Awesome Dads of Huntsville: Matt Mandrella, the Music Man

  • This Memphis transplant and new(ish) dad is steering Huntsville's music scene.
Matt Mandrella and daughter

This Father’s Day, we’re making a bit of a departure from our Awesome Moms of Huntsville series to bring you our first ever Amazing DADS of Huntsville! We think it’s about time we started shining a spotlight on notable dads doing big things in our community. You might have seen our inaugural dad hard at work at the new Orion Amphitheater, working with your favorite bands, or planning the next local music festival. Read on to find out more about Matt Mandrella, his life as a dad and as Huntsville’s Chief Music Officer, and why we think he’s an Awesome Dad of Huntsville. Plus get a peek at some of the music on his playlist!

Meet Matt Mandrella

His Passions

Outside of family, music is easily where most of my passion lies. It’s something I’ve been drawn to for as long as I can remember, and I have continued to fall in love with it more and more over time. I’m always fascinated at how something with so many different shapes and facets can bring us together and play such an important role in our lives. Music can impact the way we feel and behave, make us laugh and cry, and help bring communities together.

I’ve been very fortunate to have been able to carve out a career for myself in the music industry, and the role of Huntsville Music Officer is nothing short of my dream job because I get to wake up and come to work every day focused on building and maintaining a successful, diverse and more awesome music scene that can help benefit our community’s quality of life in a positive way for decades to come.

Matt’s Parenting Journey (So far!)

My journey as a dad has been the best trip of my life, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Our daughter, Sela, was born on March 17, 2020 so she’s both a “St. Paddy’s” and a “pandemic” baby. The COVID climate dramatically evolved while we were in the hospital waiting for our sweet little bud to arrive. Moms and only one other person were allowed in the delivery room when we checked in at 42 weeks to start the induction process, but outside of that there weren’t really too many protocols in place. On the second day we were in the hospital, I went down to grab a case of water from my car and found that they were now doing temperature checks to get back into the facility. A “no guests whatsoever” policy was put in place the day we were discharged to come home, so we were within 48-hours of me not being able to be in the delivery room or even in the hospital at all on the day she was born. I can’t even imagine what that would have been like.

We were living in a one-bedroom apartment in downtown Memphis when Sela was born, and the day she came home from the hospital lined up with when everything around the world all started shutting down. We were very lucky in that we didn’t get furloughed from our jobs at any point throughout the pandemic, however that continued employment also led to cutting down my paternal leave and returning to work much sooner than expected.

Fortunately, Sela’s grandparents were all staying in an Airbnb right across the street when she came home and they were able to extend their stay and help us quite a bit through those early weeks via an under-the-table deal with a friendly property owner. It was another 5-6 months or so until things settled down to a point where Sela was able to interact and play with other kids in the same space. We were worried about how those first interactions would go given how isolated we were, and it was just so heartwarming to see her take to other kiddos almost right away!

It’s been such a fun journey so far, and it gets even more fun each day as her personality continues to develop and shine through. I’ve learned how important it is to pause and enjoy the precious moments together, and that all of those parenting clichés you’re told leading up to the big moment are all so true – especially the ones about not really understanding what unconditional love feels like until you hold your baby for the first time, the days being long and the years being short, and saying goodbye to sleep.

His Quest for Balance

Finding a balance is definitely a challenge, especially with a new job in a new city factored into the mix. Sela is an early riser, so she’s very good about making sure we all wake up very early and get a good chunk of quality time together before the workday begins.

Finding a balance is much harder in the evenings, though. My work schedule varies on a day-to-day basis, and oftentimes there are events I need to attend that start well into the evening hours. Regardless of how hectic things get, I always try to be home for our family dinner > bath time > bedtime routine. Then once she’s down, I’ll quietly sneak out if need be. We also make it a point to plan for at least one dad-daughter only adventure each week to help us continue to grow closer, and also to give mom some much-needed solo time!

His Rocket City Favorites

Sleeping in > Making a big breakfast with lots of coffee > Relaxing and catching up on some household projects > Mid-day nap > Post-nap afternoon outdoor family adventures at a park, playground or nature trail > Grabbing dinner somewhere with a patio and low-key toddler-friendly activities in place as an added distraction > Putting a worn-out kiddo down for bed early just before the babysitter arrives > Mom and dad taking in a late-night “date night” show where one of our favorite bands is playing > Post-show nightcap before Ubering home.

Funniest Parenting Moment

There are so many funny moments, but one that always sticks out is the first time we introduced Sela to spaghetti. She had quite the spiritual experience. Upon first sight of it on the plate she became quite vocal with a lot of enthusiastic “ooohs” “ahhhs” and (somewhat maniacal) laughs. She proceeded to dive right in and lift two giant handfuls of the stuff over her head, all the while becoming even more vocal. Then she started dramatically closing and rolling her eyes in a manner to where it legitimately looked like she was summoning the pasta gods, followed by enthusiastically throwing each handful at our dog while making a loud “bahhh” sounds with each toss. After the ritual was completed, she finished every last bite on her plate and has never met a noodle she didn’t love since.

Matt Shares His Top Parenting Tips

Always have a can of whipped cream in the fridge at home and lollipops handy when you’re on the go for toddler bribes and tantrum stoppers.

The Super Power He Wishes He Had

The power to manipulate time. They grow up so fast and I wish there was a way to make the days just slow down so that the special moments last even longer. There are also some days that we wish would go by much faster, too… and think most parents would find it helpful to have access to a “fast forward straight to bedtime” button!

See Also
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Dad Books & Tools He Recommends

Be Prepared: A Practical Handbook for New Dads by Gary Greenberg and Jeannie Hayden was a fun read while preparing to welcome our sweet little bud into the world. It’s laid out like a survival manual of sorts for men entering fatherhood with a nice balance of helpful learnings and diagrams combined with humorous MacGyver-esque tips like how to construct an emergency diaper out of a towel, sock and tape.

The BabySparks app has been a great tool as well, especially when it comes to ideas for new daily play activities geared towards supporting child development. The app also provides a lot of helpful parenting articles, classes, tips, and milestone tracking features.

Matt’s Playlist

Get your Gameface On: (songs)
Refused – “New Noise” or Alan Parsons Project – “Sirius”

Recover from heartbreak: (songs)
George Strait – “I Can Still Make Cheyenne” or Paul Simon – “Graceland”

Energize Yourself: (albums)
Robyn – “Body Talk” or Notorious B.I.G. – “Life After Death”

Let Loose with Your Friends: (albums)
Michael Jackson – “Thriller” or Prince and the Revolution – “Purple Rain”

Do you know a local mom or dad you think we should feature as an Amazing Rocket City Parent? We want to hear from you about them – send us your ideas and we’ll get in touch!

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