Manhood in the Making: Hiking with My Son and My Dad, On His 61st Birthday (at DeSoto State Park in Fort Payne, Alabama)

I could think of no better way to spend the morning of my dad’s 61st birthday than to go on a hike with him and my son, near the woods I grew up in.

Growing up just 5 miles miles from DeSoto State Park (connected to Fort Payne, Alabama), I joined the Cub Scouts when I was in 1st grade, which helped me realize back then in 1987 it wasn’t sports that got me excited; but instead, the great wooded outdoors.

Hiking and exploring nature became my sport. It became a crucial part of my masculine identity; not baseball or basketball, though I did end up (unsuccessfully) playing both.

My dad served as the Scout Leader for our Cub Scout troop, which only reinforced what it meant to be a “Shell man” in our family. (Our last name is Shell.)

So it’s no surprise that, 30 years later, with my own son being in 1st grade himself now, this hike symbolized as a right of passage. Granted, I’ve been taking my son on hikes where we live in Tennessee for years.

But this hike was special: It connected us together as the three Shell men of our family.

And we just couldn’t have planned for it to be as perfect and adventurous and it ended up.

It was just chilly enough for my son and I to get to wear our slightly silly hats, but the sun shone on us the whole time.

All I had really remembered about the trail from when I was my son’s age was at the end, there was a dam. But there was much more than that.

Much of the trail made its way along the side of cliff, with the river down below. It was like every step of the way was a picture worth taking and putting on Instagram.

We encountered some man-made structures along the way that were apparently built around a hundred years ago. They only added the mystery aspect of our adventure.

Because that’s an important part of going out for a hike in the woods: Secretly hoping to make some kind of cool discovery.

My son made a few discoveries of his own, with no help thanks to me.

He was truly fascinated by all the moss growing along the side of the mountain…

But he surprised me when he showed me the baby snake he found as well. We’re still at least pretty sure that snake wasn’t actually poisonous.

As we made our way closer to the dam, which served as our arbitrary motive along the way, we accidentally found a cave in the rocks.

My son showed zero ounces of fear as we entered it; only eagerness to explore!

We imagined how, surely, Native Americans must have slept there; and how even now, it was likely a retreat for forest animals as well.

As we exited the cavern, alongside the waterfall from the river, I showed my dad and my son a shortcut to the dam, so we wouldn’t have to backtrack because of our cave detour.

It involved us having to hold on the side of the rock cave while walking across a narrow ledge with the river below. Was it dangerous? Well, that’s sort of the whole point.

I see so much value in a young boy receiving guidance and confirmation from the older men in his life. He learns firsthand how we can tackle a challenge like this, with our help, and overcome it.

That’s got to be good not only for his growing self-esteem, but also his identity as a confident 1st grader.

To me, this is what being a dad is all about. This is the most important stuff; everything else is just details.

So truly, there was no better way to spend last Saturday morning, on my dad’s 61st birthday, than to hike an old trail across the side of a mountain and a river in Alabama.

Fathers pass on certain values and less to their sons that no one else can, in the same way. That’s something I am very aware of.

This was no leisurely hike. No, this was manhood in the making, for my son.

And I would like to believe that 30 years from now, he’ll look back on our hike and realize how it served as an expression of his dad for his son.

Sometimes as a father, it takes a hike in the woods to supplement “I love you” and “I’m so proud of you”.

Looking back, I can see that with my own dad when he took me on those hikes. And now I continue that cycle for my own son.

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Dear Jack: Our Water Treks of Manliness in February 2017 (Harvey Park/McCutcheon Creek)

6 years, 3 months.

Dear Jack: Our Water Treks of Manliness in February 2017 (Harvey Park/McCutcheon Creek)

Dear Jack,

No monster truck or motorcross shows for February, but with this winter being so mild, we definitely took advantage of being able to trek through the waterways of Spring Hill, Tennessee. That’s how we stayed in touch with our masculine side, despite living in a house with two girly girls.

Dear Jack: Our Water Treks of Manliness in February 2017 (Harvey Park/McCutcheon Creek) c5

Our multiple trips over the month of February to McCutcheon Creek led to adventure, as expected.They also led to finding treasures, perhaps a little unexpected…

Dear Jack: Our Water Treks of Manliness in February 2017 (Harvey Park/McCutcheon Creek) m6

Your Spiderman boots are must when we are sneaking through McCutcheon Creek, which snakes through the middle of Spring Hill; including Harvey Park, which also has a playground.

Dear Jack: Our Water Treks of Manliness in February 2017 (Harvey Park/McCutcheon Creek) c3

At one point we had to construct a bridge from an abandoned piece of sheet metal we found nearby. It was the only practical way to us to cross the deeper part of water.

Dear Jack: Our Water Treks of Manliness in February 2017 (Harvey Park/McCutcheon Creek) c8

Shortly afterwards, we found an old pair of wire cutters sticking out of the dirt. You swiftly adopted them as your own, as you joyfully began clipping the briers in our path.

Dear Jack: Our Water Treks of Manliness in February 2017 (Harvey Park/McCutcheon Creek) c9

I could tell you felt so proud to be entrusted with such a powerful (and potentially dangerous) tool. It was so the opposite of the caution you have to use back at the house with your baby sister.

Dear Jack: Our Water Treks of Manliness in February 2017 (Harvey Park/McCutcheon Creek) m3

The weekend before that, you had found a wooden stake, which you officially become your sword. I didn’t realize how useful a wooden sword can be while exploring the waterways of Spring Hill, Tennessee.

Dear Jack: Our Water Treks of Manliness in February 2017 (Harvey Park/McCutcheon Creek) t4

One of our favorite places to go is a tunnel underneath the road, which allows McCutcheon Creek to flow underneath. Maybe we could call it our man cave.

Dear Jack: Our Water Treks of Manliness in February 2017 (Harvey Park/McCutcheon Creek) t3

You continually demonstrate your bravery in our adventures.

Dear Jack: Our Water Treks of Manliness in February 2017 (Harvey Park/McCutcheon Creek)

Perhaps the most impressive thing I saw you do was when you climbed up, and then back down, the 7th foot cliff; alongside the creek. It’s hard enough for me to do it, but you do it with ease.

Of course, in between your bouts with treachery and bravery, you would ask, “Hey Daddy, can we go back to the playground?

Dear Jack: Our Water Treks of Manliness in February 2017 (Harvey Park/McCutcheon Creek) p2

On the surface, it might appear the playground served as a place for leisure.

Dear Jack: Our Water Treks of Manliness in February 2017 (Harvey Park/McCutcheon Creek) p4

But I know better- you simply used the playground as your training facility to build your strength and endurance for our next expedition.

Dear Jack: Our Water Treks of Manliness in February 2017 (Harvey Park/McCutcheon Creek)

Good times.

Love,

Daddy

Dear Jack: Exploring Other People’s Backyards, Technically

5 years, 4 months.

Dear Jack: Exploring Other People’s Backyards, Technically

Dear Jack,

Last weekend you and I came up with a fun way to welcome in the warmer weather. I grabbed one of your bath toys from when you were a toddler and we headed out to the same creek we explored a couple of months ago during the blizzard.

The plan was simple: Drop the turtle into the creek and see how far we could follow it.

Because of the recent rain, there was plenty of current to carry your turtle along without much delay. It even made it all the way through a storm drain. I had thought for certain you and I would have to creep in there and rescue it; but no, not at all.

Dear Jack: Exploring Other People’s Backyards, Technically

Good thing you were wearing your Spiderman rain boots, by the way.

I couldn’t help but sort of notice, the further we went along, that we were technically in between two backyards at all times.

Dear Jack: Exploring Other People’s Backyards, Technically

The creek apparently serves as the divider between backyards on two parallel streets. Hopefully I was right in my thinking that us walking right alongside the creek, we weren’t actually in anyone’s backyard, no matter which side of the creek we were on.

No one came out and stopped us, at least.

Dear Jack: Exploring Other People’s Backyards, Technically

The coolest part was when the streets began veering away from each other into a “Y” formation, causing there to be a patch of woods in the middle. It was there that we discovered a really cool tree house!

That was about the place where the creek sort of faded into the woods. By that time, we needed to meet Mommy back at the house for dinner.

Dear Jack: Exploring Other People’s Backyards, Technically

So the next day on Sunday, I drove you two or three neighborhoods away, in an attempt to pick up right where we left off from the day before.

Dear Jack: Exploring Other People’s Backyards, Technically

We indeed found the creek, but more importantly, we found an entire flooded field; which was again, technically in was people’s backyards, but not quite.

Dear Jack: Exploring Other People’s Backyards, Technically

You enjoyed poking a stick into mole holes as well as jumping into the puddles. It’s amazing what interesting things you can find in your own backyard… or someone else’s!

Love,

Daddy

Dear Jack: Exploring Other People’s Backyards, Technically

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

Super Mario Bros. from a Logical Perspective, Finally

There are moments in the pop culture highlights of our lives where we are so consumed by awesomeness and groundbreaking concepts that we never even think, “Man, that’s pretty weird now that I think about it…”

It’s been a long time coming, but after 25 years since its introduction to America, (1983 in Japan, 1985 in the US) I need to set aside some time to question the life-changing vice called Super Mario Bros. The first issue that I’ve been thinking about is Mario’s ability to jump.

Have you have really thought about how high he can jump? I would say he probably jumps the distance of about six of himself high. Mario looks like he’s about 5’ 8 (I would say Luigi is more like 6’ 1). Since I’m bad at math I’ll just do some rounding.

Mario can jump about 36 feet high. He can be standing still and just jump 3 stories high. And he never hurts his ankles or knees. 

 That is not normal!

And in case you haven’t noticed, every game is this way in the world of video games (unless the character doesn’t jump at all like in the original Legend of Zelda).

What does Mario do with all those coins? They are about the same size as him. Imagine seeing a coin the same size as you and putting it in your pocket. Then collecting 50 more of them within the next 20 seconds. That’s gottta be heavy!

And what’s so bad about touching an enemy? If you touch a wild creature in the woods, let’s say a mountain lion for example, do you instantly die? No, the mountain lion would have to at least bite you or something. But in Mario’s world, you die if you touch any other living creature. Unless it’s a mushroom or fire flower. And in that case, what is he doing with them? Eating them? Again, how do you eat a five foot tall mushroom instantly?

And what’s up with all the holes in the road? What’s at the bottom of those holes? I mean, I would think that at least some of the time when Mario falls down a hole, he could grab on to a branch or something and not lose his life. But there really shouldn’t be that many holes in the first place.

Lastly, why can Mario hit his head on all those bricks and never get a concussion?  Or if he’s using his first to break the bricks, why is Mario’s fist not a bloody pulp pretty much immediately? 

Nevermind the fact the bricks are floating in the air. I’m willing to get past that. Mario isn’t even wearing a helmet when he busts the bricks with his head or gloves on his hands if he’s punching them!

We have overlooked so much ridiculousness because this game forever changed our lives for the better and for the weirder.  Without this American staple of growing up in the 1980’s, I imagine a world where people in their late 20’s and early 30’s would be more boring and less weird.