Nature vs. Nurture

Early in our relationship my wife and I had some fun little debates about whether we are the product of our genetics or our environment. Intellectual honesty would conclude that both are factors in our final person, however whereas I believed (and still do) that our DNA was a greater contributing factor the wife fell on the side of environment. So, I decided to present my reasoning here, and as she’s one of my few followers she can read and comment if she so chooses.

Each person is unique even if similar to others, genetically linked or not. Of the billions of humans on Earth this uniqueness comes from the many subtle permutations within our very DNA. These variances also manifest themselves in traits skipping generations even if the environment of the core family has changed. Look no further than my two brothers and myself.

We were born four years apart, to the day; my oldest brother and I (the youngest) share the same birthday. My parents remain to this day married so we all grew up in the same house in the same area with two consistent parents. If arguing for the side of nurture, the three brothers would have greater similarities in character, yet this is not exactly the case. Where my older brothers are outgoing, talkative, and confident I am reserved, quiet and decidedly lacking in confidence. Of my two older brothers, their similarities in character are also sources of variable difference as the middle brother is even more talkative and outgoing than the other.

Our tastes in lifestyles are different as well. Even though we grew up in the same neighborhood our preferences for where we’d like to live are different based on conversations and comments on social media. Honestly, I’m not sure how my oldest brother feels about the subject but my middle brother seems to deem a more suburban or rural living arrangement favorable. I, however, am a new urbanist who thrives on the activity of a traditional neighborhood whether it be within a city or town. I find this dichotomy fascinating as my social butterfly brother who talks often, makes friends easily and enjoys gatherings such as reunions would likely prefer to live more secluded while off-the-charts introvert me enjoys the anonymity of the paradoxical seclusion of a more densely inhabited environment.

Even the differences in physical appearance, which are most definitely influenced by genetics, help to augment my argument. Our middle brother is significantly taller than us bookend midgets. Most of the men on dad’s side of the family are six-foot and over, yet the many subtle differences which can only be explained by genetics explain why we are left holding the short end of that stick. (Pity my two favorite sports to play were basketball and volleyball.)

Once again, this doesn’t mean it’s all in the genes. Just most of our character traits can be traced to the very blood of our being. Sure, environment may slightly modify those traits, but only extreme environmental forces can have a changing impact on our personalities. Perhaps sheer force of will, if strong enough, can cause such deviations from our program, but maybe such will power and discipline comes from our very genes anyway. It sure would take a substantial amount of deliberate action to allow for nurture to overcome nature. But that is a discussion for another time.

Attitude is Everything

How often have you heard that phrase, or some derivation of it? I hazard to guess many, many times. Of course, it’s all about maintaining that positive outlook, that focused determination to achieve one’s goals. Keep the right attitude, and the sky is the limit. But deep down, it’s all about how we perceive our daily lives and the events which unfold within them. Positive attitudes keep bad thoughts at bay. Yet sometimes the pain of everyday life can knock our attitudes askew and greatly affect our perceptions.

Case in point, let me tell you about the movie Natural Born Killers. A college friend and I went to see it on it’s release, which just so happened to be the worst day of my life. I was in a dark place, dealing with emotions which predetermined my reactions to the violence of the film. Well before purchasing my ticket, I was seething with anger and pain, so every glorified murder, every victim falling was entertainment I felt nothing but the utmost appreciation for. Sometimes art can be cathartic, but that movie just fueled the spite which had been coursing in my veins for hours. It was, at the time, one of the greatest movies I’d ever seen.

Fast forward a few years later and some younger friends had rented the movie. (Yes, rentals from a store really were a thing back in my younger days.) My recollections of enjoying the movie were still etched in my brain even though I couldn’t remember the particulars. “Oh, yeah,” I said, “great movie!” However, after watching it with them for about 30 minutes I started wondering what I had seen in the film which I actually liked (other than Woody Harrelson’s performance). Something didn’t add up. I had been a film nut throughout high school and most of college and my tastes never really changed, so what gives?

It is upon careful reflection that it simply is the reverse of the attitude is everything statement – our attitude determines how we perceive the events in our lives becoming the events determining our attitude which then influence our perceptions. In that highly negative state of mind during the debut of the movie, I relished in the violence therein.

I think we all fall prey to this phenomenon. Times are good, life is smooth, and all the problems are small ones. When struggles hit, that perspective changes.

I’ve never been a good sleeper at night, but for a while I’ve been up ruminating over many negative thoughts. Here in the first world my problems are far easier to deal with than those in many parts of the world, but they still have an effect on my psyche. There are times those problems seem insurmountable, and it is in this consciousness of despair that every little problem becomes magnified. Then, old thoughts creep in. Then disappointment with myself for reliving old nightmares piles on. And so it goes, becoming a self-feeding cycle of negativity. I gaze into the proverbial mirror and become disgusted with the weak, flawed person staring back; the person responsible for all my own miseries and any of my family’s. Had I acted differently in the past, all would be better. But then, I may not be here with my family, or they may not be here if any one thread of the tapestry that is my life were unraveled in the past. And, once again, the snake feeds upon it’s tail, never-ending. Why can I not just count my blessings?

So, the attitude must change. Physical therapy is the science of retraining the body to perform in a healthier way after injury. Therefore, I must execute a plan to change my attitude so as to push forward instead of looking back. There will be set backs, but that cannot change the overall attitude. The events of my life, my very actions must guide my attitude, then once again my attitude will guide my life in a better way. That beings today as I re-open this blog.

I started this years ago as an exercise to work on my writing. It also coincides with my least-stressful times. I had a purpose when I wrote this blog, random though it was. Time to create the events which will reshape my attitude. Time to keep writing. I hope you enjoy.

First World Problems and That New Math

As homeschoolers, my wife and I have heard a lot about new ways of teaching math compared to the ways we were taught oh so many years ago. Reading over some examples induce rages in me to rival that of Bob Parr in The Incredibles 2 – at least what I’ve seen in the trailer as trailers comprise ninety-nine percent of my movie-going experience these days. But perhaps the following examples can be solved with this new math.

As I may have mentioned I currently work as a bakery manager for a small-to-mid-sized retailer. One of my last orders in June was for 108 cases of product. Upon examining the ordering program on our company intranet, I saw that in addition to my 108 cases I’d also be receiving 67 cases of distribution product. When the shipping manifest came with the deliver I saw that 10 cases were cut due to being out of stock at our warehouse. Of course that left me with…197 cases? Hmmm, must be that new math. Although not really a numbers problem, the lack of proper communication from the corporate office to the field, like in Bob Parr’s mind, just doesn’t add up.

Here’s another one that didn’t add up. The Sunday after the above delivery found me washing dishes after the family went to bed. This is a ritual of mine as washing the dishes has a strange calming effect on this horrible sleeper. Whatever helps, right? But the night in question was perplexing and perhaps contributed to that night’s lack of sleep. You see, I am married and have five children. New math, old math, either way that means there are seven of us living in the house right now. Even though a family of seven generates a fair amount of dishes to cleanse, that night I washed twenty, count ’em, TWENTY cups! Okay, two were removed from the fridge – one an old cup with lemonade gone a little sour and the other one of my 14-year-old’s smoothies which turned into a penicillin cultivation project – but that still leaves eighteen. Once again, something just doesn’t add up.

I was fully prepared to write that last week, but then our central air conditioning unit broke. As we were in the middle of a nasty heat wave and the wife is pregnant, we spent two nights in a hotel for some comfort. Yes, there are far worse fates than losing one’s air conditioning; it’s really a first world problem considering what others in harsher climates and poorer countries must deal with. So my writing was delayed.

But it was also added to. You see, most hotels have televisions, something which we don’t at our house. And Independence Day is also the day of Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, which was televised on ESPN2. My 14-year-old got to watch the tape-delayed presentation of Joey “Jaws” Chestnut earning his eleventh Mustard Belt by breaking his previous world record en route to consuming 74 hot dogs (and buns)! Think about that for a second, this is really a first world event. A man eats 74 hot dogs (and buns) in ten minutes in front of a crowd of 40,000 people which is later watched by who knows how many on national television. Meanwhile there is destitution and starvation in many parts of the world and hunger and starvation just down the street in any metro of this country. Hey, congrats to Joey and all the other competitors (yes, there are all sorts of “competitive eating” events) but once again, something just doesn’t add up.

Pavlov’s Dog vs Frankenstein’s Monster

My oldest daughter ran a little experiment on conditioned response with the toddler. She was a big fan of actress/singer Sabrina Carpenter from Girl Meets World. I’m a bit of a fan, too – I’ll usually root for a talented Pennsylvania native! But it was how she got the two-year-old to respond to Miss Carpenter which was truly fascinating.

You see, when the boy would get rambunctious, as little boys do, she’d ask, “Hey, want to see a picture of Sabrina?” This was her “go to” while helping watch the pint-sized troublemaker. It didn’t take long for the boy to catch on. For months if she or I  were tired of chasing him the suggestion of seeing Sabrina on screen brought about a new-found appreciation for sitting still much like Mr. Pavlov’s pooch at supper time. Fortunately, my boy didn’t drool at the sight of the blonde – but given his genetics this will change later in life. Even my wife was astounded by his attentiveness to any picture or video from the aforementioned Disney show or music video. We also enjoyed many laughs at the smile on his face whenever Sabrina was on screen. Taking it further, asking him, “Is that your girlfriend?” would induce a bigger smile accompanied by a nod of the head. Yeah, it was adorable.

But then there was the time he was sitting on his biggest sister’s lap watching Sabrina’s video “Why.” Here’s where I began to notice a problem. You see, in this video she kisses a guy. At that point my little man pointed at the screen and, not yet speaking in words, went, “UHHH!” Fortunately I had Uncle Herb’s toddler translator with me at the time and understood my son to say, “Back off, punk! Dat’s my woman!” I think you see where the Frankenstein’s Monster reference is coming into play. My immediate concern was that sixteen years from now he’d make the news as a stalker. People always look at the parents when this sort of  thing happens. I can attest that he won’t learn any stalking skills from me…those letters I received from Emma Watson’s legal team had to do with my fan club membership, nothing more! Lot’s of her fans aren’t allowed within five-hundred yards for crying out loud.

But time has an amazing healing quality. It looks like any pain he may have felt from witnessing Sabrina Carpenter kiss another man has subsided. In fact, he no longer has the overwhelming desire to watch clips from GMW or any of her videos. My boy has taken a short step to manhood and moved on. What exactly has caused this I am not entirely sure. All I can say is…sorry Meg Donnelly!

Kneed in the Groin

Fortunately this title can be misleading, even though as a father of many children such painful experiences have occurred. Instead this is a short, silly story of something that happened tonight after my wife went to bed. Although my two oldest daughters are, unfortunately, developing a similar sense of humor has their Dad I still prefer to share “Dad jokes” whenever the two younger daughters are nearby so as not to corrupt their innocence. So, I shared a favorite…

“How many knees does a person have?”

“Two,” my teenagers answered while the littler ones were preoccupied with a video.

“Well, there’s the left knee, the right knee and the hiney!”

After a brief giggle/groan hybrid the fourteen-year-old chimed in, “Some people have a weenie!”

Very good, grasshopper, I have taught you well.

Begging For Forgiveness

My brothers and I were rarely on the same page when it came to which sports franchises to root for. Growing up in the shadow of Philadelphia we were all pretty much Phillies fans, but not necessarily avid ones. When it came to the NFL my oldest was an Eagles fan and brother number two was a Cowboys fan. I was neither, although Buddy Ryan’s Eagles teams were exciting to watch. (Heck, some of the best defenses in league history and an offensive game plan of snapping the ball to Randall Cunningham and seeing what he does with it was pretty cool.) I was a Sixers fan but I don’t recall my brothers showing much enthusiasm for the NBA. As for hockey, c’mon this is America – who cares!

However, when the USFL came into being we were all in agreement – the Philadelphia Stars were the bomb! Here we found agreement and excitement about the same team once and for all. And those were good days; the Stars were the class of the league, appearing in all three championship games and winning two in the USFL’s short, three-season life. It was disappointing to see them move to Baltimore for that last season.

My oldest brother and his Philadelphia Stars cap were inseparable from the moment he placed it on his head until he graduated high school…probably even after that. He even wore that cap during curtain calls of the plays he performed in as a senior. I’m convinced he tried to get the director to add it to his character’s wardrobe. One cannot fail to notice that it was a prized possession of his.

Once, while on a family vacation through Tennessee and Kentucky, he had a moment of panic. We were driving along when he urgently asked, “Where’s my Stars cap? Where’s my Stars cap?” Upon turning around brother number two responded, “It’s on your head!” Needless to say, we’ve given him guff about this for over thirty years, even if only by sharing this story with others lately.

However, I must beg my brother’s forgiveness; for I, too, had a bone-headed moment with a prized possession.

We went for a walk yesterday morning before I had to go into work. As is her custom, my four-year-old asked me to carry her, but at forty-three years of age my arms can’t hold her for what I knew would be a long walk, so I let her climb on my back figuring this would help get my blood flowing. Mommy and the eight-year-old were pushing the boy in his stroller, and the two teenagers were taking the lead initially.

After heading down the hill we turned left. About a quarter mile (or a little more) down the road we made another left and began to ascend one of the many hills in our neighborhood. (Heck, one of the many hills in our city – there’s nary a flat yard to be found.) Shortly after making the turn, I began to look ahead at my family. There’s mommy and the eight-year-old pushing the boy in his stroller, there are the teenagers probably talking about boys…where’s the four-year-old. “Where is she? Where is she?”

“She’s on your back, Dad!” said the surprised eighteen-year-old before bursting into laughter, shortly followed by the fourteen-year-old and eight-year-old. Needless to say, giving her a piggy-back ride may have gotten my blood flowing, just apparently not to my brain. I have to give my brother credit; forgetting you’re wearing a cap which weighs only a few ounces is much less embarrassing than forgetting a forty-plus pound kid hanging on your back, especially when  BOTH of your arms are holding her up and you’re contorting your body trying to locate said forty-plus pound kid!

Actually, come to think of it, it’s even more embarrassing than that. Perhaps it wasn’t our other brother who noticed the Stars cap on his head, he may have just said, “Oh, I’m wearing it.” Yup, much more alert than I.

Well, at least the boy will not remember this little incident. And, in all likelihood, neither will the four-year-old who was the star of the whole show. Perhaps even the eight-year-old will forget. But, rest assured, my teenagers will NEVER let me forget this one.

Epitome of Random – vol. 22

  • My son likes to swing around a little toy hammer every now and then. Either that, or a spoon. So he admires Thor and the Tick. Hmmm, not sure how to take that.
  • My son took his socks off and slipped his arm out of his shirt during dinner. If he plans on being a Chippendale he better hope for Thor’s physique.
  • I saw a bumper sticker that read HATE FREE ZONE. What kind of commie would hate free zones?
  • At my last physical I was seen by a Dr. Thor. I refused to let him test my reflexes for fear of shattering my patella!
  • The boy had picked up a card of some kind near the bathroom. Mommy told him, “Give it to Daddy.” He then proceeded to walk to the toilet and drop it in. Not entirely sure how to take that.

Rivalry

Rivalries can be very compelling things to follow. 70’s football fans had Steelers vs Cowboys; 80’s basketball fans had Celtics vs Lakers; Mac vs PC was always big and it’s moved on to Apple vs Android; foreign vs domestic; McDonald’s vs Burger King; Coke vs Pepsi; heck, soda vs pop is big in some parts of the country.

Today’s entertainment industry showcases another big rivalry. With the soaring popularity of superhero movies it’s only natural that the rivalry of Marvel vs DC is becoming more prominent within the mainstream culture instead of just nerds. My own personal experience with comic books is more Marvel, with a little DC, but even that’s limited. I’m much more in tune with the modern films of their characters. So, let’s take a closer look at this rivalry, specifically the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Cinematic Universe.

Before we get started, I’d like to admit that Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is a favorite of mine even though it’s not part of the DCCU, thereby giving the MCU an advantage.

The Heroes: Well, superheroes don’t get much more iconic than Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. With the exception of Spiderman, Marvel’s later entry into the comic book world puts it at a disadvantage. Even though the MCU hit theaters first, you just have to factor in the history of the big three from DC. But, like I said, we’re focusing on the cinematic universes, and Marvel has more thanks to being in the game longer. They’re a bit more nuanced and cover everything from deeply dramatic to humorous better than their DCCU counterparts. Advantage: Marvel.

The Trailers: Let’s face it, when we’re talking about movies you just have to mention the trailers. Trailers get the audience hyped up for the movie. It’s the tool to help put butts in the seats on opening day. The strength of the story keeps them coming back for more, but it’s the trailer that gives it that first push. Man of Steel had one of the best trailers I’ve ever seen. But, after that it’s almost all Marvel – Wonder Woman being the exception. All of the Avengers, Captain America: Civil War and all Guardians of the Galaxy trailers were fantastic. Yes, with more Marvel trailers to pick from it’s kind of unfair. But so is life. Advantage: Marvel.

The Movies: Okay, I really don’t understand the bad rap Man of Steel got from critics and movie-goers I’ve read on the internet. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. I loved that Clark Kent didn’t really become “Superman” until after Zod and his forces showed up. It took a great threat to really draw him out…I absolutely loved it. Batman vs Superman and Suicide Squad were entertaining, but what bothered me was the pacing of the battle sequences. I haven’t seen Wonder Woman yet, but I’ve heard nothing but good reviews from critics and friends alike. However, it’s very hard to beat the dialog, character development and interaction, and pacing of the MCU films. Whether you’re looking for gravitas or slapstick, you can find it in MCU. I didn’t care much for the Iron Man sequels, but the first was an amazing origin story; Captain America just keeps getting stronger; Thor and Guardians give us ample humor; and Dr. Strange was a visual feast and a very cool story. I’m looking forward to borrowing Spiderman: Homecoming from the library when I have the time (as are my teenage girls, who find Tom Holland hot). Advantage: Marvel.

The Studs: Henry Cavill, Will Smith, Ben Affleck vs Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pratt, Chris Evans. Well, I’m heterosexual, so I’ll have to defer to my teenage daughters. The younger of the two saw Man of Steel and agrees with the captain at the end of the movie that Superman is hot. But they both just drool over the trio of Chris’s in Marvel. Okay, yeah, I’m hetero, but I will admit that Hemsworth is pretty hot. Advantage: Marvel.

The Cameos: Okay, I really can’t think of any in the DCCU, but how can anything compare to Stan Lee! Advantage: Marvel.

The Ladies: Okay, this one is much tougher. On the one hand you have a former sexiest woman alive, Scarlett Johansson, a potential sexiest woman alive, Elizabeth Olsen, and the sexiest green woman alive, Zoe Saldana; that’s a formidable trio of ladies to compete against, not to mention the non-supers of Marissa Tomei and Rachel McAdams. But, on the DC side we have international beauty Gal Gadot, truly a WONDER woman; Margot Robbie as a perfect fit for Harley Quinn, fitting perfectly in that outfit; and my Hollywood crush, Amy Adams. Although Lois Lane is not a superhero, her character is so central to the story that she must be included…and NOBODY ignores Amy Adams. Got it!  Advantage: DC.

The Verdict: DC wins!!! After all, I’m heterosexual and it’s all about the ladies.

Settling the Debate

Penn State sits pretty much smack in the middle of Pennsylvania. And, with over 30,000 undergrads from all over the state attending its hallowed halls, you can witness many great cultural clashes between the eastern half of PA and the western.

One such clash happened to be about whether or not you call it soda (eastern) or pop (western). It was particularly amusing to listen to my brother argue with his western-PA associates about the absurdity in calling it pop. As easterners we were both firm in the moniker of soda, but my brother especially so. And don’t even try to get him started on the, “if it’s from a fountain it’s soda, if it’s from a bottle it’s pop,” crap, either. You can’t have the same substance be two different things just because of its container. Heck, pee is pee whether it’s in the toilet or a cup, same with soda/pop. It’s one or the other at all times. Period.

So, which is it, soda or pop? As you can clearly see, I concur with my brother and fellow eastern-PA citizens that it’s soda. But, you may ask, how to you KNOW? Okay, until recently I couldn’t answer that question, but I’ve been thinking. (Yeah, hard to believe, I know.) It all boils down to flavored carbonated beverages…

Who in their right mind would walk around saying, “I can’t wait to have my cherry pop!”