Friday, December 20, 2013

TO GET MARRIED


Dear Spike:

As I rolled two pairs of tights over your legs and pulled a knitted sweater dress over your head, I tried my best to put the enormity of what we were about to see into perspective.

“You know how our family believes that anyone who loves another person should be allowed to get married?”

“Sure,” you said.

“Well, did you know that some people haven’t been allowed to do that? That under the law in this state and other states, men haven’t been allowed to get a license to marry other men and women cannot marry women?”

“That not fair,” you said.

“You’re right. And today a judge decided that it’s not fair at all. The law has been overturned, and so there are lots and lots of people over at the county courthouse who are celebrating today by getting their marriage licenses.”

“Oh,” you said. “But why are we getting dressed?”

“Because we’re going to go watch.”

“Watch them get married?”

“Well, watch them get their licenses at least. Maybe there will be some weddings, too. Pretty exciting, right?”

“Um…”

“Yeah?”

“Daddy?”

“What?”

“That kind of sounds a little bit boring.”

Someday — someday very soon, in fact — it will be. But tonight the thing that happened in our state was nothing short of historic. I wanted to be there. And I wanted you to be there.

Because someday — when gay marriage is boring — it’s going to be because of days like today.

Let me back up, just a little bit:

The final vote I cast as an Oregonian was in opposition to a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. The first vote I cast as a Utahn was the same. I wasn’t on the winning side of either of those battles.

As it happens, 2004 wasn’t a particularly good year for civil rights in our country. More than a dozen states passed constitutional amendments that year defining marriage as an institution that would only be legally recognized when it consisted of a partnership of one man and one woman. Many more followed. For years to come, not a single proposed ban would fail to get a majority of voters to back it. Whenever voters had a chance to choose between equality and bigotry, they chose the latter, sometimes by just a little and sometimes by a lot.

But a lot can change in a decade. It has been nearly three years since a major poll has found anything but solid support for same-sex marriage in America. And our courts — slow though they’ve been to get to the issue — have followed suit, finding in an increasing number of cases that voters don’t have the right, under our Constitution, to grant legal privileges to one set of people while banning it from others.

None of this change has come without a fight, of course. There are still people in this country — many of them, in fact — who haven’t yet figured out that their personal moral objections have absolutely no relevance when it comes to other people’s legal rights.

And that brings us to today, when a federal judge struck down Utah’s nine-year-old gay marriage ban. In his decision, Judge Robert Shelby  ruled that the constitutional amendment known as Amendment 3 — passed overwhelmingly by Utah voters the year your mother and I moved to this state — demeans the dignity of same-sex couples “for no rational reason” and is, therefore, unconstitutional.



By mid-afternoon, hundreds of people were lined up outside the office of the Salt Lake County Clerk. By evening, the county had set a new record for the number of new marriage licenses granted in a day.

The state’s acting attorney general (a man I know and respect, but who is woefully on the wrong side of common decency and the march of human history when it comes to this issue) has pledged to appeal the judge’s decision. As a result, a tremendous urgency hung over tonight’s proceedings at the clerk’s office. Under a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the licenses issued today cannot be unissued — but a stay on Judge Shelby’s ruling specific to Utah’s ban could put any new licenses on hold for months or years to come.

And so it was that would-be brides and grooms arrived for their weddings in blue jeans and sweatpants, in work uniforms and hospital scrubs. Children were carrying school backpacks. Owing to the season, almost everyone was wearing thick winter coats. At least in the hour or so that we were present, there were no tuxedos or white wedding gowns.

They cobbled together what family and friends they could on short notice. In some cases, other applicants stood in as witnesses. Photojournalists, rather than wedding photographers, captured the nuptials. There was no cake. No toasts. No throwing of bouquets to wild unwed mobs. 

But there were tears in just about everyone’s eyes. Because, as it turns out, you don’t need any of that extra stuff to have a wedding. All you need are two people who love one another and desire to make a public commitment to each other.   

You sat on my shoulders and watched seven or eight such instantaneous ceremonies before reminding me that this was, in fact, all still quite boring.

I’m so very glad you feel that way.

Someday we all will.

Love,
dad


Photos: 
Top: My friend and former colleague, Natalie Dicou, and her partner Nicole Christensen, fill out their application for a marriage license. Photo by my good friend Jim Urquhart (over whose wedding I officiated, so I feel no remorse in stealing this image.)
Middle: A crowd of people (including you, Spike) watched as a parade of newly married couples emerged from the office of the Salt Lake County clerk. Photo from The Deseret News. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

AWFULLY GREAT COMPANY

Dear Spike:

You are a stutterer.

There’s really no point in being anything less than direct about this. It’s no cause for shame. It’s nothing to hide.

Much to the contrary, in fact. The way you speak is part of what makes you who you are. And I love who you are.

It’s true that not everyone will see you as I do. There are those who will associate the way you speak with a lack of confidence or intelligence. Those people could not be more wrong. Stuttering has nothing to do with intelligence. Or confidence. Or anything else, for that matter. It simply means that you might take a little longer to communicate than other people, and that those people might have a slightly tougher time understanding you.

So really, if you think about it, it’s their problem — not yours.

But your mother and I have always taught you to help people out with their problems. So that’s why we’ve asked the speech therapist at your school, Miss Rose, to work with you so that you can help people who don’t have the intelligence or patience to understand the way you speak. Miss Rose will help you practice ways to moderate your speech. And over time, we think, you’ll probably not have much of a stutter at all.

But even if you do continue to stutter, you should know that you’re in awfully great company. Winston Churchill was a stutterer. (He’s one of the most famous orators in history.) King George VI was, too. (There’s a wonderful movie about him called “The King’s Speech.”)

James Earl Jones. Carly Simon. Joe Biden. And 65 million other people.

My very dear friend, Chhun, stutters. He’s now helping children in Azerbaijan learn to speak English.

I don’t stutter, but I do have one heck of a lisp. And I travel all over the world talking to people about communication.

There are still people who make fun of the way I talk; even grown adults who should know better than to mock someone in that way.

There will probably be people who will make fun of you, too. That is life. 

They might laugh. They might stare. They might act exasperated.

If that happens, it’s up to you to decide how to respond. You can ignore them. You can correct them. You can fight them. I will not tell you what you should do.

But know this: I love the way you speak. And those who love you will love the way you speak, however you speak.

And everyone else? Well, that’s their problem.

Love,

dad

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A GOOD BOY

Coltrane meets Spike. May 28, 2007.
Dear Spike:

There's a sprawling tree on the corner of 9th South and Lincoln Street, right outside the University Veterinary Center. Coltrane and I stopped on the sidewalk, under its branches, for a moment before turning up the clinic's concrete steps this morning.

I leaned into the blanket in which our beloved cat was swaddled and whispered into his ear. "Remember when you climbed a tree?" I asked him. "And I climbed up to get you down?"

It was 20 minutes, at the most, from the moment we walked through the clinic doors to the moment your dear friend — a cat you've always called "brother" — had passed. He'd suffered a stroke in the middle of the night. His brain was no longer working as it should. I'll spare you the details except to say that after finding him thrashing outside your bedroom door at 4 a.m., your mother and I were confident he wouldn't even make it to the hospital's opening at 7.

He did. Which meant we needed to do what companions must do. We needed to help him go the rest of the way to the end of his life. To give him a death free of any more suffering. And so it was that I held him, and I cried for him and for me and for you and for your mother as the doctor gave him the drugs that put him to sleep, then stopped his heart.

His ashes, I'm told, will be spread in an apple orchard — underneath, I'd like to think, a great big sprawling tree like the one that stands outside the clinic. Or maybe like the one that stood in the center of my backyard in the home I lived in for a short time after your mother and I fell in love, but before we lived together.

That was early in 2001, I think. Cole was maybe seven or eight months old. He'd escaped out a window and found his way up, but not down, the tree. When I got home, that evening, I changed into my combat boots, threw my old sea bag over my shoulder, and shimmied up the trunk. I put him inside the bag and lowered it down to the woman who would become his mother, and who would much later become your mother. She lifted him out of the bag and cradled him in her arms.

"You're such a good boy," she said.

Those were the same words she used this morning as she stroked the fur between his ears. And I told him, too.

Such a good boy.

Such a good boy.

Boy? Really? Why do we do that? He's just a cat, right? A Maine Coon breed of the species Felis catus, of the genus Felis, of the family Feliae, of the order Carnivora.

On the great big taxonomic tree of life we've got to crawl all the way over to Class Mammalia to get to a place where our branches meet.

But you called him "brother" and we all thought of him as a member of our family.

When I peeked in your desk at a parent-teacher meeting at your school a few weeks ago I found a worksheet you'd done a few days earlier. And notwithstanding the fact that the stick drawing that was pre-printed on the sheet was a textbook example of homo-normative socialization (with a mommy stick figure and a daddy stick figure and two children stick figures — the boys standing gauntly in all their naked stick figurativeness and the girls covering up their stickishness with triangle dresses) you'd turned it into an ever better example of inclusivity by penciling in two little ears and a sweet little tail on the stick boy.

Why? Because he was a member of our family. Because he was our boy. Because he was your brother. Because we loved him and he made our lives better.

And, you know, there's a strong case to be made that he made your life possible.

He was about six months old when I took him to get neutered. Your mother and I weren't dating at that time, but we were friends. I had to work at the newspaper that afternoon and so your mother agreed to pick him up for me. When I came to get him, that night, your mom had him wrapped in a blanket and he was purring like a Ferrari. And I can't say that this was the moment I fell in love with your mother, but I can't say it wasn't a contributing factor, either.

A few nights later later we shared our first kiss.

As I held him in the examination room and waited for the doctor to come in, I thanked Cole for what he did to bring our family together. Then there was a soft knock at the door, and it was time for him to go.

As he went, there in my arms, I closed my eyes and remembered the time he climbed that tree and I climbed up to get him down.

And maybe I rescued him. Or maybe he rescued me.

Love,
dad

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

HOLY SOLSTICE SCHEDULING

Dear Spike,

So ends the most epic summer ever.

You mastered the fine art of bicycle riding. You learned to swim like a mermaid. You learned to sew. You ate a raw oyster. You hiked Yosemite. You watched a lot of Phineas and Ferb.

OK, maybe that last part wasn’t so epic. (Although, I’ll be honest: That show — about all the amazing ways that two boy geniuses and their pet platypus while away the summer hours — is pretty much the best thing ever put on TV.)

Now, with just about 10 hours to go before you return to school, I’m feeling a bit jealous. I spent the better part of my summer finishing the book. It’s off to the publisher now, and I’m proud and happy about that (and, yes, about the check, too) but I feel like I missed a lot of really cool things this summer.

You and your mom were like the dynamic duo of afternoon activities. Bam! Off to the zoo. Wham-o! Into to the museum. Biff! Up the mountains for a hike.

Holy solstice scheduling, Batman!

In fairness: Our very privileged life gives me more opportunities to spend time with you than many dads have with their children. I’m a really fortunate guy in that way — so I’m not complaining.

But next summer, I think, I’m going to try to take it just a little bit easier. That doesn’t mean I’ll drop all my pursuits and projects (I don’t think I’d be very good company if I didn’t have a lot to do) but maybe we’ll take a vacation where I don’t bring my phone and computer along.

Summers are, I hear, one of the really great perks of being a teacher. I suppose I might as well try it out.

Love,

dad

Saturday, June 8, 2013

ONTO THE FIELD

Dear Spike,

Today was my birthday, and I couldn't really imagine a better way to spend it than to take in a soccer game along with you and your mother. All the better, we were there together to see something historic.

Well, sort of.  

It actually took me a moment to realize what was happening as the announcer called out the name of the player who was sprinting onto the field in the 71st minute of a 1-1 game. And if too many other people noticed, they didn't make much of a fuss.

There were, as there always are, some boos. That's what soccer fans do when an opposing team's player comes in as a substitution. We boo. We whistle. We hiss. Sometimes we throw things. It really just depends on the situation.

But there was also a smattering of cheers (and not just from the small number of LA Galaxy fans who were seated in the upper deck.) And that's really not something that soccer fans do when an opposing team's player comes in as a substitution. No, we don't. We boo. We whistle. We hiss. Sometimes we throw small incendiary devices.

When I realized who had taken the pitch, though, I stood and cheered, too. And you looked up at me with a sort of do-you-know-what-you're-doing-right-now kind of bewilderment.

I did know.

I was cheering for an opposing team's player.

I was cheering for the first openly gay athlete in a men's professional team sport.

On May 26, Robbie Rogers played his first game since coming out of a short-lived retirement — during which he'd formally acknowledged his homosexuality. In the intervening two weeks, he's come in as a substitute in two more games.

This was his fourth game since coming out.

To put this in historical context, this was a bit like watching Jackie Robinson play in the spring of 1947, when "The Colored Comet" (no, really, that's what they called him when he was playing for the Montreal Royals of the also regretfully named "Negro Leagues") became the first African American player in the modern era of Major League Baseball.

Except, this wasn't like that at all.

You'll likely learn about Robinson in school — and if you don't, I'll teach you, because it's important. You'll learn about how hated he was. You'll learn about the death threats from fans. The booing and racist name-calling. How other players would spit at him and call him names as he rounded the bases. How the Brooklyn Dodgers had to deal with racist fans who threatened never to buy a ticket again.

Nothing like that happened to Rogers. In every game he's played since he has been back, he's been welcomed warmly onto the field, or at least as warmly as any opposing player ever is. There have been, so far, no publicized incidents of name calling or threats. No one has cancelled their season tickets.

Rogers's historic return to soccer has been, by and large, completely uneventful.

But that doesn't make it unimportant. Not even in comparison to Jackie Robinson's feat. Because, remember, Robinson didn't have a choice to be black. He just was. And when a rich, white club owner named Branch Rickey gave him a chance, he took it. He took it and he hit it out of the park. And we're all better for it.

But that was 66 very long years ago.

There have, of course, been plenty of gay men in professional sports since then. They have had partners and families. They have had lives that they likely would have preferred to have lived in the open, were it possible that they could do so in peace.

And they had a choice to remain hidden. And given the perceived consequences of making the choice to come out of the closet, they stayed inside. For 66 years after a black man bravely ventured onto a major league ball field, fear continued to keep openly gay men from following him.

Until Rogers.

There are those, no doubt, who will say that the relative lack of attention — and particularly the lack of backlash — Rogers has received relegates his action to something of a non-event. Clearly, it now seems obvious, it could have happened even sooner.

Yes, it should have happened sooner. But I would say the relative lack of attention makes it a great event. A historic event. An event that we all get to share, proudly — because our society is better than it was in 1947 and over the past few weeks we got to prove it. Together.

Rogers didn't make much of a difference in the game tonight. Shortly after he came onto the pitch, Real Salt Lake's Olmes Garcia scored the go-ahead goal. And just for good measure, Garcia put another one in a few minutes later. We sang and danced and cheered for the home team.

That brought Real to 8-5-3 for the seasons — and 5-1-1 in the past seven games. If they keep this up, they'll make the playoffs with no problem. The Galaxy, at 6-6-2, have a little more work ahead of them, but they're perpetual contenders. They'll likely be there, too.

And when that game is played at The RioT, we'll be there.

And when Rogers comes onto the field, we're gonna boo.

We're gonna whistle. We're gonna hiss. We might even throw something.

Not because of who he is, but because of who we are.

We're soccer fans. And when we hate people, it's for absolutely no reason at all.

Love,
dad

Monday, May 27, 2013

YOU ARE SIX

 Dear Spike:

By the time A.A. Milne got around to dedicating his book of poems called "Now We Are Six," the girl to whom it was dedicated, a childhood friend of Christopher Robin named Anne Darlington, was seven.

So it goes. Now you are six. Soon you will be seven. And, Insha'Allah, you'll one day be eight and nine and ten. I worry already about 16. About 18. And, dear God, 21! But this is silly. The world spins and we are on it. And now you are six, and this is a such a wonderful age.

It is, as Milne recognized, a wonderful age to recite poetry, which is a thing we seldom do these days; I'm not sure why. Maybe, I think, we are scared of the monsters that trip our tongues and tussle our thoughts. These monsters get bigger as we get older -- and this is something I will write to you about, in greater depth, very soon. For now, though, it suffices to say that your monsters are very small and fairly tame, and so six is a good time to practice being brave.

Happy birthday, my little one. Now you are six. And this is a very good age, indeed.

Love,
dad

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

GET BACK UP

Dear Spike,

You sort of wobbled a bit, legs akimbo, and then you just fell over sideways. I'm not sure how you ultimately managed to and on your face, but that is what you did.

Your sharp little chin hit the big rough asphalt with rather predictable consequences. It wasn't bad – a little road rash, a little blood — but it was enough to send you crying into my arms.

And there you remained for all of 10 seconds.

Then you bounced up, grabbed your handle bars, took a couple of confused moments to figure out that they were spun around backward, and hefted yourself onto the seat.

"OK," you said. "Let's go back."

You're a tough little cookie, and you always have been. I hope that never changes. The world is, of course, a tough place. Sometimes we fall. Sometimes we take it on the chin.

But get back up. Get back up. Get back up.

Love,
dad

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

INDEBTED TO HER

Dear Spike:

Your grandmother, Diane, died today. You didn't know her very well, but she was important in your life.

Many years ago, when I accompanied my roommate to his new girlfriend's home, I could not have known that I would be meeting my future family.

But when I left that day, I would later be told, your grandmother turned to your mother and said, "well, I like the roommate better."

I'm glad I made a good first impression on my future mother-in-law and, if in any small way her words contributed to your mother's decision to spend time with me after she and my roommate broke up, I am deeply indebted to her.

Because a few years later, I married your mother. And a few years after that, I got you.

Love,
dad



 



Sunday, March 10, 2013

"OK, LET GO"

Dear Spike:

It took me a few times up and down the length of our street before I realized that it was a lot easier to hold your shoulders than the back of the bicycle seat. Even still, running behind a wobbly five year old on a tiny bicycle is no simply thing. I rolled my ankle and strained my back something awful.

But I won't remember any of that. All I'll remember is you saying, "OK, OK, let go," and me reluctantly doing so, and you taking off down the street all by yourself.

I realize, of course, that billions of other people have learned how to do what you learned how to do today. But I don't care. Today I was just so impressed, just so proud.

And just a little terrified.

Not that you would fall, (because you will eventually fall, and I cannot do anything about that) but because learning to ride a bicycle is an important milestone on the journey to independence.

Relish it.

Love,
dad

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

BECAUSE WE BELIEVE


Dear Spike:

Long waits at the polls, last November, may have prompted 200,000 people in Florida to give up, rather than casting a vote.

Some of them might have concluded that it didn't really matter. True, the margin separating Gov. Mitt Romney's votes and President Obama's was a scant 74,000 votes, but it would have taken a statistical anomaly of unfathomable proportions to change the overall results of the election. One researcher estimated that, if the disenfranchised voters had been able to cast ballots, it actually would have increased President Obama's lead in Florida.

So fine. Maybe it doesn't matter in the math. Maybe it's true that one vote, one hundred votes, even one hundred thousand votes don't really matter. After all, if statistician Nate Silver can build a mathematical model that accurately predicted the winner of all 50 states and the District of Columbia, then what does it matter if my single, paltry vote is cast?

That, of course, is not withstanding the fact that Floridians are privileged in the fact that their votes could — maybe, sort of, almost — matter, in one of a small number of so-called "swing states" where the outcome of the election isn't a foregone conclusion until soon before Election Day. Mr. Silver didn't officially "call" Florida for President Obama until a few days before the election. By contrast, he could have called our home state of Utah for the Republican nominee even before Mr. Romney was nominated by his party.

But I vote anyway. And I hope you will, too.

Because sometimes, you know, we don't do things because they make mathematical sense. We don't do things because they are statistically significant. We don't do things because the world will spin differently for us having done them.

We do things because we believe.

In goodness. In equality. In democracy.

In something.

If you grow up to be a Christian, you'll come to believe that God grants salvation to those who ask for it. Not those who go to church. Not those who partake in communion. Not those who sing hymns or wear their nicest clothes on Sunday.

But you might do those things anyway. Because those things might remind you of the promise of salvation. They might make you appreciate it a little more.

If you grow up to be an American patriot of a certain type, you might raise your hand to your heart whenever our flag is raised. You might recite the Pledge of Allegiance as fervently and sincerely as you did in your kindergarten class this morning. Not because you have to – indeed, you do not have to do these things to be a patriot.

But you might do those things anyway. Because those things might remind you how good it feels to be a citizen of a nation that seeks (even as it struggles and so often fails) to be a beacon for freedom and democracy around the world. And maybe those things help you remember how fortunate we are.

If you grow up to be a sports fan, you might sing your favorite team's anthem, over and over and over again. You might wear its colors on game day. You might sit with arms, legs and fingers crossed, when it is behind on the scoreboard and when the last seconds of the game are floating away with a championship trophy. Not because you believe that any of those things matter.

But because it is just plain fun to be a sports fan. And it is more fun when we convince ourselves that we have a stake in the game and a say in the results.
   
There is nothing wrong with belief. There is nothing wrong with ritual. What does not harm others does not harm our souls.

So I hope you'll grow up to vote. Not because it matters, in any sort of statistical way. Not because you  think your vote is going to change the world.

But because, one day in the fall of 2012, a woman named Desiline Victor arrived at her polling station in Miami-Dade County to find a line of people hundreds deep and hours long.

And she waited. And waited. And waited.

At 102 years old, she could have been forgiven for giving up. She could have concluded that it didn't matter.

But she waited. And waited. And waited.

Not because she believed her vote would make a mathematical difference. But because the Hatian-born farm worker, who became a U.S. citizen just eight years ago, refused to be denied the opportunity to participate in a process that fundamentally reflects who we are and what we believe.

And then, you know what? Something a little funny happened. A statistical anomaly of unfathomable proportions. Out of 122 million people who cast votes in the election, Ms. Victor was asked to attend President Obama's Inaugural Address, last night — to stand in (even if she could not stand up) for every voter in the nation and serve as a symbol for the need for ballot reform in our nation.

Her vote mattered. Make yours matter, too.

Love,
dad