Sunday, May 27, 2012


Dear Spike:
Five years ago, at this very moment, I was in the newborn intensive care unit, waiting to hold you for the first time.
Now you are five. Still tiny. Still tough.
And still loved. Unconditionally. Always.

Friday, May 18, 2012


Dear Spike:

I’m a Beaver. Damn proud of that.

But Oregon State University wasn’t my first choice of schools. When the Navy told me, mid-way into my enlistment, that I could choose to attend virtually any school in the United States that has an ROTC program — tuition free — I first sought enrollment close to my parent’s home in the San Francisco Bay Area.

But after I applied for admission at my first choice, the Navy decided that its program at the University of California at Berkeley was too full and asked me to choose another school.

The University of San Diego?

Nope, the ROTC program there was also full.

I was a bit discouraged, and asked what university was actually open. That’s how I ended up at Oregon State.

I’m so glad I did. That’s where I learned to be a journalist. It’s where I grew the intellectual and ethical foundations that led me away from military service. And most importantly, it’s where I fell in love with your mother.

My time at Oregon State also coincided with a historic shift in the school’s football fortunes. After a record-setting 28 straight losing seasons, the team earned its first winning record in 1999 and then, in 2000, finished 1st place in the league for the first time since 1964. That same year, the Beavers beat Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, 41-9, in a clobbering I was fortunate to witness first-hand.

The Beavers have generally been a middle-of-the-pack team ever since. And that smarts, given the recent fortunes of the rival team to the south — beneficiaries of an enormous inheritance from a shoe-making sugar daddy whose money has secured a dynasty of sporting success for his alma mater.

Ooooh, they make me so mad.

But I was at said school, this week, to receive an award honoring the work I did last year in Ethiopia. While I was there, I visited the newsroom of The Emerald, the university’s storied student newspaper. And that got me thinking about what a rivalry is, and — at its best — what it should be.

Oregon State doesn’t have a journalism program. So when I attended that school, the staff of its student paper, The Daily Barometer, was a motley crew of English, history, political science and other majors who simply had a passion for journalism. We also had a hunger to prove that we were just as good as the students from that other school. That was part of what drove us to work as hard as we did. It’s what drove a big part of my success and the successes of my friends, too. And for that, I suppose, I really must appreciate the great work being done in the Department of Journalism and Communication at that other school.

That’s what good rivalry does. It makes people work harder and get better.

So while I might gripe about the shoemaker and his personal sports kingdom, I also accept that his largesse is likely helping my alma mater get better, too. (He’s actually given rather generously to Oregon State, too.)

Fair enough. Let the competition continue.

But this is not a free market metaphor, because there comes a point in which the decks are stacked so far apart that competition doesn’t work to make competitors better. And you might see this, in time, if the recently divergent fortunes of these rivals continue long into the future.

Ultimately, when that happens, people stop believing in the spirit of competition. They stop believing in the fairness of the situation. They stop being rivals.

I want you to work hard. I want you to be smart and tough and tenacious in everything you do. I want you to be industrious.


… well …

… a beaver.

And when you are successful — and I know you will be successful — I want you to be proud of your success. But never forget that your success is just as much a product of things outside your control.

Accept that. Be appreciative of that. And consider the obligations it entails to everyone.

Even to your rivals.


Monday, May 7, 2012


Dear Spike:

Frankly, I’m glad I missed it — for it was, by your mother’s account, the worst behavior she’s ever seen from you.

A little context before I get into the details: You’re a really good kid. You are polite, courteous, generous and kind. You mind your parents.

At least in part, we like to think, that’s because we try very hard to address misbehavior quickly and sternly. When you do something wrong, we identify it, correct it and, where appropriate, punish you for it. Finally, we ask you to account for what you did and why it was wrong.

As such, we don’t have to punish you very often.

But this week, we had to throw the book at you.

Here’s why: You mother last week invited you to the thrift store and, while there, suggested that you might find a small treasure to take home. But nothing struck your fancy and, despite your mother’s prodding, you failed to find anything that you wanted. And ultimately, you just ran out of time.

But when your mother tried to take you by the hand to lead you from the store, you refused to budge.

Someday, maybe when you’re in high school or college, there may be an issue — racism, sexism, classism or some other “ism” that ills this world —of which you feel significantly passionate that you might choose to stage a sit in.

Not being able to find a second-hand treasure at a thrift store is not one of those issues. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. It’s selfish. It’s greedy. It’s spoiled rotten. And that’s just not you.

You cried. You screamed. You flailed.

In re-telling this story, we’ve found, there are plenty of people who have said, “well, she is four years old, after all.”

It’s true, you are four. And that means that we expect that you will approach certain situations more emotionally (and sometimes irrationally) than you will when you are older. But a public tantrum is wrong at any age. And today you’ve been reminded of that.

The week before the fit, you had been pleading with us to purchase a duck to join the chickens on our growing urban farm, and we had been considering it.

That ain’t happening now.

We took away many of your favorite stuffed friends. We took away your computer and television privileges. We took away sweets.

Frankly, you still live a pretty charmed life. But it was a little less enchanted this week, and that seems to have driven the point home.

Little by little, you’ve earned your privileges back. Today, the slate is wiped clean.

But do it again, little one, and we’ll not only throw the book at you.

We’ll throw the whole damn library.