Sunday, September 30, 2007


Dear Spike:

OK, so it’s official. You’re really small.

How small? Well, if this is a chart showing the range of height and weight for four-month old babies...











... show up on the chart right down here.

This, of course, wasn't unexpected. The first time we took you to get weighed at the doctor's office, you weighed less than four and a half pounds.

Two months later, you were up to eight and a quarter — big to us, but small overall.

Now, at 10 pounds and five ounces, you’re still smaller than some newborns. But when we visited Dr. Schriewer on Friday, she seemed content that you’re developing in all the most important ways. And that, of course, is what matters to us.

Chances are that you’ll catch up, size wise, in due time — though it’s unlikely you’ll ever be the biggest kid in your class.

But that’s fine by me. Because it doesn’t matter how tall you stand, or how much you weigh.

Because you’re absolutely, positively the biggest thing in my world.


Thursday, September 27, 2007


Dear Spike:

It’s been four months since the day you arrived in our lives — and just over a year since the day that I came home from work and your mother told me that there would be “three for dinner.”

My how our lives have changed.

Your mother grew and grew and grew. She gave birth to you. And then she shrunk and shrunk and shrunk. She’s around here somewhere, right now, I’m just not sure where.

I’ve grown too. Maybe a bit around the belly (I was eating for two, too) but mostly around the heart. I never knew it could feel so big, beating inside my chest, until I met you.

And my, my how you have grown. At the time we learned you were coming, you were just about the size of an apple seed. A few weeks later, we got a picture of you from the doctor — you looked like a speckled jelly bean (and when you finally arrived, at 7:28 a.m. on May 27, 2007, you really weren’t much bigger than that — just four-and-a-half pounds.)

Tomorrow we’ll go to see Dr. Schriewer to see how much you weigh. I say 10 pounds. Your mom says 11. Either way, you’re still a tiny kid. Tonight we went to dinner and I ran into a coworker who has a little girl who is a few weeks younger than you. Baby Alice was eating when you two were introduced, thank God, otherwise I’m afraid she might have had you for a snack.

Still, you’re strong and — we think — pretty darn smart. Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t comment, rather astonishedly it often seems, on how “alert” you are. (I’ve gone ahead and volunteered you for the 2 a.m. shift of the neighborhood watch.)

Your mother and I often comment on how difficult it is to remember what our lives felt like before you came. And maybe that’s simply because we don’t really want to.

You’re the best thing that ever happened to us. You’ve grown with us and made us grow with you. And my, my, my how it’s better.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Dear Spike:

It warmed up a bit today over yesterday’s sudden freeze, but there’s still a dusty white layer of snow on the Wasatch Mountains and a biting iciness to the air.

It’s autumn. Your first autumn.

Even with the sudden splash of color in the trees and the transcendently awakening way in which the evening sun sets fires to the snowcapped mountains, I always feel there is a sadness to this season. There is no time of year in which we lose daylight faster — and although today is merely 160 seconds shorter than yesterday, it sometimes feels as though the sun is racing across the sky, impatient to nest under the western horizon.

I try to slow down, if only just a little, each fall. This season moves by so quickly, anyway, that it is easy to miss that the leaves today are yellow and tomorrow will be orange and the next day will be red and the next day will be gone. It is simple to miss the majesty of the changing shadows and the turning of the winds.

Indeed, I should be so mindful at all times of the year. And perhaps you will learn, better than I, to find those opportunities in every moment, not just those marked by changing leaves and snowy mountains.

Live. Breathe. Smile. Find yourself in the swirling leaves of your tea. Lose yourself in the way your footsteps sound in the leaves of the fall, in the snow of the winter, in the rain puddles of the spring and on the hard-baked earth of the summer.

Don’t miss any of it.


Monday, September 24, 2007


Dear Spike:

In regards to my letter of Sept. 23, 2007:

After more than 36 hours of keeping your diapers clean by using the toilet for its intended purpose, you managed to wet not one (1), not three (3), but five (5!!!!) nappies this morning between the hours of 7:30 and 10 a.m.

I hereby consider the dishes broken (per paragraph 3 of the Sept. 23 letter) and this matter resolved.

While I recognize you are not yet four months old, please refer to paragraph 10 of the Sept. 23 letter. To wit: “from whom much is impeccably accomplished, much is inequitably expected.”


Sunday, September 23, 2007


Dear Spike:

Shel Silverstein’s poetry was absurd, farcical and glib. But sometimes — just sometimes — the crusty, cigar-chomping old wordsmith would bang out a rune of such absolute truth as to make God herself say “Amen.”

I don’t remember the first time I heard Silverstein’s poem about household chores. But like most of the
bald bard’s rhymes, it was so simple and silly that it snuggled into a little wrinkle of my memory and stuck there. Every now and again, when I would be tasked with extra work as punishment for having proven myself passingly competent at the work I’d already completed, I would pull it out and dust it off. And there, like Lady Liberty to the huddled masses of my indignity, it would be...

If you have to dry the dishes
And you drop one on the floor —
Maybe they won’t let you
Dry the dishes anymore

Alas, I seldom could bring myself to take Uncle Shelby’s advice, though there were plenty of times I wished I had.


It’s been nearly a decade since I found myself in the florescent-lit bowels of an aircraft carrier, turning angry circles in the placid waters of the northern Persian Gulf. Saddam Hussein’s ragtag air force was violating the U.N.-imposed “no-fly zone” along the 33rd parallel in southern Iraq. Our Navy was preparing a response.

There was plenty of work to be done in the Carrier Intelligence Center where I moiled day after night after day — work that would save and take lives once the order came. But with several of the fleet’s top admirals on their way to oversee operations, one night, it was decided that the best use of my time would be behind a mop, swabbing the deck underneath the office copy machine. I’d done “the best job” at such tasks in the past, the intel officer on duty reasoned to me, “and we wouldn’t want to make a bad impression.”

Right — like bombing the wrong building because we were too busy breaking starch on our dress blues to review the target charts? Yes, that would be bad, wouldn’t it?

“Aye aye, sir” I said.


I am not suggesting that you ever do anything halfway well — and I’m certainly not insinuating that you sabotage your own work, as Silverstein’s “Dishes” suggests, in an effort to avoid further future tasks.

But you should know up front, kid, that from whom much is impeccably accomplished, much is inequitably expected.

And you’re well on your way to swabbing under the copy machine, shipmate.


Everyone told your mother and I to prepare for your coming like Armageddon. Forget sleep. Forget sanity. Forget personal hygiene. And sex? Never again — “you won’t have time and ain’t gonna want to anyway now that you know the consequences,” someone told us.

We bunkered down, mentally, and prepared for the worst. Your mother started meditating. I canceled all my appointments through 2013. We stored large amounts of canned food in the basement.

Now I’m not saying it has been all gerber daisies, but for the most part your addition to our family has been less like a scene from the Terminator movies and more like something out of a 50s family sitcom. I mean, two weeks of 9 o’clock freakouts not withstanding, you’ve been a pretty happy and low-maintenance baby.


This weekend, for instance:

On Friday evening we took you to a Charlie Chaplain flick at the old Capitol Theater downtown. Yeah, that’s right: a silent movie. You should have seen the looks on people’s faces when we walked in with your tiny body slung into a pouch, hugging your mom’s chest. She might as well have been wearing a suicide bomb. But the silent Tramp himself produced more decibels than you. You didn’t so much as breathe hard through the entire film — or at anytime during the hour-long discussion that preceded it.

I didn’t hold a stopwatch next to your head or anything, but I’m pretty sure you spent more time this weekend smiling and giggling than whining and crying. Oh, you had your fits, but I’m not sure any lasted longer than it took to check your diaper or get you to you mother’s nearest available breast.

You slept, last night, for a good seven hours straight. That’s a pretty typical night of slumber, for you, which has meant our late-night Star Wars evenings are becoming increasingly infrequent. On the nights when you do wake up — like just about an hour ago, for instance — you use the toilet, eat and fall back asleep in a matter of minutes.

And as of this moment, apparently having recognized the toilet for the modern marvel of engineering and sanitation that it is, you’re going on 30 hours of clean-diaper babydom. I can’t even remember the last time you woke up in the morning with a wet or dirty nappy.

If that’s not all just setting the bar a bit high for yourself, I don’t know what is.


Hey look, I’m not suggesting you stop exceeding our expectations. More importantly, though, just don’t ever stop exceeding your own.

But if every now and then you feel the need to drop a dish, that’s OK. Not everything needs to be perfect. Or even close. And yes, you can be too good for your own good.

Sometimes, I guess, it's best to simply sit back and watch the dishes pile up on the counter.

Old Shel knew that, too.

He wrote...

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.



Thursday, September 20, 2007


Dear Spike:

Your mother is a saint.

That’s not a prerequisite of being a public school teacher, but it certainly helps, especially in a school like the one she began teaching in a few weeks ago — the school you’ll be attending in about five years.

Among her students are several Sudanese war refugees and a number of children with family members in prison — including one little girl whose older sister is in jail awaiting trial on charges that she tortured and murdered their brother. There’s another girl whose mother is severely mentally retarded (that mom, by the way, was the only parent who showed up for back-to-school parent-teacher conferences,) several students who don’t know a word of English (and a majority who are still learning English as a second language) and a couple of children whose teeth are so rotten that it makes me wince when I see them smile. All but one of them get free lunch at school and several of them eat all three squares, each day, in the school cafeteria.

Most of them put on brave faces. But they’re troubled. And that often makes them trouble.

It’s heartbreaking. And hard. I wouldn’t last 10 minutes if I had to teach her class. But your mom does it all day long — breaking only for a few short minutes, during lunch, to feed you.

See? A saint.

We had dinner this evening with your mom’s teaching aide, Sue (actually she’s more like a partner, than an aide — and she’s a saint too) and Sue’s husband, Rob, who teaches English at a high school in the most crime-ridden district of Los Angeles. The first week he worked there, he remembered, one of his students was shot in the stomach after first being threatened during his class. Understandably, he wondered whether he’d made a mistake leaving Utah. But he’s been flying down to L.A. — leaving his wife, his home and his two beautiful dogs for months at a time — for seven years now.

Yup. Saints.

I’ve always felt like I had an important job — Tocqueville called freedom of the press “the constitutive element of liberty” (and since you can’t have freedom of the press without the press, I suppose that makes hacks like me kind of worthwhile.)

But I felt small sitting at a table with these people. Absolutely tiny. Miniscule. Subatomic. Quarkian, even. I mean, Jesus, what good is the press to an illiterate nation?

Catholics believe that saints are blessed and venerable people who, in the course of a lifetime, perform at least three miracles.

Heck, your mom does that every day.

She doesn’t just teach children to read, she teaches them to be. To have compassion. To have respect. To have hope.

She changes their lives. And in doing so, I’m convinced, she saves lives too.

Someday, somebody’s going to ask you who your heroes are. And I’m not ever going to tell you what to think, what to believe or what to say, but I’ll tell you who my hero is:

Your mother, the saint.

She’s my hero. My absolute, unequivocal hero.


Monday, September 17, 2007


Dear Spike:

9:54 p.m.: Long night, tonight. It took an entire Earl Scruggs album to put you out and even now you remain restless.

I like to think it might be because you had such an amazing day today — the kind you simply don’t want to end.

Oh no, you’re up again...

10:10 p.m.: We went to the zoo early this morning, — so early that you and I were practically the only visitors in the park. We were alone as we dropped in on the white alligator, the kangaroos, the zebras, the colubus monkeys, the amur tiger, the african elephants and the orangutans. You seemed to be engaged in the experience in a way that wasn’t there the last time we visited the zoo.

But it was the giraffes that seemed to captivate you most. I’ve never seen such an inquisitive look on your face or such recognition in your eyes. You watched one of the giants, in particular, for five minutes straight, following it left and right, near and far — nearly without blinking. It staggered me to realize that you were giving him some serious thought. And he, in turn, seemed to be contemplating you. I wondered, for a moment, whether you two were having a conversation that I simply don’t have the capacity to understand.

And now you’re up again...

10:24 p.m.: The first time he met you, my friend Roger looked deep into your eyes and sighed.

“She knows,” he said.

“Knows what?” I asked.

“She just knows.”


You’re awake again.

10:52 p.m.: I often feel as though you are — at once — learning about me and yet also telling me everything about me that I need to know.

I wonder if you were having the same experience with the giraffe, today. I wonder what he must have told you. And I wonder what you must have told him.

11:58 p.m.:You’re asleep (I think for good) in your cradle, underneath your mobile — the one with the dangling duck, frog, turtle, elephant... and giraffe.

I’d give anything to know what you’re dreaming about.


Sunday, September 16, 2007


Dear Spike:

I’m watching Star Wars — the first episode, where Luke Skywalker whines “Uncle Owen! This R-2 unit has a bad motivator!” like someone just stole his lunch money. How the hell did this become the biggest movie franchise of all time with such crappy acting?

You’re in my arms. Breathing hard and fast, so deep asleep that I doubt you’ll so much as stir when John William’s stentorian score erupts as the credits roll at the end of the film.

I’m sleepy. But I’m enjoying this moment so much that I don’t want to sleep. I’m even thinking about brewing a pot of coffee so I can just sit here, rocking you as you dream.

Such good stuff. Ah, such good stuff.


Thursday, September 13, 2007


Dear Spike:

The weather began to shift, this week. Now, I have to wear a sweatshirt when I walk you in the park in the mornings. It won't be long before I have to ditch my shorts for pants and my sandals for shoes. And it won't be long, after that, that I'll have to ditch my sweatshirt for a jacket.

The seasons change quickly in Salt Lake City. Spring and fall are but fleeting thoughts — quick and colorful pauses between summer and winter.

By Halloween, it will be snowing again. And it won't stop until next May.

I don't mourn the passing of our blistering summers. I do, in fact, enjoy them more than our arctic winters but I'm usually ready for a change by this time of year. But lately, I have grown particularly sad at the thought that our visits to the park will have to be more limited once the winter comes. No longer will I be able to walk you around the pond until you sleep, then relax on a bench, writing and checking email on the free wireless internet connection as you slumber.

At some point, it's just going to get too cold for that. And I'm not sure your mother would understand if she came home from work to a hypothermic daughter.

"Matt, why is Spike blue?"

Yeah, that would be bad.

But still, it was with a bit of regret, today, that I strapped you into your car seat and drove downtown to our local Internet service provider. I know I could have done it over the phone, but I really prefer to do business face to face. I guess I'm just old fashioned in that way.

Maybe I'm old fashioned in other ways, too. We don't have a home phone. We don't have a cable TV, or even an antenna for that matter (So I'm often lacking for anything to say when folks gather 'round the water cooler at work.) And we've never had the 'net at home (there was a period, a few months back, when we were able to jump onto our neighbor's wireless signal, but I suppose they wised up to our thievery.)

I tell people we're not "wired" because we like to keep our home life simple — but really it's because I'm cheap. And because your mother is tolerant of my cheapness, bless her heart.

But with the end of my month of full-time daddydom looming and the prospect of working from home seeming ever more complicated, I've finally and lamentably entered the 21st Century.

Hello, 21st Century. Thanks for waiting up.

Next week, I'm told, our phone line will get hooked up and a wireless modem will arrive in the mail. A few dozen swearwords later, I suspect, we'll be wired. I suppose there are a few better ways to spend $44.95 a month, but probably none more practical.

I suspect we'll be raising you to value a buck. And I know we'll want you to seek as many opportunities as possible to get out of the house and enjoy your community and your world. And to the extent that it is possible, I'll encourage you to combine those two things.

But when it's warm enough — and probably when it isn't — I'm certain you'll be able to find us at the park, you in your stroller, slumbering away in a snowsuit, me at my keyboard, tapping away in my mittens.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Dear Spike:

Today had no particular significance to you. None more than yesterday. None more than tomorrow. You woke, ate, cried, napped, spent a bit of time trying to shove your entire fist in your mouth, and did a few other things that babies do. And then you went back to sleep.

This was not a day of infamy. Or of sorrow. Or of fear. This was not a day of hate.

This was not the day the towers fell.

Someday, I suppose, it will be. Maybe not so vividly. Certainly not so emotionally. But, at least, historically.

Today will be December 7. Today will be November 22. Another day one generation will never forget. Another day the next generation will hardly know.

So it goes. And goes. And goes.

I am pleased you will not know this day as I do. Someday, of course, you will come to apperceive that our species — capable of such love, generosity, understanding and acceptance — is also well-practiced in hate, greed, ignorance and intolerance.

But not today.

Today you know Sept. 11 as the day we went to the park and sat on a bench and watched other parents and their children walk by. This was the day you looked up, as the wind rustled through the branches of the trees, enchanted by the moving shapes, colors and shades. This was the day you cried for an hour straight for no particular reason at all.

This was the day I took you to the Senior Center, down the street from our home, to vote in the mayoral primary election. This was the day that the little old ladies all cooed over you as we waited our turn to vote.

This was the day you came to your mother’s rescue after a hard day teaching her kindergartners (the first crop of public school students to have arrived on this planet after the towers fell.) This is the day you fell asleep in her arms. This is the day your smile washed away her tears.

This is the day you wore a yellow cotton nightgown. This is the day you spit up on your yellow cotton nightgown. This is the day you wore a blue Superman shirt. This is the day you spit up on your blue Superman shirt.

No, today did not have any particular significance to you. None more than yesterday. None more than tomorrow.

I wish I could say the same. Oh God, how I do.


Monday, September 10, 2007


Dear Spike:

For as long as you’ve been with us, we’ve always known when you are unhappy.

You cry when you’re hungry. You cry when you want to be held. And — particularly as of late — you cry when your little gums hurt.

But today, for the first time, you discovered a new way to communicate with us: You giggled.

It happened first while we were in the kitchen, then several times while we were at the park. You laughed. You laughed so much it made me laugh too — and then I laughed so hard that I nearly cried.

I love the sound of laughter. I love how it fills a room, rising above the din of normal conversation, demanding and contagious. I love how perfectly it translates into any language, any culture. I love how everyone laughs a little bit different than everyone else, but how we all — every last one of us — laugh.

The past three months not withstanding, you will laugh a whole lot more, in this life, than you will cry. You will smile more than you frown. And you will feel joy far more than you feel sadness.

Share that joy. Share those smiles. And share your laughter. Laugh hard, laugh long, laugh often. Laugh so much it makes others laugh too.

Laugh so hard it makes you cry.


Thursday, September 6, 2007


Dear Spike:

I sang to you. I rocked you. I walked you around the house. I offered you a bottle. I checked your diaper.

I even offered to buy you a mocking bird, a diamond ring and then, since I don’t know the rest of the words to the song, I ad lib'd...

“Daddy’s gonna buy you some turpentine...”
“Daddy’s gonna buy you a hog-nosed skunk...”
“Daddy’s gonna buy you a taco cart...”
“Daddy’s gonna buy you a ramapithicus....”
“Daddy’s gonna blow his head off...”

Nothing worked. The 9 o’clock freak out stretched to 10. Then to 10:30. My ears were ringing. My head hurt.

Then I remembered that I’d seen an Earl Skruggs CD in the player in the kitchen. Could Skruggs (the author of the Beverly Hillbillies theme song, among other works of bluegrass banjo brilliance) calm you down?

I pressed play.

One note. Then two. Then a flurry of sixteenths. I could hear Skrugg’s fingers flying over the banjo strings.

And just like that, you were out. Ten seconds — tops.

I don’t really understand your hypnotic connection to banjo music. And I don’t want to.

All I want to do right now is find Earl Skruggs and kiss him full on his salty old country lips.


Wednesday, September 5, 2007


Dear Spike:

Maybe it was crazy. And maybe that was the reason that we decided not to tell anyone at first. And maybe that’s the reason why, after we found out it really wasn’t crazy, we still opted not to share it with any but our closest friends. Because maybe it was really crazy and we just didn’t know it was crazy, which — if you think about it — is what really makes something crazy.

Wait... I digress.

Back when we were painting your room — four or five months before you came, I think it was — I arrived at the end of the line of elephants that we’d painted, marching around the walls. I stood there, on top of the step ladder, with an artistic epiphany, of sorts. The rest of the pachyderms, spaced evenly apart, followed a simple pattern:

Brown elephant. Red elephant. Tan elephant. Brown elephant. Red elephant. Tan elephant.

The last one would have fit the pattern — keeping it going on and on and on, around the room and around again to eternity.

I looked down to your mother. “Could you hand me the yellow paint?” I asked.


“I want to do this one tie-died.”

She agreed. We’re nonconformists. Or at least, we’re as nonconformist as you’ll find among young, urban, middle-income, single-mortgage professionals. Well, close anyhow.

In any case, we wanted to instill in you a spirit of nonconformity. Because, you know, maybe Spike just wasn’t enough.

So above your closet door — still marching in formation, mind you — is one tie-dyed elephant. Even though it’s sort of hidden, up there, it’s one of the first things people notice when they come to see your bedroom. I like that. More than being a nonconformist family, I like people to think that we’re a nonconformist family.

Or maybe not.

Hmmm. This seems like a good place to get back to the subject of crazy.

Turns out I’ve found it really difficult to disclose the fact that we’ve opted to raise you a bit unconventionally. There’s perhaps nothing in life people are more judgmental about than child rearing. Everyone has an opinion about feeding, holding, talking, sleeping, kissing, soothing and singing. About the only subject we all seem to be able to get together about is diapers: Everyone agrees that babies wear them.

Except, your mother and I learned a few years back, that isn’t really true at all.

Back when your mom was attending Western Oregon University, we lived in a little apartment, above a church on the corner of First and Main in the town of Monmouth, just a block down from the college. Like a lot of colleges, Western had a museum on campus. For whatever reason, it was an arctic museum. Arctic. Right — like Polar Bears and Eskimos.

Which brings me back to diapers. Eskimo babies, we learned one weekend while on a tour of the museum , don’t wear them. Seems it’s a particularly bad idea to let your babies sit around in their own pee when you live in an igloo. I’ve never had hypothermia myself, but this seemed to make sense to me. And so the Eskimos potty train their babies — when they’re two weeks old.

You, as they say, weren’t so much as a gleam in our eyes at that time. But it did get me to thinking: If the Eskimos can train their babies to potty on demand why on God’s Cold Earth don’t we all?

And, of course, it turns out that — for the most part, we do. In China and Africa and India and much of South America and quite a few places in Europe, they teach babies not to use their pants as a toilet. And again, this seems to make sense, because really — particularly in places where people live on the equivalent of a few dollars a day — its not like Huggies are a top priority.

So when we learned you were coming, I did a little bit of research. There are a few decent books on the subject: I bought them both, though this really isn’t a matter that requires all that much study. It’s really pretty simple. When you were about two weeks old, I held you over the toilet and waited.

When you peed, I made a noise like a deflating tire: “Pssssss. Pssssssss. Pssssssss.”

And when you pooped, I made a noise like a revving car engine: “Grrrrrrr. Grrrrrrrr. Grrrrrrrrrrrrr.”

It took all of two days for you to get the point. And so long as we remain attuned to your body language and normal patterns (you like to do your stuff after waking up from a nap, for instance) you definitely seem to prefer using the toilet to using your pants.
It’s not quite a “diaper free” lifestyle as the title of one of the books promises, but you have spent entire days in one dry and clean nappy. And on most days, we get by with three or four.

But although this has been one of the most exciting developments of your rearing, we’ve been hesitant to share it with anyone but our close friends and family. Because even though I like people to think we're nonconformists, in this country diapers seem kind of sacred.

Back when we decided to use cloth diapers instead of disposables, we got a lot of “well, you say that now” — even from people who themselves had never tried cloth diapers for their children.

Meanwhile, people with toddlers told us to expect to be “swimming in diapers for years.” And they said it kind of gleefully, which was really weird.

But maybe we are the crazy ones. And I admit, I did for a time fear that we may have sentenced you to a lifetime of Pavlovian excremental responses any time you hear a tire deflating or a car engine revving.

But then this week, your mother’s friend Sue — who was born in China — was present when I was holding you over a bucket, letting you do your thing.

“Pssssss. Pssssssss. Psssssssssss.” I whispered in your ear.

Sue laughed.

“That’s the same sound my mother used to make for me,” she said.

Yup, we’re nonconformists. Just like one billion Chinese, another billion Indians, another billion people on the continent of Africa and a few billion more scattered around the rest of the planet.

And, of course, the Eskimos.


Sunday, September 2, 2007


Dear Spike:

I knew our vines had been productive, but I didn’t realize just how much until I began to harvest the grapes, this afternoon.

I’ve never had much of a green thumb, but our garden has done particularly well this year, with lots of zucchini, a few other squashes, peppers, mint, basil, oregano and an amazing crop of tomatoes — so many that we’ve always had several to eat with dinner and then had plenty extra with which to make salsa and pasta sauce.

There’s something deeply satisfying about picking a fruit or vegetable that you’ve grown yourself. Most exciting, for me, are the grapes. I love finding the thick, tightly-packed clusters of berries hidden beyond the broad leaves of the vines that grow on the south wall of our garage.

Wine grapes don’t look or taste like the grapes you find in the store. They’re usually much smaller, rounder and darker, and if you press one against the roof of your mouth, letting the juice trickle over your tongue, you can taste the complexities which give different wines their individual characters.

When the vines had been picked clean of their fruit, there were enough Zinfandel and Cabernet grapes to fill two five-gallon buckets. After the grapes were pressed (you helped — and seemed to enjoy it quite a bit) we had about three and a half gallons of juice. From that, we’ll get perhaps 15 bottles of wine.

Wine isn’t hard to make — just add grape juice, yeast and a few clarifying and stabilizing elements over time — but it’s hard to get right. In that, it’s not unlike many of the other pursuits I find most enjoyable in this life: Those things that take a few minutes to learn and a lifetime to master.

Some dads play “go fish” with their kids. We’ll probably play a lot of poker. It takes five, maybe ten minutes to learn the rules of Texas Hold’em. If you can play ‘go fish” you can play poker. I figure I’ll teach you when you’re three. If you’re going to take my money anyway, I might as well make you earn it.

I heard a Harvard business professor today talk about how he encourages his students to learn to play poker. Understanding risk management, risk tolerance, odds, mathematics, aggression and emotional control are keys to success at the table — and in the business world, he argued. “The students who get good at poker, I never worry about how they’ll do in the real world,” the professor said.

I don’t know about that. But I know that within a deceptively simple game — each player is dealt two cards, five more are ultimately dealt face-up on the table, the player who can make the best hand or force everyone else to fold their hand wins — is an intricate, frustrating and beautiful contest.

Same too for the game of soccer. Two teams of 11 players. Two goals at opposite ends of the pitch. No hands. And yet this simple game has the power to halt wars, effect worldwide economies, and bring entire nations of people to their feet.

I wondered today, as I was spreading the yeast over the surface of our grape juice, whether the reason I enjoy being your dad so much is because fatherhood, like winemaking, poker and soccer, is at once so simple and so complex. It's easy to become a father. But being a good dad takes work.

There are, of course, a few notable differences.

If the wine spoils, there’s always another crop of grapes to harvest next summer. When you’re dealt a bad poker hand, there’s always another hand to play. And when your football team fails, there’s always another game, another season, another World Cup.

There will, of course, never be another you.

Given the deep satisfaction I get when picking a fruit or vegetable from our garden, I can only imagine how satisfying it will be to see you develop into an interesting, intelligent and decent adult — one who can enjoy this life in all of its simplicities, all of its complexities and all of its opportunities to grow.