War of The Pets

Growing up, if you played any sort of game with my friends and I you needed to keep your eyes open. I often kept an extra stash of monopoly money in my sock for when funds starting running low. When Chris leaned across a Risk board to make a move, “paratroopers” would often fall from his sleeve to reinforce weaker positions. If you didn’t bring your own pack of cards to Jeff’s house, you might as well just leave your money at the door. When we played, we played to win.

The wooden horse of the battle of Troy, the Persian’s secret path at Thermopylae, Operation Fortitude misdirecting the Axis forces from Normandy,  Boise State’s Statue of Liberty play to end the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. History is filled with battles won not by skill and strength but with guile and cunning.

Add to these victories The War of The Pets, a battle that I had thought won until falling victim to some dirty pool, a desperation move that I had no answer for.

My wife told the kids that we could get a puppy. They just needed to get me to agree.

Meet Brady.




I had thought my own flanking maneuver of a few years ago had ended this battle. Not realizing how relatively inexpensive they are, I’d driven over an hour in answer to a “free bunny” ad. Bearing no resemblance to the cute little thing I’d envisioned, I still believed this enormous rabbit would fill our family’s pet needs. I had a bunny in my early twenties and remembered him being very low maintenance, easily litter box trained.

As easy as they are to care for, bunnies really aren’t very interactive. It’s amusing to watch him jump around the house, but he isn’t much of a cuddeler. After the initial novelty wore off, I found myself increasingly alone in caretaker duties.




The teenager briefly entered the fray, making the bold tactical decision to bring a kitten home while the wife and I were out of town. This strategy worked about as well as Colonel Custer’s at Little Big Horn.

I put up a good fight. I know all of the ways that this dog will benefit the kids. The teaching of responsibility and encouragement of care of nurturing. Studies have shown that children with pets have higher self esteem, improved social skills, and are more likely to be physically active. The therapeutic and emotional benefits from being around animals are well documented.

He’s also going to be a lot of work. At a time when the five year old is growing more and more self sufficient, a new, hairier baby has entered the household. Another needy, whiny little beast crying out for food and attention.

The irony is that I had spent the past week debating the merits of purchasing a guinea pig, another small, cageable animal that might be more receptive to being held than the jackass jackrabbit.  I debated, but ultimately I waited too long. I fell before a decisive strike.

I debated, and now I have myself a dog to take care of.


“The worst calamities that befall an army arise from hesitation” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War.



Nerd Night With Kevin Smith

This past weekend marked the return of TerrifiCon to the Mohegan Sun Casino, an event that I’d been waiting for much longer than I should probably admit. Somewhat less excited was my wife, my sidekick for this year’s adventure. A child-free night in a hotel room and promises of dinner and drinks significantly aided in increasing her enthusiasm.

Part of the problem was my inability to properly explain what it was I was dragging her to. Yes, there were comic books, rows of vendors selling T-shirts, toys, posters, and books. Alongside these were booths for comic creators, legendary artists and writers like Neal Adams and Jerry Ordway available for signings. There were also people talking about comic books. She was amazed at the number of people willing to pack conference rooms for a lecture about the history of DC Comics or a panel discussion about Captain America’s place in pop culture over the past seventy-five years.

More interesting to a non-enthusiast was cool stuff like the Batmobile from Tim Burton’s Batman films and all the celebrity appearances.  On Saturday we saw Jason Mewes, Jeremy Landon and Katrina Law among many others.  Michael Cudlitz, Abraham from The Walking Dead, was a lot smaller in person than I would have guessed.




People watching is about as entertaining at a comic-con as anyplace else that you will ever go. Where else are you going to see Freddy Krueger stopping for a quick chat with Iron Man?




Equally as hard to explain was our night time entertainment, an Evening With Kevin Smith. Just describing what he does is difficult. In 1994 Smith wrote and directed the movie Clerks, using $27,000 of his own money and filming at the convenience and video stores where he actually worked. Shot entirely in black and white it’s one of my favorite comedies, and one of my favorite films in general. All of his movies feature prominently in my DVD collection.

He produces the television show Comic Book Men, a reality show set in a comic book store that he owns, co-hosts a late night talk show called Geeking Out, and plays Silent Bob in his early movies. His stints as writer of the Daredevil and Green Arrow comic books are some of my favorites with the characters and his two Batman mini-series are also bagged and boarded in my basement.

He’s a renaissance man, but most importantly he’s an extremely gifted storyteller, whatever the medium. The event we attended was billed as a question and answer session, something that he does often, but the audience questions could more accurately be called prompts, a jumping off point for musings and exposition on anything and everything.

We stayed for three hours and it was interesting, often hilarious, and sometimes poignant, as when he discussed his friendship with the late Alan Rickman, took the cellphone of an audience member who’s friend  was unable to attend due to a family death and called him, and when he came off stage to hug a veteran who told a story about his PTSD support group watching Kevin Smith movies together.

If it sounds like I’m a big fan, I won’t deny it.  As silly as I find it when people pay attention to the private lives of celebrities, I follow this dude across all his social media channels. I have a signed copy of a tongue in cheek book of life lessons that he wrote and he’s the first name I’d give if asked about famous people I’d want to have dinner with.

I also loved  the way he handled an Internet troll that posted some terribly cruel things on the Instagram page of his daughter, seventeen year old Harley Quinn. Instead of lashing out the way I probably would have, it was taken in stride, simply something that unfortunately happens to public figures. Instead he offered the offender some words of wisdom, telling him that “the better use of your time is to make YOUR dreams come true, instead of slamming others for doing the same. Show the world WHY we should be paying attention to you instead of anyone else. Create something nobody’s ever seen before and there is a good chance the world will notice you.”

Impressive magnanimity, and also good advice for all of us.




Show Me The Money




My wife and I both owned our own homes when we first met, so by selling the two we were capable of purchasing a pretty nice house that we wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise. We both work part time, but make enough to be able to make ends meet with enough left over for an occasional night out or weekend away.

Our children, however, seem to have gotten the inaccurate idea that we have an endless supply of money and therefore should be able to buy them whatever they want without question and either order take out or visit a restaurant nightly. The fact that they never get what they want and are fed home made dinners almost every night doesn’t in any way seem to dissuade them.  I don’t believe them to be spoiled, just very persistent and quite possibly a little delusional.

It’s time to begin some real lessons about the value of money.

I expected it to be easy with the teenager. After an extended period away from home, with no means of supporting herself, I would have thought that an appreciation for the cumulative cost of basic necessities like deodorant and shampoo would have been acquired. She’s been encouraged to seek some sort of employment but so far her best prospect was rejected based on a dislike of somebody else that already worked there. We throw her a few dollars for babysitting once in a while and returning our bottles and cans is much more lucrative than it should be, but if she plans on driving anytime in the next decade, money is going to need to be saved.

With her little sister, the issues are different. When my parental alarms starting going off at the sudden quiet that had fallen over the house last week, she was found butt naked in the shower, using a sponge to clean the grout. Her explanation was that she knew that she wouldn’t get paid for doing any of the chores that are expected of her, such as cleaning her room.  She was correct. I certainly didn’t expect that.

I was also surprised to learn that she thought her earnings from this chore to be enough to buy herself a television for her room.

I thought about it for a while and was convinced that I had come up with the perfect plan for teaching her about buying power. Since she asks for a toy pretty much anywhere that we go, the idea was to show her what she could get for $3.00. There really isn’t much that can be bought for that amount other than maybe a pencil or a single matchbox car, so the option would be given to wait until the following week and have $6.00 to spend, just about enough for most action figures. Again the option would be presented to wait another week. Eventually I’d agree to buy one of the items that I seem to say “no” to just about every trip.

Unfortunately I’m about as in touch with the latest trends for five year olds as I am with the teenager.  Apparently the latest craze is something called a Mashem, a squishy, pocket-sized figure that’s a less bendable version of the old Stretch Armstrong that I had as a kid. Pretty much any licensed character you could want is available, from Avengers to My Little Ponies to Star Wars.

They seem to be available everywhere and have almost an entire aisle to themselves at Target. They cost $2.99 each.






A Headbanger’s Hypocrisy

I’ve never been known for my spontaneity.  I like routines, plans, my path marked out ahead of time. I feel that the true end of the stone age and the beginnings of civilization began when the Scots developed the first lunar calendar 10,000 years ago and started planning for future game migrations.

Whether out of necessity due to the kids or simply a matter of mellowing with age, I’ve become more flexible than I used to be. My wife was surprised but not completely shocked this past Saturday when I told her that our plans for the evening had changed. We were going to a rock show.


The show in question was The Carnival of Madness tour featuring Black Stone Cherry, Halestorm, and Shinedown.  I’ve been a big fan of the southern hard rock of Black Stone Cherry for a while, but was hesitant about spending the money and finding a babysitter to see a short set by the opening act.  Finding floor seats the day of the show for face value made the decision much easier and I’m glad that it did. Their forty minutes was worth the price of admission right out of the gate.




I was also very impressed by the headliners, Florida rockers Shinedown. They’ve recorded many songs that I’ve liked since 2004’s breakout cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” but I’m not sure that I appreciated just how many. Front man Brent Smith sounded fantastic and they put on an extremely entertaining show.




Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the middle act, Halestorm. They get played a lot on several of my Pandora stations and songs such as “Bet You Wish You Had Me Back” and “Here’s To Us” seem to indicate that lead singer Lzzy Hale has a decent voice, but she inexplicably spent the entire performance screaming her lyrics. There seemed to be an effort to make their music “heavier” when played live that I didn’t find particularly effective.




Also hard to explain was my reaction to a fellow concertgoer. He was oblivious, across the room actually, but that neither excuses nor justifies.

The guy in question was about my age and had a little girl, I’m guessing just over four years in age, on his shoulders. She appeared to be having a blast, pumping her fists and generally rocking out to the music. Instead of celebrating this daddy/daughter moment I committed the most heinous crime that a parent can perpetrate against another. I judged.

I judged, thinking instead about the 120 decibel level she was being exposed to, the potentially irreversible damage being done to her still developing inner ear and how the least he could have done is moved further back from the speakers.

Communication with my wife was difficult, but upon pointing them out to her she replied that she “hoped the kid is wearing earplugs.”


I have no idea if the kid was wearing them or not, but it never even crossed my mind and I feel like I owe that dad an apology. I exhibited exactly the same behavior that I spend so much much time here railing against. My hypocrisy was inexcusable.

My daughter is getting old enough to start developing her own tastes and interests when it comes to pop culture. Many of the songs that she requests in the car now are  rock music and when she makes up her own songs they often are sung in a voice closer to Metallica’s James Hetfield than to Taylor Swift.  I don’t know when I will bring her to her first rock show but when I do, I hope she enjoys it as much as this little girl appeared to be. I’ll also be sure to make her wear earplugs.

Hopefully there won’t be some jackass across the room judging me.





An “OK” Dad Day


I like to think that I’m a pretty good dad. Most days I’d go so far as to say that I’m an awesome dad. Wednesday was not one of those days. I wasn’t terrible, the kids probably didn’t even notice, but if they made a mug for “The World’s OK’est Dad” I’d probably be drinking coffee from it right now.

My intentions were good. The forecast called for rain in the morning, a clear but very hot afternoon, and some more rain in the evening. Most of my errands and chores had been completed the day before and I was looking forward to an afternoon by the pool with the girls. A load of laundry, a few minutes spent working with Alaina on her numbers and I was ready for some sunshine.

At noon I was still ready. The downpour seemed to be increasing, a massive headache was coming on, and I was growing increasingly irritable. Usually a rainy day off would mean a trip to the mall or to see a movie. There is an indoor playscape with arcade games and bumper cars about twenty minutes away that we had discovered earlier this year.

Instead I cracked a beer, told the kids to amuse themselves, and alternated between researching fantasy football stats and trying to score a new staff for my Book of Heroes war wizard.

There were no crafts done, no games played, no puzzles put together. The teenager never even left her room until almost 3:00 and the five year old spent the entire day wearing nothing but underwear and a Batman mask. I’m impressed she was able to play Panda Jam on her tablet for as long as she did without taking it off. At some point she was upset about something and went up to her room, but instead of finding out what it was I took the opportunity to remove the batteries from her toy trumpet, remind myself to find out where that came from and exact revenge, and changed Peppa Pig to Olympic women’s archery. Whatever it was, she got over it.

Eventually Kayla made an appearance. She ate a salad, exercised in the basement for a while and took a shower without prompting. Alaina had bowls of cereal for her first two meals, but had apples and pork chops for dinner. She had a bath and I’m reasonably certain they both brushed their teeth at least once.

Since developing self-awareness, we’ve all spent most of our lives at least somewhat concerned about how other people perceive us. Social media and our new culture of over-sharing have amplified this ten fold. Non stop comparison and passive competition as parents can be good; it encourages us to try harder.  It can also be silly and exhausting.

The bottom line is they both ended the day alive, clean, and fed. We all aspire to be the best parent we can. To be Ward Cleaver, Cliff Huxtable, or Phil Dunphee, depending on your age.  The truth is that there are going to be some days when we end up just a little bit closer to Al Bundy.





Back to School


Adventures with girls, from preschool to proms