Friday, January 29, 2010


Dear Spike:

The tiger thrashed against the wall, gnashing its teeth and growling like a 57 Chevy.

I knew, of course, that an inch of bullet-proof glass was separating us from the deadly cat, but my first impulse was to scoop you up and run.

But when I looked down, you were just laughing.

I realize, of course, that in the days and months to come it will be my job to teach you to be wary of things that could hurt you. But at least for now, it brings me great joy to see that you are not afraid of this world — not even man-eating beasts.

When I tell you stories about a little girl who shares your name, they always start like this, "... she was smart, and brave, and beautiful, and tough — and very, very kind."

We've known for a long time that you are a smart little girl. And although I'd like to take some credit for that, I fully acknowledge that your mother had more to do with it.

And my, you are a tough one, too. I learned that in the hospital on the day you were born as I watched you fight your way into this world — and somehow I think that's when you learned to be tough, too. You take your bumps and bruises like a seasoned bull rider. No sense crying over skinned knees.

And I can't help but think you're beautiful. Everyone else says so, too. They say that about all kids, of course, but when they say it about you they actually mean it.

And yes, I see you practice random acts of kindness every single day. I'd always thought the Golden Rule was a learned principle of humanity until I met you.

But bravery – that strange elixir of courage, principle and stubbornness — is harder to quantify and harder to detect in a tiny little girl.

It's more than just standing before tigers. It's more than racing down snow-covered mountains with a sheet of fiberglass strapped to your feet. It's more than jumping out of airplanes or stepping into a hockey rink or even marching off to war. Any of those things might indicate bravery, but also might indicate simple stupidity. And while some people might believe there is a fine line in between, I don't think that's true.

Bravery is standing up for yourself when you know that it's going to hurt. Bravery is standing up for others when you know that they might otherwise be hurt. Bravery is understanding that the human condition, by law, is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short — and deciding to do something to make it communal, rich, beautiful, kind and long.

And I see all of this inside of you. More and more, every day.


Monday, January 25, 2010


Dear Spike:

Among the hundreds of men uniformly clad in black T-shirts, orange pants and black Converse sneakers were murderers, muggers, rapists and drug pushers.

In the now-famous exercise yard at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in the Philippines, they danced to the music of an accused child molester — to viral worldwide admiration.

In that context, it's a rather unsettling scene. And yet, out of context, it would hardly be worth remarking upon at all.

If you limit your appreciation to that which is created by those whose lives reflect your own standards of morality, integrity and decency, you'll miss out on a lot.

The King of Pop was, at very least, a radically inappropriate adult companion to young children at his Disneyesque mansion. But if you disregard his songs out of contempt for his lifestyle, you'll be missing out on a canon that changed the way the world thought about popular music.

One of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th Century is a decrepit coward who has spent the past three decades avoiding punishment for raping a 13-year-old girl. Yet if you never see Roman Polanski's The Pianist, you'd be missing a film of enormous power, grace and humanity.

One of the greatest golfer of all time is a philandering jackass who defiled his marriage, his duties as a father and his status as a role model in exchange for a trashy troupe of cocktail waitresses and skin models. But if you never saw Tiger Woods play golf, you'd miss the opportunity to see a man so good at his craft that he is often only in competition with himself.

Jackson Pollock redefined painting. He was an explosively abusive alcoholic.

Bill Cosby has made generation after generation of Americans laugh and came to be known as "America's Dad." He also cheated on his wife and allegedly drugged women to get them into bed.

And those prisoners? Who knows the extent of evil that resulted in their incarceration at Cebu. But millions upon millions of people have watched their joyful dances — and been made joyful as a result.

Art is beauty sometimes borne of beast. But it is beauty nonetheless.


Saturday, January 23, 2010


Dear Spike:

You sang "I'm just a little black rain cloud" today.

Over and over and over again.

At one point in my life, I might have found that annoying.

Not anymore.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Dear Gaga:

It's been just over a year since you left us, and I wanted to let you know that I'm still keeping my promise.

I'm taking care of your "littlest angel." And of the tiny one that you called "my littlest littlest angel" — the girl I call "Spike."

Oh, I know you didn't like that. But there's a method to our madness, there really is. And you'll be happy to know that, despite her nickname and much to her father's chagrin, she prefers dresses to pants and likes to wear her hair in bows. She dances until she's dizzy. And she likes to pretend she's Cinderella.

At the same time, she'll pitch off her tricycle at full throttle, hit the floor with a thud and be back on her feet before the bike rolls to a stop. She doesn't mind getting dirty. And she's not shy around anyone anymore.

She's tough. And in that way, she takes after you.

She asks about you all the time. At first we told her that you were in our hearts — and that's true. But after a while, the literal idea of that was sort of freaking her out. So finally your littlest angel told your littlest littlest angel that you died and went to heaven. And that's true, too.

She knows a lot about you, too. She knows that you were a great cook and that you were a kind person. She knows that you had soft hands and a warm heart.

She knows that you were her great grandmother.

And we won't let her forget.

I promise.

Spike's dad