Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Dear Spike:

I leave our home often — such is the nature of my work — but this morning marked the first time, since we learned you were coming, that I left for an overnight trip.

This isn’t a long one. Just a drive down to southern Utah, a few stops here and there, one overnight stay in a hotel, and a drive back up tomorrow afternoon. Maybe 40 hours away from the chateau, all told. I’ve been away for months before, so this shouldn’t be difficult for me.

But leaning in to kiss your mother — she was still sleeping when I departed this morning, long before sunrise — I felt the way I usually do before much longer trips to much more dangerous places.

Some feel fear when they leave home for long periods of time. Others feel the first pangs of loneliness. I feel hungry — the way you feel when you haven’t eaten in a day and know you will not be eating for some time to come.

Were I to command every word, in every language our world has ever spoken, I could not explain the greatness of my love for your mother. And yet we’ve come to be at ease with being apart — me in hotel rooms or on Army cots, your mother in our queen-sized bed, sharing space with the cats.

Yes, I feel lousy when I leave her, but it’s only on the very long trips or very dangerous ones that I usually feel the way I felt this morning. And yet I did not wonder at this hunger.

I knew.

It was your presence — so new and curious and fascinating to me — that made me want, more than anything in the world, to pull back the covers and dive back inside, to hold your mother around her waist, my cheek to her abdomen, as close to you as I can be.

You may wonder when you are young about why I will sometimes go away, just as I wondered why my father would leave us when I was a boy.

For him — a lover of sports and of words — it was baseball, football, basketball. It was the possibility of being present, even essential, to the next Shot Heard Round The World, the next running of The Play, the next Miracle on Ice.

For me it is the promise of stories untold. Of knowledge — the very breath of our democracy — unshared. And yes, of adventures unknown.

There will be times, my child, when I am away. Forgive me, please, this vice.

And know — the way I know of my love for your mother and for you — that you and I will never be far apart.


Thursday, October 19, 2006


Dear Spike:

We met your doctor for the first time today. I felt foolish smiling, like I was, as she went over a number of things that could go wrong between now and the time you arrive. But I couldn’t help myself.

It suddenly seemed so real. We were seeing a doctor. She was speaking to us as expectant parents. Your mother had blood drawn for a series of tests.

Even paying for the visit felt so good. First, the woman behind the counter asked for our medical insurance card. Your mom couldn’t find hers, so I produced mine. As handed it to her, it felt as if I was saying, ‘Yes, I am going to be a father.” And as I handed her my debit card — $20 was the co-pay — it was if I was saying, “Yes, I am responsible.”

Truth be known, I feel only slightly prepared to be a father and even less ready to be responsible. You might think, then, that as the doctor began to list a litany of ailments, diseases and conditions we might consider having you and your mother tested for, I might have been feeling quite nervous.

Rather, I was calm. Excited. I felt joy.

Your mother, I figure, will do enough worrying for the both of us. It’s more her nature, anyhow. The doctor, I know, is covering her bases. Preparing us for outcomes that could happen but most likely will not happen. She’s not telling us that you are going to have cystic fibrosis or Down Syndrome.

And anyway, what if you did? Would we love you less? Care for you less? Want you less? Of course not.

And that, I think, is where my joy came from. I enjoy knowing that there is something new in my life that I can love unconditionally.

Call that fatherhood. Call it responsibility. It doesn’t matter to me.

I’m smiling. Foolishly. And I don’t care.


Monday, October 16, 2006


Dear Spike:

How the little boy wound up on the top floor of my office building I’m not quite sure. He certainly wasn’t tall enough to reach any of the buttons.

In any event, when the elevator doors opened, there he was, sitting in his stroller, looking up at me.

“Well, hello there,” I said, for I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

Perhaps he was a little confused, but he didn’t seem fearful at all. Maybe he understood that it had all been a mistake — that the doors would soon open and his mother would be there again.

But although I was pretty sure I knew what had happened, I didn’t know at which floor he’d gotten on, so I pushed each button and waited, floor by floor, for someone to appear.

The doors opened and closed 10 times before we all found each other.

Here’s what happened, much as I had suspected: The woman, with two young daughters and a son, perhaps 1 year old and sitting in a stroller, entered my office building from the parking garage on the bottom floor. As she pushed the boy into the elevator she turned to corral the little girls along — and that’s when he disappeared.

He only had been out of her sight for a few minutes, but it was enough for her to fear the worst. So when the elevator doors opened, bringing mother and son together again, she nearly broke into tears.

I can think of nothing in my world that, having been misplaced for five minutes, would cause the kind of anguish I saw in that woman today.

Except you.

I’ve heard that some parents stay up for weeks on end, after their baby is born, just to watch it sleep — to make sure it breathes, in and out and in and out. They worry about diseases they’ve heard of and illnesses they haven’t. They fear every noise, every tear, every hiccup.

I don’t know if I’ll be one of those kinds of parents. I have a suspicion that I might be a bit more rational, but then, what do I know? I’ve never had a child before. And, to be honest, I already worry about you constantly. I worry about how you are developing. I worry about making sure your mom gets enough food and sleep. I worry about making sure she doesn’t feel too much stress.

But I’m actually pleased to have these concerns. It’s indicative of a new kind of love of which I am learning.

It’s telling me I’m going to be a parent.


Saturday, October 14, 2006


Dear Spike:

Today we stood at the place where a nation came together.

On May 10, 1869 the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroad companies — working together and in competition to lay 1,776 miles of rail that would span the nation — met at Promontory Summit in northern Utah, about two hours northwest of our home in Salt Lake City.

Today, the location where the rail lines met is called Golden Spike National Historic Site.

Yes, it is true. Today we brought Spike to The Spike.

We began calling you Spike in jest — a farcically hooliganish name for someone we expect will, in fact, be a splendidly genteel human being.

But standing at the place where the last, gold-plated spike was driven, (a shot heard ‘round the United States via telegraph message,) connecting our country literally and figuratively, I thought more about the connotations of the word we’ve chosen as your sobriquet pro tempore.

And instead of a joke, I would like to make this name a challenge.

My child, I wish for you to be a spike — firm and determined, holding together the ability of others to travel, to journey, to discover. Connecting. Enabling. Encouraging.

I wish for you to be a spike — an abrupt rise over normalcy. Fleeting against the span of creation, lasting in impact upon your world and the worlds of others.

I wish for you to be a spike — adding flavor, intoxication, to the punch of life. An unexpected but welcome surprise to those who encounter you. Euphoric. Mischievous.

I wish for you to be a spike — an impediment to those who find violence, against humanity and our world, to be a simple or acceptable alternative to compassion. A moderating force against insatiability.

Be sharp. Be strong. Be resilient.

I do not wish for you to bring together a nation. I do not expect you to be resplendent in golden plate.

I only challenge you to know what we all should know: That your place in this world is important, that your life has meaning to yourself, to you family, to your community and to countless others you will never come to know.

And that you should live accordingly.

I wish for you to be a spike.


Friday, October 13, 2006


Dear Spike:

I finished a story today; one that took me nine months to complete.

There’s a rather unsettling feeling that goes along with handing an article over to an editor. Coincidentally, I’ve heard it compared to giving birth to a child and then turning it over to someone else to raise.

I’ve never been that devastated. But I will admit that, on occasion, I’ve done my best to make my editors believe I am. It’s my name on the byline, after all.

I’m thinking now about the day in which I began this project. I was at the funeral of a soldier killed in Iraq (a war which, I pray, you will know only as history) when I received word that another soldier, whose family lived nearby, had also died.

What a day that way. And yes, I can remember it as if it were yesterday.

Which scares me Spike. For nine months can pass so very quickly.

In the time it has taken me to complete this article — it focuses upon that second soldier, whose unique story I chased through Germany, Kuwait and Iraq — you will be here. And you will be dependent upon us for so much. To feed you. To bathe you. To clothe you and love you and protect you.

As you grow, you will need guidance — editing, if you will. But there will be no one to hand you over to.

Already, we’re preparing for you to come into our world. Your mother’s best friend has sent several sets of tiny clothes and miniature sandals. Your aunt has sent us organic towels, for you, and has ordered special paint for your room (yellow with green trim, I hope you will like it.) We’ve purchased a new car with your comfort and safety in mind. And I am preparing to ask my editors for a change in my schedule at work so that I can be with you in the mornings and early afternoons, while your mom is teaching school.

I concede I have some selfish concerns. I wonder, when you come, will I have time to do the many things I enjoy? To play soccer with my team and poker with my friends? To lift weights at the gym with my good friend, Matt? To paint in the middle of the night and play my guitar, on the porch, on long summer days? To make wine of the grapes in our yard? To watch the same episodes of M*A*S*H over and over and over again?

You should know that I am indeed prepared to sacrifice all these things and more for you. I am hoping I won’t have to, but I would do so without hesitation on your behalf.

Your story is being written now, my child. And I want nothing more in the world for it to be happy, healthy and long.


Thursday, October 12, 2006


Dear Spike:

Your mom fell sick tonight. We can’t decide whether it’s because of you or the Mexican food we had for dinner.

Thankfully, she’s asleep — the best medicine, you’ll find.

I, on the other hand, am still having trouble getting to sleep at a reasonable hour, which makes getting up early in the morning a trifle difficult. I figure that once you’re here I’ll take any sleep I can whenever I can, but for now it’s late to bed and early to rise.

That’s a turn on an old adage from Benjamin Franklin — the correct phrase, of course, is “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise” and is one of many pieces of Franklinian advice still worth adhering to.

Fact is, if you’re ever in the market for a historical hero, Franklin would be a good place to start. Inventor, writer, publisher, scientist and politician, he had no equal in his day and — were he to live in our time — would have no equal now.

And yet, for all his magnificence, Franklin was unable to hold together the one thing that should have been most important: His family.

During the American Revolution, Franklin’s son, William, chose to remain loyal to the English crown. So devastating to their relationship was the split that, in his will, Ben Franklin left almost nothing to his boy.

Perhaps this says something about the depth of the passion Franklin had for our future republic, but I simply cannot fathom an act that could make a father disavow his child. Does that make me unpatriotic? So be it.

Among Franklin’s core principles was order — “let all your things have their places,” he said. I wonder where, when choosing the order of his priorities, Franklin placed his family. Behind this nation? Behind his work as an author, scientist and inventor?

Spike, you will never be behind anything else in my life. Certainly, as you grow up, I will have many other obligations. But I will have no greater priority than being a good father to you.

Franklin may have been the greatest American to ever live, but I have a more important goal: I want to be the greatest father I can be.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Dear Spike:

I've just returned home from my indoor soccer game, one in which the team on which I play lost 10-1 (in this league, we stop counting after 10, so it was really more like 16 or maybe 17 to 1.)

I suppose there is a lesson here in playing the game to have fun, or maybe in how to be a gracious loser just as you would be a gracious winner. Indeed, I intend to teach you all these things in time.

But at the moment, all I can think about is one play in the game. I took the ball deep in our side of the field on a pass from our goalkeeper, pushed down the middle of the pitch, past several defenders and, rather suddenly, found myself in a one-on-one situation with the opposing team's keeper.

I shot. And missed wide.

There's a metaphor here, one that touches upon a problem I've had all my life.

I start with grandeur. With bravado and courage and skill. With promise. But I have trouble finishing things. When it comes ot the end of the race. When it comes to the last chapter of the book. When it comes to taking a shot on the goal. I pull back. I give up. I miss.

One of the benefits of starting things well is that, even if you don't finish what you set out to do, you may have exceeded the expectations of others. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The same can be said of success.

Those looking on may never know you didn't finish what you set out to accomplish.

But you will know.

Spike, I do not want you to strive to live up to my expectations. If you live a good life, if you treat others well, you will have met my expectations. I'm simple that way. You will be loved. Unconditionally. And forever.

And I do not want you to live up to the expectations of others. As humans, our expectations of one another are unfailingly low — that is why it hurts so much when we are wronged, for it is not difficult to be good to one another.

I am not asking that you expect more of yourself than you are able to give — only that you expect the best out of yourself, that you strive to meet your potential and that you don't hold back for the ease of meeting an easier, but still respectable, standard.

Strive. Fight. Finish.

If the ball sails wide, so be it. You will know you took the best shot you could.


Monday, October 9, 2006


Dear Spike:

For a few years now we’ve been getting by in a 1993 Nissan Sentra. I did my best to vet it for problems — we must have taken six or seven different used cars to our mechanic, John, for inspection before settling on this one — but almost from the beginning it was obvious that we’d bought a problem car.

Immediately, we learned the seat belt alarm would go off whether we were strapped in or not. We came to think of this as the way the car — which we called Moroni (a Utah joke, which you’ll definitely understand if we raise you here) — would warn us against bad driving habits.

One hand on the wheel? Beep.

Nodding off on a long stretch of freeway? Beep. Beep.

Fiddling with the stereo when you should be watching the road? Beeeeeeeeeeeep.

A few months after we bought the car the transmission went out. Later, we realized it wouldn’t hold its alignment, an attribute that resulted in a few badly worn tires. The windshield seemed to be a magnet for flying rocks. The wipers never worked right. The paint was peeling and the doors didn’t always close.

So when I left to write about the war in Iraq, last year, I decided I would prefer your mother have a good car to drive to work and back. One less worry for me. One less worry for her. We bought a brand new Honda Civic and we’ve been very content with that purchase.

When I returned, I took Moroni — it was fine for the short ride to my office and back whenever the weather didn’t allow me to ride my bike.

But with you on the way — and with Moroni in need of a new set of tires, an alignment check, a new windshield and emissions work — we finally decided to move on.

In the past, I would never have considered buying a hatch back, or a car with all-wheel-drive. Tinted windows? Spacious back seats? Cargo room? Not really necessary.

Back before I met your mom, it was important to me to have a fast and stylish car. After we were hitched, I just wanted something reliable. And now, my priorities have changed again. As I discussed my desires with my friend, Michael, who has forgotten more about cars than I’ll ever know, I found myself using words like “stroller room” and “easy baby seat access.”

You’re not even a half-inch long and yet you’re already changing my life in subtle and profound ways. That’s power.

But no, you cannot have the keys. Ever.


Sunday, October 8, 2006


I will not be your only guide on this journey. Nor will your mother. We will have lots of help from many wonderful people. I've asked some of them to write you, too.

Dear Spike:

Your father — your wonderful, incredible father — is insisting on getting us all emotional about you already. As he's noted, you are only about as big as a pea right now, but that doesn't matter; we are all very excited that you are coming to meet us, soon.

You're going to be very special in our family because you are the first of your generation. You will not understand this for awhile but, as the first child of my generation — well, more or less tied for first — I can tell you a little about what this means.

First and foremost, you will be very loved. You will have lots and lots of photos taken of you. You will be the guinea pig for just about everything. You will be a little spoiled. You will be passed around like a football when you are small.

You will have some pretty big expectations placed on you from the time you arrive. You will have to watch over all the other kids in your generation and put up with a lot of nonsense on their behalf.

And you will be a leader, whether you want to be or not.

You won't believe this, once you get to know me, but I was terribly shy as a small kid. I might never have become a leader if it hadn't been my birthright, but the default title has given me a lot of incredible opportunities in my life — both incredibly good and incredibly bad. It can be quite difficult to be the leader but its also very exciting. You are the trailblazer.

I was lucky enough to be a trailblazer for your father (though he also blazed plenty of his own trails.) When your dad was born I was not even two years old but I immediately assumed my role. I climbed into his crib, gave him my favorite dolly and showed him how to play with her.

I was lucky enough to be a trailblazer for your father — though he also blazed plenty of his own trails. When your dad was born I was not even two years old but I immediately assumed my role. I climbed into his crib, gave him my favorite dolly and showed him how to play with her. We were best friends from that day until I was about 11 years old — when we decided to strongly dislike each other for about 6 or 7 years before becoming best of friends again.

The first night in my dorm room at college I reached under my pillow and found a letter from him, thanking me for always paving the way for him, for trying out the mean teachers first, for breaking in our mom and dad and for experiencing things so that he could watch and learn.

That was my best leader moment. Ever.

Someday you will have a little brother or sister and you will get to know how great that is.

Spike, you are so lucky. You get to be one of us — and, you will soon
learn, that we are better than everyone else!

Every member of your family is a leader, in one way or another, so you've got a pretty stellar network of support. I hope that, as “firsts” you and I will have a special bond and that you will come to me whenever you are having trouble blazing that trail. Maybe I'll even be able to show you the way.

Aunt Kelly

Friday, October 6, 2006


Dear Spike:

Your grandfather shared this with me today. I thought it would be good to share with you.

"For a moment, our eyes will meet. And in this moment, I will motion for you to take a deep breath and — with a mixture of trepidation and anticipation — walk away, knowing that, on this adventure, you will be on your own."

I remember this moment. It was the morning you left (very late, as I'm sure you'll recall) with the Navy recruiter. I remember how we locked eyes as you got into the car. I sensed that you were afraid -- and fear was something I didn't see in you very often -- and worried that I somehow had let you down.

I don't remember if I cried, I probably did, but I very distinctly remember thinking after a few minutes that you were going to be just fine. That you were off to live your own life and that we'd prepared you as best we could and that, now, it was up to you.

There was nothing that affected the relationship I have with your grandfather more than my decision to join the Navy. Things were rocky between us in the final months I lived in California, but we're closer now because of it.

I know there will be times like this for us, Spike, and it makes me scared and sad.

I never want to feel distant from you, and yet I understand now that distance — both physical and emotional — is often a prism through which we can better see love.

When we're distant I will reflect upon the moment that I left home. And I will know that we're OK.



Dear Spike:

It's 2:17 a.m. and, once again, I'm having trouble sleeping.

It has been this way since your mom told me about the test. I think I've only had one or two nights of legitimate, eight-or-more-hours, head-buried-in-the-pillow, snoring-like-a-drugged-gorilla sleep since then.

Mom, on the other hand, well, you'd think she lived among dwarves. She's been getting 10 or 12 hours a day lately. All the books say that's normal in the first weeks of pregnancy. I think she's storing up energy to give to you.

Your impending arrival has really only accentuated differences in our sleeping habits that already were prevalent.

Mom's a morning person — jumps out of bed and into the shower, out of the shower and into her closet, out of the closet and into the kitchen. Eggs. toast, cereal, grapefruit, or whatever is on the menu, and then she's out the door. For a walk. A yoga class. To do a little yard work. She's the most intense morning person I've ever met.

I stay up late — I think it's the quietness of the dark morning hours that I enjoy most — and prefer to pick up my sleep after the sun comes up, as your mom runs around the house playing the banjo and vacuuming the stairs.

I wonder, quite frequently, about what attributes you'll get from me and which you'll take from your mom.

I really hope you get her sleeping habits — it is a lot more conducive to a normal life if you sleep in the hours that normal people sleep and are awake during the hours that normal people are awake. I also hope you get her hair (you may note, in this photo of three generations of Spike ancestors, a serious lack of hair among the men. The women do much better, so if you're a girl you're probably going to be OK.)

You're definitely going to want her temperament. And her intelligence. And her wit. And that cute dimple on her cheek.

Her sense of style. Her smile. Her persistence. Her poise.

And from me?




I guess I can type pretty fast — if that's hereditary, you'll definitely want that. And my eyesight is better than your mom's, so I'm hoping you get that from me (you'll be wanting her hearing, though, I couldn't hear a train if it were running through our backyard.)

Other than that, I suppose I'd prefer if you got just about everything from your mother, her being so darn wonderful and all.

I will admit, however, that I will be looking for something — anything at all — that connects us. It could be your fingernails or the bump on the back of your head. It could be the way you sleep.

Just something I can recognize as having come from me.

Something good. Something we share.


Thursday, October 5, 2006


Dear Spike:

Your mother can sleep through an entire DVD of MASH episodes — she doesn’t even stir when that abrading and melancholy, 70s-era pop wind ensemble theme sets in between shows.

But she can’t repose if I’m slapping away at the keyboard on my computer, so for the moment I’ve moved into the spare bedroom — a space that will be your room once you arrive.

There’s much to do between now and then. We have to do something about these stark white walls (your Aunt Kelly has ordered some special organic paint — butter yellow with a yet unknown shade of green for the trim.) We have to move this bed and these drawers and the vanity desk your mom uses when she’s putting on makeup in the morning.

And then we’ve got to buy you stuff. Lots of stuff. We’ve got to fill this dresser with baby clothes and diapers and burping blankets. I guess we’ll need a changing table. A crib, of course. A diaper bucket. And a rocking chair.

I think the drapes we have in here can stay, though I haven't cleared that with your aunt yet, so I guess we’ll see.

When we moved into this house, two years ago, we chose the bedroom in which your mom, at this very moment, is snoring in time with Suicide is Painless, because it was the largest room in the house — and because it had a chandelier, which is really quite unnecessary in a bedroom but fun nonetheless.

Over time, however, we have come to understand that this room — your room — is, by far, the most comfortable space in our home.

It stays coolest in the summer and warmest in the winter. Since it’s on the west side of the house — its only window faces the backyard — it remains dark in the morning and lights up with a beautiful warm glow as the sun sets in the evening.

The cats enjoy it. They love to lie in the sun in the late afternoon. The azalea tree, outside the window, gets lots of birds (your mother insists that she can recognize one, in particular — she calls him “Lenny.”)

It’s also right by the bathroom, which will be good for when you’re learning to do your thing by yourself at night — and I’m sorry to tell you this, kid, but your mom and I both had a little trouble with the whole bed wetting thing, so you may be in for some rough nights.

Your room is also right next to our room which is good for you but might not be so great for us down the road — I’ll explain that all later on.

I love being in here, Spike. I haven't quite focused my mind's eye on how it will turn out, but I can definitely see the rocking chair, here in the corner next to the window . I can see us sitting there together, late at night, swaying gently back and forth, maybe singing a little song.

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” I think. I love that one.

I’m quite a bit less comfortable imagining what this room will look like a few more years down the road.

Your mom asked me the other day: “What if Spike wants to paint the room black? Will we allow it?”

Here’s what we decided: If it is for artistic purposes — say, you decide black walls are a better background for oversized Josef Sudek prints — then yes, you may paint the room black. If it is because you believe that black is the color of a vampire's passion and it matches the mascara you apply each morning with a paint brush, then no, you may not paint the room black. Is there some room for artistic interpretation here? Sure. But let’s jump off that bridge when we come to it. OK?

Funny how we play these games. Over the past few weeks, we’ve gone over scores of scenarios.

What if Spike brings home a date when Spike is 13?
Spike’s date will be welcomed into our home and will be watched. Very, very, very closely watched.

What if Spike wants to get something pierced?
Spike is allowed no piercing unless Spike's Dad has A) gotten that part of his body pierced before and B) still has said piercing.

What if Spike is gay?
So what if Spike is gay.

What if Spike hates MASH?
Adoption is always an option.

What if Spike hates soccer?
Torture is another option, and can be legal in certain circumstances under the Geneva Conventions, according to the Bush Administration.

What if, by the time Spike is a teenager, time travel is possible and Spike wants to go back to fight in the French Revolution?
Three words: Viva la NO

Ever since I learned you were coming, these things have been keeping me up at night. I don't think it's worry — more like a desire to feel prepared for your arrival by having gone over every single possible scenario. Twice.

OK, maybe that is worry.

But I honestly do believe we are going to be good parents to you. I just also happen to understand we’re not in the least bit ready for you at this moment in time.

I suppose we can start with this room, though I’m not sure I want to just yet.

Sure, the walls will be butter yellow soon. But soon thereafter they might be black.

And I know I’m not ready for that.


Wednesday, October 4, 2006


Dear Spike:

I'm having a bit of trouble envisioning myself as a dad (your mother, by the way, is having similar issues — in fact, she's having a particularly grand amount of trouble envisioning herself giving birth and I can't rightly blame her, I mean sheeeez, have you seen those videos? Yeeuck!)

Back in high school my soccer coach, Ed Limon, always said that in order to win we had to be able to first envision ourselves winning. Sure enough, we all closed our eyes real hard and imagined real good and...

... well, we still were lousy.

Still, I'm sure Coach Ed probably maybe sort of knew what he was talking about. Trouble is, my imagination isn't quite as good as it once was, so I think I'm going to need a little help.

Over the next few weeks I'm going to be scouring my hard drive for photographs of me looking 'dadly' — or at very least looking as if I don't frighten the bejeezus out of little kids.

This pic is from Iraqi Kurdistan (though by the time you are able read this, it might very well be called something else.) These kids followed me and my friend, a very talented photographer named Rick Egan, around for hours.

In retrospect, I understand it was because they hadn't seen many Americans before — and certainly not many who weren't wearing military uniforms — but at this moment, I really need to believe it was because they thought I was approachable, likable and wise.

Heck, I'll settle for approachable.


Tuesday, October 3, 2006


Dear Spike:

Your mother didn’t tell me she was going to take the test.

We had only just recently decided that we wanted a baby in our lives and I didn’t believe we’d succeed so soon. So when I came home from work, Friday afternoon, I wasn’t really prepared for the news.

“There will be three of us for dinner tonight,” she said.


Someday, perhaps when you are eight or nine years old, I will take you on your first roller coaster ride. We will sit in the lead car — the wait is longer but the view is worth it — and hold our hands above our heads as the coaster tips over the top of the first peak.

For a moment, our car will lurch over the drop as we wait for the rest of the train to follow us over the peak. And in this moment, I will ask you to take a deep breath and — against your instincts to do otherwise — to keep your arms outstretched above your head.


Someday, perhaps when you are five or six, I will take you to the lake. It will be fall and the the changing leaves will set fire to the water’s surface. I will lift you in my arms and hold you gently above my head.

For a moment, you will glide through the air, above the water, like a bird. And in this moment, I want you to take a deep breath and recognize that — against your wishes to do otherwise — you cannot fly away from the crystal cold water.


Someday, perhaps when you are 17 or 18, I will take you to the airport. I will walk with you to the security gate and hand over your backpack. I will stand aside the crowd, against the wall, as you serpentine through the line of passengers.

For a moment, our eyes will meet. And in this moment, I will motion for you to take a deep breath and — with a mixture of trepidation and anticipation — walk away, knowing that, on this adventure, you will be on your own.


Someday, perhaps when you are my age, you will find a person with whom you wish to spend your life. On the night before your wedding, we will go to a pub and order a beer and sit in the outdoor patio and watch as people of every shape and color walk by on the street.

For a moment, you will wonder whether you are prepared to devote your life to another person. And in this moment, you will take a deep breath, take a sip of your beer, and — even given your vast experience in matters of uncertainty — still be terrified.


On Friday I held you and your mother in my arms and laughed as I had never laughed before.

I took a deep breath and found it wasn’t enough. I was excited and terrified, anxious and overjoyed, hands over my head, feet above the water, taking the first steps on a long journey. I could feel my father next to me and I could feel him far away.

Someday perhaps you will feel this way too. I love you too much to wish otherwise.


Monday, October 2, 2006


Dear Spike:

I suppose I should explain how we came to call you ‘Spike.’ It’s not that we’re cruel people. Or white trash. We were just having a bit of trouble with pronouns.

But then, you haven’t heard of pronouns. So I guess that's as good a place to begin as any.

Words are important. Please do not allow anyone to convince you otherwise. Words may be spoken; this is how you and I will first communicate. Words may also be written, as I am doing now and, in time, you also will learn to do. I hope you will learn to do this well.

Among the most important words, and the first you will learn, are nouns. People, animals, places and things are nouns. Ideas may be nouns. Even the word ‘noun’ — derived from the Latin ‘nomen,’ meaning ‘name’ — is, in fact, a noun. Funny how that works.

At one time many English nouns would change form depending upon the gender of the person being described. For instance, men were ‘authors’ while women were ‘authoresses.’ These days, there are far fewer gender-specific nouns common to the English language, though we’ve persisted with a few. Men are ‘actors’ while women are ‘actresses.’ Men are ‘waiters’ while women are ‘waitresses.’ You get the idea.

At some point we realized, especially where spoken language is concerned, repetition can be awkward, even ugly.

Perhaps an example is in order. Were I to rewrite this letter without the use of pronouns, it would begin as such:

“Spike’s father supposes Spike’s father should explain how Spike’s father and Spike’s mother came to call Spike ‘Spike.’”

OK, to be fair, this is actually quite fun. Unfortunately, you will be beaten up in school if you persist in speaking this way. And as it is a very important part of my job, as your father, to keep you from getting beaten at school, I’ve opted to teach you to proper pronoun use.

For whatever reason, even as gender-specific nouns have disappeared from our language, gender-specific pronouns have persisted. Men are ‘he,’ women are ‘she,’ and only in the company of others does gender no longer matter. A group of men are ‘they.’ A group of women are ‘they.’ A group of men and women together are ‘they.’

But in reference to an individual, the properly used pronoun is always gender specific. This causes all kinds of mischief, particularly when the gender of the subject in question is unknown.

Which brings me to you, Spike.

At the moment, if our estimates are correct, you are perhaps 5 to 7 millimeters long — about the size of a pea. Your heart is the size of a poppy seed. Two pits have formed on the sides of your head but your eyes have not yet developed. Your arms are beginning to take shape but, for the moment, you have no hands to speak of.

And, for now, we’ve no way to know whether you are a boy or a girl — whether you are a ‘he’ or a ‘she.’

In the first days after learning your mother was pregnant we used our pronouns interchangeably. I was inclined to say ‘he.’ Your mother was inclined to use ‘she.’ We both avoided the dehumanizing ‘it.’

But a few days of this was enough. “I don’t want to jumble my pronouns any longer,” your mother told me. “I think we should give our baby a temporary name. I think we should call it ‘Spike’ “

So it now occurs to me that doesn’t exactly explain where ‘Spike’ came from. To be honest, I’m not certain where your mother came up with that name. She’s an interesting soul, your mother. But more on that later.

Please rest assured, we’ll not actually be calling you ‘Spike’ after you’re born — at least not officially. We already have come up with some splendid names for you, though we’re keeping those a secret until you arrive.

But today I wanted to let you know that it matters not to me which pronoun we ultimately use when speaking of you.

He or she. Boy or girl. Hero or heroine.

You will be loved. Unconditionally. And forever.