The Balloon

November 28, 2017

against the poorly folded violet sky

a single balloon floats up toward night

another childhood dream let go of

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The Table

November 15, 2017

“This old table has got to go,” my wife declared today

Old, indeed

And, admittedly, not very attractive

Well, really not at all

A hand me down from my wife’s father when we were married long ago

It bows a little in the middle

And wobbles a little more

The leaves slowly push themselves apart

Aging lovers tiring of each other’s charm

I sit silently in my weary, matching chair

Looking hard

Looking deep

The maple has darkened over time

The protective shine has worn away in many places

Allowing exposed grain to suck life in

Dust

Dirt

Greasy fingerprints of childhood ghosts

Flecks of cheap paint used for rainy-day art projects

And tiny, crushed-in cake crumbs from birthdays long forgotten

This is where we were

When life seemed like it would last forever

Of course we’ve since learned it doesn’t

This wooden slab served best friends

Close family

Neighborhood children

But, most days, just us

That was probably our preference

We ate big country breakfasts

Strange casseroles that were barely touched

Great-grandma’s homemade spaghetti recipe

Hotdogs and beans when times were tough

Grilled steak on summer Sundays

And carry out pizza for Friday fun

God, Fridays were fun

Game night

We just played Risk, I swear

Eating meals around the board for three days straight

So cautious not to disturb our patient armies

My wife was pissed, until she ended up winning

This is where we did homework together

Wrote letters to far-away people

Assembled toys on Christmas morning

Paid bills, and bills, and bills

Pieced together jigsaw puzzles in the dead of winter

And made important family decisions

I drank coffee here every Saturday morning

While loved ones faintly snored upstairs

The feeling of true contentment

This is where my babies sat

Being fed with little spoons

As they grew we only cut their food

Made them eat their vegetables

And finish their milk

When it wasn’t spilt

No use crying, but we sometimes shed a tear

Still, laughter was heard daily

And even an occasional prayer

Looking back now I realize many prayers were answered

Right here in our favorite spot.

The kids still come by every now and then

Though not too often, these days

Missed sorely, but never forgotten

“Suppose you’re right,” I finally reply

Running my wrinkled hand across our kitchen table.

A Note to Graduates 

May 13, 2017


Dear Graduates,

The month of May is possibly my favorite. I love the weather — summer is trying to shove its way in with welcomed warm breezes, yet spring is holding its own, providing crisp mornings and pleasant evenings. Birds chirp outside my open window at dawn, and a late-inning baseball game glows on my television screen at dusk. There is a freshness in the air that makes me feel renewed. Life is grand.

Perhaps the best part of May, however, is school letting out for the summer. I think back to my own school days and can vividly remember the feeling of sheer excitement and joy as that final bell rang each year. Having kids of my own and working in a school now, I must admit I still feel it — maybe for different reasons — but there is still that sense of adventure that lurks at the start of each summer.

For you, this year truly is the final bell. It’s the endless summer. Social media is filled with photos of you in your caps and gowns. Smiles are plastered across your faces and invincibility twinkles in your eyes. Many of you are heading off to college, while some will opt to go find jobs. You will become our next generation of doctors, teachers, farmers, politicians, steelworkers, lawyers, carpenters, and accountants. The world needs all of these and one is no better than another — remember that. You “kids” will be taking care of the rest of us just a few years down the road. And believe me, kids, the years will go fast. So fast.

I don’t know much, but I’ve managed to figure out a few things along the way. I’d like to offer you some simple advice. I’ll keep it short, as I know you have better things to do:

1. Advance your education beyond high school. Whether it’s a certificate from a trade school or an advanced degree from a university, education gives you power and promotes the freedom to change jobs and careers. Do it now, because going back to school when you have a wife, kids, a job, and other responsibilities is really hard (trust me). Take your education seriously.

2. Happiness isn’t expensive. Yes, you need to make some money to reach a certain level of happiness and to give you and your family some opportunities. But be very aware there is much more to life than striving to “be rich” and possessing material things.

3. Despite everyone telling you who and what to be, please do what makes you happy. You may not even have a clue yet what you want to do with your life. That’s okay. You may think you’ve figured it out, then change your mind. That’s okay, too. Whatever you end up being, be a great one. Trying to be your best self will make your life better in many ways.

Look, kids, I know you’re not really paying attention. I’m trying to give advice to 18 year olds who already know everything. I used to be as smart as you all are… If nothing else, remember that regardless of our age, we are all writing our own stories. My generation has already written many chapters, and you may be searching for the right words to get started, but none of our stories are complete. No matter how much or how little we have written, no matter how many failures, hardships, and disappointments we face along the way — and there will be many — as long as we are alive, we get to keep writing. So make your stories long, fill them with love and kindness, include many crazy and wonderful adventures, and — most of all — make sure you keep writing until you are happy with the ending. It’s never too late for any of us to change our tale.

Now get out there and make a difference. Each one of you can alter the world in at least some tiny yet amazing way. We are counting on you. 

Sincerely,

A Friend


There is something about fathers, sons, and baseball. It’s a strange relationship that is probably overly romanticized in many ways. Most dads dream of having a son who can either follow in their cleated footsteps or be the player they never were. Either way, dads’ baseball dreams often lead to unnecessary demands and burnout for our youth. 

My son is one of the many baseball casualties. While he wasn’t a superstar, he was a talented and important member of his team for five seasons. He was a solid pitcher, very reliable first baseman, and had very good range in center field. He also hit his team’s first out of the park homerun — a memory I’ll never forget. But, as often happens, kids get older and interests change. A couple years back, my son decided he’d had enough of baseball. This decision was bittersweet for me. I love the game and loved watching him play, but baseball was also becoming a way of life. I could see that it was more work and less fun for my son. Politics, practices, and pressure had turned a beautiful game into an ugly chore. I think moving on was the right decision for him. 

I must admit that I haven’t really missed the many hours spent under the beating sun, the dust blowing in my eyes, or the screaming coaches (and, occasionally, parents). There is one thing I have missed greatly over the last couple of years, however. Playing catch and talking about life with my son. We did this almost daily during every baseball season since my boy could barely catch a ball. At first we’d mostly talk about the fundamentals of the game. We would discuss and work on grounders, pop-ups, getting into position to make plays, and making good throws. 

As he got older, though, we started talking about Major League Baseball, our Kansas City Royals, school, girls, and other “guy stuff.” When we were throwing that seamed ball back and forth we weren’t so much father and son, but instead were just a couple of buddies hanging out. My wife used to insist that I didn’t need to feel like I had to play catch every day, but she didn’t quite understand that I wanted to do it. I needed this time — maybe more than my kid did. 

Last night, out of the blue, my now teenage son asked me to play catch. I couldn’t believe my ears, and blurted out an overly emphatic “YES!” We picked up right where we had left off. I delivered not only grounders and pop-ups, but “divers” and “jumpers.” We talked about guy stuff and threw the ball hard. I felt the sting and heard the smack of the ball hitting my old glove. I smelled the leather, took in the glowing green grass of spring, and watched my son’s shadow grow in the setting sun. I’m not always mindful about being “in the moment,” but I was very present for this. I wanted to remember it. 

We laughed as the sun hid and we had trouble picking up the ball in the growing darkness. “One more,” we took turns yelling — many times. Finally, when it was just too black, I yelled, “last one.” My little boy — who isn’t little anymore — caught the ball and walked it back to me, setting it softly in my mitt. I hope this isn’t really the last one, but I suppose at some point it will be. If this is it, I’m going to remember it well. 

When I was a young man, I worked as a carpenter. I learned an old saying that you never make a mistake until you have run out of lumber. I’ve modified this as I race at what feels like an increasing pace through middle age — there are no mistakes as long as you have time. I make many mistakes. I’m far from a perfect parent, and I don’t generally give advice. But to both future and current parents, I would say this: if your child asks you to tell a story, shoot hoops, have a tea party, play a board game, help with homework, or have a catch…say yes. Because at some point they will stop asking. 

Today my shoulder aches and my arm is weak, but my heart is full and my memory is strong. 


There’s nothing that can be written about baseball that hasn’t already been said. It’s a game that grown men wearing silly outfits play until their arms are dead, their knees give out, and their eyes can no longer pick up a fastball. It’s the perfect game in many respects, the chess of sports, where strategy is critical, yet a single pawn occasionally wins a game. The best hitters fail more often than they succeed, but when they come through at the end of a game — at the end of a season — well, it can bring tears to old men’s eyes. 

They say baseball is a metaphor for life. It’s a long season full of ups and downs, triumphs and heartache. Some days are good, some are bad, and sometimes the rain ruins everything. As in life, it seems that success is usually the result of teamwork, determination, and a lot of good fortune along the way. It’s not always the most talented team that wins, and as Yogi Berra’s saying goes, it ain’t over ’til it’s over. As fans, very few of us get to regularly enjoy the post season, but each new year brings renewed hope. The last two seasons are proof that anything is possible, and also that patience truly is a virtue. 

So as we start a new season in earnest today, I sincerely wish everyone luck. I’ve experienced the thrill of sitting on the edge of my seat during an unimaginable late inning rally resulting in victory. I’ve witnessed an entire city unite with unbelievable pride during a magical season capped by a long-awaited World Series championship. Most importantly, I’ve felt the simple joy of hanging outside with my family on a warm summer night, talking about life as baseball plays on the radio. 

Maybe life is actually a metaphor for baseball? As in baseball, remember that if you stay focused and keep your eye on the ball, eventually you’ll get a hit. Sometimes just a little hit is all it takes. Hustle every chance you get, play with all your heart, and — most importantly — remember to enjoy every game. The season is long, but life is short. Play ball. 

(And GO ROYALS!) 


I’m probably overreacting. It’s probably no big deal. This too shall certainly pass. Still, I’m genuinely concerned about the direction our country is heading. What direction, you ask? Increasing violence? Decreasing human rights? Social security running out? Healthcare in limbo? The economy? The threat of terrorism? These are all extremely valid concerns, but I’m most troubled by how we seem to be losing any interest in kindness and mutual respect, and seem to get off on being hateful. 

For the record, I’m not attacking or blaming any one group. I can point a finger at Republicans, Democrats, Christians, Muslims, Jews, athiests, jocks, freaks, nerds, and geeks. Oh, and even me. We all seem to be on the bandwagon of hate — even if we don’t see it, or worse, somehow justify it. Is this magnified and blown out of proportion by the media? Definitely. However, is it real? You better believe it. 

We live in a time when our president tweets hateful messages on a daily basis, religious leaders post discriminatory messages on Facebook, and the news media is on the constant lookout for any controversial, disappointing, or downright hateful news. We are possibly as divided nationally as we’ve been since the Civil War, and there is little evidence indicating improvement anytime soon. I truly fear that in the not too distant future it will be considered acceptable for bank tellers to look us in the eyes, smile, and say, “Thanks so much for banking with us, and go fuck yourself.” 

Despite our very serious problems, all hope is not yet lost. I know for a fact that there are great people doing incredible things every day. We may not all share the same political, religious, or economic views, but there are people putting kindness first. Every single day. It’s not sexy, it’s not popular, but it’s happening, and it needs to get noticed. It needs attention so it can gain traction. This matters — maybe more than anyone realizes. 

It’s not always easy to be genuinely kind and respectful. In fact, it’s damn hard. It’s far easier to lash out, to try to prove a point, to try to make someone feel small, while we make ourselves feel clever. I struggle with it regularly. Taking the high road is sometimes an agonizing climb, but I’m always proud of myself for getting to the top. What people forget — or maybe haven’t learned — is that it feels good to be kind, even to people you disagree with or simply don’t like. If we truly gave everyone a chance, we might just discover that we get along with far more people than we thought. 

I think I was born a realist. I know we will never see eye to eye on everything or be just like one another. Man, I’m glad because life would be awfully boring. I’ve chosen to be an optimist, partly because it just feels better, but also because it forces me work at being a better person. I hope we (and we includes me) can put an effort towards being kind and respectful, because we are all in this together. This is life people, it’s not a drill. Can we agree to stop judging those who are different? Can we let people — as long as they are not directly harming anyone — do what makes them happy? Can we not only accept those who are different from us, but actually wish them the best, and then expect the same in return? 

We all think our opinion is right. We all have beliefs we think others should follow. Many see this as conviction, a positive, the only way. I will continue to do my best to make my conviction kindness. When I’m kind and respectful I always feel like I’m doing what’s right. 

If we care about our nation’s well-being, I hope we will not just agree to disagree, but learn to sincerely respect each other and be honestly kind to one another. This isn’t easy and won’t happen overnight. It takes practice. It requires trying to see the world through the eyes of others, even if we don’t always like the view. We can choose kindness. Don’t jump ship — we can change our course — it’s not too late. However, it’s a big ship, it’s a pain in the ass to steer, and we all must have a hand on the helm. 

 

Photo Credit: Audrey Bowers

There’s a good chance that you haven’t heard about today being National Teacher Appreciation Day, which is a shame and a bit ironic. I’ve been working as a substitute teacher all school year. I’ve been to a number of different schools, and have interacted with many teachers. What have I learned? We are so lucky to have teachers, and should never take them for granted.

The majority of uninformed people seem to think teachers have it pretty easy. They mostly babysit all day and get summers off. Sure, they don’t make much, but why should they? If you fall into this category, let me try to enlighten you a bit.

Being a teacher is a largely thankless job. A teaching degree with a state teaching certification usually requires more than four years of college (without a Master’s Degree, which is highly recommended), classrooms are typically too full, resources are almost always very limited (many teachers buy classroom supplies with their own money and are not reimbursed), oh and yes, the pay is not very good. So bad that many work a second job in the summer.

Teachers are educators, mentors, and friends. Sometimes they are more involved than parents in their students’ lives. They spend evenings and weekends planning lessons and grading papers. They deal with bullies, offer a shoulder to cry on, break up fights, inspire our next generation, and get vomited on. Teachers are expected to keep students in line and well-behaved, yet routinely get harassed by uninformed parents for mistreating their kids. It’s all in a day’s work. Oh, and the pay is not very good.

How bad is the pay? Depending on the source, an average elementary school teacher makes about $44,000 a year. To put that in perspective, let’s look at the average pay of a few other professions:

Accountant – $66,000

Physical Therapist – $82,000

Chef – $53,000

Computer Systems Analyst – $86,000

Podiatrist (yes, a foot doctor) – $121,000

Cartographer (correct, a map maker) – $61,000

Teachers are largely responsible for preparing our children for adulthood, yet they make significantly less than a cartographer. By the way, no one with a cell phone uses a map anymore.

I ask many of the teachers I meet if they like what they do. Almost all of them say yes. Not one has ever said they like their job because they get the summer off. They don’t usually mention that they wish the pay was better (although I know they do). Most admit it can be very frustrating. However, I can’t think of an instance where a teacher hasn’t mentioned that their job is rewarding.

I was talking to a younger, male teacher about a month ago. “I could go make a lot of money and probably still enjoy my job — maybe even like it more,” he said. “But I’m doing this because I have a chance to make these kids’ lives a little better.” I believe this to be how most teachers feel, and think it helps define the type of person that most teachers are. As a father of two school-aged children, it certainly makes me feel a little more at ease.

Teaching may be an underpaid, largely thankless profession, but teachers seem pretty happy to me. They should be, they have the opportunity to genuinely make the world better. On National Teacher Appreciation Day — and every other day — I’d like to offer a very sincere “thank you.”