Thursday, December 29, 2016


Dear Spike:

I don’t think I fully appreciated how much I wanted to be sitting next to you at the latest Star Wars movie until I wasn’t. 

My friend Robert and I had left the ski resort with three hours to spare before show time. Three and a half hours later we were still stuck in a long line of traffic as emergency crews cleared a multiple-car pile up at the bottom of the canyon. We sang Christmas carols to pass the time. And for my part, I suppose, to keep from crying.

One of my earliest memories is of walking past a row of movie posters outside a theater with my father. This would have been around 1984, I suppose. “Let’s peek inside to see if there’s a new Star Wars movie coming out,” he said.

There wasn’t. And there wouldn’t be for many, many years to come. By that time I was in college, and on opening night I brought Casey, a young boy I was mentoring. He spent most of the time fidgeting on the floor, but he perked up when Jar Jar Binks came on screen — as, for the record, do you.

(A quick side note: Everyone cheered and applauded at the end of "The Phantom Menace" on that night. These days most folks will tell you that Episode I was a complete disaster — and they’ll trot our poor Jar-Jar as exhibit A — but unless that theater was an absolute outlier, most of those naysayers have significantly changed their minds over time. They all loved it until they found out it wasn’t cool to love it.)

So, yeah, I love me some Star Wars. Always have. 

Now you’re old enough to share this joy with me. It’s a nerdy joy, for sure, but that’s OK. And I suppose that there was something kind of great about the fact that your mother didn’t think twice about whether or not you two would go to the opening night of "Rogue One" without me. Of course you were going.

It would be several more days before I could score the time and tix to see the flick. To your credit, you didn’t spoil the oh-my-God-did-Disney-really-do-that ending. But you did mention that Princess Leia shows up. You just couldn’t hold that in.

And I understand.

Last night our family snuggled up together to watch "A New Hope." I don’t think you’d caught on that it was a memorial viewing, and that’s fine — for all I know you might have already assumed Carrie Fisher was dead.

I’ve seen Episode IV hundreds of times. I know every character. I know every line. But I noticed a few things for the first time last night.

First of all, forget the controversy over Han and Greedo. Who cares? Because you know who actually shot first?

Leia. Leia shot first. 

Long before we meet Han and Chewbacca. Before we meet Luke and Ben. Before we set eyes upon the twin setting suns of Tatooine or feast upon the bureaucratic squabbling of the Galactic Empire or have a bad feeling about this, Leia unloads her blaster on a storm trooper.

She’s a teenager. Entrusted by her adopted father with the most important piece of information in the history of the rebellion. And she’s taking out frickin’ storm troopers. 

Oh, then she’s tortured, and she doesn’t give up the location of the hidden rebel base. And then her home planet is threatened with complete annihilation, and she doesn’t give up the location of the hidden rebel base. And then she’s threatened with execution, and she doesn’t give up the location of the hidden rebel base.

Then we meet Luke — who is all of 32 seconds older than Leia and ostensibly the hero of this whole saga — and he’s whining about power converters, losing his uncle's droids and getting the crap kicked out of him by sand people.

Who's the hero here, really? I think it's pretty clear.

I certainly don’t need to tell you how I feel about the princessification of our culture. We’ve. Been. Over. That. 

But as princesses go, Leia’s pretty much a bad ass. And today I’m feeling thankful to Carrie Fisher for bringing her to life and, in doing so, setting the stage for Star Wars heroines to come. You live in a world of Rey and Jyn because of Leia. 

I really do wish I hadn’t missed out on the Rogue One opening. But you and your mom didn’t need me to be there to validate your love of Star Wars. 

Because it’s your galaxy, too. And it always has been.


Wednesday, December 7, 2016


Dear Spike:

Your great grandfather was your age when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

I can't imagine what it must have been like for a child of that age to watch his country go to war — chiefly because I never asked him. When did he hear the news? Did he know what it meant? Did he remember hearing President Roosevelt's speech the following day? How did life change? How did childhood change?

I don't know. And today, on the 75th anniversary of the bombing of the attack that drew our nation into World War II, I am feeling regretful.

And determined.

Your grandfather was your age when President Kennedy was killed.

I can't imagine what it must have been like for a child of that age to learn his nation's president had been murdered — I've never asked him. But the next time we speak, I will. I'll ask him how he heard the news. I'll ask him what he remembers from that day. Did he remember watching Vice President Johnson take the oath of office? Did he recall Lee Harvey Oswald's murder, two days later?

There's so much more to learn, of course. And not just about days that will live in infamy.

Your grandmother wasn't too much older than you are now when Neil Armstrong took a giant leap for mankind.

I can't imagine what it must have been like to look to our moon and know that someone up there was looking right back, for it has never happened in my lifetime. Does she remember watching the landing on TV? Did she remember when the Apollo 11 crew splashed down, a few days later?    

We should ask, don't you think?


Wednesday, November 9, 2016


Dear Spike,
We stopped the car in the café parking lot, six minutes before the restaurant would open. Your mother looked at me and nodded.
“So,” I said, turning to face you in the back seat, “there was an election yesterday.”
You knew that, of course. You’ve been paying attention. We’ve been talking about this. You knew history was at hand.
As plain as I could, I told you what had happened. It took all of 10 or 20 seconds to do so. Your mother reminded you that you would be OK; it was important to us that you heard that.
Your eyes did well, if just a bit, but you did not cry. You did not complain. You did not give any hint of anger. You listened and nodded and laughed when I told you that, if nothing else, this leaves open the possibility that you could be the first woman president of our country.
“Of course, you’ll have to be older than I am now,” your mother noted.
Ah yes, that. I did some quick math in my head.
You could run…
… in 2044.
My God, let it not be that long.
It wasn’t until 144 years after our independence that women won the right to vote. Nearly a century later we still haven’t put a woman in the Oval Office. We’ve waited long enough.
Women make up 51 percent of our nation’s population, but just 20 percent of Congress and 25 percent of state-level elected leaders. There’s no sense in this. There’s no sense at all. The halls of our capitol buildings don’t have to be a faultless microcosm of all of the different kinds of diversity in our nation — we enjoy such diversity that this would not be possible — but it should be close. And, particularly where gender is concerned, there is no reason for it not to be. There’s no good reason at all.
But nothing our people have ever done for the cause of equality has come easy. Not human rights. Not voting rights. Not civil rights.
Pray to ask Frederick Douglass. Pray to ask Susan B. Anthony. Pray to ask Martin Luther King. Pray to ask Harvey Milk.
They all saw their promised lands. They may not have gotten there with us — but they knew we, as a people, would get there.
We, as a people, are nomadic by nature. It is among the most defining attributes of our species that we journey, settle, become restless and journey again. There is always another promised land.
There is always another ceiling to smash through. And yes, this one has proven tough to crack, but our people will break through. And it will happen soon. And then we will settle. And then we will become restless. And then we will journey forth again.
There was an election yesterday. And it did not go the way you wanted. But next year, at this time, there will be another vote. And the year after that, there will be another vote. And the year after that, there will be another vote. For school board members and city councilors and mayors and legislators. For senators and representatives and attorneys general and governors.
The cause of creating a government that better reflects our vast diversity — not just in the Oval Office but in every office — will never be our only concern. But it’s clear today, more than ever before, that we can do better. And we will. We will soon.
Mark my words, my child: By the time you’re old enough to be president, it won’t be a big deal that you are.
For history is still at hand.


Tuesday, November 8, 2016


Dear Spike,
I woke, this morning, in a warm room, in a sturdy home, in a safe city, in a great nation.
Yes, a great nation.
I know that on this day, Election Day, not everyone is feeling this way. I am not so blinded by my privilege that I believe everyone should.
But today, as I made omelets for you and your mother with eggs from our chickens and tomatoes from my mother’s garden and cheese from my friend’s hometown in Oregon, and milk from a dairy just north of here and bacon…
… well, from Costco, I suppose…
… all drawn from a refrigerator running last night, as it does every night, on reliable electricity, and then as I made coffee with safe water from my tap, and danced with you in our kitchen to the song of a Memphis-born musician, and forgot that today was Election Day and then remembered so again, and then drove you to the public school where your mother teaches and you study, your classrooms so close that you can sometimes hear one another over the drone of so many other teachers teaching and so many other students learning, I drove away, past two orange-vested crossing guards and a parade of children and parents walking along public streets to a public school. And in that moment, America was great.
I took Harvey Milk to State, and State to MLK, and MLK to Rio Grande, and wondered as I drove whether Milk and King had ever even stepped foot in Utah and why a street in Salt Lake City is named for a river 700 miles away. (Yes, The Salt Lake Tribune tells me, King was here in 1961. It’s not clear Milk was ever here. And God only knows about Rio Grande Street.)
And God only knows the stories of all of the people who live on Rio Grande Street, in tents when they are lucky and blankets when they are less so and nothing at all when they are even less so. And God knows we haven’t done everything we can to help them, but God also knows there are no right answers to this perfect storm of an opiate epidemic and residual recession and a housing crunch and the damned-if-you-do consequences of pledging to house our homeless, for this has undoubtedly invited more homeless, though God knows we’re trying; imperfectly, we’re trying.
A police officer stopped his cruiser in front of me, jumped out of the vehicle, and walked toward a gray-bearded black man in a frayed brown jacket who was lying on the sidewalk, and instinctively I readied the video camera on my phone for a confrontation, but instead the officer helped the man to his feet, dusted off his shoulders, and gave him a hug.
I know this is not how every interaction goes between police and the homeless of our city. But this is how this interaction goes. And in that moment America was great.
I waited for the train, double-stacked with cargo containers marked by graffiti artists from around the nation, maybe around the world. Waiting on the street by my car was an Indian man on a bicycle and a white woman in tennis shoes, a pair of black pumps sticking out of her handbag. The train rumbled by us all and I flipped through my social media feeds and it seemed as though a softer, kinder tone had suddenly taken over the world of Facebook and Twitter. And I know this is what the algorithms have decided I will see today and I know it won’t last anyway, but I breathed it in for a moment as the last flatcar passed and the gate opened and I saw, on the other side, a motley mix of pedestrians, men and women, all colors, all ages, in dapper suits and tattered coats, stepping across the tracks, heading downtown.
I passed a yellow Volkswagen Beetle and punched myself on the shoulder because you were not there to punch me; such is the frivolity of my life that I play "slugbug" with myself. And I turned my car toward a coffee shop, a local joint founded by a Mexican artist and her activist husband, where to enter one must pass, and one really must stop to read, the words of the poet Francisco X. Alarcon, “there is an Arab within me,” the white vinyl letters on the window proclaim, “who prays five times each day.” Inside, John Coltrane plays. On the wall, over a picture of King and Gandhi, is a wooden sign. “Nobody gets in to see the Wizard,” it says. “Not Nobody. Not No how.” And across from that, on an easel, is a chalk drawing of Prince. Today’s special is a Purple Rain Latte; lavender, white chocolate and vanilla. I ordered my coffee black.
Next to the tip jar on the counter there was a sign; all tips today would be matched and sent to the protesters at Standing Rock. I commended this action, and the woman behind the counter shrugged her tattooed shoulders. “Today seemed like a good day to do something good,” she said. “You know, Election Day and all.” And in that moment America was great.
I do not imagine we cannot be better. I do not imagine we cannot be much, much better. But I do not imagine that believing in the greatness of my nation prevents me from believing we can be greater still.
And I do not know how today will end, but I know we will not leave this day unchanged. And I am sad to know that the nation I fell in love with this morning, all over again, will not be the nation I wake to tomorrow.
But I am confident I will love her still, for this is how love works.


Saturday, July 2, 2016


Dear Spike,

It's too early to know for sure how bad the scar will be, but at least for now it looks like a pirate took a sword to my face.

And I like it. It suits me, I think.

That's not to say I'd keep it if I had the choice. I most certainly wouldn't. But I don't have a choice in the matter. Sometimes in life things happen that we cannot control. Sometimes we get scars.

Two of your mother's three sisters are cancer survivors. So is my father. So am I now, I suppose, although it feels like an exaggeration of magnificent proportions to say so. Basal cell carcinoma is cancer in the way that the eight-inch dwarf lanternshark is, in fact, an actual shark. It qualifies, but only just technically.

Regardless, this much is clear: You likely carry a genetic susceptibility to cancer that's a bit higher than other people. Genes aren't fate, though. Not usually, at least. Susceptibility and inevitability are two different things, and there are endless healthy things we can do to lower our risk.

Sunscreen, for instance. I didn't wear it much as a kid and, rather unwisely, didn't use it nearly as much as I should have as an adult. The result was a carcinoma on my face, and a little surgery on Thursday of this week to have it cut away.

We're pretty good about making sure you're wearing sunscreen, but you're approaching the part of your life where these sorts of things are going to become your on responsibility.

And sunscreen is just the start. The kinds of food you eat. The amount of water you drink. The kinds of work you do. The kinds of activities in which you engage. All of these things can affect the expression of your genes, for better or worse. And yes, there's good evidence that even people with higher susceptibility to diseases like cancer can significantly decrease to chances of getting it by making good choices about their personal health.

I don't want you to obsess. I simply want you to be aware of the things you can do to give yourself the best shot at a healthy life. You know, like wearing sunscreen.

After that, life will do what life does. That's just the way it goes. Sometimes we get scars.

May all your scars suit you.


Saturday, June 11, 2016


Dear Spike:

My heart is unexpectedly heavy for Cleveland tonight.

I'm not quite sure why. I don't recall ever visiting the Metropolis of the Western Reserve. As a matter of fact, I'm not even so sure I've ever been to Ohio at all.

But when I was just a few years older than you, and basking in a period of time in which it seemed Bay Area sports teams were simply destined for championships, I also came upon the realization that not every sports fan has it so easy — and that Cleveland fans, in particular, had been waiting a particularly long time for a championship parade.

I wouldn't have known this at all had it not been for two things.

First, my Babe Ruth Baseball team was called the Indians, and I spent just about every waking moment in my blue and red Chief Wahoo hat. It's actually quite embarrassing to recall, now, because the Cleveland Indians logo is really nothing short of a racial caricature, though at the time, having been told that some small fraction of some small fraction of my bloodline was Potawatomi, I mistakenly thought I was bearing some part of my heritage. Also, our team was quite good.

Second, the movie Major League came out, which was my first introduction to Charlie Sheen and Weslie Snipes (and also to such insults as "f**k wad" and "stick it up your f**king ass" — I'm still not sure why I was allowed to watch that movie.) The plot centered around the woebegone Indians and their villainous owner's attempts to move the city's baseball team to Miami. At the point that movie came out, no Cleveland team had won a championship in a quarter century.

Another quarter century has come and gone since then, and Cleveland's still waiting.

Last year seemed like it might be the year the curse would end. LeBron James, who started his career in Cleveland before taking his talents to Miami (where he won two NBA championships,) was back in the City the Rocks and the Cavs were up against a Golden State Warriors team that just about everyone seemed to think was not as good as its regular season record. With several Cav players injured, though, Cleveland fell in six games to the Warriors.

I'm not sure anyone outside of Cleveland thought the Cavs had a chance this year in what turns out to be a repeat of last year's series against a Warriors team that only got better, setting a regular season record with 73 wins and just nine losses. But hope springs eternal, and after falling hard in the first two games in Oakland, the Cavs dismantled the Dubs in Game 3.

Then tonight's happened. The Warriors dropped 17 three-pointers on the Cavaliers en route a 108-97 victory. And while the series certainly isn't over, no team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals.

Why am I telling you all of this? I suppose to set expectations.

You see, I never had to wait long for a local team to hoist a trophy. The year I started paying attention to professional sports, the Oakland A's had the best record in baseball and, although they were upset in the World Series by the dastardly Dodgers, they once against posted the best record in the show and returned to the series the following year. There, they defeated another Bay Area team, the Giants, in a year in which the San Francisco 49ers had the best record in football and destroyed the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl.

The following year, the 49ers did it again — the fourth of five Super Bowls that team won between 1983 and 1995. God Bless Joe Montana, Steve Young and especially Jerry Rice.

In 1991 the Bay Area got a hockey team. In 1996, we added a soccer team (your grandfather helped start that franchise — and I got to be there for the first game in Major League Soccer history.) It took a while for the Sharks to get good, but the Earthquakes won their first MLS Cup in 2001 and added another in 2003, God bless Landon Donovan.

In 2010, the Giants won the World Series. In 2012, they did it again. In 2014, they did it again. God bless Buster Posey, forever and ever, amen.

Then, last year, Stephen Curry and the Warriors destroyed everything we knew about basketball. And this year they destroyed what they had already destroyed. Meanwhile, the once hapless Sharks are playing for the Stanley Cup.

So then, back to expectations: This sort of stuff can happen in sports cities, but it usually doesn't. Your town usually doesn't go 50-plus years without a championship, and it usually doesn't win ring after ring after blessed ring, never waiting more than a few years from one to the next.

If you latch onto the teams around here, for instance, you'll likely be waiting a long time for a parade. The Utah Jazz have made two appearances in the NBA Finals (both losses, both long before you were born) and haven't gotten close since. Real Salt Lake won its one and only star in 2009 and, much as I'd love to say otherwise, putting a second star to the right is probably a dream worthy of Neverland.

Whatever happens to your teams will happen very much irrespective of anything you do. You can wear the hats and fly the flags and only wear your lucky bra on game days, but ultimately sports fandom is a lot like the rest of life. We don't deserve good teams or bad teams — we just sort of luck into them.

Take it, then, for what it's worth. Fandom is joy and pain, and usually more of the latter than the former. You'll know that going in, of course, but it won't really change anything.

And yet we do it anyway. Because there's always next season. A hope for a winning season. Of a run deep into the playoffs. Of a championship parade.

And hope is a beautiful thing.


Friday, May 27, 2016


Dear Spike,

Now you are nine.

People always say of children, "they grow up so fast," but I've never felt that way. Sure, I can remember many parts of the day you were born like it was yesterday, but it wasn't yesterday. It was nine amazing years ago and it feels to me like nine years should.

You're growing more independent. Walking by yourself to friends' homes to play. Getting ready on your own for soccer practice. Snowboarding solo on our great big mountain. Taking accountability for starting your own homework. Drawing your own baths. Deciding for yourself when to turn in for the night.

I suppose I should feel like I'm losing you. I don't at all. Much to the contrary — I feel like I'm gaining more of you. Every decision you make on your own is a part of you revealing yourself to the world. In this way, I'm getting to know who you really are.

And I like the person I'm meeting.

You are exceptionally kind. Generous. Polite. Thoughtful of others.

You are smart. Witty. Sarcastic. Funny.

You are athletic. Strong. Sometimes timid. A little bit shy.

You are both adventurous and cautious. You are both silly and serious. You are both easily distracted and very focused. You are both me and your mother.

But you are, more and more every day, you.

And I love you. I couldn't love you more. Not today, at least.

Tomorrow, though, is a different story. Somehow I'll love you even more then.

Happy birthday.


Saturday, April 16, 2016


Dear Spike:

The timing could not have been more perfect.

On the morning of Jan. 31, you took your first solo snowboard ride. A few hours later, I smashed into an aspen tree, breaking my leg in too many places to count.

My season was over. Yours was not yet halfway through.

There were days, here and there, that you rode with others. The Campos family took you out a few times. My good friend Robert rode with you on another occasion. Your mother, brave woman she is, learned to downhill ski in no small part so that she could ride with you.

But for the most part you were on your own. I'd crutch over with you to the bottom of the lift, give you a hug, and you'd be on your way. Oh, the double takes you got from the lifties when you'd hop onto a chair all by your lonesome.

Of course I wish I had not broken my leg. Of course I wish I'd not had to deal with the pain and the limited mobility. Of course I wish I could have kept riding with you.

But what happened happened. And because it did, you got to make the mountain your own this season. And I figure that's a good thing, because we live in a world in which kids — and particularly only children like you, it seems — don't get as many chances to practice being independent as they probably need.

I'll be back next season. We'll ride together again. But I'll also understand when you tell me, now and then, that you'd just like to ride alone.

Sometimes that's the way it's supposed to be.


Saturday, February 13, 2016


Dear Spike,

I'm not registered with a political party, and while I have the option of voting in the Democratic primary in our home state, I probably won't do so.

I suppose that makes what I am about to share with you a moot opinion, but I'd thought I'd share it with you anyway, because there is an increasingly heated debate going on among our progressive friends that I imagine you might someday want to understand.

At its best, this debate has been quite nuanced and interesting. At its worst it has been sexist and destructive. Either way, it's complicated, but it sort of comes down to this question: Is it wrong to vote for a woman because she is a woman?

You're just eight years old, but you already understand privilege quite well. You understand that our family, largely by virtue of historical factors that are far out of our control, has enjoyed practically unfathomable benefits of wealth, power, safety and stability. As you grow older, some of your friends who are in a similar socio-economic situation — and even some who are better off – might try to convince you that we're not as privileged as we could be or should be. That's unadulterated bologna. Historically speaking, we're practically royalty.
I'm a white, middle-class, college-educated man born to parents who taught me the value of hard work, esteemed education, and helped me understand that there is a difference between being entitled and feeling entitled. I've had a few opportunities to see that latter lesson played out in my life as I've occasionally sought to move from one job to another. I'm pretty sure, for instance, that I've lost out on a few opportunities here and there to minority and female candidates, and I'm very much at peace with that. It doesn't wash away my privilege to grant someone else an opportunity when all other things about us are practically equal. (And, of course, they're not equal, for I cannot possibly conceive of how much my own race and gender has contributed to the fortunes I've enjoyed in this world.)  
For all of these reasons, I have no qualms with the idea of Affirmative Action, which at its most basic simply states that when all other things are practically equal, the progressive move is to help the person who comes from a historically less privileged group.

And that brings me to the debate at hand: Should voters consider Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's gender when they decide whether to support her or Sen. Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States?

I know that not everybody see things this way, but when I look at Clinton and Sanders, I haven't yet seen one person who is a substantially better choice in every meaningful way to be the chief executive of our nation, the commander in chief of our military, and arguably the most powerful single human being on our planet.

Our country is in dire need of an honest chief executive — advantage, I suppose, to Sanders. Our nation is in dire need of someone with a deep and nuanced understanding of the international challenges we face — advantage, almost certainly in my mind, to Clinton. And yes, I'd like someone who can help reduce the influence of money in our political system. Advantage to Sanders for being a virtuous broker of that goal; advantage to Clinton for being someone who might actually be able to move the needle — since I'm not sure we can expect more, giving the political, legal and constitutional obstacles before us, than needle moving when it comes to this problem.

For me, all of that comes before gender even enters the mix. But I'm not sure it has to be that way.

For all of the good and all of the bad that President Barack Obama has done since his election, I believe the most substantial contribution he will make to our nation, over and above what I would have expected from any other Democratic president (or, quite frankly, from any president of either party) is that he was our nation's first black president. As I have written to you before, there will never be a time in your memory in which a black man had not been the leader of our nation. 

For all of the good and bad she will do while she is mayor of our city, I believe the most substantial contribution Jackie Biskupski will make, over and above the potholes and streetlights she will fix just like any other mayor would, is that she is the first gay mayor of Salt Lake City. You will never live in a world in which it is inconceivable that a lesbian could be the mayor of the capital of the most conservative state in our union.

It is therefore to me not inconceivable in any way that more good could come from having a woman in the Oval Office than bad could come from what she might do once she gets there, over and above what any president — man or woman, black or white, God-fearing or atheist, capitalist or socialist — will do.

Someday, perhaps, there will come a time when the power brokers in our country look less like me and more like you — and when they look less like us and more like the rest of our nation. And perhaps there will also come a time in which someone might distinguish themselves as so capable, so different, so uniquely qualified as to be a clearly better choice than anyone else. I know some people feel that they are seeing this in Sanders. By the same token, some people see this in the demagogue who is currently leading the national polls for the Republican nomination.          

For my part, I have never been and do not expect to ever be satisfied with a president, or with any politician for that matter. It greatly troubles me that we are so quick to elevate people — who are supposed to be putting themselves forward as potential public servants — as heroes and saviors. I don't see Clinton or Sanders as anything more than flawed human beings who each have potential to help and to harm the progress our nation is making, and whose future failures and successes cannot possibly be known, since the challenges they would face as president cannot possible be known.

And so, as to this debate, I suppose my answer is this: I would not see a vote for a woman because she is a woman as a vote against liberalism, progressivism or virtuous citizenship, let alone feminism. I would conclude it was righteous, reasonable and rational. I would conclude it was an affirmative action on behalf of a nation founded on the principle "that all men are created equal," and which still has a long way to go before realizing that all women are, too.


Friday, February 5, 2016


Dear Spike:

It's 2:42 in the morning, and I'm up to my blood-shot eyeballs in papers from my students.

The next few weeks will be like this. Then a few things will happen. First, some of these students will drop out of my class. Next, those who remain will slowly start to improve. That will make things easier, but not easy. Teaching is never easy. Not good teaching, at least.

I don't have to work this way. It seems clear to me that there are plenty of teachers out there who have figured out how to do just enough to get by. I suppose they must get more sleep than I do, but I don't really understand what else they get out of that arrangement. Why teach if you're not going to teach?

You can do whatever you want in life, kid, but since both of your parents are teachers (and your grandmother, too) I suppose there's a decent chance that you might decide to try your hand at this teaching thing, too.

If you do, you'll almost certainly be expected to adopt a teaching philosophy. You will be tempted to brush over this. Please don't do that. Take it seriously.

I won't bore you with my whole treatise on teaching, but I'll share with you a few parts that are important to me.

• In all things, I set high standards in deference to my belief that we value most that which we have worked hardest to achieve.

• There is no perfect approach to teaching... our diverse and dynamic culture demands that even the most excellent educators must shift their thinking and approaches from time to time, and even from student to student.

• I believe in the power of education. 

• I am very fortunate to have been given the honor of helping my students become better thinkers, communicators, citizens and storytellers.

Over the years, I coupled my teaching philosophy with my creed — a simple statement of personal beliefs that help guide my actions from day to day, and which I began developing as a sophomore in high school and which I'm still working on today.

I doubt anyone will ever ask you to develop a creed, but it's a worthwhile exercise. 

Here's mine: I will work harder today than I did yesterday; I will care more today than I did yesterday; I will be more passionate today than I was yesterday.

I don't know if these are the best rules to teach by and live by, but they work for me. Whether you teach or not, I hope you'll recognize the beauty and benefit of having some personal rules that guide your journey in life and which you reflect upon from time to time.


Sunday, January 31, 2016


Dear Spike:

It’s 3,182 feet from base to summit on Apex Express, but you might as well have been on your way to Planet Nine.

We’ve been getting ready for this day for quite some time. For nearly six years, really — that’s how long it’s been since you first stepped onto a snowboard. I remember that day as if it was this morning — it was not my finest hour — but I could not have imagined then the mixture of pride and anguish I would feel today when you slid onto a chairlift all by yourself for the very first time.

But it was time. We are exceptionally fortunate to have a home that is about 75 meters away from the nearest lift. From where I sit right now, in fact, sipping hot chocolate next to a fire in our living room, I can watch lift chair after lift chair, filled with skiers and boarders, ascending Apex. This ski resort is, quite literally, right in your backyard, and it is right for you to be able to explore your backyard. You are eight years old, after all, and that is what eight year olds do.

We’ve shredded this run together 100 times, maybe more. You’re a black diamond boarder and this is a blue square run at best. You are more comfortable and confident on a snowboard than most adults are on their own two feet. This is part of who you are.

And you were ready. We took a run together this morning and then I asked: “Want to do it by yourself?” You didn’t hesitate. You were moving toward the lift before you’d even finished saying “yes.”

Then you were on your way. You popped onto a chair, all by your lonesome, and didn’t look back at me even once.

I watched you as you flew away, remembering with certain horror all of the things I meant to tell you before you did this all by yourself, remembering with great remorse that I had forgotten to give you a mobile phone, remembering all the times that you’ve taken a tumble, been knocked head over heels by heedless boarders and skiers two times and three times and four times your size.

And then, remembering what it felt like to watch you take your first steps, releasing you from my arms into the great big world. It was five feet from me to your mother on that day in the carpeted hallway of our home, but you might as well have been on your way to Pluto.

I waited. And waited. And as I waited I thought of all the other times I’ve let you go, in literal and figurative ways, and all the times that are on their way, just beyond the bend.

And then, over the bend, on the top of Main Street, you appeared, unmistakable in your trademark purple jacket and pink pants. You typically stop and take a short break there, but you did not rest. You flew over the precipice, cutting perfect S-turns down the middle of the mountain before tucking in and locking down on a perfect vector, gaining speed the way you always do when you’re on your way home.

I readied myself to receive you. To have you slide right into my arms. To lift you up and hug you and tell you how proud I am of you. But you flew past me with a perfect little salute.

You might as well have been on your way to a planet we have yet to discover, in some far flung reach of our galaxy where no one’s ever been before or ever even thought to look.

And that is fine. I lifted my goggles and wiped a tear from my eye and I knew. That is how it’s supposed to be.