Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Dear Spike,

Though I understand the depth of a father’s love, I can only imagine the deepness of pain Michael Brown, Sr. has suffered in the months since his unarmed teenage son was killed by a police officer in Fergusen, Missouri.

I cannot relate, though, and would sooner die than be able to.

So I was overwhelmed with appreciation for Mr. Brown’s plea for peace in anticipation of a grand jury’s decision, tonight, as to whether to criminally charge the man who took his son’s life.

“No matter what the grand jury decides,” he said, “I do not want my son’s death to be in vain. I want it to lead to incredible change. Positive change.”

Hurting others is not the answer, he said. And, of course, he is right.

Tonight, as parts of greater St. Louis fall into turmoil in defiance of Mr. Brown’s pleas, and as protests have erupted in other parts of our nation, I wanted to take a moment to share with you this man’s words.

“We are stronger united,” he said.

 When we are hurt, our impulse is often to hurt back. The deeper the hurt, the stronger the impulse. This is a natural urge. But only when we overcome these desires can we break free of a cycle of violence that only creates greater, greater and greater pain.

At a most basic level, this is a lesson we can apply to relatively small pains. We can see this when someone refuses to respond to an offense caused inadvertently by someone they cherish.

At a far vaster level, this is a lesson we can apply even to tremendous evils. We have seen this non-violent movements led by individuals like Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. We have seen this in the truth and reconsolidation efforts in places like South Africa.

This does not mean we should forget. Nor does it necessarily mean we should forgive.

But if it should come to pass that you ever find yourself tempted to respond to pain with pain, I wish for you to be strong. I wish for you to be courageous. I wish for you to be steadfast.  

I wish for you to be peace.



Monday, October 20, 2014


Dear Spike,

You didn’t complain. You didn’t argue. And though it was clear that you didn’t want to do it, you did as I have long come to expect from you: You said, “OK” and immediately did as I asked.

And then you made me pay for it.

Let me back up: I’ve been coaching your soccer team for a few years now. Over the past year, in particular, you’ve blossomed as a player. Your ball control is tremendously skillful. You are comfortable shooting from either foot. And while you are often the smallest player on the field, you’re always the most aggressive.

True, sometimes you’re too aggressive. There are many yellow and red cards in your future, young one. This I can see clearly.

I try very hard to treat you with no favoritism and, if anything, I’m harder on you than your teammates. That’s how it was when my father coached me. I think that was the right approach then and now.

And you get the assignments that no one else wants. You pick up the cones at the end of practice. You help pump up the balls. You are my demonstration partner whenever your grandfather, who is helping me this season, can’t be present at practice.

So the other day, when the opposing team arrived for the game short one player, the decision was easy. “Give them Spike,” I said.

You changed from your black uniform into your white one and ran toward the other coach.

“What position do you usually play?” she asked you.

“I’ll play any position,” you told her.

She started you at striker.

Our team kicked off. You stole the ball at midfield, dribbled the remaining length of the pitch, and tapped a perfectly placed shot into the corner of the net past the out-stretched hands of our goalkeeper.


Matea — one of our other most skillful players — was among those you dribbled around en route to the goal.

“Matea,” I yelled. “Next time knock her down.”

Matea nodded. And she proceeded to try to do just that.

It was a glorious thing to watch as, one by one, your teammates stifled your attempts to notch a second goal.

With just minutes to play, the score was tied at two. And that’s when you took a pass from one of your temporary teammates, dribbled toward the goal, cut left and nailed a left-footed shot into the back of the net.


A few minutes later, the referee blew his whistle. You cheered with their team, shook some hands, and finally trotted back.

“You played an amazing game,” I said. “Was that fun?”

You looked up at me as though I’d asked you whether you’d like to get a tattoo of lobster on your forehead.

“It was different,” you said diplomatically. “I’d rather play with my own team.”

“But you played so hard anyway,” I said. “And you beat us.”

“Because you asked me to,” you said.

And that’s all there was to it.



Saturday, September 20, 2014


Dear Spike:

You scored four goals in the first game of the season, and another today. And when you're not on the field, you're fearless in the goal.

You're almost always the smallest player on the pitch, but you play as though it doesn't matter.



... it doesn't matter.

Your favorite professional player, Joao Plata, stands 5-foot-3. One of my favorite players, Crystal Dunn, is 5-1.

There's certainly a place for height in this game. Fullbacks are generally advantaged by a few inches. Goalies, too.

But to make pirouettes like a ballerina with with a ball glued to your boot? Height's no advantage there.

Not every sport is like this. Basketball, American football, volleyball — players in these games are all advantaged by a few extra inches or a few extra pounds. But in your game? It doesn't matter.

I thrill at the soccer player you're becoming. And that's the long and short of it.


Friday, July 18, 2014


Dear Spike:

I have this dream, once in a while, that makes me bolt awake and pretty much kills any chance of getting back to sleep:

You mother is out of town on some sort of a business trip. I’m sitting on the couch writing a lecture. Suddenly, I hear you screaming from the bathroom.

“Daaa-aaaadddd! It’s happening! What do I do?”

And that’s it. That’s the totality of the nightmare.

I wake up in a cold sweat and tiptoe into your room, just to make sure…

… yup, still seven years old …


… and then pace around the house until morning comes.

Even if it all starts happening early for you (and increasingly, research shows, it is for many girls) we’ve still got a couple years ‘til puberty, but I’m pretty much terrified nonetheless.

Up to this point, I’ve basically parented you the way I would have parented myself. That’s more or less my plan going forward, too. But as you begin the long, awkward and rampantly hormonal journey into physical womanhood, there are going to be a lot of times that I’m simply not going to know what to do.

So here’s the deal: I’m not going to pretend like I know anything at all about what you’re going through. And between now and then, I’m going to be working really hard on developing the humility and patience it’s going to take not to try to solve all — or any — of your problems.

But here’s the caveat: I’m not going to use the fact that I’m clueless as an excuse not to do anything at all. I’m not going to go into hiding. I’m not going to force your mother to take the brunt of all of the tough times. I’m going to be here.

I know you’re not going to like that sometimes. I’m going to work really hard to recognize and respect that.

Sometimes, I’ll screw up. I’ll give you space when what you really need is a hug. I’ll try to engage you in a conversation when what you really want it time to yourself. I’ll go to the store and buy every feminine hygiene product off the shelf and create an Internet playlist of how-to videos so that you know how to use them.

So far, I feel like I’ve been pretty good at this dad thing. Going forward, I know that there are going to be a lot of times that I’m just plain bad at it.

I know it’s a lot to ask, but I’m hoping you’ll grade me on the curve.

For now, though, I’m going to tiptoe into your room and peak in, just to make sure…

… yup, still seven.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014


Dear Spike:

I couldn’t find my headphones today, so I took an entire interview’s worth of notes with my left hand as I held my little mobile phone to my ear with my right hand. No problem.

The one-handed letter I’m now writing is proving a bit more difficult, but I wouldn’t change a thing about my current circumstance — left arm pinned helplessly behind your back as you sleep soundly on my chest.

It reminds me of how, when you were just a baby, you would sleep on my stomach and chest as we rocked together in the rocking chair, deep into the night and well into the wee hours of the morning, as I worked on a story meant just for you.

That story began: In a small house on the edge of a small town, a small girl knelt beside her bedroom window, folded her arms upon the sill, and sighed.         

I’ve read “Near Where The Lilac Grows” to you several times in the intervening years. Alas, it might have taken a back seat to Harry Potter on a list of your favorite books, but you still ask for me to read a chapter, now and then, and quote liberally from its pages.

“A pigeon! Is that what you think I am? A common street bird?”

Last week you asked me: “Was the Catlands really inspired by mommy’s bad eyesight?”

Yes, it was.

And a few weeks back, you wondered: “Does Amitri leave Lilac forever?
I suppose I don’t know.

You know, you won’t always sleep on my chest. I know this is the way things are and the way things are meant to be. But you’ll always have that book. And when you read it — if you read it — you’ll be connected to a time in our lives when we’d rock together, all night long, and collaboratively conjure magical beings and mystical lands.

It might not be Harry Potter, but it’s yours.

In newspaper reports, magazine articles, books and blogs, my writing has been read by millions of people. That’s good, I suppose.

The work that means the most to me, though, are the words I’ve written for just one person.

Sometimes those words come easy. Other times, like writing without the benefit of your dominant hand, it can be hard.

But when you give someone your words, it’s a gift you’ll share forever.



Monday, June 2, 2014


Dear Spike:

You were crying when you walked into our room this evening, just a bit past 9 p.m.

"What is it?" I asked. "A bad dream?"

"No," you said. "I haven't even slept yet. I'm just nervous."

"About the last day of school?"

You shook your head.

"About the summer? You're going to miss your friends?"


"Then what is it?"

"I'm nervous about being in second grade next year," you said.

This I thought I understood. You're in an accelerated learning program at school. Even in kindergarten and first grade, you've struggled sometimes to keep up. You're a smart kid — brilliant, in my mind, for whatever that is worth — but sometimes I wonder whether you need all this pressure.  

I reached out and wiped away one of your tears. 

"It's going to be OK," I said. "We've got a whole summer to get ready."

You fell into my arms and sobbed.

"It's not that," you said. "It's just that... that... Ms. Clark."

Oh no, I thought. Did your teacher say something about second grade to frighten you? I'm sure she wouldn't have meant to do something like that. You certainly don't need the anxiety.

"Ms. Clark?" I asked cautiously. "What about Ms. Clark?"

"She... she... she's just been such a great teacher."

At this point your whole body was convulsing.

"And you'll miss her?"

"Yes," you wailed. "I'll miss her so much!"

Not every teacher will mean this much to you, kid. Some will be the most important people in your life. Others will feel like your worst enemy. Some you'll remember forever. Some you'll be happy to forget as soon as class is over.

But there are few people in the world who have the potential to mean so much, to do so much, to be so much to you. There are few we trust in the way we trust teachers.

And there are few — very, very few — who can impact our lives so profoundly.

You don't know it yet, but you're a lucky one. The woman who is scheduled to teach you next year, Ms. Leone, is as special as they come. You're going to learn so much from her.

That doesn't mean you'll ever forget how much Ms. Clark meant to you this year.

But come next year, just about this time, I suspect we'll be having this conversation again.



Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Dear Spike:

I vaguely remember seven.

Second grade. Mrs. Trecek. Flashlights in a blackout. Book fair.

Jimmy Harrell. Mini golf.

Ronald Reagan. Pete Rose. Star Wars. The Last Electric Knight. My first fight.

Soccer. Baseball. Church choir.

We Are the World. Johnny Bench's Baseball Bunch.  

Seven was good and bad, but mostly good. It was happy and sad, but mostly happy. It was childhood — but with a tiny bit of recognition that something more than childhood existed out there.

Now you are seven. And this year will be good and bad, but mostly good. It will be happy and sad, but mostly happy. And it will come, I'm willing to bet, with a tiny bit of recognition that you will not be seven forever.
Which is, I think, what makes seven so special.


Friday, February 14, 2014


Dear Spike:

For many people of my gender and relationship status, today can be a stressful day. But for me it’s wine and roses — figuratively, not literally.

Your mother worked at a Hallmark store during college, and that pretty much soured her toward the whole holiday-for-lovers thing. She’s never expected anything special on Valentine’s Day. Not chocolates or jewelry. Not dinner or dancing. And certainly not wine or roses.

So when I told her that I’d be away in Nashville for V-Day this year, she didn’t so much as flinch. You two are having a sleepover tonight and you’re going to watch some movies. I’m going to go find some Kurdish food and eat alone while grading papers. And that’s all fine and dandy, because this isn’t a particularly important day on the calendar for our family.

That’s not to say it can’t be an important day for you. If you grow into the kind of woman who expects a horse-drawn carriage ride through the park at sunset, followed by dinner at the nicest restaurant in town, I’m OK with that.

Save one thing: I expect you to grow into the kind of woman who does not expect any of that because you are a woman.

There’s nothing wrong with doing things that are traditionally associated with one gender or another. When your mother and I go out, I drive the car pay the dinner bill. I certainly won’t pretend that these and many other roles we’ve assumed in our relationship don’t have anything to do with the gender expectations we’ve been raised with, but they don’t have anything to do with gender.

I’m not a better driver because I am a man (fact is, I’m not a better driver at all.) I am not better at paying bills because I am a man, either (your mom just doesn’t like doing it.)

Your mother does not expect me to do anything because I am a man. What she does expect of me, she expects because I am her partner, and because over our 11 years of marriage I have come to understand the kinds of things she likes (backrubs, pajamas, super-hero movies) and the kinds of things she doesn’t (V-day, taking out the garbage and driving on busy interstates.)

Likewise, I expect nothing of your mother because she is a woman, but rather because she is the person in this world who knows me better than anyone else. She tolerates the things I do that align with gender norms (watching football, riding motorcycles, playing poker) and the things that don’t (my recent obsessions with designer shoes and figure skating, for instance.)

When these tolerations, expectations and demonstrations of affection come from the things we learn about one another over time, that’s a very wonderful thing — no matter if the end result conforms to gender expectations or not. But when these things come from assumptions about what women or men need because they happen to be women or men, that’s not a good thing. It’s unhealthy and demeaning to our humanity.

Insomuch as it has come to be associated with the way men should treat women, chivalry is not dead. But it should be.

Because people who believe men should do certain things to show their appreciation for women, just because they are women, are buying into a worldview that suggests women should do certain things to show their appreciation for men, just because they are men. And for all of human history, men have taken advantage of those expectations in ways that are unkind, abusive and cruel.

If and when you choose a partner you want something from that person, by all means ask for it. And if you don’t get it, you should reconsider the relationship.

If you want carriage rides through the park, you should get that. If you want backrubs and pajamas, you should get those too. Not because you are a woman, but because you are a cherished partner to another human being.

And if you want wine and roses, I wish you nothing less than that. Every day of the year.