I Asked, He Answered: What My Son Really Thinks of Me

At 6:17 a.m., I walked into my older son’s bedroom and flipped on the light. His face was turned toward the lamp, so he squeezed his eyes shut tighter and twisted his head into his pillow. I sat down on his bed and said good morning.

“What time is it?” he mumbled into his pillow. I glanced at his alarm clock.

“It’s 18 minutes after six,” I said. “Time to get ready for the bus.”

“Six-eighteen,” he said. He’s learning time and money in school, and he’s getting pretty good at both.

And then, because I read a story about the impressions our kids have of us, and because I saw a commercial the night before that showed kids mimicking the behavior of their parents, I had this question buzzing around in my mind as we began our morning wake-up ritual.

“Hey, let me ask you something,” I said. “How would you describe your dad?”

Now, this wasn’t fair of me and I knew it. He was still basically asleep. His mind was primed for another day of second-grade exuberance and angst, possibly still full of Frozen songs from our little movie watch party of the night before.

I asked anyway, even though I wasn’t sure I would like his answer.

As drowsy as he was, he did not hesitate.

“Sweet, kind, funny, courageous,” he said. After a pause, he added, “Likes to play soccer.”

It was as if he had tapped into my mind and pulled out the exact words I would have used to describe him. Except I would have added a few.

Smart.

Empathetic.

Sensitive.

Energetic.

Loving.

Feisty.

Independent.

Loves to read.

Good at math.

Loves animals.

Loves to ride his bike.

Loves vacations.

Loves his family.

On and on I could go. His answer was not what I expected, but it instantly lifted me emotionally and mentally. I could not stop smiling when I told my wife what he said, and even the morning commute to work couldn’t get me down.

When I think of some of the words he might justifiably have added to his description of me − strict, grumpy, always tired, yells too much, hard to please, sometimes makes kids eat healthy food − I feel exhilarated, but a little guilty, too. Even though I would describe myself differently, he chose to accentuate the characteristics that place me in the most favorable light as a parent. The guilt sneaks in because his act of lifting me up with unvarnished praise also served to remind me that I have a long, long way to go to be the parent − the person − I need to be for him, his brother and their mother.

I won’t let it go to my head. I know that if I ask the same question at a different time (say, when he’s being forced against his will to spend 10 more minutes on homework instead of watching Clone Wars on Netflix), his answer might be vastly different. But it did feel good to hear it. It does feel good.

Nothing wrong with a little parenting validation from the most relevant source there is, as long as I keep it in perspective.

 

5 Things About Frozen Our Kids Just Didn’t Understand

Frozen

Can I say something crazy? Frozen has become our family’s favorite Disney movie, even though the boys don’t understand half of it. (Image: Disney Studios, via Click Communications.)

Can I say something crazy? We’ve seen Frozen three times. Three.

Can I say something even crazier? The last movie I saw three times in a theater was Star Wars: a New Hope, in 1977. I was 8.

Naturally, we own the complete Frozen soundtrack. Our boys know the words to all of the songs. And they sing them. Constantly. So do we.

The songs alternate as my daily ear worm. More often than not, I wake up with “Let it Go” in my head. And there it stays. All. Day. Long.

(It’s in there right now.)

Sometimes, though, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” or “For the First Time in Forever” manage to break the “Let it Go” stranglehold. Lately, “Love is an Open Door” and “Frozen Heart” and “In Summer” have made their presence known. Today at my desk, I noticed myself humming the chorus of “Fixer Upper.”

They’re all good. So good that I was tempted to download the digital HD version when it became available Tuesday on iTunes. We’re waiting, though. The Blu-Ray Combo pack comes out March 18. Maybe we’ll wait. Probably.

Meanwhile, we talk about it. I know the boys love the songs and the story and the characters, but I wasn’t sure they actually understood everything they heard or saw. A non-scientific investigation revealed what I suspected: Some of the lyrics and plot points were a bit beyond our boys. Not that it matters, mind you. They love it, all the same.

I’m just glad I took a moment to set the record straight for them on these five things:

1. Why would Anna think she was either elated or gassy, and where, exactly, is “that zone?”

This one required definitions for elated (delighted, overjoyed, very happy) and gassy (um … about to burp or, I guess, fart). It also required an explanation for the physiological effects that often accompany the anticipation of a life-altering event. Which … butterflies? That was a can of worms best left for another time, because our younger son still takes things a bit too literally. “No,” I said. “There aren’t actual butterflies in your stomach. It just feels like it.”

2. Why does Anna feel the need to stuff chocolate in her face at the prospect of meeting a tall, fair stranger at the ball? 

This one made absolutely no sense to them. Our older son doesn’t even like chocolate. If she was about to meet someone “special,” why would she want to risk having brown teeth? I explained to them that some people crave sugar and caffeine when they’re nervous, and as chocolate has both, it’s a natural stimulant. Or sedative. Actually, I’m not really 100 percent sure why she’d want to stuff chocolate in her face. Maybe they just needed something to rhyme with “sophisticated grace.”

3. Why is it crazy for Hans to ask Anna to marry him?

They got that it’s a bit weird for two people to become engaged to be married the same night they meet, but I don’t think they quite understood why. I tried to explain that first you need to meet someone. Then, after a protracted getting-to-know-you period of friendship, you have to become aware of a mutual attraction. Then, if that mutual attraction is more than physical zeal, there has to be some kind of … spiritual … connection? OK look, I don’t really know how love happens so if those two crazy kids want to get crazy with each other, who are we (or Elsa? Or Kristoff?) to say otherwise? I mean, sure, Hans turned out to be evil, but his horse seemed nice. It just goes to show you.

4. Why did Elsa change dresses (and hair) (and makeup) (and … bra size?) when she magically built her castle?

No, our boys didn’t ask anything about Elsa’s bra size. But they were a bit confused by her physical transformation. They understood that she left Arendelle because she was afraid she was going to hurt Anna or someone else with her uncontrollable power. And they got that she was now able to be who she really was and live how she wanted to live, with no rules. She was free. They got that. The purpose for the clothes eluded them, until I explained that it was the screenwriter’s way to make absolutely sure that we all understood that Elsa’s transformation was complete and absolute. That the only thing from Arendelle that she still carried with her was massive guilt for nearly killing her sister and for surviving when their parents drowned at sea.

Wait. What?

5. Why couldn’t Elsa just immediately freeze those handcuff things off her when she woke up in the cell?

You know … I have no idea. I’m just glad she remembered to put a little flurry over Olaf before he went the way of Frosty in the greenhouse.

A Look Back at Dad 2.0 Summit in NOLA

CoverSaturday night on Bourbon Street – neon green and red and blue and colors of indeterminate hue, a gathering Louisiana mist, free (FREE!) entrance into the Lipstick Club. Old Absinthe House for a round, then off again down a tunnel of light and music and grime and the smell of cigarette smoke.

So good. Regretfully, I could not hang.

Bloggers on Bourbon Street.

Bloggers on Bourbon Street.

This band of Dad 2.0 Summit attendees, these brothers and sisters of the digital world, wandered inexorably through one more night together, inevitably toward the Cat’s Meow karaoke bar.

When that realization dawned, when I knew that the clouded group-think had coalesced around the Cat’s Meow as its destination, I knew I didn’t have the energy. As much as I wanted one more chance to build memories with these beautiful friends, my hotel bed beckoned. I began to fall back. One friend after another drifted by, new faces and familiar, buddies and confidants, fellow writers and parents – I slowed my pace and let them slip past me through the Bourbon Street crowd.

Until at last I was at the end of our line, swallowed on all sides by unfamiliar faces and revelers whose nights were just getting started. Then I stopped, watched the heads of friends old and new bob through the gathering French Quarter fog until the last of them was out of sight. I walked back to the hotel along quiet, glistening Royal Street. A lone street performer sang an unfamiliar blues piece in a darkened doorway.

Another Dad 2.0 Summit was done. All that remained was to write the epitaph.

So … what now?

Rob Candelino of Dove Men+Care.

Rob Candelino of Dove Men+Care.

That was the question we were asked on Friday morning as the third annual Dad 2.0 Summit got underway at the J.W. Marriott New Orleans. The question, significantly, was asked of us by a brand representative. Actually, by THE brand representative as far as the dad blogger community ought to be concerned – Rob Candelino of Dove Men+Care.

The two-time title sponsor of Dad 2.0 Summit champions the concept of accurate depictions of fathers and fatherhood in TV ads. It’s a start, and Dove is a welcome and influential ally, but as Dad 2.0 co-founder Doug French says often about the larger picture: “We still have a lot of work to do.”

But … what now?

An informal study of 2013 commercials depicting fathers conducted by dad blogger Zach Rosenberg of 8BitDad revealed that, for the most part, things are moving in the right direction. Derogatory depictions of bumbling dads are not nearly as prevalent as they were. That’s progress.

Still … what now?

Procter and Gamble, the world’s biggest advertiser, touched hearts and likely moved product with the latest incarnation of Thank You, Mom ads associated with the upcoming winter Olympics. It seemed … odd … that they ignored the roles of the respective fathers of the athletes depicted, but an argument can be made that emphasizing the contributions of mothers does not necessarily de-emphasize those of the fathers. Of course, an argument also can be made that omitting dads from that advertising conversation was short-sighted on the part of P&G, but listen – at least they tried with the Dad’s Way and Modern Dad campaigns this past summer (disclosure: I was a blogger ambassador for both of those campaigns, which included a Father’s Day excursion at Brooker Creek Preserve).

Pirate's Alley, French Quarter, New Orleans.

Pirate’s Alley, French Quarter, New Orleans.

Perhaps what’s next, then, is for giant brands like P&G to follow the example of consistency demonstrated by Dove Men+Care and truly embrace what’s happening with this community of fathers who also happen to be talented, innovative content creators – and with engaged, enlightened fathers throughout the country. XY Media Group, parent company of Dad 2.0 Summit, is leading the way in that conversation and in the search for the answer to Candelino’s question. I, for one, can’t wait to see what happens next. What’s most exciting to me about it is that I have the opportunity to help shape that answer, as do all of the bloggers and brand representatives who made New Orleans home for the past four days.

Speaking of which, listed below are a few personal highlights of the third annual Dad 2.0 Summit. I can’t possibly list them all here, because the weekend gave forth far too many memorable experiences and insights. The highlights:

  • I was honored to be asked to conduct a round table workshop on journalism and storytelling. The participants lifted me mentally and – in one notable case – emotionally throughout the hour-plus session. Jim Higley made me mist up when he reminded me about an image I used in a post about our family’s trip to Tropicana Field to see the Rays and Red Sox in October. So, yes … during a weekend of emotional gut-punches, I even cried during my own workshop!  If you were there – or if you were not – and would like to chat about the topic and techniques of purposeful observation as a means to breathe life into your writing, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Thank you to all of those who attended, and a huge thank you to those of you who have since given me a kind word about the workshop itself and about how it already has affected your approach to storytelling.
  • Blogger Lorne Jaffe of Raising Sienna and the New York City Dads Group earned a standing ovation for the greatest show of courage I’ve witnessed in two years of attending Dad 2.0. His willingness to confront his own depression-anxiety disorder in that very, very public setting – and his brilliant turns of phrase and use of imagery in the post he read “Do I Really Like What I Like?” – gave me strength. It was likely the moment most people who were there will remember years from now when we talk about Dad 2.014.
  • Hanging with my fellow DadCentric bloggers, Kevin McKeever, Michael Moebes and Whit Honea, as well as fellow 2013 Spotlight Bloggers McKeever, Honea and Chris Read was another highlight. As I say, I could not hang Saturday night, but part of the reason for that was I made the rookie (or sophomore) mistake of hitting the Quarter a bit too hard on the first night and never quite regained full equilibrium. I enjoyed every minute I spent with them, though, as well as all of the friends I met in Houston in 2013 – Jim Higley, Mike Adamick, Jay Sokol, Jeff Bogle, Creed Anthony, Charlie Capen, Andy Herald, Jim Lin, Amy Windsor, Sam Black, John Pacini, Lance Somerfeld, Matt Schneider, Chris Lewis, Oren Miller, Adrian Kulp, Jason Greene, Kenny Bodanis, the guys from the National at Home Dads Network, the guys from Life of Dad, the guys from the National Fatherhood Initiative, and on and on. Then there were the first-timers, people I had met online only, who now I can include in my personal, ever-growing web of true, “in-real-life” friends who share an interest in parenthood and the creative impulse – Jess Sanfilippo, Lizz Porter, John Kinnear, John Willey, Brent Almond, Eric of Dad on the Run, Justin Aclin, Buzz Bishop, Vincent Daly, Scott Flax and so many, many more.
  • Listening to Jim Higley and Parenthood creator and show runner Jason Katims talk about parenting, the creative process and other important topics on Friday was a privilege. I was fortunate enough to run into Jason during that night’s cocktail party and he was kind enough to answer two questions: Is the message about authentic portrayals of fathers in media resonating in his industry (short answer: slowly, but surely) and what were his favorite TV shows as a kid (he mentioned All in the Family and Taxi as influencers, along with several other half-hour sitcoms that I didn’t quite catch).
  • I also appreciated hearing Josh Levs share his parenting journey and announce the publication of his new book in front of the Dad 2.0 audience. And it was interesting to see closing keynoter Peter Shankman displaying his pair of Google Glass (Google glasses?) all day Saturday at the J.W. Marriott. The future is here.
  • The folks from Dove Men+Care were amazing, as usual, and I would be remiss if I failed to thank them for the Movie Night on the Couch prize pack that I won and the framed photos from the Real Dad Moments campaign. We appreciate all the other brand representatives who did so much to make the experience great: Cottonelle (for whom I blogged — thanks to XY Media — during the Let’s Talk Bums campaign in the fall); National Geographic Animal Jam (hence, the skunk in the photo above); Jamba Juice; Kraft Cheese; Lee Jeans; LEGO Friends; Microsoft Surface; the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau; Little Remedies; and the savior, Starbucks Via.
  • I’ll never forget Whit Honea’s remarkable reading of Two Busy’s Spotlight post, By Such Swift Currents. It was a fitting swan song for DadCentric, as well as a wonderful way to honor the work of one of the finest writers in our community.
Fog shrouds Royal Street on Sunday morning.

Fog shrouds Royal Street on Sunday morning.

I’ll wrap it up with a special thank you to two of my all-time favorites in this community, my New Orleans roommates David Vienna of The Daddy Complex and Aaron Gouveia of the Daddy Files. The weekend flew by far too quickly, my friends. I appreciate everything you did to make it memorable for me.

So, what now? For the community, for society, it seems clear XY Media Group and other prominent dad groups will continue to consolidate and build on the efforts that seem to have made headway over the past three or four years.

But what about for me, personally? What now for this journal? That’s simple – I’ll just keep telling stories as well as I can, and try to make this online journal/whatever it has become something worth the time of its readers. I will also answer the call, when it comes, to help tell stories that depict fathers and fatherhood in an authentic light. It’s the least I can do for a community that has given so much to me in such a short amount of time.

One of the Best Commercials About Parenting You’ll Ever See (not sponsored)

This Coca-Cola commercial from Argentina is one of the best portrayals of early parenthood I’ve seen. This is not a sponsored post, but I felt compelled to share this because it spoke to me as a father of two young sons and it made me smile.

I hope it makes you smile, too.

An Interview with Santa Claus

Pick a Santa, any Santa. They're all as real as you want them to be. (Photos: Various sources.)

Pick a Santa, any Santa. They’re all as real as you want them to be.

One of the most remarkable developments during my many years of travel as a journalist was the time I interviewed Santa Claus.

It was March 2004, and I was in Tokyo for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays-New York Yankees opening series. Our first afternoon there, I came across Herr Kringle strolling through the 400-year-old Japanese garden adjacent to our hotel, the New Otani. He was alone, unattended, not a reindeer in sight. I got the distinct impression he wanted to be left alone. But I was a journalist. This was news. I approached the Jolly Old Elf and introduced myself.

I pulled out my digital recorder and notebook and proceeded to conduct the interview of a lifetime.

The 400-year-old Japanese garden at the New Otani in Tokyo, site of my interview of a lifetime with Santa himself.

The 400-year-old Japanese garden at the New Otani in Tokyo, site of my interview of a lifetime with Santa himself.

Here’s how it went down.

Carter Gaddis: I apologize for interrupting your meditation, Mr. Claus.

Santa Claus: Please, call me Santa. And I understand. You have a job to do. You mind if we keep this short, though? I have a breakfast reservation in Paris.

CG: Paris? But we’re in Tokyo.

SC: Hello? Magic elf.

CG: Sure. Of course. Sorry.

SC: Look, if you don’t have any questions …

CG: No, no. Yes, well … um. I guess the first thing is, how is this even possible? You’re not real.

SC: And “a wise man proportions his belief to the evidence,” right?

CG: Well, yeah. Who’s that, Locke? Hobbes?

SC: Hume. So, what do you deduce from the evidence? Wait, let me make it easy for you. You’ve studied your Pascal, yes? You’re familiar with his “wager” theory about belief in God? No? Well, it’s like this. Are you willing to gamble away potential eternal bliss spent basking in the presence of the almighty creator simply because you can’t bring yourself to believe in Him? I mean, what if you’re wrong? If you’re right, that there’s no God, all you’ve lost is an infinitesimal blip of time in the immeasurable immensity of eternity. Not a bad bet, that. In this case, the odds are heavily in your favor, because here I am. Think about it like this: Your eyes tell you I’m real, correct? With that piece of evidence, and knowing that not believing I’m real means you’re doomed to a lifetime of no presents at Christmas time, it is in your best interest to just go ahead and let yourself believe. Right?

CG: But …

SC: Buddy, I really can’t stay much longer. We can stand here and debate my existence for the next three minutes, if you like. And when I disappear into thin air on my way to the Champs Elysees for œufs brouillés a la truffes noires, you can stand here holding your … notebook. It’s your dime.

CG: OK. Yes. So, let’s say you are you. You’re really Santa Claus. How do you deliver toys to all the good little boys and girls on a single night? The whole sleigh and flying reindeer thing seems a bit unlikely, to be honest.

SC: I have a T.A.R.D.I.S.

CG: A … what?

SC: A T.A.R.D.I.S. You know, blue police call box from England. Bigger on the inside. Travels through time and space? Like Doctor Who.

CG: Doctor Who?

SC: Exactly.

CG: But that’s not …

SC: Real? Ho! Ho-ho-ho! Of course not. I was kidding. No, but yeah. It’s magic. I use magic. Simple, really. The reindeer are just for show. Mrs. Claus runs an arctic animal rescue up north, so I just – do what I do – and voila! Flying reindeer. The actual gift delivery system is far beyond your comprehension. There are too many moving parts to simplify the explanation. Let’s just call it magic and leave it at that.

CG: I’m sorry, that’s not good enough. I need to know how you do it. I need to know how to tell the world you’re real. Explain it to me like I’m a fifth grader.

SC: A fifth grader? Funny you should pull that particular time of life out of the ether.

CG: Funny how?

SC: Because that’s when you stopped believing. Remember? Even after you spotted all those toys in the foyer closet when you were 5, you wanted to keep believing. So, you did. You kept believing in me because that’s what you wanted to do. And that still applies today. To you, and to everyone in the world. Do you understand what I’m saying?

CG: Sure, but I don’t think it applies. I mean, you’re not real. You’re an inherited Western European archetype, based loosely on Germanic paganism and later Western religions, seasoned with a healthy sprinkling of good, old-fashioned capitalism. It’s all about corporate symbolism now. Is that the message we want to teach our kids? That it’s OK to perpetuate a vast, fantastical myth that celebrates commercialism and the all-mighty holiday dollar?

SC: OK. Well, I don’t know what else to tell you. Except this: Sartre was on the right track when he wrote, “In life, a man commits himself, draws his own portrait, and there is nothing but that portrait.” You see?

CG: That doesn’t answer my question.

SC: Your question doesn’t have an answer. I’ve got to go. Merry Christmas!

CG: It’s March.

SC: I know. Ho-ho-ho! Bye.

And like that … he was gone.

As you can see, the interview was a disaster, which is why I sat on the story until now. It was nothing more than an incoherent mishmash of pop philosophy and obscure science fiction allusions. I didn’t have a camera on me (no iPhones back then), so I could produce no photographic evidence. My recorder crapped out after I transcribed the conversation, so I even lost the audio proof. I haven’t seen Santa since.

I believe, though. I decided to believe, and I did. In my portrait, the one I made for and of myself, Santa Claus is real. Just as every religion, every mythology is true in the sense that it is metaphorical of the mysteries of existence, Old Saint Nick is a metaphor. For me, he’s a combination of kindness, generosity and the wonder of imagination. I’m leaning toward zombie Santa at the moment, too.

What else does Santa symbolize? Depends on who you ask. Your portrait is yours, and yours alone.

How Will Our Sons Remember Me?

Boys, I don’t know if you’ll ever have kids of your own. I imagine you will. I don’t know whether I’ll ever meet these theoretical grandchildren of mine. I hope I do.

If you do have kids, and if I’m gone by then, they’ll probably ask about me.

“Tell me about your dad,” they might say.

What will you tell them?

What am I doing now to create a legacy worth remembering, memories worth sharing with your own children?

I know what I hope you’ll say:

“Your grandfather was smart, kind, patient and funny.

“He loved to read, and he loved to write. He read to us and made up stories with us as the heroes and helped us with our homework. He played video games, too. He was just a big kid at heart.

“He taught us how to throw, catch and hit a baseball, and how to kick a soccer ball. He taught us to care for animals. He took us to nature parks and movies and arcades.

“He loved to visit Disney World every bit as much as we did when we were little. As I said, he was a big kid his whole life.

“He could really sing, and he taught us to appreciate music. He couldn’t dance even a little, but he was funny when he tried.

“He always told us to ‘be good, be nice, be you and have fun’ every morning before school.

“He loved Mom more than anything in the world, except maybe for us.

“He showed me how to live with grace and dignity, and every day I try to be the kind of man he was.”

That’s what I hope you’ll say.

Here’s what I fear you’ll say:

“Your grandfather loved us, but he had no idea how to relate to us – or to anyone – in a mature, meaningful way. He really was just a big, immature kid his whole life.

“He liked to call himself a writer, but he never published a book and he would put us to sleep with boring stories about covering baseball for a newspaper.

“He played video games, for God’s sake. And he dragged us to Disney World so many times I get hives just thinking about Mickey Mouse.

“Oh, and don’t get me started about all the times he tried to live vicariously through us with Little League baseball and youth soccer. He just didn’t understand why we didn’t care about playing or watching sports. If he had the sense God gave a ferret, he’d know we hated sports because he constantly shoved them down our throats.

“Sure, he could sing a little, but not as well as he thought he could – and he made an absolute idiot of himself whenever he tried to dance.

“He was like a parrot with that ‘be good, be nice …’ blah, blah, blah every day before school. What did that even mean, anyway? As if platitudes could replace genuine communication and empathy.

“As I say, your grandfather loved us – probably – and I think he meant well. But every day I live my life trying not to be like him.”

____________________________

Here’s the thing about legacies: They are impossible to forecast. Memories are fickle. Even if I do everything right in your eyes from now until the day I’m gone, I have no way to know how I’ll be remembered by you.

Chances are, boys, if you do have kids one day and they ask about me, the things you tell them and the tone of voice you use will be determined by things that have not yet happened, by moments that have not yet been lived. You are just now beginning to form long-term memories. This is Chapter One in your story of me.

All I can do is to attempt to live up to the ideal, while remaining mindful of the possibility of disappointment. If I’m fortunate, my true legacy to you will not be the memories and stories you share about me, but how your children remember you. Because if you grow up to be worthy of emulation in the eyes of my grandchildren, then I’ll consider this a job well done.

My Son, the Jedi Padawan

The Force is strong with this one. Jedi Academy training Sunday at Disney’s Hollywood Studios bore that out.

Hollywood Studios

Jay communes with the Force moments before vanquishing the Dark Lord of the Sith on stage.

Lord Darth Vader’s mastery of the Dark Side was no match. Padawan Jay showed that Dark Knight of the Sith what’s up. But don’t take my word for it. We have video proof of his subtle, but powerful skill with the lightsaber. He was, if I say so myself, the very image of the future Jedi Master.

In fact, feel free to use the video below as a training tape for your young ones. Or even for your old ones. This kid can rock a saber. Honestly, he had seen the training so many times during our many visits to Hollywood Studios that he had memorized the training routine. And yes, he is small compared to the full-sized Darth Vader, but never tell me the odds.

The Force will be with him … always.

Why Do You Hate Squirrels, America?

This is how most of America sees squirrels: tweaked out, hyper, incompetent, good for a laugh. This must cease, for the good of humanity and squirrelhood.

This is how most of America sees squirrels: tweaked out, hyper, incompetent, good for a laugh. This must cease, for the good of humanity and squirrelhood.

The negative and inaccurate portrayal of squirrels in American mass media and entertainment must cease. Consider this a rallying cry on behalf of our furry-tailed, tree-climbing, acorn-eating friends.

Your eyes are rolling. I can hear them. I know what you’re thinking. They are squirrels. They have been handed all of life’s advantages for eons. Why should you care whether a writer or filmmaker or advertising hack depicts a squirrel in an absurd and utterly unrealistic way to get a laugh or sell a product?

Because even though many squirrels do, in fact, live down to the appalling mass media stereotype, the vast majority of squirrels actually are competent, caring, engaged, hard-working rodents. Rodents who are tired of being made fun of as a group, just for the sake of a cheap laugh.

As Scrat from Ice Age proves, this is not a new problem.

As Scrat from Ice Age proves, this is not a new problem.

Think it’s not a problem? Consider how squirrels have been depicted in children’s movies in recent years. Scrat from Ice Age? A tweaked out, acorn-obsessed addict who would rather chase a nut than avoid certain death in an avalanche. Hammy from Over the Hedge? Also tweaked out, particularly susceptible to the lure of caffeinated beverages, which are like squirrel amphetamines. One dose, and Hammy turns into a seething mass of hyperactivity and pure adrenaline. That’s just not realistic, and it has to stop. In the brilliant animated film Up, what do Dug and the rest of the talking dogs of the South America jungle get distracted by throughout the film? That’s right. Squirrel! They are merely a comic prop, good for nothing but a laugh. Squirrels demand equal screen time from now on. Or any screen time, for that matter. And not of them being tweaked out. Screen time of squirrels being squirrels, as they do. It’s only fair.

Even our preschoolers are not immune from negative stereotypes of squirrels. Witness one of our younger son’s favorite board games: Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel. Sneaky and Snacky? Why not just call the game Felonious, Gluttonous, Stinking Rodent and be done with it? Say what you really think, game makers. Show the true depths of your anti-squirrel bias.

Or, better yet, in all seriousness, why not call it Industrious, Athletic, Cute-as-a-button Yard Pet? Because that would be far more accurate and provide America’s youth a genuinely positive impression of our furry little buddies. Our children deserve to know the truth about squirrels. Their lifelong impressions are being formed now. It’s not too late.

Not every depiction is inaccurate or demeaning. Fortunately, the good people at Mary Baldwin College — home of the Fighting Squirrels — have it right. Here’s an excerpt from the school’s website, explaining why the squirrel was chosen for its school mascot.

“In heraldry the squirrel is a symbol of industriousness, trustworthiness, and preparation for the future. It also has been used to represent those with a love of the woods. In Nordic mythology, the squirrel is a symbol of the soul. These ancient meanings apply to Baldwin athletes who know that diligent work will pay off at game time and that their teammates depend on them — and equally apply to all Baldwin women (and men) who are disciplined in their focus, strive to do good in the world, work toward environmental sustainability, and seek wellness of body as well as soul.”

Now, that's more like it! Thank you, Mary Baldwin College, for your squirrel-savvy depiction of our furry friends.

Now, that’s more like it! Thank you, Mary Baldwin College, for your squirrel-savvy depiction of our furry friends.

Yes. That’s more like it. Truly inspiring. Thank you, Mary Baldwin College. It is encouraging to see that someone, somewhere, understands the plight of the gentle, humble squirrel. Perhaps there is yet hope for the squirrel community, after all.

We can dream.

ESPN Wide World of Sports: Athletic Excellence, Disney Magic

WWOSGlobe

In 16 short years, ESPN Wide World of Sports has carved out a unique position in the world of participatory and spectator sports.

When the Braves and Reds inaugurated the beautiful baseball stadium at ESPN Wide World of Sports in 1998, I was there to cover it for a newspaper. I remember being impressed by the “Florida Picturesque” style, and the whimsical Mediterranean Revival details of a stadium that instantly became the premier spring training ballpark in Florida. (It still is that, by the way.)

Back then, I barely gave the rest of the complex a second thought. After all, this was about the partnership between Disney and the Braves. Once spring training was done, I figured the facility would — like many ballparks in Florida — merely transition into a sleepy, minor-league facility for the Double-A Orlando Rays.

These days, those minor-league Rays are long gone. So is any hint of anything remotely “minor league.” In 16 short years, ESPN Wide World of Sports (the four-letter network became part of the name in 2010) has emerged as a unique destination for participatory and spectator sports.

Boardwalk

Disney’s Boardwalk Resort at sunrise, the morning of the Run Disney Fun Run at Epcot.

I and 18 other bloggers from around the country had the chance to immerse ourselves in the sports facilities and amenities — as well as the overall Disney World experience — earlier this week.

My bottom line takeaway from the very well-run and extremely informative media event: If you have a child who participates in organized sports, or you are a coach or team organizer (mom or dad) responsible for planning and executing trips for a youth sports team, I can’t imagine a better place on Earth to come than ESPN Wide World of Sports.

That’s a broad statement, I know, and it needs support. Here, then, are just a few things that stood out for me during the media event:

  • The 225-acre complex is the site of more than 350 events with 350,000 youth, college and professional athletes in more than 70 sports annually. That means the Disney Sports Solutions team is extraordinarily experienced when it comes to meeting the needs of athletes and their support crew (coaches, parents, relatives, etc.).
  • You, too, could own a WWOS DadScribe t-shirt. And you know you want one.

    You, too, could own a WWOS DadScribe t-shirt. And you know you want one.

    The ESPN brand is ubiquitous, and that’s on purpose. One of the most interesting aspects of the athlete experience at the complex is the opportunity to, as the marketing slogan says, “Play at the Next Level.” Part of that next-level experience is being on TV. There is an incredible ESPN control room located behind the scenes next to Champion Stadium, and the action on the many fields and courts is almost always framed by one of the 56 high-definition cameras that dot the complex. There also are high-def 40 screens, including three jumbo screens, carrying footage all over the complex. In fact, athletes can view their professionally edited highlights from that day on a dedicated channel in their Disney resort rooms. The goal is to dramatically increase the TV presence of these games. The Watch ESPN app and ESPN3 figure big in the broadcast future of the Wide World of Sports Complex, which also serves as a testing ground for breakthrough broadcast technology like 3D.

  • Yes. Yes, I was the MVP.

    Yes. Yes, I was the MVP.

    Memorabilia is big for kids, and they do those things very well at the WWOS complex. Customized shirts are available (mine is pictured above) and the visit can be commemorated with photos and a personalized ESPN the Magazine “cover” shoot (also pictured). I can imagine kids begging their parents for these items. I know I mine would.

  • Everything — and I mean, everything — logistical is handled for the teams and their organizers by the Disney Sports Solutions team. No matter what you need help with (the daily itinerary, fundraising for travel, safety and health issues, finding the right open tournament to match your team’s competitive level, housing for athletes and family members, transportation, nutritious food, entertainment between games, and so much more) the Disney Sports experts have it covered. In addition, the recently opened Office Max Business Center provides computer access, smart phone charging, and more.
  • The starting line of our personal Run Disney Fun Run through Epcot.

    The starting line of our personal Run Disney Fun Run through Epcot.

    And here’s the clincher. There’s no reason another sports complex couldn’t one day compete on an equal footing with Disney in all of those qualities (yes, even the broadcast element, if another big network decided to commit 100 percent to the plan). But no organization can combine a first-class athletic experience with the magic of Walt Disney World theme parks. According to the Disney Sports team, an estimated 50-60 percent of the athletes and their supporters who come to ESPN Wide World of Sports to compete have never been to Disney World. Nothing can compete with using your down time before, during or after games to head on over to the Magic Kingdom for a ride on Pirates of the Caribbean and a viewing of the Wishes Nighttime Spectacular fireworks; or to Hollywood Studios for a stroll along Hollywood Boulevard at twilight and wild rides on the Rock-n-Roller Coaster and the Tower of Terror; or to Downtown Disney for dinner and bowling at Splitsville. Sure beats cable TV or an outdated game room at some low-budget motel.

The Welcome Center at ESPN Wide World of Sports integrates the athletic experience and the Disney experience for participants and families.

The Welcome Center at ESPN Wide World of Sports integrates the athletic experience and the Disney experience for participants and families.

To find out how to put your team on the Road to Disney, check out the Disney Sports website. Twitter is a great way to keep up with the many goings-on at the complex, and the official Disney Sports handle is @DisneySports. There also is a YouTube channel that is updated regularly with highlights from the complex.

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Here are some bonus videos taken during the Disney Sports media event I was fortunate enough to attend. The highlight for me, in addition to learning so much about a place I thought I already knew, was meeting a lot of great writers and content producers from all over the country. I learned a great deal from interacting with them, too, and I think these videos provide wonderful insight into the work that goes into reporting for blogs.

The videos also expose you to detailed, behind-the-scenes looks at what goes on at ESPN Wide World of Sports. You’ll see what we saw. The first two are five-minute versions of our tours. The third includes highlights of a really cool Run Disney Fun Run we had the chance to do at Epcot on Tuesday morning.

Disclosure: I was invited to attend the Wide World of Sports media FAM and write about what I learned. I was provided a room and promotional materials, but all opinions and editorial decisions are my own.

Let’s Talk About God

“Every mythology, every religion, is true in this sense: It is true as metaphorical of the human and cosmic mystery.” – Joseph Campbell, the Power of Myth

God

Detail of Michelangelo’s ceiling fresco at the Sistine Chapel, Vatican City. Source: Photo illustration by DadScribe.

Our first summer in Florida, I was 13 years old and wheelchair-bound after corrective surgery on both feet. My parents sent my brother and me to vacation Bible school at the Presbyterian church up the road from our Palm Beach Gardens apartment complex. There, in the Sunday school classroom, as I sat in my wheelchair with my feet in their twin casts sticking straight out in front of me, a young man with shaggy brown hair, bad acne and huge glasses asked me if I would accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and savior.

If so, he added, my soul would be saved and I would be guaranteed a place for all eternity in the Kingdom of the Lord.

That sounded OK to me. So I said, “Yes. Yes, I do.”

And he said, “Praise Jesus. You are saved today.”

So, I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice.

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Sundays at our house have always been reserved for rest. If not rest, Disney World. If not Disney, Busch Gardens. Or laundry. Or yard work. Or the community pool. Or grocery shopping. Or anything except church.

Put simply, we don’t go. We are among the 20 percent of Americans who a Pew Research Center poll identified as having no religious affiliation. That’s not to say we are not religious. Beth certainly is. She prays regularly, and she believes in the traditional, organized-religion definition of the Christian God.

I don’t share her beliefs. I suppose I would have to be lumped in with the 33 million Americans who identify themselves as atheistic or agnostic. I don’t know what that means, though. What I do know is that I don’t know what happens when we die.

I also know this: Neither does anyone else know. But you know what else? That doesn’t matter.

Religion isn’t about that. Or it shouldn’t be.

Joseph Campbell, a scholar of comparative mythology whose work influenced George Lucas as he created the Star Wars universe, makes as much sense to me as anyone I’ve read or listened to when it comes to the purpose of religion. He said it exists not to reveal the meaning of life, but to help us find a way to live life with grace, to discover within ourselves an accord between what we experience and the questions and concepts that transcend our experience.

Campbell said God was, in fact, a metaphor for the things that transcend thought. I think what he meant was that because we exist in the field of time — we’re born, we live, we die — it is incredibly difficult, maybe even impossible, to grasp the concept of eternity.

And that’s about as deep as I want to go with that. As I say, I don’t know. I want to know, but I also am not arrogant enough to believe that I have the answers. That said, nor will I at this point in my life acknowledge that anyone else truly knows, either. That’s what I believe.

Which brings us to our sons.

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Beth wants them to go to church. We have found one that might serve, at least for now.

I have qualms.

On one hand, I want our sons to learn about organized religion, about spirituality, about humanity’s attempts to make sense of it all.

On the other hand, I believe that much of humanity’s strife — today and throughout history — has been caused by organized religion. As Campbell said, practitioners of the individual religions get stuck in their own interpretations of their chosen metaphors. That is, they fail to read the sacred texts or hear the sacred stories as poetry. Instead, they read it and hear it as prose. It is, Campbell said, a purely literary problem.

I see people in the public eye espouse views in the name of their religion about topics such as homosexuality, and it is clearly a bigoted way of thinking. Here’s the problem, though: They don’t think of themselves as bigoted, because they simply are adhering to the things they learned from their religious leaders. They are wrong to think that. Hiding behind specious lessons does not excuse the ignorant. While I might not know the answers, I do know this: Any religious teaching that is used to objectify and dehumanize other people is deplorable. I hope our sons never think that way.

Some of my favorite people in the world are deeply religious, and so sure in their convictions that it sometimes makes me wish that I could give myself over to the rapture and let the joy wash over me like a baptismal font.

It’s tough, but our sons need a frame of reference. They need to be exposed to these ideas — and at 7, our older son is probably as impressionable as he’ll ever be when it comes to ideas about spirituality.

It’s tricky. I bought our older son a book the other day called The Kids Book of World Religions, and he sort of freaked out about the drawing of Jesus on the cross. He needs to know what that means, that the resurrection is emblematic of the “death” and “rebirth” we all must experience as we transition from one stage of life to another (I am aware there are those whose interpretation of the crucifixion differs from this one). I Googled [talking to children about religion] and found an entire blog dedicated to the subject, along with this Washington Post story about the author of that blog. This is not a problem unique to us.

It’s necessary. We want our sons to make informed decisions about how they choose to think about spirituality in the future. We’re going to expose them to different ways of thinking, to different paths. We’re going to let them make their own decisions when they’re ready. You’ve got to start somewhere. So … we’ll start by giving up our Sunday rest or recreation to explore the spiritual.

And we’re going to hope that when (if) they choose their paths, they find grace and peace and love. Above all else, we hope that.

Michelangelo

Michelangelo’s Pieta, Vatican City. Source: Photo illustration by DadScribe.