Archive for March, 2010

I didn’t begin blogging regularly until this past November and to say I was unsure of the lay of the land would have been putting it mildly. It didn’t take long, however, for me to find a plethora men who, like me, were blogging primarily about their family. One of them was Ron Mattocks.

As it turned out, Ron and I have a couple of things in common. We’ve both written a parenting memoir. We were both award-winning sales executives in corporate America who went on to drastically different jobs. We’re also both step dads. Ron has two step daughters who live with him in Houston as well as three biological kids (sons) who live with their mother in Chicago.

When not tending to his fatherly and duties, Mattocks is probably writing, whether it’s for Houston Family Magazine, or for his wildly popular blog Klark Kent’s Lunchbox. And let’s not forget his book. I’ve had the pleasure of reading Sugar Milk, and it’s fantastic. I’ll be proudly reviewing it in a couple of weeks. But first, just in case you haven’t heard of him, I thought I’d introduce Ron to you via the following interview.

So sit back, relax and enjoy and learn a bit more about my friend, Ron Mattocks.

Ron enjoying a glass of Sugar Milk

1) You don’t have primary custody of your biological children. In fact, they don’t even live in your state. Is it hard having more contact with your step children than your biological children? What types of problems, if any, does this pose, and how do you deal with them?

Yes, there are problems, all on my end. The biggest is this feeling of guilt that sometimes comes over me when I think about all the effort I’m putting into the girl’s emotional wellbeing and it hits me that I’m unable to do the same thing at the same level of effort for my boys. For example, I’ll take my one daughter to therapy weekly and in the back of my mind, I’m wishing I could be this involved with my two oldest sons and the issues they are having in school.

2) There’s a part of Sugar Milk where you discuss the town you used to call home, Chicago, versus the town you currently live in, Houston. Are you a bit conflicted when it comes to the two?

There’s no conflict. The people in Houston might hate me, but given the choice, I’ll take Chicago almost any day. H-town is great and my closest friends in the world live here, but my kids live near Chicago which trumps all. Plus I miss the seasons.

3)  You had a post in late January, Why I “Hate” Mommy Bloggers, that blew up. As I read the (umpteen jillion) comments it received, it seemed some readers took away different meanings from it. Care to clear the air?

Ha! Yeah, there were really only two points I was trying to make: 1, mommy bloggers deserve a lot of credit for what they’ve created and 2, dad bloggers should look to their example and focus on good content first and money secondary. Most readers got it. That was a fun post. (PS. I don’t hate Dooce either. Love or hate her she deserves respect for her contributions.)

4) Do you think there’s a difference between blogging and writing? And if so, do you consider yourself a blogger or a writer?

People blog for all kinds of reasons—to sell products, to inform, to build community, to have fun—the list goes on. A large group of bloggers blog with the idea of being writers, and technically all bloggers actually are writers; so I guess it really centers on the motivations like those I already pointed out. Yeah, there are bloggers and there are bloggers who are writers because their motivation is to use their blog as a means of building a platform (followership) for their larger body of written work. Although, a portion of my posts are just that—posts, my motivation has always been to build a platform by offering well-written and entertaining content. Hopefully that’s the case.

5) Tell us about your upbringing. What was your family life like while you were growing up?

I grew up in a very traditional blue-collar family. My dad owned a chain of farm animal feed stores before becoming a master electrician. Mom was a homemaker until me and my three younger sisters left home; then she worked at a couple different jobs to keep busy. I worked in my dad’s feed mills from the age of 12 which was labor intensive work for a scrawny kid like myself. My parents sacrificed many wants and needs to send me and my sisters to a parochial school. I lettered in soccer and basketball and was named to all-state teams for both from my freshmen year on up. We are very religious so on top of school our family was involved in church on a regular basis. Basically, it was an all-American upbringing steeped in small-town values which have since sustained me in the big bad world.

*   *   *

So there you have it, part I of my interview with Ron Mattocks. Come back by next Tuesday for part II when Ron will tell us why he’s smitten with Cold Play (kidding?), as well as offer up some fantastic advice for newer bloggers.

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Dear Elmo

Back when I liked you.

Dear Elmo,

You suck.

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t always feel this way. In fact, before I had children — back when I was merely “Uncle John” — I actually liked you. A lot. You were a funny and irresistible little monster. Plus my niece and nephew LOVED you. Remember that holiday season when you were in such high demand? Well, I was one of the lucky ones who actually managed to get his hands on your red ass, chicken suit and all. I’ll never forget what a hit you were that year. The kids played with you for hours. But what I didn’t realize then was that their parents must have hated every single minute of it.

C getting her Elmo on.

No, my furry friend, I wouldn’t learn that lesson for quite some time. But learn it I would, when I finally became a dad. I will admit, though, even after spawning the tiny trio, it took a while for the disdain to set in, likely because the triplets adored you so. It’s hard for me to dislike anything which brings such joy to my children.

But it’s not impossible, my misguided monster. Hearing your little chicken-dance song 5,412 times certainly proved that.

“Elmo wants to be a chicken. Elmo wants to be a duck. Quack, quack, quack, quack.”

Well, which is it, Elmo? Do you wanna be a chicken or do you wanna be a duck? You’re quacking, so I assume you wanna be a duck, yet you’re dressed in a chicken costume, which would indicate a poultry preference. Not to mention the fact that the package you came in? It didn’t read Duck Dance Elmo.  It read CHICKEN Dance Elmo. So why in the duck are you quacking? You’re setting a horrendous example for my kids who could very well be acquiring a sense of entitlement by witnessing such behavior. I can hear it now. “I wanna do this. No, I wanna do that. No, I wanna do this. No, I wanna do that…”

As much as I loathed you in your chicken-dance format, there was a simple solution–hiding you from the light of day. Once I did that, I figured you were behind us. Until long-ass car rides came onto the scene. That’s right. Seven-hour drives to the beach with three fussy toddlers is quite an experience. To keep the peace we tried everything. But only one thing seemed to work. Your Best of Elmo DVD.

Oh the irony, Elmo. Hiding you at home brought me great peace. Yet, on the road, from a monitor behind my head and well outside my field of vision, you still managed to wreak a hell-like havoc on the vacation commutes I haplessly executed. Back in the good old days, three hours on the road meant we were in the middle of Spartanburg. But suddenly, three hours on the road meant that we were in the middle of the SEVENTH showing of your mind-numbing collection of skits.

Do you have to use that high-pitched voice, Elmo? Or rap. Do you have to rap? You’re about as gansta as an imaginary tea party. With princesses. And do you have to rock the third person all the time? Hmm? Because John Cave Osborne doesn’t like that. It bugs him. In fact, it bugs pretty much everyone and everything on this planet.

Telephone, Elmo. It’s Fran Dresher. She says her laugh thinks you’re annoying.

Speaking of annoying, Elmo, Whoopie Goldberg? REALLY? What, Star Jones all booked up? And how ’bout your deal with Julia Roberts? Just hearing the two of you trying to scare each other is enough to make me wanna throw an apple at the monitor. Don’t worry, though. Should I ever lose control like that, no one would actually get hurt. Any apple thrown anywhere near Julia Roberts would do nothing more than harmlessly lodge itself into the top row of her preposterously large teeth.

Oh, and I think it’s nice that you gave the Unhappy Honker your last drawing, but if you needed at least one to display at the Monster Art Show, why in world did you give it to him?

I smell a dumb dumb.

And then everyone’s supposed to feel all sorry for you and return the dozens of drawings you just spent the better part of thirty minutes handing out as gifts? Again, not a great example. Back to the entitlement deal.

Yes, Elmo, you do suck. But, honestly? I’ve kinda enjoyed disliking you so. The acrimonious fire you’ve set within my soul has kept me warm for nearly eighteen months now. And that’s the real reason why I’m writing you.

Sadly, it seems the fire is going out. You see, A, B, and C no longer wonder where your chicken-dance doll is. They don’t enjoy your DVDs anymore, not even the one where you selfishly insist that every day be Christmas. (You’ve GOT to work on that entitlement thing.)

Sorry, Elmo, but you’re yesterday’s news. In fact, you’ve already been replaced. And wouldn’t you know it–you’ve been replaced by something else that’s red. And what’s more, much like you, your replacement emits high-pitched noises capable of giving me migraines. And truth be told? I’m kinda sad about it. My new foil, though similar to you in color and sound, will be nowhere near as fun for me to hate.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t hate it. Because, rest assured, I will.

And I can also promise you this. That damn thing will NEVER be allowed in the car. EVER.

So long, Elmo.

Move over Elmo, for this God-awful thing.

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Pookie and her classmates paid tribute to the late, great Dr. Seuss in honor of his March 2nd birthday by creating their very own version of his 1974 classic There’s a Wocket in My Pocket. Lovie and I are usually well aware of Pookie’s various assignments, but this one caught us off guard. In fact, the first time we learned of it was when she brought the completed project home earlier this week.

How great is that? Seriously? I mean who doesn’t love Dr. Seuss? I couldn’t wait to read all of the nonsensical rhymes that these sweet children had come up with.

One girl depicted the mysterious presence of a JHOTTER on her FLYSWATTER, which was drinking her flavored WATER. Adorable!

Another child wrote of a SHAT on his CAT which liked his friend MATT. I kinda wondered if this kid wasn’t confused, though. I’d be willing to bet it was nothing more than a CAT who SHAT on a MATT, but, hey, it ain’t my book.

One boy detailed the presence of a WACKET in his JACKET which was making a lot of RACKET. Well, I suppose that one’s okay as long as he didn’t WACKET in his JACKET. Because that really would be a RACKET, you know.

Another boy reported a LONUT on his DONUT that was eating his COCONUT. Good effort, but probably my least favorite of the bunch thus far. I’d put it just behind the one about the cat that was taking a shit all over the place. And, hey, I don’t mean to pry, but you really don’t want anything messing with your DONUTS, especially if it’s eating your COCONUT for crying out loud. Plus, it’s a little early for the onset of a LONUT, don’t you think?

If I were that kid’s father, I’d be hauling his ass to the doctor post haste. What’s that? No appointments available? No problem. Me and Mr. LONUT, here, will be happy to wait. You know, just in case someone bails. We need to see you ASAP. That’s right. We don’t mess around when it comes to the parts down there. The last thing we want is for this thing to get worse and turn into a case of Green Eggs and Ham. I don’t care what Sam has to say about it. You do NOT want that.

I waited with bated breath until I finally came across Pookie’s contribution. It’s the second one on the page below.

“Lovie! We need to redo the password on the DVR. I’m pretty sure Pookie’s been watching Meet the Parents!”

Is it just me, or does that font make the “o” in “Focker” look a lot like a “u?”

“Look on the bright side,” I told Lovie. “At least the sport’s not called sucker. Then we’d have a real problem on our hands. Oh, and don’t forget to put that boy with the LONUT issue on the blacklist, okay honey? The last thing we want is for that kid to wind up taking Pookie to the prom one day. I’m not so sure about the one with the JACKET either. Better put him down, too. Just in case.”

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The blurry red numbers looking back at me from the clock atop the bedside table weren’t the ones I was expecting. It couldn’t have been that late. The sun wasn’t even up. At least I didn’t think it was. If it were, our three little roosters would have been cock-a-doodle-doo-ing through the monitor. And they weren’t. I scooted closer to Lovie and buried my face back into the pillows before curiosity got the best of me, forcing me to groggily lift my head yet again. This time the red numbers were a little clearer, as was the reason why they seemed to be at odds with the environment around me. I’d lost an hour to that dastardly devil yet again. Daylight Savings Time.

“Honey,” I whispered to Lovie. “What are we gonna do about the trips?”

“What do you mean?”

“The time change. We lost an hour.”

“We didn’t lose an hour,” she answered. “We moved our clocks forward an hour.”

“Right. It’s almost eight, but it’s really almost seven which is why the triplets haven’t made a peep yet. If we get them up in a few minutes like normal, they’d lose an hour of sleep.”

“What time is it again?”

“Five before eight.”

“So it’s the old five before nine?”

“Honey,” I answered. “Do I need to make you a chart?”

Once Lovie had finally mastered the new-time situation, the question of which strategy to employ with A, B, and C still remained. What little peace we’ve managed to attain around the house is due to a strict schedule. For that peace to continue, the schedule could not be compromised, which meant that the time change had to be handled with great care.

If we woke them up too early, there’d be hell to pay thanks to tired, fussy toddlers. But if we let them sleep too late, we’d never get them down for their nap at one, or, even worse, for their bedtime at seven. The ensuing domino effect would spill into the next day, and the longer they were off their schedule, the harder it would be to get them back on it. Ultimately, we decided to split the difference and wake them up a little past the new eight, then put them down a touch later than usual for their naps, thus setting the table for a normal bed time of seven.

The morning was sheer hell. As it wore on, one thing became clear. A, B, and C didn’t give a rat’s ass about Daylight Savings Time. It was also clear they didn’t care that Lovie and I were coming off of a rare night out. A rare, late night out. Nope. No sympathy from them. If anything, they turned it up a notch.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like we thought they’d care about the time change, or the late night. After all, they don’t care that our dog’s name is Briggs. They call him “Move, Briggs.”

C doesn’t care to distinguish between ma’am and sir, constantly calling me “ma’am” no matter how many times I correct her. She also doesn’t care that her “no, ma’am” sounds more like “snowman.”

B doesn’t care that 70% of all his bathroom efforts end with a stream of pee on the floor. Little things like urine trajectory simply haven’t hit his radar. I guess you could call him our whiz kid. Don’t worry. We’re working on getting him to point that thing down.

And A doesn’t care that he’s not supposed to climb out of his crib. He also doesn’t care that he’s not supposed to play in the toilet, regularly parlaying these forbidden activities in one fell swoop. Once apprehended, he’d just assume go right back to bed. Why? Because he doesn’t care that both pajama sleeves are soaked all the way up to his shoulders.

Once we got them down on Sunday night (at seven) we knew that the extra effort we had exuded all day to combat sixty missing minutes (not to mention fatigue), went completely unappreciated if not unnoticed altogether.

A, B, and C don’t care about stuff like that. They don’t care that minor inconveniences for singleton parents are head-scratching riddles for us. And they shouldn’t care.

That’s our job.

And we’re good at it.

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“Are you serious?” asked Lovie on a cold December night in 2007.

“Well, kinda,” I admitted.

“You’re blaming it on that?” Her question gave me pause. I knew it sounded ludicrous, but still.

“I don’t know if I’m blaming it on that, but I’m not ‘not blaming’ it on that, either.”

“You’re king of the double negatives, you know that?” Again, pause. She had a point.

“I’m not ‘not king’ of double negatives,” I offered.

The issue? Tennessee’s loss to LSU in the SEC championship game. The cause? My brother-in-law and his wife.

“And what, exactly, did they do, again?” asked Lovie.

“They popped the bubble.”

“You’re a joke,” she said as she stormed out of the room.

Maybe, but that didn’t change one simple thing. Whenever you’re watching a big-time ballgame and things are going well for your team, it behooves you to keep the viewing environment as similar as possible until the conclusion of said game. Any modifications could instantaneously change momentum.

Which is exactly what had happened. UT was battling valiantly against a heavily favored LSU squad–all knotted up at 14 midway through the fourth quarter when my brother-in-law and his wife came over to catch the end of the game. By popping by, they also popped the bubble and I knew it, but I tried to shrug it off. Minutes later, Erik Ainge threw a pick six that gave LSU the deciding score.

I know. You think I’m an idiot. And I’m good with that. But guess what? Over a year later, it happened again. I was watching the Tennessee men’s basketball team trying to win their first SEC tournament championship in over twenty years when, with just seconds left to play, my brother-in-law texted me his optimistic belief that the Vols would, indeed, pull it off. The next instant? Tennessee turned the ball over on an in-bounds play and was forced to foul with just seconds remaining. We lost by three.

For those of you who think I’m hating on my brother-in-law, nothing could be further from the truth. He’s not the sports freak that I am, so it’s not like he knows about the bubble. Plus, I had a part in the debacle, too. Had I simply ignored the poorly timed text, my bubble would have remained in tact, and Tennessee would have won their first SEC tourney since the Carter administration.

Still think I’m crazy? Maybe this’ll help. Early in the 1998 football season, I sensed that Tennessee had the intangibles needed to run the table and win a national championship. I got this notion from a gutty road win against a Donovan Mcnabb-led Syracuse team coupled with an aura given off by an orange Tennessee pen. For the rest of the year, I kept that pen with me at all times, never actually using it, only clicking it neurotically during each and every game. It came to be known as the PNCP—the Potential National Championship Pen.

On a cold and drizzly afternoon in November, I sat in Neyland Stadium, soaked to the bone, and watched despondently as Tennessee’s title hopes seemed to be falling by the wayside. We had been down 21-3 and mounted an impressive comeback, but, barring a miracle, that comeback would fall short. With less than two minutes remaining, Arkansas was up by three and had the ball. The Vols had no timeouts left and were unable to do anything other than watch the Razorbacks run out the clock. I turned to the PNCP.

Click, click, click, click.

Click, click, click, click.

Arkansas quarterback Clint Stoerner rolled out for a naked bootleg, and did something every Vol fan will remember for the rest of his or her life. He stumbled to the ground, fumbling the football in the process. Tennessee recovered the ball and scored the winning touchdown four plays later.

Six weeks after that, the PNCP and I were in Arizona proudly watching Tennessee win the first ever BCS National Championship.

How you like me now, huh? RECONGNIZE, bitches.

I know. You still think I’m an idiot. So does Lovie.

Y’all can say what you want, but I’m not gonna change. If I were gonna, it would have already happened. But it hasn’t. Which means I’ve gone through more lucky hats than you have pairs of shoes.

Thanks, JCO. We'll easily take care of Ole Miss now.

So why am I telling you this? Simple. I had a dream last night that Wayne Chism asked me to write a post about superstition because he thought it would bring the Vols good luck in today’s SEC quarterfinal match-up with Ole Miss. And who am I to turn down big Wayne Chism?

So, if we win today, will it really be because I put up this post? I don’t know that I’d go so far as to attribute the win directly to my blog.

But I’m not gonna not attribute it to my blog, either.

And by the way, if you think this post is unbelievable, it’s NOTHING compared to the Great Vol-Burger Debacle of 2003 which I write about in my book Tales from the Trips.

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Whiz Kids

A little nap-time mishap leaves me wondering what in the world is wrong with my boys. I documented the situation via the one-minute video below. The quality is not the best, as it was shot with my phone.

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The Driving Force

This blog is proud to take part in Fatherhood Friday, a little something created by the great people over at dad-blogs. To learn more about this wonderful community, click here.

We all know that I love Lovie. And how could I not? There’s just something about her. Anyone who knows Lovie would agree that she possesses an indescribable sweetness, channeled by a heart that is both pure and true. Seldom does a bad thought ever cross her mind. She’s a positive force who is filled with such earnest and good intentions that people can actually sense it. Animals, too. Birds stop chirping and squirrels take a break from their nuts just to catch a glimpse of my beautiful wife whenever she happens upon them.

Knoxville, we have a problem.

But such inter-species tranquility does not mean that my wife is without flaw. One of them? She’s among the worst drivers in the history of organized driving. Honestly? It’s astonishing. And the fact that she drives a big-ass Denali loaded with the tumultuous trio and an eight-year-old doesn’t exactly help. For not only is she driving a vehicle that rivals a Sherman Tank in bulk, but she’s also doing so while handing out passies to toddlers, helping Pookie with her homework, and rocking the occasional call on her cell–all over the deafening din emitted by that red, furry anti-Christ, Elmo, along with his gang of equally annoying and off-key-singing buddies.

If only Lovie’s enormous vehicle had an outer body constructed of nerf, and the driver/passenger seats were enclosed by a NASCAR-designed roll cage, maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t worry each and every time she hits the road. But I do worry, and so should you. So allow me to impart the following advice to those who share our local roads.

If you see Lovie barreling down the street, you must remember two things. First, it’s usually parking lots which trip her up, so you’re probably okay. But second, remain calm, and, as if Lovie were a firetruck, slow down and pull over as far as you can to the right until Lovie has lumbered on by. Then and only then should you continue along your merry way.

But if you’re in a parking lot, God help you. For like a drunk cat with no whiskers, little Lovie, in her colossal car, has no dependable spacial-sensing mechanism–her mere judgment, woefully inadequate. As such, she is not afraid to feel her way through a tight spot with a bump here or a nudge there. While not exactly life-threatening, Lovie’s parking lot shenanigans are the stuff of legend, most of said shenanigans exacting a toll just below our deductible, ultimately rendering our insurance impotent and our wallets a few-hundred dollars lighter.

But she is getting better. In fact, it’s been quite a while since her last parking-lot escapade. Until the other day, that is, when she came home with a little token of appreciation she had received from a fellow motorist.

“Can you believe this woman?” Lovie asked indignantly while showing me the note.

Um, what rhymes with “guess?”

I’m in a tough spot, here. Common sense (along with past empirical evidence) strongly suggests that Lovie parked poorly. But chivalry demands that I defend her honor.

SO, Ms. Note Writer–in the unlikely event you are reading this modest effort, please know that I am none too pleased with the sarcastic and ugly message that you left Lovie. Number one, who has the time to write such nasty remarks in the middle of a busy day? Next time you’re out, may I suggest you swing by Walmart and pick up a life? OH, and you might wanna fill that prescription for the anti-passive-aggressive meds your head doctor has undoubtedly provided you.

And number two, what we’ve got here in Lovie is really nothing more than a garden-variety shitty driver. Was she a little close to you? I’m quite certain she was. Was it difficult to get your kids in? Undoubtedly. But is that any reason to lose your marbles? Might I suggest, instead, that next time you be more prepared? A giant tub of Vaseline and an extra-large shoe horn would have made your child-loading riddle much easier to solve.


The Man Who Still Loves Lovie.

PS–perhaps you’ll take solace in knowing that your communiqué has made our Wall of Shame alongside another embarassing piece of documentation.

Wall of Shame: JCO 1, Lovie 1

There. That should do it.

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