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Preview: Dear Spike, Love Dad

Dear Spike, Love Dad

"You will be loved. Unconditionally. And forever."

Updated: 2018-03-07T14:36:50.205-07:00




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.Love,dad[...]



Dear Spike, I’m sitting at a coffee shop across the street from one of the nation’s best children’s hospitals. I should be writing a book right now. But I’m distracted. I’m in awe. Why? Because of superheroes, that’s why.A woman just walked in, wearing a bright blue jacket and matching pants, with reflective striping on the side. The patch on her sleeve said “children’s emergency transportation.” It might as well have said “Justice League.”Another woman just came in; a doctor, I gathered, from the conversation she had with a colleague about a girl brought in last night. They didn’t know what was wrong. The doctor was heading back to keep working. She looked so tired.Somebody just came in and bought all of the cake pops. For one of the kids to give to some of the other kids, she told the barista. There’s a girl in an oversized coat and a knit hat. She’s probably about 13 or 14. I just struck up a quick conversation. She has appointments all day long. Her mom has to work, so the hospital has assigned someone to be with her today.I’m at the window. Almost all of the people passing by have nametags hanging on lanyards. They’re doctors, nurses, techs, orderlies. They’re all part of this everyday fight for kids.I remember Fred Rogers once saying that when he was a boy and he would see scary things in the news, his mother would tell him “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”I still follow Mr. Rogers’ advice when bad things happen. When there are attacks. When there are disasters. When there are terrible accidents. I look for the helpers and I know that the bad things don’t define us.But lately, God, you know, it’s felt like the whole world is a bad thing happening. I wonder what’s happened to my country. I don’t recognize it. It feels sad. It feels scary.We don’t have to wait for acutely bad things to happen to look for the helpers, and to be comforted when we find them. That doesn’t change the bad things, but it gives me hope. There are superheroes all around us. And THEY define us. Love, dad[...]



Dear Spike:When you asked to run for student government, my consent came with just one stipulation: You needed to be prepared to not win."I understand," you said. "Some of my friends are running, too, so probably at least one of us will win, and we can feel happy for that person.""And if none of you do?" I asked."Then that's just the way it goes," you said.Good enough. God speed. I did student government as a kid. Heck, in a bit of Machiavellian political maneuvering that would make The Prince himself proud, I somehow managed to get myself elected as student government president at my high school. I'm not sure how formative that experience was (and I wasn't very good at it) but it wasn't a bad experience.You practiced your speech for days. It was quite good.You and your friends all lost. To a girl who ended her speech by doing a back-bend. And of course you lost. How do you compete with a girl doing a back-bend?It was a tough loss. You cried. Your mother took you out after school -- to the same diner, as it happens, that we all went to when it was time to tell you that Secretary Clinton had lost the presidential election.By the time you'd gotten home, you'd put a brave face back on. But you admitted to me that you were disappointed, and wondered what more you could have done.Here's the honest answer, kid:You could have done a lot more.That's always the answer. In student government elections. In soccer games. In job interviews. In love. It is rare, in my experience, to come upon a person who could not have done more to reach a goal they missed reaching.You don't know how to do a back-bend -- at least I don't think you do. But of course you could have done more. Vote For Spike signs. An old-fashioned campaign ballad. Promises to put chocolate milk in all of the drinking fountains.Likewise, when your team suffered the rare experience of losing a soccer game last week, you could have done more. You could have taken a few more early shots. You could have sent more passes across the box. You could have run just a little harder, kicked just a little harder, gone shoulder-to-shoulder with those twice-your-size opponents just a little harder.    Yes, you could have done more to win. But that doesn't mean you would have won.The self-evaluation that comes after any sort of loss is important, and it demands of us two different questions."Could I have done more?" is a question we should always ask. It asks us whether we performed at the peak of our capacity. And it almost always ends with the answer "yes," because there's always something that, with the benefit of reflection, is clearly something we could have improved upon."Could I have won?" is a question that we should only ask if the result was a close one. A tight vote. A one-goal game. A job interview process that goes to the very last round, but in which the employer decides to go with the other candidate. And the answer to this is even more likely to be "yes," but that doesn't mean we should have done what would have had to have been done in order to win.Because (and you'll hear this a lot in life) winning isn't everything. And sometimes what must be done to win isn't worth doing, because it comes at a cost that is too high to pay for what is being won.There are, my child, some things that are worth just about any price. There are times in which we must win regardless of what must be traded away in the deal. I pray you face these situations infrequently, if never at all, for they most often come in matters of life and death.In everything else in life, we can say that winning -- while certainly desirous -- isn't everything.That shouldn't make losing easy. And it should never prevent you from asking that first, all-important question. But it should help keep winning in perspective.Maybe you could have won this one. Maybe you even should have.More likely, it was an opportunity to understand the power of bending over backward for the electorate. And, of course, a chance to know what it feels like to lose.That'[...]



Dear Spike,

Now you are 10.

I'm not sure that, when I wrote you for the first time many months before you were born, I could have so much as imagined what this day would feel like.

Pressed to guess, I reckon, I might have said a child's 10th birthday must make her parents feel overwhelmed with a mixture of pride and sadness. With hope and nostalgia. And certainly, most certainly, with some bewilderment over where the last 10 years went.

There's some of that with me today, I suppose. But not much. For I am proud of the woman you are becoming, and I am saddened by the realization that we're likely past the half-way point of the years in which we'll live together. And I am hopeful, for you have given me no reason to feel otherwise about your future. And I am nostalgic, for who is not when a benchmark is reached?

But I'm not feeling any of those things overwhelmingly right now. And I'm not wondering at all where the past 10 years went.

It went on car trips to the West Coast and stroller rides around the park, to soccer and baseball and football games, to banjo music and broken dishes, to New Year's celebrations and Halloween costume making, to first steps and first meals, to tree planting and poker playing and M*A*S*H reruns.        

It went to weddings and funerals, to sleepless nights and trips to Disneyland, to times in which we were together and times in which I went away. To silent movies. To outdoor concerts. To splash in fountains and dig in sandboxes. To playing silly games and singing silly songs.

It went to China and Mexico and Canada. To the World Cup Final. To the Grand Canyon and Yosemite and Yellowstone. It collected Young Ranger badge after Young Ranger badge. It went on hikes and climbs and floats. It went by bike and horseback.

It went to swine flu and broken bones and scrapes and scratches and scars. It went on motorcycle rides. It went to school. It went to your grandparents' new home. It went to memorizing the Bill of Rights. It went to learning Chinese. It went snowboarding and snowboarding and snowboarding some more.

It went to ice skating and roller skating. To soccer and indoor soccer and beach soccer and more soccer. To braces and hat tricks and hauls.

It went to watch the sun hide behind the moon. It went to see the ocean. It went on roller-coasters. It threw up a lot.

It went to loss and heartache. It went to new beginnings.

It went to new elections. To understanding that the world is a very, very complicated place. To worry for hurting friends. To hope. To relief.

It went to Star Wars. To Phineas and Ferb. To Psych.

It went to building independence. To making new friends. To big decisions. To changing schools. To our favorite bakery, again and again. To reading books with your mom. To reading books by yourself. To school plays and college lectures. To drawing pad after drawing pad after drawing pad.
It went to us. And it went to you becoming you.




Dear Spike:

Since the first time you scored in a soccer game -- on May 5, 2012 -- we've been keeping track of your goals.

With each new score, we make a note on your soccer ball. And this is how I know that you scored your first brace on Sept. 15, 2012, and that your first hat trick came just under a year later, on Sept. 7, 2013, and that you scored four goals in a game on Nov. 25, 2014, and that you tallied five on Oct. 15, 2016.

You may chalk up your prolificness to youth soccer being youth soccer. It is and it is not. You are prolific, but you are not a prodigy. You do not score at will. For God's sake, you are consistently the smallest player on the field. Every score is a fight, and multi-goal games, as opposing coaches re-arrange their defense to account for your presence of the field, are an even greater fight.

Upon those fights you and your teammates have built victories. Most of the time.

Alas, today's match was a struggle. It was the morning of your 10th birthday, and you started at right wing. Your opponents scored on the opening sequence and you came out a short time later with a bloody nose. (I didn't see how it happened, but I commend whichever kid gave it to you.)

You and your teammates were down 2-0 at the half, and ultimately lost 4-2.

It's never fun to end a season with a loss, lest of all on your birthday. You're learning, though, that this is part of sports and part of life. The last time your team lost you cried; you felt as though you'd let your teammates down. This time, as we walked back to the car, you told me that you were quite sure you'd done your best, and that you felt your teammates had, too. That, you said, was the most important part.

Soccer is hard. And to steal a phrase from a movie about another sport in another time that was, in fact, about every sport in every time, it's supposed to be hard. The hard is what makes it great.

At the end of the day, as I always do, I dutifully Sharpied the goal you scored -- a blast that split the keeper's legs -- onto the ball you've lovingly named "Cat," and I marveled at how marked up she has gotten this season.

And then, late in the evening, I went to the basement to fetch "Kitty" and "Mao" and all of your other soccer balls. There have been five of them.

Goal by goal, panel by panel, I tallied your scores. Three goals in a double-header on Oct. 27, 2013. A season-opening hat trick on April 2, 2016. Four goals and an assist in the second-to-last game of this season.

And this one.

That makes 100.

It was late and you had gone to bed. But I crawled up your ladder and peaked my head over the pile of blankets and stuffed animals.

"Are you awake?" I whispered.

"Yes," you replied, "I just can't sleep."

"That's okay, because I have something to tell you," I said. "I went back and counted up all your goals. Your latest one was your 100th goal."

"100," you said, as plainly as one can say that number.

"Yes," I said, as proudly as one can say that word.

"Oh," you said. "Okay."

And that was that.

For five years, we've been tracking your goals. I know you're glad that we do, because you often check to make sure I've added your latest score onto your latest ball. But the total number doesn't seem to matter much.

It's the next one that you covet. And then the one after that.

For it never comes easy. And the hard is what makes it great.




Dear Spike,I don’t have many heroes. Life is just simpler that way. It’s hard work balancing fellow human beings on pedestals, after all. And when they fall, as humans are wont to do, it always feels as though everything else in the world has been thrown out of balance.But I like balance. I thrive in its embrace. So the people I look up to — the people I really, really look up to — have always been few and far between. This week I learned that I had lost two of them. Not because they fell, but because they passed. And while this is the way heroes should go, everything feels out of balance for me right now.Let me tell you first about Jack Pearson. I was your age, or perhaps just a little bit younger, when we met at Mt. Hermon, the camp in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains that my family attended during the summers.Jack was a singer and a songwriter and a storyteller, and he was brilliant at all of those things but especially the latter. He was tall and skinny and he wore sort of funny clothes and sang really funny songs. He told stories around the campfire and strummed a guitar and forced us to sing along. And yes, when I say “forced us” I really do mean “forced us,” because as much as my memory tells me there was no gun to my head, it also tells me that I really didn’t want to sing, for summer camp is a time in which you get to pretend that you are a very cool kid among other kids who only know you for a week and thus might not realize it is not humanly possibly that you are, in fact, a very cool kid. And singing? When you’re 10 or 11 or 12? Not really cool. Yet sing I did. Loudly and elatedly, much as I did not want to. For when Jack began to sing of Eeekebee, the mighty mouse, and Old Blue, the loyal dog, I could not help myself.It has been two decades since I last hiked the Santa Cruz Mountains, and longer than that since I last saw Jack, but I cannot think of family camp without thinking of him, and his songs and stories have stayed with me in all the years that have passed. That’s what stories do, after all. About a year and a half ago, a song entered my head and would not leave. It was a song Jack had sung, long ago, about Velcro (yes, Velcro) and I could remember almost all of the words — but not all of them. That’s what happens when you get older, I suppose.  But we live in a magical time, so it was just a matter of moments before I’d found Jack’s website and ordered the album online. A few moments later, I found Jack’s email address, and shot him a note to let him know how excited I was to be able to share his songs with you. Jack wrote back the next day, thanking me for the order and offering his assurances that the CD would arrive shortly.“Interesting to see that your path has led you into journalism,” he wrote, apparently having taken notice of the signature line in my email. “We’ll never be done telling stories, so I think you're safe there.” This is not what people usually say when they learn I am a journalist. In fact, I can remember only one other person who had ever equated this career with anything resembling job security. That was Alex Tizon.The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist’s work for The Seattle Times, and later for The Los Angeles Times, inspired me to think about the possibilities inherent — in everything. Alex’s view, which became my view, was that there is no event, no issue, and no moment in the human experience that could not become a compelling story if only we studied it closely, honed our focus deeply, and then committed to making it so.Alex and I made the move to teaching in the same year — him at the University of Oregon and me at Utah State University. We met up in Eugene in 2012, when I inexplicably was a recipient of an award for ethics in reporting that is sponsored by his school.“You know what I’ve already come to hate?” I said as we discussed the challenges of our career tr[...]



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, settin[...]



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?




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. Love,dad[...]



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 re[...]



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.




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 anot[...]



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.




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.




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 O[...]



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.Love,dad[...]



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. Love, dad [...]



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 ridiculousness.  Do not be dismayed, for the world can change.Yes, even in Salt Lake City. Love,dad[...]



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.




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 si[...]



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 stillkittens. 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 pe[...]



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. Love, dad[...]



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. Love, dad [...]



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. 1-0. 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. 3-2. 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. Love, dad[...]



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.