Mark: On Bad Taste and Other Quirks

When I asked my friend Mark DiNatale why he feels like an Other, he replied immediately, “I have the worst taste in music.”

Mark at work

That, while funny, is probably not the most compelling reason to include him in this blog. He’s also white, heterosexual, middle-class and male. So at first glance, there’s not much that’s all that Otherly about him.

But, as I’m learning, it’s not that simple. Mark feels different, and sometimes feeling Otherly is almost intangible. Or it’s a combination of things. He has always felt a little out of sync with his peers – for his taste in music, for being a nerd before nerds were cool, for his unwillingness to grow up. Like other people I’ve interviewed (KaraAlan), he hasn’t stuck to a traditional career trajectory. He went back to college in his late thirties (taking classes with kids half his age), and he’s been a stay-at-home dad for the last few years while building a career as a videographer.

Mark is one of the kindest people I know. He’s always willing to help out. We’ve collaborated on all kinds of creative projects, mostly as volunteers at our kids’ school. So when he announced recently that one of his videos was shortlisted for a prestigious award, a Mexican Wave of joy swept through our community. If anyone deserves a trophy, it’s Mark. He’s taken some chances, and he can be hard on himself. But he’s following his dreams and making them happen.

A few weeks ago, I sat down and asked him about his own particular brand of Otherliness.

Have you always felt different from everyone else?

“Yeah. My buddies used to harass me about my taste in music. They’d say, ‘Dude, you like the weirdest stuff. You didn’t like Black Sabbath when Ozzy was singing. You liked them when Ronnie James Dio took over.’ I was way into rap music in Florida around 1984, but I would pretend I liked Motley Crue because I didn’t want them to know I was secretly listening to rap on this really low band-width radio station. It was weird in Florida to be a white dude listening to rap.

“I’ve also had a delayed reaction to getting older. I know that’s a common thing in guys, but I was buying Star Wars toys way past the age limit on the box, and I was never big into making plans. I flew by the seat of my pants for years. A lot of people had clear-cut trajectories. I never did. I was always unsure about going to college because I hated school and I didn’t want to do four more years of it. It took me forever to figure out what I wanted to do in life. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I realized time wasn’t unlimited.”

What changed?

“I was working in dental insurance and had two young kids. I had watched them come in one day and basically get rid of half of the staff at a moment’s notice. I was on the side that stayed, but I had very mixed feelings about that. I would rather have had the severance – that’s how awful it was! But I thought to myself, ‘If that had been me, I have no other skills – and I don’t want to do another job like this.’

“That’s when I decided to go back to school full-time, and my passion for video was reignited. From 1988, when my parents got me my first video camera, I had always dabbled with video stuff. I never in that whole time thought that I could make money with it. I thought it was a hobby.

“That is something that I beat myself up about. Today, I tell my son Nicholas, ‘If you find something, you do it, and you’re not going to get any backlash from me that you can’t do these things.’ Because I am thoroughly convinced that if you do anything, anything, from the day you realize that it’s your thing, by the time you’re 25, someone will pay you to do that. It gets a little cloudier when you do it in your late thirties!”

But there was a trade-off for starting a new career, having to take on most of the childcare. How did that feel?

“I personally don’t have hang-ups about what a man and a woman do. And neither does Karen. But I was 39 when I finished my first degree. At school, these kids half my age would be falling asleep in class because they had such a late night, and I thought, ‘Oh god that used to be me. I used to be that guy. Now I’m going to bed at nine because I have to get the kids to school at eight o’clock in the morning!’

“After graduation, I put myself out there, and things started to get busy. But there were long spans without getting paid for things, and that’s when I felt like I was hurting the family in some way. I was still picking up the kids and dropping them off, but the downside was everyone else had somewhere to be. And sometimes I had nowhere to be. There were times I felt like such a burden.

“The other part of this staying-at-home thing for me was: why can’t I just be a dad and be done with it? The problem is I have this other thing that I want to show people I’m good at.”

How have you reconciled your sense of being different?

“The best thing about not fitting in is having something else to talk about other than the same old crap. Since I am not a sports guy, the conversation has to go a different way. I like that I can be more open and honest about what I like and don’t like.

“Today, our kids are older and there’s less babying involved, so that’s a stress that’s going away. I have more time to dedicate to the work I like to do, and I’m busy. Plus I can really see the upsides to my situation. If I was to get a movie industry job, I’d be gone 12 hours a day minimum. But the boys have a dad who is there after school, who goes to their events, and I think that’s important. There’s a level of interaction my kids get that I don’t think a lot of kids get. When all is said and done, they will never be able to say, ‘You were never there.’

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“I like the freedom that what I do creates. Do I wish I had a job to be at every day, with a suit and tie? Certainly not. On the other hand it’s hard not to think about a future and making a solid one. I feel that Karen is doing all the heavy lifting in the financial department and, while I try to hold the fort down when it comes to the family stuff, I still find it hard to not think I am missing out on serious career money.

“It’s a constant battle in my head, wanting to be that dad who is actually there for his kids, someone who cooks and helps with schoolwork, but also has this other passion. Finding a healthy middle ground is always going to be something I have to work on and deal with, but I think I am getting a lot better at balancing the two.”

Mark’s five-minute documentary, Valley Relics, was recently shortlisted for On Location: The Los Angeles Video Project. He is currently working on a documentary short, The Business of Nostalgia, and is available for commissions through his company, TwentyonePlusProductions.

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