The Right Stuff

I recently watched the 1983 film The Right Stuff, but this isn’t a review. No, this is more of an after action report of the recent Father’s Day. This is a collection of my thoughts over the past silent weeks of this blog.

I took the week off from writing (which nearly drove me nuts at points) while I was on vacation with my sister and her husband and kids. We all went to Walt Disney World and it was truly a delight to spend time with my niece and nephew in that environment. Seeing my six year old nephew so excited about Disney characters, watching him sulk and pine for rides when we did boring “grown-up stuff” in Epcot… It was a window into the past where I could see myself as a child. I actually found myself promising I wouldn’t do that to my kids and it would be all rides and fun- and almost instantly recusing that thought because I don’t want to raise a spoiled brat. Kids need to learn to cope with disappointment, it’s a vacation for the entire family, and someday my kids will look back through the exact same nostalgic lens I gazed through.

Then, I shot that squirrel video.

Things got really weird after shooting and uploading that video. And it was fun, but in a bizarre way I found myself really thinking deeper about seemingly unrelated ideas like legacy, fame, the American zeitgeist, and where I could get a really good chili dog. (That last one was just to see if you’re paying attention.)

See, the squirrel video started to explode on the internet, and in no time at all I was answering emails from CNN, ABC, the Today show, MSNBC, licensing with Spiral Viral, etc. In no time at all it became my most viewed YouTube video, and I started to wonder if I could make it profitable but also became a little irked that the hard work I had previously put into the Handgun Podcast and informative firearm videos was almost instantly trumped by a rodent being “cute”. It just seemed like another example of a culture that can name American Idol contestants, but probably fewer than a dozen U.S. Presidents from memory. I’ve suddenly contributed to the vapidity I loathe.

Silly as it may be, this frustrates me a great deal because I’m now torn between wanting to destroy the video and delete it (and the inane comments) from existence or exploiting it as best I can profiting (hopefully wildly) off the stupidity of the masses. Part of the reason I quit doing gun videos and podcasts was burn-out, and part was the frustration of constantly beating my head against a figurative wall as I tried to educate people about reality. From anti-gun people in denial of their ideas’ abject failure, to pro-gun folks propagating nonsense like “just drag ’em inside yer house!” or head shots… But I digress.

If I were to verbalize a single career goal and/or how I would like to be remembered in the annals of history, it would be as a raconteur. I want to be a story-teller that entertains and informs. There’s something in every man that wants to be remembered. We all want to be remembered somehow. Theodore Roosevelt is just as dead as the next guy, but he’s remembered as a great man and we all instinctively crave this. John McClane may be the star of the Die Hard film series, but we’re all the star of our own stories. Think back to when you were a kid playing imaginary games- did you want to be Batman or Robin? The Lone Ranger or his sidekick Tonto? The thought of being secondary in social relevance to a damned squirrel video really makes you take stock of a few things.

I recently watched Amadeus and (as I previously mentioned) The Right Stuff, both of which I highly recommend. What struck me in both these films is a man having to take stock of where he sits when the realization hits him that another man is going to upstage him in the record books. Salieri was driven mad (thereby giving us a delightful unreliable narrator) by Mozart’s upstaging. Nothing quite so grandiose happens in The Right Stuff, but we see Chuck Yeager coping with not being selected as an astronaut, as well as the struggles of the Mercury Seven as each mission trumps the last. Ultimately, where history places us is beyond our control, but that doesn’t mean it never crosses our mind.

The realization that I’m not in the forefront of any great frontier is not a new one to me. Lewis and Clark had their go. I’m too young to have competed in the space race, and Al Gore invented the internet without me. My strength in spinning a yarn is much more suited to amusing anecdotes than the Great American Novel. What’s left is most likely ventures in business and capitalism. I could be quite successful in these ventures, but practicality says very few people that pursue this path will achieve the status of Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, or Mark Zuckerberg. Heck, Jeff Bezos made a fortune founding Amazon.com but how many people know that?

(That last sentence may be inconsequential since I’ve already lamented the state of a society that can name the cast of Jersey Shore but not if and/or what number president Ben Franklin may have been.)

So why this long-winded meandering diatribe? What point am I eventually trying to get to that will tie all these disparate ideas into a cohesive thought? Well it all came together for me on Father’s Day. As this Father’s Day approached I had no idea what to get for my Dad. And suddenly, through a flash of serendipity I saw through the commercialization of the date and started thinking about what actually matters. My Dad has plenty of stuff; he doesn’t need more mere things. In what was a brilliant (and horrible, should I fail to replicate it for Mother’s Day) idea, I chanced upon the perfect Father’s Day gift. Cheap fares back to Tucson for a surprise visit, a hand-written letter of personal stuff just between me and Dad (opposed to a card for any ol’ Dad), and his dad’s wristwatch reconditioned for daily wear. What really matters is thought, time, and quite frequently intangibles like character. My dad will likely never have his own entry in a history book, but he’s made one hell of an impression on me.

So what if I’ll never set a land speed record in Guinness? Or if I’m not the first man to discover an uncharted land? I may never be a “great” man as is varyingly defined through the ages, but I have something far more important: my dad taught me how to be a good man. And I slip up. We all do. But my Dad taught me to pick myself up, dust off, and try again. He taught me to be thoughtful (or at least try), and courtesy to others. He showed me how to be a good husband, when that day comes. My dad taught me about character, the importance of keeping your word, what a good name is worth, and more about being a man than these kids running around today in “skinny jeans” will likely ever comprehend. So I don’t really care if that squirrel video goes on to be “greater” than me, because it occurs to me that the values of such a shallow society don’t really matter to me at all. What I’ve got, my family, my ethics, etc. are far more valuable. Why? Because my dad gave me the right stuff.

PS- I’ve recently been enjoying “If” by Rudyard Kipling and “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley, and am attempting to commit them both to memory. Linked here for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!

3 thoughts on “The Right Stuff

  1. Very nice essay, son. I think, at the bottom of it all, we all hope to have “made a difference” when our days are done. At first, I thought I had hoped to do that as a firefighter, then later as an instructor. Maybe that is the case, but my own deep-down feeling is that the best way to leave the world a better place is really quite simple. It’s through you, son. You are my legacy and I see that clearly now. I’m very proud of you and am honored to be your Dad. I love you!

  2. That was a great Father’s day gift! Good times and memories are always the most reasured.

    As for the squirrel video, I think there’s two angles to look at it from:
    One – You made a bunch of peole happy for a moment in time. That’s good.
    Two – A tiny percentage that saw that video are now looking for who made it and what else that person has done. It’s a great way to connect with peopple that haven’t “discovered” you yet.

    There is a great line in a book, “Toss a pebble in still water and see how wide a wave it makes.” You’ve tossed several pebbles into the water. The squirrel pebble just made a bigger splash. What will your next pebble do?

  3. I will never be in the history books, not even as a footnote. But I hope to live in the memories of my two daughters as a decent dad, and the memories of my two grandsons as someone who cherished them more than his own life. I truly enjoy your work, Eric, and look forward to more in the future. Oh, I know that you will be a great dad too, congratulations on the pending marriage.

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