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

Monday, August 4, 2008

MARKED THE JOURNEY

Dear Spike:

We spent last night in a tent in your grandparents' backyard, looking up through the tall swaying oaks at the same stars under which your mother and I fell in love, years ago. You were exhausted after two days with your cousins in Portland and though it was a bit chilly, you slept soundly, all night long.

We've had a lovely trip so far. In Portland (where we were greeted, early Friday morning, with a misty rain) you were smitten with your Aunt Molly, Uncle Matt and cousins Jay and Brett. We took walks through their neighborhood and visited one of their favorite parks, where we looked out over a tree-lined horizon just as green as your could dream.

We drove, last night, through the heart of Oregon's wine country. Memories marked the journey like road signs. Here we took a long bike ride and made love in a field of irises. Here we lived in a little apartment, above a church, and watched the ragtag July 4 parade from our balcony. Here we found a little hidden park and dreamed about our future.

Now in Corvallis, where your mother grew up and we met at Oregon State University, you've been playing with your grandmother, great grandmother, Aunt Alisa and cousins Zach and Katarina. The backyard here opens up into the McDonald Forest, where quail run between the brush and chipmunks dance from oak tree to oak tree. This is where your mother and I were married, on a perfect August night, nearly six year ago.

Tomorrow, we'll go to the lovely, rocky coast near Newport — to spend a day at the same place where your mother and I were engaged. — and then we'll return to Corvallis for a few more days before heading to central Oregon, where one of my dearest friends from college is to be married.

I do so love this place.

Though it seems likely that we'll be raising you in Utah, I do hope that you will consider yourself, at least in part, an Oregonian.

Home is, of course, is largely a geographical and genealogical concept. But it is also a spiritual one.

Love,
dad