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When friends of a certain age get together, a bucket list – things we want to do before we die — can become the center of conversation.

There are fun and exciting things to do in far and exotic places that are probably completely out of reach due to lack of money, energy and testicular fortitude. Zip-lining through a rain forest and para-gliding over a stretch of the Gobi Desert (is that even a thing?) are waaay too intense for this geezer and most of his About Men Radio friends.

No, the bucket list I have is a lot simpler and cheaper.

I’ve written before about doing my part to expose my kids to the classics – no, not literature or art.

My classics are the movies that I have quoted many times — those great movies (at least I remember them as great) — from yesteryear.

Memorable Guy Movie Monologues

These are movies that I grew up with, some old black-and-whites as well as some from the late 60s, 70s, 80s and early 90s. These are movies that are too old to be on my kids’ millennial radars.

In our house we have movie night and I would exclaim, “It’s a Dad’s pick movie night!”

And the groans would go up from my clan. My wife would groan because it may be a movie I dragged her to when we were dating that she probably (definitely) hated.

So, how was I going to expose my kids to the long list of classics I know they will enjoy, or tolerate, if they just gave it a chance?

That’s when I came up with the Bucket List. Actually it’s more of a list that is cut up into pieces and placed inside a bucket.

That’s right. I have a small bucket next to our TV that has scraps of paper in it, with the titles of many classic movies my kids have yet to see.

So, here is how this works: The bucket is filled with titles. About 85 percent of them are ones I put in there such as “The Great Escape,” “The French Connection” and “Taps.”

It’s an eclectic list of great and not-so-great flicks.

On a night that the whole group is home (my daughter is 21 and my two boys are 18 and 16, so getting them all together is challenging) I will call out, “Bucket List Night” and wait for the groans to subside.

We randomly pick a movie from the bucket. To have any chance of getting them to agree to this, I let my kids select a few of their favorite titles to include in the bucket.

One of them reaches in and pulls out a title and I read it out loud.

The most powerful one in our group — my wife — gets to employ a single veto. If she is unhappy with the selected title she can veto the choice. But the following selection MUST be watched!

The vetoed title goes back in the bucket and if it is selected again in the future, it cannot be vetoed a second time.

We have strict parliamentarian rules. After all, we are not savages.

Another rule I gave into: No horror movie titles. Arghh! That cut me hard like a mutated cornfield dweller’s machete!

Once a title survives the veto, it gets watched. And here is where my soft heart bends a little: If at 60 minutes, the movie hasn’t captivated everyone, we can terminate it. (Insert a poor imitation of Arnold here.)

We have watched a few of my favorites — along with some snark from my kids — but overall we enjoyed watching “Adventures in Babysitting,” “The Lost Boys,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” “The Truman Show,” “The Green Mile” and “Midnight Run.”

My kids have had luck on their side as they had only a few titles in the bucket, yet they were rewarded with back-to-back selections they made.

It was my turn to groan but I endured because sooner or later they will have to watch “Rambo: First Blood,” “Spies Like Us” and “Commando” with me.

Bwahahahaha!!!!

 

I am an Older Dad and That’s Okay

What follows is the tale of my inspiring, gripping, and emotional journey from fretful Older Dad to just plain old Dad. The subtitle should read “How I stopped Worrying and Started Being There for my Kids”

Okay, the story isn’t really all that gripping, and it isn’t very emotional either, but I do indulge in way more “prosaic introspection” than the author of this Wall Street Journal article—despite what the reader comments claim.

That being said, I believe my adventures in middle-age parenting might just lean towards the inspiring side.

I fall squarely into the “Older Dad” category having waited until the chronological age of 42 to make my wife large with child. I was, again chronologically, 46 years old when my spouse informed me I should start getting those diaper changing muscles loosened up again.

By the way, I stress “chronological” because if you ask any of my ex-wives or former girlfriends, they’ll argue that emotionally and intellectually I’ve yet to make it past my awkward teen years.

But never mind all that, let’s get back to the inspirational.

My guess is that there’s at least a full 15-year age difference between me and most of the other dads at the neighborhood playground. It doesn’t bother me much anymore but it was a constant concern when my daughter was a toddler.

There was more than a little self-consciousness about being a graybeard among all the young bucks and I was convinced all eyes were on the old geezer as he watched after his rambunctious daughter.

Maybe all those youthful poppas with their youth and their youthfulness secretly hoped I wouldn’t fall down and break a hip. I imagined they fervently wished to be spared the awkwardness of having to explain to their little ones why that old man was being carted away by the FDNY.

More and more, I found myself parking my butt on a bench and shooing my little girl away, insisting that she play with her new toddler friends.

It killed me every time my shmoopee hid her obvious disappointment and shuffled off to find a new playmate. My beautiful little daughter didn’t see a middle-aged man struggling with his insecurities, all she wanted to do was hang out with her poppa.

The transformation into a hesitant putz that worried about what others would think was complete. Where was the confident and ballsy Bronx kid who insisted on playing by his own rules?

Thankfully, that kid showed up again just when I needed him most.

Like_Bosses

It was a huge disservice to me and to my daughter. By creating imaginary slights and not experiencing the total joy of daddyhood with my baby girl while she still thought her grumpy old dad was the coolest guy in the world, I was losing out on a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I got my ass off that park bench and started playing with my sweet little Miss. I wore the pink boas and the princess crowns. I attended the pretend tea parties and unfailingly extended my pinky. I ran after her and paid little attention to how foolish or how silly I may have looked. I was a goofy dad and it was a blast.

Turns out those young fathers I was so concerned about could not have cared less.

The decision to wait until I was mature enough to raise a family was the right one. Oats were sown and challenges were undertaken and ya-ya’s were gotten out. That could not, and would not, have happened if there were mouths to feed at home in my younger days.

That’s not to say I don’t suffer the occasional flash of panic when the realization sets in that I’ll be close to 70 years old when my kids are in college. I’m keeping myself healthy and fiscally responsible for their future so there’s no use wasting time on worrying about things I can’t control.

What I can control is how much quality time I spend with them. I listen to their stories, tell them a few of my own, and act the fool.

When it’s my turn to kick it, I’ll kick it hard and with full-confidence knowing that I did all I could for my family.

Well, this was my inspirational story. The story of a family man with two young kids who is past the half-century mark, has no regrets, and will never suffer from the “what ifs”. He just took awhile to get there.

As the old neighborhood saying goes: I ain’t even sorry about it.

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AMR 09: It’s a Love Thing

Love is in the air despite the bitter cold and on this episode Chris and I present a survival guide that will help you make it through that most stressful of Hallmark holidays, Valentine’s Day, relatively unscathed.

While the entire AMR posse remain hopeless romantics, we believe that forced expressions of love on a single pressure-packed day is no way to tell the person that has your heart what they mean to you. Everyone should regularly make the effort to show your Significant Other just how much you care, regardless of the date.

All that being said, if your Significant Other is thrilled by anything and everything related to Valentine’s Day just grit your teeth and give ’em what they want. It’s only one day out of the year. My guess is they’ve earned a nice night out or that expensive gift.

Cowboy up and get to it, Loverboy!

As an aside, does anyone else find the idea of an armed baby with wings looking to fire a pointed stick through your heart as terrifying as I do?  No? Okay, it’s just me. Never mind…

Moving on from romantic love, we dove right into love of family with a discussion about being Dads.

I was in my 40’s when I started a family and spent many years wondering if I’d made the right decision having waited so long. Chris was in his 20’s when he became a father and wondered if he should have waited a few more years.

Did we make the right call? Take a listen and find out!

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How I Got My Very Own Robot from “Lost in Space”

It was with a tinge of sadness and nostalgia that I read of the death of the creator of Robot from TV’s “Lost in Space.”

As a kid, I was a huge fan of the somewhat hokey but for its time, very cool sci-fi series. It had aliens, a pretty set of sisters and, most of all, Robot.

Robot, whose lesser-known name was B-9, was a friend to the Robinson family and a great thorn in the side to the scheming Dr. Zachary Smith.

Robot was authoritative, had personality and all kinds of cool tools hidden inside its hardware. You have to remember that this show aired more than a  decade before George Lucas brought us C-3PO and R2-D2.

So imagine my absolute delight when a few years ago I spied in a Hammacher Schlemmer Christmas catalog a fully operational, 6½-foot-tall remote-controlled replica of Robot!

Here is a partial catalog description:

Every detail of the original robot is faithfully reproduced from original archival molds, patterns and blueprints. It is made from fiberglass, acrylic, aluminum, and steel parts, including its rotating torso and radar head, flashing lights, animated ear sensors, and clawed arms.

The robot has a 240-watt audio system, and speaks 511 pre-recorded phrases performed by Richard Tufeld, the original voice of the robot from the television series (including such familiar phrases as “Danger Will Robinson!”)

As we used to say as kids: This thing was so BOSS!

And it could be mine for only $24,500!!! Yes, you read that right.

Even though I knew it was so beyond my reach, I was in love with the idea of getting this.

Remember the kid from “A Christmas Story” who pines after that air rifle? “You’ll shot your eye out!” Well, that was me about Robot.

I told my wife and my sons (only half-jokingly) that I really, really, really, really wanted this. I had not coveted something so much for Christmas since I was 10 and I wanted (and got) the GI Joe Mobile Support Unit.

So….

One day, I call the house and I hear this ruckus in the background.

Crinkling of plastic. Things banging. Excited voices.

And then laughter. Gales of laughter from my wife, and my sons, who were then about 14 and 9.

I am like, WHAT is going on?

Well, it turns out that Meg, bless her, lit on the idea of BUILDING a  Robot to surprise me.

Inspired? Yes. Well-conceived? Well…

She went to a craft store and bought an easel, some slender pieces of balsa wood, some large sheets of poster board and other materials.

It turned out to be such a lost cause that Meg and the boys could do nothing but dissolve in laughter.

When she told me about it later I could only admire and applaud the thoughtful effort.

But she never did forget about my Robot wish and eventually did get me very own.

It’s a key chain and it stands 3½ inches tall:

key chain

 

Is it Worth Finding and Keeping a Job?

This blog post comes to us from a listener who wishes to remain anonymous. We think this story is worth sharing and will resonate with readers at About Men Radio, which is why we have agreed to conceal the author’s identity.

In writing about the hardships of being the breadwinner, being laid off and then the uphill search for work, this contributor touches on a growing trend in today’s economy and society.

As documented recently in an excellent story in The New York Times, “The Vanishing Male Worker: How America Fell Behind,” finding a job is more frustrating than ever and then, once you have one, it maybe be unrewarding.

It’s a case of being too young to retire, of being considered too experienced to land a job you’re truly qualified for and of how, ultimately, it all feels like taking sandpaper to your soul. –Chris Mele

After college I worked for 24 years straight without a break. Three places of work, all in the same field and, overall, I enjoyed my time. There were ups and downs but generally I gave it my best and I was treated fairly through most of it.

After much turmoil as the result of a corporate transaction, I was downsized. I actually welcomed it, and was ready to give some time back to my family. I embraced being home and spending time with my wife and kids. I was involved with the kids’ schools and activities to the max.

I was out of work for almost a year, much longer than I ever thought it was going to take to find new employment. My advanced education and years of experience seemed to be more of a disadvantage in this economy for the jobs available. I landed a temporary job doing what I had done previously.

It was like starting over, and although I had more experience than most people at this place, I was the low man on the totem pole, but that was OK. I actually liked it in a way, having the least responsibility.

I did my work and went home. Work stayed at work.

It was very disappointing when I was passed up for a permanent position, as I would have been expensive to keep at that level.  So, I was back to being unemployed.

This time around was different as money was short and my savings was all about gone. I needed a job, period. It still was hard out there finding something. Six months went by and so did the unemployment checks.

It was a stressful and depressing time. My self-worth took a severe beating and I questioned some past decisions that may have set me up for this predicament.

It’s very bad to think this way and very self-destructive.

Finally, a really good opportunity came up. It pays well, but it is still a temporary position. It’s also a very long commute and I spend more hours a day on the road than I would like.

I just needed to suck it up and do it. Survival mode.

Some months later, I’m not really excited about what I’m doing, and I find it is very different than what I first expected. Is it just that I can’t do this like I used to, or is it truly a poor fit and poor judgment on my part since I was distressed when I made the decision to give it a go?

I’m not sure, but it seems to be sucking the soul out of me.

I miss spending time at home, as everyone had gotten very accustomed to me being there and depending on me, and now I’m gone over 12 hours a day.

Sounds like I’m whining, but I’m not happy with my situation and looks like I’ll need to try something else again. But what if I make a change and still feel unhappy?

I think being unemployed has spoiled/ruined me in respect to working.

Being unemployed allowed me to experience something that I might not have ever had the chance to do otherwise.

So what is my time worth to me? My time is almost priceless when it comes to my family. Whatever I end up doing to support my family will need to provide me a sense of worth and hopefully something I enjoy.

Or maybe I just need to retire.

I know this is not an option right now and I will need to do some serious self evaluation and soul searching in the coming months so maybe I can start planning for that day.

I can’t wait

Photo: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / fuzzbones

Food and Culture Come Together at the Holidays

Coquito y Empanadas!

For the past 23 Christmases I have been able to share the joyous holiday spirit with my lovely wife.

We combine two very different Hispanic cultures and customs.

To outsiders, Hispanics all seem to be the same because we share the same language from the mother country of Spain, Hispanics vary widely in words, customs and traditions.

Caribbean Hispanics differ from Central American Hispanics, and those differ immensely from South American Hispanics.

To compound the issue further, there are smaller subsets of those major groups that also differ from each other. But it is that diversity that strengthens us.

The blend of Hispanic traditions and cultures is huge in my family.

My wife hails from the northern part of Puerto Rico — the Bronx. (I kid.) Yes, she was born in the Bronx, but her Puerto Rican heritage is strong and forged by very many long summer vacations in Puerto Rico.

For my part, I was born in Argentina, the southernmost of Hispanics. I lived many years of my childhood in Argentina.

So through marriage we combined our cultures and traditions and no place is it more apparent than during the holidays.

From the pernil and pasteles at Thanksgiving to the asado on Christmas Eve, foods blend and bring together the cultures.

So this Christmas, like so many before, I proudly make a Coquito recipe entrusted to me by my wife’s aunt from Puerto Rico and I also will indulge in a batch of my Mom’s Argentine empanadas.

But, of course, I will share with friends. It is, after all, the most wonderful time of the year.

Merry Christmas y Feliz Navidad!

A Grandfather’s Blessing

Christmas is here, and I remember when I was a young kid and celebrating this joyous holiday with my family, having a ball hanging with so many cousins, aunts and uncles, and my grandparents.

Christmas Eve was the night when all of my Mom’s family would gather to celebrate.

She was one of seven children, five sisters and two brothers, and with their respective kids, other relatives, friends and my grandparents, they filled my grandparents’ apartment with two to three dozen people.

It was loud and hot, and the smell of all the food was great, but the most important thing to the kids back then was the mountain of gifts that was stacked up all over the place, divided by family.

My grandfather would then get everyone’s attention and give his blessing to the family, giving thanks for our health and for being together as one family.  I’ll always remember his deep and powerful voice that exclaimed his love and pride for everyone there.

Then he would hand over the ceremonies to one of the uncles or older cousins to announce and distribute the gifts to one family at a time.  They would read the tags and we would cheer and carry on with love and good humor.  The best, of course, was that the young kids would always be first and receive a gift that was a toy.

Oh the joy of Christmas!

Santa’s Special Key and His Secret Helpers

As a kid, I’d walk around my neighborhood and there would be an endless array of Christmas trees and lights in people’s apartments.

It was beautiful going to sleep and miraculously finding presents under the tree the next morning.  Thank you, Santa!

But we didn’t have a fireplace for him to come down, so we apartment kids were told that Santa had a special key to get into all of our homes.  One year I heard a noise about two in the morning and crept out to peer into the living room.

I watched as my oldest brother and my dad played with some of the toys.

Santa must’ve come early, I thought, as I returned to bed. I awoke in the morning to find toys and clothes wrapped underneath the tree. I was told that Santa brought the wrong batteries and that my brother and dad had met him and they were appointed his elves that year.

I strained to stay awake the following year but again Santa had come and gone in almost an instant.

One year I was so excited upon getting a garbage truck. Perhaps my dad was preparing me for a city job?

One of my aunts would always give us clothes. One year it was socks, another year hats, and the following year gloves. By the fourth year, it was socks again.

I have 12 nieces and nephews. Although some are first cousins of my nieces and nephews, I consider them family. I guess that’s the true gift of Christmas: family, friendship and love.

About Food: The Place to be Was Always The Kitchen

Growing up in a household and family where so much revolved around the kitchen stays with you forever, and I owe my cooking chops and style to the women in my family, especially my mother and her sisters.

When asked to talk about how I learned to cook and who influenced me most, it took me back to my childhood and how social it was when my mom and aunts prepared meals for the family. The kitchen was the best place to be, not only for food but to catch up on family, history, and gossip.

I try to continue this with my own kids and encourage them to make meals, experiment and be together as a family at as many meals as possible. I am happy to share these experiences and memories with Fi2W and my fellow hosts of About Men Radio.

What is your story?

This multimedia piece was produced for the “Coming to the Table” series from Feet In Two Worlds.

A Very Good Dog

For anyone who has grown up with pets, the family dog has always been a true member of the family.

Recently I experienced the death of an extra-special pet, one that was the first I raised as an adult with my young children.

We inquired about Chow Chow puppies from a breeder who we had dealt with in the past and found she had a litter in the same bloodline as a dog we had before.

She sent us a puppy.

I picked this little guy up at the airport after he had traveled on two flights over a long day.

My son was about 2 years old. When they saw each other, the puppy barked and growled at him (playfully) and then my son cried and wouldn’t stop.

My wife was away on business so it was just my son, the puppy and me.

That first night was full of cleaning up pee and poop. And my son crying.

What a way to start a relationship.

The puppy was a fluffy hairball of red, black, gray and white and my neighbor thought he looked like a puff of smoke, so he was named Smokey.

Eventually things settled down and we were getting along fine, and then two days later mom came home.

She came in the door and that little dog barked at her like she had no business being there. Smokey had determined that his new family was my son and I, and this new person just didn’t belong.

Chows are known to be a one- or two-person dog as they attach themselves to one family member and basically looks to this person as the pack leader. Everyone else in the family may end up beneath them if they do not assert themselves.

Properly trained and socialized, Chows are naturally protective of their family, and when treated with love and respect, will return that love.

With this knowledge, I attended puppy obedience classes with Smokey, which proved to be very effective and rewarding for both of us.

His strong-willed personality almost got the better of him during one class when he was determined to take a toy from a much larger Akita puppy.

Dog owner and instructor intervention saved my determined puppy from some well-deserved whoop-ass that he was about to take from the other dog.

He was good with the kids, and they loved him dearly. Smokey was there for my son and through the births and childhoods of my three girls.

He was a good dog, a very good dog.

Early one morning in his 14th year, before the kids got up for school, he woke up my wife and me.

He had gone to the bathroom in the house. I didn’t think too much about it at first as he was getting old, having trouble getting up the stairs and needing more frequent trips out to go.

I let him outside and cleaned up the mess.

When I went to check on him, we looked each other in the eye and right then I knew this was it.

He knew it as well.

I covered him with a blanket and sat on the floor with him.

Stroking his head and speaking softly to him, I listened to his rough breathing and wished for his passing to come quickly and, I hoped, with little pain.

He never complained about any pain or discomfort before and wasn’t now. As his final breath passed through his nose I whispered to him how much I loved him and that he should go now and rest.

Rest in peace, Smokey. Good dog.