Jim Varagona

Tag: Fatherhood

Oh Aughts, You Were Something

The past 10 years for me have been bookended by two life changing events on complete opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. My brother, Matt, passed away on February 21, 2000. That was shortly after the high of seeing our St. Louis Rams win the Super Bowl with The Greatest Show On Turf on January 30, 2000. I hit rock bottom after Matt died. It made me experience emotions I didn’t think were possible. I quit school, started chain smoking, and amassed credit card debt that I still have remnants of today.

To make something positive of it and get out of a funk, I thought up and helped organize a dinner/silent auction/rock concert in his memory on March 30, 2001 (video here and here). We raised $19,000 towards research through what is now the Vasculitis Foundation. I consider it my greatest accomplishment aside from my son.

Shortly after, in May of ’01, I met my wife, well, she was just some chick at the time that I lapdanced for, later my wife. She straightened me up, making me quit smoking and go back to school if I wanted to get any closer to her. It worked. I graduated in May of ’05. And I asked her to marry me that night by singing a version of “That’s Amore” accompanied by my friend Dan on accordion surrounded by friends, family, and rose petals. We tied the knot in May of ’06.

Together we had adventures with a shitty landlord and mice. I was laid off from a job in the Italian Retail Service shortly after we were wed. What doesn’t kill you only makes you bitter, or something. We survived though.

I went on to be a traveling baby photographer exposing me to a wide variety of people. My days took me from trailer parks to mansions. At least the jobs I get keep me entertained.

From there I ended up at InkStop, a great opportunity, so I was told. It did pay well and helped us get our first home. We actually moved in days before my son was born. Things were going great, but I saw signs that this employer would go down horribly, and it did. I’ve been unemployed for about 3 months now except for a gig promoting phones for a few weeks. The nice thing is I’ve been able to spend time with my son and he can get to know me more, because I was working a pretty hefty schedule since January.

I’ve had to grow a lot during this decade. Some of that came a lot sooner than I thought it would. You roll with the punches though. This decade has been a learning experience and except for the whole job thing, I feel like I’m heading in the right direction now thanks to my wife, son, family, and friends. I’m hoping the teens go easy on me though.


Meat and Potatoes Man

I’m not proud of these things, but since I have been home with my son due to my unemployment, I’ve noticed changes. Today, while walking with my wife and son around the park, the conversation was different. We don’t have cable or satellite, so while I play with Dylan, I get a steady diet of talk shows, court shows, and other daytime TV. We talked about a recent Tyra episode, and she tried to get me to catch up on Days of Our Lives for her, but I won’t do Soaps.

I brought up how I was affected by today’s Dr. Oz. There was a 53 year old cowboy by the name of Rocco who was “a meat and potatoes kind of guy.” I consider myself to be the same. I don’t eat many vegetables at all. I have a gag reflex that kicks in if I get a hint of a vegetable near me or my plate. It’s been that way as long as I can remember. My parents used to pay me to try a vegetable (or most fruits for that matter) a couple of times a year, and even that didn’t always work. There are some exceptions. I eat starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn, and peas (a strange choice of green, I know). Rocco did seem to consume more saturated fats than me though, taking in two and a half pounds a week!

Dr. Oz convinced Rocco, with scare tactics showing the effects on his body (he had the heart of an 85 year old man because of the plaque buildup), to take a 28 day challenge of a vegan diet. So Rocco does it with dramatic changes to his blood sugar, waist line, and cholesterol. He must’ve been okay with veggies at least a little bit. The adjustment for me would be very difficult considering how I react to anything green. I can sneak by other veggies not listed above by eating salsa or some soups. For some reason, I really dig lentil soup. Progresso’s version has a full serving of vegetables in each serving, so it makes me feel like I’m doing something when I eat that with some brown rice.

Rocco developed Type 2 Diabetes from his eating habits, which older, overweight people tend to get, but can be controlled and even gotten rid of by improving diet and exercise choices. I myself was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when I was 12. The difference being I didn’t cause it, bad genetics did, or at least that’s one of the popular theories. I can, however, help myself out by controlling my habits better than I do though. I also was diagnosed with a fatty liver about a year ago. The main way to get rid of that is stop eating so shitty and lose some weight. Here I am still gradually gaining weight since my high school years. Why just yesterday, I ate 16 hot wings at 11 pm. It’s also worth mentioning I have slightly elevated blood pressure enough that I am on medication for that which should also have a positive effect on the liver.

Not the aforementioned night of 16 wings, but bad enough.

Not the aforementioned night of 16 wings, but bad enough.

So do I go vegan for 28 days? I’m not sure I could. I have tried Boca burgers, and I think I could stand them. I don’t know. Today, I decided no more soda for a while at least. It’s one thing I don’t have to avoid in the house right now. I was only drinking diet sodas, but the carbonation can have some ill effects towards the kidneys and gastrointestinal system. I don’t feel comfortable saying I will keep something out of my diet that is still staring me in the face at my house. I could throw stuff out, but we don’t have much money for more food as it is. Over the next several weeks, I’d like to get something going though.

My wife will surely be supportive if I get this going and actually make progress, but she knows better than any that I have tried things in the past only to stop after two or three weeks. This is an eating disorder that is affecting my Diabetes and I’m sure is dulling my nerves and wreaking other havoc on my body. Hell, I had a scare last winter with not having feeling in my big toe for weeks due to the dulling of the nerves from too many high blood sugars. Yes, it’s silly that a daytime talk show got to me, but there was enough underlying. It’s time. I have a child now that should be motivation enough to improve my lifestyle, so that I can be there for him and see his future. Hopefully putting this out there holds me to this now. There is nothing set in stone as far as goal or how, but I will figure that out in the coming days.


In the past month since I’ve been unemployed, I’ve developed routines and become used to things following those. I have no problem getting out of those, but it’s weird how fast one can get accustomed to a new way of life. It never seems to be how you think it will be, good or bad.

Considering I was previously working for a floundering company, business was very slow and we accomplished the necessary work each day within a small amount of time. I am hanging out with my 1 year old son now, which keeps me much busier, but without a paycheck. Of course this is much more enjoyable, however the money is a must and it becomes more necessary everyday as some bills go late or unpaid.

I haven’t slacked at seeking employment despite this busier life. I just have to try apply for jobs during Dylan’s naps. Most of that time though is used for keeping the house in order, which leads to late night job seeking. After my son goes to sleep, and after my wife hits the hay or goes to work, the magic happens. Well, who am I kidding? There’s no magic. No interviews. No calls, except for silly insurance and financial advising companies wanting me to take a job without a safety net and a lot of the times without credibility. While InkStop was falling face first into the ground during the past, well, year, I occasionally had bursts of job hunting, but it was an easy, decent paying gig and I enjoyed seeing and talking to my regular clientele. There was no rush. This is a frustrating process especially when you see the same jobs and types of jobs out there. Searching everyday on multiple job sites sadly doesn’t produce more or different results very often.

What to do? I’ve considered going it alone, but I’m not sure what I’d do. I do have a sickly CafePress shop that breaks even every month and may do better if I put something into it, but it wouldn’t be that much of a difference in income. During political seasons, I really cleaned up with it. I do have some interesting ideas on what can be done with pizza, but have no real experience starting or running a restaurant, so if anyone wants to talk about it, drop me a line.

I could sell myself. I mean not prostitution, well not in its usual sense. There are those folks that tattoo themselves with a company logo, wear the same branded clothes for a year, drive a car plastered with ads, and much crazier things for companies to make a buck. So come on Knorks and Chock Full o’Nuts Coffee, gimme all you got. More folks need to know about those products and I’m the guy to tattoo them on.

Or maybe I just need sleep.

All Clear

Dylan with cake face at his 1st birtday party. The slight bulge on the side of his forehead is a plate that will absorb with time.

Dylan with cake face at his 1st birtday party. The slight bulge on the side of his forehead is a plate that will absorb with time.

Dylan’s follow up appointment with the plastic surgeon regarding his Craniosynostosis went great. The doc pointed out a bulge on each side of Dylan’s forehead and said that those were plates that would absorb within a year. He said that things went very well.

We were able to see the results from the CT scan that was done last week. The doctor showed us the first image of Dylan’s skull from when he was first diagnosed. We observed the ridge in the skull and the resulting bulge in the back. We then segued into images taken last week, which showed a dramatic improvement. The ridge was virtually gone and the head looked so much rounder and normal. He said we shouldn’t have to have any more follow up visits with them. That’s great because no matter how on time we were, we always waited at least a half hour to be seen.

Apparently given the good results of the surgery and my son’s good looks, which he obviously got from me, they asked us to send them photos, so that he could be considered for advertising for the hospital. Since my career as a model didn’t take off, I have the highest hopes for my son now. I promise not to become a stage dad.

From my unsuccessful modeling years (1997-98).

From my unsuccessful modeling years (1997-98).

My Cranio Kid

A few months into my 1 year old son Dylan’s life, the pediatrician commented that his head shape looked odd. He had us take Dylan to a plastic surgeon at the children’s hospital, who confirmed that our son had Sagittal Craniosynostosis. In simple terms, it meant Dylan’s soft spot was virtually closed up early on rather than taking its course over a year.

From WebMD:

More than half of all cases involve the sagittal suture. The sagittal suture runs across the top of a baby’s head from front to back. The baby’s brain usually develops normally in these cases, but the head becomes abnormally shaped. The skull may become long and narrow or very flat and broad in front or back or on the sides. This depends on which suture closes prematurely.

So most likely, Dylan would have been fine if we left this alone, but doctors told us his already large (over the 90th percentile for his age and compare that to his height and weight which are under the 15th percentile) and abnormally shaped head would continue at that rate. To give our son a normal shaped head while we had the opportunity was a difficult decision given in involved cutting a piece out of his skull and that the surgery would take 5-8 hours. We decided to do it, but had to wait until he could better handle the anesthesia around the suggested 9 month range.

Dylan, right before his surgery. Notice the bulge in his forehead.

Dylan, right before his surgery. Notice the bulge in his forehead.

On June 29, 2009, Dylan went in for surgery. He was so happy in the morning even though we had to get him up at 5 in the AM and he hadn’t eaten since midnight. He was smiling at his nurses and doctors not knowing what lay ahead.

We were told that during most of the 5-8 hours that Dylan would be out, he would be resting on the operating table while the work would be done on the piece of his skull on a separate table. The piece would be taken out and have slits cut into it like venetian blinds. It would then be reinserted with those slits giving the skull room to grow normally. The incision had a zig-zag to it to help hair grow in better to mask the scarring. He would look fairly normal immediately after surgery except for being on drugs and having a large bandage wrapped around his head. After the first hour or so, the swelling would set in, swelling his eyes shut, which compounded with any pain felt despite the drugs would be the most traumatic for our son.

Before surgery, during blood draws. Notice the indentation halfway back on his elongated head.

Before surgery, during blood draws. Notice the indentation halfway back on his elongated head.

When it came time to hand Dylan over to the medical professionals for the procedure, I became very emotional. It was the most emotional I’ve been since my brother passed away. It was a definite moment of realization in my short time as a parent so far of the extent of my love for the little guy.  We had all of the assurances from the doctors that they do these things fairly often, but they were cutting into my son’s friggin’ head.

To pass the time, my wife and our parents sat around talking and using the hospital’s wifi. I kept folks abreast of developments through my Twitter account.

Dylan 1 day post-op w/ me.

Dylan 1 day post-op w/ me.

We actually received the call sooner than we expected that they had finished. I hoped that was a good sign, and it was. Everything went well and according to how it was explained to us. It was very difficult to see him so swollen and the whine he had during his time in the hospital will stick with me. It was kind of drawn out and drugged up. He spent a day and a half in the PICU and another day for observation. By then he was off the major painkillers and opening his eyes again.

When we got home, he received lots of Tylenol. He seemed more annoyed than in pain. He not only had a bandage wrapped around his head, but the itchiness of the stitches, which dissolved and fell out over time. Luckily or not, he also had his first teeth coming in the week this was all going on, so he seemed to focus on the pain of his teething more than anything.

It has been about three and a half months since the surgery. We went for one successful follow up a month after. A few days ago, Dylan had a CT scan to check things out to make sure everything looked good. If it does, we shouldn’t need anymore follow-ups.  Dylan has turned 1 and since his procedure, his hair has grown in well to cover up the scarring. His head has a great shape to it now, which seems like a weird thing to say, but that was the goal of this, which should make his life easier. No one wants to be that guy with the odd shaped head.

Dylan maxin & relaxin

Dylan maxin & relaxin

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