Father’s Day

So yesterday was a good day. We’re currently back home in Tennessee, nearing the end of our annual grandparent visit. It just so happens this year that we were here for the weekend of Father’s Day, and we celebrated by having a backyard grillout and a day-long rotation of friends and family stopping by to visit and to marvel over the little man. The weather was mostly cooperative, and it was hot but pleasant all day long.

I’ve also been catching post after post of people celebrating their fathers and sons on Facebook all day long, and posting a few congrats and happy wishes to fathers that I know and especially to a couple of brand new dads and one dad-to-be who is waiting on his son to be born any day now. Exciting stuff, and it amazes me how excited I now get whenever I hear that someone is going to be a parent. I remember when we were waiting on Ryder to be born, and while we were anxious and terrified and trying desperately to prepare ourselves, everyone around us was ecstatic. Loads and loads of hugs, smiles, and all the love you could ever imagine raining down on us from every direction. It was a little overwhelming, and honestly took us by surprise. We thought, “Wow, everyone else is soooo excited.”

Now I understand why.

Becoming a parent changes you. I talked about this with the above-mentioned expectant father a while ago, and it’s not exactly news. Of course, becoming a parent changes you. But, not in the ways you expect. You are still you – the essence of who you are is unchanged. You still like the same dirty jokes, you still love beer and pizza (even if your kid doesn’t – the pizza, that is), and you probably don’t feel any more like an adult than you did before you had a kid. But there is now something more. Something else to worry about, something to clean up after, something to snuggle up with, something to chase around the yard, something to make eat his vegetables, something else to love. You become more. It makes you care more about different things, and it makes you stronger in ways you could never imagine.

I’m gonna refer back to my last post about Man of Steel just for a moment – no spoilers, just a general reaction to a specific element in the film. The scenes of Kal-El’s childhood with his human father Jonathan Kent were, to me, the heart of the film. Every single scene was a moment depicting the love of a father for his son. It makes me feel that love itself is more than just an emotion – it is its own thing. This love contains so many emotions that it cannot be considered simply an emotion in and of itself – pride, fear, disappointment, anger, and so many more. It truly makes love itself a living, breathing entity, something that descends upon you and grows within you at the very moment that your child is born, and it becomes the scaffolding for the growth of this new human being. And, along the way, you continue to grow with it, becoming more and more every day, as your child needs you to grow. And as I watched the movie, every time Jonathan Kent spoke to young Clark about who he is and who he will be, the tears welled up, and I felt my heart pounding in my chest.

Every father wants to see his son grow to become Superman, to become a beacon of hope and nobility. And they look to us to see how to do that. In his son’s eyes, every father is Superman. And the love for your child is exactly the source of the strength a father needs.

So Happy Father’s Day to every Superman I know out there – the fathers of Aiden, Denton, Charliemonster, Ammon, Ivey James, and Austin, Ryan, and soon-to-be-welcomed Dash. You are stronger than you know. May your sons’ capes blow proudly in the wind, and may they always see the capes on your shoulders. May they soar into the sky, and may they always look back and see the man who grounded them well enough to allow them to fly.

Man of Steel

So I just watched the latest trailer for the new Superman movie and suddenly I can’t wait. I’ve been on the fence about this movie for a long time, and, in just two minutes, Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder have given me reason to hope. 

I was born in 1973, and, like every other boy my age, Christopher Reeve was, is, and always will be Superman. And Superman will always be my idol – the ideal I strive toward every waking day. I would have gotten the shield tattoo if not for goddamn Bon Jovi. But I’ve dreamt my entire life of putting on the red cape and soaring into the sky. I choke up every single time I hear the John Williams theme song, and in preparation for this summer, I’ve been choking up a lot. But there’s another reason, too.

See, Ryder is now a Superman fan. He’s got the Underoos (which are now readily available, as opposed to when I was kid, and also much more flame retardant, as opposed to when I was a kid); he knows the score (aforementioned John Williams). He’s seen me wearing the T-shirt since his birth, and he’s had at least one of his own. He even had a Superman birthday party a few weeks ago. Full-on, too – Supes bouncy house and costumes for both father and son. My own costume, however, was slightly modified, as I discovered there’s a reason why kids look cute in Spandex costumed and adults do not. Two words: dance belt. Thus, my own costume consisted of the cape from the costume (the only flattering part of the whole ensemble), a replacement for my old, well-loved and now ill-fitting shield T-shirt, shorts, and lots of beer. I called it Barbecue Superman, and I eagerly await my action figure. Guests were invited to bring their own capes, or we would help them make one of their own. A couple of brave souls took us up on it, and there’s a photo floating around of some SuperDads. Awesome. 

But my son also loves Superman. And this was done by me very much on purpose. Until recently he hadn’t much exposure to the character. We just watched the Reeve film for his first time about a month before his birthday, and I have to interject that, while dated in many, many ways, Christopher Reeve still shines. (Side note: I was one of few human beings who will admit they liked the 2006 reboot just fine – soon as the first notes of the theme music hit my ears, my throat closed up and I was seven years old again.) The experience with Ryder is one that will stay with me forever. As we watched Lois Lane’s helicopter plummet over the roof of the Daily Planet and Clark Kent searched desperately for a phone booth in which to change, Ryder started to scream because he didn’t want Lois to fall. He got more and more upset, crying and jumping, honestly frightened for this character in the film for whom he had enormous empathy and whom he did not want to see hurt. I had to reassure him several times in the next minute that it would be all right, because Superman was coming, and he would save the day. When the Man of Steel finally rocketed toward the falling copter and caught both it and Lois, both of us breathed deeply and relaxed. The rest of the movie continued without further incident, for which I was glad, and we enjoyed every second of it. For days after, Ryder would tell me and everyone else how scared he was when the copter was falling, but that then Superman would come and “save the day”. 

It gets better. Now, Ryder plays Superman and rushes thru the house saving people (as any good little boy should) from imaginary threats, holding these innocents in his arms, protecting them and depositing them safely elsewhere. He also talks often of how he’s Superman too, and how he’ll save the day. And I love him for it. 

See, I’ve always used Superman as my moral compass. From my earliest memories, I’ve held him up as a symbol of the best it is possible for humanity to be. Never mind the facts that 1)he’s fictional, and 2)he’s an alien – not important in the least. He taught me that power does not and should not make you superior. He taught me that the best thing you can do is help those who cannot help themselves, and that a hero is measured by his deeds. He taught me that striving toward an ideal is important, and that, no matter its source, it’s good to have that ideal. Christopher Reeve embodied that ideal for me as a young boy, and, if the trailer gives me any glimpse of the quality of the story being told in the new film, Henry Cavill will do the same for my son. I have plenty of issues with the casting choice – looks the part, yes, not an American actor, not happy about that, because I’m a little tired of European actors grabbing all the American roles (and yes, there is something very American about Superman, but this entire tangent deserves its own post on a very different blog) – but if he does his job well, and Snyder and Nolan have done their job well, the IDEAL of Superman will shine thru, and it will give my son an example of what the best in us can be. 

Ryder and I listen to the theme song from Superman very often in the car, and he also asks me to sing it to him sometimes. I happily oblige, “Daaa-da-da-da-DAAAAAH”-ing my way thru the entire piece. I memorized it as a child, and I have never forgotten it. I’ve heard that it won’t make an appearance in the new film, and I guess I’ll have to be okay with that, but anytime we’re in the car, guess which music I’m gonna play? And it matters to me on this level: Right now, at this moment, and for a certain number of years, my son will look up at me and he will consider me his ideal, the man whom he strives to become. I am his hero. His Superman. So it’s important for me to continue to strive toward that ideal myself, to be worthy of that love, that adoration, that worship. I have to earn the right for him to tell me that, when he grows up, he wants to be just like me. Every father is Superman to his son. Never forget that. 

This is terribly important in the world today, especially in light of the events yesterday in Boston. We need heroes in the world today to remind us all that people, as a whole, are decent, and that they deserve better and more. They deserve to be protected, they deserve to be loved. They deserve to believe that there is someone, somewhere, who will help them no matter who they are, no matter color of their skin, no matter the people they love, no matter how much money they make. They deserve a hero who will stand up to those who would beat them down, who would cause them pain, who would tell them that they do not matter. We all deserve a Superman to watch over us. 

In the trailer, Superman sits in a questioning room with Lois Lane (Henry Cavill and Amy Adams), and she asks him why he wears an S on his chest. He responds, “This isn’t an S. On my world, this means ‘hope’.” It’s always meant that to me. 

So maybe I will get that tattoo someday after all. 

The Nap

I’m lying in bed with my son as he sleeps. It’s late afternoon (he’s a late napper), and he’s had a busy, energetic day. He’s trying to refuse naps lately, but he obviously still needs them, so we lie down and take one every day. Yesterday he played so hard that he fell asleep in the car on the way home for naptime, and I had to carry him in and change him from underwear and jeans into a pull-up diaper (potty training proceeds apace) while he was sleeping. Thankfully, he never fluttered an eyelid.

It’s really something else. My wife sleeps in bed with him most nights, and I can understand why. I was against it for a long time, mainly because he had been sleeping on his own since he was a month old and it was working great. He got sick last year, tho, and she brought him into our bed, and from then on he didn’t want to sleep alone. I made my peace with it and have learned to enjoy my own solo time in bed – a queen size all to yourself is nice and roomy – and in general I try to let him sleep alone during naptime.

All of this goes out the window, of course, if he wakes up mid-nap in a panic, screaming for me. Then, as any good dad would, I bolt into the room and lie with him to calm him down and soothe him back to sleep. I usually finish the nap with him after that (and let’s face it, that’s most likely what I was doing on my own, anyway. He’s not the only one who needs a nap).

However, today I had decided pre-nap that round two of coffee was a necessity, and so when the time came to fall asleep with a book on my chest, instead I read fifty pages (Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park sequel The Lost World) and tossed around some. Just then the familiar cry came from Ryder’s room, the bookmark went in, and I climbed into bed next to my boy.

Ryder often half-wakes like this. Moaning, eyes still squeezed shut, standing on the bed. I speak softly to him, and he lays back down, squirms and moans a little more, eventually makes contact with my body somehow (two days ago he held my nose for five minutes), and sinks back into sleep. So it was today, as he found my side with his feet and stretched out diagonally across the bed. I scoot him around a little so I can actually keep my body weight on the bed an not hang in limbo over the edge, and I settle down to try to snooze with him.

No good. Hence the post. But as I lie here typing into the nap’s best friend, the iPhone, I’m watching Ryder sleep. He’s not as deep in as some days, a little wriggly, but still out like a light. And it’s on days like this that I appreciate why my wife likes to sleep with him every night.

The peaceful look on a child’s face as they sleep is one of the most beautiful things in the world. Completely serene, calm, unconcerned with anything else at that moment. Granted, he’s unconscious, but it’s a wondrous thing to behold, because it reminds me that, for him, the world is a wondrous place, to be explored and claimed and conquered, and every day is met with bright eyes, enthusiasm, and glee.

That’s the face my son shows me every morning when he comes into my room to wake me up. It makes me smile just thinking about it, and it reminds me that, despite all of our problems, our bills, our anger, our defeat – despite all of the shit that we as adults have to deal with on a daily basis to provide the things that he needs, it’s worth it to give him the opportunity to explore this world and to make it his own. And you need lots of rest to go forth and conquer like that.

So naptime is essential. And during that time, I find myself at peace, calm, serene, unconcerned – I reach that same state of Zen that my son lives in, a joyous celebration of the Moment, the Now, and I cherish the fact that I get to share that with him every day.

Then, he shoves his feet into my spleen.

Newtown, CT

This is not the way I would have liked to return to blogging. I would much rather post something funny and mildly uplifting making fun of the Mayan Apocalypse, but I can’t.

I just can’t. Because, like every other parent I know and most rational human beings, I’m in a state of furious shock at the events of today. I’ve been trying all day to find a way to say some of the things that have been running thru my mind without sounding pedantic, trite, or even political. And yet I’m not sure there’s a way to process any of this without either saying something that is one or all of those things or just screaming.

I am filled with horror at what happened in Connecticut today. As a parent, I’ve spent a good chunk of the day imagining how I would feel if I were in that same situation, and inevitably my heart starts to pound and I get panicked. For parents, this is truly the stuff of nightmares. The absolute terror of something irreversible happening to your child is only topped by the feeling of utter helplessness at the news. I’ve never had anything remotely as awful as what happened today happen to me, so I can only imagine, and I’m sure my imagination, for once, cannot compare to reality. My heart aches in my attempts to comprehend what the families of today’s victims must be going thru, and I wish I knew something that I could do or say that could help in any way at all, all the while recognizing the futility of such an effort. What can you say? There’s nothing that I can think of that would comfort me if someone dared to harm a single hair on my son’s head. If anything, it would most likely add fuel to the fire of my rage.

That’s what I feel most of all right now. Rage. I am beyond outraged that something like this has happened yet again in this country. I am beyond furious that it happened in a school to children. What I want to do most of all is punish the piece of shit who did this. At the moment, I neither know nor care about his motivations or his pain. He ceased to become a human being to me when he made the conscious decision to harm children. And I’m beyond furious that, for many reasons, I cannot exercise my desire for vengeance. And that’s what I want, because if this had happened to my son, I would not hesitate to destroy the filth who did it.

But it didn’t happen to my son. It didn’t happen to me. It is not my place to act on that desire even if it were possible. However, the rage remains, and there’s another side to it. I’m outraged that we continue to allow this to happen. We continue to make weapons easily available to people who should not have access to them. The Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms, yes, but unfortunately it doesn’t say anything about learning how to use that gun responsibly. You look at gun control laws in other countries, and you can see that it does reduce the number of gun-related violent crimes and deaths, and you’d be a fool not to see the correlation. I’m not saying take away our guns – not at all. I’m saying that, if you choose to own a gun, you should accept responsibility for the fact that you now are capable of ending the life of another human being instantly.

Guns make killing people all too easy. It takes no more than the will to do it and the movement of a finger. Hell, I’m expending more effort to type this blog than it would take to pull a trigger and erase another person from existence. That’s an awesome responsibility. Before the existence of firearms, it required a supreme effort to take the life of another human being simply because you would have to do it with your own two hands, and you can bet that he was doing the same to you. It would seem to me that if you had to work that hard not only to try to kill him but also to stay alive yourself, you would understand the magnitude of the responsibility you would bear. But in our race to make life simpler and easier, we have made it simple and easy to kill. Just point and click. And we don’t seem to want to take responsibility for that at all. And that makes me furious.

Politicos and pundits are, of course, saying that now is not the time to bring the gun control debate up, but they’ve said that every single time this has happened in the last twenty years. It was only a few weeks ago when a gunman entered a movie theatre in Colorado and opened fire. We’ve barely recovered from that. It was only a few months ago that another gunman entered a temple in Wisconsin and did the same thing. THIS HAS HAPPENED SEVERAL TIMES THIS YEAR. WHEN IS THERE GOING TO BE A RIGHT TIME? IF NOT NOW, WHEN?

I don’t have an answer, but I know this: we need to take action so that no more babies suffer. It never should have come to this. If this is what humanity is coming to, then maybe having the Apocalypse around the corner won’t be such a bad thing. We seem intent on destroying ourselves in any case. We screw with our food, our water, our air, our genes, we allow corporations to make the worst decisions in the name of profit, and we encourage an attitude of selfishness and fear that makes it next to impossible to trust each other and makes it supremely easy to destroy each other instead. We seem either to take some perverse delight in our achievement at the cost of the suffering of others, or, even worse, we seem to be completely indifferent to it. We just. Don’t. Care. Why should we give a fuck about anyone else? What have they done for me?

We’re all in this together, people. It doesn’t matter what color your skin is, whether you sleep with boys or girls, whether you’re a liberal or a conservative – we all love our children. We all want to see them grow up, laugh, cry, celebrate, mourn, live, love, have children of their own, do amazing, wonderful things. But there are twenty children now who will never do any of those things. Why aren’t we doing something about that?

I know that I’m saying what a lot of people are saying. I don’t feel any better for saying it, even tho I had to. I’m still just angry and sad. And grateful. Of course, I’m grateful, because when I wake up tomorrow, I’ll be able to hold my son and smile at his beautiful face. And I’m heartbroken that I can’t do more to help the parents who won’t.

Jesus, Newtown, I’m so sorry. And I’m angry for you. I’m crying and screaming with you because I don’t know what else to do.

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother

I want to talk about the word “brother” and what it means to me.

I’m an only child. I’m the only child of an only child. As a result, I value my privacy and my alone time. I’m used to having my own space for at least a small part of every day. It’s one of the reasons I’m sitting out on my porch right now as I write this – I appreciate solitude and the opportunity to think, reflect, and let my mind wander. It’s when I get my best writing done. I’m uncomfortable, in fact, writing when there’s even someone else in the room – doesn’t matter what the content of whatever I’m writing may be, I just don’t like anyone looking over my shoulder while I’m doing it. It interrupts my thought process. I become hyper aware of the presence of another and it makes it hard to focus and get the job done.

That being said, I love my friends, and I love their company. I get antsy if I don’t get to spend time with the people I care about, as well. One of the things I miss about my early adulthood was the freedom just to drop in on a friend and hang out, go out, drink, talk, laugh, whatever – no plans, no intention, just dropping in on a whim and being welcomed. Those days are pretty much gone, as adult life takes over and everything has to be planned and scheduled – even spending time with those same people now can take months of coordination to actually occur. Granted, my oldest friends now live two time zones away, so it’s understandably more difficult to just pop by (in fact, not one of them has done it yet!), but even seeing my local friends usually takes a series of emails, texts, and messages thru the Face to get put into iCal and synced onto the phone. Ahh, the good old days….

But friends are important to me. Possibly moreso than some people, and this is due, I feel, to the fact that I’m an only child. My friends are my surrogate family, and I mean that in the most honest sense. I have a handful of men in my life, most of whom I’ve known for more than two decades, whom I call my brothers, and I know full well what that term implies. It means a bond as strong as blood, and in some cases, stronger. I’ve got one friend whom I’ve known longer than anyone else, and he’s my brother.  Not only does he know where the bodies are buried, but he’s the one who brought the shovel. Metaphorically speaking, yeah, but if I needed it for real, he’s the one I would call, and I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that he would come running, shovel in hand. Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci, standing over the trunk of the car in the middle of the night. Brothers, man.

Male bonding is a powerful thing. I’ve been told by various women that they have a more difficult time establishing and maintaining close friendships because they’re raised to be more cautious of one another, that each of them is out for herself, and that it takes a long time for women actually to become solid true friends. I don’t know if this is a generational thing or a specifically cultural phenomenon or what, but I’ve been told this by more than one woman that I’m close to. Men, by contrast, can share a few (okay, several) beers and be fast friends by the time the tab arrives. Or by the time they pass out. I’m oversimplifying, to be honest, but it does seem that it’s a lot easier for men to open up and to trust each other.

The bond of friendship between men is sacred, is holy. Loyalty is one of the things that truly seems to matter to men of all kinds. If a man puts his trust in you, he expects it to be returned, and he can be devastated by betrayal. I know, I’ve had it happen to me. But when a friend is a true friend, it’s an amazing thing. It’s extremely intimate, and for some men, it’s the most intimate they can be with another human being. That’s a subject for another blog, but for some men, it’s true.

It’s left over from the days when men had to rely on each other to survive on a daily basis – it’s the same spirit of camraderie that exists in men who serve together in the military. When you have to depend on the man next to you to keep you alive, you get pretty close. And you tend to remain close, especially if you’ve been thru hell together. It’s a powerful, beautiful thing, and I hope that there’s a female equivalent. I really do.

My son is an only child. He may not remain one forever, but it’s possible. And in either case, I want him to learn how to trust other men and to form these bonds of friendship. They’ll carry him thru hard times and lift him even higher during great times. And it doesn’t matter if the man in whom you would entrust your life has even a shred of the same DNA as you – all that matters is that you get each other, that you’ll be there for each other, you’ll know each other’s secrets, weaknesses, strengths – all that matters is that he’s your brother.

May The Force Be With You… Always

First, apologies for such a long gap between posts. Definitely not my intention, and it’s something I’ll rectify pretty quickly now that we’re settled. We moved from Burbank into Hollywood right after traveling for Christmas, so it’s been hectic. I’ve started a couple posts that need more work, but something happened this past week that I have to share. My son became a Jedi.

So just this past week Ryder suffered his first real illness. Nothing major, just a cold, but serious enough to require the whole family to hole up over the weekend and get him well again. And, of course, a large part of his recovery consisted of watching TV – kids’ shows like Sesame Street, Sid the Science Kid, Dinosaur Train (all Jim Henson productions, thanks again to the master) – as well as his favorite movies and some of ours.

Having a child watch television with you is a demanding task. Content becomes very important, and you begin to evaluate which of your own favorite flicks are suitable for a very receptive age. Ryder now repeats back most of what he hears, and so we’re much more careful about what we say around him. Those little ears are like FBI wiretaps – they hear all. But, there’s only so many times you can watch Kung Fu Panda in a week, no matter how awesome it is. Eventually you want something with real people. So when we chose entertainment for all of us, we kept things like language in mind.

Eventually I decided that it was time to initiate Ryder into the ways of the Force. No bad words in Star Wars, so Episode IV: A New Hope was popped in, and our journey to a galaxy far, far away began. He was hooked from the second the iconic logo hit the screen and John Williams’ unforgettable score blasted thru the speakers in what is probably better sound in my living room now than in the movie theatre where I saw the same movie for the first time at the tender age of four or five.

While it may seem like a little too much nostalgia for me to bring up Star Wars so close to a post about the Muppets, it’s not entirely my fault. Some genius decided that it was time to jump on the 3D revival bandwagon and re-release The Phantom Menace in theatres this year. Apparently, George Lucas is serious about his retirement from filmmaking and has realized that he may need some more cash if Red Tails doesn’t take off.

First, let me explain that in this household, there are only three Star Wars movies, and they were all made before 1985. Absolutely NONE of them use CGI for anything. Well, certain corrections and enhancements, but by and large, I’m a purist, and after the disappointment of the second (first??) trilogy and the completely unnecessary tampering with the original trilogy, I feel like the franchise has run its creative course. However, like every male of my age, I have a deep and abiding love for Lucas’ original efforts, Ewoks notwithstanding (I dug them at the time, but I was ten years old and the perfect target audience).

Regardless, Ryder and I had a ball watching the movie, and he’s now a fan. The rest of the night, he would repeat “Star Wars!” over and over again with a giant cheshire grin on his face. And it was because of this that I noticed just how much my little son is paying attention. The next day we were running errands in the morning and we passed a billboard for the upcoming 3D atrocity. I caught a glance of the billboard thru the driver’s side window and promptly ignored it. And then I heard a tiny voice from the backseat say, “Star Wars!”

Ryder had seen the billboard, too. We had watched Episode IV, the original Star Wars movie, with Luke, Leia, Han, Chewbacca, and the rest. Not a single one of these characters was anywhere to be found on the billboard. Darth Maul, Qui-Gon Jin and a young Obi-Wan were splashed across the surface. He hadn’t recognized any of them, had in fact never seen them in any recognizable context before. So how did he know the billboard was for Star Wars?

He had seen the logo.

The iconic Star Wars logo is the first thing that appears whenever one of the movies begins, and it’s one of the only things that connects the first trilogy to the second. Everyone  born after 1974 knows it. Including, apparently, my 22-month-old son. He had, in essence, read the sign.

That blew my mind. I know he’s smart. He picks things up super fast, and he repeats words back to me every day. We now have miniature conversations where he tells me what he wants, describes things that happened to him, tells me about people he’s been around, all in one and two-syllable words, all the time. We read at least a dozen books a day, and he has several of them memorized. He can recite the end of all the rhymes in The Cat In The Hat. But it blew my mind that he could recognize words that he had only seen for the first time the day before in a completely unfamiliar context and recall their original context. He makes cognitive leaps every day. Every. Single. Day. I know this, I just didn’t expect it to be proven so distinctly.

My son pulled off a mind trick worthy of a Jedi.

I mean, I know that’s what he’s doing, I know that it was going to happen anyway, and I know that the logo is really more of a graphic than just simple text. I also know he’s not thumbing thru my Riverside Shakespeare. But he’s on his way, and it’s an astounding thing to watch, every single day. He does amazing stuff all the time, and it’s an absolute joy to watch his little mind at work. You can literally see him thinking all the time, and it’s fascinating and astonishing and human and altogether wonderful. Makes me glad that he’s alive. And he’s not even two years old yet.

The Force is strong with this one.

So I guess we’ll be buying lightsabers soon, which is awesome.

Muppets Redux Review

So I’m probably not gonna make a habit of this, but in light of the experience I had last week seeing The Muppets with my family, I feel like it’s totally relevant to the whole idea of this blog. So today I’m gonna talk about the movie, the Muppets, and what they mean to my generation.

First of all, the day was great. We took Ryder to see a 10am show at Disney’s El Capitan Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. I had been there once before years ago for another nostalgia trip – an anniversary screening of TRON – and while that film just don’t hold up as well as the memories of it do, I remember being very impressed by the El Capitan. It smacks of Hollywood glamour and a devotion to the movies that you don’t get anywhere but here in Hollywood. It’s a gorgeous building, and for The Muppets it’s been bedecked in holiday style, with displays of faux presents all over the walls, as well as a preshow singalong event with Kermit and Miss Piggy, which was, indeed, awesome. Followed by snow. Yep, snow. In the theatre. Ryder loved it, and the medley of familiar holiday songs set the tone for the day. This was also Julee’s first experience in a Hollywood movie theatre, so here eyes were just as wide as Ryder’s as the LED curtains rose and the snow fell. Pretty great second moviegoing experience for the boy, but I gotta be careful not to set a standard that he’ll come to expect. Them seventeen-dollar tickets add up.

Anyway, the curtains rose and the movie began, and I was swept up in the magic of The Muppets just like everyone else in the theatre. First, it lives up to the hype. Jokes were spot on, songs were great, and even tho it’s probably a little too long for a kid audience, Kermit can still make me choke up like nobody else. Oh yeah, it’s loaded with opps to cry, and I’m surprised I made it thru the movie without having to change my shirt from all the tears. Cry Moment #1 came in Kermit’s office, as the camera pans past a wall of celebrity photos, and featured right in the middle is a picture of Jim Henson himself smiling with Kermie. That’s where the waterworks started. Cry Moment #7 or maybe 12 or more came near the end when those three sweet chords on the banjo echoed thru the theatre. I had “Rainbow Connection” playing in my head the rest of the week, and it was lovely. I knew going into it that they had to play that song at some point, and I couldn’t wait. It was like coming full circle for me, and I had a great time.

And this is what I really want to talk about – my own connection (and, by proxy, my generation’s connection) to the Muppets. I touched on this last week, and it’s been brewing in my head ever since, so I knew I had more to say about it. See, I grew up with the Muppets. They’ve been a part of my life since I can remember – they’ve always been there, and they’ve rarely disappointed in that time. My mom credits my early reading to a regular dose of Sesame Street, and I’m innoculating Ryder the same way (along with reading all the time with him myself – I don’t credit it all to the Muppets). I saw the first Muppet Movie with my dad and I’ve seen every subsequent Muppet film in the theatre as well. I never missed The Muppet Show. I cried along with everyone else in high school the day Jim Henson died, and while I’m still a fan, I can tell the difference between Kermit’s voice now and then. Jim’s unique quality just isn’t there, and I still miss it.

So I never outgrew the Muppets, and judging from the success of the current film, neither did anyone else my age. The Muppets were instrumental in shaping the collective mind of my generation. We all took Kermit’s lessons to heart, and we live by them to this day. The people who made the new movie knew that, and in all honesty, The Muppets was made for our generation, not for our children. Sarcasm and irony are huge components of the Muppet sense of humor, and it’s part of the reason my generation loves sarcasm so much. We grew up with puppets who made smartass comments to real people and to each other, so it’s no surprise it’s how we joke with our friends now. So in a sense, the Muppets contributed to the postmodern Zeitgeist of Generation X. How’s that for a mouthful of big words?

But it’s true. The movie was made with us in mind. Kids will dig it, because it’s the Muppets, and the Muppets are funny and cute and, well, they’re puppets. But they relate to it the same way we did when we were their age, and they don’t fully grasp all of the humor yet. Neither did we. Give ’em time, and it’ll come, but the  film is aimed at the adults who are simply thrilled to see their beloved friends on the screen again. The movie is about nostalgia. The plot revolves around this idea and does so extremely well. But think about it – the Pixar movies do the same thing, and who makes the Pixar movies? Kids who grew up on the Muppets. Who writes for The Office? Hmm?

See? I was right about the Zeitgeist thing. It’s how we all connect to each other, and it all starts with the Muppets.

So I’ve gone out of my way to try to share my experience with the Muppets with my son, in the hopes that it somehow builds a connection between us as well. I saw The Muppet Movie with my own dad, and while I’m sure he enjoyed it because I enjoyed it, it wasn’t really made for him. It was made for me, and it still is. But there’s a chance that, with the right effort, Ryder will grow up with the same love for the Muppets that I did. Well, not exactly the same, but similar, and it’s something that he and I will be able to share for the rest of our lives. Let’s face it, his clothes will be ridiculous and his music will be too goddamn loud, but hopefully we’ll both love the Muppets.

So when the new movie comes out on DVD, I’ll buy it, and Ryder and I will make a point out of watching it together for the next ten years or so, and then after he gets over his bitchy teen years we’ll watch it together again as adults, and maybe this time he’ll get all the jokes the same way I do. And maybe he’ll make it to the very end of the movie without fidgeting. But next time we watch it there won’t be a twenty-minute preshow.

Oh, and Jason Segel should never be allowed to dance. Never.

Muppets, man. Muppets.

So it’s been a busy month.

Since last we met, I’ve shot four commercials, shot video and recorded voiceover for a series of webisodes, and have been requested by the director of my first project to audition for another of his projects. Plus, I went straight to callbacks for a company who had put me on hold for another commercial of theirs about a month before and then not used me. Boom. Seems like once you start working out here, you can get on a roll. And I’m not exactly sure what has caused it. But I ain’t gonna knock it.

So please excuse the gap between posts – had a lot on my plate between that and the beginning of the holiday season. I hate to break a stride on anything, and it had been in my intention with this blog to write once a week. Boo. But, you get back on that horse as soon as you can. Now, if I can just do the same in the gym.

Enough about me. What am I gonna talk about today? The Muppets. Tomorrow’s my birthday (as well as my wife’s – yeah, yeah, we have the same birthday, how precious, it’s destiny, got all that out of the way, now let’s move on), and for our birthday we’ve got tickets to go see the eponymous adventure of the most famous puppets in the world at the Disney El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. Thank you, Family Finds – discount tix at a cool theatre space with the coolest kid in the world = awesomesauce. I’ve never used that word before in my life.

But, I can’t tell you how excited I am (and have been for months now) to see the Muppets on the big screen again. We’re late to the party, I know, by waiting until after opening week to see the film, and I’ve seen practically nothing but raves all over Facebook (and the rest of the internet, but that don’t count, right? Only The Face matters), so I’ve got even higher expectation and hopes. But I also know that my generation in particular is the generation that grew up with the Muppets, and we’re almost supernaturally attached to them. I vividly remember the day Jim Henson died: I was in high school, and I heard the news that morning on Channel One (Anyone? Anyone?) along with the news about Sammy Davis, Jr, and I remember thinking that people were so upset by the news that you’d thinking a president had died. I also felt personally that Sammy got shafted a little by the situation, but it turns out that Henson has had a bigger impact on the world, and especially my generation, than the Candy Man ever could have. All you have to do is look at the phenomenal success of Avenue Q to understand just how much Kermit the Frog means to the world.

So, much like the hoopla surrounding the new and rereleased Star Wars movies in 1999, I have waited with baited breath for the Muppets’ return to the silver screen. I’ve got several of the movies on DVD, and I choke up every time I watch the opening of the first Muppet Movie and hear Kermit pluckin’ the banjo and singing “Rainbow Connection”. Gets me every time. So I can’t wait for tomorrow morning. And the best part is, I’m taking my son with me to see it.

As I write this, Ryder is watching Sesame Street, which is his favorite show. Couldn’t be happier about this. While it’s not exactly the same show it was when I was a kid, it’s still the best thing out there for kids’ programming – entertaining, smart, and totally focused on the child while still being fun for adults, too. And Ryder LOVES Elmo. I’ve been skeptical of the Little Red Menace and his rise to stardom ever since the creepy explosion of the Tickle Me Elmo doll. That toy bothered me on a deep level, as did Teddy Ruxpin. However, while I thought the bear might kill me in my sleep, TME just made me feel dirty. Chalk it up to insecurity on my part, along with a healthy dose of nostalgia, but Elmo bothered me (as he did lots of people of my age) because he was something new and different on our beloved Sesame Street.

But, I’ve come around to the furry little guy, and it’s all because of Ryder. As I watch the show with him, I’ve tried to suss out what it is about Elmo that fascinates little children and makes them adore him so. In the end, I’ve decided it’s because Elmo talks directly to them throughout his entire segment of Elmo’s World. Throughout an SS episode, the fourth wall is broken every so often by a character looking at the lens and inviting the viewer to participate in the adventure, but the bulk of the story is focused on the characters on the show. Elmo, however, is talking to YOU. He’s your friend, and he invites you into his home to share his thoughts and feelings with you. He’s suddenly your bestie, and he’s always happy. So I think he’s become the favorite of a new generation of kids because they relate directly to him.

Anyway, I love that Ryder loves Sesame Street because I love Sesame Street, and I hope that he loves the movie tomorrow as much as I expect to love it. Hell, let’s be honest, I love it already, and I haven’t seen it yet. I’m predisposed to love it by association with those characters, and I’m pretty sure that the people who made the movie made it because of that same love, so I’m anticipating nothing but goodness. I could be disappointed, like I was with Episode I, but I doubt I will be. Plus, I’ll never forget that I got to see it with my son. That’s only gonna make me love the Muppets more.

Oh, and if you want to respond and tell me how much you loved the movie, go ahead. but no spoilers. Or I will hunt you down and kill you.

Workin’ Men

So I just booked my first two commercial gigs here in LA. Back-to-back. Feels good. I am officially a working LA actor.

The best part? I got one of these gigs because of my son.

Part of the setup that my wife and I established when we moved out here was to allow me to be both an actor and a stay-at-home dad. She has the full-time job while I stay home, take care of the young’un, and have the free time to go to auditions, submit myself for projects and agents, and do the actual work. It finally paid off this past week when I booked not one but two commercials. It’s the second one that I want to talk about more than anything.

When I tell people Ryder goes with me to auditions, they always ask me how it goes, how he behaves, how people respond, etc. So far, not a single casting director has even flinched about Ryder being in the room when I’ve auditioned. And he’s a wonderful kid. He sits in his stroller, fascinated by what’s going on, and occasionally he adds a well-placed laugh. I truly believe the kid has comic timing already. While I do think an interjection like this may have cost me a job on an occasion or two, for the most part, people think it’s funny and laugh right along with him. Why not? It’s no sweat off their noses, and dammit, he’s absolutely charming.

I mean that – Ryder is the kind of kid who lights up a room when he comes in. He flirts with everyone in the place. He waves, he smiles, he winks at the pretty girls (oh, yes he does), and he makes a great first impression. I’ve seen him charm a roomful of manly men at a callback, making them laugh like crazy (I didn’t get the job, but damn if he didn’t have a good time). I’ve had a roomful of men in a waiting room all drool and fawn over him, and one of these guys told me that he loves it when people bring kids to auditions because they relax him. He focuses on the kid and enjoying the moment instead of stressing about the audition, so he’s relaxed and in a great mood by the time he goes in front of the camera.

But the best proof of this came last week. Ryder and I drove out to Venice Beach for an audition. We got to the building, went up to the office, and as soon as the producer opened the door, both he and the director smiled like goofballs and began talking to him. Turns out the director is a new father as well, with a beautiful fifteen month old little girl. We spent almost ten minutes talking about our kids and how great it is to be a father before we even broached the subject of the audition. By the time we got around to the camera, Ryder had charmed them so well that they let him get out of the stroller and wander around the office playing with the phone, the stuff on the coffee table – they even offered to bring him snacks. They were so accommodating and glad to have him there. Amazing.

When we finally stepped in front of the camera, I auditioned with Ryder in my arms at their request. I did my bit, and he contributed a signature shout of “AH-HAAAH!” which got a huge laugh. The director was super positive told me he’d root for me with the producer, and it was all great. We then spent another five or ten minutes talking about my life and the recent move to LA. Ryder and I stood out on the balcony of the beachfront office, and I mentioned casually that we hadn’t actually been to Venice Beach yet, so the director told me about a great playground up the beach that we had to see before we left, and then he pulled out his wallet and gave me five bucks to cover parking at the beach lot. He wanted me to have the experience with Ryder so much that he paid for parking.

Think the audition went well?

Ryder and I walked up the beach and explored Venice a little, altho we never made it to the playground because Ryder LOVES the beach. He loves to play in the sand, and I had to restrain him from running into the ocean. Otherwise, we had a great time. By the time we got back to the car, I got a call from the director saying I had booked the job. He told me that I would probably have gotten the job on my own regardless, but the producers loved Ryder. He sealed the deal. Plus, he’ll probably end up in the spot with me. So now my son and I are both working LA actors. Awesome.

Ultimately, tho, it’s proof that having a child doesn’t have to mean you can’t be an actor, even in a city like LA. Granted, my setup at home is incredibly helpful to the whole situation – since we don’t have to worry about a second income to pay bills, I’ve got the time to audition at will (naptime notwithstanding), and this gives me a leg up over an actor/dad who also has to hold down even a part-time job. But as I said earlier, people ask me all the time how casting directors respond to Ryder’s presence at auditions, and my answer is always the same: as far as I can tell, they don’t mind him there at all. The director asked me the same question, and when I gave him my answer, he nodded approvingly and said, “Good, they shouldn’t.”

I run into other dads all the time at auditions, so I know my situation isn’t unique, and so far not a single person has flinched at Ryder’s presence. Plus, I’ve gotten work with and without him now, so I know it doesn’t seem to affect my consideration and can indeed help.

There have been auditions where I’ve chosen not to take him for various reasons – I had an audition for a TV show at Fox, and since I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t want to hedge my bets, Overall there seems to be a lot of consideration out here for the fact that actors have lives outside of the biz. Makes me feel better not only about the decision to move out here but also about the business itself. Casting directors, producers, directors – it’s easy to forget that they’re all people, too, and they have husbands, wives, and kids – they have families, and family is important. At least, it is to the kind of people you want to work with. So far, tho, that’s been the case with everyone I’ve met, and that’s pretty cool.

I didn’t get the role at Fox, tho, so who knows? Maybe I should have auditioned with Ryder for that one. It was to play a dad to a young boy, after all, and I got that role nailed. Far as I can tell.

No Use Crying Over Split Lips

Ryder fell down and busted his lip Friday night. We were at the mall, and my wife was trying to tie his shoe. Well, he doesn’t like his shoes much, and getting him to stand still while you try to tie them is like trying to ride a bronco – if you can get him still for eight seconds, you can do it, but he’s gonna fight you the whole way. So he tried to move, and BAM! Over he went, face first onto the floor of the store. Split his lip, and the blood began to flow.

Julee felt awful. She said she saw it happening, and she feels like it’s her fault he fell because essentially he tripped over he hands while she was trying to tie his shoe. First time he’s ever busted his lip, and, as lips do, it bled a lot. Julee freaked out, partly because of the blood, partly because of the shock of the event, and partly because she feels responsible. Terrible.

I, on the other hand, quickly assessed the situation and concluded that, yes, he busted his lip, no, he didn’t knock out any of his teeth, and once the crying stops, he’ll be fine. Within about five minutes, both the crying and the bleeding had stopped, and Ryder was happy again, albeit now fascinated by how his lip felt. It was swollen, and it was a good split, but nothing serious. Considering how much he likes to run and how easily he can trip over his Converse One Stars, it’s actually amazing that it’s taken him nine solid months of walking to bust his lip. He seems to have an uncanny ability to catch himself before his face smacks the ground. In any case, within minutes he was his normal, happy, rambunctious self, and it was as if nothing had happened. Julee still felt awful, but we finished our shopping trip and went home without further incident.

I sound like I’m bragging, don’t I? “I’m so manly, I knew he wasn’t hurt, while my poor wife freaked out.” Not the case at all. I’ll try to eloborate.

First: I’m around Ryder all the time, and my wife isn’t. I’m much more familiar with his moods, his temperament, his reactions, etc., than she is, and I can respond to what I read from him faster and usually more accurately just because it’s kind of like a private language that he and I share. Julee’s not bad at it, she just doesn’t know it as well as I do. As soon as I heard him cry, I could tell it wasn’t too serious, because he has a very specific cry when he’s just plain mad about something – it builds from silence. There’s the moment of the incident itself, and then, you see him gear up for it. He stands perfectly still, and his little face twists up into a knot, his mouth open in a round frown, he may utter a small scream, then he takes a good three to five seconds to prep for it. Holding his breath, he builds the anticipation, planning the exact moment to suck in a sharp breath and then blast it out in a long, loud, high-pitched shriek. His little lungs are the most efficient bellows I’ve ever seen, and he can break your eardrums.

It’s the pause, however, that really always lets me know it’s not as bad as it’s about to sound. He’s inherited a flair for the dramatic from both of his parents, and he’s already developed a razor-sharp sense of timing. So he’s got his bit that he’s worked up for maximum dramatic effect, and it’s very recognizable. Under the right circumstances, it’s damn funny. Not Friday, tho, because he obviously had been hurt, albeit not severely.

Second, boys bust their lips. All the time. Boys scrape their knees. They black their eyes, they cut and scratch up their arms and legs, they bump their heads, they get hurt. It’s what boys do. Trust me, I used to be one, so I know. So once I took a quick look at his mouth and could tell he hadn’t knocked a tooth loose, I pretty much let it go. “He’s okay,” I said, while Julee’s eyes watered up and she frantically rushed him out of the store looking for a bathroom. Boys are physical, so injuries are to be expected. Granted, broken bones and severe bleeding are different stories, but a busted lip is nothing to freak out about, because he takes his lead from us. If we lose our shit, he loses his. So I decided to remain calm and not make a big deal out of it so that he would hopefully calm down quickly once he realized it wasn’t a serious injury. And that’s exactly what happened.

Third, this incident and my experience earlier in the day made me start thinking about boys and men, injuries and pain. It’s a subject that most males quickly become familiar with, and many of them make it a part of daily life.

The thing that I think impresses me the most about Ryder’s reaction to this situation (and others) is that, to me, it seems that he gets mad about it. He’s hurt, he’s crying, yes, but instead of just sobbing and feeling bad, it pisses him off. I’m kind of the same way when I get hurt – it doesn’t bother me so much as it annoys me and makes me mad as hell. Now I’ve got another inconvenience to deal with, thanks a pantload. So it looks like he’s learning to take his licks and get back up, and this makes me feel good about his chances in life. If he can learn that getting knocked down doesn’t have to mean the fight is over, he’ll be stronger for it. It means he’s not afraid.

BUT:

Despite my seemingly cavalier attitude about Ryder’s little accident, it hurts me every time I know he’s in real pain. If he screams his for-real scream when I’m in the other room, I rush in there, preparing myself for the worst, and thankfully I’m usually relieved to see that it isn’t as bad as it could be. Even when it’s a diaper rash, I want to make it go away.

Julee’s a worrier, I’m not. At least, not to the same degree. Last night we were watching the History Channel’s “Zombie Apocalypse” special (a hoot, by the way), and I started talking about the fact that I personally have devoted time in my thoughts to considering what my zombie preparedness kit would consist of – which weapons to use, how much gear to carry, and so on. Great use of my free time, huh? Julee laughs and says, “Meanwhile, I think about who’s gonna get cancer. Your attitude is probably healthier.”

Maybe she’s right. By spending time mentally considering a worst-case scenario, I can prepare myself for how to deal with smaller-scale incidents. I’ve got a vivid imagination, and I’ve imagined horrible things happening to myself and to those I love plenty of times. Somehow, I’m able to process these things fairly safely and put them in the back of my mind to use when necessary. By becoming familiar with them, I teach myself not to fear them. Julee worries about them instead. As a result, when Ryder gets hurt, my first response is to calmly assess the situation and then take any necessary action. I’m a Red Cross CPR Trainer, so the first time Ryder started to choke as an infant, I knew exactly how to take care of it. I managed to perform the necessary actions quickly and confidently with no hesitation. He was less than six months old.

Honestly, I surprise myself that I’ve become this capable of dealing with an emergency situation. I wasn’t always like that. But I kind of look at what’s happening, and I’m usually able to say, “Well, it could be a helluva lot worse.” But that’s part of my job as a father, isn’t it? To protect and take care of my son, sometimes I’ll have to hide my own fear and take care of business. How can I teach my son not to be afraid if I can’t control my own fear? Push it away and be strong until the danger is past, and then let it go. If I’m gonna be around him all the time, I’d better be prepared to handle whatever happens.

Boys fall down, boys get cuts, scrapes and bruises, they break bones, they black eyes, they acquire scars, and scars aren’t necessarily bad things. But the truth is, no matter what happens – no matter how I react to it on the outside, whether I laugh it off or dismiss it or just put a Band-Aid on it – every time he gets hurt, it hurts me more. When your child is hurt, it hurts your heart, and that hurts more than any physical pain. I know exactly what my mother meant whenever she said, “This is gonna hurt you more than it hurts me.” I want my son to be tough, strong, confident, brave, capable of defending himself and others, but I never want him to get hurt. I know it’ll happen, but I don’t want it to. I may jump in and handle the situation first, I may react calmly and confidently at the time, but there’s always a moment afterward where I stop to consider what could have happened. And that’s when I get scared. Once I let my imagination run wild. But letting it run wild allows me to blow off the emotional steam and get rid of the shit that can build up behind worry. It’s mental exercise, making my muscles stronger and more flexible, more adaptable and ready to respond when needed. So I lift the weights and I put them down, and each time I go back I can lift a little bit more. Nietzsche had it right: that which does not kill us makes us stronger. But only if you let it.

We don’t want to see our children in pain, ever. We know they’ll have to deal with it at some point, and dreading the day that they do just makes it worse for us as parents. It’s one of those things where you try to be an optimist, where you hope for the best and prepare for the worst. But let that preparedness be your armor, your shield, allow it to help you protect your children, not shelter them. Because they’re gonna fall down, and they’re gonna run to you when they do to make it all better.