Wednesday, November 4, 2015


Dear Spike:

Today will come and go for you like any other.

The sun has not imploded. Gravity has not been upended. The sky is still the sky and the land is still the land and the sea is still the sea.

Today is just another day for you. And, in the very grand scheme of things, for all of us.

I wrote these same words to you seven years ago when a black man was elected as our president. On that day I was not celebrating President Obama's election so much as the fact that you would never know a world in which a black man could not be our president.

Today, I write these words to you on a day in which an openly gay woman has been elected mayor. And again today I am not celebrating the election of Mayor Biskupski so much as the fact that you will never know a world in which a gay person can not be the mayor.

The mayor of Salt Lake City.

The remarkable thing about this is how unremarkable it feels. Your mother and I had heard many things about this city when we first came here. We heard many silly things and some scary things. None of it was true.

But people all around the world still think these things about this city. And so today, if it is nothing else, is a day in which we got to tell the world one more time that we are not what so many people think of us.

We almost didn't have this opportunity. It was a close election. Hard fought. The candidates bickered over parking meters and bike lanes and management styles and personnel decisions. In other words, they fought over the things mayoral candidates should fight over.

Someday you will come to know that there was a time, not so very long ago in our city's history, in which this simply could not have been. You will come to know that there was a time in which this city's residents would not have permitted a woman who happens to be attracted to other women to teach our children or manage our libraries, let alone run our city.

At some point, though, the vast majority of us grew out of that sort of hate. We realized it was really quite ridiculous. We recognized that you really don't have to look a certain way or act a certain way or love a certain way in order to worry about things like parking meters and bike lanes. We realized that public service isn't rocket science and, even if it was, you really don't have to look a certain way or act a certain way or love a certain way to do rocket science, either.

But I told you seven years ago, as I will tell you now, that there is still so much work to be done.

There are many places in our world where what happened today in Salt Lake City still could not happen. There is still so much hate. There is still so much 

Do not be dismayed, for the world can change.

Yes, even in Salt Lake City. 


Tuesday, August 4, 2015


Dear Spike:

I don't usually think much about the lyrics in the songs we listen to on the radio. I don't usually have to.

We generally tune in to pretty tame stuff. 1960s and 70s rock. Elton John and Neil Diamond. Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson. The Beatles, Beach Boys and Monkees.

I know that doesn't say much for our musical sophistication, but that's perhaps a discussion for another day. The point I mean to make today is we don't usually have to worry too much about explaining to you lyrics with adult words or subjects.

Then, today, The Piña Colada Song came on. Technically, I suppose, it's called "Escape," but the lyric that everyone remembers is "if you like piña coladas..."

That, of course, is followed by, "... and getting caught in the rain.
If you're not into yoga. If you have half a brain.
If you like making love at midnight..."

"Eeeeeewwwwww!" you shrieked. "Daddy! Did you hear what he said?"

So many things went through my mind in that moment.

How did you know what making love was? Who told you? What did they tell you? How much of what they told you was correct? What was the context for this discussion? Was it a kid who told you or an adult? If it was a kid was I going to have to have a conversation with his or her parents? If it was an adult... what the hell?

OK, I thought, this is not the worst thing in the world. We were going to have to have this conversation anyway. She's eight years old now. That's plenty old enough to have the good old birds and bees talk. Except there's no way we're actually going to talk about birds and bees. We're just going to get her mom in here and sort of lay down the facts of life. Nothing to it. Just play it cool. Ease into it...

"Oh yeah," I said cooly. "That's kind of a naughty thing to sing a song about, huh?"

As soon as I said "naughty" I regretted my words.

You stupid jerk, I told myself. You don't want her first conversation with you about sex to start with the idea that it's something naughty! You're going to have to walk that back. Explain to her that you misspoke. Tell her that no, in fact, making love is not a naughty thing. It's not something for children, of course, but that doesn't make it naughty. Yeah. That'll work. But wait... maybe she didn't notice. No, of course she noticed. If she's astute enough to hear that lyric then she certainly understands that you just said it was naughty. OK, maybe just wait a moment and see how she responds...    

"I know!" you said. "Making out at midnight! That's so gross!"

And this ends the story of the first conversation we ever had about sex, but didn't.


Friday, July 10, 2015


Dear Spike:

We've been back on our home continent for several days now, and back in our own home for two, but we're all still having trouble adjusting to our home time zone.

Such is life for global travelers, and you are most certainly a global traveler.

We started our adventure in Salt Lake City back in mid-June. We flew to San Francisco, then South Korea. Originally we'd planned an afternoon layover there — just enough time to get into Inchon for a bite to eat — but the airline had other plans for us. We had just enough time to get through security and onto our next flight. That was unfortunate — I would have loved to introduce you to South Korea and help you add a stamp to your passport. Still, there's time. If you'd like to go there someday, you can.

We were in Beijing a few hours later. The rain had beaten us to the capital and left behind a beautiful blue sky. You probably don't realize what a rare treat that was. Trust me: It was.

The next morning we were on a flight to Nanning. From there it was a five-hour drive to our final destination: a small village in a tiny valley flanked on either side by pyramid-shaped mountains, greener than I could possibly describe. The village, called Bapan, has come to be known in China as The Longevity Village.

By the end of this summer, I'll have finished co-writing a book on this remarkable place, which has one of the largest populations of centenarians anywhere in the world. That's what brought me there, but not what brought you and your mother there.

You were simply there to have an adventure.

And you did.

Hiking over a rickety foot bridge. Swimming in the waters of a perfect mountain spring. Touring the countryside in the back of a motocab. Wandering among the stalactites and stalagmites of the endless local limestone caves.

Eating wonderful food. Meeting amazing people.

You made friends with some local children. They taught you a new song. You taught them to play hopscotch.

You went on morning hikes with your mother and worked your charm on the local villagers.

Your Mandarin wasn't perfect, and you were much more timid about bringing it out than you were when we last visited China, four years ago. Still you hailed our cabs and ordered our food and bought our tickets and bargained with shopkeepers. You done good, kid, and we'll keep working to get you more comfortable with this very challenging language.

To what end? Maybe none at all, quite frankly. Mastery of a second or third language used to really mean something. Today we are perhaps a few years, if that, from portable and affordable simultaneous translating technology. Still, there is glory in learning anything and beauty in learning a language, in particular. And, as your mother notes so often, "more languages means more friends."

We're lucky to have the means to offer you experiences like this. We're lucky, too, to have such a great traveling companion. At times you were exhausted. At times you were uncomfortable. At times you were scared. At times you missed our home. At times you looked down upon a plate of food set before you and wondered what it was.

Not once did you complain. Not once did you whine. Not once did you refuse to eat something. Not once did you ask for something else. Not once did you argue. Not once did you make me wonder whether it was a good idea to bring an eight-year-old girl along on such a big adventure. Of course it was a good idea.

You did wander off at one point. You were with some other children and couldn't find us to ask whether you could follow them where they were going, so you simply decided to go. You were spoken to sternly. You cried and apologized profusely. You didn't try to deflect blame. You accepted responsibility. That was absolutely the worst of it. In all other times, in all other situations, in all other ways you were an absolute joy to travel with.

All of which tells me that we'll quite likely get do this again.

Maybe back in China. Maybe Ethiopia. Maybe Ecuador. Maybe Cambodia. Or heck, maybe we'll finally get out of the airport in South Korea.

Where will we go next? Who can say? Such is life for global travelers.

And you are most certainly a global traveler.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


Dear Spike,

For a while now, our family has been playing a funny game called “or kittens.”

It goes like this:

“Would you rather step in vomit… or kittens?” “Would you rather have to eat rotten spinach… or kittens?” “Would you rather sleep in a mud puddle… or kittens?”

The joke, of course, is that the answer is always kittens, because the alternative is so disgusting.

Thing is, though, you’d pick kittens over just about anything — so we don’t really need to make the alternative unpalatable. And so, lately, the joke has been turned on its ear.

“Would you rather have a million dollars… or kittens?” “Would you rather be president of the United States… or kittens?” “Would you rather have all the powers of Superman… or kittens?”

The answer is still kittens.

The other day you and your mother were visiting me at the university for lunch. You’d just gotten a scoop of Famous Aggie Ice Cream — mint chocolate chip, with extra chips — and we were talking about how amazingly good the ice cream is at the college’s famed creamery.

“Mama,” you said. “Ice cream… or kittens?”

As good as that ice cream is, your mother didn’t hesitate. “Kittens,” she said.

“Daddy: Ice cream… or kittens?”

Kittens, I told you after just a tad more thought. (I really like Aggie Ice Cream.)

“You know,” I said, “this would make a good survey topic. You should ask some other people.”

You’ve been acting a bit shy lately. You shrunk down in your chair a bit.

“Really,” I said. “It’s easy. The people on this campus are really nice. Watch.”

There was a group of young men — football players, I gathered from their size and bulging muscles — sitting at the table next to us.

“Hey guys,” I said. “Ice cream or kittens?”

“Excuse me, sir?” the smallest of the group asked.

“Ice cream or kittens?”

“Um… Ice cream?”

I gestured to the young man next to him, only slightly bigger.

“Ice cream,” he said confidently.
And then I looked to the biggest of the group. 

“Ice creams,” he said, offering a plural emphasis.

“Well,” you said, “that’s three for kittens and three for ice cream.”

If there’s one thing you can’t abide, it’s a tie. A few minutes later you were standing in front of my class with a piece of paper and a pen.

“I’m doing a survey to determine what people like more: Ice cream or kittens,” you explained to my students.

“Wait… we have to choose?” one student said.

“Yes,” you replied.

“Between ice cream and kittens?” he asked.

“That’s right,” you said. “OK, can I have you raise your hands for kittens?”

A lone woman raised her hand in the back of the class. You looked confused.

“Um… again… please raise your hand for kittens.”

The woman raised her hand higher. No one else budged.

“Oooookaaaay…” you said. “Ice cream?”

The rest of the class — nine students in all — voted for ice cream.

“Um, I think I should clarify,” you said. “The kittens are not for eating.”

The students held their ground. The score was 12 to 4 in favor of ice cream.

Your mother tells me you asked a few more people throughout the day as you wandered around the campus, but finally gave up when the results weren’t skewing in favor of kittens.

And that’s life, kid. Sometimes, when we’re searching for truth, we don’t always get the answers that conform to what we think they should be. Let me assure you: The search is worthwhile nonetheless.

These days, it seems, a lot of people are afraid to search — afraid to learn that the world is a very different place from the way they think it should be. And so, all too often, we insulate ourselves from contrary ideas and opinions. We tell ourselves we know enough. We tell ourselves we already know the right answer, so we don’t have to seek any additional information.

And we do this even though the choices we’ve made for ourselves are actually just as silly as ice cream or kittens.

Democrat or Republican? War or peace? Pro-choice or pro-life? Capitalist or socialist?

None of these things is as black and white as we all-too-often tend to think. We live in a world where there is good and bad and a whole lot of gray in all of our choices.

And thankfully, we live in a world in which we can have ice cream and kittens.


Friday, March 13, 2015


Dear Spike,

This afternoon I watched a mother crouch next to her toddler daughter on the side a fetid city street. She lifted noodles from a small plastic bowl and pushed them into the little girl’s mouth. The girl — she was three years old, perhaps — was closing her eyes after each bite in a way that made me think she was savoring her meal. She and her mother were both smiling and laughing with one another.

Today I am in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. This kingdom has an economy that is growing quickly, but many people are being left behind. There is a lot of poverty here and a lot of desperation.

I am so fortunate to get to have these sorts of experiences. When I do, I am reminded that people in places like this are absolutely no different than you and me. They do not deserve their poverty any more than we deserve our wealth.

We are so fortunate.

We belong to a small number of people ever to have lived on this planet who do not have much cause to worry for their day-to-day safety, or about access to food, or about access to clean water, or about shelter, or about education.

That is not so say that we don’t have real problems. It is not to say we cannot have and air grievances. It is not so say we cannot feel slighted or that we shouldn’t demand change.

But it’s helpful, I think, to have opportunities like this — to put all of those problems into perspective.

Certainly, we can be proud of what our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents did to make this possible for us. But it behooves us to never forget that all of this happened largely independent of anything we have done in our own lives. And it is important to consider, as well, that there is little privilege in this world that wasn’t built on the exploitation of someone else’s parents, grandparents or great-grandparents.

Does that make us obligated in some way to help others who are not so fortunate? I think so, and I think you will come to think so, too.

How? That is a much harder and much more complicated question.

But here is a place to start: Smile more. Laugh more. Savor more. If people in desperate situations can do these things, we have no excuse not to do so as well.