Friday, June 27, 2008


Dear Spike:

I think I've got Lost Syndrome.

Let me explain: Your mother and I haven't watched a live television program since long before we were married. Our TV isn't hooked up to a cable line or a satellite dish or even an old-fashion antenna.

We do have a DVD player and a nice collection of movies...

... and the entire 11-season series of the show M*A*S*H — all 256 episodes.

That's how it all began.

Your mother was younger than you are now when M*A*S*H ended its run on television. How she managed to get through two more decades on this planet without being exposed to the show in syndication, I don't know, but she'd never seen an episode until I came home, one day, after dropping $39.99 on the DVD collection of the first season. By season two, she was pretty well hooked.

I guess good television, like good film or good music, is simply timeless like that.

They call TV "the boob tube" but my friend DeAnn, a professional TV and movie critic, once told me that she believes the very best things on television are far better than the very best things in the movie theater. I guess that could be so, although I could never bring myself to order cable to find out for sure. It's just all too easy to turn on when you've got nothing better to do — and then leave it on, for hours and hours and hours.

So, we're in the habit of simply waiting for the DVD collections of the best shows to show up at the city library. Largely, we've been unimpressed with what's out there, although there are indeed some gems.

Which brings me to Lost. We started watching the series last week and have been having a hard time turning it off. And even when I'm not watching the show, I'm thinking about the show. We blew through the first season. Then we blew through the second season. Now we're anxiously awaiting the third season (but, alas, we're number 53 on a list of 57 library patrons waiting for the discs.)

It's true: In spite our our best efforts to avoid the great, hungry vortex of television, we got sucked in all the same.

Television isn't bad. Occassionally it can be quite good. But as in all things, moderation is the key.

No one would fault you for loving the symphony. But if you spent every night at the symphony, avoiding other responsibilities and jumping from performance to performance regardless of how good or bad it was, people might start to wonder about you.

And if you loved the museum, no one would think you strange — unless you spent every single afternoon and evening there, looking at exhibit after exhibit after exhibit in lieu of doing anything else with your life.

It's hard for me to say how much of anything is too much, though I suppose that as your father, it will be my job to do just that, at least for the first couple of decades of your life. So we'll limit your TV intake (hopefully better than we've limited our own, over the past week) and try our best to steer you toward things like the symphony and the museum (in moderation, of course.)

But if you occassionally get Lost in the boob tube, I'll understand. I've been Lost too.



Dear Spike:

I could hear you screaming in the background. More directly on the line, your mother's voice was aquiver.

Seems you made your way into a cabinet and found an old blender. And before your mother could stop you, you tossed it onto the tile floor.

Bang. Crash. Glass everywhere.

And a whole mess of blood.

The cut wasn't too bad — not nearly as horrible as I imagined when your mother called me at work. And by bathtime, that night, you were back to your cheerful self again.

Then, today, you were toddling about, back in the kitchen. And while we were both keeping our eye on the cabinets, you slipped and fell.

Bang. Crash. Right on your head.

The bump wasn't too bad. And by dinnertime you'd forgotten all about it.

Sometimes we all have "bang, crash" kinds of days. And sometimes we have two in a row. Or three. Or four.

As much as anything else in life, our bumps and bruises and cuts and scars make us who we are. But that doesn't mean you have to try to get 'em.

Let's try to stay safe today, OK?


Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Dear Spike:

I wonder, sometimes, what it all must be like for you.

It must have been terrifying, those first few days in this bright, cold world — like being thrown into a pool of freezing water. Electrifying. Breathtaking. Mind numbing.

And then, when you said your first words — calling for your mother, realizing as you did so that your lips and tongue and throat had purposes beyond eating, drinking and screaming — my God, what a surreal moment that must have been.

And now, an explosion of comprehension. You're talking to us. Listening to us. Signing what you cannot say. Sharing ideas. Following directions. Asking questions — one simple word at a time.

Yes, I can tell — there is still so much in your sweet little head that you'd like to express. You're just not sure of how, quite yet. How frightening and frustrating it must be to know what you want and know what you need and know there is a way — some way — to express it all...



... and yet, to be unable to do so.

I'm sorry to tell you, it never quite goes away. I still feel this way sometimes — as though this awkward, exhausting, guttoral thing we call language is simply insufficient for every emotion that passes through our mind or strikes us through our heart.

Don't worry, little one. As you grow, you will get better at finding the best words — as imperfect as best may be.

or right now, we'll keep working on "nose" and "ear" and "mouth." We'll learn the signs for "up" and "down." We'll laugh and sing those Sesame Street songs that will never, ever, ever leave your mind.

And when you get tired... when you get frustrated... when you get frightened... we'll sit together in silence, sharing a moment no words could describe.

And I'll wonder what it all must be like for you.


Thursday, June 19, 2008


Dear Spike:

Your mother often says that she knew I loved her when she threw up on me, just a few weeks after we started dating.

Tonight, I think I finally understood what she meant.

You were sleeping when we picked you up your Auntie Sue's house, where you had stayed while we went out to dinner with some friends. But you woke up on the way to the car ...

... and promptly threw up on your mom's pretty white dress.

But she didn't flinch. And she didn't complain. She toweled you off, set you in your car seat, and sang to you all the way home — even though she smelled as though she'd taken a bath in sour milk.

If that's not love, I don't know what is.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Dear Spike:

Someday, when you have a child, make sure to teach it to do really funny tricks for your friends.

Trust me.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Dear Spike:

Your mother's been eagerly awaiting this day: The shaved ice guy has set up shop at the park for the summer.

We all walked down the street and purchased a medium "Blue Hawaiian" with cream, which we shared on the way back to our home.

On the way, she told me about an encounter she had with a woman at the library today.

"Your baby is beautiful," the woman said.

"I know," your mother replied.

Your mom tells me that the lady looked at her kind of funny, as though her answer, acknowledging the woman's observation, was somehow strange.

Perhaps it was. When we are complimented, our reaction is often one of humility — or even embarrassment.

Indeed, sometimes humility is a very good trait. But in a world where we're often told that we should love our neighbor as ourself, sometimes we forget that an important part of the equation is that we should love ourselves.

When someone tells you that you are beautiful, or smart, or talented, do not be afraid to say, "I know."


Monday, June 16, 2008


Dear Spike:

I sang to you softly and rocked you slowly. And you curled up in your blanket — the one with the soft fringe on the end — and began to nod off.

And then you peed on me.


And then you laughed.


For the most part, you've got the potty thing down. Every week, it seems, your accidents are fewer and further between. I can count the diapers I've changed in the past month on one hand.

But occasionally, you find a nice, warm way to remind your mother and I that you're still a baby.

And we love you just the same.


Sunday, June 15, 2008


Dear Spike:

How did your favorite word become "no"? How did that happen?

Oh Lord, we're in for it.


P.S. — Some other words you know: dog, cat, mama, dada, up, done, more, kiss, dog, cat, elephant, cheese, balloon, boom, bounce, bottle, book, chicken, milk, butt, fish, head, tummy and tri-pod. Yes, tri-pod.

Friday, June 13, 2008


Dear Spike:

For the past two weeks, our three chickens, Bubba, Wanda and The Colonel, have been living in a 30-gallon plastic tub in the corner of our dining room. But in the past few days it's become clear that arrangement won't last for long.

Bubba and Wanda have tripled in size since we got them. The Colonel remains the smallest girl of the bunch, but she's also grown considerably. All of them have started to flap their wings about — and Bubba managed to make the leap to the lip of the tub the other day, perching on the side until your mother grabbed her and put her back in the bottom of the tub.

So today you and your mother packed the girls in a cardboard box and walked them out to the coop in the backyard. And that's where I found them, pecking away at the dirt, when I returned home from work today.

As much as I've tried to discourage your mom from treating the girls as pets — "they're working animals," I tell her — I'm not innocent of a little lovidy-dovidy nonsense. Since their arrival I've visited with the girls at least once a day, picking them up one by one to rub their little heads, and bending down to let you do the same. I want them to be friendly to me, you and your mom – and I've heard that handling chicks from a young age helps discourage them from pecking later on in life.

I've never raised livestock before, so I don't know where the lines are supposed to be drawn.

Is it OK to name your animals, so long as you don't plan on eating them? I suppose that's fine.

How about if you're going to steal their eggs? Is it OK to try to make friends?

None of this keeps me up at night, but I find it an interesting experience. I'm quite out of my comfort zone in this little experiment. And I think that's a good thing for me.

And for you. Life's more fun — and fascinating — when you make a habit of taking on new challenges.


Thursday, June 12, 2008


Dear Spike:

I'd like to claw my eyes out. It feels as if someone sprayed battery acid up my nose. And even the insides of my ears hurt. When you've got allergies like mine, Spring yard work comes with some pretty nasty consequences.

But it's a jungle out there. I'm losing the battle of the seven-foot weeds. And we've got a bunch of people coming over this Saturday for a barbecue.

So I wrapped my face in a red bandana, picked up the weed whacker and went at it. Three hours later I stood on our back porch and admired my handywork.

OK, it still looks like a jungle — but a kinder, gentler jungle.

And when the weeds are hacked down and the garden is in bloom and the grapes vines are flush with leaves, as they are now...

... and when the peonies are in blossom and the roses are budding and the lilac is flush ...

... I can see the promise in this place — the vision I saw when your mother and I entered into our Faustian bargain with the bank to purchase this home, nearly four years ago.

This is going to be a special place for you — I know this to be true — just as my family's big, big backyard was a magical place for me.

True, we don't have the same kind of space for baseball and soccer and volleyball and badminton that my parents had in their backyard. And we don't have acres and acres and acres of forest, like your mother's parents did in their backyard.

But we'll have berries and grapes and a garden rich with tomatoes and squash and peppers — all for your delight. We'll have chickens for you to check on, every day, to see if they've left an egg or two. We'll have giant rose bushes and sunflower gardens and little hidden spaces for you to go and make friends with the faeries. We'll have stepping stones — and maybe a little fountain — and bird feeders scattered about the yard.

And if it take a few runny noses and itchy eyes to get there, that's OK.

It's gonna be a magical place. I promise.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Dear Spike:

Here is the day we shared, in seven haikus:

Breakfast with Ravitz
She hurts. Misses her father.
Holds the baby. Sighs.

Back home through the park.
Ducklings cannot scale the wall
One by one, I help.

I miss my wife's call.
My daughter leaves the message.
"Bye bye bye, dada"

Summertime with mom.
Now you cry when I hold you.
Forget me so soon?

Dinner with our friends.
She carries their first child.
Ah, nostalgia.

Goodbye breastpump, swing.
We don't need them anymore.
Paying it forward.

Bath time. We play games.
Where's your head? Where's your tummy?
You show me, smile.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Dear Spike:

Just months after Utah became a state in 1896, the U.S. Army announced its intention to station a regiment of black soldiers at Ft. Douglas in Salt Lake City.

Sen. Frank Cannon pleaded with the federal government to send the so-called Buffalo Soldiers somewhere else. And the newspaper I work for shamefully backed Cannon's argument, warning among other things that that the black soldiers couldn't be trusted to keep their hands to themselves on the city's trolly cars.

But the Army held its ground, and in the spring of that year, the first soldiers of the 24th Infantry began arriving at the fort up on the hill, just a few blocks to the east of the plot of land where our home would be built, 10 years later.

About two years later, the soldiers of the 24th joined Teddy Roosevelt in his famous charge up San Juan Hill. They returned to Utah as heroes — marching down Main Street to the thankful, heartfelt cheers of thousands of Salt Lake City residents.

The next year, the regiment was reassigned to the Philappines. Again, the people of Utah turned out to cheer the unit as it paraded down Main Street one last time. For most, it was the last time they would ever see that many black men in one place.

Sometimes I wonder what this state would be like if the Buffalo Soldiers had stayed — if only just a little bit longer. If they had, would it have taken 80 more years for the Mormon church to lift the ban on blacks in its priesthood? If they had, would David Martin and Theodore Fields have been gunned down on Aug. 20, 1980 for having the audacity to commit the offense of jogging at the park with two white female friends, less than a stone's throw from our home?

I don't know the answer to that question.

I was thinking about the Buffalo Soldiers today after sharing a coffee with my friend, Becky, who was agonizing over the impending fate of the California Supreme Court's recent ruling, legalizing marriage for homosexuals. Becky, who is engaged to marry her partner later this year, was fretting over new legal challenges to the court's decision — and wondering "when people will realize that we're just so damn normal."

I don't know the answer to that question.

But something tells me that by the time you're my age, you'll be looking back on the marriage bans of the early 21st Century the same way I look back on that disgusting newspaper editorial from the late 19th Century.

And while there's likely to be plenty of whooping and hollering and flag-waving and drum-banging between now and then, I don't believe that's what's going to change the world. Rather, just as the Buffalo Soldiers did in Salt Lake City more than 100 years ago, people like my friend Becky are opening closed minds — convincing people that they are, in fact, "so damn normal" — simply by being so damn normal.

How long will it take?

I don't know the answer to that question.

But I think you will.


Monday, June 9, 2008


Dear Spike:

Yesterday was my 30th birthday. We celebrated with a hike up Emmigration Canyon, to a place your mother and I call "Little Korea" for its striking resemblance to the outdoor set from the M*A*S*H movie and television series. You hadn't taken a nap before we left, and got a bit crabby just about a half-mile into the hike. And so, as we walked, your mother and I sang to you one of your favorite lullabies, "I Don't Want to Live on the Moon," and soon you were asleep.

I've been dreading this birthday. Back in my parents' day, they used to say you couldn't trust people over the age of 30. These days, they say 30 is the new 20 — but it still felt 30 to me.

But now the day has come and gone and it really wasn't so bad. I spent a wonderful day with you and your mother. And later we saw our friends Rob and Sue, and Gus and Emily. Emily gave you your first-ever Girl Scout cookie, and like the rest of America, you now appear to be hopelessly addicted. There's heroin in those Thin Mints, of this I am quite confident.

In many ways, being a dad has made me feel my age. I think much more these days about things like health insurance, making smart car purchases and buying healthy food. I drive slower. I drink less. And yes, I groan more.

Yet at the same time I feel much younger than I have in many years. I'm less cynical. I strive to be more kind. And I sing and whistle and dance and play more than I have in a long, long time.

There was a time when you would never have found me walking hand-in-hand with your mother in the mountains, singing as though I was a member of the VonTrapp family, completely unconcerned about whether or not anyone else could hear. But things are different now.

They're better.

And as for 30, I think I'll be OK.


Thursday, June 5, 2008


Dear Spike:

Your mother sent her students off for their summer break today. A few more days of meetings and her summer will begin, too.

She's excited to spend her days with you. And I'm excited for her.

But a bit sad, for me.


Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Dear Spike:

Never underestimate how much a simple gesture on your part might brighten someone else's day.

Two quick case studies from work this week...

1) On Sunday I was assigned to cover the homecoming of Apa Sherpa, who just returned from his record-breaking 18th summit of Mt. Everest. This man is a living legend, a true hero who has guided scores of people safely up and back down the world's tallest mountain, but he was humble and kind and gracious. And when it came time to say goodbye, he took my hand, deftly shifted his body forward, and pulled me in to give me a hug.

A hug. From Apa Sherpa.

I'm quite certain I'll never summit Everest. But somehow, now, I feel like a part of me has.

2) This afternoon you and I had lunch with a young Iraqi man who lost both of his legs in a roadside bomb attack in Baghdad. Although he had been working as an interpreter for U.S. soldiers when the attack occurred, it took more than two years for his visa to be approved to come to the United States for treatment. He finally got here two months ago — only to learn that the U.S. government wouldn't pay for a motorized wheelchair or prothetic limbs. He was understandably depressed and worried about his future. But throughout the interview, I noticed that he was rather smitten with you. He rubbed your head and touched your cheek. He laughed as you threw your food all over my lap. And at the end of the interview, you leaned in and gave him a kiss on his cheek.

A kiss. From a little girl.

That'll hardly change his circumstances, but you should have seen the look in his eyes.

The truth is, sometimes the little things in life — like simple gestures of kindness — don't really change much.

But maybe a simple gesture somehow alters someone's day.

And maybe that day somehow alter's their week.

And that week, their year.

And that year, their life.

And that life, the lives of others.

And those others, the world.

A warm hug. A small kiss. A kind smile. A simple thanks.

And a world — forever changed.


Sunday, June 1, 2008


Dear Spike:

It's not like we've got a lack of things to do around here. Your mother is busy finishing up the school year — testing her students, writing report cards and preparing lessons for next year. I'm trying to ballance my stay-at-home dad duties with my part of the put-food-on-our-plate duties, am looking for a publisher for the book I wrote you for Christmas (but which, as further evidence of how busy we've been, I didn't finish until last week,) and am already way behind at applying for graduate school.

We've got a garden to weed, grapevines to tend and a fat, fluffy cat who often seems to need more attention than you.

Oh yeah — you. Every time I turn around you've got something new in your mouth. You've developed a frightening fascination with electrical cords. I think you've got some Sherpa in your blood, because yesterday you managed to scale half-way up your dresser before I noticed and pulled you down. And it seems like you learn two or three new words a day. Today alone, you picked up "tickle" and "chicken."

That's right "chicken."

As in: "What we've decided to raise in the backyard because — you know what? — we just don't have enough going on around here!"

I'm not sure how it all got started. One minute your mother and I were discussing things we'd like to do if we had more time on our hands and the next minute I was in the basement, staring at your old changing table, trying to figure out how to make it into a chicken coop.

For the record, I did indeed make a chicken coop out of your changer (and also an old desk that I picked up at an estate sale last year and some wood from a packing crate I got from our neighbor.) I'm like the Bob Vila of poultry.

And then, yesterday, your mother and I packed you into the car, swung over to pick up your Auntie Sue, and headed for the farm store, where we picked out three baby chicks, packed them into a little box, and then headed back home. Your mom named the black one "Wanda." Sue, who apparently likes her chicken fried with 11 yummy herbs and spices, named the smallest one of the bunch "The Colonel." And you called the third one "Bubba."

That's right, "Bubba." You're pretty funny, kid.

Right now, they're all sleeping together, under a lamp, in a box, in our dining room. Apparently we can't put them outside yet, so I guess I didn't need to break my back rushing to get the coop ready yesterday.

None of this makes any sense. After all, we're not exactly farm people. The closest thing I've ever had to livestock were a couple of parakeets that I tried to get to breed when I was 11 or 12 years old. They never even nested and then, one day in the dead of winter, they somehow managed to escape.

And its not like eggs are prohibitively expensive. Most of the time, you can get a dozen big ones for about $1.25. That's about a dime per egg. There's really not a better deal than that in the entire grocery store.

But a few weeks ago I was giving this subject some thought, and I realized that you were pretty much destined to be a city kid. And even though I grew up in the suburbs, where the only chickens I ever saw were already dead, plucked and packed in celophane, I somehow started getting nostalgic for the "good old days," when people had a better connection to the things that land on their plate. And since I don't think the neighbors would be too happy if we tried to raise our own cows, chicken eggs seemed like a good place to start.

It's been more than 24 hours, now, and I'm not suffering from buyer's remorse yet. In fact, I 'm sort of starting to like the little girls, enough so that when I noticed that Bubba seemed a little bit on the wobbly side, I started to feel a bit sad at the thought that she might not make it.

But anyway, it's not like we've gone and made another human. I mean, the nice thing about chickens is that if you ever get tired of them, you can just eat them.

We're not allowed to do that with you.