the planet of the apes

When I was growing up I loved The Planet of the Apes movies. I spent many a weekend during my extra-chubby adolescence watching ape movie marathons on one of the now defunct upper channels which could only be accessed through a precariously balanced antenna. I was obsessed, planning my non-existent social life around this dystopian world dominated by talking apes and ruggedly handsome men in loincloths.

There was Charlton Heston in the original film, collapsing at the base of the Statue of Liberty under the horrifying realization that “it was earth all along”. Later in the quintology there was Escape from the Planet of the Apes, an ode to the swinging 70s complete with time-traveling apes, feminist undertones, and a carnival barking Ricardo Montalban. For the fourth film the series went dark as Conquest of the Planet of the Apes offered us a totalitarian view of the future and an endless backdrop of bad concrete architecture.  The franchise ran out of steam by its mostly unwatchable last film, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, an all but forgettable entry save for a cameo by the late great John Houston, an Academy award winning actor who was clearly slumming it for the paycheck.

But the movie that stuck (and sticks) with me most was the second entry in the series, Beneath the Planet of the Apes. A cautionary tale of a post-nuclear war civilization, it featured an underground city populated by mutated humans with psychic powers. The mutants worship a nuclear warhead and, in the best scene in the film franchise, they peel away their seemingly normal faces to reveal the hideous radiation scarred skin beneath. As the music swells, the mutants turn to the bomb and, in what can only be described as an unbridled display of orgiastic religious fervor, they begin to chant, “I reveal my innermost self”.

(I promise I’m going somewhere with this.)

I love that scene. I have probably watched it fifty times, maybe more. Even at eleven years old I like to think that I understood what the filmmakers were really trying to say: blind obedience is bad and, if I ever decide to join a post-apocalyptic cult in an ape dominated world first make sure the other members aren’t hideously scarred mutants who worship a nuclear warhead.

Actually what I remember most – and what resonates now three decades later more than it ever did in 1986 – was the line, “I reveal my innermost self,” because in this age of technological isolation I realize that we have become those hideously scarred mutants hiding out in our underground cities, communicating through psychic messages, hiding behind a mask so no one can see our truth.

We don’t leave our houses. We communicate through the tap of a phone screen. We are the sum total of our social media profiles.

We don’t let people see the warts. We hide. We reveal nothing.

I dread social obligations. I just want to hole up in my house eating doughnuts and watching Call the Midwife. The real world is too much work, too much effort. I do not talk on the phone. All calls go to voicemail. All communication is done through text or instant messaging. My phone rings and I think, Why are you calling me? Did someone die? …and if someone did die then why don’t you just text me the bad news so we can avoid a scene?

(Texting is like having psychic powers and if it worked for movie mutants then it should work for us.)

I feel bad.  I feel guilty. I think I must be the only person who feels this way, but then I log on to social media and I see the whole goddamn world has gone Planet of the Apes. 

Facebook is nothing but the latex mask we wear over our hideous radiation scarred faces.

(Okay, I know I’m being a bit much here and really this is just an excuse to talk about those ape movies, but also everything I’m saying is kinda true.)

I honestly have no idea what anyone’s innermost self looks like because all I see is perfection. Perfect families. Perfect marriages. Perfect pictures of perfect dinners.

We all do it.

Life is a fucking postcard and you had better keep up because if you can’t compete with my fake life then something must be lacking in your fake life.

Just once I would like to see someone (not me, of course!) say: My life is a mess. My children hate me. I haven’t spoken to my spouse in three days and that’s okay because the truth is I’m hoping for a fourth day of silence. Also, I ate three gallons of ice cream last night and I just deep fried a pie for my second lunch.

Imagine how freeing life would be if we all walked around showing our hideous scars to one another. I’m not talking about complaining, please don’t do that because no one wants to hear you whine. I mean just some good old fashioned truth tellin’ and if that seems like too much, if you can’t handle the truth, then don’t try and sell the latex mask lie.

Embrace the mess. Cherish the silence. Eat the second lunch.

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why aren’t you talking about my children?

November is National Adoption Month, but then you probably didn’t know that because CNN and MSNBC and FOX and The New York Times and The Washington Post and Twitter and Facebook and the entire Internet have yet to notify you of that fact.

There are 415,000 children in foster care in the United States. That is almost a half million children, or roughly the population of Wyoming, without a permanent home.

Every night these kids go to bed not knowing where they belong or if they belong. And every year more than 20,000 of them age out of the foster system. These kids have no family. They have no home.

Each year, we, the so-called greatest country in the world, turn our backs on these 20,000 children. We abandon them.

Still not interested?  Still not willing to hashtag adoption?  Still not willing to launch an all-out Facebook assault on your friends and family who think adoption “isn’t their problem?”

Perhaps it’s because adoption is benign. It isn’t sexy or controversial enough to warrant your concern. It doesn’t sell papers or generate page views.

There are no flag overlays for adoption. It fails to inspire hashtags. It lacks conflict.

It isn’t a red cup at war with Christmas.

It isn’t Syria.

But then this post isn’t about Syria. For the purposes of this post Syria is a prop and before you judge me for that truth bomb I caution you to go back over your social media feeds because the only difference between you and me is that I’m being honest.

A week from now after Syria has runs its course in our collective consciousness and the news cycle has moved onto its next big story I’m simply asking you to remember that those 415,000 kids will still be there.

Those kids will still need a home.

No one is talking about them now. No one is probably going to talk about them tomorrow, but they will still be there.

Now I am not implying that these nearly half a million homegrown children are more important than children in other parts of the world or refugees from Syria or people in Paris or homeless veterans. I am saying that these kids are here and they’re not going anywhere and no one is talking about them.

And why is that?

If Anderson Cooper or Megyn Kelly or Rachel Maddow or a minion dressed as Caitlyn Jenner told you right now to drop everything and talk about adoption would it suddenly merit your undivided attention? Would you go into keyboard warrior-mode and obsessively begin to post every link you could find on adoption? Would you casually begin to throw around the adoption equivalent of twenty-five cent phrases like “white privilege” and fifty cent words like “xenophobe”?

If I could go back in time and snap a photo of my son as a baby sitting in the corner of what was probably a crack house with a blanket thrown over him while his birth parents shot up drugs or if I could travel to another time and take a photo of my other son’s birth mother in jail while five months pregnant with him would these images bring a tear to your eye?

Would these photos incite your passion? Would you spend your day littering Facebook with an endless stream of nonsensical memes if foster children were like those puppies in the Sarah McLachlan commercial?

Would they, at last, deserve your consideration?

Would they?

For the record, I’m not implying that I’m better than you because I did something; because I adopted two of those 415,000 kids. The truth is my interest in adoption was self-serving. I had no time for adoption until adoption could do something for me.

But now that I know about adoption, now that those statistics are a part of my life, now that those numbers have a face, I wonder, why are there not more people taking action?

Because you don’t need to adopt to make a difference. You don’t need to foster to make a difference. There are so many ways in which you can change the lives of these children who are living in unsafe conditions, who don’t have a home, whose future is Dickensian.

Consider, the woman who saw a young mother living in a tent with her baby and called children services. The caseworker who removed a child from the home of his drug addicted grandmother. Those people, who by the way made it possible for us to have our children, did nothing more than care about something that wasn’t on the news or trending on social media.

I have been told that these two issues (Syria and adoption) are like comparing apples to oranges, and while that may be true, I don’t necessarily believe that the apples are more important than the oranges or vice versa. I just believe the apples get all the attention on your newsfeed while the oranges don’t even merit a share.

And for the record, yes, I am aware of just how manipulative this post is, because who’s going to be the person who calls out the guy who adopted two kids, but if this calculated manipulation gets you to consider for even thirty seconds the plight of these 415,000 kids with as much passion as you’ve exercised over the past few weeks on Syrian refugees and red cups then it will have been worth it.

Sean Michael O’Donnell is the author of Which One Of you is the Mother? It is available on Amazon here. Why haven’t you bought it yet?! Seriously.

thirty day chip

Thirty days ago I posted my last status on Facebook.

I then drove my family three hours from our home in the city to a remote cabin in south central Pennsylvania for an off-the-grid weekend in the wilderness. For seventy-two hours I lived in complete ignorance of the world beyond our tiny house in the woods. There was no cell service, no internet, no social media, no functioning toilets. As someone who enjoys the conveniences of the modern world, to say nothing of proper indoor plumbing, this was roughing it.

But I survived.

Actually I did more than just survive, I thrived. For the first time in a very long time I was not distracted by phone calls or texts or the siren call of social media. With nothing left to steal my focus I was forced to live in the moment. I participated. I was engaged. I listened to my children play and rather than dismiss their exuberance as “just noise” I heard their words and I understood their language. I celebrated their creativity. I laughed and I smiled and I saw my kids again for the first time.

I’m not saying three days without Wi-Fi and suddenly I was Father of the Year, but in the days and weeks since that weekend I believe I’ve morphed into a solid second runner-up. The truth is even without the distractions of the modern world I struggle to be fully engaged every minute of every day. Sometimes I phone it in. I want to be Super Dad, but by the time the end of the day or the weekend rolls around I’m so exhausted and done with it all that I’ll settle for being the out-of-shape lazy-ass beer-drinking sidekick to Super Dad.

But then even being the fat drunk Robin is easier once you make the decision to unplug.

The world is a strange place without Facebook. I have no idea what people are doing or feeling. I don’t know what they ate for dinner last night or what movie they watched on Netflix last weekend or how they plan to vote in some distant primary. I don’t know what issue to hashtag or if black lives still matter or if that clerk from Kentucky is still a thing.

Even worse, since I can no longer use memes and shared links from Reddit as a barometer for one’s level of mental illness I’m forced to trust that every person I meet on the street is perfectly normal even though I know deep down they’re all fucking crazy.

I’m a stranger in a strange land.

I’m not complaining. Life is simpler without social media. I’m less concerned with things that have nothing to do with me. I spend more time enjoying all of the amazing things I have in my life and less time telling people about all the amazing things I have in my life. I’m not concerned with reliving the moment five minutes from now because I’m living the moment now. And while choosing to disconnect in a connected world can make you feel isolated I find that I enjoy living in a bubble.

It’s very quiet.


Sean Michael O’Donnell is the author of Which One Of you is the Mother? It is available on Amazon here. Why haven’t you bought it yet?! Seriously.

culture of victimhood (or, confessions of a lapsed liberal)

In the early 1990s I listened to a lot of conservative talk radio. It helped me to fall sleep. The angry voices calling out from my Sony clock radio were like waves on a beach.  And everyone was angry: the hosts, the callers, the advertisers. We were on a one-way trip to hell and the liberal homosexuals were driving the bus. As I drifted off to dreamland I would laugh at these desperate fear-mongers and their doomsday declarations.

But still, I had to give them credit. These would-be Limbaughs knew just how to play to their base. They understood that their listeners were angry – not about the Democrats or the homosexuals or the abortionists – they were angry about simple things, like their marriage or their kid not doing well in school or their job. They were angry and they had no one to blame for their anger. And then just like that, faster than you could say manipulation, they suddenly did and conservative talk radio grew overnight into a multi-billion dollar industry.

Now I fancy myself a card-carrying progressive and all those years spent listening to conservative talk radio only served to tighten my grip on my liberal card. But now – twenty years later, twenty years older, twenty years wiser – I start to feel myself being pulled to the dark side…or at least the center. And for this tectonic shift I blame the more extreme members of my liberal party.

#victim

Five minutes on Twitter and I feel like I’ve been transported back to 1995. Everyone is so angry. Except this time it’s not the liberal homosexuals who are driving the bus, it’s the conservative cisgender heteronormative white privileged anti-Obama fuckers.

And the weird thing is there is no difference between 1995 conservative talk radio and 2015 Twitter. These parallel universes may be separated by twenty years and fundamentally oppositional belief systems but they are both desperate fear-mongers offering doomsday declarations. These twatters, in a reaching attempt to gain followers and rack up retweets, play to their base: the disenfranchised, the “different”, the persons who believe that every passing glance is a leering stare.

These rabble-rousers steal other people’s experiences. They collect vicarious tragedies the way you collect stamps or coins. Each morning they breathlessly scour the internet searching for the next big hashtag-able movement. They take the temperature on Reddit. They see how the wind is blowing on HuffPost. They use social media to tell them what to think and how to feel. They stand for nothing because they stand for everything.

This new generation of angry millennial white know-it-alls routinely lecture gay people on homophobia. They talk about trans rights because a celebrity told them to talk about trans rights. For the professional victim there is no injustice that cannot be erased by hitting shift+3.

The conservative talk radio listener and the liberal twatter are sworn enemies cut from the same cloth. Even their talking points are the same:

  • You are the victim
  • Everyone is out to get you
  • Everyone wants to take away your rights

We have abdicated all personal responsibility. It’s not my fault, it’s your fault.

I have two kids. I teach them personal responsibility. I teach them to be accountable. I teach them that no one is going to give them anything. I teach them that no one is obligated to like them. I teach them that no one must respect them. Instead I say this:

  • If you want something, work for it
  • If you want people to like you, first like yourself
  • If you want respect, earn it

My children will not be victims. My children will not blame other people for every perceived slight or imagined injustice. My children will not be defined by other people’s opinions. My children will take responsibility. Ultimately my children will be judged for who they are, not what they are.


As in all my blog posts, these are simply my opinions and you are welcome to disagree. You may choose to teach your children to embrace their inner hashtag and if you do, I respect that choice. I also thank you for making it easier for my children to succeed.