Friday, September 16, 2011


Dear Spike:

Sometimes when my colleague, Doug Fabrizio, is out of town, I get to fill in as guest host of RadioWest, an hour-long interview program on a local public radio station.

Doug is exceptionally good at what he does. And even though I always have the support of a great team of producers, his shoes are exceptionally hard to fill. So I often turn to my friends and family for questions, ideas and inspiration on the subject of the day.

Thursday's topic was the National Anthem, which celebrated its 197th birthday this week and was recently mangled in a public performance by pop star Cyndi Lauper. It could have been a rather dry subject, so I sent out an all points bulletin seeking some advice.

My father was among the first to reply: Without going into too much detail, he suggested I look for a recording of Jose Feliciano’s performance of the anthem in the 1968 World Series.

I did — and it proved great fodder for conversation that morning. Feliciano’s rendition was absolutely amazing. But his Latin jazz reinterpretation of the old English drinking melody upon which our anthem was based proved highly controversial. Some suggested that the young, blind musician had disgraced our nation’s song. Others said he should be deported (which would have been a difficult task since the singer was, by virtue of his birth in Puerto Rico, an American citizen).

I’d like to share two things with you today:

The first is Feliciano’s hauntingly beautiful adaptation of the Star-Spangled Banner, which reminds me, as I hope it will remind you, that our nation is full of good people who sometimes need a little help to appreciate our ever-changing world.

The other is this message, which I received from my father a few hours after the radio program:

I remember the Feliciano controversy like it was yesterday. I was a freshman in high school, and my English teacher had us writing essays each week on any topic we chose. It was maybe the fourth or fifth week of school, so maybe only the second or third time we wrote. I remember writing that if anyone was entitled to sing the anthem in "new" way, it was a blind man of color. Mr. Farrington gave me such positive feedback that I began thinking for first time that maybe I could write for a living.

My father went on to have a successful career as a writer. But he would be the first to tell you that he’s much prouder of his children’s accomplishments than his own.

And he has much to be proud of. Today, his daughter is the publisher of a magazine. His oldest son is a journalist and professor of journalism. His youngest son is an amazingly gifted songwriter.

Consider that.

From Francis Scott Key to Jose Feliciano…

From Jose Feliciano to Gerald Farrington…

From Gerald Farrington to Richard LaPlante…

None of those men could have predicted the effect that their lives would ultimately have on a few siblings from the last generation of the 20th Century…

Let alone a child from the first generation of the 21st.

What a legacy. What a country.



Thursday, September 15, 2011


Dear Spike:

Your mother and I were in the car's front seats, engrossed in a conversation about something or other, when we suddenly became aware of a song, coming from the back seat.

"The Care Bears love me... but not my friends
The Care Bears love me... but not my friends!
The Care Bears love me, they love me, they love me...
But nooooooot..... myyyyyyyyyyy... frrrrrrrriends!"


Sunday, September 11, 2011


Dear Spike,

I woke up this morning from one of the worst nights of sleep of my life. And I only say that I "woke up" because I did manage to doze off just enough to have several nightmares, all of which involved a deranged gang of killers that was chasing me and, to my greater horror, a teen-aged version of you.

I rarely remember my dreams. But this one was pretty vivid. Strange.

You don't look bad with purple hair, by the way, but I wasn't so happy with the tattoos. Pin-up girls? On your forearms? Really?

There was a soundtrack, too. A John Phillip Souza march, of all things. I'm not kidding. It was the craziest thing.

But in the early moments of the morning, when I was still trying to separate the dream world from reality, it was at least something to laugh at. I wasn't comfortable talking about the other parts of the dream, at first. Too real. Too early. But the Souza stuff? That was something I could tell your mother about when she asked.

And as soon as the words fell from my lips, I realized what had happened.

Souza. Military marches. Terror. Ten years.

I know lots of people are saying today that it seems like it was just yesterday. But that's not the case for me. It seems like a lifetime ago.

The last decade has brought, in no particular order, an end to my military service. A marriage to your mother. A move to Utah. Three trips to Iraq, among a half-dozen other international reporting assignments. Your mom got her master's degree. Then I did. And then, a few months ago, I got a brand new career.

We've lost your mother's Gaga. My grandmother and grandfather, too. My sister married, divorced, remarried, had a beautiful baby boy. My brother moved in with us. And then he moved out.

And, of course, there was you.

Sure, I remember that day like it was yesterday. But it doesn't seem like it was yesterday.

It was a lifetime ago. For me. For you. For our broken nation.

Guantanamo. Abu Ghraib. Predator drones. Endless war. Black ops budgets bursting at the secret seams. All the while, more debt, more debt, more debt for our nation.

What a fucking legacy.

This is just a date. No more and no less important than any other, despite all of the attention. But I will say this for Sept. 11, 2001: It is the date by which I count, forward and backward, to nearly every other event in my life.

So in that way, I suppose, a decade is meaningful.

I wonder and worry at what the next decade will bring. By the time it passes, you'll be about as old as you were in my dream last night. (But please, dear God, not with those tattoos.) You'll be old enough, by then, to understand what happened on that terrible day. And you'll be old enough to know what has happened ever since.

What a nightmare.

But here, in the spirit of optimism, is to the next decade. May she be a damn sight better than the old one.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Dear Spike:

It was bound to happen.

What, with all this, bull-ridin', half-pipe jumpin' and professional soccer playin' you've been talking about lately, it was clear you weren't going to be leaving this home without a few bumps and bruises to show for it.

But we didn't really want those bumps and bruises to come so soon.

I was in my office, up north, when I got the call from your mother.

"Calm down" she told me.

"I am calm," I said. "Why wouldn't I be calm?"

"Because of what I'm going to tell you — which is why I said you need to calm down."



"Promise what?"

"That you'll be calm."

"Um... OK."

You were exploring our basement — a veritable death trap, to be certain — when you came upon my weight set. Somehow you wrestled one of the 10-pound barbell weights off the rack.

It fell on your foot, crushing your big toe.

For the record, I'd like to point out that I took the news rather well. And I'd like to think that I would have done so regardless of whether or not your mother first made me pinky swear to stay calm.

She, for the record, was doing an admirable job of holding it all together. And she did everything right to keep you calm and get you the help you needed.

She (quite wrongly) blamed herself. (This is definitely more my fault than hers — and you get some blame, too, for touching things you shouldn't be touching). But in any case, your mom didn't dwell on any of that until well after I'd arrived (two hours later) to find you both sitting calmly in an examination room, waiting to look at the X-rays.

There were dark circles under your eyes and you chin was trembling, but you did your best to wear a brave face.
"I tried to hold it up, but it was too heavy for me," you explained.

The doctor came in and looked at the pictures. There was a distinct line down the middle of the distal phalanx of your hallux.

Or, in other words: the little piggy that went to market had a boo-boo.

It could have been a lot worse. Still, the doctor sentenced you to three weeks in a hard boot. Looks like I'll only be coaching a bunch of other parents' soccer players for a while. Sorry kid, but those are the breaks...

... um ...

... no pun intended, really.

As you know, I try really hard to find lessons in all of life's little adventures. Sometimes, I'm sure, I try too hard.

So I won't serve up some platitude for you to consider. Not today. You've got enough to worry about right now.

So I'll just say this: You'll be better soon. I promise.