The Uncle: Teaching Your Kid To Drive

(Getty/PhotoAlto/Ale Ventura)

Engine revving. Windows down. Elbow leisurely hanging from the driver’s side. Gorillaz CD blasting through the factory speakers of my old man’s 1998 Dodge Neon. I look to my left. A convertible packed to the brim with girls in Purdue University shirts. I nod. They reciprocate.

This was my first experience behind the wheel of an automobile. At age 16, my dad handed me the keys to his car. “You’re a man now,” he told me. “Time to start getting around like one.”

It should come as no surprise to anyone that your boy Uncle Gavin is a bit of a driving enthusiast. It’s easily my second favorite way of getting from point A to point B, right after a good ol’ fashioned cartwheel. So when my 16-year-old nephew, Steven, told me he was nervous about the upcoming written test for his learners permit, I too grew nervous.

Even though Kennards are inherently gifted drivers, you never know what sort of New Age hogwash these modern driver handbooks are indoctrinating your teenagers with. Probably a whole section on “courtesy honks” or something. When It’s Okay To Snapchat At A Red Light is a subheading now, I assume.

Don’t listen to ‘em, Steven. Your Uncle Gavin’s got all you need to know.

  1. First off, hands at 10 and 2. Not 12 and iPhone. 10 and 2. No exceptions. Okay, one exception. If “Roundabout” by Yes comes on the radio, 9 and imaginary dashboard keyboard is fine.
  2. If you come to a four-way stop with another driver, nudge your car forward ever so slightly just as they proceed. This’ll give them a little scare and they’ll quickly pump the brakes. Now give them a little apologetic wave to proceed. Repeat. It’s important to keep fellow motorists on their toes.
  3. Not many people know this, but there is a lever protruding from the left side of every steering column that, if pushed in one of two directions, will signal to other drivers that you intend to merge or make a turn. Be patient if you see someone fail to use theirs, as these have only been around since the late 1920s.

And now for some road signs.

 

This is the winding road sign. It means that there is potentially a Nissan ad being filmed up ahead.

 

Self-explanatory, but also an invitation to pull over and do a quick charcoal sketch of the bridge.

 

One of this country’s most egregious examples of truck-shaming. Disgusting.

 

This sign means to have your phone ready to check your texts.

 

A stern warning to mind your own business.

 

This sign means to try out some new blasphemous curse words.

 

No screenings of Back to the Future III beyond this point.

 

And that about covers it. To my nephew, Steven, I wish you the best of luck on your upcoming written driving exam. Driving is a privilege not to be taken lightly. It’s a skill that builds discipline, teaches patience, and saves your ol’ Uncle Gav cab fare when you pick him up from Buffalo Wild Wings on Thursday nights from now on. Make me proud!

The Uncle: Valentine’s Day

(Getty/Suzy Hanzlik Photography)

It’s almost that time of year again, folks! No, I’m not talking about tax season. Don’t get me started. W4, 1099A. What am I fulfilling a civic duty or playing freakin’ Battleship over here? No, I’m of course referring to Valentine’s Day. That one day a year where the romantically-involved and the romantically-uninvolved can look at one another and say, “Wow, that looks really nice for a few months.”

Last year, I’d hit a bit of a rough patch around this time of year. Valentine’s Day was fast approaching and I was dead broke. I was with my at-the-time girlfriend, Denise, when I received a letter informing me I’d been summoned for jury duty. Cha-ching! One mistrial and forty bucks later, Denise and I are having a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner. She dumped me the next day due to “irreconcilable differences” and for “sympathizing with the suspect in an arson case.” I haven’t seen Denise since.

So when my nephew, Ronnie, told me today he was worried no one in his 5th grade class would give him a Valentine. It hurt. I remember those days quite vividly. I’d stay up all night decorating my Valentine box. I’d glue construction paper to a shoe box, cut a slit, write my name, adorn it with Ren & Stimpy stickers. Nothing too showy.

My biggest worry was Kevin. Kevin was the coolest kid at Stoneybrook Elementary. Suave, funny, handsome… like a young Wesley Snipes.

Hey, speaking of Wesley Snipes, how about that whole tax evasion mess, huh? I mean, 1040A, I-9? Folks, I don’t know if these are tax forms or Bingo balls! Wow! Wonder what happens if you forget to pay your taxes. Not much, I hope.

Anyway, all the girls in my class had crushes on Kevin. It didn’t help that his box was much, much nicer than mine was. I was fully prepared to go home with few, if any, Valentines.

But quite the contrary! SIX girls came to my desk to drop Valentine cards in my box. Beth. Kelsey. April. Megan. Amber. Allison. I was stunned. Relieved. Elated. I wasn’t expecting this at all. I didn’t know how to contain my joy. I had to rub it in Kevin’s face.

“Hey, Kevin,” I shouted as I walked over to his desk. “Read ‘em and weep,” I said, turning my box over and dumping its contents onto Kevin’s desk. It was at this moment that I realized, oh, right, I forgot to bury my dead pet hamster. Kevin very un-cooly starts crying as I make a mental note to open the shoebox I use next year and confirm nothing is already inside it.

If Kevin is reading this, just know that I sincerely apologize for what happened that day. Also, it’s been a while! Shoot me an email if you ever want to catch up over a beer or help me forge some Office Depot receipts or whatever.

Dad Grades: Marlin – Finding Nemo

(Buena Vista Pictures)

In this edition of Dad Grades, we revisit the hilarious and touching Finding Nemo, Pixar’s 2003 meditation on fish fatherhood.

Finding Nemo takes place in the Great Barrier Reef, ostensibly one of Australia’s top 5 reefs, barrier or otherwise. The movie begins with Marlin, a worrisome clownfish, and his wife, Coral, looking at a quaint oceanview home they’ve just purchased, a cushiony five years before the subprime mortgage crisis.

(Buena Vista Pictures)

Although it’s never addressed directly, the opening dialogue suggests they were one of those obnoxious couples intent on “flipping” this place.

Marlin and Coral are first-time expecting parents, their eggs nestled safely in the anemone. A barracuda shows up and knocks Marlin unconscious. He awakens, disoriented, his wife nowhere to be found and all but one egg missing. He names the surviving fish Nemo.

(Buena Vista Pictures)

This unspeakable tragedy sets the tone for Marlin’s character: an overprotective helicopter parent, a trait at its most evident when he panickedly follows Nemo on a school field trip. Nemo defiantly swims towards a boat and is abducted by a scuba diver. Marlin is now tasked with finding Nemo, just as the title suggests.

(Buena Vista Pictures)

Along for the ride is Dory, a blue tang fish with severe short-term memory loss voiced by Ellen Degeneres. The two traverse the open seas, thwarting carnivorous foes and befriending 150-year-old sea turtles as they make their way to the Sydney Harbor, never losing sight of their objective: drumming up sequel anticipation that will ultimately yield $1 billion in ticket sales thirteen years later. Though we see little interaction between Marlin and Nemo, we learn a lot about him as a dad.

The Good

Marlin is a very watchful guardian, as illustrated in the first few scenes. His overprotective demeanor is portrayed, quite inexplicably, as a character flaw. But, I mean, have you LOOKED in the ocean?

Look at that thing. What the HELL is that?

Marlin is fully aware of these seemingly omnipresent dangers, and that’s why he keeps a cautious, attentive eye on his only child. If anything, he’s not protective enough. If your child ran the risk of bumping into this sort of grotesque evolutionary atrocity every time they left the house, you’d send them to school in one of those big plastic bubbles. Just kidding. You’d homeschool them. And you’d teach them every animal except that one.

The Bad

It’s never stated how much time passes between the death of Marlin’s wife and the abduction of Nemo, but I’m fairly certain it was enough time for him to find Nemo a stepmom. Being a single parent is difficult enough on land, where there aren’t fish with sarlacc pits for mouths.

We’re all sorry for your loss, Marlin, but it’s time to move forward. As the old saying goes: There are plenty of fish in the sea who look exactly like you, if you’re into that sort of thing.

(Buena Vista Pictures)

The Verdict

No, really, what in God’s name is going on here?

(Wikipedia/Anglerfish)

Have we all just accepted that this thing exists? Are we doing anything to stop them? Because we are so unbelievably screwed if this thing evolves legs. I’m going to assume that, somewhere, a legislative body of sorts is working tirelessly around the clock on a bill that would effectively eradicate this cruel prank of a creature from our beautiful oceans. Good lord. It looks like the snake from Beetlejuice.

(Warner Bros.)

Marlin’s Final Dad Grade: A-

 

The Uncle: How To Respond To Your Kid’s Bad Grades

(Getty/LuckyBusiness)

I’ll be the first to admit I was never a great student. Math, social studies, English. You name it, I’ve failed it at some point. I’ll never forget my freshman year of high school. My first day of algebra, I remember rifling through my textbook, seeing the equations, raising my hand and asking, “Hey teach, what’s with the letters? Is this a math equation or a freakin’ word jumble?” It got a huge laugh from my classmates. I’d go on to win the “Best Sense of Humor” yearbook superlative in my senior year six years later.

The point is, math is hard. Computation is an antiquated skill, what with the advent of smartphones. My middle school math teacher, Mrs. Breckenridge, who totally had it out for me, would always tell me, “Pay attention, Gavin! You won’t be walking around with calculators in your pocket as adults, will you?”

I have just two things to say to Mrs. Breckenridge:

One, read it and weep.

(Getty/Jlende)

And two, remember that day you came into class and someone had drawn a gigantic pair of naked breasts on the whiteboard in permanent marker? Remember? You asked who did it, but no one fessed up? Well, I just called a lawyer to ask if there was a statute of limitations on that sort of thing and he hung up on me.

Anyway, this brings me to my brother’s kid, Beth. Beth’s in 12th grade and recently brought home her first math test of the semester, which she failed miserably. Her first ‘F’. Quite a deviation from the norm, given Beth’s history as nothing short of a model student. 4.0 GPA, honor roll. Her dad, my brother Donnie, even had a sticker that read “Proud Parent of an Honor Student” on the back windshield of his Altima right up until the day I accidentally shattered it with a lawn dart.

So what brought about this big, ugly ‘F’, you ask? Take a guess.

That’s right. Her math teacher is none other than one Mrs. Christine Breckenridge. I guarantee you, Breckenridge took one look at that math exam, saw the surname “Kennard”, and reflexively went for her reddest marker. Mrs. Breckenridge had it out for me. She had it out for my brother. This woman genuinely despises Kennards.

Her disdain for my bloodline is, regretfully, not without justification. I habitually called her and every other teacher I had “Teach.” I occasionally drew obscene, sexually explicit images on her whiteboard, often in permanent marker. My attendance was shoddy all four years. I didn’t show up for Senior Skip Day, nor did I show up for my, admittedly, poorly-advertised Senior Skip Month.

However, I attribute most of her hatred for my family to one thing in particular: that word jumble joke I made on my first day of algebra. She told many jokes throughout the semester, though none killed quite like mine did. Imagine if you had a teacher that brought their guitar to class every day. Now imagine that on the first day of the semester, Eddie Van Halen let loose an impromptu facemelter from the background. That’s basically what happened.

I told him that he should walk right into that classroom, slap that ‘F’ down on her desk, take a bite of any apple that may be on it, and calmly but sternly insist she change it to a ‘C’, at the very least. “Threaten to take it all the way up to the principal,” I said.

He then told me I was being paranoid and insisted Mrs. Breckenridge possesses no such bias against our family. He went on to insist the grade was fair and, as punishment, took Beth’s phone for a whole week.

Which really sucks because, like, her calculator is on there.

The Uncle: Introducing Your Kids To Good Tunes

(Getty/Chris Ison)

Ya know, lots of people take one look at my car and think they see a guy who’s got it all figured out. They see the ‘98 Camaro. They see the “I’m Not Speeding, I’m Qualifying” bumper sticker. They see the 208-disc nylon CD binder tucked comfortably under the passenger seat. But look closely and you’ll notice something missing: a car seat.

(Getty/The Washington Post)

That’s because, many years ago, I had a vasectomy. More accurately, I was guilted into having a vasectomy. I thought vasectomies were where they made your legs longer. Come to find out, that isn’t a real procedure. Or even medically possible. By the time I found out what a vasectomy really was, my particularly braggadocious Facebook post announcing it had already yielded 52 ‘likes’. As to not appear foolish, I went ahead with it anyway.

This is why I don’t have a car seat.

But you know who does have a car seat? My brother, Terry. That car seat in the back of Terry’s Highlander is reserved for his 18-month-old son, Ethan Ray. Very recently, I had Terry pick me up from the eye doctor. My vision was blurry and I’d regretfully plummeted to a 1-star Uber rating (tighten those Tupperware containers, folks), so thankfully, Terry was able to pick me up on his way to drop Ethan Ray off at daycare. That’s when I heard it:

“Captain Feathersword’s an amazing bird!
He’s a bird! What a bird!
He’s a pirate bird!”

(Getty/Zak Kaczmarek)

That’s right. Terry. The brother I once dropped acid with at a Gorillaz concert. The man I’ve seen regardfully remove his hat during a Slash solo, now listening to The Wiggles. I look in the rearview to see Ethan Ray affixed to his safety seat, exuberant, enjoying every second of this stupid sound about pirate birds.

“Dude,” I duded. “Pass the aux cord. I’ve curated what’s maybe the sickest of all possible Bad Company best-of playlists.”

“Ethan Ray likes The Wiggles,” he responded.

Unbelievable.

As a guy with no children or the physiological capacity to have them, this saddened me. Deeply. A one-year-old’s brain is just beginning to develop, meaning they’re virtually incapable of differentiating between the buoyant, cheery sounds of The Wiggles and, say, a Rush album. I say give them the Rush album. They have songs about pirate birds too, probably.

(Getty/Jeff Kravitz)

This is why I wish I had kids of my own. No Wiggles. No “Wheels on the Bus.” No Moana soundtrack. Just complete and total inundation of good tunes right from the beginning. Even in utero, I would bombard it with the Nirvana discography (except for In Utero, not a fan). If my brother Terry wants to raise a loser, so be it. Let Ethan Ray grow up a Wiggles fan. Go ahead. See how quickly his first date ends when he attempts to find common ground on songs like “Henry the Octopus” and “Go Far, Big Red Car.” Sure. Go for it, Terry. Me and my hypothetical offspring will be over here listening to Offspring.