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Update - 8/27/2018, 8:02pm - “The safety of our customers and associates is a top priority. We take this seriously and work closely with law enforcement whenever these claims arise, however this particular claim is unsubstantiated. If any customer feels unsafe or uncomfortable while at our store, we encourage them to contact police or an associate so they can assist as appropriate.” -- Tara Aston, Walmart spokesperson.

Original story: Earlier this morning, I woke up to a notification that my mom had tagged me in a Facebook post, as she sometimes does when something might be interesting. The post was a share from Sandy Davis (Dankmeyer), a woman in northern Wisconsin. She claimed that while visiting Wisconsin Dells on Wednesday, August 22, 2018,  she and her children were put firmly into the sights of would-be abductors or human traffickers while shopping at the Wisconsin Dells Walmart store. In her post, published at 1:12am on August 23, Davis claimed to have been "beeped at" by a white van in the parking lot, after which she was approached by a Walmart Associate who informed her that this is how abductors are signalling their accomplices. She goes on to mention being followed by "2 black guys" and discussing this situation with a member of store management. Davis' post has already garnered more than 6.6K shares as of this writing, but the thing is... her rambling account sounds eerily similar to a number of other recent Walmart abduction stories that turned out to be hoaxes. I immediately reached out to local law enforcement along with the Walmart Corporate Communications team to learn more about the situation.

This is the type of personal journal entry that I'm always hesitant to post - the kind that I wish that my family wouldn't read, if only because I fear that they will fault me for simply being who I am and being honest about it, despite that fact that the fear is probably something more perceived than reality, and that's part of the problem. I just don't want anyone to be hurt or upset because I am broken...

It's Friday morning. The second day of summer break (and really, there is no "break" when you have kids) and Finley is sitting on the couch behind me watching TV while her big sister, Addie, sleeps in for a change upstairs. Nothing on the schedule for the girls today, and that's a very rare thing. As for me, I'm sitting at the computer in my office, typing these words that you're reading while sipping my first Diet Mountain Dew of the day while holding back tears in my eyes. They're tears incited by the reports this morning of the death of a man who I didn't know... a man I was familiar with, one whose work wasn't particularly special to me in any way, but one with legions of fans around the globe: Chef Anthony Bourdain.

On this week's episode of the Power Kid Podcast, the featured guest is a familiar one... me. Each week, toy industry veteran Phil Albritton interviews amazing people making amazing things for kids. Toys, games, books, media - he covers it all in the only podcast dedicated to the modern children's entertainment industry. Phil and I had connected over on LinkedIn, and one big question he had was how my career trajectory took me from covering horror movies and entertainment for FANGORIA to penning columns for Sprout Channel's late Sprout Parents site. On the show I explain how all that happened, and discuss a bit of my backstory, from working in retail 20 years ago to entering the world of film & tv to winding up here, covering toys and pop culture for the likes of The Toy Insider, Toy Book and The Pop Insider. We also discuss my deep-dive into the collapse of Toys "R" Us, and close things out with some words about raising kids and parenting in the "gig economy" - where success today is still staring-down an uncertain tomorrow. Check it out on Stitcher, iTunes or in the player below!

Behind-the-Curtain: Some words about the business...

In the summer of 2016, I made a rare appearance at a conference in New York City - Blogger Bash. The event was a presentation of the team behind The Toy Insider, and at the time I'd just become a member of their Parent Advisory Board and a regular contributor to their publication (read my January 2018 column here!). Paired with Sweet Suite (a must-attend gathering for the toy industry) the event brought together a wide array of media from traditional press to social media influencers and everyone in between. Following breakfast, I was having a conversation with a group who was at first surprised that I was actually able to exist in the physical realm rather than as a voice that lives only within their digital devices (I'd become known as a conference-avoider). Where I'd raised a few eyebrows and turned a few neighboring heads was when I stood there, drink in-hand, and casually made the comment that "you should never use the term 'influencer' in a front-facing manner." When asked why, I said it was "because it can be construed as being condescending to your audience." Two years later, I stand behind that statement, because "influencer" is a behind-the-scenes title that should never be pointed at an audience, and right now that's more important than ever. 

Since 2014, The Rock Father™ Santa Holiday Toy Delivery Program has been something that I've looked forward to every year. It's an opportunity to give back to my community through a hyper-local, extremely focused effort to provide holiday gifts for the children of families that could use a hand. For our fourth annual run, I changed things up a little bit - reacting to a sub-par effort in 2016 (donations were way down) by starting preparations earlier. The ultimate goal is simple: to provide toys to as many local children and families as possible, as served by our local township. While there's plenty of bigger organizations that do great work, I wanted our families' efforts to have an impact on our immediate community - friends and neighbors that we may not really know, but people we may be crossing paths with every day. For Avon Township, which serves the villages of Round Lake, Round Lake Beach, Round Lake Park, Round Lake Heights Grayslake, Hainesville & Third Lake, Illinois, a recent estimate was that 4,000 people were being served by Avon Cares Food Pantry each month. I have no idea how many children are in that number, but if I could help all of them, I would. This year, we provided gifts for 72 of them.

I originally planned on posting this on August 15. I wish I would've, but more time-sensitive things got in the way over the course of the past two weeks. Most of this has been written, sitting as an unpublished draft awaiting release to the public for the purpose of standing up for what's right. For standing up for the power and glory of all-things pumpkin spice!

You see, it's that time again. As the kids are back-to-school, your favorite (and not-so-favorite) retailers are gearing up for the holidays. In fact, it seems that there's more holidays than ever these days (every day is a "National _____ Day" of some kind), but as we look toward the end of the year, it's the "Big Two" that always loom large: Christmas and Halloween. In many cases, "Christmas in July" is more than a simple advertising promotion, and chains like Hobby Lobby are locked, stocked and ready to rock with the festive gear as early as June. As we hit August, familiar shades of orange and black start popping up with increasing frequency as Back-to-School departments are flipped in preparation for the most glorious day of the year, October 31. And, just as signs of the holidays begin to appear, it's time once again for chronic complainers to start whining about what they deem "too early" (online it's usually done with excessive CAPS and !!!), and likewise many media outlets to start running what's basically a stock article at this point about "Christmas Creep" and the like. Newsflash: none of this is new, and the true problem lies in the complainers and their ridiculous "outrage."

This #RockFathersDay™ feature is brought to you in collaboration between The Rock Father™, Life of Dad and Pampers. #ThanksBaby!

Eight years ago this August... and again five years ago this past Thursday, babies were born, and so was "The Rock Father™" - It's a tale that I've told before, but when Father's Day rolls around, it's one that's always worth telling again...

My wife and I were driving south on I-94 outside of Chicago in November of 2008. We were on our way to a Thanksgiving gathering that was happening pre-Thanksgiving, and she turned to me very quickly and said "I think you knocked me up." That was the moment that I first realized that I'd soon become a Father for the very first time. The weight of things didn't really hit me, but I remember smiling ear-to-ear and just thinking, "OK - let's do this!" She was afraid that I'd be unhappy about the news - especially because just the night before... I'd been on the phone with my Mom, who was shopping at Target with a couple of my step-brother's kids - and as they were acting out and being naughty - I made some quip about "this is why we don't have kids!" Funny thing is, I've always been good with kids - but there's also definitely an "old me" versus the man who I've become. On August 7, 2009 - our 10th Wedding Anniversary - our first daughter, Adalyn, was born. We liked the experience so much that we prepped a sequel, and were back at the hospital four years ago today - June 15, 2012, for the release of our second "Rock Daughter," baby Finley! The personal change that I've experienced as a father is undeniable, and both I and my wife have our girls to thank for it.

Presented in collaboration between The Rock Father, Boudreaux’s Butt Paste® and Life of Dad

Let’s talk about butts. I don’t talk about butts too much here on THE ROCK FATHER Magazine, but being “The Rock Father” and all, I do know a thing or two about butts. Soft butts, firm butts, there’s all kinds of butts, but as a dad with two young daughters, I can remember a time when it was all about those baby butts. In a perfect world, they’re soft and smooth, but we all know that irritation is a big time problem, and I remember those sad cries when diaper rash would rear (no pun intended) its ugly redness, making those little butts painful to touch. I tried many products to help those butts, and it wasn’t until I came across Maximum Strength Boudreaux’s Butt Paste® that I was truly #KickingRash! In fact, even though the girls are well beyond diapers, I still keep some Butt Paste on hand since you never know when it might come in handy. So… with all that rash-kickin’ power, what else could it help clear up?

When I was a kid growing up in the 1980s, I used to ramble thoughts into a cassette recorder - something that by 1992 would lead to me (at age 15) conducting interviews with bands on cable access, all captured by low-res VHS. After seeing my daughters do similar rambling on video, I realized that this is the 2017 version of what I used to do circa 1983 with that tape deck. The raw video embedded below inspired our latest YouTube series, "Finley's Thoughts on Things." She'll be telling you about all kinds of stuff that interests an almost five-year-old, starting with why Daddy (me - "The Rock Father") hates Snapchat, Facebook Stories, Instagram Stories and any other use of vertical video. Seriously, Vertical Video Syndrome (VVS) is a terrible plague that needs to be completely eradicated. Finn is much cuter in how she explains it, though. Take a look...

I never knew the feeling prior to becoming a parent, but once you have children, there is nothing more important - nor terrifying - than the health and well-being of your little ones. My wife and I have been fortunate to have had no major issues thus far, but for so many others, the journey has been much harder. You always hear the saying "the struggle is real," and for one family near Boston, indeed - the struggle is not only very real, but a series of battles that started before the birth of their son, Ari "Danger" Schultz. Their little guy was identified as having heart issues while still in the womb, and he soon became the first person to ever undergo two successful heart surgeries before birth. Now four years old, Ari just received a new heart this month (after 211 days on the waiting list) and is going through some harsh "rejection" as his body works to accept his new organ. As if being entrenched in an ongoing war for their son's life wasn't enough (in addition to raising other children), Ari's family was dealt another blow when they recently found that their home is a "tear-down" thanks to extensive water damage, black mold and fungus. Sadly, their insurance will hardly cover it, and because of that, a GoFundMe account has been established to help them on their way. Check out the video below...

Five years ago, I celebrated one-year tobacco-free with a journal entry about my personal journey. Then, in 2013, I posted again, celebrating the two-year anniversary of coming clean (indeed, cigarettes are a drug), followed by another post in 2014 documenting year three, and how I couldn't get Philip Morris/Altria to leave me alone (they since have, but only after I threatened legal action). In 2015, I posted again, noting that little bits had changed, like Cracker Barrel restaurants playing into the hands of Big Tobacco (presumably) not knowing it, and the rise of the e-cig and vape crowd, followed in 2016 by an update. Today I am posting once again, as it's the six-year anniversary of kicking the habit. As I've done previously, I am re-posting much of my original entry here on THE ROCK FATHER, along with a few alterations and timely updates. Philip Morris/Altria and R.J Reynolds: As I've warned before, with each passing year, the targets on the backs of your companies and leadership continue to grow...

March 14, 2011 is the day that I officially quit smoking. At some point on the night of March 13, I quietly took the last puff of the last cigarette in the last pack that I ever owned. Upon telling my wife that I was officially ''done,'' she took it upon herself to clean-up some of the ''smoker's mess'' that I'd created. The ashtrays of both cars were scoured. The sand-filled flowerpots that I'd strategically placed on my front porch and near my gardening shed were disposed of, along with a ton of stray butts that had made their way into the surrounding landscape over the winter months. The cleansing had begun.

Presented in collaboration with Life of Dad and The Walt Disney Company.

Not long into the first act of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Moana, there’s a scene where the young Polynesian princess (voiced by Auli'i Cravalho) flat-out disobeys her father. As the leader of the island of Motunui, Chief Tui Waialiki (Temuera Morrison) maintains a firm, yet humble demeanor - looking after the care of his people, though nothing is more important to him than the well-being of his daughter.

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