Thursday, July 31, 2008


Dear Spike:

It's 4 a.m. and you're fast asleep. Obviously, I'm not.

We've decided to make our drive to Oregon tomorrow in one 13-hour stretch, overnight. With any luck, you'll sleep most of the way.

Problem is that I can't sleep while I'm driving. (People try this all the time, and it never works.) So I'm keeping myself up late tonight in an effort to begin adjusting my nocturnal clock. It's possible, of course, that I'm only serving to make myself more tired, so this all could backfire.

I used to have nights like this all the time. For years I existed on three or four hours of sleep a night, generally in the wee hours of the morning. I'd paint or read or write or just sit up sipping coffee and chatting with friends.

In more recent years, I've needed a bit more rest, though six hours can usually still suffice for me. I still love the night. I love the steady chirping of the crickets, the sporadic whoosh of the cars and trucks on 7th East, and the occasional woeful moan of the freight trains as they rumble through the west side of town.

Sometimes I'm quite certain that you're going to grow up to be a night owl. Like your father, you're a restless sleeper. And often when you wake up at 2 or 3 or 4 in the morning, you just want to be let out of your crib so that you can read your books and play with your toys. Sometimes, when I come in late at night to check on you, I find you sitting quietly in your crib, eyes wide open, waiting.

One of my favorite things to do, when I was young, was to stay up late to greet your grandfather when he would come home from covering a ball game in Oakland or San Francisco. We'd eat canned chile with a generous helping of yellow mustard and stay up watching M*A*S*H reruns.

I have a vision of us in similar circumstances, someday. In my mind's eye, you're 8 or 9 or 10 years old. Maybe we're sitting on the front porch together in the still-dark hours of a warm summer's morning. Or maybe we're at a 24-hour diner, the kind where a waitress in a pink shirt an white apron just keeps filling your coffee mug no matter how long you sit there. Maybe we're playing chess. If so, you're probably winning. Or maybe we're eating chile with mustard and watching M*A*S*H reruns.

Or maybe you take after your mother. Maybe you're simply fast asleep. And I'm just peeking in through the crack in your bedroom door, just to make sure your covers are pulled up tight. That's fine, too.

If you happen to wake up, I'll be here.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Dear Spike:

We bought you a Batman onesie today.

You didn't need a Batman onesie, but we bought it anyway.

It cost $18.95 plus tax.

That's a ridiculous amount of money for something you're going to grow out of in no time at all.

I don't approve of our behavior. Not one bit.

But I really like your new Batman onesie.



Dear Spike:

We were at the park, this evening, enjoying a Venezuelan string band and marveling as you stumbled from me to your mother and back again in the grass near the Old Chase Home.

And then someone caught your eye.

She smiled at you. You smiled back. And then you took off. Walking, then running, then practically leaping into her arms.

"Um... is it OK if I hold her?" she asked apologetically, as you were already clung like a Koala, round her neck.

We've been meeting more people this way, lately. You've just grown so social. So trusting.

It's a good thing. And a discomforting thing, too. I want you to be friendly with your neighbors — and I've never been one to believe that neighbors are only those people whom you happen to know.

At the same time, I worry. About nothing and everything. About no one and everyone. About you.

This is a double-edged world. Trust will make you a kinder, gentler, more compassionate person. It will also make you more vulnerable.

Not only to those terrifying things we all worry about, like kidnappers and child molesters, but to much subtler things like being disappointed by those you wish to be your friend or having your heart broken by those you wish to love. Trust will make you more susceptible to peer pressure, peer pressure will make you more susceptible to drinking, to smoking, to drugs, to sex, to driving fast, to skipping school, to wearing stupid clothes.

OK, stupid clothes are the least of my concerns.

As you grow, we'll try to teach you proper boundaries. And the world will help you learn those boundaries, too. What is a charming thing for a newly walking baby to do might not be so kindly received when you are four or five or six.

Most parents err on the side of safety. We may err on the side of trust. Not too much, mind you, but enough so that you know that the world is full of good people and that, when you expect people to be good, they generally are.

And yes, sometimes you will be disappointed. And yes, sometimes you will be hurt. And yes, I will occassionally wake up in a cold sweat, terrified that I've not taught you enough about how horrifyingly evil this world can be.

Often, it all seems like such a gamble. But then, I suppose, I am a gambling man.

And I'm gambling on this world being good to you, so that you can be good to it.


Sunday, July 27, 2008


Dear Spike:

A few observations about you on the day marking your 14th month in this world:

1) Most people shake hands and say "hello" when they meet people. You, on the other hand, reach up and rub people's cheeks with whatever soft item you happen to have in your hand, and say "nice."

2) You have a very strange fascination with cotton balls. In fact, you won't even use the toilet unless we give you one to hold. We had to go to the store this evening to get a new bag of cotton balls because we were nearly out and we feared you might get backed up if you suddenly didn't have one to hold.

3) You love to touch the strings on my guitar when I play. It doesn't make for the prettiest music, but you don't seem to care.

4) You really hate hair clips, but you've started to tolerate hats.

5) You've begun to give your toys names. You have a small plastic penguin named "Gumbini."

6) You don't like it when people leave — even if you've only known them for five minutes.

7) You scream and cry whenever you see you mother leave the room. But if she slips out when you're not looking, everything is fine.

8) You like balloons, soft blankets, walks in the park, riding in your chariot behind you mother's bike, the sound of rain, the feel of your own hair, eating pasta, pretending to brush my hair (which is really pretty funny, as I have none), peeing on trees, Sesame Street podcasts, talking to your grandparents on the Webcam, taking baths, watching your mother cook, reading books and climbing the stairs.

9) You don't like being away from your mom, changing your clothes, washing after supper, kissing your dad, drinking cold milk, not being the center of attention, going to sleep, being forced to walk when you don't want to, falling off the bed and having bad dreams.

10) I love you. Your mother does too.


Friday, July 25, 2008


Dear Spike:

We had some friends over, yesterday morning, for our annual Pioneer Day Parade-watching party.

Here's how it works: We gather some friends together, fill a bunch plastic cups with Mimosas and Bloody Marys, then walk a half-block over to the north entrance of Liberty Park, which also happens to be the end of the parade route. There's just something wacky and fun about the combination of friends, alcohol and a parade marking a state holiday that completely belies the idea that there is ANY such thing as a separation between church and state in Utah.

(Pioneer Day marks the day that Brigham Young led a group of Mormon settlers into the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. In Utah it rates a bigger parade and fireworks show than Independence Day.)

Barring any sudden and unexpected revelations bringing our family into the fold of this state's Mormon faithful, you're going to be raised as a Gentile in these parts. At the best you'll be considered an outsider. At the worst you'll be called a sinner.

Your mother and I try to meet the unique challenges of living in this state with a grain of salt and a dose of humor. When some of our Mormon friends gave our phone number to the church, (which promptly dispatched a team of missionaries to the case of our eternal salvation,) we handed their info over to the Jehovah's Witnesses. Fair is fair, after all.

You'll figure out your own way to deal with being a religious minority. But here's what I don't want you to do: I don't want you to hate.

Growing up in California, several of my best friends were Mormon. To me, they were no different than my friends who were Catholic, Buddhist or Muslim. They simply worshipped a bit different than my family did.

Here things are a bit different. Being Mormon is not just religious — it's cultural. And like anywhere else where there is a predominant culture, sometimes those in charge have a hard time being nice to those who aren't. That shouldn't be considered a reflection of their religion, which is founded on the same principals of peace, tolerance and human decency as most other religions.

Fact is, I wouldn't be ashamed if you wanted to convert. We all find our way in different ways.

You wouldn't get to come to the annual drunken Parade-watching party, of course, but we'd cheer for you as you marched in the parade with the rest of the Saints.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Monday, July 21, 2008


Dear Spike:

There was a time when I was convinced you'd be walking before you'd even learned to crawl. That happens sometimes, I've heard. Kids just figure out how to put one foot in front of another and off they go.

You'd been toddling about a bit, using walls and furniture to help yourself balance. At the park, you'd take one of my fingers in your left hand and one of your mother's fingers in your right, and stroll between us as though there were absolutely nothing magical going on.

"There's nothing grand to see here," I could hear your eyes saying. "I'm just on a lazy Sunday stroll with my parents."

Then, one day, you figured out how to crawl. And for quite some time, you forgot about walking altogether. After all, who needs two legs when you can have four? The dogs at the park don't seem to mind not walking upright.

In the past month, you've started to show some interest in walking the way most folks do. A step here. A step there. Sometimes you'd put two steps together. Rarely three.

Finally, just this evening, you mastered the skill that evolutionary biologists say makes humans human.

Well, maybe mastered is a relative term, although clearly it is no longer a matter of liberal interpretation to say that you have joined the ranks of we humans who stand upright and walk to get from one place to another.

You were standing between your mother and me in your room and decided, quite suddenly, that you'd like to be closer to her. You took a step. And then another. And then another. And then you lunged into her arms.

We gasped and cheered and applauded. You must have liked the attention, for when you mother turned your little body around you left her arms and walked, step after step after step, back to me.

Then back to her. Then back to me.

Then we broke, for a few minutes, so that your could scream and cry — for no particular reason, it seemed.

When you stopped, you walked back to your mother. And back to me. And back to her. More gasps. More cheers. More applause.

You wore a smile as big as your strides.

Just this morning, your mother and I were saying that we knew this day was coming. And there was a touch of sadness in our conversation.

You're growing up. Talking. Playing. Imagining.

"Our baby's not our baby anymore," your mother said.

I sighed and knew she was right.

"I know," I said, "but I still want her to walk. She'll be so proud of herself. So happy. I want that for her."

Now it's true. You are walking. You are proud of yourself.

I am proud of you and I am happy for you. And I am sad, too. Our baby's not our baby anymore.

She's figured out how to put one foot in front of another.

And off she goes.


Friday, July 18, 2008


Dear Spike:

You're a talkative little girl. I suppose you take after you dad in that way.

Just to be sure you don't take after your dad (who did time in the Navy and has the vocab to prove it) in other ways, your mother and I are on a no-swearing campaign. And let me tell you, it's fucking hard.


So far, at least, our vow against cursing in your presence seems to be working. You probably know 50 words now — and not one of them will get you sent to the principal's office.

As you'll hear from me many times, there is a time and a place for everything — ever cussin'.

But the truth is, most of us swear far more than we need to. And curse words are mostly laziness disguised as edginess.

The language we've inherited from our ancestors can be quite a pretty thing. And ne'er have I head it prettier spoken than when it is spoken by you.

You know enough of your body parts now for a good old fashioned game of Simon Says. Starting with the chickens in our backyard, you've added quite a few farm animals to your vocabulary. And thanks to our family pass for the Salt Lake City Zoo, you know the names of a few more exotic animals, too.

You know "up" and "down." And "peek-a-boo." And because you have a really bad habit of picking things up off the ground and stuffing them into your mouth, you also know the word "yuck."

You know your name. And your mom's. And once in a while, you say my name, too (though mostly, these days, you just want your mother.)

And this week, a breakthrough of magnificent proportions: You know the word "potty." Oh thank you, dear God, you know the word "potty."

Moreover, you're using it in the future tense. As in "I need to go," not "I just went."

Funny thing, that a word like "potty" could sound so pretty. But it does. Yes it does.

Our language is lovely in that way. In proper context, even the most scatalogical of words can sound quite beautiful.

Which is why I won't tell you that you cannot use any of the words that George Carlin, heaven bless his sinful soul, made famous with his "Seven words you can never say on television" schtick.

But yes, there's a time and a place for everything. And if you're uncertain whether you've come upon that time and place, you might just want to keep it clean.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Dear Spike:

Sometimes, when I look at you, I can't help but think...

Yeah, that's my adorable daughter.

Thank God you look like your mom.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Dear Spike:

When you were only a few days old, I discovered that I had a special power over you. When you would scream and cry — and indeed, this was common for you — I would hold your little body close to my face and tell you, "It's all right. You're OK. I love you. I love you so much." And soon, you would be out.

Later we discovered that banjo music — Earl Scruggs, in particular — has a special effect on you. And when you were inconsolable, we'd let Earl sooth you to sleep with his Foggy Mountain Breakdown.

Lately, though, old Earl and I just haven't had what it takes. You're going through a mama's girl stage — at least, I think it's a stage — where all you want, when you're tired and crabby, is your mother.

"Mamamama Mama Mama" you cry.

I imagine this is what professional basketball players feel like when they can no longer sink a 20-foot jumpshot or what door-to-door salesmen feel like when they realize they can no longer count on always making a sale or what old politicians feel like when they realize that they're just not as good at rounding up the votes like they once were. It's tough to realize that you no longer have a special kind of magic that you once had.

At least for the moment, nothing in my bag of tricks seems to work. So all I can do, when it's my turn to put you down, is to hold you and rock you and sing to you and let you scream, scream, scream yourself to sleep.

I can't imagine it's much fun for your mother to have to sit through it, knowing that she has the magic to soothe your screams, but we both know that it's best for you, and for us, if you learn that you can't always have everything — or everyone — you want, even when you're throwing a fit to get it.

These are tough lessons, but I suppose that's life.

I hope I find the magic soon, though, for I do so hate to hear you cry.


Sunday, July 13, 2008


Dear Spike:

All day long you've been crying out for "Gak."

Sometimes, in this awkward stage in which you're picking up new words faster than we can keep up with your unique pronunciations, we simply don't know what the heck you're talking about. But sadly, I understand this one...

You want your grandmother.

My parents spent the past 10 days with us, first here in Salt Lake City and then down in Los Angeles, where we all visited your Aunt Kelly. Then, yesterday afternoon, we parted ways between Gates 3 and 5 at the L.A. airport.

I'll admit, I was ready to see them get on the plane.

I love my parents. They're my best friends. And seeing them as often as we have over the past 13 months — after nearly 10 years in which I only got to see them once or twice a year — has been wonderful. But I've also grown accustomed to having a fair amount of space. And, quite frankly, I think I wear on them, too.

You're a different story, though. Over the past few months, especially, you've developed a lovely relationship with your grandparents, who call you every Sunday afternoon to chat on the Webcam and come to Utah to visit you at least once every couple months. (Such is the burden of being a first grandchild — and don't expect any different if you decide to give them their first great-grandchild, someday.)

So it is that you have decided, at least where it concerned your grandmother, it was time for a name.

Enter "Gak."

She didn't seem to mind that the name you chose sounds like the sound you make when you're choking on your morning oatmeal.

And I didn't think much of it until today, when you woke up and "Gak" was one of the first words out of your mouth.

"Sorry kid, she's gone home," I told you.

You looked up at me like I was talking in Farsi.

And I understood. In baby time, 10 days is a very, very long time. You might not even remember a time when your grandparents weren't all up in your Kool-Aid all day long.

You'll see them again in a few months. And, of course, you'll see them on the computer screen sooner than that.

Until then, my little friend, you're stuck with your mother and me.


Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Dear Spike:

We took your grandparents out to eat at the Red Iguana, one of our favorite restaurants, on the west side of town this evening.
You flirted with the staff and stole the lime from my margarita and went gonzo all over your tres leches cake. The rest of us dined on lovely moles and battered, stuffed, pickled jalapeƱos, and amazing cochintias pibil, and spicy puntas de filete.

Sometimes food is just food. But once in a while it is an experience unto itself — a centerpiece for an entire evening of enchanted conversation.

I'm not smart about food. Not like our good friend Lesli, who writes about food like Shakespeare wrote about love. But I do know when I'm having an experience, as opposed to a simple meal. And when that occurs, I do my best to play proper homage.

There are a few places our family dines at which we can always count on an experience, and at which I imagine you'll be challenging your palate as you grow hungrier for food and for life. For Mexican, it's the Red Iguana. For Lebanese, it's Mazza. For Sudanese, alas, there is no standing restaurant in town, but there is a group of refuge women that often opens shop in a little stand at festivals and the farmer's market. For meatball sandwiches and Philly cheesesteaks, it's Moochie's. And for pizza, it's The Pie.

If there's a joy that stands above all others in the overly blessed country we live in, it just might be our access to the great foods of the world. And if there is one great national shame, it just might be the transaturated Trojan horse we've delivered to the world in the form of places like McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Taco Bell.

As I've told you many times before, there is a time and a place for everything — even for fast food.

But when you have a choice, choose to treat food as more than a quick-fix for a rumbling belly. Choose the experience.

Choose to be enchanted.


P.S. — Your mother tells me that, because your grandparents paid for our meal this evening, they took us out for dinner. But since I drove the car, I'm sticking to my story.


Dear Spike:

Tomorrow we'll head to Los Angeles to visit some of our family and play bit at the beach. It's been over a year since we took you to the ocean — and you were asleep that time — so this might as well be your first experience seeing the Pacific.

I love the ocean. In school, you'll learn there are several — the Pacific, the Atlantic, the Indian and the Arctic — but if you think about it, it's really just one big body of water, every drop in motion from one place to the next. And in that way, it connects us all. The water that washes over your sand-covered feet in Los Angeles once passed under the great sailing vessels of the Mediterranean Sea. And the water that passed under those ships once splashed against the Great Barrier Reef near Australia.

On to the great Maverick waves of Hawaii. On to the angry tropical storms in the Gulf of Mexico. Onto the lazy currents of the Bosphorus River, where east meets west on the 28 percent of the surface of our earth that we call terra firma.

Half of the air we breath is produced by tiny phytoplankton that ride the currents on the surface of the seas. So even when you live far away from the shores, as we do, you are still connected, with every breath, in and out and in and out.

But it is when you can smell the salt air, I think, that you will know it best: The ocean is a special place — every molecule is as vital to our existence as the tiny electrons spinning 'round in our minds. She is our mother. And we must take good care of her.


Friday, July 4, 2008


Dear Spike:

When I was a little boy, I suffered from a condition known as night terrors.

The problem is common with children. Just the other day, my good friend Matt and I shared our childhood war stories. His dreams got so bad that his mom took him to the doctor for medication. Mine were so bad that my mom, convinced that I was possessed, started searching the yellow pages for an exorcist.

Everyone has bad dreams, but those described as terrors usually are limited to children between the ages of 2 and 6.

Very occasionally, though, I still will have a dream that causes me to bolt upright in my bed, sweating and screaming.

I might have had one just last night, in fact.

Here's all I really remember: A loud 'thump' in the middle of the night — and a flash to your tiny body, lying on the ground outside our bedroom window.

When I shot up out of the bed, screaming, I could see that our window drapes were stirring in the early morning breeze. Before I could rush to the window, you're mother put her hand on my back.

"It's alright," she said. "Everything is alright."

I turned to see her, lying in bed with your little head nestled up against her shoulder.

I sighed.

But my heart raced on.

I've been scared before, lots of times. When I was a boy, maybe 9 or 10 years old, I couldn't find my little brother for a period of several hours after school (he'd gone to a friend's house without telling me.) When I was a young man, maybe 19 or 20, I lost control of my car on a narrow mountain road (the passenger-side wheels went off the edge of the cliffside, but fortunately the car stayed on the road.) And when I was in Iraq, a few years ago, I dove under the relative safety of an un-armored Humvee as rockets crashed down all around (two men died that day, but I walked away unscathed.)

But nothing — absolutely nothing — scares me like the thought of losing you.

It took quite a while to get back to sleep, last night. And even when I did, it was a restless slumber. When I awoke, this morning, my heart was still pounding in my chest.

There's a great risk, we take, when we fall in love, for it is all too easy for a child to get lost, for a car to go off the road, or for any of a number of life's many paths to lead us into uncertainty, danger and death.

But there's a great reward that comes along with these risks, as well, for it is our worry and our fear and our terrors that illuminate our love.

And when my heart pounds, it pounds for you.