Saturday, May 27, 2023


Dear Spike,

Today you turned 16 years old. 

There is a question that just about everyone asks when someone reaches this age. It is a question that, at least in past generations, has been tied to notions of freedom, responsibility, and emerging adulthood. 

Did you get your driver's license?

You did not. And you seem to have no plans to do so any time soon. And that's OK. It does not mean you are not interested in freedom. You are. It does not mean you are not an exceptionally responsible person. You are. It does not mean you are not emerging, quite healthily, into adulthood. You most certainly are.

When my dear friend, Stephen, moved back to England last year he sold us his Mini Cooper at the "family rate." I'm not actually sure what he could have gotten for that vehicle, but I'm quite certain he took a loss on the deal to ensure that his family's cherished little car would go to a good home. I bought it with the intention of it being your vehicle, but your mother drives it for the most part, right now, and that is fine. It will be yours if and when you wish for it to be so.

Sometimes, when the parking lot at the high school stadium is vacant, or something close to it, I park the car and tell you to switch seats with me, and you drive it around the lot, neck straining to see over the hood because, alas, you are quite small, even for a Mini Cooper. You're a good driver. Or, at least, you are a good driver in a parking lot. And I have not pressured you much to do much more than that. When the zombie apocalypse commences you will know how to operate a vehicle, and there will be no one to ticket you for not having a license in any case. Thus, I have done my job as your father. 

Life is different now than it was a generation and two and three ago, when a license and a car were a rite of passage in middle-class America that everyone from Dinah Shore to Woody Guthrie to Nat King Cole to Chuck Berry to Bo Diddley to Bob Dylan to Janis Joplin to Tom Waits to Bruce Springsteen to Roger Taylor to Smokey Robinson to Aretha Franklin to Tracy Chapman to Billy Ocean to Cyndi Lauper to Melissa Etheridge to Taylor Swift has written and sung about. And it's not just that rideshares and public transit apps and work-from-home and doorstep delivery has made having a car a little less necessary than it seemed once upon a time. It's also that the world feels more stressful, and while driving isn't much more dangerous than it ever was, it's still The Wind in the Willows out there and everybody is Mr. Toad.

All of this brings me to a point beyond driving — and something I'm so proud of you for. Like a lot of people your age, and for perfectly valid reasons, you deeply feel the stresses of this world. I don't need to enumerate the ways in which life as a teenager in the 2020s — looking out into life as an adult in the 2030s and 2040s and 2050s and beyond — might feel fraught, with a new trauma not-so-well hidden around every corner. These things can go without saying. But you're figuring out, a little bit here and a little bit there, how to coexist with all of that stress. Imperfectly, sure, but nonetheless, you're learning to weather these storms — making decisions that I was not mature enough to make when I was 16 and, indeed, that I was not forced to make for the sake of my mental health. One of those decisions is that you've opted not to drive, at least for now. And, I'll be damned, in many ways that's actually given you more freedom. In may ways it's a sign that you are more responsible. In many ways it's one of the most adult choices you've made. It's funny how things work sometimes.

And honestly, it's been good for me. Because I'm often your driver, for now. And sometimes we drive and talk and talk and talk some more. And other times we cruise in silence. And I'm OK, either way, because I know how precious time with a teen-aged child is. And maybe somebody should write a song about that, you know? 

Because there you are, in my passenger seat, 16 years old and so very smart and so very funny and so very wise and so very hardworking. You know words I don't. You speak of Shakespearean characters as thought you're talking about friends and neighbors. You describe the human experience in ways that I think about for days and weeks and months thereafter. You tell stories, rich and vivid and sad and funny and so very true. You stare out the window and pick apart the world and put it back together in such fascinating ways that I can't help but marvel at that glorious brain inside your head. And I can't wait to see what adventures this year brings for you, as you get more and more comfortable in the driver's seat of your own life, metaphorical though it might remain.


Friday, May 27, 2022


Dear Spike,

Today you turned 15. 

We encouraged you to celebrate with your friends, but you had other plans. You stayed home. You wore pajamas. You made a nest on the couch. You binged on a show that you've been hoping to watch for months. You ate amazing food. 

Not a bad way to mark another turn around the sun. Not bad at all.

Perhaps I'd be worried if you always wanted to be home, loafing as you did so gloriously today, but in the past year you've grown into a remarkably social person. You look forward to school each day. You play soccer and lacrosse. You were asked to be a teacher's aide in both Chinese and French. You act in school plays. And I cannot begin to describe how proud I am that you have found friends who are — like you — smart, funny, compassionate and supportive. 

So today you took it easy. You spent the day mostly by yourself. You gave some attention to the introverted side of your psyche. I think that was good. In fact, I think it was wise.

There's a silly thing humans do — something that seems as though it might be wired into us. We turn almost everything into a binary. There are masculine things and feminine things. There are cat people and dog people. There are liberals and conservatives. And there are introverts and extroverts.

How very ridiculous this is. For none of these things are so simple as either-or. The ambit of all that is before us is wide and varied and ripe for the picking. You never were simply an introvert. And you are not now an extrovert. You care for both of these parts of your identify. And that is healthy.

It's actually quite easy to lose yourself inside a label, because once you have a name for something — a epithet, for instance, like "introvert" or "extrovert" — then your brain forever has a shortcut for that conceptualization. You don't have to think as much. 

In some ways, I suppose, this can be good. Why spend time reflecting on something you know to be true about yourself, right? You can spend that energy on something else. But when we stop thinking about these qualities that we have adopted and simply accept that they are what we are, we lose an avenue for growth and exploration. 

This is all to say that while there is absolutely nothing wrong with being introverted, I'm glad that you didn't decide that was who you are. And while there is nothing wrong with being social, I'm also glad that you have not decided that you need to be connected to others at all times. Your life is richer for the balance.

And mine is richer — so much richer — because you are in it.


Monday, June 7, 2021


Dear Spike: 

You turned 14 last week. You took the past year to work ahead in school (because, as you said many times, "what else am I going to do in a pandemic?") and you worked really hard, and so you're a few years ahead of schedule. You recently finished up your first year of your first college course. (You've been taking Chinese and you're doing great). Last month you began rehearsing for a community musical. It's Matilda; you're Lavender. Tomorrow you begin training with your high school soccer team. It's a lot. And I think that sometimes, lately, you've been feeling overwhelmed.  

It is fine.

You're as close to a perfect child as I think there has ever been. You are thoughtful, kind and respectful. You work hard in school and sports. You exceed our expectations on a regular basis, and as we have always had quite high expectations for you, that is no small feat. 

But sure, sometimes you fall short. You forget to do something you were supposed to do. You say something without thinking it through. You stumble. You fall. 

And it is fine. 

You get frustrated with yourself when these sorts of things happen. You get down. You get angry. You wrap yourself into emotional pretzels. And in doing so, sometimes, you make things worse.

I swear to you: It is fine. 

Tonight I told you some stories about when I was about your age and just a bit older. I told you about the trouble I got into. You looked at me a few times as though you thought I was kidding. I was not kidding. And there are more stories where those came from. I'll tell you some in time. And some I probably won't. 

There's trouble and then there's trouble. I never got into the latter. Rather, I think, I was a lot like you. I got into trouble when I was trying so hard. Trying to be brave. Trying to be smart. Trying to be funny. Trying to be more than I was. Trying to meet someone else's expectations for me. Trying to meet my expectations for me. 

But, as it turns out, I was always enough. I was brave enough and smart enough and funny enough and everything enough. It's taken me a very long time to understand that. Too long.  

There's a lot happening in your life right now. It brings me great joy to see you succeeding at so many things, particularly those things that bring you joy, too. But yes, it's a lot. And you're not always going to balance all of those things just perfectly. You're going to feel overwhelmed. You're going to stumble. You're going to fall. You're going to feel frustrated. You're going to get into some trouble. 

It is fine. You are fine. You are enough. You are everything enough. 


Monday, March 8, 2021


Dear Spike: 

It's been a year, now, since everything hit the fan. Since travel stopped and schools closed. Since friends stopped hanging out and families stopped getting together. Since we stopped going out to eat and started wearing masks everywhere we did go.

It's been a tough year. And while we have been very fortunate — we have not gotten sick and we have not lost our sources of income — I wanted to acknowledge that good fortune does not make this hardship easy. Especially not for a 13-year-old child.   

I can see how difficult this has been for you. I can imagine myself at your age, and ask myself how I would have felt in this circumstance, and realize that it is a terrible thing for a young teenager to be more or less stuck with their parents for an entire year. 

But you've handled this with aplomb. You have not complained. You have not thrown a fit. You have not lost sight of the fact that the sacrifices you are making are for the benefit of our community and, in particular, the most vulnerable people in that community. (Not everyone sees things in this way, but you do.)

I have been hesitant to suggest there is a light at the end of this tunnel, but it does seem that we may be coming nearer to a place where something like the normal we once knew becomes the normal we will know. We will travel again. You will go back to school. You will see your friends and extended family. We will go to our favorite restaurants. We will explore the world with our faces exposed to the sun. 

Hold on. This has been very hard, and it may continue to be for some time to come, but we are getting closer. I do believe that.

It's been a tough year. But you are a tough person. You always have been. And I am very proud of you.


Thursday, June 4, 2020


Dear Spike,

I was 11 years old — a few years younger than you are now — when the protests in Tiananmen Square took place. That moment in history is my first vivid political memory, and I remember feeling quite inspired by the young men and women who were risking everything to demand greater freedom.

I also remember feeling very fortunate to live in a country where people can exercise their right to assemble without risking militaristic reprisals. I felt that way when I was 11, and still when I was 21, and still when I was 31.

Now I am 41, and on the 30th anniversary of the liùsì shìjiàn, I no longer believe that my nation is much different than the nation that quashed those protests in Beijing, all those years ago, for it is happening here, too.
Our president has threatened to use the military to quash nationwide protests — the vast majority of which have been very peaceful. He has, in fact, already used military police officers to clear peaceful protesters from the streets in Washington, D.C., so that he could stage a photo op in front of a church that he doesn't attend.

Even before this, though — and even before this president came to power, our nation's police forces had been militarizing for many years, to the point that it is becoming difficult to see the difference between warfighters and law enforcement officers. Wearing kevlar helmets, decked out in fatigues, holding assault rifles, and riding in mine-resistant armored vehicles, the men and women who are supposed to protect our communities increasingly look like occupiers.

There are good people in these uniforms. There are some damn good ones. This is true. Yet there do not appear to be enough good ones to stand up to the bad ones — a fact painfully revealed in the video that ignited these recent protests, in which three police officers stand by as a fourth kneels on a man's neck. The man begged for his life. "I can't breathe" he cried.

Nine minutes later, he was dead.

They stood by. I cannot get over that they just stood by.

But this is not surprising. Just a few weeks ago, in our hometown, it was revealed that an officer who was supposed to help a young woman who came to his department seeking protection instead exploited her. Other officers knew, and they did nothing. They stood by. The young woman, who used to attend church with your grandparents, was later murdered by the man she had begged police to protect her from.

And so it goes. The videos are endless. Police pushing protesters. Police hitting protesters. Police pepper spraying protesters. Police shooting at protesters.

In one video, from Florida, a police officer violently shoves a woman who was kneeling nearby him. Kneeling.

That one is different, though. In it, the officer is immediately and angrily confronted by another officer.

Her name is Krystal Smith. And she would not stand by. She screamed after the officer, chasing after him to dress him down — a strong black woman confronting a pathetic white man.

We don't have to accept brutality and militarization as the cost of doing law enforcement. We don't have to accept that the blue wall of silence is an inevitable and immoveable force. We don't have to live in a world in which what happened in Tiananmen Square, in the capital of China, is repeated in Lafayette Square, in the capital of the United States.

We don't have to stand by.


Wednesday, May 27, 2020


Dear Spike,

Today you turned 13.

As I have on every one of your birthdays, I took an inventory of the past year, worried that it would suddenly be moving so very quickly, as everyone has told me it does, more and more, faster and faster, as our children age.

But no. A year is still a year. And thirteen feels as long from twelve as twelve felt from eleven, and eleven from ten, and ten from nine.

Thank goodness for that, for there is nothing from this year I would have wanted to speed through.

Oh, to be certain, it has been a different kind of year, a once-a-century-global-pandemic kind of year. A close-down-schools kind of year. A don't-hug-your-grandparents kind of year. A school-play-has-been-cancelled kind of year. A no-party-for-your-thirteenth-birthday kind of year.

Yes, these things have been hard.

But this moment in our history also forced our family to slow down. We ate three meals together, each day, for months. We baked and baked and baked. We played jigsaw puzzles. We took walks.

So, if there was indeed a risk that the world might finally feel as though it was spinning faster, maybe we beat it back.

And maybe, if and when the world gets back to normal again, we won't be so quick to embrace that normal. Maybe there will be school and soccer and school plays. Maybe you'll get to hug your grandparents again. Maybe, by 14, you'll get to have a birthday party again. I imagine those things are coming soon enough.

But maybe we'll keep trying to eat together more than we did before. Maybe we'll keep baking and baking and baking. Maybe we'll play jigsaw puzzles. Maybe we'll take more walks.

I wouldn't mind any of that. For even though it's never seemed to me as though "it all goes by so quickly," you are a teenager now, and will be an adult soon enough, and even though you will always be our baby, I am keenly aware of just how few years we have left in which you are a child.

And that is OK. I do welcome it. You just keep getting better, after all. So smart. So funny. So passionate. So hard-working. So thoughtful. So scholarly. So tough. So kind. So earnest. So brave.

So you.

So, yes, today you turned 13. And it was a very good day.


Saturday, March 7, 2020


Dear Spike:

The middle school production of Newsies was two and a half hours long. You and the other mill girls were on stage for about five minutes. (And by "on stage," here, what I really mean is "on the steps of the stage or in the theater walkways.")

You didn't have any lines, just verses in the chorus. And from where I was sitting, I couldn't even make out your voice.

There are no small parts. Only small actors. And small parents, I suppose, because I would have loved to see you in a bigger role.

Truth be told, I've been a bit annoyed by how much time you've been asked to put into this thing. You had to miss other obligations for all-day Saturday rehearsals, then came home to report that you didn't really do much during those practices. After the first one, you started bringing card games so that you and the other mill girls would have something to do in the hours — hours! — in which you were just sitting around, waiting.

But, as I should have expected, a lot was forgiven when you came into the theater.

Now, I'm no about to tell you that you stole the show, or even a scene. What you did do, though, was what you've taught me to expect of you in every facet of your life: You threw yourself into it. Every little bit of choreography. Every facial expression. Everything that could be mustered by a mill girl singing "Seize the Day," you mustered.

And I think you had fun. Which is the point, after all.

Maybe next year you'll have a bigger role. Maybe you won't. If you're OK with that then I'm OK with that.

Seize the day. Or whatever little part of it you can.


Monday, May 27, 2019


Dear Spike:

Today you are 12, and I find myself once again answering the kinds of questions that people ask parents when their children have birthdays.

"Ah," they say, "they grow up so fast. Why does the time have to move so fast?"

I usually nod, smile, and chuckle sadly.

"Why? Indeed," I say, because I know that for many people it is true that time seems to move so very quickly.

Maybe someday it will be this way for me, too. Perhaps one day I will look back on 16 years, or 18 years, or 21 years and say "ah, they grow up so fast. Why does the time have to move so fast?"

This has not been my experience. But since I know that's rather unusual, I will cherish and appreciate all of the years that feel like years. And I will cherish and appreciate that, since time only moves in one direction and we have not yet been so clever as to devise a way to get it back, I do not long to have any of those years back.

This is not because they were not good years. My, how good they have been. How much you have taught me. How many times you have made me laugh. How many hugs you have given, right when I need them, often when I do not even know that I need them.

But, as your mother is so fond of noting, each new year with you is her new favorite year with you. Mine too.

And this year, it seems, it is so especially true. You have developed such a quick wit, a quirky humor, and a wisdom the defies your youth. You have begun to hone your insatiable curiosity upon questions that matter.

You are shy, and yet you long to meet the world and practice every day to improve your Chinese and French.

You are quiet, and yet on the soccer pitch you are the loudest player. Calling for passes, directing runs, setting up plays. And you see things on that field that few players of your age — of any age, really — are able to see. (We record your goals on your soccer balls. I added them up last year. It was well more than 100 since you began playing.)

You are tiny but tough. Last week I grabbed you from behind unexpectedly. You punched me in the throat and I fell to my knees, stunned and breathless and in such pain. You apologized profusely, but once I could speak again all I could do was praise your strength.

You are kind and compassionate. You hurt for others who hurt. You thirst for social justice. You want to be a fighter and you are trying to figure out what that looks like in this world. I wish I could tell you there was plenty of time to figure that all out, but I'm not sure there is. Our world needs people who will fight for the tired, the poor, the huddling masses yearning to breathe free, for it seems we have still not embraced the promise, as Emma Lazarus wrote in "The New Colossus" and as it has been emblazoned on a plaque inside the pedestal of our Statue of Liberty.

And yet, you are still a little girl. Just twelve years today. And although the troubles of our world are not trifling, I pray that you can cherish and appreciate all of the remaining years of your youth. And I hope these years will feel like years for you, too.

Maybe at 16, or 18, or 21, you will say "yes, now it is time," and when you do I will love that version of you every bit as much as I love this version of you. And more.

But, for now, you still like to sleep between us, to draw pictures, to bake cookies, to ride rollercoasters. You still let me sing to you each night.

Someday, yes, you might move on from these things. And that is how it should be.

For now, though, I will cherish each day. I will appreciate each year. And I will look forward with joy to all of the days and years to come.


Sunday, May 6, 2018



Dear Spike, 
Kelley O’Hara got things started in the seventh minute, scoring on a beautiful through-ball from Amy Rodriguez. It was a thing of majesty.
Diana Matheson, who has quickly become our family’s favorite player, added another score in the 66th. It was one of the best “hustle goals” I’ve even seen.
The Utah Royals’ first-ever win was a hell of a show. And I’m so glad we got to be there to see it, along with 7,500 other soccer fans.
You walked away from the stadium with a bounce in your step and a smile on your face.
And then, this morning, this happened: 
“What do you see?” I asked as I opened the sports section of our local newspaper’s website.
It didn't take more than a second for you to see what I'd seen. “All men,” you said, twisting your face.
“And what about now?” I asked, scrolling down. 
“Still all men.”
Your breathing became heavy. Your shoulders tightened. 
I scrolled down some more. “Still. All. Men.” 
Eventually, we found an article about the Royals there. It was buried between a three-day-old piece about a male ice skater and another story about stand-out high school athletes—some of which were girls, although the photo on the link was of boys. 
In fact, most of the photos on the sports page were of boys. There were 37 photos of male athletes or coaches on that page. And three women.
None of this should ruin your appreciation of what happened last night. It was a great win. You know that, even if the people who dictate what media is produced and promoted don’t.
You’re only 10 years old, but you’re already learning that women have been and are being largely marginalized in media of all kinds. They’re quoted less as experts. They have fewer speaking roles in movies and are often cast as sex objects. And, when it comes to sports coverage, they’re so widely ignored that they might as well be non-existent. One recent study even suggested that women’s sports get less coverage today than 25 years ago.
I’d like to say I’ve had a role in fixing this, but I didn’t even recognize it was a problem until recently. And, even worse, I didn’t recognize that I was part of the problem. For years, I didn’t even think about the gender balance of the sources I used in my stories. And when I finally went back to look at that balance, it didn’t look good at all. 
I’m working hard to make amends, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I failed you, too. You have every right to be disappointed in me for that.
You’ve been a soccer fan since you were born. You attended your first game when you were just a few weeks old. You’ve been kicking a ball since you could walk. And I’m glad that you have the opportunity to watch women play this game at its highest level.
But you and others shouldn’t have to work so hard to find women represented, honorably and accurately, in the media. And people like me need to do better.
Much better.

Thursday, January 18, 2018


Dear Spike:

The other day I was at a restaurant a few miles west of Boston. I was seated in a booth next to a boy and his father. The boy was about 14, I guess.

He looked terrified.

It wasn’t my business. I know it wasn’t. But I listened in on their conversation. I couldn’t really help it, actually. The dad was a loud guy with a thick Boston accent. He was talking about football. The New England Patriots were in the playoffs. Their quarterback, Tom Brady, had the rest he needed after coming off the injured reserve.

“This could be a really special year,” the dad said.

The kid kept trying, and failing, to break into the conversation, and I could hear his voice becoming more and more agitated. The dad, it seemed, was clueless.=

And then, finally, this:

“Dad… just… I need you to hear something from me.”

The dad shut up just long enough for his kid to blurt out:

“I-think-you-already-know-but-I-needed-to-make-sure-because… I’m-dating-a-boy.”

The dad fell silent. He was quiet for a really long time. An uncomfortably long time. A terrifyingly long time.

The boy said “Dad, are you OK?” and there was no response.

I peeked over the booth. The dad was looking down at his phone, tapping away at something. He wasn’t even looking at his kid. And I just wanted to stand up and punch him. Or maybe not to punch him but scream at him. Or maybe not to scream at him but to at least put my hand on the boy’s shoulder and say, “this is not what you deserve,” and "it gets better," and "I promise you that this is not how everyone will react." 

But I didn’t. I don’t know why I didn’t but I didn’t. It wasn’t my business, I told myself.

“Dad,” the boy said again, and his voice was growing more desperate. “Are you OK?”

The man remained quiet. Kept tapping away at his god-forsaken phone. And then the kid said, “just say something, OK? It’s OK if you’re mad.”

And the dad finally replied, “just give me a second here, OK?” and then he said, “does the 30-yard line sound good?”

And the boy said, “what?”

Then the dad was crying. And he said, “Joey, that was the bravest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I’m really proud of you. And if we can get these tickets and leave right now, we can totally make the game tonight.”

“Because this is a big day. You’re… well, shit… I guess you’re a man today. Because men do brave things. And I’d really like to celebrate that with you.”

Then the kid was crying. And I was crying. And there was a guy at the bar, across from us, who had obviously also been listening in because he was crying, too. The server came over to my table; there were tears in his eyes.

And just like that, they were gone. I’m actually not even sure they paid for their food, which was sort of awkward, but whatever.

I can’t even imagine what last-minute tickets to an NFL playoff game must have cost. But I really hope they made it to the game.

I grew up rooting for the 49ers. I'm not much on an NFL fan these days, and I sure as heck am no fan of Tom Brady and his coach, Bill Belichick, but that night I watched the game and I cheered for New England. For Joey and his dad. 

The Patriots won, by the way. The score was 35-14.