Thursday, December 25, 2008

MAGIC AND MAJESTY

Dear Spike:

I often wonder what Jesus Christ would think if he were to meet his modern followers. I suspect he wouldn’t be particularly proud of some of them.

In his name they judge and they hate. Sometimes they kill.

They spend millions of dollars trying to ban abortion. They pass laws to ensure homosexuals can’t marry. They even fight to make sure that the 10 Commandments get a prominent place in city parks and to protect “Merry Christmas” from being supplanted by more secular holiday salutations.

I certainly cannot tell you that those Christians who are battling to promote their evangelical agenda are wrong. Just the same, they can’t tell you they are right.

So what would Jesus do? Truth is, most of us are just guessing. As to most of the issues of our modern world, more than two millennia after Christ’s birth, there really is no clear answer.

Save this one:

Time and again, Jesus commanded his followers to love their fellow disciples, their neighbors and even their enemies.

Even if you decide not to believe in the magic and majesty of Christianity, when it comes time to choose a guidebook for your life, the words Christ spoke aren’t a bad option.

But instead of parsing his parables, seeking guidance on complicated modern issues in a 2,000-year-old book, I suggest you start with the simplest commandment he gave.

Love your neighbor.

Start with the person next door. Then move onto every person on your block. Then move onto every person in this world.

A lot of things that we overcomplicate get worked out when love is our guiding force.

For me, Christmastime is a good time to think about how well I’ve been following the Golden Rule — and to recognize that, until I get that right, I’ve got no business whatsoever trying to press my moral agenda on anyone else.

Love,
dad

Sunday, December 21, 2008

DAY OF DISNEY



Dear Spike:

We weren't sure how you'd react, but my money was on "scream and flee."

But when it came time for you to meet Winnie the Pooh, we could hardly hold you back. You ran into his arms like a bear to honey.

Your mother and I have always been partial to Disneyland. But as it turns out, it's about 38 times better when you do it with a little kid. And since this was your very first sojourn to the long-purported Happiest Place on Earth, it was especially fun to watch you take it all in.

You're sleeping now, after a long day of Disney, and no doubt dreaming of dancing dolls, drunken pirates and spinning teacups.

And I'm only worried abut one thing:

How do I explain to you, tomorrow, that we don't get to do this every day?

Love,
dad

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

WONA BONA WONA

Dear Spike:

Your version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star:

"Tinkle, tinkle, lil'ar.
Wona bona wona wa,
Hupa bupa pupa high
soma dimon sky.
Tinkle, tinkle, lil'ar.
Wona bona wona wa."

I like it better that way.

Love,
dad

Dear Spike's Friends:
She's a bit camera shy, but I'll work on getting her to sing it on video.
Love,
spike's dad

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

THE INVISIBLE HAND

Dear Spike:

I'm not above deal-making.

Some folks might call it bribery. I prefer "free market education." You've got a certain supply of good behavior. I have a high demand for this product. The invisible hand takes it from there.

But lately, I've been thinking we might just need a little more regulation. Someone is manipulating the markets.

In general, your biggest incentive for using the potty is that you need to go. And so I don't usually have to offer anything more than a congratulatory "hip hip, hooray!" for you to do what you need to do.

But when we're in a rush to get somewhere — and I know you need to "go before you go." The market takes over. Lollypops get involved. Sweet, sweet capitalism.

That was the case yesterday, when I needed to get you off to the babysitter so that I could make an afternoon appointment. I stripped off your bottoms, sat you on your little potty, and waited for the action to begin.

No deal.

"Lolly?" I asked.

"Lolly!" you said, and held out your hand.

"You need to pee first," I said.

Generally, this is all that it would take to induce a tinkle. But you just didn't have to go. And this obviously was causing a crisis in the market. Now I had the supply. You had the demand. But you just didn't have the capital you needed to complete the transaction.

And so what did you do?

You lied.

"Hip hip hooray!" you squealed, still sitting on the pot. "Hip hip hooray!"

"Did you go?" I asked.

"Hip hip hooray! Tinkle! Tinkle!" you answered.

I handed you the lolly and you popped it into your mouth, still sitting on the potty.

I turned to go and invited you to come, but your little butt remained firmly planted in its seat. It was only then that I realized I'd been taken in an elaborate Ponzi scheme.

I think there's grounds for some sort of federal investigation, but given the fed's record, of late, I guessing you're probably safe for now.

Love,
dad

Friday, December 12, 2008

NECKLACES AND BRACELETS



Dear Spike:

Your mother and I were chatting in the kitchen when we suddenly realized that you'd disappeared.

We checked the bathroom, the living room, the dining room and your bedroom...

... and then we heard a rustling sound coming from our room — where you had overturned your mother's jewelry box and were busy trying on her necklaces and bracelets.

Quite cute — save for the fact that you'd managed to tangle up all the chains into one of those mind-numbing Chinese sculpture puzzles.

Your mother was not happy.

I don't wear her jewelry, so I just had a nice, long schadenfreudian belly laugh.

Love,
dad

Monday, December 8, 2008

ANOTHER SNOWY DAY

Dear Spike:

Snow today. Lots of it.

Unfortunately, you and I were stuck inside for most of the day, as I chased a breaking story and you played hide and seek with your stuffed cat, Chairman Meow.

But tomorrow, my little friend, is another (snowy) day. And I think we're overdue for a snowman!

Love,
dad

Sunday, December 7, 2008

FOR A FRY

Dear Spike:

You were sleeping between your mother and I. And we were sharing a plate of french fries.

We were almost finished when you suddenly bolted upright and stared down at the nearly empty plate.

"Some?" you asked, reaching for a fry.

You popped the fry in your mouth and began to chew, but your eyes rolled back in your head and you fell backward. When you hit the pillow, you bolted up again, eyes open once more, and reached for another fry.

You were able to down three or four more before your eyelids finally won the battle and you fell back asleep — with a content little smile on your ketchup-stained face.

Love,
dad

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

CHASING YOU NOW

Dear Spike:

I don't know how it happened or when it happened.

But I know why it happened: The sun rises and sets and rises again. The moon comes and goes, waxes and wanes. The Big Dipper — that simple, stalwart sign under which I fell in love with your mother — spins round and round and round again.

Time passes. Children grow.

You're no longer a baby. You're a genuine little girl.

The pigtails may have had something to do with it — not with your transformation from infant to toddler but with my late-in-coming recognition of that change. Your mother fretted over the haircut we gave you until she found that she could gather up your remaining locks into splendid tufts on either side of your perfect little skull. The effect is rather devilish. Naughty. And I dare say it suits you, kiddo. But, alas, it's the hairdo of a little girl.

You talk like a paid-by-the-case public defender who has borrowed just a taste of her client's meth. A thousand words a minute. Ten thousand. A whole dictionary of animals, colors, shapes, names.

Nouns. Lots and lots and lots of nouns.

Our last stroll around the park sounded something like this:

"Tree. Car. People. Running. Doggy. Doggy! Doggy!! Please doggy! Ah, Doggy. Pet? Pet. Doggy. Bye bye. Tree. Sky. Cold. Cold. Daddy! Cold! Daddy! Thank you. Tree. Running. Bike. People. People. People! Doggy. Doggy? Doggy! Doggy!!!!!!!!!"

And you understand. You really understand. Enough to follow directions. And enough to be maddeningly obstinate. You know "no." Oh no, how you know "no."

You play games. You sing songs. You know our daily routine. Even still, you cry when you mother leaves for work in the morning — not, as I once believed, because you fear she'll disappear forever, but rather because you know very well that she'll be back and you know how much you'll miss her while she's gone.

You ask questions. You make statements. You tell jokes. All in one- and two-word bursts.

You run. Ready. Set. Go. You run. Sometimes you hold my fingers and let me run along.

I'm chasing you now, little one. When did it happen that I started chasing you? When did any of this happen? It's all such a beautiful blur.

Sometimes I wonder how on God's Green Earth it all came to this, but mostly I just laugh and smile and marvel at how damn fun it all is.

I do not lament the days behind us. You and I and your mother are making the best of what we've been given. And when every minute is better than the last, why would I stop to fret over the passing of time?

Time passes. Children grow.

You're no longer a baby. You're a genuine little girl.

And I couldn't be a happier father.

Love,
dad

Saturday, November 29, 2008

LIVE WITH DISAPPOINTMENT



Dear Spike:

I've said it before, I'll say it again: If you're going to root for The Beavers, you're going to have to get used to disappointment.

One win away from earning its first Rose Bowl appearance since the Vietnam War, OSU couldn't get the best of the team in the ugly green and yellow uniforms from Eugene. That team (the name of which shall not be spoken in our family) racked up a huge win...

... against Oregon State's injured quarterback and Oregon State's second-string running back.

Oooh. Impressive.

And this, my darling little daughter, leads us to today's lesson in how to live with disappointment: You can't win all the time, but you can almost always find some way to undercut the significance of the other team's victory.

That won't make you happy, but it'll annoy the enemy. And on days like today, that's at least something.

Love,
dad

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I AM THANKFUL

Dear Spike:

Your mother just went into your room to rock you down to sleep. It's been a lovely Thanksgiving Day, but now I think we're all ready to nestle into our beds and give in to the tryptophan. I think it might snow tonight and I'm likely to have a pretty light day at work tomorrow, so perhaps we can all go for an icy romp through the park and then come home for a cup of hot cocoa.

Your grandparents left before we even had the turkey in the oven, but it was fun to share part of our Thanksgiving week with them. They're really quite smitten with you and you love spending time with them, too. We're lucky to have such a wonderful family, and on this day that is something I am very thankful for.

Because we live so far away from much of our family, we don't get to see everyone all that often. But earlier this month you and your mother got to visit your grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins in Oregon, and next month we'll be going to see your aunt and uncles in Southern California, and the month after that we'll be going to see the rest of our family in Northern California. We are very lucky in this way — and that is another thing that I am thankful for.

And, as long as I'm at it, here are a few other things I am thankful for today (and every day.)

For our old drafty home and for our big, furry cat, who keeps my feet warm on winter nights. For our chickens and the delicious eggs they give us. For your mother's job, which is so close to our home and which gives her a chance to change the world, every day. For my job, which provides me the ability to stay at home with you on most days.

For the Mighty Fighting Beavers football team of Oregon State University, which is one win away from going to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1965.

For our new president and for the president he is replacing. God knows I've got high hopes for the former and great sympathy for the latter, for these are difficult times and history is not apt to be very kind.

For our friends — especially those whom you probably won't be able to distinguish from our family — for they have made our lives feel rich and our hearts feel big.

And, of course, for you and your mother. You are my best friends.

Love,
dad

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

THROUGH THE NIGHT

Dear Spike:

I just got back to bed after rocking you down — for the second time tonight. I anticipate we'll be having another meeting sometime between now and 3 a.m. That's just the way it's been, lately.

I'm tired. You're mother is, too.

We've chatted a lot this week about weaning you from our nightly rocking sessions. And the truth is, you're probably ready for that.

But I'm not sure we're ready for that. Because I, for one, start feeling very lonely on the rare nights when I don't get to lift you from your crib and rock you back to sleep and smell your soft, clean hair and feel your sweet little snores and feel your warm breath against my arm.

Yes, maybe you are ready to sleep through the night. But I'm not.

Love,
dad

Friday, November 21, 2008

SNIP, SNIP, SNIP



Dear Spike:

We cut your hair yesterday.

Really, we should have gotten to it weeks ago. Maybe months ago. But for the longest time, it just didn't seem right to rob you of the only locks you had — even if that little whisp of hair did hang down over your face, like Eddie Munster on a Rogaine binge.

But things were getting out of hand. You're not a big fan of hair clips, and although we'd always start the day by brushing it to one side or the other, it never stayed that way.

The last straw came the other day, when your hair got stuck under your runny nose. Yeah. It was that kind of gross.

And so, last night, your mother held you down while I played Delilah to your Sampson.

Snip. Snip. Snip.

And just like that, you had bangs worthy of Bettie Page, or maybe one of those creepy Catholic monks.

For a very long time, your mother had a custom of coming home from a haircut feeling as though she'd made the worst decision of her life. "I don't think I like it," she'd fret (sometimes for several days) after each new cut.

I always told her the same thing: "You look darling."

It was always true for her then. And it's true for you now.

You look darling.

Love,
dad

Monday, November 17, 2008

WHATEVER AILS YOU

Dear Spike:

As a matter of parental responsibility, we always kiss your boo-boos. Being rather boo-boo prone, you get a lot of kisses. And so lately you've come to expect a little smooch to cure whatever ails you.

So when you got a splinter in your hand at the playground: "Kiss it! Kiss it! Kiss it!"

And when you got scratched on your leg by the cat: "Kiss it! Kiss it! Kiss it!"

And when you bumped your head on the cabinet: "Kiss it! Kiss it! Kiss it!"

In almost every other situation, your mother and I wouldn't let you get by with demanding anything from us without so much as a "please" and then a "thank you."

But when you're in pain, we always comply. Finishing school can wait. Boo-boos can't.

But today, I really had to draw the line.

You were running around your bedroom when you lost your footing, spun around backward and fell — bum first — onto a wooden block. Unfortunately, you don't really have much of a butt to speak of, so I'm sure it smarted something fierce.

You writhed on the ground before jumping up, hand on butt, to ask for daddy's magic remedy.

"Kiss it! Kiss it! Kiss it!" you screamed.

I looked down at you and shook my head.

"Kiss it! Kiss it! Kiss it!" you pleaded.

"No way, Jose," I said.

"Kiss it! Kiss it! Kiss it!" you cried.

I sighed and rolled my eyes. "Say please."

"Pleeeeeeeaaaase! Kiss it! Kiss it! Kiss it!"

I complied. And just like that, you were all better.

My dignity? That's another story entirely.

Love,
dad

Saturday, November 15, 2008

MELT MY HEART



Dear Spike:

I came home from work yesterday to find you and your mother curled up together in bed.

You both melt my heart.

Love,
dad

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

FATTEN YOU UP

Dear Spike:

No snacking between meals.

It seems counterintuitive, given that we're trying to fatten you up for the winter, but that's what the doctor ordered.

Except today, walking back from the park and past the chocolate studio around the corner (two parts blessing, one part curse, five parts yummy) I sort of forgot about the new rules and bought you a chocolate-covered strawberry.

Don't tell the doctor, OK?

Love,
dad

FEELS LIKE HOME

Dear Spike:

You're back from your big Oregon adventure — and at this moment sleeping between your mother and me.

Home feels like home again.

Love,
dad

Saturday, November 8, 2008

BIG OLD HOUSE

Dear Spike:

You and your mother are visiting our family in Oregon this weekend, so I'm all alone in this big old house. Funny, it doesn't seem so big when we're all here together. And it doesn't seem so lonely, either.

I woke up last night expecting to hear your sweet little snores over the baby monitor. It took me a few moments to remember why it was so very quiet. I tossed and turned and finally fell back asleep, only to wake up an hour later when I rolled over to hold your mother and got nothing but an armful of pillows.

Your mom called me twice today to tell me about how much fun you're having with your Aunt Molly, Uncle Matt and cousins Jay and Brett. Today you went to the Portland Children's Museum, where you played in the Bob The Builder exhibit. (I can only imagine your excitement at "meeting" the characters of which you've grown so fond. Tomorrow you'll head down to your grandparents house, where you'll be meeting up with more aunts, uncles and cousins. And then on Monday, you'll be visiting your Godmother and her new baby, Aaron.

I miss you, but I'm excited for your adventures and happy you're getting to spend time with people who love you. And I'll keep this big old house warm for your return.

Love,
dad

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

OF A DREAM

Dear Spike:

Today will come and go for you like any other.

The sun has not imploded. Gravity has not been upended. The sky is still the sky and the land is still the land and the sea is still the sea.

Today is just another day for you. And, in the very grand scheme of things, for all of us.

But it does not feel that way. No, today it feels as though the entire world has changed.

Today, a black man has been elected as our president.

You are still very young, but at some point in the next four years, you will come to understand that there is someone in this nation we call our president. You won't at first understand how he came to be who he came to be. You won't know precisely what he does.

You will simply know him as a photograph. As an image on the television screen. As a name spoken on the radio.

And when you come to this very simple understanding, the man you will know as your president will not look like any of the men that preceded him as the leader of our nation.

But you will not know that this is special.

For you will not know — not for a few more years, at least — our nation's great shame. You will not know that, at one time in our history, we held people in chains and sold them as cattle and kept them as property. You will not know that, at one time in our history, we kept people from voting and sent them to sit in the back of the bus and told them that they were not human enough to eat at our side. You will not know that, at one time in our history, we hung people from trees.

Thank God Almighty that you will not know. Thank God Almighty that when you come to learn these things, you will learn them as history. Ancient as the pyramids, I pray.

You will come to learn these things in a classroom full of children of many races, colors and creeds. You will come to learn these things in a classroom full of children belonging to parents who look like your parents and who do not. You will come to learn these things in a classroom full of children who, like you, will be learning these things for the first time, too. You will come to learn these things in a classroom full of children who, like you, will not know that the ascension of a black man into the White House is in any way significant.

For as far as you will know, that is how it always has been.

As you grow you will come to know that our shame is not so ancient, that our wounds are still quite fresh. You will learn that there is still so much work to be done.

You will learn of a dream not yet realized, of a check still not cashed.

Do not be dismayed.

Listen to me, my child: The world can change.

I know that it is so.

Love,
dad

PLEASE GO VOTE

Dear Spike's Friends:

I was there, in the fall of 2005, standing in the shadow of the tapered golden dome of the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, as Iraqis braved shootings, bombings, and even beheadings to vote in that nation's first constitutional referendum. On that day, 10 Iraqi poll workers were kidnapped, dozens of others were killed or injured, and six U.S. service members lost their lives.

What's stopping you, today, from voting?

Love,
Spike's dad

Thursday, October 30, 2008

MY OWN HEART

Dear Spike:

You're a girl after my own heart.

You can't stand to see your mother leave for work in the morning, so usually we try to distract you with books, games or food while she slips out the back door.

But this morning, nothing worked.

"Mama mama mama," you cried.

I made you an omelette. "Eggs?" I asked.

"No no no," you sobbed. "Mama mama mama!"

I brought you to the cat. "Coltrane?" I asked.

"No no no," you screamed. "Mama mama mama!"

I took you to your bookshelf. "Books?" I asked.

"No no no," you wailed. "Mama mama mama!"

I gave up and walked you around the house, patting your back and telling you that she would be home soon. Still, you seemed unconsolable.

"Mama mama mama! Mama mama mama! Mama mama mama!"

"Mama mama mama! Mama mama mama! Mama mama mama!"

"Mama mama mama! Mama mama mama! Mama mama mama!"

Then we walked into our bedroom, past the television and a stack of DVDs.

"Mama mama mama...

...

...

... MASH?"

"MASH? You want to watch MASH?"

"MASH MASH MASH! MASH MASH MASH!"

You're a girl after my own heart.

Love,
dad

Monday, October 27, 2008

FOR THEIR CHILDREN

Dear Spike:

Since you're still quite small for your age, next month we're taking you in to see a nutritionist. This week, a letter came in the mail explaining what we should expect during our visit — including a meeting with a social worker.

Your mother was aghast. "A social worker! Do they think we're bad parents?"

I did my best to reassure her they no one thought that. But, in a way, I hope that someone suspects it's at least a possibility. I don't mind proving I'm fit to be your dad.

Sometimes I wish more proof was required of us all.

The other day you and I were coming back from a stroll in the park when something caught my eye.

The little girl was sitting on a bus stop bench, watching the cars fly by on 900 South. The man behind her was leaning up against a tree, rocking back and forth and mumbling to himself. We walked by slowly, then stopped about a half block away and watched for a bit longer.

The girl was eight, maybe nine, and decked out in a blue and red cheerleading costume, probably for a school Halloween party. The man was in his 40s. He was hunched over a gray canvas bag, sorting through some papers.

I wasn't even sure they were together. But after a few minutes, the girl walked over, set her hand on the man's shoulder, and whispered something in his ear. He waved her away, and she returned to the bus stop bench.

It probably shouldn't have taken me as long as it did, but I finally pulled the mobile phone from my pocket and called the number for the city's police dispatcher. "Listen," I said. "I don't know what is going on, but it just doesn't look right. That guy's in no position to be looking after a little girl."

A few minutes later an officer drove by. After a while, he was joined by another. It was striking to me how calm the little girl looked as a third, then a fourth officer arrived — as though she'd been through all of this before.

The officers helped the man to his feet, then watched as he took the little girl by the hand and stumbled away.

"That's it?" I asked one of the policemen.

"He told us that he's having a bad reaction to a flu shot," one of them said.

"Yeah, those things can really screw you up," another added.

I'm sure there's something legal to be said here for "probable cause" and "reason to search," but it seemed to me that the officers were taking a rather cavalier attitude to the situation. Maybe they, like the little girl, had simply seen it all before.

The man and the girl walked to the end of the block and rounded the corner, up our street. I lifted you into my arms and followed. When I turned the corner, I saw the man was sitting on the ground. The little girl was standing next to him, trying to help him up. I beckoned for the officers to come see. When they approached the man again, he got up and started to walk away. I suppose that's what tipped the scales for them. Soon he was back on the ground and they were going through his bag.

A few moments later, the man was in handcuffs in the back of a patrol car, and one of the officers was emptying the remaining contents of a large vodka bottle into a bush. The little girl was picked up by a relative. And they all watched together as her father was carted away to jail.

I used to believe that parents were in the best position to make decisions for their children, but I've long since opened my eyes to a darker reality.

Maybe it was the brother-sister pair I met, a few years back, who found their mother dead of a heroin overdose. The little girl had run downstairs to find help as the little boy — just five years old — pulled a needle from his mother's arm and banged furiously on her chest. He was still there, on top of her lifeless body, when the police arrived. "You promised!" he was screaming, over and over. "You promised you would stop!"

Maybe it is the stories your mother comes home with, day after day after day, from the inner-city school where she works. The little girl with the gang markings, stenciled in permanent black marker on her legs. The little boy who complains that there is no food at home, but whose parents can't seem to get him to school on time for a free breakfast there. The little girl, all of five years old, who comes to school dressed like a whore and tells the other girls to "walk more sexy." The little boy who falls asleep on his desk, exhausted because his parents refuse to put him to bed at night.

And then, as if that's all not enough, a reminder on our street of the sheer inability of some parents to make good decisions for their children: A dad, far too drunk to look after himself, being looked after by his young daughter.

There are, of course, plenty of parents who make good decisions for their children, every day — parents who feed them right and treat them right and keep them out of harm's way, insomuch as any parent is capable of doing such things.

But these days, when I hear folks saying the government should get out of the way of parents who just want to raise their kids as they see fit, I wonder where they think we should draw the line.

For the record, I don't know where the line should be drawn, either. I've always thought I was a fan of getting the government out of people's lives, but lately, in my more cynical moments, I've begun to wonder if we shouldn't be licensing people to raise children.

There is a happy medium between those two extremes, I guess, but I'm quite sure we've not found it yet.

I suppose that parenting is both a blessing and a right — I only wish we'd all treat it more like the former than the latter.

Love,
dad

Friday, October 24, 2008

BIG GREEN SLIDE

Dear Spike:

Today you conquered the big green slide at the park.

Tomorrow, Mount Everest?

Love,
dad

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

HUMAN REPRODUCTIVE IMPULSES

Dear Spike:

Of course, you weren't the first kid on this planet. But ever since your arrival, it sure seems as though a lot of the people we know have gotten into the parenting game.

We figure it's just because they saw how cool you are and wanted to have one of their own (although it's possible that basic human reproductive impulses had something to do with it, too.)

Among the most recent additions to this wildly spinning world:

On Tuesday, we learned that your mother's friend Shanda is having a baby boy.

Yesterday, my friend Hank told me he was having his 11th kid... um, yeah, it's sort of a Utah thing.

And today we got photos of your cousin, Stas (rhymes with "wash," unless you're from the Midwest, in which case it rhymes with "squash.")



He's a cute kid. Kind of gooey, but definitely cute.

Be a good friend.

Love,
dad

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

LONG LONG HOURS



Dear Spike:

If I could bequeath to you one thing that I, myself, do not possess, it would be patience.

It will come in handy, should you ever decide to make an insurance claim, cash in a warranty, register a car or pay your taxes.

I guess the best advice I can give you for the long, long hours you will no doubt be spending in bureaucratic purgatory is to try to always keep a sense of humor about things.

Things could always be worse — even if it might not seem that way at the time.

Love,
dad

Monday, October 13, 2008

HAVE YOUR EVER?

Dear Spike:

Sometimes you'll look at your partner and swim with feelings of love.

Sometimes you'll feel something else...


Spike's mom: Have you ever felt like smothering me?

Spike's dad: Um, no.

Spike's mom: Oh, that's good.


There's an obvious follow-up question I could have asked her. But I didn't. I'd rather not know.

Love,
dad

Friday, October 10, 2008

MY LITTLE LION



Dear Spike:

We went to the new soccer stadium in Sandy last night. It was going to be a cold night, so you and I stopped by the costume store to pick up a warm outfit -- a lion, in honor of the home team, Real Salt Lake.

Super cute, really.

My plan was to parade you around the stadium at halftime, but we never got that far.

Seems all the excitement was just too much for you. About 10 minutes into the game, you got sick. Luckily, the team had given away free commemorative towels at the beginning of the game, so we had something to mop you up with.

Unfortunately, the lion costume didn't survive the onslaught of upchuck. And although we had a change of clothes for you in our backpack, it wasn't likely to keep you warm through the rest of the game.

And so, not more than 15 minutes into the inaugural game at Rio Tinto Stadium — with plenty of folks still on their way in — we headed home.

On the way out, your mother asked if I was disappointed. I'm not sure she believed me when I told her I wasn't, but that was the truth.

There was a time in my life when soccer was everything. But these days, my little lion, it's not even close.

Love,
dad

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

FOREIGN POLICY EXPERIENCE

Dear Spike:

Your mother and I sat down for dinner tonight. Nothing gourmet. Far from it in fact: we had salisbury steaks, tomatoes, peas and poutine.

The latter dish is a Canadian fast food staple consisting of french fries, cheese curds or mozzarella and gravy. I think the word "poutine" might mean "coronary" in French, but I'm not sure.

Before digging in, your mother considered the menu and asked: "Since we're eating Canadian tonight, does that give us foreign policy experience?"

I recognize that, by the time you're old enough to read this letter, this joke will have no relevance to you.

But tonight, it was damn funny.

Love,
dad

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

YOUR OWN HERO

Dear Spike:

It all kind of happened in slow motion.

You were sitting on the playground, minding your own business, running your fingers through the tanbark near the base of the slide. All of the sudden, a boy about a year your senior grabbed a handful of bark and, point blank, threw it in your face.

Maybe I'm a bad father, but I didn't really do anything.

It's not that I didn't want to. Every basal impulse in my body was telling me to march right up to that little punk, grab him by his Gymboree jacket collar, and toss his smug little mug into the mud. And that impulse was even stronger after his mother, who watched the whole thing unfold just as I did, sauntered over to let me know that her little pookey "probably didn't mean to hurt your daughter."

So your kid's not savage, just stupid? I should throw you into the mud too, lady.

Luckily for all of us, you were none the worse for the wear. A little stunned, maybe, and with a mouth full of playground nastiness, but not in any sort of pain, so far as I could tell.

I suppose I could have jumped into the fray — I could have swept you up from the spot where you were playing next to that cruddy little kid and whisked you away. I could have run you over to the park restrooms to wash out your mouth and wash off your face and hair, which had little pieces of bark dust stuck in it. I could have packed you back into your stroller and headed home for a bath and a change of clothes.

Maybe any of those things would have been the right thing to do. But I didn't do any of those things.

Instead, I sat back and watched as you looked dumbfounded at the boy and then, quite calmly, went back to digging your fingers into the dirt.

I'm not sure, but I think that was an OK outcome. You took a lump and kept on going — and, at least in a very small way, figured out how to handle the situation on your own, without daddy sweeping in for the rescue.

Someday, I imagine, you're going to need me to sweep in and do what big, angry men do — to thump my chest and pull you away from danger and right the wrongs and generally take care of business.

But most of the time, you're going to need to be your own hero — to remove yourself from danger, to right the wrongs that can be righted, and to generally take care of your own business. Or, when appropriate, to just turn the other cheek as you did today.

Sometimes, I think, you know better than I do. Thank goodness for that.

Love,
dad

Saturday, October 4, 2008

I LOVE IT



Dear Spike:

I love it when you sing. 

Love,
dad



 

Thursday, October 2, 2008

THE BEAVER CALL

Dear Spike:

We come together one...


We come together all...


And when we come together...


We do the Beaver Call! 

You attended your first Oregon State football game this evening. It didn't end as we'd hoped (if you're going to be a Beaver Believer, that's something you might just have to get used to.) Still, you definitely had a good time.

You cheered. You shook an orange and black pompom. You ate ice cream. And when it was all said and done, you walked out of the stadium with your head held high...


... and then promptly fell asleep on your mother's shoulder. 

Love,
dad  


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

DEAR SPIKE: WOW

Dear Spike:

Wow. That was a lot of vomit.

Love,
dad 


THE UGLY BUG

Dear Spike:

It's flu season — and you, your mother and I all came down with the ugly bug over the weekend.

Here's a few good ways to know that you're really sick:

1) You rush into the bathroom, but can't decide which way to approach the toilet.
2) The taste of water makes you gag.
3) After a few days away, you're actually looking forward to getting back to work. 
4) You look at yourself in them mirror and think, "who is that corpse?" 

We're all recovering now, but I'm seriously considering moving somewhere where there aren't so many viruses.

Like Antarctica.

Love,
dad 

  

Thursday, September 25, 2008

LIFE AND DEATH

Dear Spike:

I'm still not exactly sure how it happened, but something — likely a raccoon — got into the chicken coop last night.

Bubba and The Colonel are dead. Wanda is hurt pretty bad, and we'll have to put her down today.

I'll spare you the details. Life's just unfair sometimes. Sometimes, that's all you need to say. And sometimes that's all you can say. 

You're mother's pretty upset. About the birds we've lost and about the daughter who, when she wakes up later this morning, is going to be asking to go feed the chickens — "chick-ahn, chick-ahn" – like she always does.

You won't understand. Heck, I'm 30 years your senior and sometimes I don't understand. That's life. And death.

Love,
dad



Tuesday, September 23, 2008

LITTLE CUCKOO CLOCK

Dear Spike:

You've learned a song.

It goes: "Tick tock, tick tock, I'm a little cuckoo clock."

For now, all you know is the "tick tock" part, but it's nonetheless certifiably adorable, particularly when you rock back and forth as you sing.

Love,
dad 
 

 

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A BIG KID

Dear Spike:

You took a big step toward being a big kid today.

Two steps, actually — first the right one and then the left one...

... into a pair of skivvies.

Sure, someday you're going to score the championship-winning goal in the World Cup, win the Nobel Prize for peace and science (in the same year,) and solve the Rubik's cube in under 7.08 seconds.

But today, I can't imagine ever being prouder.

Love,
dad 
   

Thursday, September 18, 2008

BOB BOB BOB

Dear Spike:

For a while now, we've been letting you watch "Bob the Builder" videos, usually in the early afternoons when you're getting restless, I'm trying to get some work done, and your mother is not quite home from school.

But it seems that in addition to your little milk problem,  you've developed a significant case of Bobaholism.

As in: 

Spike's Dad: "What's your name?"
Spike: "Bob."    
Spike's Dad: "No, your name is not Bob."
Spike: "Bob."
Spike's Dad: "I'll give you a hint, your name starts with a..."
Spike: "Bob."
Spike's Dad: "That's not even a letter."
Spike: "Bob. Bob. Bob."
Spike's Dad: "If I let you watch Bob, will you stop saying Bob?"
Spike: (Nods solemnly.)
Spike's Dad: "You promise?"
Spike: (Eyes wide. Continues to nod solemnly.)
Spike's Dad: "OK. But just one episode."
Spike: (chin trembling.)
Spike's Dad: "Don't do that."
Spike: (chin trembling.)
Spike's Dad: "Oh please don't do that."
Spike: "Bob Bob?"
Spike's Dad: "No, just one Bob."
Spike: "Bob. Bob. Bob?"
Spike's Dad: "No. No. No." 
Spike: "Bob. Bob. Bob, Bob, Bob!"
Spike's Dad: "OK. Forget it. No Bob."
Spike: (chin trembling) "No Bob?"
Spike's Dad: "Don't do that."
Spike: "Love-oo daddy?"
Spike's Dad: "That's not fair."
Spike: "Love-oo! Love-oo daddy!"
Spike's Dad: "That's SO not fair."
Spike: "Love-oo daddy... ... ... ... Bob?"

This afternoon your Auntie Sue came over to watch you while your mother was in a night class. I showed her where your food was, where your toys were and, finally, where the computer was hidden...

Spike's Dad: Here's the computer. If she get crabby and there's just nothing else that works, feel free to put on a B--O--B video.
Spike: Bob!?
Auntie Sue: She can spell?
Spike's Dad: (sighs) Um, apparently so.
Spike: (proudly) Bob! Bob! Bob, Bob, Bob!

Love,
dad

P.S. — You mother just now...
Spike's Mom: (reading over Spike's Dad's shoulder) "She did not say 'Love-oo Daddy,' did she?" 
Spike's Dad: (unhappily) "Yes. As a matter of fact she did."
Spike's Mom: (laughing) "She said that just to get her way?"
Spike's Dad: "Yes. And I'm adding a new word to label the blog posts..."
Spike's Mom: "What?"
Spike's Dad: "Manipulation." 
Spike's Mom: (smiling broadly) "She's SOOOOOO my child!"



Wednesday, September 17, 2008

THE LITTLE TADPOLE

Dear Spike: 

Your godmother gave birth to a beautiful baby boy last night.

At least, we're pretty sure he's beautiful. We haven't seen his photo yet, but I talked to his grandpa on the phone, and he assured me that the little lad was a handsome youth indeed (and, of course, who could possibly be a more credible source?)

Since you're more than a year older than the little tadpole, we'll expect you to set a good example. 

For instance, when it's time to attend his first protest rally, perhaps you could show him how to properly pump his fist in the air with righteous indignation. And when he needs someone to talk to about his plan to quit school, join a band, and tour the country in a VW van singing songs about the heartland, I'm certain that you'll assure him that this is a very good plan. 

And when the revolution begins, I know you'll be right there, holding his hand. 

Love,
dad 

P.S. — Welcome to the world, Tadpole.
 

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

LOVE LIKE WINE

Dear Spike:

It's close to harvest time in our small backyard vineyard. Soon you'll be knee-deep in bright purple grapes, stomping and sloshing away, adding a bit of your soul to our wine.

Most of our wine finds its way to those we love, often in the form of a birthday, wedding or anniversary gift. This week we delivered a bottle of last year's vintage to our friends, Chris and Ashley, to celebrate their wedding.

Here's what I wrote in the card that we slipped into the bag with the bottle...

Love, like wine,
Is best between friends.
Shared in full reminiscence 
Of the sun,
And the dirt,
And the rain,
From which it was born.

You're going to learn a lot from your mother and me. And you're going to learn a lot from your teachers in school. And from your grandparents and from your aunts and uncles and from your friends and from your neighbors. 
 
But some of life's best lessons come in unexpected places. 

Never underestimate what you can learn from a bottle of wine. Or from taking apart a car engine. Or from a sunrise hike in the mountains.

Never underestimate life's capacity for unexpected joy.

Love,
dad

Saturday, September 13, 2008

OF HER CREATIONS


Dear Spike:

I'm not fond of quoting scripture — I prefer Marx to Mark, Twain to Timothy and Einstein to Ephesians — but there are two Bible passages I remember from Sunday School that kept popping into my head this week.

Both are from the Book of Matthew — and both are purportedly the words of Jesus Christ.

He said: "Aren't two sparrows sold for a penny? Not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father's permission." And: "Whatever you failed to do for one of my brothers or sisters, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you failed to do for me."

So what's got your father going all Gospel this week?

This:

Misha's Sad Journey
By Matthew D. LaPlante
The Salt Lake Tribune

She was born 27 years ago in the wilds of Africa.

By the time she was a year old, she had been ripped from her family.

Penned, chained and shipped to a noisy new world, her California keepers allowed her to roam only a few paces this way and a few paces that. She was bullied and dominated. She lost a baby. She was poked, prodded, cut and left in pain.

Misha the elephant died Tuesday on the concrete floor of a cinderblock building in a lot behind her most recent home at Utah's Hogle Zoo, some 10,000 miles from where she was born.

No one is yet is certain of what caused her death, at what could be described as "middle age" for an elephant. But one of Misha's former trainers has a strong suspicion: "She lost her will."

Out of Africa
It was the early 1980s in South Africa. Apartheid was law. Nelson Mandela was in prison. And the nation's population of elephants, which had fallen to less than 200 earlier in the century, had steadily climbed to more than 8,000, pushing against the capacity of the country's wildlife reserves.

Between 1981 and 1983, the South African government approved the killing of more than 3,200 elephants. The government also permitted the capture some of the animals - mostly juveniles, whose size and temperament made their integration into captivity easier - for transport overseas.

"The only way you could do it was to kill the mother first," said Les Schobert, a retired California zoo curator who procured a number of elephant calves in the early 1980s before growing disenchanted with the industry. "You couldn't get a baby elephant away from its mom in any other way. You had to shoot the mom and then collect the babies."

In most cases, Schobert said, the calves were still drinking their mother's milk and had to be trained to use a bottle. Many couldn't make the transition. From a quarter to a third of the calves died within four months of arriving in the United States, Schobert said. "That was the risk you ran by importing them."

Hundreds of elephants made their way to the United States in this way. Among them was Misha.

Under California Stars
At about two years old, when many elephant calves are just beginning to be weaned, Misha arrived at Marine World, Africa, U.S.A., in Redwood City, Calif., an aging theme park with animal attractions, a few low-tech rides and a popular water-skiing show.

In the summer of 1986, the park's menagerie - including performing pachyderms, tropical birds, wild cats, dolphins and killer whales - was moved to a larger campus, 60 miles north in Vallejo.

That's where elephant trainer Barbara Anderson met Misha, in 1990.

"We had 12 elephants at that time," Anderson recalled, ticking off the animals' names like a proud mother. "In particular, Tika, Tava, Misha and Malaika were all pretty tight. They were good friends."

Misha was always nervous, Anderson said, "and she was never going to be the dominant one in the herd." But Anderson said Misha also didn't let herself get picked on. It's unclear when that all changed - but park veterinary records make it clear that it did.

Anderson left the park in 1996, upset that the organization was not making better efforts to modernize its elephant training methods and habitats. "Of course," she said. "They were losing a lot of money."

Indeed, dwindling attendance had left the non-profit Marine World Foundation millions in the red. In the fall of 1997 it defaulted on its loans, which had been guaranteed by the city.

When Vallejo couldn't find a buyer for the park, it assumed ownership of the campus, buildings and more than 3,000 animals - including Misha's herd of elephants, which by that time was down to 10 animals. Promptly, the city turned control of the park over to the for-profit Premier Parks, Inc.

Living Out Loud
Premier had a plan: It would break from the park's traditional focus on animal education in order to offer its visitors more thrills. And if successful, it would exercise an option to buy the park.

At the time, Premier president Gary Story told The San Francisco Chronicle that his company had been "sensitive to add attractions which will not disturb or disrupt the animals."

Less than two years later, Premier began construction on the tallest, fastest and longest wooden roller coaster in Northern California. It's name belied another distinction - they called it "The Roar" and park advertisements enticed guests to "hear it!"

Today, the park now known as Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is chock full of rides and exhibits. And its elephant habitat lies within a peanut's throw of a half-dozen thrill rides, including three super-fast, steel-track roller coasters.

Four years in a row, the California-based non-profit In Defense of Animals has placed Discovery Kingdom on its list of "10 Worst Zoos for Elephants," noting that "nine elephants have died at the amusement park since 1995." That's a rate of one death every 16 months among animals that, in most cases, were no more than middle-aged.

Suzanne Roy, the association's program director, said it's no surprise that so many of the park's elephants died early.

"They're living there in the midst of a noisy, crowded amusement park, in the shadow of several roller coasters, housed in this tiny zoo lot...just crammed in there," Roy said. "It's a completely unnatural environment."

Nowhere To Run
When Anderson left Misha's side in 1996, she said, she left an animal that, while often timid, could hold her own within the herd. But by 1999, that had changed.

Veterinary records obtained by In Defense, under California's Public Records Act, show that Misha - then 18 years old and more than 7,400 pounds - was known to be the frequent victim of other elephant's attacks. One her most frequent assailants was Liz, an older female of nearly 10,000 pounds.

Over several years, the records show, Misha was attacked by Liz and others, resulting in a number of deep lacerations, abrasions and some internal injuries which left her with weeks of bloody stool.

Hogle Zoo spokeswomen Holly Braithwaite said that, in Utah, animals that are bullied by their peers in a dangerous way are separated.

"The Association of Zoos and Aquariums stressed the ability to separate the animals if they are not getting along," Braithwaite said. "We don't want to have our animals hurt ... we're not going to put animals in together if they are not getting along."

And Anderson noted that the Marine World lot was exceptionally small for the number of animals it held. "You can't just throw them all in there and expect them to get along," she said. "They've got to have the ability to run away from danger."

Breaking Point
In 2001, park officials decided they would attempt to impregnate Misha to add to their herd. The process included an episiotomy - a vaginal incision that later grew infected and stayed that way for more than two months. Records show urine frequently leaked through it.

Meanwhile, the records show Misha was suffering from a large lesion on her lower left jaw, which would grow deeper, more sensitive and more infected over the next four years. At one point in the fall of 2001, vets attempting to clean the site broke off the tip of a knife in Misha's jaw.

"After many attempts at retrieval," the record states, "the blade tip was left in."

Association of Zoos and Aquariums spokesman Steve Feldman said that such medical records can only accurately be understood by a veterinarian. "You need to be qualified to understand," he said. "The care of exotic wildlife is extremely complicated and a difficult world to understand."

In March 2003, after 22 months of pregnancy - full term for an African elephant - Misha gave birth.

Like many other calves born in captivity, Misha's did not survive. Records show the attending veterinarians were able to revive the stillborn calf for only a few minutes before losing it for good.

Not quite a year later, the insemination team tried again - reopening the incision even as they continued to battle the persistent infection in Misha's jaw, which had grown to a hole eight inches deep. The second insemination didn't work.

By that time, the thrill park had added several more roller coasters and attendance was again rising. Critics, including some on Vallejo's city council, pushed the park's owners to use the opportunity to modernize their animal training methods.

In particular, they wanted the park to follow the lead of zoos across the United States that had ended the practice of "free contact," in which trainers move freely about the elephant's exhibits, coercing and disciplining animals with sticks and hooks. But the park continued that technique.

In June 2004, Misha made the news around the world when she knocked down zookeeper Patrick Chapple with her trunk, then gored him through the back and abdomen. Zoo officials said the attack was unprovoked.

Chapple survived. Misha was isolated, and remained so until April 2005, when she was packed into a crate, loaded onto a truck, and driven 700 miles to Utah.

Six Flags spokeswoman Nancy Chan said her facility was "extremely proud" of the care it provided to Misha, who Chan said "was in excellent health when she was transferred to the Hogle Zoo."

Dying Young
On nature reserves in Africa, elephants can live well into their 60s, according to the National Zoo in Washington D.C. By comparison, the oldest African elephant in an American Zoo is 48 years old - her name is Hydari, and she's lived at Utah's Hogle Zoo since 1967.

Given the zoo's success with Hydari and given Misha's relatively young age, Hogle's lead elephant keeper, Doug Tomkinson, said he expected that Misha would be part of the Utah herd for decades to come.

After all, Misha had been given an improved living situation - placed back into contact with other elephants and in a "protected contact" environment, where zookeepers do not go into the creatures' habitats. And though Hogle officials said they were aware of Misha's prior medical complications, she had experienced no significant problems since arriving in Utah.

Her attitude also seemed to have taken a turn for the better. Whatever inner turmoil had caused her to turn on a trainer a year earlier did not appear to be present in Utah.

"Misha was always a happy and playful elephant," said Holly Braithwaite, the Hogle spokeswoman. "Misha quickly became close to her keepers ... she was just a good, hard-working, caring animal."

When Misha's health began to falter last month - she was losing energy, was having trouble sleeping, wasn't eating and seemed to be in great pain - Hogle's animal staff was bewildered and concerned. As her condition grew steadily worse, the zoo's staff worked around the clock to diagnose her ailment, taking tests, consulting with experts from other parks and even using a crane to help her stand when she could not do so alone.

Finally, on Tuesday afternoon, the staff gathered to make a collective decision about whether to continue. "We felt like the only fair thing to do was to put her to sleep," said Dr. Nancy Carpenter, the zoo's lead veterinarian.

Last Goodbye
By the time she was put down, the once 7,400-pound elephant was down to 6,000 pounds. But if there are any guesses as to what caused Misha's sudden downturn, Hogle officials aren't saying.

The results of a necropsy performed on Wednesday won't likely be made public for several weeks. And lab tests could take even longer.

But Anderson isn't waiting for the results - they can't tell her what she already knows about Misha.

"Here is what you've done," Anderson said. "You've taken this animal and taught her to fear. You've put her in a tiny yard and then disciplined her when she fought back. You've put this totally social animal in isolation, denying her any social experiences and then shipped her off."

Whatever the ultimate answer to Misha's sudden death, Anderson said, to her, the big mystery is no mystery at all. "She lost her will."


If there is a God (and sometimes when I think of the way we treat one another, I'm convinced there simply isn't) I'm saddened to think of how She must feel about the way we treat the rest of Her creations.

Be good to this world. To every sparrow. To every elephant. Because if there is a God (and sometimes when I look into your eyes, I'm persuaded that there must be) I'm certain that is what She wants.

Love,
dad

Monday, September 8, 2008

I SAID IT

Dear Spike:

I think we've discovered a new species of fauna: Porifera verbum: the word sponge.

You've picked up so many new words in the past two weeks, I'm afraid your little head is going to explode like a volcano full of molten dictionary entires. . .

"What's this Spike?" "Pillow!"
"What's that Spike?" "Tail!"
"What's this Spike?" "Chair!"
"What's that Spike?" "Plum!"
"What's this Spike?" "Hat!"
Ka-Boom!


Because you're so quick on the uptake, you mother and I have taken to spelling out almost everything, lest you get too happy, sad, angry or excited about what you hear us talking about. This does, however, have the potential to create certain problems. . .

Mom: "Is Spike going to go to the B-A-B-Y-S-I-T-T-E-R today?"
Dad: "The what?"
Mom: "The B-A-B-Y-S-I-T-T-E-R."
Dad: "Um, slow down a bit."
Mom: "B---A---B---"
Dad: "D?"
Mom: "No B"
Dad: "OK."
Mom: "Y--S--"
Dad: "Y? S? I thought the word started with a B?"
Mom: "It does, I'm starting from the middle."
Dad: "You've lost me... start from the beginning again..."
Mom: "B---A---B---Y---S---I---"
Dad: "Oh! Babysitter."
Spike: "Sitter! Sitter! No! No! No, bye bye! No!"
Dad: "Shit"
Mom: "Hey! Don't say that!"
Dad: Say what?
Mom: "S-H-I-T"
Dad: "Shit?"
Spike: "Shit?"
Dad: "Uh oh."
Mom: "Well that's wonderful."
Dad: "Um... sit! sit! Sit down Spike! Sit!"
Mom: "She's not a dog!"
Spike: "Shit!"
Dad: "Uh fu..."
Mom: "Matt!"
Dad: "I didn't say it! I stopped before I said it!"
Spike: "It! Shit!"
Dad" "Sit!"
Mom: "It's too late"
Dad: "No it's not! Sit, Spike! Sit!"
Mom: "She is not a dog!"
Dad: "Spit?"
Mom: "Oh yeah, that's much better."
Dad: "Grit?"
Spike: "Shit! Shit! Shit!"
Dad: "Bugger!"
Mom: "Great, now you're teaching her to swear in British?"
Dad: "Who cares? We don't live in England."
Mom: "We could someday"
Spike: "Shit!"
Dad: "Bugger!"
Spike: "Bugga!"
Mom: "Oh great, now she can swear in two languages!"
Dad: "Really, it's just one language."
Mom: "Oh crap!"
Spike: "Crap!"


Love,
dad

Saturday, September 6, 2008

THE RELAXING PART

Dear Spike:

Ah, the weekend.

It's supposed to be the relaxing part of the week, but we chock it full of visits to the farmer's market, and hikes up the canyon, and visits to the zoo, and trips up to farm country, and visits to the supermarket, and parties with our friends, and house cleaning, and errand-running and everything else that we just can't manage to do during the workweek.

Then, before you know it, it's Monday. And we're not relaxed at all.

I'm making matters worse: working a bit this morning and then most of the day tomorrow. That wasn't really my choice — its just how the cards fell this week — and I'll get a day off sometime next week that we can totally devote to each other.

And so, here's my vow: We're going to do just that.

We might take a hike. Or we might go to the zoo. Or we might hit up the market. But we're not going to do all of that. We're going to move at a slow and leisurely pace — baby steps, if you will — and enjoy each step as it comes. We're not going to think about what we're doing an hour later, or even a minute later.

We're just going to be. You and me.

Love,
dad

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

GO TO BED

Dear Spike:

You raged against the sandman this evening, but ultimately he won the night. He always does, after all. But sometimes it's a KO in the first. And sometimes it's a judge's decision after 15 hard-fought rounds. Sometimes there's a rematch. And occasionally, there are two rematches.

We've approached the task of getting you to sleep at night in a dozen different ways. We've put you down early (you wake up in the middle of the night ready to play.) We've put you down late ("10 p.m.?" you say, "How about 1 a.m.? No, how about 2 a.m.? Or maybe 3 a.m.?") We've tried to overfeed you, (you wake up sick,) to over-milk you (you wake up wet,) to let you run yourself into exhaustion (you're a bit like a perpetual motion machine, sometimes once you get started you just can't stop.)

We've tried letting you cry yourself to sleep. We've tried letting you go to bed between us. We've tried soft music. We've tried utter silence.

You're just not big on sleeping through the night. And you're really not all that hot on going to bed in the first place, either.

So far, the best plan for getting you to slumber at a reasonable hour seems to be this:
1) regular naps throughout the day but none after 4 p.m.,
2) dinner followed by a bit of playtime
3) a warm bath followed by a course of oatmeal or rice cereal
4) warm pajamas
5) a big bottle of milk
6) a nice long rock and a lullaby

Problem is, it's a delicate balance. Once thing goes wrong and we're back to square one. And no matter what we do, nothing but nothing guarantees you'll sleep through the night — sometimes you do, sometimes you don't. And heaven forbid that one of us gets up in the middle of the night to use the restroom, because one flush of the toilet is all it takes to wake you from your deepest dreams.

Ultimately, I'm sure, we'll be able to count on a full night's sleep. But right now it seems as though that might not be until you go away to college.

And then again, it might not be so easy to sleep then, either.

Love,
dad

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

THE FIRST DAY



Dear Spike:

Your mother came home from work today smiling.

This is not altogether unusual, except for one thing: Today was the first day of school — and your mom always comes home from the first day of school in tears.

You see, she cares — deeply, passionately, obsessively — about her students. And on the first day of the year she gets to know them all — the homeless, the war refugees, the undocumented immigrants, the ones that can't speak a lick of English, the ones whose parents have never bothered to read to them, the ones who don't know red from blue, the ones who can't write their first name and don't even know their last name.

Of course, even when she was teaching in the suburbs, she'd come home in tears. She would see road ahead (no matter where you teach, it's long and bumpy and has more than a few dangerous curves) and simply feel overwhelmed at the impending journey.

Something changed this year, though. All of those challenges are still there, but something about your mom is different. She's more confident. She's less afraid.

I'm sure that, in part, it is because last year was such a challenging year — a new school in the inner-city, with a class seemingly hand-picked to drive her out of the business. Despite the challenges, she succeeded. No, she thrived.

And in part, I think it's you. She still cares — deeply, passionately, obsessively. But she also knows that at the end of the day — even the first day — you'll be waiting at home to give her a hug and to tell her that you love her.

And who wouldn't smile about that?

Love,
dad

MILK MILK MLIK

Dear Spike:

Since you are a wee bit of a wee bit, I suppose it's not a bad thing that you're such a fan of whole milk.

If I chugged that stuff the way you do, I wouldn't be able to fit in our front door. But so long as you keep putting on the pounds (OK — the ounces) you can have all you want.

I do wish you were not quite so obsessive about it. Honestly, I think you might be a milkaholic. It's the first thing you ask for in the morning, the thing you beg for before every nap and the thing you can't go to sleep without first having at night.

Milk. Milk. Milk-milkity-milk-milk-milk.

Not water. Not juice. Not even that buck-a-bottle drinkable yogurt stuff.

As obsessions go, it could be worse. And since you're doing your part to keep the hard-working dairy farmers of America in business, we won't be sending you to any 12-step programs just yet.

Love,
dad

Saturday, August 30, 2008

LOSS FOR WORDS

Dear Spike's Friends:

A lot of you have e-mailed to ask about Cuba. At the moment, I'm still at a loss for words to describe the geopolitical pit of poppycock that Fidel Castro, in cooperation with every American President since JFK, has managed to make of such a beautiful country — one with such enormous economic promise.

I'm working on several articles about Cuba which I'll link to at dearspike.com when (if?) they are published. Among my subjects: The resurrection of Cuba's sex trade; the explosive growth of protestant churches in Havana's poorest quarters; life in the long, dark shadow of the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay; and the precarious return trips being made by Cuban exiles.

In the meantime, I've posted a slideshow of photos of the trip on YouTube. You can watch it here.



Thanks for all of your kind words in the wake of the burglary, during my time away, and while I've been recovering from my nasty case of Fidel's Flu. As always, you can reach me at dearspike+at+gmail+dot+com

Love,
spike's dad

p.s. — Yes, I'm still planning on posting the letters from the Dear Spike project here. Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

CHANGE FOR YOU





Dear Spike:

Today marks two years since you came into our lives — and 15 months since we met you face to face in the maternity ward at LDS Hospital.

It probably goes without saying that you've changed a bit since I first held your tiny four-and-a-half-pound body in my arms. Perhaps more remarkable, though, is how much you've changed since just last month.

Or heck, since just last week. And you know, in some ways, it's like meeting a new person every day.

One day you're a bold social butterfly — jumping into the arms of strangers and talking to everyone you pass at the supermarket. The next day you're like a nervous little squirrel, hiding behind our legs, scurrying up into our arms when you feel frightened of someone new.

One day you're stoic. The next day you're just silly.

One day you're completely engrossed in your ever-expanding library. The next day you'd rather lie on the floor doing absolutely nothing than be forced to read.

One day you're pining for the outdoors. The next day you're hankering to stay home.

We took you to see Dr. Schriewer today. You've always been fond of her in the past. But today you screamed and screamed and screamed as she tried to listen to your heart and check your eyes and look into your ears. We're talking banshee screaming. And that was long before the shots came.

Yesterday at the park you couldn't get enough of the climbing wall. Today you wanted to do nothing but slide down the big red tube.

Last week you liked your little plastic penguin. Now it's your little brown horse.

I wonder if you're not simply trying things out — sampling all of life's flavors before settling on a favorite. If that's your plan, it's not a bad one.

Lots of people talk about the benefits of trying new things. Not many people recognize the value of trying to be a new person. But you can. And not just right now but always. If you wake up one morning and decide you'd like to change you, you can.

There's only one rule: When you change, change for you.

Not for friendship. Not for love. And not for popularity. Oh please, please, please, not for popularity.

But if you want to change for you, change for you.

And whoever you are tomorrow, that's who I'll love. Even more than I love you today.

Love,
dad

Dear Spike's Friends:
For those of you keeping track, Spike weighed in at just over 17 pounds today. That's pretty darn small — and Dr. Schriewer made an appointment for us to visit a child nutritionist in November. But she also assured us that, developmentally, Spike is developing quite nicely — despite the banshee screamfest.
Love, Spike's Dad

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A VOICE DEFIANT

Dear Spike:

Growing up, you're going to have to endure a lot of this.

Some people talk to their kids about school, or sports, or television. And I suppose we'll have those discussions, too. But we're also going to talk about philosophy. And foreign affairs. And politics.

Lots of politics.

You'll find no lack of contempt for that subject in this world. But I've long believed that politics is more than a necessary evil. It is the conscience of a world ever in flux. It is a measure of where we are as a global society: Of what evil we will allow and of what evil we will stand against.

You don't need to agree with my lofty assessment of the subject. I'll be content if you simply conclude — as the Greek writer Plutarch did, shortly before togas went out of fashion — that politics "is not a public chore to be gotten over with." In other words: It takes work. And discussion. And reason.

Thus, our dinner menu will include a regular course of the science of government, policy and political philosophy.

Yes, I realize that your friends will simply be dying to join us for supper.

Everything has a political element. We were at the park this morning when I noticed that there was a good deal more fathers than mothers standing on the periphery of the playground, watching their children slide and swing and spin and climb. This at 10 a.m. on a weekday.

In Utah.

Unusual? Yes. But shocking? Not really. Times are changing. Even here, where "the traditional family" is not just a Norman Rockwell fantasy, there are plenty of families like ours, where mom's paycheck is bigger than dad's (and justly so, I might add.)

That's politics.

It's still a bit unclear to me whether today will be remembered as a significant day in America's political history, though I sense it was (and not because of what I saw on the playground this morning.)

This evening, as your mother rocked you to sleep, I washed the dishes and listened to Sen. Hillary Clinton speak at the Democratic National Convention, throwing her support — in no uncertain terms — behind the candidacy of Sen. Barack Obama.

There is still some question as to whether Clinton's supporters will follow her lead. In this nation, which so zealously celebrates the equality of all of its citizens, never had a woman come so close to being her party's nominee for president. So it was that, among many voters — older women, in particular — there was no small amount of disappointment and resentment when Obama squeaked by with the nomination, (a historic event in its own right, of course.)

I was not disappointed. Quite to the contrary.

Someday, I suppose, I'll have to explain to you (a child who, I fear, has come into a world that has unjustly provided her with far too few female political role models) why I didn't support the first woman to have a legitimate shot at The Oval Office.

It's because I'm a feminist.

And Clinton, for all of her grit and determination and intelligence and savvy, would not ever have been seen as a viable contender for the presidency — fact is, she would not have even been a U.S. senator — had she not first been the wife of a rather popular former president.

There would be an asterisk in the history books.

It is said that Bill Clinton saw his wife's candidacy as a referendum on his own presidency. And if he got his way, (and so often he did) the story of the first woman president would be the story of a woman whose husband helped her get the job.

Instead, tonight, a new story emerged. Or maybe it has been emerging for some time and your father is simply too dense to notice. In any case, this evening Sen. Clinton delivered what can only be described as an impassioned plea for her supporters to carry Obama to The White House.

In doing so, she spoke in a voice defiant of her husband, who has been infamously bitter about Obama's victory. She put her party — and from her perspective, her country — before herself. And before her husband.

The story of our nation is a story of women who had to stand behind their husbands before they were allowed stand alone. In that regard, perhaps the asterisk next to Sen. Clinton's name would have been no more than a recognition of that rather lamentable truth.

But there are times when there can be no question that someone is standing alone, regardless of whom she once stood behind.

I think tonight may have been one of those times.

In a world that has unjustly provided you with far too few female political role models, you could do far worse than Hilary Clinton. And tonight, at least, you could do no better.

You're free to disagree, of course. That's politics too.

And around our dinner table, it will be considered bad manners if you don't.

Love,
dad

FINE AND DANDY

Dear Spike:

Three things about you...

1) Suddenly, you're terrified of the toilet. Oh, you're just fine and dandy about doing your business in the backyard, in the park or in a parking lot, but the big white pot makes you scream.

2) You were playing with your Noah's Ark set. I was perusing the U.S. State Department's Website. At one point, you trotted over, glanced up at the screen and said, "peacock." "No," I said. "There's no peacock there." "Peacock! Peacock! Peacock!" You cried, pointing at the screen. I looked again and laughed. "Yes," I said. "The Statue of Liberty does look a bit like a peacock."

3) You're teething again. Molars. Sometimes you grab the side of your mouth and cry: "Teeth! Teeth! Teeth!" It is perhaps one of the saddest things I've ever seen.

Love,
dad

Monday, August 25, 2008

COME ON SANDMAN

Dear Spike:

I brought home a bronchial infection and some sort of nasty parasite from Cuba. Too sick to work today -- which is fine because I get to devote the day to you. Even when I'm not feeling well, that's still much preferable to working!

You can be an exhausting friend, though. We spent the morning reading books, playing with your animal cards, building towers, eating peaches, chasing the cat, wrestling with stuffed animals, making music, looking at photos of our family and arguing over whether or not you were going to use the potty. Now, you're resting on my lap, downing a bottle of milk like a sorority girl at a kegger.

If you sleep, I can too!

Come on, Sandman...

Love,
dad

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

SORT OF WELCOME

Dear Spike:

It was hard to tell in the midnight shadows of your bedroom, but as I peeked over the side of your crib, it seemed as though you might have grown several inches and several pounds in the short time that I was away.

I reached down and gently stroked your leg. For a moment, I thought about waking you, hoping that you might look up at me and smile, but I thought better of it. I knew you were just as likely to scream as smile. And I don't think I could have taken that sort of welcome.

So I stood there, for a bit, and watched your chest heave up and down and up and down. I listened to you snore. I waited for your dreamy sigh. Then I slipped away.

God, how I missed you.

Love,
dad

Sunday, August 17, 2008

YOU GLORIOUS YOU

Dear Spike:

I'd intended to record one more video for you before leaving for Cuba on Monday, but the burglary sort of got in the way.

And so I give you: You. Glorious you.











I miss you and I love you. (Even though you're kind of weird.)

Love,
dad

Friday, August 15, 2008

Thursday, August 14, 2008

ALONG THE BEACH

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Monday, August 11, 2008

BE HOME SOON



Dear Spike:

I'm off this morning, bright and early. My plane leaves Salt Lake City at 7 a.m. By early afternoon, I'll be in Mexico. By midnight I'll be in Havana, Cuba. And if all goes well, within 24 hours of arriving in Cuba, I'll be on the easternmost part of the island, looking out over the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay from the same vantage as Cubans have had for more than 100 years — nearly 50 of those in which the base has been an international flashpoint, first in the so-called Cold War and now in so-called the War on Terror.

I'll be gone a little over a week — by far the most time you and I have ever spent apart. While I'm away, your grandmother (you call her "Gak") is coming to stay with you and your mother — a last-minute change to our plans precipitated by the burglary of our home last week. She and your mother will take good care of you while I'm gone.

Still, I don't want you to forget me. So I've recorded a few of my normal letters to you on video and also made you a slide show of photos of you and I together. I know it's not the same as having your father home, but I thought it might help, if only just a little bit.

I'll be home soon.

I miss you and I love you.

Love,
dad

Sunday, August 10, 2008

IN OUR HOME

Dear Spike:

We came home from our vacation just past midnight. Today's your mother and my sixth anniversary, and we were ready to get some rest and then wake up for a relaxing day of pizza, movies and pajamas.

That our back door was unlocked when we returned home from our trip did not concern me. I figured the girl we left to house sit simply forgot to lock up after feeding the cat this afternoon.

Then, I smelled the marijuana.

Within moments, teenagers were popping out of the shadows of our home, stumbling around looking for shoes and coats. They seemed to be in an awful big hurry to get out of our house.

I caught up to one of the girls in our front yard, grabbing her by the collar of her sweater. She promptly slipped out of the shirt and ran off in her bra. Another escaped through a hole in the screen of the bathroom window — a hole that our house sitter had insisted she knew nothing about when we returned from our last vacation.

In the next few minutes, we found all the trappings of a house-sitting sleepover party gone bad. Your mother and I found phones, I-pods, cigarettes, drugs, digital cameras, jackets, pajamas, and — the coup d’├ętat of our investigation — a wallet with identification and a pack of recently-developed photos of the very girls who had been making themselves at home in our home.

I called the police, then went next door to find our house sitter, Stephanie. With a look of utter surprise on her face, she insisted she had nothing to do with the girls in our house. I pointed out that I'd found her phone and wallet right next to an Altoids box full of reefer.

"Oh," she said.

A police officer arrived and, shortly thereafter, several more. (They even brought a bloodhound — must have been a slow night in Salt Lake City!) A few minutes later, one of the officers got a call informing him that some other officers had picked up a girl running around downtown in a bra. Seems she'd called her dad for a ride and he — understandably concerned that his daughter was running around downtown in a bra — had called the police to report that his daughter had been running around downtown in a bra. The cops, having already gotten our call that there was probably a girl running around downtown in a bra, promptly showed up to take her into custody. I'll bet the cops love it when it's this easy.

We spent the rest of the night cleaning up after a party we weren't invited to and taking stock of what had happened. Seems that Stephanie and her friends had used the occasion of our vacation to party at our home, apparently funding their little venture with the $150 I gave her to watch after our home, our garden, our cat and our chickens.

Of course, most of our beer and hard alcohol was gone. Someone had tried the old fill-the-bottle-back-up-with-water trick, but then returned the bottle to the freezer, where it froze (Vodka doesn't do that.) There were a few bottles of wine missing, too, including one of the few from last year's backyard grape harvest.

They also apparently had gotten the munchies. Our freezer had been cleaned out. Most of our fridge and pantry, too. Ice Cream: Gone. Popsicles: Gone. Canned pineapple: Gone. Chile: Gone. Cookies: Gone. Cereal: Gone. They were, however, nice enough to leave us a case of bottled water and some flour tortillas.

They'd sept in our bed, cranked up our air conditioner and watched our movies.

Most of this was forgivable. I knew Stephanie was desperately rebelling from her conservative Mormon upbringing. And had she stolen a bottle or two of liquor or used our basement to hotbox with her friends, I probably would have been mad, but I wouldn't likely have called the cops — or even her parents, for that matter.

Thing was, it seems the money we gave Stephanie, which I had regarded as pretty generous, wasn't enough. She and her friends apparently had augmented her honest earnings with the money from YOUR college savings piggy bank. They also stole the emerald necklace I gave your mom for Mother's Day. And they rifled through our drawers taking God-still-only-knows-what-else.

She'd left the door open for friends to come and go as they pleased, and after a few days, the list of guests at our luxury resort included more people that she didn't know than people that she did.

Worst of all, when I went down to our basement to get my free contact high, I found your baby blanket — the one that your mother had quilted for you when she was pregnant — on the floor next to a spilled bottle of whiskey and three or four used foil roaches.

I nearly cried.

It's nearly 6 a.m. now. After driving home from Oregon all day long, yesterday, I'm still awake. And before I leave the country for a week of work in Cuba, just about 24 hours from now (more on that in Tuesday's letter) I still have to catalog everything that's missing or damaged and change the locks on our doors.

The police are saying they'll likely charge the girls who were in our home with burglary. Stephanie, who had permission to be in our home and thus was not, by definition, a burglar, will likely get rung up as an accomplice to the crime.

She spent the better part of the night apologizing to me, and while I'll likely go to bat for her when it comes time to face the juvenile court judge, I'm not ready to believe she's sincere in her remorse.

Everyone makes mistakes in this life. But if there's one thing you never, ever do, it is this: Do not betray someone's trust.

You might get their forgiveness. You might even get their friendship back.

But you'll never get their trust again.

Never.

Love,
dad

Thursday, August 7, 2008

QUIETLY DREAMING AWAY

Dear Spike:

We're all asleep in a tent in your grandparents' backyard.

OK, to be precise, you and your mother are asleep in a tent in your grandparents' backyard and I am beginning to think very seriously about getting some sleep, too.

It's hard, though, because I'd really much prefer just to stay up to watch you, curled up against your mother's belly, quietly dreaming away in your white flannel pajamas.

Sigh.

Love,
dad

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

WILL BE FRIENDS

Dear Spike:

We're in Salem, visiting with your Godmother, Katie, who in about six weeks will be having a baby of her own.

This afternoon we went to the bookstore so that you could help Katie, who is your mother's best friend, pick out some books for her son, including some of your favorites like "Goodnight Moon," "What's Wrong Little Pookie?," "Is Your Mama a Llama?," and "The Belly Button Book."

I'm not sure how often you'll get to see baby Aaron, but I hope that you will be friends. You'll be about one and a half years older than him, which means you can help him learn about all sorts of things — from good books to fun games to nifty ways to get into trouble.

Yes, I already know, the two of you will be plenty of trouble. After all, your mothers certainly are.

Love,
dad