Thursday, February 22, 2007


Dear Spike:

In preparation for your arrival, I’ve been working from home in the mornings — mostly upstairs in my office. Today, however, I couldn’t even get out of my bed.

Coltrane was always a cat that liked to cuddle, but ever since Emma died he’s been downright needy. This morning he was sprawled out on my chest, head tucked into the crook of my arm as I balanced my computer on my thighs so that I could see the screen over his body. It wasn’t the most conducive environment for getting work done, but he looked so very comfortable and content, I just couldn’t bear to move him.

At first I thought your mother and I were simply projecting our own emotions onto Cole, following Emma’s death. We felt sad, so we assumed he was sad. We felt lonely so we assumed he was lonely. That’s something pet owners do a lot.

But while we were away in California, this week, I had my friends come by to check on Cole, as they have done many times in the past. And they noticed the change, too.

“He just wouldn’t let us leave,” my buddy Matt told me. “He just wanted so much attention.”

Other than the obvious — simply spending more time cuddling and petting Cole — I don’t know what I can do for him. After all, it’s not like we can sit down and chat about his needs.

That, of course, has gotten me thinking about how I’ll know what you need, once you arrive. It will be some time, after all, until we can sit down and chat about your needs.

I’ve heard other parents say they learn to recognize their children’s cries — perhaps a certain octave means ‘I’m wet,’ a certain tone means ‘I’m hungry,’ and a certain pattern means ‘I’m cold.’

I’m not sure there’s any science backing it up, but I’m not about to knock it until I know. Besides, I like the idea that there may be some small way in which we you will be able to communicate your needs with me, early on.

Later on, we’ll try sign language — a trend that’s quite en vogue, at the moment. If it works you’ll be able to tell us, months before you can talk, that you want a certain toy, a bottle, some food or a warm blanket.

But what about those times before I know your cries and before you can squeeze your hands (as if milking a tiny invisible cow) to tell me it’s time for lunch? How will I know what you want? What if I change you when I need to be feeding you and I feed you when I need to be putting you down for a nap? What if I wrap you in a blanket when you really need to cool down and I sing you a song when you really just need a few moments of silence?

I do think parents (like pet owners) can overanalyze how to best meet their children’s needs — and they often worry needlessly about what might happen, years down the road, if they don’t...

“Well, Your Honor, it’s like this: Spike was a good kid — a real good kid — but her dad just didn’t understand that she needed mashed carrots, not peas, when she was an infant. That’s why my client’s here before you today.

You see, the way I see it, there are two victims here. Of course Mr. Smith didn’t deserve to be run down in the parking lot of that Burger King, but is he the only victim? I submit to you that he is not.

Carrots, Your Honor. All she needed was a few bites of carrots.”

So I suppose I’m not worried about the long-term consequences of mistaking an “I’m hungry” cry with a “my socks are bunched up around my ankles and it’s bugging the heck out of me” cry. And yet, I really want to know — not because I think you’ll wind up on turning tricks on State Street if I don’t, but because I simply want to make you happy.

Until we can chat about it (and sometimes even after that) I suppose I’ll just have to guess.

And in the meantime, like Coltrane, I’ll just hold you a lot. That may not always be exactly what you need, but it’s probably never a bad alternative.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Dear Spike:

I stood outside the Trolley Square mall, early Tuesday morning, watching men lift body after body into the back of a truck.

Someone’s father. Another’s son. A girlfriend. A brother. A daughter.

They were slaughtered in a random act of murder by a gunman who, witnesses say, seemed dispassionate about their deaths.

Last year, in Iraq, I watched soldiers pick the pieces of young man’s body from the dirt at a base in Ramadi, where he fell victim to a rocket attack. A few days later, I stood before the empty boots and inverted rifle of another soldier, killed in a roadside bombing.

They died in calculated acts of aggression by guerilla fighters who, rebel leaders say, are called by God to kill.

Two years ago, on a long and lonely highway a few miles from here, I stood on the side of the road and watched as police officers tried to locate the bodies of a number of teenagers who had been thrown from a madly speeding car which flipped and spun as its driver lost control.

They were killed in a simple act of teenage indiscretion.

My God, my God. I’ve been witness to some of the most terrible things this world has to offer. And it sometimes makes it difficult to rationalize the decision your mother and I made to bring you into this world.

But love is no less rational than hate. The glass is half empty. The glass is half full. Our world is brutal. Our world is beautiful.

One day, perhaps, you’ll return home from playing soccer — the beautiful game — with a skinned knee or a bruised head. You’ll cry. Maybe you’ll want to quit. “You take the bad with the good,” I’ll tell you. And you’ll make a decision about how to live your life.

One day, perhaps, you’ll come home from school after your first heart break. You’ll cry. Maybe you’ll want to never love again. “Is it better to have loved and lost,” I’ll ask, ”than never to have loved at all?” And you’ll make a decision about how to live your life.

And one day, perhaps, the world will come crashing down around you — perhaps so hard that you cannot even cry. Maybe you’ll want to quit. Maybe you’ll wonder if our world will ever be beautiful again.

And when that time comes, I will be there for you. To ask you to take another sip from a half-empty glass. To taste life. To swish it about in your mouth. To taste the bitter and the sour. To taste the sweet. To feel it cool your throat. To feel it fill your soul.

There is much hate, much violence, much chaos in this world. I’ve seen too much to pretend it isn’t true.

But as I slipped into my bedroom early Tuesday morning, I saw your mother in the bed. I reached out and touched her stomach. I pressed down, lightly, and felt for you.

My God, my God. This world is so beautiful. It would be a shame not to want to share it.


Friday, February 9, 2007


Dear Spike:

Your mother and I were back in the emergency room this week, although this time it was for me, not you.

I was playing soccer Tuesday night, dribbling along the sidelines and looking for a teammate to pass to when suddenly — bam! — I was on the ground. I’m still not sure what happened. One moment I was dribbling and the next moment I was on the turf, dizzy and confused.

My teammates tell me an opposing player came from behind me and slammed me — and my head — hockey style against the wall. It was late in the game and so, after peeling myself from the ground, I stumbled to the bench and sat down. After the game, I kept asking my teammates what happened. And they kept laughing.

All of that should have been a sign that I shouldn’t have gotten into my car, but I wasn’t exactly thinking straight.

About halfway home, my lips began to tingle and I began to feel nauseous — signs, I correctly identified, of a concussion. I called your grandmother so I would have someone to talk to as I drove home.

Your mom and I got to the hospital about a half hour later. The doctor only spent about three minutes checking me over before sending me home.

My concussion was a mild one, he said. He told me to go home to get some sleep and told your mother to wake me up every few hours, just to make sure I wasn’t dead.

Given how unconcerned he seemed, I felt a little foolish for having even gone into the emergency room. And I felt even more foolish when, as we were leaving, the medical assistant hit us up for a $100 co-pay.

A hundred bucks.

For three minutes with a doctor.

And that was just the co-pay. God only knows what the hospital charged our insurance company.

Still, believe it or not, I recognize that I am one of the fortunate ones — and not just because my concussion was only a mild one.

Today on the radio I heard John Edwards, a senator from North Carolina who is running for president, make a pitch for national health care. That’s something our Democratic politicians have been promising for a long, long time, but even when they’ve taken power they haven’t been able to make it happen.

Our country has the best medical system in the world, but it’s shared unequally among its citizens.

Those who have jobs with socially responsible companies — and I grudgingly include my employer in that group — have access to fairly comprehensive medical care. And though it can still be costly to go to the hospital, we’re fairly well taken care of when we do.

Others — who work just as hard but do so for companies which have decided they cannot afford to provide their employees with health insurance — must purchase their own insurance on the open market. That can be extremely expensive. And so often those people simply do without.

When you are older, your mother and I will tell you about the idea of a common good. We’ll point to our roads, parks and police officers as examples of how, collectively, we can enrich and provide for everyone better than we could possibly expect to do as individuals.

It would seem that universal health care would be a perfect example of this — indeed, it seems to me to be a moral imperative for a society as rich as ours.

Perhaps by the time we’re able to talk about these sorts of things, politicians like Mr. Edwards will have gotten past the talking and onto the doing. Perhaps then we’ll have moved on to the next moral imperatives: Ending poverty and hunger in our nation and around our globe.

But I doubt it. The truth is, we’re very likely to still be working on these problems when you’re my age — and perhaps when your children are my age.

It’s easy to say no to something we know to be right because it seems impossible — or impossibly far away. And being of a privileged class of “haves” makes it even easier to ignore the plights of “have nots.”

I expect you to care, nonetheless.

The power of the common good is immense, but it takes faith, good will and work on the part of decent people.

We’ll get there, I know, because I believe in our common goodness.

And I hope you will believe this, too.


Tuesday, February 6, 2007


Dear Spike:

We're still four months away from your arrival, but your room is nearly ready. It's painted (green with tiny baby elelphants, marching around the perimeter) and equipped with a rocker, desk and dresser (which also has baby elephants, as knobs.) On Sunday, as the rest of the country watched the Indianapolis Colts defeat the Chicago Bears in The Superbowl, my friend Brent and I put together your crib.

Your closet holds a stroller. Your dresser has some clothes. And a menagerie of stuffed animals has already begun to gather to welcome you home.

We've still yet to get a mattress for you. You'll need some bedding. We're debating whether to further crowd your small room with a changing table. And there are diapers, bath supplies, bottles and other things we've yet to purchase. But for the most part, the nursery looks like a nursery.

The Boy Scouts of America have a very old slogan: "Be Prepared."

Louis Pasteur put it another way: "Chance favors the prepared mind."

We simply figured that it would be wise to do as much as possible to prepare while your mother was still relatively mobile and comfortable.

There's a lesson about the benefits of planning and preparation here, of course, but I hope it's not one you'll accept as doctrine. Truth is, sometimes you just have to fly by the seat of your pants. Sometimes you just have to let go — leaving your fate to fate.

Your very existance is a bit of a mix of those two philosophies.

Your mother and I decided to have a baby with relatively little forethought. It went something like this: One day I came home and suggested we have a baby. Less than two months later, your mom was pregnant.

Once we knew you were coming, it was all business: Pricing strollers, shopping for clothes and figuring out how we'd arrange for your care, 24 hours a day, while both working full time. This week we're visiting the hospital where you will be born — just to feel a bit more prepared when the time comes.

But then, once you come, I think it's back to pants seat flying. I don't think there's any amount of preparation that readies a dad to be a dad.

The crib Brent and I put together on Superbowl Sunday belonged to his son, Jack. The little blonde boy, now three years old, was Brent's fifth child, but I don't think Brent felt any more prepared to raise Jack to be a man than he felt when his eldest, Dylan, was born 18 years earlier.

Another of my friends, Tom, is adopting his first child next month. Tom is 52 — old enough to be my father. He's been around the world. He's got a stable job, a nice home and a beautiful and intelligent wife. There's no reason why he won't make a wonderful father. But yesterday, when he told me that he was going to take a few months off of work to take care of little Donna, his eyes were filled with uncertainty.

Sure, luck may favor the prepared, but I think we all know that fate sometimes steers a course free of reason, favor or preparation.

How else can you account for the Indianapolis Colts?