The Pier 

May 28, 2017


Summer is when we jumped off the pier

Immortal, for all we knew, as we sprang from the rotting wood, held together by stubborn rusting nails, ever so slowly losing their grasp

The pier is long gone now of course, the weary nails gave in and let go, as we all eventually do

Oh how I long for one last leap 

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. 

Oh No…Puberty! 

September 25, 2015

“Hey, Dad,” my son, Jack, hollered. He was slightly out of breath after rushing out of the house to meet me as I pulled into our driveway last night. “I’ve got some great news — I’m becoming a man…”

Jack has always been mature for his age. His first complete sentence was, “Quite frankly, this pureed chicken in a jar is barely edible.” (Or something like that.) For the most part, he’s been smarter, taller, faster, stronger, and more emotionally advanced (not necessarily in a good way) than many of his peers. He has also always been self-conscious, anxious, and worrisome.

This fall Jack started middle school. Over the summer between 5th and 6th grade, some major changes took place among the tweenage boy population. Suddenly Jack is one of the smaller kids. Some of the boys sport a thin hipster-esque mustache. A few of his friends sound like they might be Barry White’s illegitimate children. For the first time in his life, it seems my son is feeling a little inadequate. 

Man or woman, I think we can all agree that middle school was at least awkward at times, if not generally horrific. It’s a time of change and uncertainty. Besides the growth spurts, facial hair, and changing voices, there are also zits, gym locker rooms, and body odor. Not to mention a newfound attraction to the opposite sex. These are key ingredients in a recipe for crippling anxiety.

By far the biggest problem for the guys, however, are the sudden, Viagra-like erections. Ok, it’s not that “big” of a problem, but trust me when I say that panic attacks occur when you are sitting with a boner, and you realize that class is about to end. The more you worry about it, the “harder” (sorry) life becomes. As a result, every dude is forced to learn the fine art of casually walking down the hall while clutching a Trapper Keeper against his junk, should the bell ring at the wrong time. Under really bad conditions, there is the ol’ “re-tie the shoe(s) trick,” which more physically developed kids may need to opt for. The bell ringing isn’t the end of the world, though. In fact, it can be a blessing. Far worse is the fear that you will be called up to the blackboard during class for some reason — without a shield. This is the definition of pure terror.

For the most part, these things haven’t been an issue for my kid. He is very impatient to catch up to his friends, or so he thinks. He’s in for a rude awakening.

“Come on, I gotta show you this,” Jack continued last night.

Intrigued, I followed him in the front door. As soon as we entered the living room, Jack dropped trow. “Check it out!”

Confused, both about what was happening and what he could possibly be happy about, my immediate reaction was to console him. Don’t worry, buddy, it’ll eventually get bigger, I considered. I bit my tongue. “What exactly am I looking for?”

“Look, right there!” I strained my eyes. Then, I saw it, just as he declared, “It’s a pube!”

And so it begins. My baby boy will never be the same. Soon he will have a peard (pubic beard, of course) down there, and other things, which I don’t even want to think about, will start happening.

This morning I walked past the bathroom, where Jack was naked; closely examining his nether regions.

“Start shutting the door,” I pleaded. “In fact, start locking it.”

Wish me luck. Better yet, wish Jack luck.