The misadventures of a first time father

Monthly Archives: June 2017

Prek Grad 01Like a breeze it arrived, swift and sweeping (in emotion).

It seemed like only a few weeks ago I was dropping out little guy off for his first-ever day of pre-k and yet, inexplicably, ten months passed in the blink of an eye and there we were, sitting in the seats as he and his classmates, received a certificate that said they were kindergarten-bound.

I was a barrel of mixed emotions. Proud of the little guy who sat before the crowd, coming into a classroom where he knew not a single adult or child last fall, with no anxiety, no fear, only enthusiasm to make friends, explore, and learn. In fact, the only anxiety I can recall from him was not about going to school, but about when having to leave when it was time to come home. Our first few months were a bit painful at pick-up time, as he was enjoying everything far too much and didn’t want to leave it behind for the day. I only hope he maintains that enthusiasm for learning as the years go on.

But back to the present.

Against a backdrop of superhero-themed backgrounds, the little guy and his classmates, dressed in custom-decorated capes and masks, performed some songs, some dance, and eventually were told they were walking off the stage, out of preschool and onward to kindergarten and elementary school.

It was bittersweet, not just for us adults, realizing how swiftly the sands of time pass for us all, but for him too. A week later it’s finally dawned on him that he’s not going back to school on a regular basis and with tear in his eyes he tells us how much he misses it, and his friends.

IMG_4664Added to that, his young world and expectations were thrown for a loop when we told him the weekend following his moving-up ceremony that he would be attending a different school than the one we were planning, the one he had attended multiple orientation nights for, where several of his friends from Pre-k were headed.

You see, the plan all along had been for him to head to work with mommy in the fall at the elementary school she’s been working at this past year. However, about a week or so before his Pre-k ended, my wife’s superintendent informed her they were moving her to an area high school. It meant no school with mommy as planned, and we could either continue to send him there, or send him to the school just minutes from our house.

Sometimes kids take such changes in stride with an admirable adaptability, and other times it’s a slow simmer of sadness as we work our way through the changes to our lives and days. In this case, it seem it’s currently the slow simmer of emotion and change that we’ll have to work through.

And I’m confident we will, but I don’t kid myself that it will take time. Heck, we moved to our new house seven months ago and we still have to have periodic conversations about change not always being bad and to look for the good when a teary eyed, head hanging low little boy starts to bring up why he misses his old house.

hallway at schoolSo change is not always the adaptable, easygoing “get over it” that so many folks think is a default for all kids. It will take time. Time, time, time. You are a tricky thing. Filled with good, filled with bad, but most of all, filled with change that keeps our worlds from ever getting boring, and teaching us to learn as we go and figure out how to change with you (even if it takes some of us a little longer to accept) at the risk of being left behind.

Change is the only constant, and I’m constantly astounded by just how quickly it all comes. From the hospital nursery to running through the yard, to Pre-k and now across the stage, cape billowing as a young super hero sets out, up, up and away toward the the next chapter of childhood.

He’s growing up.


DuckTales_NES_Cover.pngI’m not really a video game guy.

Sure, I played some Nintendo when I was in elementary school, but it was always at a friend’s house. I didn’t own one myself until I was a pre-teen and had earned enough delivering the weekly Pennysaver once a week for the tidy sum of $8 a week to buy one myself. And at that point most people had moved on to Super Nintendo.

But I’ll say that one of the games that was a childhood favorite for me at many a friend’s and was the first that I went out to buy when I had my own NES system was Disney’s DuckTales.

And I am all about the nostalgia of my youth, especially when it comes to DuckTales. Any quotes and notations you find hereon in come from the book Mediated Nostalgia by Ryan Lizardi. Check it out if you want to take a look at what drives you or folks like me to cherish things from our past like Disney ducks so much.

The graphics in retrospect were not the best. You knew who the characters were, but compared to their animated counterparts, seen daily on the Disney afternoon cartoon block, it was the limits of 8 bit gaming graphics in 1989. The storyline didn’t explain much other than that Scrooge had to travel the world, collect treasure, and win. That was it, really. Why these places, why these enemies? The purpose? It was a bit thin, but it was okay. Because the gameplay, its music, and its sheer relationship to a favorite hit cartoon series was fantastic enough to get one hooked that it became one of the most fun games on the system and a part of many collective memories of both cartoons and gaming in the late 80s/early 90s.

For years I remember the mere mention of classic Nintendo with folks often led to one of the conversations – Mario and DuckTales.

My original DuckTales game went, along with any other NES games I had, when I sold my NES system shortly after I got married and we moved into our house. There just wasn’t room for a lot of things, and many of the things that had been sitting in boxes for a lengthy period of time hit the bricks via ebay. NES was one of them. That lack of access certainly added to my desire to play again.

So it’s no wonder that when I got a smartphone with enough memory to do so last year, the only game I ever spent money on was a revisit of that now classic game under the title DuckTales Remastered.

“The economic concern derives from a desire on the part of a film remake producer to construct a maximum audience base consisting of those who are already familiar with the original text and those that are not.” (Lizardi 2015, 118)

ducktales-remastered-comparison

Released in 2013, just a bit shy of 25 years since the original game’s release, this is a nostalgic fan’s dream. Because it’s evident from the get-go that, while anyone could play it, this is truly aimed at fans who grew up with the original and now as adults have the chance to revisit not just the game, but a fully improved-upon visual game that taps into your longing for the characters, situations, shows associated with it by adding even more characters, layers, and story to it.

“Considering the specific time period from which many remakes derive their source material, constructing those whose childhoods occurred in the 1970s and 1980s as perpetual nostalgics means economically targeting consumers who are currently somewhere between twenty and forty years old.” (Lizardi 2015, 124)

The gameplay, levels, music, and worlds are virtually the same as it was in 1989 with the exception of enhanced, better looking 3 dimensional backgrounds and two-dimensional characters that are almost identical to their onscreen counterparts in the original animated series.

ducktales-remastered-npc-character-roster-wubba-duck1

Character comparison from 1989 to 2013 courtesy of theirategamer.com

If that weren’t enough to make me feel nine years old again, the game developers gathered together all of the surviving cast members of the animated series to provide the voices of their characters in the game, which is quite the feat in itself. Alan Young, who voiced Scrooge McDuck was around 93 at the time he provided vocals for the game and he still wasn’t the senior cast member on deck. That goes to June Foray, voicing villainous sorceress Magica DeSpell just as she did in the cartoon series, and doing so at the age of 95. For characters whose voice actor had since passed on, the developers of the game were keen enough to hire very good vocal impersonators who were able to emulate the original voices from the cartoon series.

The voice cast was utilized not just to provide vocals as characters moved through gameplay, grunting if they got hurt or exclaiming as they located treasure. One of the greatest additions to the Remastered version of the game were full animated sequences featuring the characters to provide backstory, segue, and make sense of what otherwise made none for the show’s continuity back in the day of the original game. (How can Scrooge breathe in space? What the heck is GizmoDuck doing on the moon in the first place?)

“These re-imaginings prove time and time again that they are not only aimed at establishing a new audience base for rebooted properties, but are speaking primarily to the already established nostalgic base.” (Lizardi 2015, 130)

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With a new DuckTales cartoon series headed to Disney this summer with an updated look, story, and voice cast, I’m sure there’s bound to be another, brand new game of some sort coming. And if it has as much care as has been put into this, it’ll be great.

But, for me, I just want that feeling of being nine years old again at a sleepover at a friend’s house hopping Scrooge through the Amazon, across the Moon, and finding treasure wherever it lay, reliving the adventure not just of a game, but of childhood. Isn’t that what nostalgia’s all about?

It is, and the game developers counted on it.

Mission accomplished.


This past week, my wife and I sat in the doctor’s office, staring at a black and white image on the screen. The grainy images of an arm, a foot, and eventually a profile of a head filled us with smiles inside and out as we finally put a somewhat-face to the growing little person that will be joining the ranks of our growing family. It was an odd moment. One might think it might feel routine at this point. This’ll be our third child, after all. We’ve been through this all before.

But, this time, staring at that screen, we felt…connected. To the baby, to each other, to the moment right then and there.

It’s something that, perhaps, we didn’t allow ourselves with our first two children. It’s not meant with any disrespect or disregard for either our son or daughter. It’s just that we now realize how much of their pre-arrivals were spent worrying so much about the future, planning what was to come, what had to be done, how would we handle things, that we failed to be in the moment, living in the present as we should have been and would have liked to be.

Sitting in the waiting room between sonogram and the appointment with the doctor, we were both on our phones, taking pictures of the sonogram and sending it to family members.

smart-phoneIn the course of any given day, I check my smart phone device constantly, scrolling through Twitter and thinking if I have anything funny to say, checking email to see if anyone’s gotten back to me about the house we’re selling or one of the myriad of book queries I’ve put out there, checking in with the virtual beings whose lives I lord over in Sims Freeplay, or checking my Google Keep app for the numerous to-do lists it allows me to make, organize, add to, and check off as I complete things in the never-ending, always growing list of tasks for work, home, creative pursuits, etc. It’s constantly ongoing, and I keep it that way. I constantly think of things that need to get done and add it to the list. Or I check to see what i can cross off. Some are more pressing than others. Others aren’t necessary at all. But I check obsessively regardless. It’s as fruitless as trying to keep up with email.

“Looked at in terms of flowing and static information, the email inbox is one, big, unfinishable loop,” says Douglas Rushkoff, author of Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now. “It is not a book or document that can be successfully completed. It is a flow. Sure, we can mark or move emails that are important, create priorities and sorting routines. But the initial choice to have email at all is to open a loop.”

I put off taking risks, following pursuits or making changes in life because I’m constantly waiting until something else is done. (I.e. In a year I should have my master’s done, so I’ll wait to search out other jobs until that’s done; I have 24 more payments left on both my student loans, which is two years, so if I can just hold off until that’s paid off in that time, THEN I’ll give dream/risk/pursuit xyz a try.) Always looking ahead, planning, sometimes to the point of excuses, rather than living in the present.

I think of not too long ago, the guilt I felt when my son asked me to play and I was too busy looking at something unimportant on my phone that I told him I couldn’t at the moment, only to find a few minutes later that he had moved on, leaving the lyrics of “Cats in the Cradle” running through my head and a desire to try and not allow myself to follow down that path due to such easy distractions.

As we talked later that morning, holding pictures of our soon to be third child, my wife and I both acknowledged how rare it is to feel like that, to truly feel present like we did in that room.

We’re not alone.

Even as I wrote this blog post, I found my hand casually moving over to the mouse and bringing up tabs of Facebook, Twitter, and before I knew it, sucked down the rabbit hole of online interaction. Though I wasn’t interacting. I was just scrolling. Scrolling through like a mindless motor function without any true purpose. Was there anything pressing I needed? Was there information I had to have that very moment that I took myself away from the focus of writing – something that I struggle to re-focus on and get back to once I’ve been pulled away. No. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, I had nothing to say. I’ve just in many ways become conditioned to get distracted. It’s something I admit I desperately want to stop doing.

“Catching up with Twitter is like staying up all night to catch up on live streaming stock quotes from yesterday,” Rushkoff says. “The value was in the now – which at this point is really just a then.”

I have come to feel that I often spend so much time worrying about and trying to plan for the future and various ways in which it may occur, that I’m rarely ever actually living in the present anymore. The moments pass with no appreciation as I’m constantly looking for how to take care of what comes next, or what will or could come next.

It’s not surprising that it’s a constant source of exhaustion and anxiety, and causes me to spend way too much time on my devices that I could be spending living in the moment with my friends and family. It’s why the founders of social platforms like Facebook and Twitter, or various apps that eat up all our time, are as successful as they are. It may not be a sinister intention, but it takes aim at our internal longing to escape but feel a part of something bigger, a community, or simply to be more relevant, and exploits it for gain.

Meanwhile, so many of us are ever living outside of our lives and constantly chasing digital nostalgia (remember, nostalgia doesn’t always refer to the past. It’s a combination of Latin words meaning “longing for home.” And home can mean comfort.)

“Another definition of unhealthy escapism—escapism gone too far—is the effects it has on the essential fabric of living,” psychologist Andrew Evans writes in This Virtual Life, as noted by the February 2015 article in The Atlantic titled The Good and The Bad of Escaping to Virtual Reality. “The individual in the context of family, friends, and social commitments.”

Evans connects his definition, the article states, to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, ranking love and a sense of belonging just after basic physiological and safety needs.

bird feederThen I think of the calm, the peace, the feeling of being in the now, in the present that I felt looking at the baby’s form on that monitor. It may sound silly, but it was almost akin to the feeling of being present I experience when I’m sitting alone looking at nature, whether it’s a walk through a nature trail and admiring the plants and trees, or sitting quietly in our backyard, sans digital devices, getting lost in the greenery, trees, squirrels, rabbits, birds, and wildlife going about their day.

In Richard Louv’s The Nature Principle, the author suggests using natural systems to enhance the physical, psychological and spiritual life of humans.

“Whereas technology immersion results in walls that become screens, and machines that enter our bodies, more nature in our lives offers us homes and workplaces and natural communities that produce human energy…[and] products and environments that make life more comfortable for people.”

Clinical Psychologist, Consultant, and Author Catherine Steiner-Adair, in her book The Big Disconnect, notes that our reliance on technology can often be an attempt to fill voids that we’re not getting from the physical world around us.

“Simply put, we are more sociable when we are connected to nature, and without nature we manifest antisocial behavior more regularly and rely on technological substitutes more.”

In a March 2011 TEDx Talk, Sherry Turkle, the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, discusses the ways in which technology connects us, yet disconnects from the people and physically around us.

“Children talk about that moment of coming out of school, looking for eye contact and instead of that moment with a parent, that parent is looking at the smart phone,” Turkle says.

A generation has grown up with technology as the competition for their parents time and attention and now that generation is older and has their own turn to live in the culture of distraction.

Turkle had been present when computers were first being implemented into home use and recalls when designers/programmers were having trouble finding ideas to keep the computer busy (calendars, contact list, etc, were some early ideas for home use). As she says, it didn’t matter in the end, because now they are what keeps us busy.

“What I didn’t see coming…and what we have now is that mobile connectivity, that world of devices, always on and always on us, would mean that we would be able to basically bail out of the physically real at any time,” she says. “To go to the other spaces we have available to us and that we would want to.”

She refers to this departure from multi-tasking as multi-lifing, and that escapism, that distraction, that other life that technology offers us is seductive, hitting us in some of the most vulnerable parts of our humanity. It is, she surmises, what has led so much of our culture to become one that would rather text or send an email than pick up the phone and talk. The technology has allowed us to dial down our own human contact.

As these bits of our humanity are chipped away, it will become even more crucial to find a way, amid a world where this technology is not going away, to revisit, revive, and instill our own humanity into future generations, for fear that they could lose it completely.

“If we don’t teach our children how to be alone, they will always be lonely.”

Like many addictions, it becomes a vicious cycle. We escape to online, we become distracted from the physical world around us, and as we cut out the real world, we more and more seek out the illusion of friendship and community without the companionship in the digital world of technology. It feeds our loneliness which just keeps us perpetually alone. But we continue to seek it out, and the media texts that it provides, out of this sense of longing for comfort, and media companies will continue to exploit with the latest social platforms, digital shows, films, apps, or games as long as we keep needing a digital place to seek out and fulfill that need of nostalgia, of longing.

 



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