Monday, May 27, 2019

JUST TWELVE YEARS

Dear Spike:

Today you are 12, and I find myself once again answering the kinds of questions that people ask parents when their children have birthdays.

"Ah," they say, "they grow up so fast. Why does the time have to move so fast?"

I usually nod, smile, and chuckle sadly.

"Why? Indeed," I say, because I know that for many people it is true that time seems to move so very quickly.

Maybe someday it will be this way for me, too. Perhaps one day I will look back on 16 years, or 18 years, or 21 years and say "ah, they grow up so fast. Why does the time have to move so fast?"

This has not been my experience. But since I know that's rather unusual, I will cherish and appreciate all of the years that feel like years. And I will cherish and appreciate that, since time only moves in one direction and we have not yet been so clever as to devise a way to get it back, I do not long to have any of those years back.

This is not because they were not good years. My, how good they have been. How much you have taught me. How many times you have made me laugh. How many hugs you have given, right when I need them, often when I do not even know that I need them.

But, as your mother is so fond of noting, each new year with you is her new favorite year with you. Mine too.

And this year, it seems, it is so especially true. You have developed such a quick wit, a quirky humor, and a wisdom the defies your youth. You have begun to hone your insatiable curiosity upon questions that matter.

You are shy, and yet you long to meet the world and practice every day to improve your Chinese and French.

You are quiet, and yet on the soccer pitch you are the loudest player. Calling for passes, directing runs, setting up plays. And you see things on that field that few players of your age — of any age, really — are able to see. (We record your goals on your soccer balls. I added them up last year. It was well more than 100 since you began playing.)

You are tiny but tough. Last week I grabbed you from behind unexpectedly. You punched me in the throat and I fell to my knees, stunned and breathless and in such pain. You apologized profusely, but once I could speak again all I could do was praise your strength.

You are kind and compassionate. You hurt for others who hurt. You thirst for social justice. You want to be a fighter and you are trying to figure out what that looks like in this world. I wish I could tell you there was plenty of time to figure that all out, but I'm not sure there is. Our world needs people who will fight for the tired, the poor, the huddling masses yearning to breathe free, for it seems we have still not embraced the promise, as Emma Lazarus wrote in "The New Colossus" and as it has been emblazoned on a plaque inside the pedestal of our Statue of Liberty.

And yet, you are still a little girl. Just twelve years today. And although the troubles of our world are not trifling, I pray that you can cherish and appreciate all of the remaining years of your youth. And I hope these years will feel like years for you, too.

Maybe at 16, or 18, or 21, you will say "yes, now it is time," and when you do I will love that version of you every bit as much as I love this version of you. And more.

But, for now, you still like to sleep between us, to draw pictures, to bake cookies, to ride rollercoasters. You still let me sing to you each night.

Someday, yes, you might move on from these things. And that is how it should be.

For now, though, I will cherish each day. I will appreciate each year. And I will look forward with joy to all of the days and years to come.

Love,
dad
 


Sunday, May 6, 2018

STILL. ALL. MEN.

-->

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