Monday, December 31, 2007


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.


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.



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

Friday, December 28, 2007


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.


Tuesday, December 25, 2007


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.


Sunday, December 23, 2007


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.


Saturday, December 22, 2007


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.


Friday, December 21, 2007


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.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007


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.



Monday, December 17, 2007


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.


Thursday, December 13, 2007


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.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007


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.


Saturday, December 8, 2007


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.


Wednesday, December 5, 2007


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.


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


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.


Sunday, December 2, 2007


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.


Saturday, December 1, 2007


Dear Spike:

Duck. It's what's for dinner.

OSU Beavers 38, UO Ducks 31.