Oren Miller: He Has Shown Me How to Live

Give Foward

Oren Miller has made me a better person and a better father. He is my brother. I will always tell his story.

We want context at the end. We want order, or some sense of purpose. We want it to matter. We want to tell our stories, and we want them to make sense.

It helps with the pain. It helps with the sadness. It helps to remind us that the reason we cry is because once, we were oh, so glad.

We have been glad to know Oren Miller. We have been proud to call him friend, to call him brother.

We all have stories to tell.

We have stories to tell about Oren Miller.

Today, and for the past few months, these stories have been nourished with tears. We knew it was bad, then worse, and now we are at the end and we want context. We want to add our patch to the quilt of Oren’s life, or his digital life, I suppose.

We were brothers, Oren and I. As his brother, as we come to the end, I am compelled to tell my story. This is right. This is good. Will it make sense? I don’t know. But my pain demands it. My tears require it.

It matters.

My story of Oren is about hope. It’s about the human capacity to shape the world for good.

It matters, all right.

We found out the worst of bad news before Father’s Day – lung cancer had spread to his brain. Nothing could stop it. We set out to help Oren’s family in a small, but meaningful way.

We came together to raise money for a dream trip, a vacation for a lifetime. We figured $5,000 ought to do it. Disney, maybe. Someplace nice before treatment began. Someplace Oren and Beth and their beautiful son and daughter could go and laugh and love and just be, if only for a while.

Our brother Brent Almond posted the online fundraiser on the crowd-funding site, Giveforward.com, at the suggestion of another brother, Jim Higley. These are remarkable human beings. These are my brothers. Oren’s brothers.

Brent posted it late on a Thursday night, the Thursday before Father’s Day, with no fanfare or social media promotion. By mid-morning Friday, the goal had been eclipsed and the total pledged was approaching $10,000.

Eventually, it would surpass $35,000. That was the power of this brotherhood, the power of a group of creative fathers from around the world whose primary connection was a Facebook group started by an unassuming, quiet, Israeli-born Marylander named Oren Miller.

“So crazy, it just might work.”

That is the group’s tagline. It started with about 30 fathers in December 2012. I was among them.

As of this writing, there are 1,047 members from nearly every state in the U.S., nearly every continent on the planet.

There are stay-at-home dads, single dads, old dads, young dads, married dads, divorced dads, gay dads, granddads. There are dads who draw, dads who paint, dads who create video, dads who make crazy lunches, dads who take photos, dads who write and dads who sing.

There are conservative dads, liberal dads, black dads, Asian dads, white dads, and dads of just about every ethnic and religious persuasion you can imagine. We fight and cry, love and learn from one another.

Once a year, we get together at Dad 2.0 Summit. That’s where I met Oren in person for the first time, in Houston. I can’t believe that was only two years ago.

He and I had exchanged excited messages about how we were going to try to expand the Facebook group while we were in Houston. Could we reach 100 members? Who did we want to ask?

Anyone and everyone. That’s who. All were invited.

Are you a dad? Do you have a blog?

You’re in.

One thing, though: “Don’t be a dick.”

It’s Oren’s only real rule for the group. Pretty reasonable, if you ask me.

Now, two years after he wondered if we could reach triple digits in the group, a scholarship fund bearing his name enables some of his brothers to go to Dad 2.0 every year. Six bloggers were awarded the scholarship this time around. It is a powerful, permanent testament to what he means to our community.

And so, the group of brothers who came together out of that initial experiment rose up when Oren needed us and raised tens of thousands of dollars for his family. I wish it could be more. It should be more. Please help make it more by donating here: Give Back to Oren.

One day this past summer, Whit Honea and I were talking on the phone about Oren and the group and how sad it was that Oren had cancer but what an incredible thing it was to see the group come together for that cause with such effect.

If we could do that for one of our own, looking inward, we thought, why couldn’t that energy and spirit be turned outward? Why couldn’t we band together, brothers from around the world, and try to make good things happen everywhere?

And so, thanks to Oren Miller and his loving brothers and all of those who contributed to the fundraiser, Dads 4 Change was born.

All we want to do at Dads 4 Change is make the world a better place, to help our kids develop an appreciation for volunteerism and giving, to model good citizenship for them and hope they carry that message into the future. That’s all.

That’s Oren’s legacy for me. It also is a legacy of community, which is peace. In peace, our best selves emerge. Just don’t be a dick.

Context? Purpose? Order. There is none. What is happening is too sad and pointless, as meaningful as a flower, as full of purpose as a single raindrop, as random as a stalk of wheat in the breeze.

But he has shown me how to live. He has shown us all the meaning of grace and dignity. Outwardly, his humor has remained intact and as sharp as ever. He is Oren. Then, as now, my brother.

There is no context for this. There sure as hell is no purpose. It does matter, though. Oren Miller made me a better person, a better father. That matters. And I will always tell that story. Always.

Oren Miller

Oren Miller (far right) with some of our brothers at Dad 2.0 Summit in New Orleans, January 2014. Also pictured (L to R): Aaron Gouveia, John Willey, Fred Goodall, Vincent Daly.

I’ll leave you with this: a dancing chihuahua. I saw it first on Oren’s blog, a Blogger and a Father, and it was one of his favorites. I smile every time I see it. So does Oren. I hope you will, too.

happy dance

The Sun’ll Come Out: Annie at the Straz Center

Annie

Before curtain at the Straz Center Tuesday night, we gathered and posed for a pre-Annie photo. The boys made it all the way through their first late-night theater experience. I’m pretty sure they’ll remember it always.

At 6:20 a.m. Tuesday, I walked into my older son’s bedroom to wake him up for school. As always, he pulled the blanket over his head after my gentle warning that I was about to turn on the light.

Click.

As my eyes adjusted to the dim illumination, I heard his sleepy voice under the covers: “It’s a hard-knock life … for us!”

He woke up with Annie on his mind. This was going to be a good day.

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They’ve seen plenty of shows. Big shows, too. The Finding Nemo show at Animal Kingdom, Katonga and Iceploration at Busch Gardens Tampa, Beauty and the Beast (Lite) at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Just last week, we took our two sons to a charity magic show at the Ritz in Ybor City, and they were riveted.

Our boys are no strangers to stage productions.

But never had they been to a show at the Straz Center, where Broadway comes to the Tampa Bay area. When we received approval for four review tickets through my affiliation with the Tampa Bay Bloggers group, we knew Annie would be the ideal introduction for Jay and Chris to big-time musical theater.

They loved the 1982 movie version, which we showed them again Sunday night on Netflix. Rarely will our 6-year-old sit (relatively) quietly through a non-animated, full-length movie. He sat through the Annie movie, right up to the closing circus scene with Carol Burnett riding in on an elephant.

At the breakfast table Tuesday, they alternated between humming “the Sun’ll Come Out Tomorrow” and “It’s a Hard-knock Life.” While I boxed up their lunches, they also threw in an occasional, “We love you, Miss Hannigan!”

I met the boys after school in the rain at the bus stop Tuesday afternoon. On our quick drive home, I reminded them about our Annie adventure for later that night. They got to talking about what to expect.

“It’s like a big puppet show, only with real people,” Jay told his younger brother. Almost, I told him. The difference is, these puppets have no strings.

“Some of the actors are kids your age,” I told Jay, 9. In fact, the girl who played Annie, Issie Swickle of Davie, Fla., is exactly his age. So is the extremely talented and charismatic girl who played Molly, Lilly Mae Stewart of Sarasota.

That got their attention. Kids their age on the big stage? Cool.

Jay later wondered what role he could play, seeing as how all the kids were girls. He figured he could play one of the boys Annie beats up in an alley the 1982 movie version, but alas — that scene isn’t in the stage production, one of several major differences you’ll notice if you’re familiar with the ’82 movie.

They finished their homework quickly and went to their rooms for a power nap in preparation for the big night out. We met their mom at the Straz Center and socialized with a few friends and fellow bloggers before the curtain rose.

The boys, despite their unfamiliarity with the venue and with theater culture, took to it like just about everything else we do as a family — ready to love it, trusting that we wouldn’t take them someplace boring.

Besides, after two viewings of the 1982 movie, they pretty much knew what to expect: Great song-and-dance numbers, kids their age on stage, and a cute dog named Sandy stealing scenes.

That’s exactly what they got. Despite the 7:30 p.m. start time (a half-hour before their week-day bedtime), they were engaged from start to finish. Jay bopped and sang along to the songs he knew, while Chris sat rapt on the edge of his seat, rarely looking away from the stage.

They didn’t flinch at occasional strong language from Oliver Warbucks’ (Gilgamesh Taggett), and they gyrated in place right along with Miss Hannigan (Lynn Andrews) during the fun and loose “Easy Street” and its second-act reprise.

They both smiled at everything Molly did, and at the (disappointingly few) scenes featuring Sandy the dog.

Their mutual favorite moment? I won’t spoil it, but it was related to Sandy and the Christmas morning scene at the end.

I loved watching my sons begin their relationship with musical theater. Beth and I spent a lot of the evening exchanging smiles while we watched Jay and Chris take it all in. It was one of those family memories that will stay with us always, and we can’t wait until the next show at the Straz!

Annie runs through Sunday at the Straz. Tonight (Wednesday, Feb. 18) is Broadway Family Night at the Straz, with kids 12-under admitted for 50 percent off with the purchase of a full-price adult ticket. Family fun activities are planned for before the show, and there will be a post-show talk-back with company members.

Also, before every performance this week, the Straz and Metropolitan Ministries will accept donations of primary school uniforms and other clothing. The clothes will go to kids in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Polk counties.

For more information about Annie, or to purchase tickets, go to www.strazcenter.org.

Through an affiliation with the Tampa Bay Bloggers, DadScribe was provided four tickets to the opening night performance of Annie at the Straz Center for review purposes. Opinions are those of the author.

AnnieLogo

 

 

Nerf Guns and Nonsense

My older son peered through the blinds into our back yard, but made no move to join his friends.

His homework was finished and he was free to play until supper time. Yet, the Monday afternoon soccer game went on without him.

“Aren’t you going outside?” I said.

He turned away from the sliding glass door and shook his head.

“No,” he said. “Not today. I just don’t want to.”

Strange. He loves to play outside. I knew why this time was different.

“Is it because of the Nerf gun thing?” I said.

He nodded.

“A little bit,” he said.

He turned back to the sliding glass door and peered out at his friends playing soccer in our back yard. He wanted to be out there playing, too. Instead, he watched from the cover of the blinds.

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The Nerf gun thing. In our neighborhood, Nerf foam dart gun battles rage almost daily. There are Nerf assault rifles, Nerf sniper rifles, Nerf blasters, Nerf cross bows, Nerf cannons. The neighborhood lawns are littered with discharged and forgotten Nerf darts.

I don’t like Nerf foam dart guns. I don’t like guns, period. I don’t like watching kids pretend to shoot each other. I worry that they might become inured to violence, and I worry that a blue or orange Nerf dart might strike one of my kids or a neighbor kid in the eye and cause permanent damage.

Naturally, our kids have about a half-dozen Nerf guns.

We allow them to participate in these neighborhood foam dart battles, with the stipulation that they wear the protective goggles that came with one of their Nerf gun sets and that they don’t aim the Nerf guns at other kids’ heads.

The Nerf gun thing that kept my son inside peering through the blinds instead of running around outside on the brown winter grass had its origins in a bicycle race over the weekend. A race my son lost to two other kids, both of whom are older, bigger, stronger and faster than my third grader.

Before that bike race around the block, one of the older kids – a good kid, a kid we know – announced that the race loser would be subjected to an undefended barrage of Nerf darts shot at him point-blank by the other two race participants.

In essence: a Nerf gun firing squad.

Our son told us Sunday night about his scheduled next-day “punishment” for losing the bike race. His mom and I told him there would be no Nerf gun firing squad. He would have to tell the other kids it’s not going to happen.

We left it at that, but we both woke up thinking about it the next morning. My wife called me on her way to work and we talked about it.

Was this a case of bullying behavior? Was it just “kids being kids?” How can parents tell the difference? What should we do about it?

In the moment, shortly after he informed us about the kid-manufactured consequences of losing that bike race, we told our son to stand up to the other boys if they tried to get him to “take his punishment.”

But were we sure he knew how to do that?

My wife and I decided that it wasn’t a case of repetitive bullying behavior, based on what we know about the kids involved and our son’s relationship with them. These kids are a grade or two ahead of our son, but we know them. They’re generally nice kids, not mean-spirited, and our son enjoys their company.

Still, it’s not easy to say no to friends. We wanted to make sure our son was equipped with the words he needed to gracefully minimize a potential conflict and prevent a potential long-term rift with his buddies. She and I talked about it and, together, made a plan of action we could suggest to him if it came up.

_________________________

Back at the blinds, our son was of two minds as he peered out: He longed to go out outside and play, but did not want to be shot at with Nerf dart guns.

I said, “You can go outside if you want to. Those guys might not even remember the bike race. But if they do, and they say something to you, do you know what to do?”

He nodded and said, “Yeah, come back inside.”

His expression told me he wouldn’t be happy with that outcome, so I was glad his mother and I had come up with a suggestion.

“Well, sure, you could do that,” I said. “Or you could look right at them and say, ‘That’s ridiculous. I’m not going to stand here and let you shoot me with Nerf guns. Let’s just play soccer.’”

Then I said, “Let me know if that doesn’t work.”

He thought about it for a few seconds, then reached for his fleece pullover.

“OK,” he said. “I’m going outside.”

I resisted the temptation to watch him through the blinds. I’m not against keeping a close eye on my kids, but this was one time I felt like he needed some space. I figured if he needed me, he’d come get me.

An hour later, he came in for supper. I asked him as casually as I could if the Nerf gun thing had come up. He said it had.

“Oh?” I said. “And what happened?”

“I told them it was just nonsense and to keep playing soccer,” he said.

I smiled and repeated, “Nonsense?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I forgot the other word you told me, but I like nonsense better, anyway.”

I told him I liked it better, too, and asked how his friends had taken it.

“We just started playing soccer again,” he said.

I told him I was proud of him.

I liked that he was not intimidated by his older friends into going along with a bad idea.

I liked that he found the fortitude to face his apprehension.

I liked that he accepted – and improved upon – the plan of action his mother and I devised to help him.

I loved that our son learned something about his own strength of will. And, even though he lost that bike race, he defeated his own uncertainty and managed a difficult situation with words and with grace.

 

Sunday Morning

I hear a kid yelling upstairs. Roaring, actually. Repeatedly. I’m downstairs and I hear a kid roar over and over.

My investigation consists entirely of one question directed toward the general vicinity of the stairwell.

“Jay, that sounds awful,” I yell. “Are you OK?”

The roars cease.

“Well, Chris is being a maniac.”

The mystery is resolved and the investigation concludes with a succinct, disembodied answer from somewhere upstairs.

Sunday morning.

Think these guys are ready for #MonsterJam? Oh, yeah.

A photo posted by Carter (@dadscribe) on

 

A Magical Event for Cancer Research: VIP Four-Pack Ticket Giveaway

Magic Cure Benefit

Renowned illusionist Reynold Alexander will perform at the 3rd Annual Magic Cure Benefit at the Ritz Ybor on Feb. 7.

We saw Reynold Alexander perform during the 2nd annual Magic Cure Benefit at the Ritz Ybor in 2014, and our sons were spellbound. It was their first real magic show, and the experience left them mesmerized.

My wife and I, thanks to the generosity of the Lawrence A. Martucci Benefit Corp, have the chance to share this important and fun event with another family this year.

Alexander, who has performed his astounding magic act in 20 countries, will be on stage at the Ritz again on Feb. 7 for the 3rd annual Magic Cure Benefit, which raises money and awareness for the vital cancer research being performed by Dr. Cameron Tebbi’s team at the Children’s Cancer Research Group.

It’s all about ending childhood cancer. This is a fun and magical way to help with that cause.

Through Beth’s association with the incredible 1Voice Foundation and the Martucci Benefit Corp, DadScribe is giving away a four-pack of VIP tickets to Alexander’s Feb. 7 show.  To enter, leave a comment below on this blog post expressing your support for pediatric cancer research. 

The entry period ends at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 16. A random drawing will determine the winner, who will be announced on the DadScribe Facebook and Twitter accounts on Saturday, Jan. 17.

The show, which is suitable for audiences 6 and older, begins at 6 p.m. The doors open at 4:30 for VIP ticket holders, 5 p.m. for the general public. VIP ticket holders receive complimentary beer, wine and hors d’oeuvres, which also will be available for purchase by the general public before the show.

A silent auction also will be held before the event. Items for bid will include autographed sports memorabilia, L.A. Fitness memberships, vacation trips, game tickets and more. Items will be available for bidding on the event website starting Jan. 31.

To get a feel for Alexander’s show — and for the performer’s magnetic stage presence — take a look at this five-minute demo reel on YouTube. Trust me, Reynold Alexander does things that will amaze you and make you laugh. Our younger son spent the entire show last year asking, “How did that happen?” and “What’s going on? Where did it go?” He also laughed — a lot. He was captivated, and so were we.

You will be, too, and it is all for one of the most important causes I can think of: to eradicate pediatric cancer forever.

Tickets are available by following this link to the 501 Auctions Magic Cure Benefit portal. General admission is $35 for adults, $15 for children 6 and older. A limited number of VIP tickets are available for $100 apiece.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit the Martucci Benefit Corp website.

MagicCureBenefitLogo

Bolts Family Carnival Benefits Lightning Foundation

Bolts Family Carnival

Image: Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Lightning look good this year, eh? In fact, this might just be the best team they’ve put on the ice since 2003-04.

You remember those guys, right?

Now, I’m not saying this Steven Stamkos-Tyler Johnson-Ben Bishop-Jon Cooper Lightning team is going to match the Stanley Cup greatness of that Vinny Lecavalier-Marty St. Louis-Brad Richards-John Tortorella team of ’04.

I’m not saying they’re at that level … yet.

They look awfully good this year, though. Certainly, a deep Cup run isn’t out of the question, as long as everyone stays healthy. Wouldn’t surprise me a bit to see Stamkos hoist the Stanley Cup over his head this summer.

That’s all I’m saying.

There is something this Lightning organization does every bit as well as the Stanley Cup winners of 11 years ago. If anything, when it comes to giving back to the community, Tampa Bay’s NHL franchise is even better today than back then.

That’s saying a lot, because the Lightning players and organization have an admirable history of lending a hand to those who need it in the Tampa Bay area. A few years back, when I covered professional sports for the Tampa Tribune, I was assigned a story about the philanthropic efforts of the Lightning, Bucs and (then) Devil Rays.

I was blown away by the generosity of players such as Lecavalier, who donated millions of dollars toward the Vinny Lecavalier Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. The former Lightning captain isn’t the only one doing good, of course, and it’s about more than throwing money at a cause.

I have always admired athletes and coaches who spend time with fans away from the fields, courts and ice. Some of the most poignant experiences of my sportswriting career came as I watched guys like former Bucs offensive lineman Jerry Wunsch, Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks and Rays pitcher Chris Archer do great things for kids.

During my time covering the Rays, I always knew that if a Little League field needed refurbishing, the entire front office and organizational support staff – along with coaches, players and anyone else from the Trop who wanted to help – would band together and re-build that field in nothing flat. The Rays Baseball Foundation also has performed admirable community service through the years.

All of this leads me to one of the coolest philanthropic initiatives any area pro team has put together in recent years: the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation’s Community Heroes program. This initiative was made possible by Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and his wife, Penny, who launched it in 2011 with the goal of distributing $10 million to area non-profits over the course of five years.

During every Lightning home game, the team awards a $50,000 grant to a different non-profit organization or its representative. The Community Heroes roster is an All-Star team of Tampa Bay area philanthropists and others who have taken it upon themselves to help make this a better place to live.

One of the goals of the Community Heroes program, said Lightning Foundation manager Heidi Hamlin, is to provide a nudge in the right direction for Tampa Bay area citizens who want to play an active role in doing good, but might not know where to begin.

“We want to tell other people’s stories, so that people will find them and build a relationship with one of our Community Heroes,” Hamlin said. “If they hear about other people wanting to do good in their community, maybe they’ll find their own way to help others and be involved.”

The Lightning Foundation also does other good work, including educational programs, two initiatives to feed the hungry and much more.

Here’s what’s happening. Our family was invited to Amalie Arena this Sunday, Jan. 18, for the first Bolts Family Carnival, a fundraiser for the Lightning Foundation. Every player and coach will be there, and fans will have chances to interact with them throughout the day.

There will be traditional carnival games (dunk tank, darts, etc.) and meet-and-greet opportunities, as well as video games, bubble hockey and much more.

“We really want it to be not just another fan fest,” Hamlin said. “We want people to get to know our players off the ice, to really have fun with them and see them not just as a competitive hockey player, but to get the personal experience with someone.

“We want to instill a sense of personality and community in our players and into the day. We hope we can make and create Lightning fans, but also give everyone a chance to have a really good time.”

General admission ($30 for adults, $15 for kids 3-12, kids 2-under free) gets you in the doors 3-5 p.m. A premium pass ($40 for adults) grants admission for the duration of the event, 1-5 p.m. Purchase price includes gaming vouchers (four with general admission, six with premium). Additional experiences, such as Stanley Cup and player photo opportunities, are available for an additional donation.

Check the event website at BoltsFamilyCarnival.com for more information and to purchase tickets.

 

Who Knew My New England-Born Wife is a Monster Jam Fan?

Monster Jam

Our family is heading to Monster Jam on Jan. 17 at Raymond James Stadium. Beth is more excited about this fact than anyone.

We are going to Monster Jam. And by “we,” I mean our entire family.

Naturally, Jay and Chris are fired up. They are boys. Their eyes get big every time they see even a moderately large pickup truck trundle down the road.

What surprised me was the conversation with my wife that took place shortly after I received the invitation from a representative of Feld Motor Sports to come on over to Raymond James Stadium on Jan. 17 to take in the biggest, baddest monster truck spectacle on the planet.

Me: “So, hey. I know we’re already going to the circus in January, but I just got an invitation to go to this truck thing at RayJay a couple of weeks later.”

Beth: “Monster Jam?!? We are IN!”

Me: “What? Really? I figured I’d take the boys and give you a day to relax.”

Beth: “No way! I’ve always wanted to go to that. We are going. No more discussion.”

So, yeah. We are going. And Beth, who was born in Boston and grew up in a picturesque New England small town, is as excited about this extreme motorsports event as any of us.

Who knew?

So, by invitation, we’re going to the first of two scheduled shows at RJS. The second will take place Feb. 7.

Monster Jam

Our older son immediately asked if Grave Digger was going to be there for the Jan. 17 show at Raymond James Stadium. Oh, yes. Grave Digger will be there.

We are particularly looking forward to getting up close and personal with the trucks and the drivers during the Party in the Pits in Parking Lot 5 outside the stadium. Our invitation includes pit passes, which are available at no cost at participating Southern Ford Dealers through Feb. 7 (while supplies last). Pit passes also are available for purchase ($10 each).

Ride Along passes also are available at Tampa area Circle K locations. Ride in a real Monster Jame truck? Yes, please. Rides will take place before the show, 1-7 p.m., on a first-come, first-served basis.

Our show, the Jan. 17 event, will feature 16 Monster Jam trucks in side-by-side racing and competitive freestyle stunt performances. The lineup at that one will include Maximum Destruction, driven by 11-time world champion Tom Meents. Jay is excited about seeing Grave Digger. The Feb. 7 event will feature 16 different Monster Jam trucks, so each show will be unique.

I’ll be sharing our experience at the Jan. 17 show on the DadScribe Twitter and Instagram accounts. If you want even more, follow Monster Jam’s social platforms: Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Tickets for both Tampa shows range from $15 (advance purchase) to $100 Total Access VIP Meet & Greet passes. They are available at MonsterJam.com, at the TicketMaster website and retail locations, as well as the Raymond James Stadium box office or by calling 800-745-3000.

For both shows, gates open at 5 p.m., opening ceremonies are at 6:30 p.m. and racing starts at 7 p.m.

Here’s a taste of Monster Jam in a fresh video from an event last week in Des Moines, Iowa.

Disclosure: Our family was invited to attend the Jan. 17 Monster Jam show at Raymond James Stadium for review purposes. This preview of the event reflects my views and not those of the event organizers or anyone associated with Monster Jam, Raymond James Stadium or Feld Motor Sports. But it does express the surprising fact that my wife is monster truck fan. Who knew?