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The Importance of Grandparents

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“If you guys moved a few hours away you could afford a really nice house.”

I’ve been told this by many of my friends, and it’s 100% true. As MJ and I prepare to buy a house in the next 18-24 months, we cringe at the soaring real estate prices of greater Boston. And that cringe turns into a full-fledged scowl when we look at the much more affordable housing prices should we decide to move to another part of the country.

For what we’ll eventually pay to buy a 3BR, 2BA, 1,800-square foot house in southeastern Massachusetts, we could get a house elsewhere that’s 5BR, 3BA, and 3,500 square feet. Hell, even if we moved to the Berkshires (western Massachusetts, 3 hours away) we’d be getting WAY more bang for our buck. And as someone who doesn’t want to be house poor, it’s pretty damn tempting at times.

But we won’t do that. Why? Because grandparents.

Will and Sam (and Baby #3) currently have all three sets of grandparents within a 20-minute ride. Specifically, my parents live 2.5 miles away and MJ’s mom now lives just 6 miles away. We see Grandpa, Grandma, Nana, Papa, and Grammy Donna (and Grandpa B, before he died) all the time, and all of them want the kids as often as possible.

Hell, right this moment Will is in New Hampshire on his yearly trip to StoryLand with my parents. They’ve taken him for four days in the White Mountains of New Hampshire since he was 3 years old, and next year Sam will join in the fun.

Which is why we won’t pick up and move. You can’t put a price tag on having family around, and you can’t underestimate the value of having kids spend a ton of time with their grandparents.

I spent nearly every weekend with my Grandma “Goo-Goo.” We watched movies, played Nintendo (she was a Zelda fanatic), hated on the LA Lakers, and ate ice cream sundaes the size of small mountains. And my Grandma “Ga-Ga” (my parents are sadistic for creating these nicknames) taught us how to play piano and sing. She lived on the town’s reservoir and we spent much of our time outside catching frogs and throwing rocks into the water.

Don’t get me wrong, my parents were great. But grandparents? They’re the ones who spoil you unconditionally. Who take you on special outings. Who do the stuff they were told not to do but they’re going to do it anyway because that’s what grandparents do. Grandparents are completely special, and every kid should know that love.

I want that for my kids. It’s vital they spend time with all of their grandparents, especially since we’re lucky enough to have them so involved. And yes, I know EXACTLY how lucky we are to have them. I’ve heard horror stories of absentee grandparents who have only seen their grandkids a handful of times and make absolutely no effort. 

So when we have something come up, we make one or two phone calls and boom — a grandparent appears out of the ether to take the kids. Or if we really want a date night, someone is always all too willing to take the kids off our hands.

Papa and Grammy Donna play video games with the boys and Papa puts Will to work so he stays grounded and learns how to do more chores. Nana will sit and cuddle with Sam for hours on end, play with them at the beach, and then take Will to the fireworks show at night. And my parents practically pry the kids out of our hands to take them on overnights and spoil the ever loving crap out of them in every way possible. It’s to the point our kids cry when they come home to us because they don’t want to leave their grandparents.

Sure, we’re going to pay through the nose for a smaller house that needs repairs. But we can’t put a price on having family nearby, nor can we ever again take advantage of the opportunity to let the kids bond with their grandparents as they grow up. This is a one-shot deal and we can never get this time back, so we’re taking full advantage of it.

Grandparents aren’t around forever, but the memories they create are timeless. I’m just so thankful our kids will have them. Thanks, guys. You mean the world to us.

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It’s No Longer Gay Marriage, Just Marriage

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Will is 7 and Sam is almost 2. Some day, down the road a bit, they’ll read something in the paper or see something on TV about “gay marriage,” and they’ll be confused.

“Dad, what do they mean by ‘gay’ marriage? It’s just marriage, right?”

And I’ll have to remind them gay people weren’t always allowed the same rights as the rest of us. I’ll have to remind them it wasn’t until the year 2015 and by securing the narrowest margin of victory by the Supreme Court of the United States, that gay people in America were treated equally when it came to being able to marry who you love.

They’ll stare at me with raised eyebrows and incredulous expressions, because they won’t be able to fathom how stupid that sounds. It will be utterly incomprehensible to them that so many people in this country treated gay people as second class citizens for so long.

It’ll be just how I looked at my parents when they told me interracial marriage used to be outlawed, or black people and women couldn’t always vote.

I don’t go full ‘MURICA!!! too often, but I’m proud of my country today. It took longer than it should have, but ultimately we did the right thing. We haven’t solved homophobia and we can’t stop fighting for LGBTQIA (for any other letters I may be missing, my apologies) rights, but this is cause to celebrate.

Everyone can marry whoever they want in all 50 states. Victory.

Of course, not everyone sees it that way. Check out these erudite ladies and gentlemen:

Yes, these ridiculous clowns are an affront to decency, common sense, and proper grammar/spelling. And honestly, they do upset me and get under my skin at times. However, I’ve come to realize something very important. Something worth noting and remembering in these modern times.

The world is a better place than ever before. And that’s largely because people of the world are more tolerant than ever before.

The old, white, conservative, religious guard isn’t what it used to be, and for the first time they find themselves losing power, influence, and the numbers game. Seeking to deny gay people equality while rejecting proven science regarding climate change and defending the Confederate flag just isn’t going to fly anymore. They’ve lost the middle ground and they don’t seem to know how to adapt.

But when a caged animal is cornered, it gets desperate.

That’s why you’re seeing tweets like these and outrageous public statements regarding current events. It’s fear. People who have held the power for a long time never want to give it up willingly, so the final holdouts will be louder than ever to compensate for fewer people in their ranks. Basically, we’re seeing the death throes of idiocy. And not a moment too soon.

So congratulations to all the gay people out there who can now enjoy marriage equality. Congratulations to the five US Supreme Court justices who had the wisdom and fortitude to make history today. And congratulations to America, a country that has proven today it still holds dear the idea of freedom on which it was founded.

We have put another shameful period of our history in the rear view mirror. Let us keep it in sight to remember how far we’ve come, while always looking to improve our future.

And let’s make sure love always wins in the end.

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Why I Hate Running (Yet Do It Anyway)

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I fucking hate running.

Some people love running and happily devote hordes of time to it. These crazy bastards on endorphin highs can’t wait to get out on roads and trails to chase their personal bests and FEEL THE BURN. Honestly, good for them. I’m happy for them (even though their speed and relentless enthusiasm makes me stabby at times).

But not me. I’m a big guy, always have been. Even when I lose a bunch of weight I’m still big. Having run four half marathons in my life, I’m prepared to stand out like a sore thumb in a crowd of waifish and highly athletic stick figures that invariably populate these races. Basically, in a sea of gazelles I’m a lumbering water buffalo.

The picture at the top of this post was taken near the halfway mark (about 6.2 miles in), and the photographer managed to capture my facial expression at the EXACT moment I realized I still had nearly 7 more miles to go before finishing. I was tired, sore, my foot hurt, and at the risk of telling you way more than you want to know, the inside of my thighs looked like something out of a B horror movie.

So the million dollar question becomes, why run 13.1 miles if I hate running.

There are a few reasons. First of all, I enjoy doing things I’m not expected to do. Look at me. I’m 5’10”, 255 lbs. Even the kid who handed me my bib number assumed I was picking it up for a friend, and stuttered his way to an embarrassed apology when I said I was running. But I also do it specifically because it’s hard and doesn’t come naturally to me. The mind fuck and head games involved in distance running simultaneously intimidates and intrigues me, and there’s something to be said for overcoming self-imposed limitations and proving yourself.

And yeah, I also do it because I hate going to the gym even more than running, and if I didn’t run I’d weigh 400 lbs. My desk job is very sedentary, my eating habits are mostly terrible, and I’m not one to join CrossFit or some other similar group, so running is really the only healthy thing I do.

But mainly, I do it because Will tells all his friends his daddy runs half marathons.

Is that vain? Yeah, probably. But it’s also the truth. He’s 7 so right now he thinks 13.1 miles is roughly the distance to the moon and back. His eyes go wide when I show him the courses I run, and he thinks it’s the most amazing thing ever. I heard him talking to some friends in school when I was volunteering in his class, telling them his dad runs races and goes really far.

And it made me feel good. I was proud that he was proud of his old man. That means everything to me, and it’s enough to propel my fat ass off the couch and onto the course for a distance I don’t really like driving, nevermind running.

I need my kids to know they have a shot at doing and becoming anything. If they don’t believe that as they grow up, they’ll lose confidence, determination, and hope. And I feel personally showing them it’s possible to reach a pie in the sky goal goes a long way toward bolstering their optimism.

But almost the entire back half of my most recent half-marathon was uphill, and let me tell you, I wanted to quit so badly. I almost did a few times. Right around Mile 8, I realized I was passing a friend’s house. And they were home, so they could’ve given me a ride. I even crossed the street fully prepared to run up to their front door, ask for a Gatorade, and ride back to the starting line in the air-conditioned car.

However, they were out on their porch and they saw me. Mary waved excitedly and Jim shouted his encouragement too. And, much to my dismay at the time, I was guilted into continuing. It’s a good thing, too. Otherwise I never would’ve had this moment at the finish line.

MJ caught the moment I crossed the finish line on video with Will. I won’t lie, it’s a little dusty in here when I watch it.

Posted by The Daddy Files on Sunday, June 14, 2015

Even the best dads only get to feel like true superheroes for a few fleeting moments in life, and running gave me my cape — if only for a few minutes. But it was enough to make all the hills over the course of 13.1 grueling miles completely worth it.

As an added bonus, Will wants to start running with me. We’re going to start with a 5k and go from there. So now I have another reason to keep running — making sure he doesn’t beat me in a race for as long as humanly possible.

And to create more moments like this one.

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My #FirstCarMoment Could Have Ended Tragically

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*Disclosure: I have partnered with Life of Dad and Michelin for this promotion.  I have received compensation for my participation, but my first car memories are my own.

Twenty-eight days.

Like most high school relationships, my love affair with my first car — a 1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme — was passionately brief, and culminated in tears and heartache. And like most 16-year-old boys, I was a moron. A moron who ignored every single warning from my parents about responsibility and safety, because I wanted to drive fast and be cool. Except I soon found out there’s no way to be cool when you’re putting yourself and others at risk.

On Feb. 19, 1996, I passed my driving test and secured my license. My car was waiting for me at a nearby garage, and I remember Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby” was the first song that played through its sacred speakers as I drove away all by myself for the first time in my life.

In short, I felt like this:

But even though I was overjoyed to get a car, I knew nothing about them.

I’m not just saying I knew very little about them, I literally knew nothing. I didn’t have anyone in my family who loved and worked on cars, so I never learned. I knew my Olds had a V-8, but all that meant to me was “loud and fast.” I didn’t care about what was under the hood or tires or safety features — I thought only of freedom. Independence. And if we’re being honest, the amply spacious backseat that old boat offered.

Since I barely knew how to put gas in it, it should surprise no one that the notion of rear-wheel drive didn’t register with me. More specifically, on March 18 while driving home from school, I didn’t know rear-wheel drive + dirt road = uh oh. Add in my caving to peer pressure from a friend in the passenger seat to fishtail down the road, and you can guess where it led me.

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Right into a tree. That tree, actually. I took this picture just a few days ago, and even 19 years after the crash you can still clearly see where I hit it head-on going about 40 MPH. I had a bruised sternum, but other than that I was unscathed. And I immediately started to grasp the concept of “count your blessings.”

But the most frightening part wasn’t the crash. It was having to tell my parents.

I called my mom first because, well, I feared her less than my dad. She came and picked me up and made sure I was OK. But soon it was time to call my dad at work and I braced myself for the worst. When she told him I had been in an accident his first question was a panicked “Is he OK?!?!” And then, when he found out I was, he said “Good. Now keep him there so I can (bleeping) kill him!”

I didn’t know what he’d do when he came home from work, but my teenage imagination ran frighteningly wild. He had a few hours to calm down by the time he came home, and he had taken a trip by the accident scene while I cowered in my room. When he finally talked to me, he was calm. Disconcertingly calm.

He was holding two pieces of the car’s front grill which had cracked in half, putting one on my dresser and holding the other one in his hand. He never raised his voice. Instead, he did something that killed me 1,000 times worse than screaming ever could.

“You’re going to keep this half and I’m going to keep my half. You will not throw it away, even though you’ll want to. Instead, you’re going to keep it in a place where you can see it because I want you to remember the day you could have died. The day I almost lost a son. And every time you see it I want you to remember how you feel right now. Remember the day when your stupid and selfish actions could’ve killed you, torn this family apart, and harmed other innocent people on the road.”

Ouch. Dad Guilt is real.

I can’t count the lectures my parents levied upon me regarding safety and caution and responsible driving. I took all the training, watched the gory death on the highway videos, and was financially vested in driving since I was paying for my own insurance. They did everything right, but unfortunately I’m the kind of person who has to experience things to learn from them. As a parent myself now, that terrifies me more than anything else — that my kids will be the same way and I just have to hope they screw up to a non-fatal extent.

And I took part in this campaign because maybe, just maybe, a teenager who reads this will see the error of my ways and realize safety and responsibility is much more important than anything else.

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That’s the reason I took this campaign with Michelin.  My biggest problem was my idiocy on the road and behaving irresponsibly. But at the same time, I realize now I never even checked my tires, which means I might’ve had an accident of another kind anyway. Was the air pressure good? Was the tread worn? I have no idea, and that kind of cluelessness is also irresponsible.

Summer is a critical time to remind drivers of the importance of tire safety. The period between Memorial Day and Labor Day is often referred to as the 100 deadliest days for teen drivers, based on accident data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and National Safety Council.

  • Automobile accidents are the number one killer of teens in America. They account for a shocking 5,000 deaths annually.
  • In addition, we know 12% of the 2.2 million accidents that occur each year with inexperienced drivers are due to tire-related issues (26% are attributed to low tread depth; 32% are attributed to improper tire pressure).

As someone who nearly made a fatal mistake as an inexperienced driver, I feel a duty to talk about how irresponsible I was in order to potentially stop someone else from making the same mistake. And Michelin, as a tire manufacturer for more than 125 years, has reached out to dad bloggers out of an obligation to raise awareness about this issue, and reduce the 264,000 crashes among inexperienced drivers that occur annually due to tire-related issues.

The two simplest and most effective ways to combat the problem are checking tire pressure with a pressure gauge on a monthly basis, and routinely checking tread depth on your tires using a penny. The best way to do that is:

  • Take a penny and hold Abe’s body between your thumb and forefinger.
  • Select a point on your tire where tread appears the lowest and place Lincoln’s head into one of the grooves.
  • If any part of Abe Lincoln’s head is covered by the tread, you’re driving with the legal and safe amount of tread. If your tread gets below that (approximately 2/32 of an inch), your car’s ability to grip the road in adverse conditions is greatly reduced.

To get even more good tips, visit Michelin’s safe driving site. You should also check out the #FirstCarMoment hashtag on Twitter to find more great stories and helpful tips.

Also, you can check out Michelin on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And be sure to stop by the #FirstCarMoment Twitter party on Wednesday, June 24 at 8 pm EST to possibly win a set of brand new Michelin tires.

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Lose Yourself in the World of ‘Dragons: Race to the Edge’

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I used to simply watch TV. But after spending two days at DreamWorks last week courtesy of Netflix, that simple feat is now impossible. I know too much. I’ve seen behind the curtain. I’ve talked to the wizards. And believe you me, they are just that — wizards.

On June 26, Netflix will air 13 episodes of Dragons: Race to the Edge. It’s a brand new animated TV show venture between DreamWorks and Netflix, that takes place chronologically between the first and second How to Train Your Dragon movies. If you’re a HTTYD devotee, you’ll remember two prior animated series (Riders of Berk and Defenders of Berk) that aired on Cartoon Network. Well, I’m here to say Netflix has given the upcoming Season 3 a turbo boost of upgraded animation, more in-depth character development, and — of course — new dragons!

The plot consists of Hiccup finding a device called the Dragon Eye, which unlocks ancient mysteries about past people (and dragons) for Hiccup and Toothless to explore. They’ll be fighting new enemies and old (Dagur makes a villainous return), while setting up a second home on the island of Dragon’s Edge. Essentially the characters are entering their late teenage years and establishing independence before becoming the adults you see in the second feature film.

But you can watch the trailer (on June 26, the episodes too) to see all that. I spent two days talking to the people who bring the show to life, so I feel it’s my responsibility to pass on the behind the scenes info I gained while visiting DreamWorks.

Toothless!!! #dreamworksdragons

A video posted by Aaron Gouveia (@daddyfiles) on

First of all, I absolutely LOVE the fact that Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and T.J. Miller return as the voices of Hiccup, Astrid, Fishlegs, and Tuffnut. But more than that, Baruchel and Ferrera have said they fundamentally refuse to let anyone else voice those roles, ever, according to Executive Producers Art Brown and Doug Sloan. The way Brown and Sloan spoke about the actors — especially Miller’s ability to improvise and improve a scene — I realized immediately it was a situation in which these folks fell in love with a role and refused to give it up.

As a writer myself, I was thrilled to talk to the Dragons writing staff. Having never written for TV (and certainly not an animated series), I was especially interested in the process. For instance, can they write pie in the sky stuff and then ask the visual effects staff if it’s possible, or are they limited? It turns out a little of both.

It’s very difficult to animate certain scenes (such as ones that involve snow or sand), and it gets problematic when more than 10 characters appear on screen at the same time. So naturally, being writers, they immediately thought of a story line that involved thousands of dragons and even a new dragon, called the Snow Wraith, who basically lives in a blizzard.

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Damn writers. But guess what? They found a way to do it. And the end result looks AMAZING! The lighting, animation, and all the technical aspects are vastly improved from the Cartoon Network series. Seriously, it’s basically cinema quality at this point.

But perhaps my most interesting and enlightening conversation came from lunch with David Jones, the visual effects supervisor (the guy photo-bombing in the back).

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David talked about the show in a way I had never before considered. First of all, as stated before, this season takes place about 18 months before the start of the second movie. And speaking of the feature film, he said it differs greatly from the movies because the TV show has the time and space to explore the every day storylines in Berk much more fully.

Think about this. In the first movie, Berk was constantly under attack from dragons. The beasts came every couple of weeks, took their food, and burned down parts of their village. Residents of Berk were constantly rebuilding their village because dragons were constantly torching it.

But everything changed when Hiccup and Toothless proved dragons and people could benefit one another.

Without dragons as a threat, the village stopped rebuilding and started growing. Infrastructure could be expanded which means the crew had to think about how residents of the Berk archipelago would improve their lot, according to David. Likewise, with dragons acting as airplanes, that means exploration stopped being exclusive to ships. Now Hiccup and company have the ability to head out hundreds of miles in each direction, to map new lands, meet new dragons — and find new people.

However, David said it’s important to remember these new tribes would have no way of knowing whether Hiccup and gang are friend or foe. All they see are people from a strange land riding on dragons. Dragons that could, if they wanted, set fire to everything below them with a single command.

Or, in other words, Berk now has an Air Force and part of the storyline had to become how new people from distant lands would react to that.

It’s ironic the part of the show that impresses me most can’t really be seen unless you have the opportunity to talk with the staff. Because let me tell you, they live this stuff. Berk isn’t just a fantasy world to them, it’s their world. They live it and spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about it and crafting it. They comb through history books and look at the time period for added authenticity (for example, ever notice the houses on Berk are all ships), and little things like that impressed the heck of out of me.

Also, speaking of architecture, the designers had the opportunity to design a whole new second home for the characters on Dragon’s Edge. That means each house has designs unique to the personalities of the person living there. You’ll have to watch to see the specifics, but it’s very fun.

In short, this is an epic show. Your kids will love it, but you’ll want to watch it too. As a parent, that’s the deciding factor in what my kids watch. If I can’t stand watching it along with them, it probably won’t be on TV. The writers, animators, and executive producers know this and they have produced a show with parents in mind.

How do I know it’s good? Toothless told me. And he would never lie.

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I was compensated by Netflix for writing this post in the form of an all-expense paid trip to DreamWorks Animation in California. Also, as part of the StreamTeam, I received free Netflix for a year and an iPad Mini. However, as always, my opinions are 100% my own. Check out Netflix on Facebook.

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