Monday, December 27, 2010

EVIL-DOERS BEWARE

Dear Spike:

I had to work Christmas Day, so we all got an early start.

Some earlier than others.By the time I woke, you'd already barreled into your stocking like a hound going after a squirrel. Your mother had filled mine, too: Golf balls and tees — a lovely, albeit bittersweet gift, since there are several inches of snow on my favorite course right now and since every one of those balls is destined for the bottom of a water hazard.

Other than the stocking-stuffers, we maintain a fairly simple Christmas tradition: Handmade gifts. Your mother made you a superhero cape, complete with your very own hand-embroidered logo — and she made a matching one for our cat. We outfitted you with a pair of goggles and away you went, flying through our home in search of evil-doers.

Every superhero needs a secret hiding base, so that's what I built for you. It's not much: Just a 2-by-4 frame, some plywood and a door, but later this week we'll paint it up and maybe put some curtains in the window. Even superheros need curtains.

For your mother, we build an office in the closet of the upstairs library — sort of like her own little secret hiding base. Evil-doers beware!

She made me a quilt — stitched from old T-shirts that are no longer wearable but that I've had trouble throwing away. It's soft and it's warm and I love it (and so do you – you like to use it to make a little tent next to the heating vents in our home!)

All told, it was a wonderful Christmas Day — the kind I've really come to expect since you came around.

Love,
dad

Friday, December 17, 2010

I SAID 'AHA!'

Dear Spike:

One day, I am quite confident, your epiphanies will be far more profound. But for now, I suppose, this will have to do:

‎"I was really hungry. I thought and I thought and I said, 'aha! Macaroni and cheese!'"

Love,
dad

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

THANKSGIVING FROM HELL

Dear Spike:

We don't usually leave home for Thanksgiving or Christmas. There are several reasons for this, but the main one is that we prefer to enjoy the company of our extended family outside the stressful gotta-go-here, better-be-there, hustle-bustle and rigmarole of the holidays.

But this year was different. Traditionally, your great-grandmother (my mom's mom) has hosted a large Thanksgiving gathering for all of her kids, grandkids and great-grandkids. But earlier this year she decided she'd had enough of her big, old house in on Mark Avenue and moved into a retirement home close to where my parents live. And so my mom decided that she'd take on Thanksgiving.

The confirmed guest list was 34 names long.

At some point, it was decided that it wasn't enough to just have dinner. We were going to have a sit down dinner.

Wine goblets, china, cloth napkins — the whole nine yards. Cool right?

As long as so many people were coming to town, my father and uncle decided they'd wait to hold your other great-grandmother's wake until the day after Thanksgiving.

Practical people, my relatives.

And thus began... the Thanksgiving from hell.

On Turkey Thursday morning, I woke up and headed to the kitchen, where I found my mother in the kitchen looking...

... rather peaked.

"You're dad's not feeling well," she said.

"You don't look so good yourself," I said.

"Yeah, I don't feel so good."

And then I heard it. The sound of a grown man retching in my parents' bathroom.

"I think you'd better not touch any food that anyone is going to eat tonight," I told my mom.

And with that, your mother and I had inherited Thanksgiving for 34.

The phone rang. My cousin Paul. His wife's family plans had fallen through.

OK. Make that turkey for 37.

Your mother didn't skip a beat. Like General Patton headed to Bastogne, she took command. Potatoes were peeled. Turkeys were basted. Stuffing was, um, stuffed.

And Thanksgiving went off without a hitch, though it also went off without my mother, father, sister and brother, who were all, by this time, well out of commission.)

By 9 p.m., your mother was, too.

And then it was your turn.

I've never seen you so sick. Never. You poor thing. You spent the entire night throwing up. You'd fall asleep for a few minutes, then wake up and ralph, then scream — with what I can only describe as righteous indignation — "No more! That was the last time!"

All night long.

The next day was your great-grandmother's wake. You and your mother were in no shape to go.

But by that evening, everyone was feeling pretty good again. And the next day we headed off to Stanford University to watch the Oregon State Beavers take on the sixth-ranked Cardinal.

Um... did I say "take on"? What I meant to say was, "get pounded like a piece of meat." It was 24-0 at halftime and we didn't even stay to watch the infamous Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band.

But we didn't leave because of the score. And certainly not in protest of the Stanford band's historic send-ups of Catholicism, Mormonism and a bunch of other -isms.

No, we left because you couldn't pee.

Oh yeah — and you were screaming in agony.

A bladder infection, we figured — and so we came home and pumped you full of cranberry juice. Problem was, that only made you have to go more. And you couldn't.

You tried and you tried. And you screamed and you screamed. But you just couldn't go.

At about 9 p.m., we decided to take you to the emergency room at the local hospital.

At about 12 a.m. we finally got in to see a doctor.

And it only took him about two minutes to decide you needed a catheter.

"This isn't going to be fun for anyone," he said.

And it wasn't. You spent the next 20 minutes screaming and writhing in agony as the nurses tried to do what needed to be done. Your mother and I had the excrutiating duty of holding you down as you begged to be released.

When it was all over, the doctor prescribed some Ibuprofen and sent us on our way. We finally got back to my parents' home that night at 2 a.m.

Things were not a whole lot better the next day. One of my friends, a doctor himself, suggested we take you to Stanford Children's Hospital, and that's where we spent our last day in California. The doctors and nurses there were kind as can be, but they didn't have any answers. They took some samples (another catheter — although this one went a lot better) and, when you impressed one doctor with your knowledge of various medical tools, they offered you a job.

Whatever was wrong, you were feeling quite a bit better by the next day — just in time for us to get on an airplane and head home to Utah, where I had to scrape 10 inches of snow off of our car in the long-term parking lot before driving our family home.

I'd never been so happy to end a vacation.

Sometimes life gives you lemons.

And sometimes you can take those lemons and make lemonade.

But sometimes the lemons are rotten, and so the lemonade makes you sick. That's how this vacation was. We did our best to have a good time and, when we did, we got kicked around like the Oregon State University football team.

Of course, the football team can always say "there's always next year."

But you won't hear that from me. Because next year, we're staying home.

Love,
dad

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

DOREEN ANN LAPLANTE 1932-2010

Dear Spike:

I was 16 or 17, I suppose. I can't remember for sure, but I know it was some time shortly after I had my second ear pierced, since that's apparently what prompted the whole conversation.

I was sitting at the kitchen bar in my grandparents' home in Santa Clara. Grandma was on the other side of the bar, probably diddling about on one of those hand-held video poker games that she enjoyed so much. We were making small talk. This and that. School and work. Soccer and girls.

She asked about the new stud in my right ear. "You don't see that on boys much, do you?" she said.

No, I told her, you don't. That's one of the things I liked about it.

She looked at me and smiled. And then she reached across the table and placed her hand on top of mine.

"You know," she said, "I will always love you — no matter who you choose to love."

"Um...." I said. "Yeah, I know."

"I mean it dear. No matter who."

"Grandma..." I said. "Are you suggesting... What I mean is... I appreciate that but... I'm not gay."

She just smiled and looked at me with a look that said, "I know a lot more about you than you think."

Whatever. It was the thought that counted. And it was a lovely thought.

She was the product of an old-school Catholic upbringing. She was a strongly opinionated woman. Her sons didn't always make the decisions she would have made. Her grandchildren even less so. And while she didn't always approve — and often let us know it — she never failed to remind us that, above it all, what was most important for her was that we were happy.

Your great-grandmother, Doreen Ann LaPlante, died Nov. 4 — just about six months after her beloved husband passed away. On the day after Thanksgiving, her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren gathered together at her favorite restaurant for an old-fashioned Irish wake.

We drank. We sang songs. And we told stories.

And we remembered a woman who loved us just the way we were.

Even if we weren't.

Love,
dad

Sunday, November 14, 2010

GEE-WHIZ AWE

Dear Spike:

I'm writing to you from somewhere over the U.S. Midwest, en route to Philadelphia for a conference. 

It all seems so technologically fantastic to me: pecking away at the keyboard on my phone which is connected to the airplane's wireless Internet system. But, as is the case with pretty much all new technology, the gee-whiz factor is going to go away quite quickly. Eventually, this will all be old-hat -- or even obsolete. 

Things change. That's the way things are in this world. 

That also happens to be the reason why I'm on this airplane to begin with -- because my life is changing, too. 

While I'm still employed at the same job I've been at since hour mother and I moved to Salt Lake City in 2003 -- and while I enjoy that job quite a bit -- I'm growing more and more aware that it's unlikely that I'll still have a viable newspaper career in 10 years. That's a big part of the reason why I went back to school, a few years ago. And it's a big part of the reason why I have begun working, part-time in a few other capacities in the world of education. 

So this week, I'm headed to Philly to learn more about how to prevent dropouts as part of my job with a group that works to give struggling kids a second chance at school. And next month, I'll start commuting once a week to Utah Valley University, where I'm teaching a class on crisis reporting. 

One of these things is a stepping stone to my professional future, I suppose. Or maybe I'll be doing something entirely different -- something I haven't even thought of and could nary conceive of at this time. 

Or maybe, just maybe, I'll find some way to continue doing what I've been doing for the past decade: Comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, as we journalists like to imagine it is our job to do. 

The future used to be scary to me. Now it's simply fascinating. I enjoy all of this. Whatever direction the world takes me, I have you and your mother. And whatever I do, I'll always look at this world with a gee-whiz awe. 

Love,
dad

Monday, November 1, 2010

MADE ME BELIEVE

Dear Spike:

Here's to the misfits. The outcasts. The freaks.

Here's to surprise. To passion. To dreams.

Here's to the team that made me believe, again, in baseball.

Here's to the San Francisco Giants.

You'll not likely remember this moment, but I'd like you to understand it, so I'll fill you in on the particulars: You were sitting in your high chair, eating some bananas and chocolate chips, when Brian Wilson blew a fastball past Nelson Cruz to give the Giants their first championship since your grandfather was still in diapers.

You, your mother and I all exploded into cheers. Foot stomping. Hallelujah-making. Whooping and hollering and laughing and crying.

Yes, a little bit of crying.

Why should I care like this? About a game? About a game played by millionaires?

Well, maybe I shouldn't. And for a long time I didn't.

I grew up on this game, following the Giants and the more successful band of Bash Brothers on the opposite side of the Bay. I can still remember the lineups of both the teams that faced off in the 1989 "Bay Bridge" World Series. That series was interrupted by an incredible earthquake — but when it finally ended with an Oakland A's victory, I remember wishing that it could have gone on forever, so that night after night I could hide under my covers and tune my little red radio in to listen to Will Clark knock a Dave Stewart pitch over the center field fence, or to hear about how Carney Lansford snagged a rocket-shot off Matt Williams' bat that just should have gone up the third base line for a double. I had it all planned out: The A's would win a game, and then the Giants would win a game. And they'd just keep playing, forever and ever, marching from one side of the bay to the other, and back again.

Four years later, the players — many of them millionaires, many times over — stopped putting on their spikes over a dispute regarding revenue sharing with team owners. For the record, I think the owners were greedy pigs, but it was still a strike over a game played by rich men. And it resulted in the cancellation of a large part of the 1994 season, including the playoffs and World Series.

Sacrilege.

After that, it almost didn't matter when I learned that many of the players I'd cheered for in that all-too-short World Series in 1989 were using steroids. Mark McGwire. Jose Canseco. Traitors. Scum. Cheaters.

But I didn't need to know that Barry Bonds was on the juice to know that guy was a complete horse's ass. For 14 years, I couldn't look at The Giants.

But I fell in love again last year during a date with your mother at the Giants' beautiful ballpark at Willie Mays Plaza, right across the street from where your great grandfather once worked as a copy editor off Mission Bay. We ate hot dogs and Crackerjack and watched Tim Lincecum pitch a less-than-perfect game. Still, to watch that young man, uniform hanging off his skinny frame, hurl a baseball that fast. Incredible.

What a freak.

And a completely likable freak at that. Sure enough, as manager Bruce Bochy pieced together a ragtag gang of players for the 2010 season, they were all just...

... so damn likable.

Oh, they're still millionaires. And some of them are scoundrels, no doubt. But they keep it to themselves. And that's really all I've ever asked of my professional athletes.

So there was Edger Renteria, an aging and injury-prone infielder who not so long ago had been relegated to the minor leagues.

And there was Buster Posey, a 23-going-on-14-year-old kid with a swing as sweet as a honey-dipped Baby Ruth.

And there was Aubrey Huff, the veteran who had never even been to the playoffs and who didn't even have a team to play for nine months ago.

And then, this evening, there was Lincecum, pitching as perfect a game as I've ever seen in the Series. Eight innings against one of the best hitting teams in the big leagues. Ten strikeouts. Just three hits.

Oh, I could go on. And I will. Again and again. Not all bedtime stories are fairy tales, but this one will surely sound like one.

Love,
dad

Sunday, October 31, 2010

SLIDE IT OVER

Dear Spike:

Here in Utah, Halloween is like leap year. On most years, the annual festival of tricks, treats, ghosts and ghouls, takes place on Oct. 31. But every once in a while the doorbell starts ringing a day early.

I learned about this Gregorian peculiarity for the first time in 2004. We'd been in Utah for a little over a year then, and it's safe to say that we'd learned, by that time, that things work a bit differently here than they do in most other parts of the country.

To wit: Most Americans celebrate Independence Day on July 4, in commemoration of the day that the Second Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence. But in Utah, where a powerful plurality of people are faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Sunday is supposed to be a day reserved for church-goin' folk to go to church along with other church-goin' folk. So whenever Independence Day falls inconveniently on a Sunday, they just sort of slide it over to Saturday and — viola! — they can have their cake and eat it, too.

Same goes for Halloween, which in that same year we learned isn't always celebrated on Oct. 31.

At first I was rather annoyed at this whole charade — and not just because it feels like a blatant mockery of the time-honored Separation of Church and Me. The thing is, I have the utmost respect for people of faith — so long as they're practicing their faith honestly. But I've got little tolerance for hypocrisy. And that's what I've long felt this whole move-the-date debacle really is.

At the heart of the Fourth Commandment of the Hebrew Scriptures is the principle that, once a week, God-fearing folk should take a break from their labors and spend the day honoring their creator. I'm not a literalist, so I've always just taken this to mean that hard work should be rewarded with rest — and that we shouldn't forget that both work and rest are blessings. But those more inclined to believe that the Bible is God's list of rules for humanity — and among these, we count our Mormon friends — often take the Fourth Commandment to literally mean they should not do anything that detracts from the restful, peaceful, and worshipful spirit of the day.

I'm cool with that. But I'm also unconvinced at the sincerity of the way most people practice this tenet of their faith. They're still prone to flip on the Sunday football game, to surf the Web, to check e-mail, to mow the lawn, to throw a few insta-meals into the microwave. And as to the things they don't do, well, what kind of honor is it, really, to simply move all the things we might otherwise prefer to be doing on the Sabbath to another day?

Here's the thing: That's not a bad philosophical argument to have with my closest friends of faith, but since I don't ascribe to the belief in a Sacred Sunday, it's really not my business to go preaching to the masses.

And in any case, in this life, you've got to choose your battles.

Back in 2004, I protested silently at the indignity of it all by simply refusing to answer the door to trick-or-treaters. "If they can't be troubled to come over on Halloween," I said, "then they don't need my candy!"

But that was before you came 'round — and before I lightened up. The truth is that most people here, Mormons and Gentiles alike, have just accepted Saturday as "Halloween Observed" on years in which the holiday falls on a Sunday. It doesn't hurt anything. It's just how things are done.

So while we could have stood on principle and taken you trick-or-treating on the real Halloween, most folks would already be out of their sugary sweets.

Gee, come to think of it, perhaps that wouldn't have been such a bad thing. I digress.

The point is that we took you door-to-door on Saturday. And you liked it. And we all had a good time. And it didn't really matter whether you trick-or-treated on a Saturday or a Sunday or any other day, because in the end, it's all just for fun.

I hope you learn to stand on principle. I also hope that, when you do, you're standing on something worthy of being stood upon.

Love,
dad

Monday, October 25, 2010

ALL THE AWE

Dear Spike:

There it was, no bigger than a nickel. A thin, dark circle, barely raised against the surface of the rock. At first glance, it could have been a slice of obsidian — or even a raindrop upon the soft gray shale. And just like an ephemeral raindrop, it should have evaporated into the winds of time ...

... hundreds of millions of years ago.

Instead, this little bug left its tiny imprint on our Earth — disappearing into a sandy tomb long before the dinosaurs walked this land and reappearing, for the first time, as I drove a spike between two thin layers of shale.

"A trilobite!" you cried.

Indeed it was. But it was more than that. It was a tiny time machine. A window into prehistory. As old as the hills? No, that doesn't even scratch the surface. This was older. Much, much older.

I dropped my hammer, shook my head and ran my thumb over tiny, spiny fossil.

"Wow," I said.

That is all I could muster. Words simply failed me. And why should they not? Our ancestors began to communicate using language fewer than 100,000 years ago. This delicate little arthropod had been around for 500 million years. Maybe longer. And we had just unearthed it, waking it from its long slumber, robbing it from eternity.

We live just a few short hours from one of the most prolific trilobite quarries in the world. And as such, your mother and I had been meaning to do this for years. One thing or another kept getting in the way.

I'm so glad we finally did this. And I'm glad we got to do it with you. Because with all the awe I felt as we unearthed fossil after fossil after fossil, came an awe-inspiring reminder:

Our time here is short. Too short to leave undone what we dream of doing. Too short not to seek joy. Too short not to seek love. Too short not to care, deeply and passionately, for all of those around us. Too short not to be left speechless by a sunset, a snowflake, a little slice of shale.

Like the raindrops that danced on the soft gray rock as we reluctantly turned away from the quarry, we are both eternal and ephemeral.

And like the raindrops, we should dance.

Love,
dad

Saturday, September 25, 2010

COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS

Dear Spike:

Whenever I travel, I am reminded of how fortunate our family is to have all of the many luxuries that life has afforded to us.

We want for nothing — and that is more than can be said of most people in this world.

I know that is can be easy to complain about things that are not was we might wish for them to be — and I am as guilty of this as anyone. But it really only takes a moment to step back and recognize how small our complaints often are, in the grand scheme of this world.

It's nice to count your blessing when life is easy — but it's better to count them when life gets hard. In the totality of human experience, we have it quite good.

And just remembering that often makes me realize how petty my complaints are.

I miss you.

Love,
dad
(Sulaimaniyah, Iraq)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

IN REAL TIME

Dear Spike:

I parted ways with you and your mother this morning at the airport with a few good hugs and, fortunately for me, no tears from you.

You know I'm going on a trip — and that I'll be gone for a while — but you're excited about all the fun you're going to be having with your mother while I'm gone, so you weren't too sad to see me go.

And that's fine with me. Preferable, in fact. My heart strings are already pulled taut.

Now I'm on an airplane headed to Atlanta. From there it's off to Paris. From Paris, Amman. And after a night in Amman, I'll head over to Iraq.

It's sort of amazing, if you think of it. We live in a world in which you can wake up on one side of the world and go to sleep on the other. It's also a time in which, without too much hassle, I can flip open my computer and see you staring back at me, in real time.

It wasn't so long ago that nothing like that was possible. And that makes me wonder about all of the innovations you'll see during your life. For what once seemed impossible yesterday is a simple matter of routine today. So it stands to reason that what seems impossible today will be more or less commonplace tomorrow.

Let's hope it's all for the better.

Love,
dad

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

WHILE I'M AWAY

Dear Spike:

You sobbed today when we talked about my upcoming trip. Two weeks is a long time for a little girl to be without her daddy.

But after I told you that you get to have two weeks of slumber parties with your mommy while I'm away, you perked up quite a bit.

Now you're feeling much better about things — but I'm feeling sad. Two weeks is a long time for a daddy to be without his little girl.

I'm proud of the work I do. And I believe it's worth the small sacrifices we make to help people in our nation understand the tragic consequences of war.

But my stomach churns when I think about being away from you. I'm dreading that final hug, that long plane flight to Iraq, that first night away.

I'll miss you more than I can possibly explain. But at least for now, I'll smile and tell you about how much fun you're going to have while I'm away.

Love,
dad

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

THIS RAT RACE

Dear Spike,

Tuesday is ballet. Wednesday you've got gymnastics. On Thursday afternoon, your Chinese tutor makes a zhái shàngmén — a house call. And on Friday there's piano lessons.

Along the way, you've tried your hand at soccer (we're still working on that hand part) and you've managed to acquire an impressive collection of annual passes for the zoo, the aviary and several different museums. Meanwhile, you've become a rather passionate season ticket-holding supporter of the local professional soccer club and you've recently picked up season tix for the women's soccer club at the U, too.

I never figured us for the kind of parents that would need a Dayplanner just to keep our toddler's schedule straight. But I suppose I never figured that you'd actually want to do all of this stuff, either. For the moment, at least, it's clear that you're enjoying all of these things, and given that we haven't put you in preschool yet (I'm just not ready to give you up like that) it's probably not a bad idea to give you some opportunities to learn to socialize with other kids.

But no matter the good intentions, your mother and I are wary of the risks. And if we so much as suspect that you've become bored — or overwhelmed — by it all, we'll yank you from this rat race quicker than you can say Henry David Thoreau.

Alas, if you're anything like your mother and I, you'll probably thrive on — and even thirst for — busyness. And there's nothing wrong with that.

But occasionally — and maybe even often — it's important to take a moment...

... a minute ...

... an hour ...

... a day ...

... to be free of demands on your time, your body, your soul.

Take a walk without knowing where you're going. Take the time to watch and listen and be. Turn off your phone.

Turn off your phone.

Turn off your phone.

Be still.

The rat race will be there when you're done, when you're ready. And if one day you decide that you're not ready, I can assure you that the rat race will get along just fine without you.

I suspect that you'll find a comfortable middle ground in there, somewhere. Maybe your life will be a little more frantic or maybe it will be a little more still.

Just remember — always remember — that it's your life, not your Dayplanner's.

Love,
dad

Friday, September 10, 2010

YES, THAT'S LOVE

Dear Spike:

Your mother and I were sitting with friends on the front porch, enjoying some wine and chocolates. You were asleep — or so were thought.

Suddenly, the drapes flew open. Your tiny cherub face emerged at the bottom of the window. And at once, I could read your every emotion.

First, you were scared: You'd been wandering the house looking for us and you were beginning to panic. Next, you were relieved: We had not left you all alone; we were near. And finally, you were betrayed: We were having a party, without you.

In a heartbeat, I read that all on your face.

That's love, I think — when you know someone in that way. When you understand them so much that all it takes is the briefest of glances and you are connected to their emotions. Yes, that's love.

It was heartbreaking to see all of that in you, on that night. But it was so reaffirming. I felt good that I know you in this way. I felt like a good father.

In two weeks, I will be leaving you and your mother to go back to Iraq. In the grand scheme of things it is not a long trip; I will be gone for about two weeks. But I am frightened by all the ways in which we will miss each other while I am away. I am saddened to think that you might feel scared, lonely and abandoned. And I know you won't quite understand why I have to go away or where I have gone.

Already, I am wondering what I will read on your face when I return. Will it be joy? Relief? Fear? What will I know — in the blink of an eye — about the way you are feeling in that moment? And sadly, I suspect you'll be feeling a bit betrayed.

That's the trouble with love. It gives us immediate and vivid access to things that we are not always prepared to see, hear and feel.

Because, I think, you are starting to know me in the way that I know you, I probably don't need to tell you that I am going to miss you. Terribly.

And already, I cannot wait for the day I return. I cannot wait to see your face — whatever it may bring.

Love,
dad

Sunday, September 5, 2010

LED TO YOU

Dear Spike:

I've made some mistakes in my life. I've hurt people and I've been hurt, too. I've screwed up. I've fumbled. And sometimes I've been just plain dumb.

But I don't regret any of it. I can't. Because everything I've done in life — every good thing and every bad thing, too — led to you.

You're going to make mistakes, too. You'll hurt people and you'll be hurt. You'll screw up. You've fumble. And sometimes you'll be just plain dumb.

It can be hard to live with our mistakes. But it doesn't do a tremendous amount of good to dwell on what is past, other than to learn a lesson or two for the future.

So, as best as you can, try to live without regret. Don't repeat your mistakes, but don't let them define you. And try to remember that all those trials and tribulations, all those mistakes and accidents, will someday lead you to something special.

Love,
dad

Friday, August 20, 2010

YOU TELL ME



Dear Spike:

It's not always easy having a daughter as intelligent as you. But it's often funny:

"Can you tell me something about dinosaurs?"

"Dinosaurs are oviparous!"

"Wonderful! Can you tell me something else that is oviparous?"

"Hens!"

"Great! What else?"

"...."

"Anything?"

"Monchichis?"

Love,
dad

Thursday, August 12, 2010

LOVE IT ALL

Dear Spike:

Your mother goes back to work this week, which means you and I are about to start spending a lot more time together.

I always look forward to the summers — not because I don't like spending time with you, but because I know how much your mother relishes that opportunity, each year, after nine hard months of splitting her energy between you and a bunch of other people's kids.

By the end of the summer, though, I'm always ready to step back into my work-at-home daddy shoes. I love making you breakfast in the morning. I love our walks to the park. I love reading together and learning together.

Museums. Playgrounds. Movies. I love it all.

Of course, it's not all fun and games. There is actually some working involved in being a work-at-home dad. And this year I'll be balancing fatherhood with not just one job, but two. Then, come January, I'll be teaching a class at Utah Valley University — and that's when sleep will really turn optional.

To do all this, I'm going to need your help. And I'm not worried at all that I won't get it. You're a good kid — the best I know. I'm proud of what that says about your mother and I as parents, but I also know that it says plenty about you. You're kind and considerate. You're intuitive and thoughtful. And you've gotten pretty good at finding suitable diversions when my attention is suddenly taken away by a ringing phone or beeping e-mail alert.

But I'm going to do my damnedest to make sure you never feel like you've been forgotten. I'm very aware that this is likely the last year that you and I will get to share this little arrangement, as next year you'll be off to preschool for several days of the week.

I want to make the most of this.

So here we go. One more great run. You and me, kid.

You and me.

Love,
dad

Thursday, August 5, 2010

THE HISTORY BOOKS

Dear Spike:

I don't know if this is a Brown v. Board of Education moment. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's not.

When a federal judge struck down California's ban on same sex marriage, yesterday, an appeal was a foregone conclusion. Ultimately, this fight will go to the Supreme Court. And maybe then we'll have a ruling worthy of the history books.

But I don't want to discount what happened yesterday, either, because it's a good example of why, as frustrated as I often am with this country, I still believe in it.

Our founders took a pretty bold leap of faith when they decided to establish the United States as a democracy. In doing so, they put decisions about our collective welfare into the hands of the collective. They trusted people to do the right thing. And often we do.

So democracy can be a beautiful thing. But it can also be a terrible thing in which the rights of minorities are crushed by the democratic rule of the majority. And that's why we have a Constitution, which enumerates the basic rights and freedoms that no mob of a majority can simply take away.

And since our founders couldn't have anticipated all the ways in which our world would change, we have judges. They decide, based on an examination of the facts of a case, the weight of legal precedent and their interpretation of the Constitution as it applies to our modern world, what our rights are.

In this case, the judge in California concluded – correctly, I believe — that a majority of California voters could not take away the rights of a minority.

It's possible that, on appeal, the Supreme Court could decide that the California vote was right and proper. But although I would be disappointed in that verdict, it would not necessarily shake my confidence in our system.

That's because, just as our courts have the ability to act as a Constitutional check over our democracy, our democracy can act as a moral check over our courts.

Ultimately, I believe, an overwhelming majority of Americans will understand that love is an institution of consenting individuals (and, if they choose, of their God) — not of the government. And when that happens, the legal precedent that once allowed a state to ban non-traditional marriage, by democratic vote, will be the same standard which would allow us to change our minds.

Is that a long way to go to do what is right? Perhaps. But I suppose if it were any easier, then it wouldn't really be so historic, would it?

love,
dad

Sunday, August 1, 2010

WHAT AN ADDICT

Dear Spike:

You tiptoed into our room this morning with your big brown eyes and even bigger hopes.

"May I have some chocolate milk?" you asked.

"You may have some plain milk," your mother replied. "You had chocolate milk last night before you went to bed.

"But," you pleaded, "I really don't want plain milk. I want a little bit of chocolate milk."

"I'm sorry," your mother responded. "But you are an addict."

"If I could just have a little bit of chocolate milk, I could be very happy today," you said.

"Yes," your mother said. "That is what an addict would say."

We're looking for a 12-step program for you.

Love,
dad

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

AN OVERNIGHT TRIP

Dear Spike:

Last night, for the first time since you came into our lives, your mother and I left you with your grandparents while we went on an overnight trip to Park City.

It’s not that we couldn’t have done this before. We unreservedly trust them to take care of you. And, perhaps more importantly, we unconditionally trust you to be a good girl for them.

But the truth is that we genuinely like your company. So anytime in the past when people have suggested that we “get away,” we’ve always just sort of shrugged our shoulders and asked “from what?”

But last week your mother and I decided that perhaps we could use just a bit of time to ourselves. So we headed up Parley’s Canyon, went horseback riding in the Uinta foothills, played a round of disc golf at The Canyons, had a wonderful dinner at The Cabin restaurant and took a dip in the swimming pool at The Grand Summit Hotel. We slept in a gloriously comfortable bed and woke up this morning for a lovely breakfast at the No Worries Café & Grill.

And, with that, it was back to Salt Lake City.

We probably could have stretched it out a bit more. You hardly glanced up from the table when I walked in the door.

“I missed you,” I said.

“I missed you too, daddy,” you answered, although it was a rather rote reply.

Maybe next time we go away, we’ll try for two days. Maybe three.

Really though, I’m not chomping at the bit to “get away” again.

Your mother is amazing. She’s fun. She’s interesting. She’s beautiful. And I love her more and more every day. But everything she is to me is better because of you. And I know that she feels the same way about me.

That’s just the way it is with us.

Other people are different. That doesn’t mean they love their kids any less. They simply have decided that, in order to be the best parents they can be, they need some time to themselves. And indeed, it’s true that your mother and I walked away from our experience feeling like “we needed that.”

Next time we “get away,” though, it will most likely be with you at our side. That’s just the way we prefer it — most of the time, at least.

Love,
dad

Thursday, July 15, 2010

THE HARD WORK


Dear Spike:

Our president gets plenty of criticism — and often it’s deserved. But as much as some folks might disagree about whether Barack Obama is a good leader, a good politician or even a good person, it seems that most people respect him in at least one capacity: By all accounts, he appears to be a good father to his daughters, Malia and Sasha.

That’s far more than can be said for Obama’s own father, who abandoned his son when the boy was just three years old and saw him just once again before his death. And insomuch as Obama has been able to succeed in the art of fatherhood despite the bad example set by his own father, I think he deserves an extra helping of respect.

So I was disappointed, recently, as I was spinning the radio dial and landed on Obama’s trademark monotone in a public service announcement for the federal Administration for Children and Families.

“To be a good father is the most important job in a man’s life, but it doesn’t have to be hard,” he said. “Things get busy and sometimes we all fall short. But the smallest moments can have the biggest impact on a child’s life.”

Maybe I’m overly critical. Maybe I’m overly analytical. And maybe I’m overly sensitive. But it made me sad to think that one of the most famous and well-respected fathers in our nation would suggest that being a good dad doesn’t have to be hard.

It most certainly is hard. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had. And, to the bottom of my being, I believe that any father who doesn’t think that being a dad is hard work just isn’t trying hard enough.

After all, we’ve been parenting for millions of years and, as far as I know, no one has gotten it right yet. If that doesn’t exemplify something that is hard, I don’t know what does.

And with all due respect to the president, I cannot agree that it is the small moments that you and I will spend together that will have the biggest impact on your life. Those moments — in which we tell jokes or play soccer or go out on one of our “fancy dates” — can be wonderful and influential and memorable, but they will not make you what you are to become.

No, it is the long work — the hard work — that your mother and I do together that will have the greatest impact on your life.

It is the way we encourage your questions, the way we help you seek answers, the way we praise your accomplishments and the way we punish your mistakes.

It is enforcing our rules, even when it is not convenient. It is telling you that we love you — more than anything — over and over and over and over and over again.

It is patience and structure. It is affection and discipline. It is consistency.

And yes, we get busy. And yes, we fall short.

But yes, oh yes, it is hard work. The hardest work there is.

Love,
dad

Monday, June 28, 2010

AT A TIME

Dear Spike:

Today we mourn a man who spent more time in Congress than any other individual in the history of our nation.

Sen. Robert Byrd began his service in the House of Representatives in 1953 and was elected to the Senate six years later. His long fight for the primacy of the legislative branch of our government ended at 3 a.m. this morning.

But Byrd’s greatest contribution to our nation wasn’t the length of his tenure, the money that he funneled to improve the conditions of those living in abject poverty in West Virginia, his staunch opposition to imperialistic military adventures, his steadfast support of health care reform or even the soaring speeches he delivered to his colleagues on the Senate floor.

No, the most important thing this former Ku Klux Klan organizer gave to us was the hope that we are all worthy of redemption.

I’ll save the details for the history books. It is enough to say that Byrd was a supporter of the greatest home-grown terrorist organization in the history of the United States. In latter years that association would have effectively, and appropriately, precluded his election. In West Virgina, in the 1950s, it likely facilitated his ascent.

It’s not precisely clear to me when Byrd changed, but he did so nonetheless. In 1964, he filibustered against the Civil Rights Act. But by 2004, he had won the endorsement of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which noted that Byrd was one of just 17 senators that had supported its stance on every bill of interest to the NAACP.

He came to be known as the "Conscience of the Senate." And although some called him the “Guilty Conscience,” I’m not sure it matters, except as a lesson for us all on what it means to be human.

We all make mistakes. Sometimes we make mistakes so grave that they will stay with us for the rest of our lives. But while we, and others, may never forget those failings, we don’t have to repeat them.

We can change. We can be better than who were yesterday, and better still than who we are today. We can admit that we have been wrong. We can ask forgiveness. And then we can earn it.

One day at a time.

Love,
dad

Sunday, June 27, 2010

FOR THE COUNT

Dear Spike:

No whining. No crying. Just off to bed, a few sips of milk, and you were out for the count.

It all makes me wonder why we don’t take you rafting every day.

Love,
dad

Thursday, June 17, 2010

LEARN SOME MORE

Dear Spike:


It was 92 degrees outside. And under my black cap and gown, I was sweating like a hippo on a treadmill.


I didn’t attend the commencement ceremony when I completed my undergraduate education. I didn’t really see the point. It was all just pomp and circumstance. A piece of paper. A name read on a loudspeaker. A walk across a stage for a piece of paper. And nothing more.


By the time I had completed my graduate studies, I had reconsidered. But on Sunday, as I stepped onto the broiling football field at California State University East Bay, I was all but certain that I'd made a mistake.


Then I saw you, perched in your mother’s arms and waving ferociously as I walked by in the processional.


And it all made sense again.


You probably won’t remember any of what went on Sunday. You slept through most of the ceremony, after all, (and I can’t really blame you — I wanted to sleep, too.) But I’m glad you were there, because it’s important to your mother and me that you understand, from an early age, just how important learning is in our family.


You have been blessed with privileges that most of the world will never know. Among the greatest of those privileges is the ability to seek and obtain an education.


Do not disrespect that privilege.


Learn. And when you’re done with that, learn some more.


And then more. And more. And more.


You don’t have to collect degrees like baseball trading cards. You don’t have to have a J.D., an M.B.A. or a Ph.D. And, in some limited circumstances, I would understand if you passed by a formal education altogether.


But do not pass up an opportunity to learn.


Read and write. Speak and listen. Discuss and debate. Ask questions. Ask questions. Ask questions. For these are the ways — the good ways, that is — in which our species differentiates itself from all others on this planet.


When you stop learning, you stop living.


Live long.


Love,

dad

Thursday, June 3, 2010

THE BEAUTIFUL GAME



Dear Spike:

I would like to allow you to choose your own path.

So if you love to dance, please dance.

And if you love math, by all means, solve the Goldbach Conjecture.

And if want to do Kung-Fu, go ahead and kick butt.

Likewise, if you don't like spinach, I'll only make you try it — I won't shove it down your throat.

And if you don't like baseball, I won't make you swing for the fences.

And if you don't like the snow, I won't make you ski.

And if you don't like soccer...

... I think we're going to have some issues.

I love the beautiful game. I love to play it. I love to watch it. I love to talk about it.

And, since the moment we learned you were coming, I've loved to dream about watching you play it.

Today, that dream came true. You had your very first soccer practice. And, if I do say so myself, you played like a champ.

With seven days to go before World Cup 2010 begins in South Africa, I'm afraid it might be a bit too late to make the U.S. team.

But with four years until the next cup, in Brazil, I think there's plenty of time.

No pressure.

Love,
dad

Thursday, May 27, 2010

FOR THREE YEARS

Dear Spike:

Three years ago this evening, your mother and I were cuddled together on the couch, watching Chevy Chase, Steve Martin and Martin Short in The Three Amigos in a desperate, yet ultimately futile, attempt not to think about what was ahead.

Nine months of pregnancy had come and gone. Her contractions were getting stronger and stronger.

You were on the way.

Here's what I wrote to you as we awaited the point in which your mother's contractions were close enough to warrant driving to the hospital:

There’s no feeling like this in the world. It’s Christmas Eve mixed with the top of Disney’s Matterhorn. A little bit of the pre-soccer game jitters. A little of the apprehension I had the first time I went to war. Airplane turbulence. Raging hunger. Communion prayer. It’s they way I felt when I stared into your mother’s eyes the night we were married. It’s the way I felt when we kissed behind the curtains at the reception the night before. It’s a little bit of staring out over the ocean. It’s a little bit of standing on the side of a cliff.

A few hours later, you were born — all four pounds, nine ounces of you. And I waited for all of those feelings to go away.

And I waited.

And I waited.

It's been three years, now, and I still feel the same way I did on that day. Every time I look at you. Every time I think of you.

I've had my share of adventures. More than most, I'd be willing to bet. I've been shot at by insurgents, Tasered by police officers and threatened by murderers. I've stood toe-to-toe with presidents, generals, astronauts and elephants. I've climbed mountains, jumped out of airplanes, landed on aircraft carriers and rode horseback ahead of madly charging buffalo.

But nothing compares to the adventure that began three years ago this evening. Nothing compares to you.

For three years you have enlightened me, entertained me and challenge me. For three years you've exceeded every lofty expectation I've ever had of you. For three years, you've demanded that I exceed the meager expectations I have of myself.

Some people ask: Where does the time go? But I don't feel that way. The past three years have been the best of my life — and I've known it. Every passing moment, I've known that I'm experiencing the best moments of my life. And when you know something like that, you savor it. You chew on it. You ponder it.

This evening, before you went to bed, you hugged me for the last time that you'll hug me as a two year old. And I swear that hug lasted forever.

No, there's no feeling like this in the world.

Happy birthday.

I love you.

More than anything.

love,
dad

Thursday, May 20, 2010

KNACK IN PROGRESS

Dear Spike:

There's a chess game, afoot, on the table in our breakfast nook. One of the rooks is a wine cork. A chopstick directs the play: pointed left, it's my turn; pointed right it's your Uncle Mikey's turn.

We move once or twice a day. Seldom more than that. A single game can take weeks to complete.

Nine months into this experiment in cohabitation, we've all fallen into a fairly comfortable, if sometimes awkward, routine.

The game is a good metaphor for that: The pieces move about the board — sometimes coming into conflict, sometimes just moving from here to there in service to some grander, yet unseen objective.

Your uncle spends his days sleeping in his room — except for when I send you upstairs to wake him for a turn at child care. Then, he slumps down the narrow stairs in his pajamas, often wrapped in a blanket. He reads and plays games with you. Sometimes he takes you to the park. And then, when I return, he climbs back up the stairs and falls asleep again. In the afternoons he teaches guitar and in the evenings he performs at the theater or the restaurant where he plays guitar and sings. It's not unusual for him to return home from work at 4 a.m., which is why he burns so much daylight sleeping.

Your uncle is a special guy. Different, to say the least. He's a brilliant musician and a gifted actor, but, alas, life is not a stage. He can be a challenge to communicate with. He's emotional. Maybe a bit bipolar. When he is happy, it is infectious. When he is depressed, the whole house seems to have a cloud over it. He seems to have a knack for teaching, but it's a knack in progress. Maybe it's in his cards. We'll see. I hope he finds his way.

Your mother mostly avoids or ignores the man living in our attic. It's not that they don't get along — just that they don't seem to have a lot in common, other than their love for you and their tolerance for me. She certainly appreciates what he brings to our family, though: There was a moment last night at dinner, for instance, when you were acting out and your mother and I were just too exhausted to correct behaviors for which you would generally receive a scolding. Your uncle swept in to assume the disciplinary role, correcting you for your dinner table antics and giving us a rest from our rather strict parenting regimen.

I straddle the ground between your mother and your uncle. I try to make sure we share a non-confrontational conversation at least once a day. Maybe about you. Maybe about chess. We're brothers, but there's not a whole lot else we share in common, either. I also try to communicate the things that, as adults sharing a home, we can all do to help smooth this sometimes difficult coexistence. Sometimes it feels as though I've inherited another child. At this point, though, it has become pretty clear to me that your uncle didn't come here seeking direction — and certainly not direction from me.

No, he came here for you. And that means a lot to all of us.

In the next few days, your uncle is going to decide whether he is staying with us next year. It seemed, earlier this month, that he was leaning toward sticking around. But after your great grandfather's death, it seems as though he's been pining to return home to California. I wouldn't brave a guess as to which way he'll fall, but either way we'll support his decision. We'd love to have him stay with us for another turn of the calendar. But if he leaves, we won't mind getting back some of the privacy we've sacrificed by inviting another adult to live in our home. On balance, I suppose, I hope he stays. He's good for you. And maybe for all of us.

There's something you should know: Even though Uncle Mikey came here for you, if he decides to leave us, it won't be because of you. I've known your uncle for 28 years, but that doesn't mean I know him very well. I do know, however, that he cares deeply for you. If he goes, it will be because he has decided that his pawns need to move this way, his knights need to move that way.

But you, my dear, will always be his queen.

Love,
dad

Saturday, May 15, 2010

MAXIUM LEROY LAPLANTE 1932-2010

Dear Spike:


Your great grandfather died last Thursday. I’ve sat down every night since then to write you this letter and have not gotten further than a few words.


But maybe tonight is the night.


•••


When I was nine years old, my grandfather took me to the Major League Baseball All Star Game at the Oakland Coliseum. We sat on the first base line, just behind the dugout, one row up from where Hall of Famer Leo Durocher was sitting.


Papa recognized him right away.


“Hey,” he told me. “See that guy right there? They call him ‘Leo The Lip.’”


He exchanged a few kind words with the salty old manager, who shook my hand and gave me an autograph.


That’s about all I remember from the game, which went 12 scoreless innings before Tim Raines hit a two-run triple for the National League in the top of the 13th inning to end the marathon.


At least, that’s what I read in the newspaper the next day. We left after the 11th inning, perhaps because Papa caught me nodding off in my chair.


We took the train home, unwittingly got off at the wrong stop, and spent the next hour wandering around the parking lot looking for our car.


All in all, it was a rather unspectacular night, but Papa never got tired of retelling the tale. And over time I’ve come to think of that day as one of the best days of my life, because I’ve come to understand, as your grandfather always did, that it’s not what you do, but who you do it with, that is most important in life.


•••


When you were just a few months old, your great grandparents drove out from California for a visit. As was his habit, Papa had made sure he knew exactly where the nearest Catholic church was — and had the route mapped out so that he could make sure not to be late for Sunday mass.


As luck would have it, the nearest Catholic church to our home is the Cathedral of the Madeline, a 100-year-old Gothic and Romanesque marvel so awe-inspiring that it sometimes makes me wish I was Catholic — which, of course, is the point.


We arrived early and took a place in the back pew. After a few moments, a priest approached and made some small talk with your great papa, who was holding you in his arms.


“Are you Catholic?” he asked.


He needed someone to carry the sacraments to the alter, and he asked your papa to do it.


I’ve never seen a man so proud as he was when he walked, along with you and your mother, down the center aisle of that beautiful church. It was the best gift you could have possibly given to him, and you didn’t even know you were doing it.


•••


Your Great Papa was a good man. He was smart and he was brave. He was funny and he was tough.


He loved a good story. And in lieu of a good story, he’d just tell whatever story came to mind.


He was a kind and decent man.


And he loved you very, very much.


Love,

dad

Friday, April 30, 2010

VERY FIRST LIE

Dear Spike:

Abe Lincoln, you ain't.

Granted, you're a good kid. Better than most, I reckon. And maybe that's why it was so heart-breaking, this week, when I bore witness to your very first lie.

As is our usual morning routine, you started the day with breakfast, and then a Mandarin video. When the show was over, I flipped off the TV and moved you into your play room.When I went to grab a snack for you from the kitchen, I heard the TV buzz back to life.

I came back and gave you my best "not happy with you" stare down.

"It was an accident," you immediately protested.

OK, so you're not a very good liar. And because I want to make sure you don't ever become a good liar, I cracked the whip pretty hard yesterday.

I wasn't mad at you, just disappointed — and a little bit sad. As much as I'd love to think otherwise, I know there will be plenty of other times that you will feel that it is easier to lie to me than to tell me the truth.

And I know you're not going to believe this — I know it might even seem like a lie — but you can always tell me the truth.

Always.

I won't always be happy (you were going to be punished for turning the TV on without permission no matter if you lied or not) and sometimes I might even feel a bit mad — but I will never, ever stop loving you.

And that's the truth.

Love,
dad

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

NOTHING LIKE THIS

Dear Spike:

I'm sitting by your bedside, hovering over your tiny sleeping body, overwhelmed by your beauty — and terrified by the prospect of waking you up.

You finally passed out, an hour or so ago, after a fit of mad writhing and screaming.

"Milk!" you cried. "Please, please, please give me my milk!!!"

"Nooooooooooo!" you protested when I gave you a sippy cup of milk. "I don't want it! I don't wan't it!"

You tossed the cup halfway across the room.

"Nooooooooooo!" you screamed as it bounced across the floor. "I need my milk."

It went on this way for a good 20 minutes.

You wanted me to kiss your head. And then you screamed and twisted and contorted your body away when I leaned in to do so.

You wanted me to leave the room. And then you wailed and writhed and bonked your head against the wall when I opened to the door to go.

You wanted your stuffed animals. And then you didn't.

You wanted me to tell you a story. And then you didn't.

You wanted me to hold you — and then you punched me in the mouth when I did.

To say the very least, this was unusual behavior for you. Alas, you've thrown an occasional temper tantrum in the past. But nothing like this.

This was something new.

This was something frightening.

It is with great frequency and no small amount of pride that I tell those who ask about "the terrible twos" that you have given us no context with which we might understand that term.

And it is with great frequency — and no small amount of smugness, I think — that these people respond, "ah yes — it really should be called 'the terrible threes.'"

I smile politely and nod. But I don't believe it...

Or, at least, I didn't...

Not until this afternoon. Could this be the dreaded "threes?"

You're beginning to stir, now.

And I'm fighting a rather powerful urge to run for my life.

Love,
dad

Monday, April 26, 2010

SINGING THIS SONG

Dear Spike:

The song, by Beyoncé, is called "Single Ladies." And it goes something like this:

All the single ladies,
All the single ladies,
All the single ladies,
Now put your hands up,
Oh Oh Oh, Oh Oh Oh Oh!

In what I initially thought was pretty damning evidence that I had failed you as a father, you have been dancing around the house, singing this song, all week long.

Thankfully, your mother has spoken to you at length about what this song really means. Now, if someone asks you what a single lady is, you respond:

"A single lady is a woman who is unencumbered by a man."

Love,
dad

Monday, April 19, 2010

BEING MISS MANNERS


Dear Spike:

You manners are absolutely charming — "a breath of fresh air," we've been told by no small number of people — and it makes me very proud to see what I polite young lady we've raised.

But this morning, while were at the park, I came to the rather unsettling realization that we may have turned you into a bit of a oddity among your peers.

The first little girl you approached today had her brown hair in pigtails, just like yours. And she looked to be about your age, or perhaps just a few months older. You walked up to her, stretched out your hand and introduced yourself. "Pleased to meet you," you said. "What's your name?"

The little girl's eyes widened and she shot a glance around the playground for her mother.

"Pleased to meet you," you repeated, taking a step closer. "What's your name?"

Without a word, the little girl pushed you away and ran off to find her mom.

Strike One.

The next little girl was a blond-haired kid. She was also just about your age, I think.

"Pleased to meet you," you said, extending your hand. "What's your name?"

When the little girl didn't lift her hand to shake yours, you reached down to show her how. But she yanked her arm away and began backing away.

Undeterred, you followed her. "Would you like to play together?" you asked.

And then she ran.

Strike Two.

I'm sure I could have stepped in to make the recreational arrangements with either girl's parent, but I try my best to mind my own business when we're in your world. I figure that it's my job to get you ready to make friends — and your job to actually make things happen.

You didn't seem particularly bothered by what had happened, but I was a bit heartbroken — particularly as I watched you play alone for the next few minutes. Every now and then I saw you looking up at where the two girls were playing — together — on the other side of the playground. They'd connected, I recognized, when the blond girl gruffly ordered the brunette to follow her up the stairs to the slide.

I guess that's how it's done.

The next girl was a redhead, with curly lockes like Little Orphan Annie. Absolutely darling. She was easily a head taller than you, but I'm guessing she was about a year your junior.

"Pleased to meet you," you said, extending a hand once again. "What's your name?"

She didn't reach out to shake your hand. And she didn't share her name. But she didn't run away, either, and the two of you followed one another around for the next five minutes, or so, until she decided to run off to play with some other kids, leaving you to play alone once again.

It wasn't strike three, but it wasn't a home run either. And, I suppose, most things in life are that way.

I'm not sure what benefit you'll derive from being Miss Manners — on the playground or in life — but just the same, I'm glad you're such a polite young lady.

Being proper, respectful and kind might make you a bit odd, but the people who really matter won't mind. I promise.

Love,
dad

Friday, April 9, 2010

WEAR YOUR HELMET

Dear Spike:

I'm guessing I was doing 30 or 35 miles an hour down a steep, well-packed run when my snowboard caught an edge and flipped me onto the back of my head.

Why do I insist that you wear a helmet?

That's why.

Love,
dad

Saturday, April 3, 2010

NEED TO LEARN

Dear Spike:

We were watching "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe," this evening with your grandparents. During the scene in which the forces of Aslan confront the force of the White Witch, you turn to me with a look of confusion.

"What are they doing?" you asked.

"They are preparing for battle," I explained.

"They're going to fight?"

"Yes."

"But that's not good," you said. "They need to learn to use their words."

Somewhere, C.S. Lewis is smiling.

And so am I.


Love,
dad

Thursday, April 1, 2010

ON THE MOUNTAIN


Dear Spike:


You were excited. And that excited me.


After all, I’ve been longing to share this pastime with you for as long as you’ve been around. But until recently, I was under the impression that your snowboarding career would have to wait a few years.


Earlier this winter, however, I shared a lift with a man who had recently taken his three-year-old daughter on her first ski outing. “She did great,” he told me. “You can’t push them at that age, of course, but if you offer it to them and they want to do it, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t.”


I made a calendar in my head and drew a little circle around Dec. 21, 2010 — the first day of next winter. That, I thought, would be the day you met the slopes.


But then, on what I thought would be my last day on the mountain for this season, I ran into a kid who was trying to unload a couple of passes. I scored two for $25 — the deal of the century.


But between work and school and everything else that life’s been throwing my way, lately, I only had time to use one before Spring arrived. And although you often can ski through June at some of Utah’s resorts, it’s not particularly good skiing.


So when winter took a few parting shots at us, this week, I felt compelled to use up my last pass. But at the same time, having just returned from a business trip, I wanted to spend some quality time with you.


And thus a plan was born. Why wait to turn three? Why not just get started now?


“Spike,” I said, “would you like to go snowboarding with daddy?”


“Yeah!” you answered, and you jumped to your feet. “Let’s go!”


Such enthusiasm. That’s daddy’s girl. We threw on our snow clothes, wiggled into the car and headed up Big Cottonwood Canyon.


Less than an hour later, you were set up with boots, bindings and an adorable little purple snowboard. And we were ready to hit the bunny slopes.


But first things first: Safety.


“OK, let’s just slide on this helmet,” I said.


“Noooooo!” you screamed. “No helmet! No helmet!”


I’m not sure what it was about the helmet I offered you, but something had freaked you out pretty good. You cried and sobbed and begged me not to make you wear the helmet. And even when I showed you that other kids were wearing their helmets, you wouldn’t budge. “When I am older I can wear a helmet,” you said. “But not right now.”


I didn’t understand your logic. But it didn’t really matter. I couldn’t get you into that helmet, and I sure as heck wasn’t going to hop on the chairlift without making sure you’re precious little brain was protected.

Finally, I explained to you that we would have to go if you didn’t wear your protective equipment. And you agreed that was a very good idea.


As we headed back to the ski shop, I asked if you would like to try out your snowboard, sans helmet, just on the flat areas near the lodge. You accepted.


I was hoping that, after sliding around for a bit, you’d be willing to put the helmet so that you could keep going.


No such luck. You were fine with the idea of sliding down the hills. You just wanted to make sure your head was free while you were doing it.


And so it was that, for several hours, I carried you up a very small hill near the parking lot and then ran alongside of you, holding your hands, as you slid back down.


Up and down. And up and down. And up and down we went. You were having the time of your life. And I was gasping for breath.


To be certain, this is not the way I had envisioned your first snowboarding outing would go. But the truth is, when you’re parenting, nothing ever goes according to plan. When you try to push your children to hard, too fast, sometimes they push back. And when they do, it’s not always in ways that you might expect.


And so you've got to stay flexible.


I’m still not sure what your problem is with wearing a helmet. But, by God, when we do hit the slopes next year, you’re not going to win this battle. You will wear a helmet, or you’ll be confined to the hill next to the parking lot.


But nonetheless, I’m proud of you. You looked good on that board. And I’ll bet you’ll look even better next year — or whenever you’re ready.


love,

dad

Sunday, March 14, 2010

YOUR OWN SKIN

Dear Spike:

You've got the rest of your life to wear clothes. And your penchant for spur-of-the-moment stripping has (mostly) been confined to our home. So I'm not too concerned about your recent turn as a nudist.

But you'll have to enjoy your freedom while it while it lasts, because eventually you're going to have to don some duds.

I suppose that, in an ideal world, none of us would wear clothes, save for warmth or style. If you buy the Biblical account of Adam and Eve, that's how it was supposed to be — up until the whole forbidden fruit incident, that is. And if you're more inclined toward an evolutionary view of things, you're likely to note that we're the only animal on the planet that feels compelled to wear the skins of other animals. (OK, I suppose there's an argument to be made about hermit crabs and chihuahuas, but humans are still a relative oddity in Animalia.)

But this is nothing like an ideal world. This is a world that has been hyper-sexualized. This is a world that is exploitative. And increasingly, this is a world in which nothing you do stays private for long.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that we don't always get to choose whether something is innocent or not. And so modesty is as much a public virtue as it is a personal one.

I reckon this might cause some tension between us someday. And although it's probably easier here in Utah (where weather and culture encourage modest dress) I have no doubt in my mind that there will come a day when we're not going to see eye-to-eye on your preferred skin-to-fabric ratio.

And, such is life, I'm equally certain that there will be plenty of times is which you might feel compelled — whether by love, friendship, trust, drunkenness or momentary insanity — to... um... "run free," as it were.

Be careful. Be considerate of your future. And for goodness sake, consider your father, too.

I pray that you will never feel uncomfortable in your own skin. Our bodies are a beautiful gift — a gift to be shared with the right people at the right time and in the right place.

Until then, like any gift, it's nice to keep things under wraps.

Love,
dad

Thursday, March 11, 2010

SOMETHING WE DO

Doris "Granny D" Haddock
1910-2010


Dear Spike:

Doris Haddock knew what she had to do.

When a fellow Democrat absconded from the race to be the next U.S. senator from New Hampshire in 2004, Haddock seized the moment. With four months to go before the election, the activist known as "Granny D" announced her candidacy — entering into the dog-eat-dog world of national politics at the age of 94.

But inspired as that decision may have been, on the eve of the debate with her incumbent opponent, Granny D was feeling tired, overwhelmed and scared.

"Please God," she prayed, kneeling at her bedside in a flannel nightgown. "Don't let me make a fool of myself."

Maybe the Almighty called down a favor. Or maybe Haddock simply rose to the occasion. Whatever happened, on that following day, Granny D kicked her opponent's ass.

Seventy-five percent of those watching the debate said she'd won the war of words.

But this isn't a story about miracles. In a nation where political debates are low-ratings events and politics is a big-money game, the enormously outspent great-grandmother didn't have a chance. She lost the election 66 to 34 percent.

It doesn't matter. Even if Granny D had succeeded in her Quixotic quest, she would have found herself one voice in a hundred-person choir of corruption. And although she allowed herself to believe that she had a chance to win the race, Haddock knew her fight was about something even more important than winning.

"Democracy is not something we have," she said. "It's something we do."

Granny D Haddock walked the talk. We should all be so brave.

Love,
dad