Sunday, May 6, 2018

STILL. ALL. MEN.

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Dear Spike, 
Kelley O’Hara got things started in the seventh minute, scoring on a beautiful through-ball from Amy Rodriguez. It was a thing of majesty.
Diana Matheson, who has quickly become our family’s favorite player, added another score in the 66th. It was one of the best “hustle goals” I’ve even seen.
The Utah Royals’ first-ever win was a hell of a show. And I’m so glad we got to be there to see it, along with 7,500 other soccer fans.
You walked away from the stadium with a bounce in your step and a smile on your face.
And then, this morning, this happened: 
“What do you see?” I asked as I opened the sports section of our local newspaper’s website.
It didn't take more than a second for you to see what I'd seen. “All men,” you said, twisting your face.
“And what about now?” I asked, scrolling down. 
“Still all men.”
Your breathing became heavy. Your shoulders tightened. 
I scrolled down some more. “Still. All. Men.” 
Eventually, we found an article about the Royals there. It was buried between a three-day-old piece about a male ice skater and another story about stand-out high school athletes—some of which were girls, although the photo on the link was of boys. 
In fact, most of the photos on the sports page were of boys. There were 37 photos of male athletes or coaches on that page. And three women.
Three. 
None of this should ruin your appreciation of what happened last night. It was a great win. You know that, even if the people who dictate what media is produced and promoted don’t.
You’re only 10 years old, but you’re already learning that women have been and are being largely marginalized in media of all kinds. They’re quoted less as experts. They have fewer speaking roles in movies and are often cast as sex objects. And, when it comes to sports coverage, they’re so widely ignored that they might as well be non-existent. One recent study even suggested that women’s sports get less coverage today than 25 years ago.
I’d like to say I’ve had a role in fixing this, but I didn’t even recognize it was a problem until recently. And, even worse, I didn’t recognize that I was part of the problem. For years, I didn’t even think about the gender balance of the sources I used in my stories. And when I finally went back to look at that balance, it didn’t look good at all. 
I’m working hard to make amends, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I failed you, too. You have every right to be disappointed in me for that.
You’ve been a soccer fan since you were born. You attended your first game when you were just a few weeks old. You’ve been kicking a ball since you could walk. And I’m glad that you have the opportunity to watch women play this game at its highest level.
But you and others shouldn’t have to work so hard to find women represented, honorably and accurately, in the media. And people like me need to do better.
Much better.
Love,dad

Thursday, January 18, 2018

TO HEAR SOMETHING

Dear Spike:

The other day I was at a restaurant a few miles west of Boston. I was seated in a booth next to a boy and his father. The boy was about 14, I guess.

He looked terrified.

It wasn’t my business. I know it wasn’t. But I listened in on their conversation. I couldn’t really help it, actually. The dad was a loud guy with a thick Boston accent. He was talking about football. The New England Patriots were in the playoffs. Their quarterback, Tom Brady, had the rest he needed after coming off the injured reserve.

“This could be a really special year,” the dad said.

The kid kept trying, and failing, to break into the conversation, and I could hear his voice becoming more and more agitated. The dad, it seemed, was clueless.=

And then, finally, this:

“Dad… just… I need you to hear something from me.”

The dad shut up just long enough for his kid to blurt out:

“I-think-you-already-know-but-I-needed-to-make-sure-because… I’m-dating-a-boy.”

The dad fell silent. He was quiet for a really long time. An uncomfortably long time. A terrifyingly long time.

The boy said “Dad, are you OK?” and there was no response.

I peeked over the booth. The dad was looking down at his phone, tapping away at something. He wasn’t even looking at his kid. And I just wanted to stand up and punch him. Or maybe not to punch him but scream at him. Or maybe not to scream at him but to at least put my hand on the boy’s shoulder and say, “this is not what you deserve,” and "it gets better," and "I promise you that this is not how everyone will react." 

But I didn’t. I don’t know why I didn’t but I didn’t. It wasn’t my business, I told myself.

“Dad,” the boy said again, and his voice was growing more desperate. “Are you OK?”

The man remained quiet. Kept tapping away at his god-forsaken phone. And then the kid said, “just say something, OK? It’s OK if you’re mad.”

And the dad finally replied, “just give me a second here, OK?” and then he said, “does the 30-yard line sound good?”

And the boy said, “what?”

Then the dad was crying. And he said, “Joey, that was the bravest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I’m really proud of you. And if we can get these tickets and leave right now, we can totally make the game tonight.”

“Because this is a big day. You’re… well, shit… I guess you’re a man today. Because men do brave things. And I’d really like to celebrate that with you.”

Then the kid was crying. And I was crying. And there was a guy at the bar, across from us, who had obviously also been listening in because he was crying, too. The server came over to my table; there were tears in his eyes.

And just like that, they were gone. I’m actually not even sure they paid for their food, which was sort of awkward, but whatever.

I can’t even imagine what last-minute tickets to an NFL playoff game must have cost. But I really hope they made it to the game.

I grew up rooting for the 49ers. I'm not much on an NFL fan these days, and I sure as heck am no fan of Tom Brady and his coach, Bill Belichick, but that night I watched the game and I cheered for New England. For Joey and his dad. 

The Patriots won, by the way. The score was 35-14.

Love,
dad

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

THEY DEFINE US

Dear Spike,

I’m sitting at a coffee shop across the street from one of the nation’s best children’s hospitals. I should be writing a book right now. But I’m distracted. I’m in awe.

Why?

Because of superheroes, that’s why.

A woman just walked in, wearing a bright blue jacket and matching pants, with reflective striping on the side. The patch on her sleeve said “children’s emergency transportation.” It might as well have said “Justice League.”

Another woman just came in; a doctor, I gathered, from the conversation she had with a colleague about a girl brought in last night. They didn’t know what was wrong. The doctor was heading back to keep working. She looked so tired.

Somebody just came in and bought all of the cake pops. For one of the kids to give to some of the other kids, she told the barista.

There’s a girl in an oversized coat and a knit hat. She’s probably about 13 or 14. I just struck up a quick conversation. She has appointments all day long. Her mom has to work, so the hospital has assigned someone to be with her today.

I’m at the window. Almost all of the people passing by have nametags hanging on lanyards. They’re doctors, nurses, techs, orderlies. They’re all part of this everyday fight for kids.

I remember Fred Rogers once saying that when he was a boy and he would see scary things in the news, his mother would tell him “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

I still follow Mr. Rogers’ advice when bad things happen. When there are attacks. When there are disasters. When there are terrible accidents. I look for the helpers and I know that the bad things don’t define us.

But lately, God, you know, it’s felt like the whole world is a bad thing happening. I wonder what’s happened to my country. I don’t recognize it. It feels sad. It feels scary.

We don’t have to wait for acutely bad things to happen to look for the helpers, and to be comforted when we find them. That doesn’t change the bad things, but it gives me hope.

There are superheroes all around us. And THEY define us.

Love,

dad

Sunday, September 3, 2017

MORE TO WIN

Dear Spike:

When you asked to run for student government, my consent came with just one stipulation: You needed to be prepared to not win.

"I understand," you said. "Some of my friends are running, too, so probably at least one of us will win, and we can feel happy for that person."

"And if none of you do?" I asked.

"Then that's just the way it goes," you said.

Good enough. God speed. I did student government as a kid. Heck, in a bit of Machiavellian political maneuvering that would make The Prince himself proud, I somehow managed to get myself elected as student government president at my high school. I'm not sure how formative that experience was (and I wasn't very good at it) but it wasn't a bad experience.

You practiced your speech for days. It was quite good.

You and your friends all lost. To a girl who ended her speech by doing a back-bend. And of course you lost. How do you compete with a girl doing a back-bend?

It was a tough loss. You cried. Your mother took you out after school -- to the same diner, as it happens, that we all went to when it was time to tell you that Secretary Clinton had lost the presidential election.

By the time you'd gotten home, you'd put a brave face back on. But you admitted to me that you were disappointed, and wondered what more you could have done.

Here's the honest answer, kid:

You could have done a lot more.

That's always the answer. In student government elections. In soccer games. In job interviews. In love. It is rare, in my experience, to come upon a person who could not have done more to reach a goal they missed reaching.

You don't know how to do a back-bend -- at least I don't think you do. But of course you could have done more. Vote For Spike signs. An old-fashioned campaign ballad. Promises to put chocolate milk in all of the drinking fountains.

Likewise, when your team suffered the rare experience of losing a soccer game last week, you could have done more. You could have taken a few more early shots. You could have sent more passes across the box. You could have run just a little harder, kicked just a little harder, gone shoulder-to-shoulder with those twice-your-size opponents just a little harder.    

Yes, you could have done more to win. But that doesn't mean you would have won.

The self-evaluation that comes after any sort of loss is important, and it demands of us two different questions.

"Could I have done more?" is a question we should always ask. It asks us whether we performed at the peak of our capacity. And it almost always ends with the answer "yes," because there's always something that, with the benefit of reflection, is clearly something we could have improved upon.

"Could I have won?" is a question that we should only ask if the result was a close one. A tight vote. A one-goal game. A job interview process that goes to the very last round, but in which the employer decides to go with the other candidate. And the answer to this is even more likely to be "yes," but that doesn't mean we should have done what would have had to have been done in order to win.

Because (and you'll hear this a lot in life) winning isn't everything. And sometimes what must be done to win isn't worth doing, because it comes at a cost that is too high to pay for what is being won.

There are, my child, some things that are worth just about any price. There are times in which we must win regardless of what must be traded away in the deal. I pray you face these situations infrequently, if never at all, for they most often come in matters of life and death.

In everything else in life, we can say that winning -- while certainly desirous -- isn't everything.

That shouldn't make losing easy. And it should never prevent you from asking that first, all-important question. But it should help keep winning in perspective.

Maybe you could have won this one. Maybe you even should have.

More likely, it was an opportunity to understand the power of bending over backward for the electorate. And, of course, a chance to know what it feels like to lose.

That's not a feeling I wish for you to have often, but you'll have it. And next time, when you say "that's just the way it goes," you'll know better what it means.

Love,
dad