for that.  The pediatrician at the hospital told us that she checked him from head to toe and couldn’t find anything that needing fixing or reason for caution or concern.

Jack is a cool baby, if I do say so myself.  He’s pretty low maintenance- he just wants to be held all the time.  But I’m guessing we won’t have trouble working that out.  Thanks for following dad from dad one, so far.  If life is a sitcom, this is the season finale.  The new season premieres next week where I am promising an interesting new plot twist…


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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

Metaphors in Super Mario Bros. that Taught Us about Real Life

How many lives do you have left before it’s “game over”?

Something that Super Mario Bros. taught us first, more so than any other video game, was the concept of having “lives”.  If you fell in a hole (which means you instantly died; no chance that the hole wasn’t really that deep or that you could have grabbed on to a branch while falling), you lost a life.  If you touched an enemy, you lost a life (which is completely irrational; I wonder what would happen if Mario touched a “frenemy”?…). If you ran out of time, you lost a life (okay, I admit, that concept is somewhat lifelike).

However, if you accomplished certain goals to better yourself, like ate a healthy mushroom(this promoted organic a lifestyle), saved 100 coins (which causes the game to most likely be endorsed by Dave Ramsey), kicked a turtle shell that slid into 10 enemies (illogical and scientifically impossible on so many levels), or jumped to the top of a flagpole (because that’s normal in real life), you actually would get a “1 Up”, which means that you gained an extra life.

But the whole point of this game, despite collecting gold coins (which instantly disappeared when you touched them- could that be a metaphor symbolizing how money is meaningless?) and muddling through everyday distractions (like busting bricks with your fist because you thought there was a steel box with an “invincibility star” inside- choose your own metaphor for life on that one…) was to save the princess from the evil mutant dragon named Koopa.

If you could run under the dragon in the final castle when he jumped up while breathing fire and hammers at you, you instantly touched an axe that caused the bridge to collapse, therefore sending the dragon into the fiery lava pit (poor architectural planning, if you ask me…). In the next room, the famous princess was waiting to be saved from captivity.  In other words, despite being responsible by saving money, despite gaining power, despite becoming a hero to anyone, it’s all really about helping other people.

Cool Retro Sunday School Bonus!

And for those from a Protestant background, the Mushroom Kingdom represents the Heavenly Kingdom, the dragon symbolizes Satan who will be hurled into the lake of fire in the end, and saving the princess symbolizes sharing Christ’s message of salvation and loving others as ourselves, which is the summary of Ephesians 2:8-10, and in my opinion, the meaning of life and the whole point of Christianity.

Mario Eugene Shell (The Person I Almost Was): If I’m Both Hispanic and White, Which Box Do I Check in Those Surveys?

If only I looked more ethnic.


It’s hard to fathom now, but the entire time my mom knew she was pregnant with me (from October 1980 to April 1981) her “boy name” for me was Mario Eugene Shell.  But of course, my name is instead Nicholas Shane Shell.  Why?  I “didn’t look like a Mario”.  In other words, I was too white.

In essence, I am a mixed race- technically only half white.  One of the main ways I determine whether or not a person is “white” (other than their skin color) is by looking at their last name- if it ends in a vowel, they are probably not white.  My mom’s maiden name was Metallo (Italian) and her mother’s maiden name was Mendez (it doesn’t end in a vowel but it’s common knowledge that Mexicans are not “white”- especially not the ones in my family- they have darker skin).

My dad (a Southern boy of English, German, Cherokee Indian, and distant Greek traces) had married this exotic black haired woman from the North (Buffalo, NY).  It was assumed that their child would take after the more ethnic features, like mocha skin and black curly hair.  But on April 20, 1981 at 8:37 PM, both my parents were amazed to hold a seemingly All-American baby.

They looked at each other, then my mom said to my dad, “He’s not a Mario.  We need a new name.”  A few hours later, before midnight, still on the day I was born, I was named Nicholas (a Greek name that is a popular Italian male name).  My middle name is Shane, which is a form of Sean, which is a form of the Hebrew (Jewish) name, John.  (Shane was considered for my first name but “Shane Shell” really doesn’t work.)

And that’s how I got my name- a quickly formed “plan B”.  To imagine, if I looked more Mexican (like my sister, though she’s often mistaken for Hawaiian) or even a dark-skinned Italian, I would have been Mario Eugene.  (My dad’s middle name is Eugene.)  That’s means that growing up, everyone at school would have called me Super Mario and constantly made references to video game series.  But I don’t think it would have been all that different from my actual childhood, where everyone sang “Nick-nick-nick-nick-nick-nick-nick-nick, Nickelodeon!” to me.  And some people still do… Aunt Rosa!

Constant Time Travel: Is There Such a Thing as “Right Now?”


When waking up from a dream I don’t want to be in, there is that pivotal moment right before my eyes open that I realize how wonderful life is.  Because I return to the comfort of reality.  Not trapped in an eerie sub-world with a grey and pink cloudy sky.

Similarly, I sometimes forget how old I am.  I often hesitate when people ask.  In the milliseconds before I answer, my mind travels through different ages I could be.  The most common:

“Am I seventy-five years old, with most of my life behind me?  Is my body aged and limited by decades of wear and tear?  Have I truly lived my life?  Have I been the giver I need to be?  Or have I lived my life selfishly?”

A millisecond later, the wheel has spun, and the arrow points to “28”.  I say out loud, “I am 28”.  Over a third of my life is finished, but that still leaves two thirds.

Like waking up from a dream, I realize I am still young, and I’m so grateful.  The problem is, despite hearing “hold on to your youth” and “enjoy this while you can” from older adults, especially starting once I graduated high school, I can’t do it.

I can’t appreciate “the now” anymore than I already am and have been.  In fact, I try to hold on to the present too strongly.  And then it becomes the recent past.  So then I’m holding on to the past and the present at the same time.  Almost to a fault.  It’s always been a part of who I am and how I think.

My senior year in high school for our “class prophecy” read aloud at Class Night, the day before graduation, my peers predicted that in 10 years I would still be living in Fort Payne, wishing I was in 1983.

I am a person known for my desire to want to freeze time.  Or ideally travel back to my younger years.  All my classmates were aware that even as a freshly turned 18 year-old, I romanticized about the 1980’s more than is humanly normal.

I feel time is going by too quickly and I’m not even 30 yet.  Like the forced moving screen on certain Super Mario levels, all I can do is keep moving forward.  And like love and money, there will never be enough time.