(Editor’s note: there are two blog posts today, make sure you check out the other one)
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no it’s Superblogger, Ron Mattocks, who pens Clark Kent’s Lunchbox. Mattocks, a mild mannered 36-year old former executive turned stay at home dad, lives in Houston with his wife, fellow blogger, Ashley, and his two giggly step daughters. Clark Kent’s Lunchbox is a mix of humor and discussion on things such as parenting, marriage and deeper issues such as his feelings about being separated from his sons and depression. His witty and thoughtful writing style has earned Mattocks two nominations for this year’s Blogger’s Choice Awards for Hottest Daddy Blogger and Best Humor Blog.
Recently, the Blogger of Steel flew in to answer eight questions and beat the bad puns out of this writer. We discussed his blog’s secret origins, his greatest weakness, comic books, parenting and his biggest blogging mistake along with a host of other topics.
As is becoming tradition around here, Eight Questions was that in name only, as the interview went a bit longer.
1. What prompted you to start your blog and why did you name it Clark Kent’s Lunchbox?
My sister actually got me started blogging sometime around May of 2007. I really didn’t have a clue what I was doing. It was like that joke by actors, “What’s my motivation?” Maybe the only thing I did right was the name. I’d fallen in love with the Superman story not, and wanted to incorporate it into the title without being cheesy. I also wanted it to sound a little offbeat to reflect my personality. In a sugar-rush from a bowl of Captain Crunch, Clark Kent’s Lunchbox hit me. Really, my blog has been like having a child grow up. It was born and I named it, then the next ten months were spent just babbling, drooling and learning how to walk, which is to say I was still figuring things out, but I was growing too.
When I lost my job in March of 2008, that was like hitting puberty. My voice literally even changed, as some of the writing started getting more honest and consistent, but like a teenager, there was still was this search for identity. I went out and got the ProBlogger book reading it cover to cover. I tried to monetize it and seek out advertisers. Like 95% of people out there starting blogs, I had delusions of grandeur in that I thought I’d be the next Dooce or Dad Gone Mad. Things were pretty awkward, and basically it came down to the fact I was just trying to hard to be something I wasn’t. Right about then, I noticed a few patterns taking place, one being my sense of humor and the other, being the chronicling of the transition from single working executive to married stay-at-home dad with stepdaughters balanced with my long-distance relationship with my sons. Then the blog became an adult, sticking with the analogy.
I hope through the writing they might one day read it and go, “Dad was pretty funny, but he also loved us alot.”
The Lunchbox now has something of a purpose, to make people laugh without trying too hard through experiences they can relate to particularly in the area of parenting. There’s also an underlying goal of providing resources to parents, specifically dads, who are in situations similar to mine, laid off, stay-at-home, divorced, step kids and kids from previous marriage. They can have all these going on, or pick and choose any combination like a salad bar.
But going back to the Superman theme, I got hooked on the TV show Smallville, mainly because of the strong themes on fatherhood found in every episode. That got me started on the thought of what kind of dad would you have to be in order to raise a child that could pretty crush your head if you grounded them. The conclusion I came to was teaching strong character and taking responsibility for your actions and the ensuing consequences. That was the kind of father I wanted to be in the hope my kids could become supermen or superwomen one day. So the theme worked out pretty good, and I hope through the writing they might one day read it and go, “Dad was pretty funny, but he also loved us alot.”
2. Have you heard from anyone at DC Comics (or their lawyers)?
No, but that issue has crossed my mind a few times. I’ve toned down alot of the Superman imagery from the early days, while using the old Fleischer themed pictures, that I know don’t have copyright patents. Copyrights on blogs are fairly loose because one of the ideas behind blogging was to not restrict the flow of ideas, so I’m kind of safe based on the pertinent laws I’ve looked up. Besides there are a ridiculous amount of blogs out there using Superman themes, but it’s always a possibility.
3. Kryptonite was Superman’s greatest weakness, what is yours?
For Superman, kryptonite had many types, red, blue, silver, black in addition to green, and you can say the same of me. My weaknesses come in many forms. I have Attention Deficit Disorder, which can really throw me off track. I’m like a gnat on amphetamines sometimes. I take meds for it, but they have side effects that influence my ability to be a productive writer. People with ADD tend to be really hard on themselves too. I can have a great idea in the morning and by the afternoon, I’m convinced it’s the stupidest thing ever. Depression is also a weakness of mine. It’s miserable sometimes, but I write about it in hopes other men will see they’re not alone. I just don’t want to come off sounding whiny.
Funny story. – an A list blogger read my site for the first time on a day I posted something on my depressed state. They left a comment about staying off the bottle and never came back again. Guess I spooked him? For a guy that tries to make people laugh, I know I’m sounding kind of heavy here. “Why so serious?”
4. You were nominated for both best humor blog and hottest daddy blogger, what are your thoughts regarding the nominations?
On one hand, it’s nice to be included with a list of bloggers in those categories who are well-know and respected by thousands of readers, but in another sense it’s just a form of marketing. Don’t get me wrong, Hottest Daddy Blogger would be a fun title, but I’m not going to cry in my keyboard over it. The awards and nominations that mean the most are the ones that other bloggers give out on their own, because you know it’s because someone real out there appreciates what you are doing. That’s one reason I started spotlighting “Blogs that are Super” each week. To let them know I appreciate their work and get other readers to appreciate it too.
5. What sort of preparation is involved in each of your posts?
Hmmm, well first there’s the stretching right before I do about 100 push ups, then I grab a set of jumper cables and a car battery… Okay, no. Getting into the mood is such an inconsistent thing and I wish it wasn’t. There are days I force myself, because I need to have something ready for a post the next day or an assignment is due. On other days, I can’t shut myself down and will crank out 30 pages while simultaneously making notes about other ideas in a little notebook I carry around with me. I use sticky notes like crazy and post ideas on the wall in front of the computer. There are two times of day I write, when the girls are gone at school or late at night when everyone is in bed. Night tends to yield better material because for some reason my brain slips into a state of Zen.
6. Since you write about your family, what rules do you have for what you will and won’t write about?
I take some freedoms, but I temper it with common sense. For me there are some absolutes though. People know I live in Houston, but I make sure not to reveal anything that people could pinpoint where exactly. The same goes for where my sons live. I say Chicago would get me closer to them, but I’m vague about everything else. Another hard and fast rule is not putting anyone of my family members down or being mean to them. I may poke fun but it’s no more than what I would if I were with them. Personal information is off limits, like the location of any moles. My biggest rule, however, is not to portray my ex-wife unfairly. Unfortunately, we do not have a good relationship, which opens up the door to looking for the validation on my feelings from readers. I do mention her, but I’m quick to qualify why and the intent behind it. I always post stuff with the idea my kids are reading it, and for my boys to see me going on tirades against their mom totally undermines her as a mother. She’s a good person and loves our boys. Personal hurt has to be pushed aside to make your kids the priority.
7. Since your wife is also a blogger, how often do you “talk shop” with one another? Do you find yourself comparing your blogs?
Oh yeah. We’re pretty comical about it. We used to check our stat counters and yell out the number at each other to see who had more readers. If we don’t leave a comment on the other’s site, then we pout claiming that the magic is gone in the marriage. My wife really was the one who helped me find my voice and encourages me. I let her read most of my posts beforehand to see if they make her laugh (I love making her laugh more than anyone other than my kids). I also owe her for a huge number of regular readers who are fans of her and go to my site after hers. In terms of subject matter, however, we are very different. I’m sort of a goofball, where she is amazingly honest in her writing over serious issues pertaining to her. People read it and are like, “Wow! When are you going to come out with a book?” I envy her, but at the same time, it wouldn’t sound like me. Lately, she’s pulled back on her writing, partly because of her work schedule and partly, because she feels like blog writing is holding her back in what she wants to express. Her extended family started reading it and now she feels like there are things she can’t write anymore. We’ve had some good discussions about this, along with my feelings that blogging has overshadowed my efforts to finish the final edits on my book. So we’ve had some serious talks about giving it up altogether until we finish the goals we have in getting published.
8. What is your book about?
This was a complete transformation for my image as a man. I mean, to go from a successful executive and provider to the guy folding Disney Princess underwear prioritizing which bills get paid and which ones have to wait is a big leap.
On the book, it’s a collection of essay-type stories that give context to the events in my life over the last year. In that amount of time, I met my wife, lost my job, got married, gained two stepdaughters, became a stay-at-home dad, all while trying to fight bouts with depression and still being a father to my three sons. This was a complete transformation for my image as a man. I mean, to go from a successful executive and provider to the guy folding Disney Princess underwear prioritizing which bills get paid and which ones have to wait is a big leap. The book (I’m holding out on the title) captures that transition, mostly with humor, but with reflective passages too. It’s perfect for the Lifetime channel or maybe access cable. Right now, I have it about 95% written and running through the final edits. I want to have it ready for submission by the end of November.
9. What are your favorite posts and why?
My other favorites are the more reflective posts about my relationship with my boys and the trips I get to be with them. There was a series I did on each day of Spring Break, and one about really listening to my son titled Mr. High and Mighty. Getting Closer and Taken For Granted talk about how it feels to be a dad living so far away. These are posts that help keep my boys real to me when I can’t see them.
10. What is the biggest mistake you’ve made in your blogging career?
There a couple that come to mind. I wrote a post about the Dugger Family announcing they would be having their 18th child. The point of it was to question how you could adequately share yourself as a parent with so many kids, but it came off maybe a tad too critical. My sister lives near the Duggars and through mutual friends, the Duggars were likely to have read it. Then I found out our pastor is a firm believer in the same parenting beliefs as the Duggars and when he read the post I don’t think he was too happy either. I alienated a bunch of readers, which is something you try not to do.
The other was trying to gain traffic by leaving fake, insincere comments on other sites, particularly the big guys. That was dumb, going back to the growing up analogy again, it was like being a nerd trying to hang with the cool kids. I got away from that realizing it’s better to build a community with blogs you really enjoy and can contribute to the discussion.
11. What is the best blogging advice you’ve ever received? What is the worst?
To be yourself and you will find your niche. That niche could be one that’s never existed or that niche can be loaded with all kinds of similar blogs. In either case just be sincere, and provide well-written content. And along with that, be patient and stick with it (Dooce wasn’t built in a day).
The worst was to try to find a way for your blog to make money. Being laid off, it’s easy to get fixated with money and in the process, lose focus on what you should be sticking to. That’s why I don’t intend to use advertisers of schemes anymore.
12. What are your goals (blogging and otherwise)?
As far as the blog, to stay consistent, while continuing to improve the quality of my writing. I really want it to be a magnet to meet other interesting people like it has thus far. I’d also like it to be a jumping off point for a book I have in the works. A number of the posts are either in it or are used as the basis for content. I’d like to blog to show to agents and publishers that there are people who would buy the book.
Personally, the goals are, finish my book, find a job, and move to Chicago. Not necessarily in that order, but I’ll take whatever comes.
13. Other than Superman, which is your favorite comic hero and villain?
I’m going to say Batman. He appeals to my dark side, slight as it may be. But he fights by whatever means necessary to achieve his objectives. I like the determination he shows even though he has no superpowers. Besides, if I didn’t say Batman my kids would kill me.
And the villain? The latest versions of the Joker both in the comics and movies scare the crap out of me, but Heath Ledger’s performance was just so incredible it was hard not to like him. But I’m going to go back to the Superman side of things and say Bizzaro. In most cases, Bizzaro is downright goofy and even pathetic at times as he believes he’s the real Superman. I see a part of me in the character when I try too hard to be a superman, but only mess things up worse than they were before.
Vigilante. 1941 Action Comics. The back story is basically a regular guy that gets transported into the 1800’s and is later rescued by the Justice Society. His power? He can shoot real fancy-like with a couple western revolvers. I mean, really. How’s that hold up against invincible strength, flying and umpteen million other real super powers?
15. Describe your perfect day.
That would be any day my boys are with me. They would be here, playing with their stepsisters, while I write a couple things, then we all go out for the day and do something together. Later I get to say goodnight to them and my wife and I split a bottle of wine watching Heroes.
Eight Questions is my weekly interview with the people behind some of your favorite blogs. For prior updates, check out the interviews page.
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