Thursday, June 30, 2011

Third Person Thursday: The Wax Fisherman

This is a story I had started for last Thursday, but wasn't quite ready then. I'm not sure it's ready now either, but it's a hell of a lot better than it was last week, so here it is. It was inspired by my having to return to work after three weeks off, enjoying time with my family and lots of early summer fun.

The ship had returned in the middle of the night with none of their families there to greet them. A midnight arrival was not uncommon, but a full week ahead of schedule was about as unusual as it got. The fishing had gone well this season and their hull filled faster than any voyage a single crewmember could recall.

As he had made his way on foot through the sloping streets, away from the Oceanside, the town grew steadily quieter. He turned the corner and the Gustaffsons’ house stood between him and the bright lights of the dock. For a second he found it possible to forget that he was in a harbor town whose population relied so heavily on the work he had just been doing for the past month. Right then, it looked like any other sleepy little village.

He smiled before continuing down the middle of the street, a practice he enjoyed upon late night returns. He felt like it was a special privilege, one of the few that his career afforded him. It made him feel for a short time like the most important man in town, the type of man who could walk where he pleased when he pleased.

While he enjoyed such moments when they came, fame and stature were not a priority in his life. Had that been the case, he would have tried hard to own a storefront there on the streets that lined the shore. He would have focused like the mayor on catering to tourists and participating in festivals. His feet would have stayed on land. Instead, he left for months at a time and tried to make a better life for his family, for his children. That was what mattered most to him. He didn’t want to see the place where he had been raised, the place where his children were born, become desolate and barren like so many of the once thriving harbor towns they passed each time they set sail.

Soon, he saw the light flickering in the window of his home. Walking up hill, fifty-pound bag over his shoulder, he quickened his pace. He walked up the steps to his own front door and took note of the large pile of melted wax on the windowsill. There was a wick at its top that stuck out from a barely noticeable stump of a candle. It was the remnants of thirty days worth of candles his wife had kept burning while he was away.

The first thing he would do in the morning would be to scrape the lumpy mound of wax from the sill, to remove the reminder of how long he had been away, how much time he had missed. But at that moment sleep called to him.

He licked his thumb and index finger and pinched out the flame. Then he showered as quickly and quietly as possible before climbing into bed beside his wife. She didn’t awaken but welcomed his arm around her in the midst of sleep. It was as if he had been next to her the whole time and had simply rolled the other way for a while. He fell asleep almost instantly to the smell of her hair, a welcome scent after smelling little more than fish for the past four weeks.

When he woke, it was to his wife holding his face in her hands and smiling. She had tolerated his schedule for many years so he was mildly surprised to see tears in her eyes. He put it down to the shock of his early return and before a word could be spoken between them, the rushing footsteps came down the hall and burst into their room.

The children had noticed his bag on the floor of the living room where he had dropped it in a heap. As the four of them bounded one by one onto him, his wife wiped her eyes quickly and began jumping on the bed with them.

Shortly, the smell of bacon and coffee filled the house and the three youngest children, all daughters, sat at the kitchen table almost perfectly still. Each head was turned toward the stove where his wife and oldest child, his only son, helped prepare breakfast. The breakfast of bacon and waffles with their choice of topping had become the traditional way they welcomed him home.

While they all waited excitedly for their plateful, their father took a paint scraper to the wax at the window. By the time it was his turn to carry an empty plate to the kitchen to receive his waffle, the mound was gone and he had swept the flakes of wax from the floor. It was as if it had never been there, as if he had never been missing.

The rest of the day saw baseball with his son and reading books to his daughters, letting the oldest of the three girls read a book to him. It was a perfect first day back on land.

That night, once the children were all in bed, they stayed awake until the sunrise, talking, catching up on all that had happened. Sometimes he even thought it was more enjoyable to hear it told in his wife’s voice than to have experienced it himself. He loved watching the emotion and the light in her eyes as she spoke of things she was particularly happy about.

How he missed her whenever he was away. Some women could never handle the schedules of their fisherman husbands. Just as the neighboring towns along the coast that had fallen into disrepair, they had watched many marriages struggle and sometimes collapse.

For sure they had had their share of troubles. When money gets tight, everyone argues. But their biggest fights came when he tried to pretend he hadn’t been gone. It made her feel insignificant. He had learned over time that they couldn’t pretend their lives were more normal than they were. He became better at acknowledging all that she had done in his absence and she had developed a way of bringing him up to speed without guilt.

In the meantime, they lived like thirteen year olds at their first sleepover. They stayed awake talking each night as long as they could. When the youngest of the girls came into their room, they didn’t bother trying to return her to her own bed. If one of the kids even mentioned wanting to try something new they did their best to make it happen. If there was a carnival within driving distance, they went to it. Every meal had dessert.

One day, while out shopping, his wife silently picked up a new box of candles from the bottom shelf. It was while he was talking with their son about something he wanted and if he hadn’t been trying to sneak a peak of her bending down to get the box in those jeans that fit her just right, he wouldn’t even have noticed that she had done it. But after she dropped it into the cart, she glanced up and noticed he was staring right at her. She dropped her eyes in obvious disappointment that her stealth hadn’t worked. She didn’t want to remind him of how difficult it was when he was gone right then, but having the candles in the window was important to her. It served as a constant reminder that he would be back eventually and that she burned inside for him until that day.

With her eyes down, she hadn’t noticed how quickly he moved to her side. Suddenly, his arm was around her waist, pulling her close to him. With his other hand at the small of her back, he kissed her, bending her backwards slightly in his enthusiasm. “Gross,” their kids agreed and they continued shopping, his wife’s cheek’s flushed red. They held hands until it was time to enter the check out line.

Knowing he would have to leave again added a sense of urgency to their lives. Each day was lived to its fullest, no feeling kept inside. When they were together there was no time for hang-ups. No day could be wasted. He brought her flowers and massaged her feet. She cooked him his favorite dinners and left him love notes. Anything that could be done together was.

He was truly home. Some of his crewmembers couldn’t wait to get back to the ocean. They relaxed and fattened themselves up on land, but the sea called to them. It was who they really were. It was the opposite for him. He was a husband and a father who happened to be a fisherman by trade. His natural state involved his family. That’s where he would choose to be.

Sooner than it seemed it should the day came for him to leave. His girls threw their arms around him, called him daddy and cried. His son kept a brave face but kissed his cheek and said, “I love you, dad.” In the early morning hours, a more passionate goodbye had been shared between he and his wife. Now, in front of the children, she kissed him and said, “See you soon.” Then she went straight to the window, placed a new candle on the sill and lit it.

As he stepped out of the front door and into the street he watched a single bead of wax slide downward. He knew the symbol was important to his wife and would never deny her its comfort. But he was more than the pile of wax that built in his absence. He was her husband. He was the father of their children. He was the one who cleaned off the windowsill when he came home and made everything better.

He walked down the street and turned to wave to them on the porch again before he disappeared out of sight behind the Gustaffson’s house at the corner. He already looked forward to returning home soon.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

TGD Movie Review: Super 8

A week ago I saw two movies in one day. Contain your excitement for a minute over this because the reason I mention it is that I have only reviewed one of the two films here on this blog.

I am but a humble, independent blogger with no sponsorship. By the time I use my own resources to see a movie or purchase a product, it is often after it has been out for some time. Thus, it is with an apology for the delay that I get around to my review of Super 8, J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg’s attempt to go retro on the summer blockbuster. (If anyone reading this happens to be looking for someone to review products and write reviews, consider this a shameless attempt to attract exactly that sort of attention.)

The Plus Side: Summer movies have become expensive, poorly written, special effects laden behemoths whose sole purpose is to devour your cash as quickly as possible. A teaser trailer is released, the best scenes in the movie are shown to attract you like moths to the flame and make you think there is more where that came from and then they suck in as many movie-goers as possible in the opening weekend before word can get out that the film sucked…epically.

Contrast that format with the way Super 8 was marketed. Its commercials and trailers were fairly vague. The story reveals rather sparse. Okay, you knew there was a spectacular train accident, but you didn’t know why or what it meant. The entire story remained shrouded in mystery.

I venture a guess that this is because the filmmakers knew the movie would not disappoint. “It’s us,” the well-known names behind it said. “We’ve known one another for years. Just trust us, you’re going to want to see this movie.” And while many producers and directors have cashed in their reputation over the years with the same back alley smooth talk just to sell you a Faux-lex (Get it? Fake Rolex?), Spielberg and Abrams deliver the goods.

Super 8 is equal parts suspense, disaster, sci-fi and coming of age film. My wife called it a cross between E.T., The Goonies and Cloverfield. I would agree except that I believe you will still enjoy this movie after watching it a second time, unlike Cloverfield. You identify with the characters immediately upon meeting them the way you do with only good story telling. It’s not heavy on special effects but relies more on the suspense of the situation to trigger your excitement, fear and relief. When the time is right, however, the effects do not look hokey. You go from being amused and uplifted to being terrified and it all happens right alongside the film’s protagonists.

A good summer movie keeps you on your seat from start to finish. It makes you identify with the characters. It causes you to go out of your way to bring it up in conversation with your coworkers so that you might find one who has seen it and talk about it without spoiling anything. This is one of those movies.

The Down Side: I wouldn’t call it a family film. Younger kids will be scared at times. There is not blood and guts, but some scary imagery nonetheless that under ten viewers may be frightened by. There were moments when I was scared and I’m thirty-four years old.

Also, while Abrams and Spielberg make you glad you trusted them, I think there are still some holes in the plot that they glance over by taking advantage of their previous success. Sometimes the movie leaves you wanting a better explanation while the writers seem to have employed a standard Hollywood gimmick to bridge the gap. How is such a large thing evading detection? Insert five second long overheard dialogue. Audience sigh, “Oh, of course.” I know the movie was not about the monster/alien (Is it a monster or an alien? I’m no spoiler!) and that it’s role in the movie was as a catalyst to drive the characters lives in an interesting direction. That was most certainly to the film’s credit. However, it ended with me wanting to know more about the beast. It need not be all the mushy details, but something more. I don’t think I’m alone in this.

The Wrap Up: I was excited to see Super 8 and it did not disappoint. It was a character driven story that sucked you in at the beginning, made you sweat through the details and spit you out at the end, satisfied with your movie experience. If you go to see it, trust me that it will be far more enjoyable and much less bodily fluid and saliva covered than my description makes it seem.

TGD Rating: 9/10 star. Go see it. It is every bit the well told, old-school, summer blockbuster that they billed it to be. And stick around for the credits where you’ll see a little something extra. Don’t ask me what. I said I’m not spoiler.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Deetly Features

Having returned to work after some extended time off through most of June, my sleep schedule has left less time for blog posts. That's my best attempt at why the weekly features are being posted on Monday this week.

If you're like me, you like to have something on hand during the summer to read while enjoying the weather. If you're even more like me, you like having something for your kids to read so that you can keep them quiet for a little while every now and then. Do you like killing two birds with one stone? Really? There's something wrong with you then. Why are you going around killing birds, you sicko.

Anyway, along those lines, this week's top five list consists of the top five Transformer Generation Dad recommended summer books for your kids and you:

5. Meanwhile - A flow-chart choose your own adventure book by Jason Shiga that isn't short on complicated details and where every choice leads you to a different telling of the story. The whole family can read it and each have a completely different experience with it.

4. Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity - First Second Books has been publishing some entertaining kid-centric graphic novels and this is one of their latest. I picked it up after reading friend of Transformer Generation Dad, Jonathan Liu's review on GeekDad. It's wordy so it won't read as quickly as many graphic novels, but it's wordy in a humorous over the top anime/sci-fi spoof sort of way. It's random and funny and leaves you trying to figure the story out, making it a good summer read.

3. I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to be Your Class President - Josh Lieb's novel tells the story of a young boy who controls everything behind the scenes while portraying himself as hapless. You get to enjoy his attempts to gain popularity and social acceptance while claiming to need neither as he manipulates the lives of those around him in hilarious ways.

2. The Graveyard Book - A book about a young boy raised in a graveyard and under the protection of its ghostly inhabitants, this is a great book for young readers and adults alike. It hovers right around three hundred pages in paperback.

1. The Bone Books - With nine volumes plus a prequel, a handbook and two spin-off books, the story telling and artwork of Jeff Smith's epic graphic novel will give you and your kids plenty to keep you busy for awhile.

This week's cool-ass thing you will never own is a bantha. While slow and smelly, they are great work animals, able to pull heavy loads. They aren't particularly expensive going for a mere ten druggats on Tatooine, but the fuel costs to get out there and bring one back will kill you.

This week's sign you are a nerd is that you sort your Lego bricks. Whether you choose to do it by size, style or color, the fact that you have taken the time to sit down and pick through each brick one at a time with obsessive-compuksive accuracy makes you a nerd. I picked up some office sized trash bins in primary color from Target if anyone happens to be looking for suggestions.

This week's nemesis is french fries. Aside from being disposed to disliking anything French (berets, body hair, smugness and Jerry Lewis movies), fries are offered with almost every single meal and it makes trying to eat better almost impossible.

This week's lesson learned is that a cold beer goes a long way to sooth a burn. Whether it be a sunburn or burn on let's just randomly say your forearm from grilling, and whether the pain to be soothed is physical or emotional, beer does the job.

This week's equation determines how many bugs you will end up swallowing this summer:

If we add the relative density of foliage in the area, meaning number of trees in a square quarter mile (d) to the area of standing water in your immediate area in square feet (a) and the time in hours spent either on a motor cycle or riding in a convertible with the top down (t) then divide that sum by the amount of deet you use in ounces (D) and then add that total to the average temperature in your area (T) and multiple that entire product with the average humidity percentage (h) you can calculate how many bugs you will inadvertently eat over the next three months.

This week's Star Wars quote is: "Get in there you big furry oaf! I don't care what you smell!"

As my sons spend their mornings feeding themselves since they are out of school and I don;t need to be awake to take them anywhere most days, we've been keeping cereal stocked in our home. That made me wonder what your favorite kids' cereal is. Is it Frosted Flakes, Froot Loops, Corn Pops or Cookie Crisp?

That's all for this week's features. Thank you all for reading.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Learning to Lose Your Own Way

So much about my two boys is similar. They look alike to the point that people (and even iPhoto) confuse them with one another. They both like the same toys such that they would stab each other in the neck to get an extra Lego set or pack of Pokemon cards. Their grades in school are even mirror images of one another. To save on printing, their school may have just changed the first name on one son’s report card from the previous year and handed the same one to his younger brother.

Both of their baseball seasons ended this past week, both with playoff losses. In defeat, I was afforded an opportunity to see a major difference between them highlighted.

My older son plays in a more competitive league. The kids were pitching, the games are twice as long and the parents were at least ten times more critical of the head coach’s decisions. His team was particularly good this year (perhaps due to all the pressure from the parents) and finished the regular season with the best record.

Meanwhile, my youngest son’s team had the coach pitching to the kids. Everybody was allowed to bat every inning until the playoffs when outs started counting. They were encouraged with each play, even if they completely blew the tag and cost their team two runs by not having their head in the freaking game!

Both of my sons improved as the year went on. They were both good teammates and had fun playing. That’s all I expected or even hoped for.

Still, when my oldest son, whose team I thought had a pretty fair shot to win their league’s championship, lost his final game, I expected it to bring him down. I thought I might see some tears.

What I saw instead was a boy who left his catcher’s gear on, gathered with his team and listened intently as his coach gave a heartfelt and touching final speech about how proud he was of all of them. He looked right at the coach and nodded in agreement, never looking like he was upset. I was proud of how he was handling it. Then, when the coach’s eyes would turn to another player, he would subtly reach down and unfasten another strap on his shin guards.

I shrugged mentally. It was not the reaction from him that I had expected as he usually gets upset with losing, occasionally shedding a tear. Instead, he was attempting to tend to his business with the emotional display of a robot. He apparently just wanted to get out of there.

Contrast this with my youngest son, whose team had never kept score prior to the playoff game he lost. He has always been one to say, “It’s just for fun,” when friends around him get too competitive and begin to argue.

As his team’s fate was sealed, he high fived each player on the other team with a stone-faced expression. He repeated, “Good game,” to them all and quietly thanked his coach for the season. We walked to the car and I told him he played well in that game as he had all season long. Once he was in the back seat, I turned to ask him what he would like for dinner. At that point, he began sobbing. All I could do was hold him for a few minutes and let him get it out. Then he finally related that he just wanted to go home and take a shower. He was spent.

My heart broke for him. Yet, while I hugged him and patted his back, I took solace in the fact that he obviously cared. A lot. He was competitive enough to be devastated by the loss. Provided it didn’t last all week, I figured it was something we could work with for next year.

And as I began looking forward to next year (as we Cub fans have been forced to do for over a century) it dawned on me they will most likely be on the same team next season. It made me start to ponder whether their attitude toward losing will become even more obviously different or they will start to see things more similarly.

That caused me to remember a question my wife had once asked the two of them that I thought shed some light on this issue. One day, while in a particularly existential mood, my wife inquired of my sons as to how they would spend their last few days on earth if they knew the world was going to end in a week. My seven-year-old quickly answered that he would have a party with his friends and family and spend time having fun with them. We nodded, thinking it was a fairly good answer. My eight-year-old continued reading his book and without looking up said, “I don’t know, I guess I’d just sit in a coffin and wait for it to be over.”

Just a hunch, but I think my youngest will be the more competitive of the two and my oldest will continue to accept that things won’t always go his way.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

TGD Movie Review: The Green Lantern

My sons mentioned in passing yesterday morning that they might be interested in seeing Green Lantern. A few short hours later, before they could change their minds, we were all at the theater, escaping the humidity and watching the tale of the Emerald Sentry of Justice on the big screen. As luck would have it, my wife and I also escaped all other responsibility for a late night screening of Super 8, marking perhaps the first time since I was a teenager that I went to see two movies in one day. But that review will have to wait for tomorrow.

In a summer of superhero movies dominated by Marvel (Thor, X-Men: First Class and the upcoming Captain America) DC threw its hat in the ring with their next best hero to Batman. As with Thor, I was a little concerned that the massive cosmic scope of the setting might be tough to translate into a movie. As with Thor, they actually did a good job on that aspect of the film. Unlike Thor, it fell short of its potential in some other areas. Allow me to elaborate...

The Plus Side: There's a pretty complex story behind the existence of the Green Lantern Corps. It's the story of an entire universe, really, one that could take up an entire movie in itself. But DC needed to get to one particular Green Lantern: Hall Jordan. That called for some narration by a deep voice as we saw a few scenes out in deep space. To their credit, the filmmakers did a fine job giving the audience a grasp of the depth and seriousness of what was going on without boring them to death before the meat of the movie started. I dare say that they did this even more succinctly than the makers of Thor.

With that hurdle crossed, we needed to meet both our hero and our threat to the universe.

Ryan Reynolds played a likable enough Hal Jordan. We got a sense of his cockiness without being made to think he was a complete douche. He obviously cared about his family and rushed to the aid of Abin Sur, not yet knowing what he was or that he was to be his predecessor. We were also allowed to see that beneath his exterior lay insecurity that would obviously later play a part in the moral of the story. Early in the movie, these character details were conveyed well.

As for the villain, the film did a good job of introducing you to the large-scale entity of fear known as Parallax. If you were to compare this to the way Marvel portrayed Gallactus in the second Fantastic Four movie you'd be ready to hand Green Lantern this year's Oscar. You were afraid of Parallax and fully aware of the size and reach of its powers without thinking it completely ridiculous.

But what about the action? Being able to generate solid light from a ring in the form of anything one can imagine in their mind would look pretty comic book-ish on screen, wouldn't it? Wouldn't it remove any believability you established during your base story from the movie? Yes and no. A superhero movie looking like a comic book at times is alright in my mind. In fact, it can be ideal. How else could you show a thousand different Green Lanterns on screen? How else would you show light projecting from Hal Jordan's ring in the form of a fighter jet? If the imagery looks cartoonish, then it becomes silly and the threat to the universe being beaten by such a cheesy superhero makes you mad. But the movie made this work. It balanced imagination, special effects and a touch of humor in a way that allowed you to see the glowing green projections of Hal's mind without being snapped out of the story.

Because of this, when a fight scene began, I bought in. I would lean forward in my seat and be prepared to see something awesome and often did. I would also want it to last longer than it did, in fact, and that brings us to our next section.

The Down Side: There was plenty of action, especially for an origin story. The problem was the story development. It wasn't even that those sections were done particularly poorly and slow moving (though some of them were), it was that the movie interrupted itself at some of its best moments with the way it awkwardly transitioned from action to story development.

The result was like being told a classic story you felt you could sink your teeth into by someone who didn't remember the details in how to tell it. It was like listening to your six-year-old explain Moby Dick. There was a sense that the director kept saying, "Oh, I almost forgot to tell you," throughout the film. The slow moving portions stopped serving a definable purpose after the first half-hour, unlike the original Iron Man, where you were interested in getting to know Tony Stark outside of the suit.

I realize that the action sequences in these films are infinitely more expensive than the rest of the scenes and further respect when a director does not want to use too many green screen scenes. That all said, I appreciate it even more when a director doesn't think that every action scene needs to be over the top and adds a few scenes of moderate action instead of dragging out the slow scenes to fill the time.

That was the major downfall of Green Lantern. There is a story there that you want like. It's a classic good versus evil, hero learning to believe in himself tale, but the film removes you from it every time you start to really get into it. If they could have done the entire movie the way they did the first twenty minutes to half hour of the film, it would have been great. On the contrary, the audience is made to feel like they just sat through a two and a half hour film when it was really just barely over 100 minutes.

The Wrap-Up: If you go to see Green Lantern expecting greatness, you will be disappointed. If you want to see some cool special effects and some superhero action in a light summer movie, you'll have fun. Parallax is just scary enough to frighten some smaller kids, but it still isn't blood and guts type of scary. There is a valuable moral to the story and if you look at the slow moving sections of the film as an opportunity to hit the bathroom or refill your concessions, you can make the best of it. The ending is pretty satisfying. I would recommend the 3D as the effects were worth it and also that you stick around for a scene after the credits.

TGD Rating: 3/5 of a star. It's just over half a star (one full star being our highest possible rating, which is a very appropriate rating system for outer space themed movies, might I add) which would get to the point that I would wish I hadn't wasted my time. It was fun enough that I don"t regret seeing it in 3D on the big screen, but I wish that my second favorite DC character had been given a better movie at the same time.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

R.I.P. "Big Man"

It was a busy weekend for me. Baseball games, Father's Day celebrations and the necessary activity for this blog, including the conclusion of our t-shirt giveaway and the updating of our weekly features.

Lost in all of that was the passing of a man whose influence was great. He has made my life better and undoubtedly has done the same for many others. I had the pleasure of witnessing him ply his trade on three separate occasions in person. He played the saxophone like no other and filled the songs of Bruce Springsteen with an unforgettable amount of soul and feeling. I speak of Clarence "Big Man" Clemons.

While The Boss has had some success on his own to be sure and wrote plenty of meaningful and entertaining music during his solo career, I would argue as I'm sure would many others that his best work came with The E Street Band at his back. Clarence Clemons was the largest (literally and figuratively) part of this band. Sure, the guitar, the drums, the keyboard all played into the sound, but I dare you to take the saxophone out of Born to Run and still enjoy that song. And it's not just that particular hit, but a huge amount of Springsteen's music.

So, Godspeed, Clarence. This fan wanted to write a brief post in the hope that it might help send you on your way. May your spirit be lifted to the heavens like the sound of your saxophone in a crowded, cheering stadium.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Weekly Father Features

After taking a break yesterday and relishing in the spoils of fatherhood (opening hand made cards, playing video games with my sons, enjoying a fantastic dinner cooked by my wife and, of course, beer) I am well rested and prepared to update the weekly features.

This week's top five list chronicles my picks for the top 5 movie dads:

5. Clark Griswold - Not necessarily father of the year, but he tries to make the experiences his kids are taking in, whether it be road trips, sledding or Christmas decorating, the best possible. The hilarious results help him make the list.

4. Mr. Levenstein (of American Pie) - On the surface, a complete dork and the sort of dad you know is going to embarrass his kid. When it comes down to it, however, he is one of the most supportive and understanding dads ever portrayed in a film. If you give your kid support and love such that they are confident you will never see them as a freak or loser no matter how they screw up, it gives them the kind of stable foundation that they can build a happy and successful life upon.

3. Marlin - Nemo's over-protective father has his issues. Still, he met and overcame incredible odds crossing the ocean to find and reunite with his beloved son. How many of us would navigate our way through sharks, massive angler fish, undersea currents, being stuck in the belly of a whale and caught in a fishing net as capably.

2. Bryan Mills (of Taken) - Another example of a father who faced all challenges to protect his child. Far more vicious and on the offensive than the unfunny clownfish at number 3, but similar in that he would stop at nothing to get his kid back.

1. "The Old Man"/Mr. Parker (of A Christmas Story) - Gruff and cranky very often and prone to meltdowns over broken major awards, clanky furnaces, turkey and the Bumpus's dogs, Ralphie's father performed perhaps the most unselfish and undeniably the most dangerous act of all the listed fathers on behalf of his son. He openly defied his wife's wishes. That's worth the top spot on our list.

This week's cool-ass thing you will never own is the Black Pearl. Jack Sparrow's...I'm sorry, Captain Jack Sparrow's ship is the fastest in the seven seas and carries an awful lot of rum. Rest assured, however, that it's a pretty penny ye'll need to be spendin' if ye have yer eyes on her. Plus, ye can bet that Jack'll be comin' fer his beauty after long and mor'n likely he'll find a way to take it back from ye. That's yer fair warnin', now off with yer scurvy, bow-legged self or ye'll be made to walk the plank!

This week's sign you are a nerd is that you make a point of always "liking" your own Facebook status. You can't just leave it out there without some sort of visible feedback below it can you? You really think it will make others more likely to comment if they see someone else already "liked" it.

This week's nemesis is spider webs. I'm a lover of nature. I marvel at the intricacy of a good web. I am also amazed by the dedication of a spider to rebuild a web that has been destroyed immediately. While I hate spiders in my house, I respect them and leave them to their own devices provided they are outdoors. That said, few things make a summer day so instantly uncomfortable than walking through that one long, errant strand of super strong webbing that you don't see coming. What did that damn spider expect to catch coming through your gangway anyway? Plus, whether you got rid of it or not, you still feel like there's some in your hair at least three hours after you walk through it. Yuck!

This week's lesson learned is to check and then re-check the separately packaged bags in your Lego sets to make sure you got all the pieces out. Those little translucent studs can be a real pain to notice and it becomes even less pleasant if you have to try and dig them out of the trash in your alley.

This week's equation deals with infield dirt. It's something I will not be dealing with as much any longer in a very short time as my sons are close to finishing their seasons.

The depth in millimeters of the layer of infield dirt that will be on your skin after a little league game (d) can be found by adding the speed of the wind in mph (s) to the area of your particular field in square feet (a) then multiplying that sum with the time in days since the last rain (t) and dividing that entire product by the total number of trees and other sizable items of vegetation around the field that might serve as windbreakers (v).

This week's Star Wars quote is, "Luke's not a farmer, Owen. He has too much of his father in him."

Finally, after finding out that more of you miss Calvin & Hobbes than The Far Side in last week's poll, I ask this week what you think of the movement away from summer vacation over the last several years. As more and more schools hold a summer quarter, do you advocate spreading the vacation time throughout the year, or are you a staunch supporter of three months off in the summer?

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Like My Father Before Me

Recently having transferred all our family photos to iPhoto, I have had some experience with the Faces option on the program.

For those of you who may not be familiar with this, it is the latest, JackBauer-esque technology for your photo archiving. It recognizes a face in a picture and then asks you who it is. After you type a name in, it then attempts to recognize the same face in other photos.

Notice, I said attempt.

My two sons are very often confused as twins. This happens in real life when real people are standing in front of them looking at their faces. Apparently their faces are so similar that it causes these same people to lose their minds and they are stricken completely oblivious to the six-inch height difference and different eye color.

Thus, I wasn’t surprised that iPhoto was often confusing my sons with one another. I actually had to look at the pictures pretty carefully myself to determine if it was guessing which son’s face was which correctly.

But amidst all that confusion, I found another trend I hadn’t expected. I typed in my own name below my face. I did the same for all my family members: my wife, my mother, my father, my brothers, my in-laws and so on. As I would then try and let the software do its job, I noticed that I often instead of being able to check the green check below my own face to tell the computer, “Good job,” I often had to check the red x to say, “No, no, no, you’ve got it all wrong, you nincompoop.” (Not my choice of words, that’s the literal translation from binary.)

The software was confusing me with one of my family members in particular on a startlingly regular basis. It kept asking me if I was my father.

My first reaction was to chuckle. My wife often tells me that I am beginning to look more like my father every day. To be honest, I was also instinctively hurt. I couldn’t help but feel like my computer was calling me old. This is not intended as dig on my dad’s appearance. I think that my father, in his early sixties, is in pretty decent shape and that he is a good-looking guy. He’s just 30 years older than me!

I began to build resentment towards my computer’s face recognition software. I bet CIU’s programs never mistook a terrorist for a man thirty years his senior. If they had, Jack may never have tracked down those uranium rods and saved the country. At least it would have taken more than 24 hours and then would have had to have a season ending cliffhanger, which would have annoyed the hell out of me. Obviously my computer couldn’t cut the mustard when compared to imaginary technology from an over the top television action drama. What exactly had I paid so much money for?

As with most things in life (like the majority of my teenage years) everything seems less serious with the passage of time. That certainly held true for this whole experience. I relaxed, laughed about it, got back on speaking terms with my computer and now, on Father’s Day, I am proud to have my face confused with my father’s.

Maybe it’s a good omen. Maybe if I look like him, I’ll be more like him. Maybe it’s an indication of how well received my sense of humor will be. Perhaps it means I’ll become a better musky fisherman like he is. It gives me hope that I can be the sort of funny, supportive, loving father that he was to me and the kind of amazing grandfather that he is to my sons if I am ever lucky enough to hold the same role with my children’s offspring.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is this: Thank you, dad. I love you. Happy Father’s Day.

T(GD)-Shirt Giveaway: Final Day

Happy Father's Day to all the daddies out there. Here is the final quote, the one you had to know was coming, to end our week long t-shirt giveaway contest:

"No, I am your father."

The challenge here is getting the full correct title and making sure your quote is from the same film, though to be honest that isn't much of a challenge either. Put both those things and your email in a comment below this post and the final t-shirt is yours.

Good luck everyone. Thanks for playing all week. I hope you come back and hang out here again soon and I hope you all enjoy your Father's Day.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

T(GD)-Shirt Giveaway: Day 6

Only two quotes left in our t-shirt giveaway contest. Yesterday's quote remains unanswered, but we must move forward so here is today's:

"In the heat of battle, my father wove a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan."

Leave a comment below with the title of the movie, another quote from the same movie and your e-mail and you will win today's shirt. If you've won one already, please tell a friend to jump on the opportunity and then let another friend know too since Friday's shirt is yet unclaimed.

Good luck, everyone.

Friday, June 17, 2011

TGD Movie Review: Kung Fu Panda 2

It’s been out for nearly a month now, but the wife and kids and I finally made it out to see Kung Fu Panda 2. I was pleased that this film did not decide to do the colon and second line of description in its title. Movies too often want to make the full title take up as much space as possible. The Transformers series is beginning to annoy with that. Megan Fox was your lead actress for the first two. This means that you were trying to keep viewers looking at the screen, not win an Academy Award for anything other than special effects. Just make it Transformers 2 and Transformers 3.

Reflecting the title, I entered the theater expecting a simple, funny kids film. What I saw instead was actually a moving and rich story of Po the Panda’s origin. It was done ten times better, in fact, than the unfortunate way that the origin story of Wolverine played out on the big screen. Come one, Deadpool ends up with everyone’s powers? Sorry, that still pisses me off every time I think about it. Let’s move past that and get more specific about Kung Fu Panda 2.

The Plus Side: Kung Fu Panda 2 does action right. You have fight scenes, explosions, high-speed chases and epic large scale battles. On top of that, however, there is humor. So often the humor is all about the timing and that always makes it feel clever. A funny line will jump into the dialogue and lighten the mood just as you think the movie is beginning to take itself too seriously. While blending action and humor well is about as much as you can ask from a kids’ film, Kung Fu Panda added a level.

I’m assuming most of you have seen the first movie at some point. I thought it was both humorous and odd that they danced around the fact that a panda is raised by a goose. I didn’t think for a second that the ignoring of that detail was a deliberate set-up for the second film.

The details of Po’s true origin aren’t tough to figure out but as you watch him figure it out, you actually find yourself feeling compassion for the big fluffy animated hero. To be honest, I had a tear in my eye more than once as Po struggled to accept the truth of his past, take control of his future and find his inner peace. It was a positive message for its young audience, one of hope and encouragement.

Finally, the voice talents in this movie were cool. Of course you have Jack Black and Angelina Jolie (whose voice doesn’t sound as disgustingly skinny as she has become) in the lead roles. Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, David Cross and Lucy Liu fill the rest of the Furious Five and Dustin Hoffman appears, albeit in a more limited capacity, as Master Shifu. Now add Gary Oldman. He voices one of the most believably evil cartoon villains I have seen in recent memory in Lord Shen. Making a peacock seem diabolically cold-blooded does not strike me as an easy task, but Gary pulls it off. Danny McBride, Dennis Haysbert, and even Jean-Claude Van Damme get into the mix, but my favorite is Fred Tatasciore. He fills the role of both Po’s father and a Gorilla Guard. He seems to pop up in voice credits a lot. His premier role has been the Hulk in Disney XD’s Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes series.

The Down Side: It’s still a kids’ movie centered around fighting. On top of it, ammunition is added this time. I’m not spoiling anything by letting you know that in the opening sequence we find out that the evil Lord Shen has harnessed gunpowder in order to use cannons and attempt to take over China and then the world. This results in a lot of shooting, a lot of punching, and a hell of a lot of kicking. But hey, it’s a kung fu movie. It’s no Kill Bill, you may have your children trying some new moves on one another after watching it.

The Wrap Up: In all, you have action, humor and a compelling story here that both kids and adults will enjoy. None of the action is too scary for little ones, but the violence obviously exists. If that’s not an issue for you, you have a 90-minute film that fills the time nicely and gives you a great family day in an air-conditioned theater away from the hot summer sun.

TGD Rating: 9/10 of a star. I liked it. I like it a lot. I think most of you will too. We didn’t do 3D but I took note of many potential scenes where 3D effects would have been awesome, so I think the extra few bucks might be worth it on this one. Enjoy.

T(GD)-Shirt Giveaway: Day 5

Let's get right to the quote for Day 5:

"After you were taken by Diver Dan over there, your dad followed the boat like a maniac."

The first to leave (1) the movie title, (2) another quote from the same movie and (3) their email address in a comment below this post wins the Transformer Generation Dad t-shirt for Day 5.

Two more days remain as this contest will run through and including Father's Day. And please don't be disheartened if you don't get a shirt. Remember, the TGD Store is now open an you can magically transport yourself there by clicking the store icon at the top of the right hand column.

Now I'm going to run off and take a shower. Shameless plugs make me feel all slimy.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Third Person Thursday: Gamer

The third person post below is inspired by Transformer Generation Dad's logo at the top of this blog entitled Gamers. I wanted to write something with a Father's Day twist to it and realized that this blog was started because of and is centered around fatherhood on a daily basis. Thus, I stared at the logo that I created when I first thought of this blog's purpose and created a story based on my mind's inner workings.

It took him eleven attempts, but once he finally passed the fiery Sea of Skarmoosh, Henry switched over to automatic. His thumbs moved like lightening. The distance between A and Y became nonexistent. The control stick glided from side to side with zero resistance. He flew through never seen before levels as if he had navigated them a thousand times.

In his excitement, Henry had arisen from the big comfy chair in which he had started his adventure and had begun to move around the room. When he dodged the bursts from the anti-matter cannon, he dropped a shoulder and moved the controller in the desired direction in an attempt to get his onscreen counterpart to move faster. As his character ducked below the propeller blades of the level boss’s helicarrier while attempting to board it, Henry too, squatted slightly.

The battle with The Lord of Lamentation proved difficult. It was the first legitimate hiccup in his quest to save the Staff of Eternal Pleasantness since he crossed the fiery sea. After three attempts, no amount of sticking out his tongue seemed to help at all.

Henry hit the Start button and sprinted up the stairs to family computer room. It wasn’t until he needed to type the name of the video game into the walkthrough site that he realized he was still holding the controller in his left hand. Thank God for wireless technology.

His eyes scanned frantically over the pages as he scrolled past them on the screen.

Lillypad Island, psshhht, easy. Like anyone would even need a walkthrough.

Pirate Ship of Unattainable Mercy. Kicked its ass.

Expert Bomb-Maker’s Cabin in the Wild Woods of West Calamity. Done.

Sea of Skarmoosh. Did that.

Hall of Putrid Debris, no; Land of Frigid Zombies, no; Staircase of Forgotten Memories, no; Boarding Helicarrier, no…AHA!

Henry quickly scrolled the page back up and proceeded down with extreme caution so as to not accidentally spy the secrets lying in wait beyond his current level. He just wanted enough information to get past and then he would survive on his own, or at least until he got stuck again.

“His sideburns,” Henry said out loud. “I never would have gotten that.”

Then he ran out of the family computer room and back down the stairs just as fast as he has run up them. “I got it, I got it, I got it,” he assured no one in particular on the entire way back to his rightful place before the television.

Within seconds, he used the Unbreakable Sheep Shearers on The Lord of Lamentation’s sideburns and had left him vulnerable to his basic attack. After unleashing that little gem, he dispatched the daunting boss with ease.

The final battle then went quickly because, despite his best attempts not to, Henry had seen what was next on the walkthrough he had consulted on the internet.

Henry’s thumbs came to rest. They felt warm. As he released the death grip on the controller, his fingers ached. The small molded indents where the tiny screws were recessed on the controller’s bottom side could be seen imprinted into his palms. He gazed in awe at the ending animation sequence. He watched as the Staff of Eternal Pleasantness returned to its owner, King Megamouth, and in return, he had offered the hand of his beautiful daughter, Princess D'Mure to Henry’s in game character.

Henry’s eyes watered. It wasn’t so much out of joy as it was fatigue. He had not blinked them for some time and they stung the first time he allowed them to close. But a few of the tears that ran down his cheeks were actually tears of joy.

“That,” Henry said aloud, “is how it’s done.”

“Great dad,” his sons replied form behind him as he sat upside down in the big comfy chair Henry had abandoned so long ago. “Do you think we can get a turn now?”

“Hey, you’re the one who asked me to get you past that level.”

“That was thirteen levels ago.”

“Whatever,” Henry said and handed his son the controller. “Might as well just start over on your own save file.”

While he tried to act imposed upon, Henry walked to the stairs with his chest puffed out and his spirits high. Even after his son called after him, “Ewww, you got the controller all sweaty!"