Monday, December 31, 2007

THREE TWO ONE

Dear Spike:

I’ve counted down the final seconds of the year at a ecstasy-fueled rave in new Jerusalem; at the historic Plaza de Zocodover in Toledo, Spain; slurping Irish coffees at the Buena Vista in San Francisco; at a lascivious Fiesta Bowl block party in Tempe, Arizona; and even on the comparatively quiet deck of an aircraft carrier in the northern Persian Gulf.

I’ve always been a fan of this night — of all the revelry and debauchery, of the goodbyes-to-that and the hellos-to-this, of regrets forgotten and promises made. Of the five-four-three-two-one and the kisses at midnight and that lovely old song that everyone knows the tune of but no one knows the words to.

But tonight is different. There’s no big apple falling from the sky. No fireworks. No tooting horns. No throngs of drunken revelers.

Not here.

Here it is just you and your mother and me. We’re watching Winnie the Pooh and waiting for a cherry pie to cool on the stovetop and trying to convince you that it’s OK to sleep for longer than 45 minutes at a time.

We had a couple of T-bone steaks for dinner — big, thick, juicy ones slathered with mushrooms and onions and whipped garlic butter. I drank the remaining half-glass from a cheap bottle of Merlot I opened for dinner the other night. You sucked on a graham cracker.

That was the extent of our celebration. And that was more than fine by me.

Maybe next year I’ll want to brave the crowds and bang the pans and watch the ball drop three-two-one-boom! Maybe then, midnight will find your mother and I locked in a kiss, surrounded by others locked in their own kisses. Maybe then, we’ll be in Rio or Paris or Prague.

Maybe.

For now, I’m simply reveling over a year that changed my life in more good ways than any other — a year that brought me you.

For now, I’m simply appreciating the best New Year’s ever.

Three. Two. One.

Boom.

Love,
dad

P.S. — No, I've never done ecstasy. No, you're not allowed to either.

Friday, December 28, 2007

OF THOSE WOMEN

Dear Spike:

With hopes of inspiring you to reach for greatness, I had the idea, some time ago, to begin to purchase for you a collection of the autobiographies of historic women.

Among the titles on my “to buy for Spike” list:

• Jane Goodall’s Reason for Hope
• Madeline Albright’s Madam Secretary
• Julia Child’s My Life in France
• Katherine Graham’s Personal History
• Maya Angelou’s The Heart of a Woman

Yesterday, in the somber aftermath of a violent tragedy, I made the first purchase in what I’ve come to think of as “The Spike Book Series” — Daughter of the East by Benazir Bhutto.

Long before a woman would so much as seriously contend for the U.S. presidency, Bhutto became the first woman to lead a Muslim nation, ascending to the Prime Ministry of Pakistan in 1988. It was a position she held — and lost — twice. Bhutto was vying to reassume power once more when she was killed in a suicide bomb attack, yesterday afternoon.

It is far too early to say what prompted Bhutto’s assassin to strike, but it seems clear the attack was related to her politics, rather than her gender. Likewise, her dismissals from the Prime Ministry in 1990 and 1996 came as a result of allegations of corruption, not from her status as a woman.

I’m not about to suggest that Bhutto is a good role model for you. You’ll choose your own role models, I hope, and perhaps that will indeed include some of those women you read about along the way. But I do hope you study Bhutto’s story, for I think it is important you know that if a woman can become the elected leader of a nation in which women are too often treated as property, there is no reason that a woman cannot break through the ever attenuating glass ceiling separating men and women in the United States.

Regardless of how you come to feel about Bhutto, I hope you’ll find that example from her life inspiring.

Love,
dad

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

WE'RE ALL AWAKE

Dear Spike:

Merry Christmas.

You woke this morning at 5 a.m., whining and slapping your hands wildly from side to side.

As soon as your mother and I were both up, you quieted down. It was as though you were saying, “well folks, so long as we’re all awake now...”

And so I got up and made some hot cocoa and orange rolls while your mother fed you. I lit some candles while she found your Santa hat. I flipped the switch on the Brio train that circles around the tree and turned on our Bing Crosby album. She gathered a blanket and set it down by the mantle.

We all converged at the foot of the tree.

Bing crooned, “I’m dreaming...”

Outside, two-foot icicles hung from the roof.

And inside, we set to work opening our gifts.

Your mother made me a book with 12 months of family activities. In April, we’ll take a hike up Immigration Canyon. In May, we’ll take a family raft trip on the reservoir. In September, we’ll visit Arches National Park.

For her, I painted a picture of the two of you, working from a photo that I took when you were just a few months old.



You gave me a drawing — your very first with color crayons. (Someday I’m sure I’ll be able to sell it for a million bucks, but I won’t.)



I gave you a book, my first work of fiction (well, other than all that drivel I write for the newspaper each day.) It’s not quite complete yet, and my goal is to have it done by your birthday. In the meantime, I’ve given you a draft of the first six chapters. Another 20 chapters are in my computer, waiting for some minor revisions. And there’s still nine or 10 chapters in my head, waiting for inspiration. Writing this story has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. And keeping it a secret from your mother has been nearly as difficult.



Your mother made you a blanket, silky on one side, fleece on the other, with ribbons and tags of all shapes and textures on the edges. You love it!



But the best gift of all was the joy we felt, sharing this day with you. I've always enjoyed Christmas, but never so much as I did this morning with you and your mother.

Thank you, my precious little girl. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

It’s 7:30 a.m. now, and we’re all back in bed. Bing has run through his entire Christmas repertoire. The Brio train has run out of steam. The candles have been snuffed out.

You’re curled up in your mother’s arms with you new blanket. She’s reading your book.

And I’m ready for a nap.

Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas.

Love,
dad

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A GOOD FATHER


Dear Spike:

Sometimes I worry whether I’m going to be a good father to you.

Then I go to the market, or the park, or to the movies, and I watch how some other fathers act around their children.

And after that, usually I am not so worried anymore.

Love,
dad

Saturday, December 22, 2007

GROW AND LEARN





Dear Spike:

At almost seven months old, you smile and laugh — a lot. You stand while holding my index fingers. You make some cooing and growling sounds. And you’ve pretty much been doing all your bathroom-related business in the bathroom.

You eat oranges, pears, apples, sweet potatoes, carrots and cereal. And you even like to grab the spoon and shove it into your mouth all by yourself.

At the same time, you don’t crawl. You hate spending time on your tummy. You don’t sit up without a bunch of pillows tucked around you. You’re no longer sleeping through the night (or even part of it!) And I’m pretty sure you don’t know who the heck it is we’re talking to when we call your name.

So where does that all place you in relationship to other babies?

I’m guessing somewhere in the middle. But I’m not really sure.

Your mother and I have tried hard not to obsess over “baby benchmarks.” And I think that’s a rather big accomplishment for us because, truth be known, we’re both really rather obsessive people.

But some time back, your Aunt Alisa, (who has two beautiful babies of her own) noted that everyone eventually learns to walk, talk, use the toilet, ride a bike, drive a car, talk on the phone, change the radio station and eat a cheeseburger (and sometimes, people do many of those things all at once!) And so it doesn’t really matter whether we first smiled at one month or two, or first used the toilet at six months or 18, or first roll over at three months or nine.

“When she’s 25, she’ll be walking, and no one will be asking when she started doing that,” Alisa said. “So you shouldn’t fret.”

That’s good advice. Not just for raising babies, but for living life.

We’re very dedicated to helping you grow and learn and develop in all the normal ways — and we’re going to do the very best we can. But at the end of the day, you’re going to do some things sooner and some things later. That’s just the way things go.

As you grow older, I think, you’re going to realize that you can do some things better than other people and some things worse. Some of that you’ll control by your actions and attitude, but a lot of it will be out of your hands entirely.

Mother Nature is who she is. And thus you are who you are.

So here’s a pretty good rule of thumb: Do the very best you can. Strive for greatness in everything you do.

And then, as Aunt Alisa said, don’t fret.

You’ll get there when you get there.

Love,
dad

Friday, December 21, 2007

A SUDDEN CONNECTION

Dear Spike:

Snowing again today. Nine inches, maybe more.

The roads haven’t been plowed yet, so your mother decided to walk to work. We’re upstairs watching this amazing white world from the window in my office (which over the past few months has come to more closely resemble your office.)

A few short and random thoughts on this beautiful winter morning:

• Over the past few days, I’ve spoken to or corresponded with several friends whom I have not seen in some time. I’ve made an effort this year to reengage those friends with whom, for whatever reason, I have lost contact — and there’s a long list. I’m glad I’ve done this. It’s been especially rewarding to share with them your story and to hear about their lives, their families and their journeys.

• I think I may have made a new friend in Kenya this week. He’s a fellow journalist who wrote me in response to an article I penned regarding America’s use of Third-World mercenaries to defend its military and diplomatic bases in Iraq. Seems we’ve got a lot in common and we’ve begun to correspond.

• A song comes to mind... “Make new friends but keep the old,” I think it goes.

• I heard on the radio this morning that machete sales are up in Kenya. And though I’ve never even met my new friend in the flesh, I felt a sudden connection to that place, where candidates for parliament and the presidency have been stirring ethnic divisions in an attempt to win more votes.

• I’ve had similar experiences when reading or hearing reports from many of the places I’ve traveled and many more where I have friends. It is often a woeful experience, but I feel very privileged to be connected to this world in this way.

• Another song comes to mind (and probably won’t leave my head all morning now) “it’s a world of laughter, a world of tears, it’s a world of hope and a world of fears.”

• Outside it looks as though someone has shaken a snow globe, with tiny flakes swirling about in the air up, down, left, right. The trees look like cotton bushes. The street is like a long, flat sheet of white paper.

• It looks like we’re going to have a white Christmas. And so will those we know and love in places like Herat, Afghanistan; and in Frankfurt, Germany; and in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

• Yes, it’s a small world after all.

Love,
dad

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

STILL MY SHIRT


Dear Spike:

One day, shortly after we began living together, your mother came down the stairs wearing my Manchester United jersey.

“You’re wearing my shirt,” I noted.

“My shirt,” she corrected.

“Um... no, that’s definitely my shirt — you don’t even know what Man-U is.”

“Is it a college?”

“No, it’s not a college.”

“Oh well, still my shirt.”

Over the years, your mother has managed to purloin more and more of my soccer jerseys.

And now, it seems, there’s another thief in our midst.

Sigh.

Love,
dad

Monday, December 17, 2007

YOU'VE BEEN WAKING

Dear Spike:

What ever happened to that beautiful, long-slumbering baby we once knew — the one who continually slept through the night when she was just two months old?

Lately, you’ve been waking two, three and sometimes four times a night to use the bathroom and have a little snack. It usually takes no more than five or 10 minutes to get you back to sleep, but after that it is sometimes hard for us to get back to our own dreams.

In spite of her recent inability to get more than three straight hours of uninterrupted slumber, your mother is faring quite well. It is clear that she is tired, but she does not complain. And when I have offered to give you a bottle at night so that she can have a longer stretch of sleep, she has firmly declined. “It’s my job to feed her,” she says resolutely.

I’ve long prided myself on not needing as much sleep as most — four or five hours is usually enough for me — but lately I’ve been supplementing with more and more coffee. Seems I’m not as capable of neglecting my bed as I once was. In some ways that saddens me, as the wee’st hours of the morning were once my favorite moments to paint, read and write. But I wouldn’t trade this lot. Not for anything in the world.

At a holiday party, the other evening, a former colleague told your mother that she doesn’t understand why anyone would want children. “It just changes your life so much,” she said spitefully.

Indeed, your mother agreed, having a child has changed our lives. “But only,” she stipulated, “for the better.”

What my former colleague doesn’t understand about those sleepless nights and those tired mornings — and all the other little and big sacrifices that come with raising a child — is that it is so very, very worth it.

Sure, we’re tired. But last night, during one unusually long stretch of silence, I rose from my bed and tiptoed over to your cradle, just to watch you sleep.

It had been three or four hours since you’d cried, and already I was missing the ways you’ve changed my life.

Love,
dad

Thursday, December 13, 2007

OUR HUMBLE TREE

Dear Spike:

We went to fetch a tree tonight. It wasn’t the most romantic of quests. We simply drove a few blocks to the local supermarket, found a decent looking fir, and threw it into the back of the wagon for the three-minute drive home. The whole process took 15 minutes, tops.

Back when I was a kid, my family used to drive up into the mountains to choose our tree at a farm. We’d pack a thermos of chili and some cornbread to eat on the way, then spend hours searching for the perfect tree. Sometimes when we thought we’d found a good one but weren’t 100 percent sure, we’d mark it with a few sticks or dead branches and move on. When we’d finally settled upon a tree — assuming no other family got to it first — my siblings and I would all take turns lying in the mud and hacking away with a saw.

Your mother tells me she had much the same experience, except her family always brought along a wide piece of cardboard to lie upon so they wouldn’t get muddy while chopping down the tree. (At least one side of your family seems to have some common sense. Let’s hope you have inherited those genes.)

However unspectacular the means of this year’s harvest may have been, I do love having a tree in our home. It fills our whole house with the rich scent of pine and seems to bring a freshness to the air. Sometimes — especially late at night — I find myself just staring into the lights.

I hate the fact that “the Christmas season” starts as soon as Halloween ends. At the grocery stores, out go the Freddy Kruger masks, in come the animated Rudolf lawn statues. The radio stations play endless carols. Downtown is decked in lights and tinsel.
We prefer not to dilute our holiday cheer. Two weeks before Christmas Day, we set up our humble tree. We play a little Bing Crosby. And we place on the mantle the olive wood nativity set I picked up in Israel a few years back.

It’ll all be gone by the New Year. That way, when Christmas comes around next year, and the next, and the next, we won’t be too tired of the season to appreciate what it means.

Love,
dad

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

FOR THE SEASON

Dear Spike:

The park near our home has a strong wireless Internet connection, and so during warmer months, you and I spent a lot of time here. I’d push you around the lake with my laptop computer balanced on the cup holders on your stroller, reading and responding to my daily avalanche of e-mails while you watched the black and white geese splash land in the still water or followed the golden leaves as they tumbled from the trees.

But now it is cold. And so recently we have spent most of our days at our home. I sit at my desk and write. You play in your jungle gym and rest in your swing. When you sleep I make my phones calls. When you’re unhappy, I close my computer and play with you on the floor.

It’s a suitable arrangement. And it is better (and cheaper) than sending you to daycare every day.

But now the weekend’s storm seems to have killed our Internet connection, and the company that services the line to our home says they won’t be able to make it out until next Tuesday.

And so here we sit, in the car, in the parking lot near the greenhouse at the park. You’re resting in your safety seat in the back, I’m sitting at the wheel, looking out over the dashboard at the little old carousel. Like most things out here, it’s closed for the season.

I always thought that nostalgia only existed in decade-long increments — for childhoods long past and ball teams on which all of the players have long since retired. For a musty old church and the stale old hymns sung there. For the glamorous stars of the silver screen, long since whithered and wrinkled and retired from acting.

Today, though, I’m simply feeling nostalgic for the summer. I’m missing a time when you and I could sit together on a park bench and watch as joggers tussled with their dogs as they passed the lake and skateboarders perfected their tricks on the amphitheater steps near the old mill.

Don’t get me wrong, I do so love what winter does to this park. I love how the shadows of skeleton trees draw jagged gray lines on the snow. I love to watch sledders climb up the hill on the north end of the lake, then flop down on their sleds, rushing headfirst toward hand-built ramps of snow at the bottom of the hill.

But alas, I miss when this all was our “outside office.” And I’m looking forward to a time when it is again.

You’ll be nearly a year old by then. Perhaps you’ll be walking a bit. And soon you’ll be able to play on the swings and the slides and the sandbox. And I’ll watch from a park bench nearby, with my computer balanced on my lap and a cup of coffee on the ground by my feet.

And — who knows? — maybe I’ll grow nostalgic for the snow.

Love,
dad

Saturday, December 8, 2007

DIDN'T CHANGE ANYTHING

Dear Spike:

It’s 5 a.m. I’m having some trouble sleeping, but I didn’t want to wake you or your mother (you’re both snoring soundly in our bed, at the moment) so I’ve moved into your bedroom.

It’s snowing again outside. Just past your window, the bare branches of the lilac bush have captured thick, cottony clumps of snow. All the surrounding rooftops are frosted white. There are even layers of ice ballanced upon the powerlines that run from roof to roof in our neighborhood.

Later this morning we’ll go for a walk in the snow. And perhaps we’ll catch breakfast at the cafe on the other side of the park. Then, in the afternoon, I’ll go pick up your Aunt Kelly and Uncle Eric at the airport. She’s here for a meeting in Park City on Monday. He’s coming along so that we can go snowboarding together.

I’ve been struggling, over the past few weeks, to figure out how to explain to you everything that is going on with Kelly and Eric. More than once, I’ve sat down to write this letter and then stopped, bewildered by the challenge of making this all make sense. Indeed, I’ve found myself relieved that there’s really no rush to put this into words. And I’m not certain what I would do if you were older and I had to find a more immediate way to explain why your aunt and uncle are getting divorced.

I presided over Kelly and Eric’s wedding. I welcomed our family and friends. I spoke briefly about why they’d chosen to get married. I stood beside them as they recited their vows and traded rings. And then I turned to Eric and said, “You may now kiss my sister.”

He’d been kissing her for some time already, of course.

There is family you get and family you choose. Eric was family we got. Kelly chose him and, fortunately, we all fell in love with him. And so long before the wedding, I already considered Eric to be my brother.

In that way, their marriage really didn’t change anything.

And in similar fashion, I guess, neither will their divorce.

At some point — and this is the part that I have struggled to explain, so perhaps it is best if I should not even try — Kelly and Eric decided they couldn’t live together anymore.

It was a shock to our family. It was difficult to know how to respond. It was frightening to think that I might lose my brother and that you might lose an uncle who loves you very, very much.

I suppose that we are fortunate that your aunt and uncle are still friends — best friends, they say. Although this makes their decision all the more difficult to understand, the grief I feel for their marriage is assuaged by the understanding that I am not losing my brother and you are not losing your uncle.

And in some ways, we are gaining something.

Love is not a prerequisite for family. Not in the legal sense, at least. Regardless of how I felt about Eric in the past, he was my brother in law.

Now, he’s just my brother.

I can no more predict the way things are going to unfold with Kelly and Eric than I can tell you how much more snow we’re going to get, this winter. I don’t know if in the future they will visit together or separately. I don’t know if they will always remain such close friends as they are right now.

But whatever happens, I’ll still have a brother and you’ll still have and uncle who loves you very, very much.

The snow’s stopped falling now. The sun is about to rise. It’s a beautiful day outside.

A good day to visit with our family.

Love,
dad

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

I SPOKE EVIL

Dear Spike:

A few weeks ago, your mother brought home a bucket of alphabet magnets. I think they were originally intended for her classroom, but somehow they ended up on our refrigerator door.

Most people use their fridges to store food and hang their kid's finger paintings. But for us, lately, it's been the site of a never-ending brain teaser, where "I LOVE SPIKE" becomes "I SPOKE EVIL" and where "THIS IS A FRIDGE" becomes "A FRIGID THESIS."

Ah, who knew magnets could be such fun?

I suppose it's just a matter of time before you'll be playing along. Recently, you've started making simple consonant sounds. Your favorite thing to say, particularly when you're upset (but much to your mother's delight) is "ma-ma-ma-ma-ma." Sometimes you also say "pa-pa-pa-pa-pa," but only when you're sitting over the toilet. Weird.

Soon you'll be stringing more sounds together, making words, writing novels and giving speeches before the United Nations General Assembly.

Or, I suppose, we can just start with your ABCs and see where things go from there.

Love,
dad

Did you know that the words "Dear Spike Love Dad" can be mixed into hundreds of other words? My favorite, so far: "A Dead Devils Poker." What can you come up with?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

AN INSIDE STRAIGHT

Spike's friends are very thankful for Thomas Edison and his amazing light bulb. Thanks for voting. Spike's latest poll is to the right. As they say at the Diebold headquarters in North Canton, Ohio: "Never mind that this election is rigged. It looks like democracy, and that's good enough."



Dear Spike:

It’s anecdotal at best, but you appear to enjoy poker — and specifically seven-card stud. You and I played a bit online today while waiting for a friend at the coffee shop, and while we took a small loss on an ugly beat (we had trip Aces going into the river, when our opponent caught an inside straight) it was fascinating to watch you watching the cards as they fell into place on our virtual table.

I can’t say for certain that you understood everything that was going on. You are only six months old, after all. I don’t expect you to know the odds of pocket pairs versus suited connector overcards until you’re at least eight or nine months old. (It’s pretty much a coin flip, by the way.) Still, I find it highly auspicious that we already seem to share some interests (I mean other than your mother’s breasts.)

When I was a teenager and my father and I agreed on very little, we could still often be found plopped on the couch, late at night, laughing at M*A*S*H reruns. Maybe it wasn’t exactly quality time, but it was something we could share — when anything was something.

You’re not always going to like me. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee that, at some point, I’m going to be the person you dislike more than anyone in the world.

But maybe, when that time comes, you’ll still be able to find us both listening to old Beatles tunes, or making anagrams with the alphabet magnets on the kitchen fridge, or sitting across the felt from one another at the poker table.

So long as you don’t take all my money, we’ll be fine.

Love,
dad

Sunday, December 2, 2007

FEW MORE POUNDS


Dear Spike:

We visited Dr. Schriewer on Friday for your six-month checkup. You’re up to 12 pounds — which is almost three times what you weighed when you were born, but that’s still very small for a baby your age.

Dr. Schriewer said we shouldn’t be concerned, but she did recommend that we start feeding you some more fatty foods.

Like what? We asked.

Like butter, she said.

Butter? Like slather-it-all-over-your-french-toast, mash-it-into-your-potatoes, drizzle-it-all-over-your-lobster butter?

Yeah, she said. Butter.

She also said it would be good if we started giving you some fruits and vegetables. And so your mother promptly went out and bought every flavor of baby food at the store. This week we’re introducing you to sweet potatoes (the jury’s out) and next week we’ll try carrots. Meanwhile, Dr. Schriewer said we can also give you some zwieback toast (you love it already) and some formula in your rice cereal (you’re not such a fan.)

Over time, we’ll find out what you like best and, hopefully, put a few more pounds on you before your nine-month appointment.

Love,
dad

Saturday, December 1, 2007

WHAT'S FOR DINNER



Dear Spike:

Duck. It's what's for dinner.

OSU Beavers 38, UO Ducks 31.

Love,
dad



Thursday, November 29, 2007

DEAR DAD, LOVE SPIKE

Dear Dad:

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76555sdc1`;.q o,1. K1sz.m, dgdazsssdfffc fd4yb N WQ IU9JK0N X CCCVB BBHC rrryyy

Love,
Spike

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

JUST AS CONTENT

One day left to vote in Spike's Thanksgiving poll (to the right and down a bit.) And don't forget to write a Spiku for someone you love. (It's just like a Haiku — five syllables, seven syllables, five syllables — you can find some great ones to the right and down a little less bit.)
— Spike's Dad


Dear Spike:

The snow came today. It was nearly a month late but, like a good friend, no one minded once it was here.

That was particularly true as it began to look as though it would be sticking around for a while. Here, we’ve learned not to count the inches that fall to the ground, but rather those that stick to it. And today the snow is sticking.

This is your first snow, and although I wanted to keep you warm as I took you to the car this afternoon, I couldn’t help but pull back the blanket in which you were wrapped so that a few flakes could fall on your nose and your cheeks. You flinched and sniffled and giggled. And then you smiled.

And then you cried. Too wet. Too cold. Too strange.

Later, your mother took you on a walk, knocking the frost from the neighbor’s bushes as she went so that you could watch the leaves turn from white to green. I watched from my office window as you tromped through the powder together. You didn’t look particularly happy, but it was clear that you were interested in all the ways the world had changed.

Your mother, on the other hand — I’ve never seen her happier than she was as she marched you in circles and zigzag patterns through our yard. And for me, it was such a joy just watching you two play.

I sometimes wonder how many of the things that we do for you we’re really doing for ourselves. When we dress you, we choose outfits that we think you look cute in, though you’re just as content in a pair of socks and nothing else. We try to keep you entertained with a variety of toys, but you’re often more fascinated by a handful of your mother’s hair or the buttons on my shirt.

Still, I’ve noticed that you seem happiest when we feel happiest. Our relationship is symbiotic in that way, even if it is a bit illusionary.

And that’s OK, I think.

The things that make us happy don’t have to make sense. They simply have to make us happy.

Maybe that helps explain the snow. Because really, you know, you’re initial observation is right: It’s wet and cold and strange.

And yet it makes so many of us so very happy.

Go figure.

Love,
dad

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

SPIKU

Announcing the first semi-regular "Spiku" contest. Write a haiku for Spike (or any kid you love) and post it here. Winner gets a trip to Las Vegas. Or something else.

Dear Spike:

Today you are six months old. I wrote you a poem:

Spiku
Six months. Summer. Fall.
Now, with winter upon us,
Joy, my girl, such joy.


Love,
dad

Sunday, November 25, 2007

AS WE CHANGE



Dear Spike:

Before we met, your mother had never had a corn dog, never seen an episode of M*A*S*H, and never left the borders of the United States of America.

I’d never slept under a feather comforter, never understood the value of a good set of pajamas and never apologized to anyone and really meant it.

We’ve changed a lot, these last few years. And now we’re changing more than ever. And you’re changing too — so much and so fast.

You learned to twist your tiny body today — like a miniature Chubby Checker. Later we went to the park, and you had your first swing. These aren’t big changes. But they’re first steps toward big changes.

Some people think that when you love someone, it means you accept them just the way they are. And that is true.

But love also means accepting one another as we change — and we all change, all the time. Love means allowing yourself to be changed, too.

And love means accepting one another as we come to be whoever we come to be.

I love you, Spike, in ways so deep and so vast that I sometimes wonder whether I’ve finally met my capacity for love, like a runner who takes one final stride and, with that step, simply can run no further.

But tomorrow you will change — if only a little bit — and when you do I will love you more than I do today. And the next day, again. And the next day, again.

And the next day, again.

Love,
dad

Friday, November 23, 2007

MUST BRING CHAOS

Dear Spike:

Finally, Friday.

Even with a day off for Thanksgiving this week, the days seemed to drag on and on. I’ve never been a live-for-the-weekend kind of guy, but these days it often feels as though I’m under water, all week long, just counting the seconds before I get to come up for air on Friday evening.

That’s when the three of us get together, hop in the big bed, sometimes order a pizza, and pop a movie into the DVD player.

Tonight was a bit different. About once every four or five months, your mother decides she “just can’t take it anymore,” and embarks upon a cleaning project so vast that we often must bring chaos to the entire home in order to bring it back into order.

Today’s project: Our bedroom closet (and in particular, my rather slovenly side of it. By the time I’d returned from work, this evening, your mother had completely emptied the closet onto the hallway floor. We spent the next three hours matching socks, tossing clothing that we no longer wear into giveaway bags and creating a latest, greatest system of organization that this time — this time for sure — will help me keep my side of the closet neat and tidy for more than a few weeks.

The best part of the night: Watching your mother try on dresses that she hasn’t fit into since she got pregnant. Just under six months after giving birth, she’s back into all of her old clothes. She looks fantastic and, I think, she is very proud about getting back into shape while also juggling work (her job is ten times tougher than mine) and mommydom — and occasionally doing things like emptying our entire bedroom closet.

I know you don’t know to be both proud of and humbled by your mother yet — but I know you will be someday. I certainly am.

Love,
dad

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I AM THANKFUL

LOOK! Spike has a new Thanksgiving week poll. Just glance to the right and pick your poison.


Dear Spike:

I’ve never had to struggle to come up with things for which I am thankful.

I grew up in a nice, middle-class home in the San Francisco suburbs, with parents who loved me and siblings that I count as my best friends in the world. Our grandparents lived close by. Our church family was indeed a family. Our schools were good. Our teachers cared. We were healthy and happy.

Come Thanksgiving, there was always a turkey on the table. Come Christmas, there were always presents under the tree.

When I grew up, I married a woman who is intelligent, adorable and fun. We both have careers that we enjoy and of which we are proud. We have a beautiful home that’s just a stone’s throw from one of the greatest city parks in the United States.

Things aren’t always easy. Sometimes I feel worried. Sometimes I feel sad. But I’ve seen poverty. And hunger. And pain. And hate. And violence. And so, on balance, things are good. There’s so much to be thankful for.

Especially now that you’re here.

On this day when we’re encouraged to take a moment to think about those things for which we are most thankful, I don’t even know where to begin.

I am thankful for your smile, your laugh, your screams and even your cries.

I am thankful for your soft little fingers, your tough little grip, your refusal to lie on your tummy and your persistence in learning to stand.

I am thankful for the way you sleep with your arm curled up and your fist tucked into your temple — just like your mom.

I am thankful for how big you’ve grown, having started so very small. For the way you look up at me when you sit on my lap. For the way you make heads turn at the grocery store, the library and the university.

I am thankful for the way you make me want to be a better father and a better husband. I am thankful for the way you make me want to be a better person.

I think you’ll find you’ll have plenty to be thankful for too. You’ve been born into a nice, middle-class home in Salt Lake City, with parents who love you and — who knows? — maybe someday a sibling that you’ll count as your best friend in the world.

None of your grandparents live close, but we stay in close contact and they’ll all be part of your life as you grow.

Come Thanksgiving, there always will be a turkey on the table. Come Christmas, there were always presents under the tree — handmade and heartfelt, as that’s our family’s tradition.

And come every single day of the year, you will have a father and a mother who are thankful for you — who love you unconditionally and will never hesitate to remind you it is so.

May you always have plenty for which to give thanks — so much so that you won’t even know where to begin.

Love,
dad

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

BEING A GIRL

Dear Spike:

You’ve vomited on the back of my neck. You’ve relieved yourself on my shirt. You’ve spit, puked, peed and pooped in colors and consistencies that would make Jackson Pollack envious.

I’ve lost sleep, missed work, ignored friends and forgotten — sometimes for days on end — to shower.

I think I’ve been a pretty good sport. They say no one is ever really ready to be a parent, but I can honestly say that nothing’s come up for which I haven’t felt at least passingly prepared.

Until this evening.

With just a few days to go before you turn six months old, you’ve found your...

...um, your...

...I mean, you’ve discovered...

...oh, Lord Baby Jesus Away in a Manger, help me...

...you now know where to find your...

...err...

...the place where...

...that is, the thing with which...

...oh bother.

I’m not squeamish. And I’m not embarrassed by anatomy — or at least, I didn’t think I was.

If you were a boy, I think I’d be proud

“Damn right, young man,” I’d say. “That’s your penis. Good for peein’ and procreatin’ — just not at the same time. Use it with gusto.”

Heck, I might even have snapped a photo.

But although I know there’s no reason to think about penises any different than...

...va...

...v-v-va...

...OK, here goes...

...vaginas (there I said it — and yes, that was tough!)...

...the truth is that there’s still a lot of baggage that goes with being a girl in this world — a lot of things that, by virtue of having one set of plumbing over another, you’re going to have to put up with that your friends Miles, Conrad, Michael, Jack and Brett just won’t have to.

Maybe that’s why I call you Spike. And why I dress you in skull-and-crossbone onesies. And why, whenever your mother’s not looking, I put your hair up in a Mohawk.

Maybe that’s why I’m so anti-pink.

Except, the thing is, you look really good in pink. And you’ve got a beautiful little girl’s name. And you look absolutely darling in the little dresses that your grandparents got for you.

And while you don’t really have much in the way of hair at the moment, I’m sure you’re going to grow a long, thick mess of it — just like your mom’s — and I’m sure it’s going to look very, very pretty.

Sigh.

And someday, I suppose, you’re going to look pretty for someone other than me. And in ways that I’m simply NOT going to appreciate.

There I go again. All you did was reach down during your bath. And here I am sitting on the porch with my shotgun.

Sigh.

I should be proud. This is simply another step in your development. Like laughing, crawling and eating solid foods.

You’re a little girl. And today you discovered part of what makes you a little girl.

Yes, I should be proud.

OK, so here goes...

“Damn right, young woman. That’s your vagina. Use it with gusto.”

But not until you’re 32.

Love,
dad

Monday, November 19, 2007

THE WORLD CHANGES

Don't criticize
What you can't understand
— Bob Dylan




Dear Spike:

So profound was the work Albert Einstein did in 1905 that scientists have taken to calling that year his annus mirabilis — Latin for “miracle year.” The theories he advanced that year (in his spare time, no less, as he still was working as a clerk in a patent office) revolutionized the way we understand time, light, motion and matter.

Yet at the time, nobody really noticed.

It would be three years before Einstein would land even a part-time teaching job — and four years more before he would be accepted as a full professor at the prestigeous Swiss Polytechnic.

And it was not until 1919, 14 years after his now famous flurry of discovery, that Einstein was treated to the notoriety that marked the remainder of his life — not for the celebrated equation E = mc2 but rather for having predicted the way the light of distant stars would behave when nearing our Sun.

Detailing the way the effect had been measured and studied following a solar eclipse earlier in the year, The New York Times reported. . .

LIGHTS ALL ASKEW IN THE HEAVENS;
Men of Science More or Less Agog Over Results of Eclipse Observations;
EINSTEIN THEORY TRIUMPHS
Stars Not Where They Seemed or Were Calculated to be, but Nobody Need Worry.


Ah, they just don’t write headlines like they used to.

Here’s my point: Sometimes the world changes and no one notices. But that don't mean the times aren’t a changin’.

When you learn something that changes the way you see the world, don’t be discouraged if it seems that everyone else is still moving around the sun at the same old speed of 18.55 miles per second.

After all, everything is relative.

Love,
dad

OVER THE ROCKS

Dear Spike:

There are times when you will find, by virtue of personal limitations or physical ones, you are not able to do something.

But never assume something cannot be done -- certainly not because someone tells you it is so.

Find out for yourself.

Life is full of opportunities to walk in the footsteps of others. In many cases, where the trails of life are well worn, you will find beauty and decency and health and prosperity. (There is a reason, after all, that so many have stamped these paths before.)

On these paths you will encounter little risk. And much reward.

We’ll walk some of these routes together. And while it is unlikely that I will tell you to stray from the path, you might find that, from time to time, I will bump you a bit.

Into the bushes. Into the streams. Over the rocks and the fallen logs.

But when the time comes that you want to cut your own path, you might find that even I will be cautious.

In many cases, where the trails of life are not so well blazed, who will find danger. You will find disappointment. You will find struggle. And you will find the ghosts of those who tried before and failed, only to return to the safety of the better beaten of life’s trails.

Those individuals will be your greatest critics. They will tell you that it cannot be done.

It is not bad to heed their words. It’s possible that they know.

But if you believe otherwise, find out for yourself.

You might face struggle, disappointment and danger. Sometimes you will wish you had heeded the advice of others. And sometimes, I’m sure, you will wish I hadn’t bumped you, even a little bit, from the simpler of life’s paths.

But though the risks are great, so too are the rewards. And when you refuse to believe that something cannot be done — when the path you cut leads over a mountain or through an ocean — you might just find a better way, fraught with more beauty and decency and health and prosperity than anyone has known before.

Love,
dad

Sunday, November 18, 2007

SHARE SOME INTERESTS

Dear Spike:

Your mother, just now: “Hey! You’re both staring at my boobs!”

I’m so glad that we already share some interests.

Love,
dad

Friday, November 16, 2007

SORT OF MADNESS


Dear Spike:

It’s cliché — my God, it’s cliché — but you’ve really changed my life.

There was a time when I defined myself by my work. But today your mother and I spent a considerable amount of time contemplating whether we could afford for me not to work.

Ultimately we decided we can’t quite cut it. Your mom’s salary might cover our mortgage, insurance, student loans and car payment, but we do like to eat and heat our home in the winter. So at least for the time being, we’ll remain a two-income family.

But in a big way, that’s beside the point. We had a discussion about me quitting my job. And I wasn’t completely sickened by the thought. In fact, I was sort of excited by it.

Maybe that’s the exhaustion talking. I’ve always felt like I was rather adept at multitasking, but you’ve challenged that skill to new heights. Today I gave a lecture while holding you on my hip (in addition to being cute, you made a nice prop when the discussion turned to the subject of teen pregnancy.) I’ve gotten rather good at balancing you between my arms while I type (sometimes with just one hand when I’m feeding you.) And I’ve become pretty good at diapering you with one hand, too (thank God for Bummis.)

But it’s never easy to serve two masters. And at the end of the day I don’t feel like showering or cleaning the kitchen or even reading a book. All I want to do is sleep.

I know your mother is tired, too. She spends all day with her kindergartners (someday ask me to show you the scene in the movie “Gremlins” where the monsters take over the movie theater — that’s what it is like.) Then she comes home and (if she’s lucky) she gets three minutes to decompress before I throw you into her arms.

And maybe this sort of madness might not sound like fun to some people. But in our rare, quiet and calm moments I look down at you and wonder aloud how I ever believed I was happy working without you. And on the days when I have to drop you off at the babysitter’s house for a few hours, all I want to do is get back as soon as possible to pick you up. And while the increasingly rare hours when you nap are my best opportunities to get any substantial work done, sometimes when you sleep I miss you and I feel like waking you up so we can play.

Obviously, I can’t take you to Iraq or Afghanistan with me. And next time I jump out of a helicopter or get Tasered by police officers, you won’t be invited along.

But you know what? Those things aren’t quite as compelling to me as they once were. And while I still feel committed to the profession I’ve chosen, it’s become less of who I am and more of what I do.

I do still like what I do. And that’s a good thing, I suppose, because it doesn’t appear than I’m going to be a full-time house husband any time soon.

But you know, I can dream.

Love,
dad

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

YOU WISH FOR

Dear Spike:

Be careful what you wish for.

Today I was driving to the university when the lights on Fourth South went down. I don’t know why people always seem to panic when signal lights go out, but they do. They pull up to an intersection, look left, look right and then blast through irrespective of the order in which they should go.

Which on Fourth South — along which our city’s light rail trains run — creates a particularly dangerous situation.

But as luck would have it, after crossing safely and watching in my rearview mirror as another driver narrowly avoided getting T-boned by a train, I saw two police officers on motorcycles on the next street up.

“Hey guys,” I called out my window. “The signal lights are out back there and with the trains crossing there, it’s pretty dangerous.”

One of the two — a tall, young guy with curly brown hair and bronze Oakley sunglasses — looked back at me and shrugged.

“We don’t do traffic control,” he said.

“Well,” I said. “It seems kind of dangerous back there without anyone to direct traffic.”

“Thank you for your opinion,” he replied brusquely.

I rolled my eyes and rolled up my window. About halfway to the university, I began to have what the French call “L'esprit de l'escalier” — instantly regretting, as I replayed the incident in my head, that I didn’t respond in some clever way. . .

“Well sure, I understand. We wouldn’t want you to break a nail, Mary.”

“If it would help get you over there, I can go get a box of donuts and throw them onto the road.”

“If you’d like, I’ll go direct traffic and you can sit here and look pretty on your cute little bicycle.”

In the end, I decided, I simply should have asked for his badge number and driven away — slowly and while making all appropriate turn signals. By the time I was at the university, I was rather upset with myself for not doing just that.

A few hours later, you and I were driving up the hill to the post office when a police officer stepped out into the road and waved me over to the side. The same guy who’d earlier been too important to direct traffic was now working a speed trap — and had caught me doing 48 in a 30.

And so now, of course, I have his badge number — on a ticket he wrote with a wry smirk on his face before telling me to “have a nice day.”

So, like I said, be careful what you wish for.

Love,
dad

Sunday, November 11, 2007

TINY BABY STEPS



Dear Spike:

Someday, when you have children, you’ll do your very best to engage in talk about art, sports, politics and business. . .

. . . and you’ll still end up talking about your kids.

So it goes. Parents are inherently fascinated by their own children. Every giggle. Every gurgle. Every peep and every. . .

. . . yeah, I’m a bit ashamed to say it, but . . .

Every poop.

So when the invitation came in the mail to attend a new parents party, your mother and I were excited. In a gathering of others who were experiencing the thrills of new mommydom and daddydom, we could talk without shame about our latest thoughts about how thick rice cereal should be, what baby wipes work best and how many diapers should be packed for long car trips.

But the best part of the night was watching you play with the other babies. It was exciting for me to think that — with tiny baby steps — you were making new friends.

Love,
dad

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

HISTORIC AND HOLY


Dear Spike:

I usually vote in the mornings. Your mother usually votes in the afternoons. And often when she comes home she shakes her head and mutters something about how I once again made such an indelible impression on the little old bitties who volunteer at the polls.

“They just loooove you there,” she says, “I sign my name on the register and they just squeal. ‘Oooooh!’ they say. ‘We had another person by that name in here this morning. Was that your husband?’”

She thinks I flirt with the blue hairs. Maybe she’s right. I have been known to wink at the occasional octogenarian.

But do you know why I think they remember me? Really? Because I smile.

Ear to ear.

Every time.

I believe that voting is a sacred ritual. Like Holy Communion, the Hajj and the Seventh-Inning Stretch of a close ball game. And while it’s not popular to say such things these days, I believe that democracy is a gift from God.

Of course, I’m pretty sure communism was a gift from God also. And the the Black Plague. And Cheetos.

Sometimes God hits the mark. Sometimes She misses.

I’m not sure what She was thinking on Oct. 15, 2005, when Iraq’s citizens went to the polls to choose a new constitution. For the most part, Iraqis vote the way they’re told to by their tribal and religious leaders. So in truth, what I witnessed in Iraq on that day was little more than a religious census.

Still, it felt special. And historic. And holy.

I was just outside of the city of Najaf — close enough to see the tapered golden dome and two soaring minarets of the Imam Ali Shrine rising up into the polluted haze above the city. At a rundown village schoolhouse on the city’s west side, I walked along with a proud poll worker (a local teacher, I don’t think they have a League of Women Voters there) as he proudly showed off the box of ballots, the purple ink with which volunteers marked voters’ index fingers — and one brand new, baby blue, perforated cardboard privacy screen.

At that moment, a tall man with a scar on his face walked in, signed his name on a clipboard, picked up a ballot and walked toward the cardboard booth.

“Come around here so you can watch him vote,” the polling worker instructed through an interpreter as he followed behind the would-be voter.

I paused, frozen between what my journalistic sensibilities told be was a really nifty opportunity to watch history unfold and what my western democratic civilities tell me is a clear violation of a very hallowed privacy.

“Come, come,” the polling worker said as he watched from over the voter’s shoulder. “You’ll miss seeing who he chooses!”

Ultimately, I couldn’t bring myself to watch the guy cast his vote. And I tried — albeit unsuccessfully — to explain why to the poll worker. Voting is, after all, a sacred ritual, if only just to me.

Winston Churchill once quipped that democracy is worst form of government, “except for all the others.”

I’m not completely convinced that’s true. Nonetheless, it has been years since I missed an opportunity to vote.

I hope you’ll make a similar effort to be part of your government, if only in the small way of making it to the polls, each election day, with a smile on your face.

Ear to ear.

Every time.

Love,
dad

Monday, November 5, 2007

WHAT'S MOST IMPORTANT

Dear Spike:

The other shoe dropped today — the folks who sign my paychecks finally got around to spelling out just how much our insurance premiums are going to be raised.

And it’s a bunch. I could rent a pretty decent apartment on the increase alone. Nothing spectacular, mind you: just a little cottage, behind someone’s house, or perhaps a one-bedroom loft, or maybe something like what your mother and I lived in when we first moved to this city, almost four years ago.

I really loved that apartment. Sure, the guy downstairs was a smoker and the nauseating smell of his cigarettes sometimes wafted up through the space below the kitchen sink. And yes, the family in the unit next door was a little bit frightening and a lot bit strange. And granted, there was an old Vietnam War vet named Phil who lived in the garage. But there was a big balcony that was great for barbecues and a funny closet that you had to climb up into to get your clothes out of and a breakfast nook just big enough for our dining room table. Across the street, to the west, was a lovely little Artesian well. And across the street, to the north, was a funky Mexican cafe. There was a bus stop, out front, and sometimes it was fun to sit on the balcony, watch the people get on and off the bus, and wonder where they were going.

We were there for just about six months when, while out on a walk one day, we came upon a lovely old brick home, in the yard of which a man was driving in a “for sale” sign. We’d not really given much thought to buying a home, but we thought we’d take a look anyway. “Couldn’t hurt,” I said.

A month later, we were home owners. Or mortgage owners, I suppose. And in the three years that have gone by, this lovely old home — with its creaking floors and its drafty rooms and its cracking walls and its squeaking doors — has become such an important part of our lives.

I was pretty upset when I got home from the office today. Calmly and wisely, your mother placed you in my arms. Then she dished me up a bowl of French onion soup and sat across the table from me and looked me in the eyes.

“What’s most important?” she asked.

“Spike,” I said.

“And?” she asked.

“And you,” I replied.

“And what else?” she continued.

“Coltrane,” I said, reaching down with my free hand to scratch the back of our cat’s head.

“And?”

“Your family and my family.”

“Anything else?”

I stopped for a moment and looked around. We’re no where near the point that I should worry about losing our home. We’ll find the money somewhere else. Maybe I’ll find some freelance work. Maybe we’ll get rid of a car. Or maybe, as your mother later suggested, I could sell a kidney.

But the thing that struck me, as I looked around our home, was that it doesn’t really matter.

“Anything else?” your mother asked again.

“No,” I said. “That’s it.”

Yes, I love this house and I love our neighborhood and I like our cars and I enjoy being able to go to soccer and baseball games and go out to eat, every now and then, and to meet my friends at the coffee shop down the street. And no, there’s no reason to worry that all of that is going to change.

But for some reason it gave me great comfort to know that, if worst came to worst and the two worsts got together for a worst party — if we were back in that tiny apartment choking on the neighbor’s cigarette smoke and watching people hop onto the bus in the morning from our bedroom window — I’d still be happy.

That’s how good life is.

Yes, that’s how good life is.

Love,
dad

Saturday, November 3, 2007

MISS THESE MOMENTS



Dear Spike:

People used to marvel when I’d tell them that you regularly slept through the night. Six, seven, eight hours. “Yeah,” I’d beam, “my baby rocks the party.”

But lately, I suppose because you’ve been growing so fast, you’ve been waking up to eat at least once a night — and sometimes two or three times. And since every bottle I feed you is another bottle that your mother will have to fill at some other point during the day, she’s been pretty insistent that she be the one to feed you at night.

I suppose that’s nice, because I get to sleep. Or have the opportunity to do so, at least.

Except here we are, it’s 3:06 a.m. You’re asleep. Your mother’s asleep. And, really, the vast majority of the United States is asleep. . .

And I’m awake. Up like the Red Sox in Game Three.

OK, Star Wars is partly to blame. At the moment, Luke and Han are searching the Endor Forest for Leia. In a few minutes, the Ewoks are going to open a can of yub nub on the evil Imperial Forces — and who would want to sleep through that?

But also — and more so — I simply enjoy lying here and watching you sleep.

These opportunities seem to be growing more infrequent. You’ve been spending fewer and fewer hours napping during the day. You still take a few 20-minute catnaps. And whenever we’re in the car for longer than 10 minutes, you’re out like the Rockies in Game Four.

But during the daytime, every moment you slumber is an opportunity for me to get a little bit of uninterrupted work done. And so I often miss these moments.

Thankfully, Friday night has become “slumber party night” in our home — the night when you get to escape your cradle and come sleep on the big bed between your mother and me.

And while we say it’s a treat for you, it’s really for us.

And particularly for me.

I love watching your tiny tummy move up and down and my heart melts at the way your sweet little lips curl into a smile while you dream.

I love watching as you curve your back up and stretch your arms out in a way that allows you to take up as much room on the bed as either of your parents — even though you're only five months old and you only weight 11 or 12 pounds.

I love listening to your soft sleepy snorts and your dreamy little squeals.

And I love it when you curl your skinny fingers around my pinky and we sleep together, hand in hand, though the night.

Yeah, my baby rocks the party.

Love,
dad

Monday, October 29, 2007

A MORAL IMPERATIVE

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me.
— Rev. Martin Niemöller


Dear Spike:

I first remember reading Rev. Niemöller’s enduring words on a small laminated poster stuck to a bulletin board in a high school classroom.

I didn’t really know what a socialist was — let alone a trade unionist. But like most American kids with a public school education, I knew what had happened when “they came for the Jews.” And from that context I immediately understood the depth and profundity of Niemöller’s poem — even if I didn’t understand its relevance in a remedial freshman English class.

Indeed, the horrid enormity of that which Niemöller originally spoke has always made it difficult for me to put his words into any sort of modern context — lest of all for our lives in this amazingly blessed nation.

But I’ve been thinking a lot, today, about Niemöller’s poem. And though it may amount to literary and historical blasphemy, I’ve begun to rewrite it in my mind.

Something along these lines...

First they told me that tens of millions of Americans were unable to go to the doctor — and I did not speak out; I had insurance.
Then they told me that millions upon millions of children were uninsured — and I did not speak out; I had no children.
Then they raised my wife’s insurance premium — threefold — and I did not speak out; we simply switched to my insurance.
And then, today, they priced me out of my insurance. . .
And it seems there is no one left to speak out for me, my wife, or my beautiful baby girl.


Niemöller’s poem, I think, was not really about the Jews. It was about the trade unionists and the socialists (and, in other versions, about communists and social democrats and Catholics.) It was about setting the table for larger evils with smaller ones that go unnoticed because they effect the few, the poor and the unempowered.

I’ve long been a believer that basic, universal healthcare is nothing less than a moral imperative for our nation — and particularly for our nation’s children and its senior citizens. But in 29 years on this planet, there has not been a single moment when I have not been insured myself. And so I did not speak out. Not as tens of millions of Americans used the emergency room as their primary care physician. Not as millions of children and seniors went without basic medical care. And not as some lamented the rising costs of workplace premiums – or the absurd costs of open-market insurance for those whose employers wouldn’t or couldn’t pay.

Now, facing an enormous increase in our family’s healthcare costs, I have no reason to wonder why no one spoke out sooner. I know very well why.

You cannot bear every cross or stick your finger in every leaking dam. But do not fail to do so for lack of a clear and present danger. And do not fail to do so for lack of empathy.

You will not always know which dam will break or which cross will fall. You will not always know whether small evils will grow into larger ones.

But every small evil is evil. And if you do not speak out, who will?

Love,
dad

Saturday, October 27, 2007

BE RIGHT THERE

Dear Spike:

When you are older, you will kneel beside your window sill and watch the birds hopping from branch to branch in the lilac bush. And I will stand quietly in your doorway, lean against the door frame, and sigh.

When you are older, you will walk to the park, all by yourself, for the very first time. And I will sneak out the back door, slip down the alley, and secretly watch you from across the street.

When you are older, you will stay up late to finish a report that you should have started working on days before. And I will brew a cup of coffee, add a lot of cream and sugar, and set it on the table beside you.

When you are older, you will be angry at me for not allowing you to go to a movie or a concert or out with some friends and you will storm up the stairs and slam your bedroom door. And when you open your window to sneak out, later that night, I will just happen to be right there in the backyard, watering the garden at 2 a.m.

When you are older, someone will break your heart. And I will stock your room with tissues, flowers, lavender-blueberry chocolate bars and a stack of Phil Collins albums. And the next morning we will go to breakfast at a diner with a lot of good looking servers.

When you are older, you will go on a trip far away from home. And I will wait by the phone with my computer in my lap, clicking anxiously on the “get new mail” button in anticipation of hearing from you.

When you are older, you will have a child of your own. And I will try hard not to call you every single evening to hear my grandchild giggle, gurgle and cry. But I probably will, anyway.

When you are older, you will bring your family for a visit to our home. And your child will kneel beside the window sill and watch the birds outside. And you will stand quietly in the doorway, lean against the door frame, and sigh.

And I will stand quietly, down the hallway, and watch you. And sigh.

Love,
dad

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A BIT NOSTALGIC



Dear Spike:

At nearly five months old, your hair is still just a little tuft of fluff, most of it running down the center of your head.

That’s fine by me, as it makes for a righteous mohawk. Just a little water (or spit, depending upon what’s available) a few strokes and — voilà! — a wicked mane to match your name.

In fact, yours is such a cool ‘do that I started to get a bit nostalgic.

The last time I sported a mohawk — a spiky, Kool-aid red one, it was — I was 17 years old. I wasn’t a punk or an anarchist. I was just a kid who, with a few weeks to go before leaving for basic training, wanted to revel in what little freedom he had remaining.

By the time I’d ended my service to our empire, my hairline had receded to a point that made it rather ridiculous to even consider wearing a mohawk — or for that matter, wearing hair at all. Fact is, the last time I had any hair on my head was around the time I married your mother. Shortly thereafter, I started shaving my head completely. And I’ve been doing so ever since.

But with my paternity leave, last month, came an opportunity to let my hair out, so to speak. I had no bosses to impress. No one needed to take me seriously — least of all myself. And your mother, bless her heart, said she couldn’t care less how I wore my hair, so long as I promised to make sure that you were getting fed and changed on a regular basis.

It wasn’t really much of a mohawk. Not the way you might imagine one, anyway. My hairline starts at a place near the apex of my skull — perhaps an inch toward my nose from there.

I called it a halfhawk.

It was pretty ugly. But I kind of liked it. Still, I knew I’d have to shave it off eventually.

And I knew exactly when that would be.

I used to dress up for work every day. Slacks, shirt, tie, suspenders — even a fedora hat, sometimes.

The whole bit.

These days, though, I spend a lot less time in the office. And on the days when I actually do make an appearance there, it’s typically in shorts, sandals and a T-shirt— often the one I slept in the night before.

Most of the folks with whom I work know that, if I do happen to come to work in a tie, it’s because someone died.

One of the more somber parts of my job at the newspaper is writing about local soldiers who are killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Most things get easier with time and experience. This job is the exception.

To date, I’ve written the front-page obituaries of more than 30 slain service members. They have died in mortar attacks, roadside explosions, shootings, accidents and suicide bombings. After a while, I know, the readers of my paper have stopped distinguishing one dead soldier from another. It’s my job to give them a reason to pay attention, one more time.

And no, it never gets any easier. It’s a miserable assignment — made bearable only by the faint promise that, in telling these stories, I might in some small way be helping to dispel the utterly fictional notion that war is glorious.

War is not glorious. War is hell. War is the hell of hell.

And if the hell of hell has its own hell, it is involuntarily populated by the soul-crushed families of those left behind to ponder where all the flowers have gone.

I met Carol Thomas Young a day after she lost her son, Brandon, in a bombing in Baghdad. She struck me as remarkably poised for a women who had suffered so great a loss. Later, she would describe that day — and all of the days and weeks following Brandon’s death — as surreal, frightening and confusing.

“I walked around in a haze for the better part of that year,” she recently told me.

Amidst everything else they are going through, I doubt my appearance in shorts and sandals — or even a mohawk, for that matter — could possibly make things any worse for these families.

Still, I prefer not to find out. And so it was that, at about 12:45 this afternoon, I found myself in the bathroom, madly running the electric clippers over my scalp before hopping into a pair of slacks, a clean shirt, tie, jacket and fedora hat.

On the drive out to West Valley City, where I was to meet the family of a soldier who was killed Tuesday in Afghanistan, I thought about the mess of hair I’d left in the sink.

And I started to get a bit nostalgic. For a haircut I’d lost only minutes earlier.

Not because it was fun. And not because it looked good — because it certainly did not. And not even because I enjoyed sharing a hairdo with my daughter — which I certainly did.

No, I missed being able to say, “I’ll shave it off the next time I have to interview a dead soldier’s family,” and being able to imagine that day would never come.

When will I ever learn?

Love,
dad

Saturday, October 20, 2007

THE WHOLE BOWL



Dear Spike:

There’s plenty great about being an American.

Freedom. Democracy. The Bill of Rights. And so on an so forth. Yada yada yada.

You know what I like best about being an American?

The food.

Not the American food — although, truly, there is little better than a thick and juicy bacon cheeseburger or a hot and sloppy chili dog.

No, if there’s something wonderful about being the most multicultural nation in the history of the world, it’s the diversity and availability of food from every nook and cranny on the globe.

Salt Lake City is by no stretch of the imagination the food capital of this country, but within four blocks of our home we have access to Lebanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian, Hawaiian, Italian, Brazilian and four or five different kinds of Mexican food. If you wanted, you could eat the regional food of a different country every single day for a month and never have to leave the city limits.

I’ve traveled around a bit. And yes, the tacos are better in Puerto Vallarta. The schnitzel is better in Saarbruken. The tapas are better in Madrid.

Actually, that last part is a lie. The tapas sucked in Madrid. I mean, really, anchovies and raisins on white bread? What the hell is that? True story: Your mother and I found it difficult to find food we liked in Spain. On the second night of our honeymoon, we went to a Spanish buffet that boasted 100 items on the menu. “Great,” I said. “We’ll find the items we like and we can order those for the rest of the trip.” Ninety-nine items later (neither of us were brave enough to try the sheep brains) we were still hungry. So the next day we decided to follow the locals. And they led us to McDonald’s.

But the gastronomic circle of hell that is the city of Madrid not withstanding, it stands to reason that if you’re looking for the best Italian food in the world, it might be best to go to Rome.

But if you’re looking for the second-best Italian food? Or the second best Cambodian food? Or the second best Greek food? And you want to find them all within a few minutes of one another? This is the place, my darling.

I’ve been thinking a lot about food because you had your very first meal of rice cereal today.

Dr. Schriewer told us that we would know when you were ready to eat when you started paying special interest to us when we were eating. We thought those instructions were a bit vague because you seem to pay close attention to everything we do.

But sure enough, just yesterday as we were eating dinner, you began watching every biteful of food that went from my fork to my mouth. A few minutes later, when you began making chewing movements with your mouth, we understood what Dr. Schriewer had meant.

So this morning we headed to the store to purchase some baby-sized spoons (we already had the box of rice cereal on hand — an impulse buy from a few weeks ago.) And this afternoon, with your great grandparents on hand as witnesses, your mother scooped up a little cereal and gave you your very first mouthful of something other than breast milk.

At first you squirmed and spit up — but then you really seemed to get the hang of it. We all took turns shoveling rice cereal into your adorable little mouth. You ate the whole bowl.

I really liked the determination I saw in you today. It was strange at first, but you stuck to it. And ultimately, I think, you got to liking it.

I hope that becomes a habit for you.

It’s amazing what diversity there is in what different groups of our species considers food. Some of us eat sheep brains, others consume ants. Some enjoy snails and others dine on pig intestines.

There are even groups of people who eat dirt. (The practice is called geophagy, not to be confused with geology, which is the study of dirt.)

I’ve chowed down on Guinea Pig, rattlesnake, muskrat, alligator and camel. I’ve eaten seaweed, dried squid and pickled bok choy.

I didn’t like all of it, but I’m glad I tried it.

You don’t have to try everything, but I’d encourage you to try as much as you can possibly bring your stomach to try. There’s a whole wide world out there — but, if you're willing, you won't have to go far to taste it.

Love,
dad

This video is also on YouTube.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

TO PONY UP



Dear Spike:

My friend Steve sent us a photo of his daughter, Emma, riding a horse. It was her first lesson, but she looked perfectly poised — as though she’s been riding forever.

It seems Emma had gotten it into her mind that she would like to learn to ride and told her parents so. Steve must have panicked a little, because while he’s the kind of dad who encourages his kids to try new things, horse-riding lessons are pretty expensive.

And so he made her a deal: They’d split the cost.

Instead of asking for presents for her eighth birthday, Emma let everyone know that she wanted to take a few riding lessons. When all was said and done, she had collected about $200 — which, along with her parent’s matching contribution, will pay for about 15 lessons. Steve couldn’t have been prouder. In addition to getting to watch his little girl ride, he knows that she’s invested in this activity and values her practice time all the more.

In this world, we live a life of relative luxury. We do not want for food or clothing. We have a wonderful home and two running vehicles. We attend sporting events and movies. We have season passes to the zoo and aviary. We eat out once a week (and sometimes more than that.) Occasionally, we even get to the opera or take in a play at the Eccles Theater.

So when the time comes that you decide that you want to take up horseback riding, or dirtbike racing or ski jumping, you might not at first understand if I am hesitant to agree.

As much as I want you to have a wide variety of experiences and a vast array of exciting activities, I want you also to learn the value of a hard day’s play. And I’m not so sure that, when things are simply given to us, we really appreciate them all that much.

I remember in high school there was a boy named Daniel whose parents gave him, for his 16th birthday, a new Ford Mustang.

At 16 years and one day old, he crashed it.

And so they got him a new one.

And he crashed that one, too.

You will never want for food or clothing (the kind designed to keep you warm and modest, not the kind designed to impress people with fancy labels.) You will never want for an education. You will never want for medicine. And you will never want for our love.

But when you’re ready to pony up, you may just have to pony up. If you want it bad enough, I figure, you’ll find a way to make it happen.

Love,
dad

Monday, October 15, 2007

GOAL AFTER GOAL

Dear Spike:

One-nothing.

It wasn’t a surprising result. The soccer team we cheer for hasn’t exactly made a habit of winning this year. And so, when the last minute of the last home game of the season ticked away, with the visiting team up one goal to nil, it was like watching an old dog — one who should have died years and years earlier — finally pass on, at long last out of its misery.

We lead pretty charmed lives, so it would be silly to complain about something so trivial as a sports team. This wasn’t a good year. Neither was last year. And next year? I’m not expecting any miracles. I’ll watch. I’ll cheer. Win or lose.

Don’t get me wrong. Some people will tell you that it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose. If that were true, there would be no point to playing the games we play.

Of course I’d rather watch this team win. I’d rather cheer for goal after goal after goal. I’d rather walk down the steps of the stadium marveling at the way they pulled one out, once again.

But even more, I simply enjoy watching the beautiful game with my beautiful wife and my beautiful daughter.

Ah yes, life is beautiful indeed. Win or lose. Win or lose.

Love,
dad

Saturday, October 13, 2007

CH-CH-CH-CHANGES

Dear Spike's Friends:

This all started a little over a year ago, shortly after I learned that Spike's mom was pregnant.

My good friend and fellow journalist Matt Canham had just finished writing a profile of blogger Heather Armstrong, a fellow inmate of Salt Lake City better known as Dooce.

I'd already been blogging for years, first as a way to keep my column-writing skills fresh and then, upon my first reporting trip to Iraq, as a platform to tell stories and share insights that might not otherwise fit into the print edition of the newspaper I work for.

Matt suggested that I add, to that repertoire, a blog about my impending fatherhood.

I had already resolved to write Spike letters. Having recently returned from my second reporting trip to Iraq — on board a medical transport plane alongside dozens of wounded service members in various states of injury and dismemberment — I suppose my mortality was on my mind. And I guess I wanted to make sure that, in the unlikely event that my child was to grow up without a father, that he or she wouldn't have to do so without at least a few words of fatherly love and advice.

I never intended to write Spike every day, or even every week, but over the past year I've found that I've had a lot more to tell her than I thought I would when I began this project. I've also found that, for whatever reason, there are a few of you out there who enjoy reading Spike's mail.

So this evening, I spent some time cleaning up dearspike.com — changing the banner, photos, colors and fonts in hopes of making it a bit easier on your eyes. I've added a few more links to the blogs of people who read and comment here regularly and also added a section (below the links) with some of the recent articles I've written for the newspaper I work for.

Why fuss? Well, admittedly, I think it would be fun to see the little ticker at the bottom of this Web page spin 'round like our gas meter in the dead of winter, but I'm sure you'll all understand when I say that the little girl who is curled up next to me right now will always be my most important reader.

Even if she can't read yet.

Love,
Spike's Dad.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

READY FOR HALLOWEEN

Dear Spike:

About a year ago — when you were still growing inside your mother — your Great Aunt Karen opined that, come this time of year, you might be dressed up as a "Spooky Spookerson."

Your mother and I never really figured out what that was, but we still really love the way it sounds.

So sometimes, when you are having a meal, we call you a Milky Milkerson.

And sometimes, when you are doing your... um... thing... we call you a Poopy Pooperson.

And sometimes, when you are napping soundly (as you are right now) we call you a Sleepy Sleeperson.

Anyway, it's that time of year. And given that we still don't know exactly what a Spooky Spookerson is supposed to look like, we've tried a few things out...

Catty Catterson


Cat suit: $1.95, Deseret Industries.


Pumpkiny Pumpkinserson


Kick-ass knit pumpkin hat courtesy of our friend Brianna Lange; Ghost shirt: $.95 at ThriftTown.


Risky Businesserson


Sunglasses courtesy of our lovely friend Jessica Ravitz, Bummis Super Whisper diaper wrap: $12.25 at www.cottonbabies.com (thanks to DeAnn and Nolan)


Supery Superson


Superman onesie: $18 at Hot Topic

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

SHE MIGHT BE

Dear Spike:

If there is a God, several religious traditions tell us, she created us in Her image.

Some folks take that to mean we have a lot to live up to. But I’ve always kind of figured it means God must be just as fallible, dirty, ugly, greedy, jealous, hateful and violent as we are.

But sometimes, I think, God know must know when my opinion of mankind — and thus, of Her — has sunk to a new low. Because whenever I’m ready to write off mankind and God alike as hopeless failures, I see a glimpse of what we could be.

And in a glimpse of a glimpse, I see what She might be.

A few weeks ago, I happened to be in your mother’s classroom when the school librarian came in to schedule a time for the kindergartners to visit the library for the annual book fair.

I’ll bet you’ll love the book fair. I certainly did when I was a child. It was a traveling bookstore — a chance to touch and hold a shiny new book, to leaf through its pages (or even take a peek at the end) before shelling out a few bucks to make it mine.

But something was instantly clear to me as I listened to your mother work out a time to bring her class to the fair. And it almost broke my heart.

Most of your mom’s students can’t even afford to buy a school lunch. And so I doubted any of them were going to have the money to purchase a book at the fair. Instead, I feared, they would be paraded in front of a bunch of great books — and then told that, unless they had money — they wouldn’t be allowed to take one home.

When the librarian left, I asked your mom how many of her students would be able to buy a book.

“Maybe two or three,” she sighed.

“And how many do you think have ever received a brand new book of their own?” I asked.

“Maybe two or three,” she sighed again.

As a matter of fact, she lamented, a lot of her students probably didn’t even have a single book, new or used, at home, except maybe for the ones they borrowed from the school library.

A few days ago, I sent an e-mail to everyone I work with at the newspaper, explaining that I was going to set out a coffee can in hopes of collecting enough money to let every kid in your mom’s class pick out a brand new book of their own at the fair. It was probably a violation of workplace protocol, but I thought it would be funny if they tried to fire me for collecting money to buy books for kids.

Last night I counted the money. There was enough for every kid in your mom’s class to buy a book.

And for every kid in the kindergarten class down the hall.

And for every kid in the class next to that.

And for every kid in the class next to that.

This morning, every single kindergarten student at your mom’s school went to the book fair and picked out a book of their very own, all thanks to a bunch of cynical, cold-blooded journalists.

That was plenty enough to make my day. And it did wonders to restore my faith in humanity.

But I'm not sure that God's all that good at leaving well enough alone.

This afternoon, I spoke to an incredible man named Ahmed Shah Karimi. Shah, as folks call him, lives in Concord — just about 45 minutes up Interstate 680 from where your grandparents live in the San Francisco Bay Area.

A few years back, Shah served as an interpreter for a National Guard unit from Utah that I have been following. And that's how I happened to be speaking to him today.

Born and raised in Kabul, Afghanistan, Shah attended university in India. Among his classmates was a young political science student named Hamid Karzai. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, Shah went to the United States and took a job driving limousines in New York City. Karzai returned to Afghanistan, where he helped raise money to fight against the Russian occupation.

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 changed both men’s lives forever. Karzai — who had been exciled to Pakistan during the Taliban regime's rule — was installed as Afghanistan’s president following the U.S. invasion. Shah, who was picking up a client near the World Trade Center when the first hijacked airplane crashed, also found himself back in his native land — working for the U.S. military.

One day, Shah told me, he took an afternoon off to go into Kabul.

“It was my first time back in the city,” he said. “And when I got out of the taxi, I looked around and saw so many little boys, just wandering around on the street. I came into a shop and I stopped to talk with people and they told me ‘yes, these children are orphans. They have no fathers. No parents.”

There are 40,000 orphans living on the streets of Kabul. According to Afghanistan’s Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, the city’s orphanages can only shelter about 2,000.

As the story is told by Shah's friends, the intrepid interpreter pretty much made a B-line to Karzai's presidential palace, emerging from a meeting with his old classmate with a 50-acre land grant on the outskirts of Kabul and a plan to build the nation's largest orphanage and school.

Shah didn’t know anything about fundraising, or building, or managing an orphanage. But he knew what he had to do.

“As a human being I had to act,” he said. He’s now well on his way to raising the funds to move his family back to Afghanistan and begin construction on his project.

Maybe there is a God. And maybe She created us in Her image. And maybe She is just as fallible, dirty, ugly, greedy, jealous, hateful and violent as we are.

But maybe, also, we have a lot to live up to.

If only in a glimpse of a glimpse, I hope you see Her that way.

Love,
dad