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July 24, 2013

Some Assembly Required

IkeaIkea. Shit. I'm still only in Ikea.

I was feeling a bit like Captain Willard, going upriver to a dark and unknown future, only this wasn't the Nung River, these were the labyrinthine aisles of Sweden's most popular furniture store. I wasn't looking for Kurtz. I was looking for a cheap dresser, a place to stash socks and underwear and maybe some t-shirts. Maybe there would be a cheap sofa bed, one of those futon-like things that might sleep one adult comfortably, two kids less so. A few years back I swore I'd never set foot in another Ikea - we were established, we had real furniture, we lived in an actual house. Well.

I'd signed the lease on the apartment a couple of days ago, and while the closet was a decent size, I'd still need some extra storage space. It was a one bedroom, and the kids would need a place to sleep when it was My Night or My Weekend. I'd combed through Craigslist and nothing. (Nothing that didn't look like it reeked of cat piss and/or bongwater, anyway.) And so here I was, hoping for something. Didn't have to be fancy - I envisioned being in the one-bedroom for no more than the duration of my lease, six months, then on to something bigger, better for the kids, more of a home, with a bedroom for them, bunkbeds and their own closets and dressers. This apartment...this was a place for me to crash, for the three of us to crash, temporary lodging on the long road to the New Normal. 

I'd asked Lucas if he wanted to go; he had stepped on a bee at a friend's house the day before, and had been up for large chunks of the night with Beth, foot throbbing. She'd warned me, during Pickup (these co-parenting functions seem to call for formal titles) that he was tired from the lack of sleep and Benadryl. If not,then no worries; Ikea wasn't going anywhere. But he perked right up, especially after I promised him an ice cream cone. He seemed eager to help me fill up the new apartment. Ikea is a bit of a drive from north San Diego county; he dozed in the back seat, I listened to the Velvet Underground's "Loaded". Oh, sweet nuthin' indeed.

They don't serve ice cream in the Ikea cafteria, but they do have a pretty rich chocolate cake; I got him a wedge and a carton of milk, and I opted for a lingonberry drink. "What's that?", he asked. "Lin-gon berry", I replied, mispronouncing it in the way I do, simply because I like the way it sounds, "lin-gon", like Klingon. "It tastes like sweet cranberry juice." He took a sip and nodded his approval. "Dad, can I tell you something?" "Sure", I replied. We'd talked a lot over the past few months, each of us helping to navigate our way through this, rookie pilots who needed the reassurance of a calm air traffic controller, a voice on the other end bringing us in for a safe landing. "Well", he said. "This is going to sound weird...but you and Mom...you sort of seem a little...happier. Now." I thought about that, and how to answer it, because even though it wasn't a question, it was. "I think", I said tentatively, "that Mom and I are figuring out how we're going to be, with each other, now that we're separated. And we're working hard to make things good for you and Zoë. And...it's hard, but it's starting to get better. Which makes me happy."

He thought about this. Processing, eyes unfocused as his brain works out the math. He gets that from me. "Ok. You want a bite of this cake, Dad? It's REALLY good." "Sure", I replied. After we finished, we headed back into the maze. I found a dresser. $35. It would do.


July 13, 2013

The Sweet Sting of a Layoff: Five Years Later

I had not gotten out of the neighborhood when my company cell phone began to buzz. It was my first day back at work after three weeks of paternity leave following the birth of our second son. Caller ID showed an unfamiliar extension from the newspaper where I had spent 16 years building a respectable career in sports journalism.

The date was July 14, 2008, the day I was laid off.

Before I answered the call, I slowed the car to a crawl and looked around at our pretty, suburban Florida neighborhood. It was a sunny morning. I remember that.

I also remember seeing a gray-haired lady escorting a tiny little dog along the sidewalk. She carried a white plastic bag and a long-handled pooper scooper. I didn’t recognize her or the dog. We didn’t wave to each other. I doubt she noticed me as she and the dog walked by.

They went about the business of pissing and pooping and scooping it off other people’s lawns. I went about the business of answering a call that would shatter my career and throw my family’s future into turmoil.

You just never know what’s going on in the car next to you, do you?

_________________

I’d like to be able to say that on the day I was laid off, memories of the wonderful things I did and places I saw as a sportswriter rushed through my mind in a flashback montage, like a spurned lover in Mt. Fujia movie mentally reliving all the warm and fuzzy moments of his relationship. That didn’t happen five years ago. On that day, I was just pissed, scared and, finally, numb. We focused on the potential good, which pretty much boiled down to me being able to stay home with the baby and his toddler brother.

On the other hand, with each passing year (especially on the anniversary of the layoff), I find myself remembering the good times, the experiences I never would have had without that job.

Sportswriting allowed me to:

• Meet a London cabbie who told me all about his years of cabbie training and who gave me one of the guide books he used as a text during his apprenticeship

• Fly on a U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter from Tokyo to Yokohama and see snow-capped Mt. Fuji floating on the clouds off in the distance

• Stand in awe before the Aztek Sun Stone at the Mexican National Museum of Anthropology

• Stand on the edge of the south rim of the Grand Canyon for the first time and realize, after a full minute, that I wasn’t breathing

• Tour the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, the Space Needle in Seattle, the Bull Run battleground in Manassas, the Sensoji Asakusa Kannon Buddhist temple in Tokyo, the British Museum in London, City Lights book store in San Francisco, the inside of the Green Monster at Fenway and Monument Park – alone – at old Yankee Stadium.

And so much more.

I sat through a 5.8 earthquake at Petco Park in San Diego. I walked across the Harvard campus on a bitterly cold April morning. I walked alone in the rain through the impossibly green Back Bay Fens in Boston from Copley Square to the Museum of Fine Arts.

I did all these things, and much more, as a sportswriter. I also watched games and wrote about it for a living. So, yeah. Not bad.

_________________

None of that went through my mind on the morning of July 14, 2008.

Back to that call. My stomach lurched as I answered in a flat voice.

“Hello.”

The noise on the other end sounded like words telling me to go to the human resources department at 11 a.m. He told me, when I asked, that the layoffs at the paper had not in fact ended two weeks ago, as we thought (and hoped).

There was one more piece of business.

They waited, he said, until that day out of respect while our family worked through the health issues that kept our son hospitalized for 10 days after his birth. What do you even say to that? Thank you for not laying me off while my infant son was in neo-natal intensive care? I guess.

Look, it’s been five years. You would think I’d be over it by now, no? I’m not. I doubt I’ll ever be “over” the fact that a sportswriting career I spent 20-plus years building did not end on my terms.

I wasn’t alone in this, of course. Newspapers died in 2007; everything since then has been decomposition. And no, I extracted no satisfaction from the fact that within a year, the editor who called me that morning also was laid off, along with the sports editor who put my head on the block.

OK, maybe I extracted a little satisfaction, but it was fleeting and that was shameful and small-minded of me. Anyway, misery might love company, but this isn’t about commiseration.

FenwayI’m not going to pretend I’m in a position to pass on some profound, wise realization about the power of personal reinvention following a life crisis. Still, there is something to be said for willfully shedding the identity you had built for yourself and making someone new, someone equipped to act and think and live the way the circumstance now demands. You don’t have to “get over” the things that happen along the way. You couldn’t do that, anyway. It’s always going to hurt. What you have to do is find a way to live with the hurt.

You have to live. How?

You just do.

How do I?

You just read it.

 

July 11, 2013

Closing the Book

Back in October, I posted a picture of me with my kids and said that it would be the last post with any tie to my deployment. Well, let's just say that definitive statements such as that should come with an expiration date. Sort of like "I'll never drink vodka again." Because, well, this post is about deployment. Or, better yet, post-deployment.

Let me just get this out of the way now: as far as adjusting goes, I'm doing pretty well. It's been nearly nine months since I arrived home - the length of an average deployment. (In fact, as an example of tempus fugit, the unit that replaced us should be leaving FOB Shank at the very least or, best case, de-mobing now.) And while early on just being home and insinuating myself back into the routine was difficult, I think we are all gelling fairly well. There are still hiccups from time to time, but on the whole it hasn't been too traumatic.

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June 27, 2013

DadCentric Travel: Universal Orlando Resort

Universal Orlando Whit Honea

It wasn't until we were ready to load that I realized the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit did not offer the storage luxuries of other roller coasters in other parks. There was no cubby along the wall in which riders could stow their belongings. The lockers were far below us, where my 7-year-old son, less than an inch shy of making the cut, sat crying and waiting with a friend. There wasn't even a pocket in each car to place sunglasses, phones, or assorted trinkets from the day. I boarded the roller coaster with too many things and pockets too shallow to hold them, and for the first time in years a roller coaster was intimidating me.

Earlier that day we had wandered through Hogsmeade and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, enjoying butterbeer and bits of magic. We had spent a good portion of two days in the Islands of Adventure park at Universal Orlando Resort, hiding from rain and dementors, and still buzzing from our turn on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (which is firmly ranked in the top three rides I have ever experienced). The magical land, which will be joined in 2014 by Harry Potter's London and Diagon Alley in the Universal Studios park (guests will be able to travel between the two areas on the Hogwarts Express!), is as finely crafted of a space as you are likely to find in the theme park world. It it simply wonderful. And crowded.

Harry Potter Universal Whit Honea

Hogsmeade Universal Studios Whit Honea

Butterbeer Universal Studios Whit Honea

Truth be told, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, alone, is worth the price of admission.

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June 24, 2013

Despicable? Me, Too! Also, the Minions are Coming!

Group

This is a story about a middle-aged, bald man full of clever goofiness, and his plans to conquer/save the world one random act of kindness at a time. His accomplices are small and oblong. They have assorted hairstyles, a diet rich in potassium, and an appreciation for farts, gibberish as a form of communication, and loud, constant noises. Their mission is fun, and their adventure is always in the making.

The setting is Universal Studios Orlando Resort, and despite rumors to the contrary there isn't a despicable person to be found. Trust me, I looked.

Yes, I am that man. Pause for effect.

IMG_9253
Agnes thought my eyebrows & non-existent mustache needed to be fluffier.

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Today's Very Special Guest Daddy Blogger: God


God-Daddy-Blogger-DadCentric-Ron-MattocksThis weekend I sat down determined to crank out a blog post, but unfortunately there are those days when, as a writer, you just can’t bring it no matter how hard you try. So there I was, completely stuck when the thought hit me, “what would Jesus do?” Actually, it was closer to what would Jesus’s
Father do? No really—what would He do? What people don’t realize is that God is a dad blogger, and so I put together an email asking Him if He’d be willing to do a guest post. Five minutes later He sent a reply saying He’d be “thrilled” for an opportunity to share His thoughts. Apparently, God’s wanted to write something for DadCentric for a while, so this ended up being the perfect opportunity. Before turning it over to Him I just want to say thanks for helping me out of another jam, God.

* * *  

I guess it’s been quite a while since My last post. Things in my world have been just crazy. One day You’re trying to keep Satan from getting Obama re-elected, and the next thing You know months have gone by and You haven’t written a damn thing. As a blogger this is like the angel of death for your site—stop posting on a regular basis and people pretty much forget you even existed. Oh well. It is what it is, and if you’re one of those loyal readers still following Me then this is pleasing, in My eyes. 

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June 21, 2013

Pixar's Monsters University: The DadCentric Review

Monster-University-pixar

I am not much of a scarer. I went to college for more comedic reasons. Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James P. Sullivan (John Goodman), however, went for the former. The two best buds from Pixar's hilarious and touching Monsters, Inc have returned, albeit in a timey-wimey sort of way, for Monsters University, a prequel showcasing how the dynamic duo first came together.

The story of Wazowski and Sullivan gets off to a rocky start, and the film follows it through the fairly predictable course syllabus of self-discovery 101 with a healthy dose of teamwork thrown in for extracurricular requirements.

Monsters Univeristy does not offer a lot of surprises, save one experienced by Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), and a good chunk of the humor is based on the audience being familiar with the main characters in an omniscient sort of way—it's funny now because we know how things turn out.

However, that doesn't mean the jokes don't work. I laughed loudly during much of the film. Monsters University is very funny.

In addition there are also a number of homages paid to the college comedy genre, with references to Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds, respectively, and they really make the grade. Granted, they won't be recognized by everyone, but that is the key to Pixar's success, making films that work on many, many levels.

Unfortunately, Monsters University misses on one—it is somewhat lacking in what Pixar does best: heart. There are moments of sentiment, but they are over too quickly and often feel too forced. The tender moments that Pixar has trained us to wait for come and go before we even realize what is happening. There is no lingering for effect. They don't leave a tender moment alone. I thought everyone listened to Billy Joel in college.

The art is breathtaking, the humor hits, the characters are fun and relatable, but that special moment wherein the Pixar movies we know and love grab the audience by their collective tear ducts and dare them to hold on… it never happens.

Instead we are given a very enjoyable family film that is full of laughs that will undoubtedly do well at the box office, but left me just a little bit hollow, like getting a B+ in gym class.

Blue umbrella

Luckily, for those of you that have grown fondly accustomed to those special Pixar moments, they are all packed into the short that precedes Monsters University. The Blue Umbrella is sweet, sad, haunting, and hopeful—all within a few speechless minutes. It is a wonderful piece of filmmaking.

That said, Monsters University is a lot of family fun, and the laughs are deep and often. It passes with flying school colors. Monsters University opens today in theaters everywhere.

June 11, 2013

Two Books, One Review: Don't Eat Ice Cream While Reading This

Fathers-day-ties

I'm not one for Father's Day lists full of ties and gadgets, although I look great in a tie and a love a good gadget. I just don't feel that I need a gift to validate what I do as a father. I already have the best gift there is. Two of them in fact.

Of course I'm talking about the two best books written by dad bloggers today: Dad's Book of Awesome Projects by Mike Adamick, and The Guide to Baby Sleep Positions by Andy Herald and Charlie Capen. Both of which are wildly entertaining and worth whatever they go for on Amazon, which, apparently, is not negotiable.

Dad-book-awesome-projects

Dad's Book of Awesome Projects offers a rather vague number (25+) of incredibly fun crafts and projects that parents can make with their kids. That's right, the kids are encouraged to dive right in and get their hands dirty/dirtier.

The projects are broken down by the time requirement involved. That means there are afternoon crafts which are relatively quick, weekend projects that last a little longer, and school break undertakings that will own you for large chunks of time.

Whether your child wants to make circus stilts, superhero capes, a little birdhouse for your soul, or a backyard swing set, Mike has the know-how, and he's not afraid to show it.

Dad's Book of Awesome Projects is DIY quality time for the whole family. Build that fun together, people.

Guide-baby-sleep-positions

The Guide to Baby Sleep Positions: Survival Tips for Co-Sleeping Parents will have you laughing out loud, but hopefully not to the point that you wake the baby sleeping on your head. You really need to be quieter.

Charlie and Andy have painstakingly researched the sleep positions of children and how they affect the sleep pattern of the parents near them. The findings hit home.

From Jazz Hands to Donkey Kong and every Family Meeting in-between, the humor lies in the lack of it—meaning it is hilarious now, but it sucked at the time. Seriously, how are you supposed to sleep with that baby on your head? Maybe you should laugh louder.

The Guide to Baby Sleep Positions is very funny and very relatable. It's like they wrote if while watching you, which isn't nearly as creepy as it sounds.

Both of these books make wonderful additions to any book collection. Even yours*. Buy them for Father's Day, enjoy them the rest of the year. *Some reading required.

Mike Adamick writes at the super blog Cry It Out.

Andy Herald and Charlie Capen are the dynamic duo behind How To Be a Dad.

All three of them are excellent huggers.

Okay, you can have ice cream now!

 

Photo

June 10, 2013

Five Fantastic Father's Day Gifts

Dad doesn’t need much. But this year, surprise your pops with the gift of a lifetime. He’s been stashing those tchotchkes you’ve given him for years and cluttering up his desk with all those heartfelt, yet cheesy, items. Here are five gifts that he will put to use and brag about.

 

  1. Camera: Lomo Belair X 6-12 Jetsetter. Go old school on your pops with this medium-format camera. Just don’t forget to supply him with some film. http://shop.lomography.com/us/belair-jetsetter
  2. Paddleboard: Dennis Pang U’ila Hollow custom paddleboard. He won’t stop talking about the master craftmanship that went into shaping this board plus he’ll get a nice anaerobic workout in the process. http://www.dennispangsurfboards.com
  3. Low-drop Shoes: Feelmax shoes. It all started with those silly barefoot looking ones but now research has shown that you don’t need all that padding stuffed into a tennis shoe. The Feelmax Osma 3 is a stylish shoe that won’t have people gawking on your kooky father’s fancy footwear. Plus they are good for the sole. http://feelmax.fi/index.php/en/shoes/osma3/
  4. Bow: Mathews Conquest Apex 8. Pops doesn’t have to be a hunter to enjoy this thing. This sucker will give him a reason to hone his archery skills…or start a new hobby. http://mathewsinc.com/product/conquest-apex-8/
  5. Whiskey: Bourbon whiskey that is. Pappy Van Winkle’s is oak aged for 23 years. Because all men, no matter what their age, need to be able to unwind and relax. He’ll be bragging about this Father’s Day gift to his buddies for years to come. http://oldripvanwinkle.com/products/pappy-van-winkles-family-reserve-23yr/

 

June 09, 2013

Florida Life

We got home from a family grocery shopping trip this morning and spotted an alligator sunning itself next to the pond across the street. He was just lying there, enjoying a nice morning nap, so of course we had to take a video.

The boys wanted to adopt him. He's a cute little guy, so I said sure. But he had to live in the pond and we could never, ever touch him. And his name will be Grendel. Oh, and believe this: We'll be keeping an eye out for Grendel's mother. They don't stay little and cute for long.