The Sex Talk: It Starts with Self-Knowledge, Trust and Intimacy

Sex Talk

“Are there any cute girls in your classes?”

He flushes deep pink and scrunches up his nose and mouth at me. He is 11. Sixth grade began two days ago.

“What?” I say. “I just asked if you’d seen any cute girls at school.”

He’s been fiddling with something plastic and yellow. He raises it as if to throw it at me. A desperate half-guffaw escapes his scrunched face. He’s smiling, blushing, revealing multitudes.

“Dude. Put that down,” I say. “You know you’re not gonna throw anything at me.”

He releases the other half of his embarrassed little laugh as he lowers his throwing arm.

“Well?” I say.

I am smiling, trying not to make it tougher on him than I know it is. I was a sixth-grade boy and I remember how tough it could be, vividly. I remember everything.

I’m not teasing him. Not about this. I want him to know that. I don’t want to push, but it’s clear to his mother and me that he has enjoyed his first two days of middle school. We know this, because he has eagerly answered in great detail when we’ve asked him to tell us about his days.

And, hey, I’m doing this thing for AMAZE.org about “THE TALK.” Like any opportunistic journalist, I take advantage of his openness by asking him about the girls in his class.

I’m pretty sure I’m doing this wrong.

“Well?”

“HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO KNOW? I JUST STARTED SCHOOL! WHY DO YOU WANT TO KNOW? I DON’T KNOW! I DON’T KNOW! I DON’T KNOW!”

He laughs again, but I know he’s serious.

“OK,” I say. “I mean, you didn’t notice ANY of the girls?”

His left arm cocks in the throwing position again, and he laughs — the full bellow this time. He sprints around the coffee table and attacks, laughing all the way, masking his precious, preteen mortification with a rough-and-tumble moment with his dad.

I let it go.

But then I say …

“You know, we’re going to have to talk about this stuff one day. We’ll need to have ‘the talk.'”

His face goes blank.

“I know,” he says. “But can it wait?”

This is about childhood. He loves just being a kid. He knows, without me or his mother having to tell him, that once we have “the talk,” he will have leveled up. I love that he is so incredibly intuitive.

One day, I’ll tell him that’s his superpower.

Right now, though, on his second day of sixth grade, as he eases into this new middle school life as an intuitive, ridiculously smart and kind kid … I’ll just tell him that of course it can wait.

I’m pretty sure he already knows a lot, anyway. Probably enough to make ME flush deep pink.

“We’ll know when we’re ready,” I say, and he sprints away to the family room and Minecraft, away from any more potential parental potholes.

But …

Will we know when he and his brother are ready for the sex talk?

We’re fortunate that both of our sons are strong communicators. When we must have heavy conversations with them, there is no need to resort to restricted vocabulary.

They’re good with words. So am I, and so is their mother.

But I’m not sure if I have the words for this.

I want to tell them that sex is not just physical — ever. I’ll tell them that yeah, it’s great, and it’s how Mom and I made them. It’s fun. It’s one of the great joys of life, or can be when done right.

The easy part, I think, will be the biology of it.

What I want to convey, when it’s time, when they’re ready, is that great sex begins with self-knowledge. It’s about trust. It’s about intimacy — physical, sure, but more importantly, emotional intimacy.

I want them to know that, and I want to be able to leave no doubt that we are here to help them understand anything they might need help understanding.

This is where AMAZE.org will be of tremendous assistance in the next few years. The organization produces short videos about sexuality that are made to speak to kids 10-14 (and their parents).

I like their message a lot:

  • Sexuality is a natural, healthy part of being human. AMAZE is all about more info, less weird!
  • AMAZE wants to help empower parents to be the primary sexuality educators of their kids —the goal of the videos is to inform and spark a conversation.

Are you stuck on the words, like I am? Amaze has a video I’ll reference when my kids do ask, “Where do babies come from?”

And here’s something I’m still not sure how to handle: How will my wife and I talk to our sons about masturbation?

I think this one on self-discovery and puberty will be particularly useful:

This one will help, too, for when we need re-assurance that our older son’s coming mood swings are not evidence that he’s been transformed into a werewolf:

If you’re a parent who, like me, needs a bit of guidance for the important conversations with our kids about sex and sexuality, check out Amaze on Facebook and Twitter. And give their videos a look on YouTube.

Be sure to look for the hashtag, #MoreInfoLessWeird, which represents Amaze’s philosophy of straightforward talk about sex and sexuality.

I partnered with Amaze to help raise awareness about their cool and useful videos on sex. All opinions are mine alone.

Parenting Truth: Everything Changes, Always

This happened at the park a minute ago or seven years ago. Same thing.

Time and distance do not always provide perspective for parents. To gain it, one must still the mind and allow the swirl of emotions, events and smelly diapers to coalesce into a meaningful narrative.

But how? When? The thing about parenting is that it’s always in motion. There is no comfort zone, no discernible plot to follow. Everything changes, always, sometimes minute to minute.

It was only a second ago, wasn’t it, that my older son grinned that impish grin at me from inside that bright red slide? Those dirty blond curls still encircle my younger son’s head like a cloud of caramel swirl. Right?

Where’d his curls go? They were there a minute ago …

We just left that park, didn’t we? I can still taste the donuts and Cheerios we ate for lunch.

No, it’s been years, not minutes. They were born, and so was I – a new dad. They grow and learn, and so do I. It never stops.

Sometimes, I just want to step into the middle of the ring and yell, “WAIT! HANG ON A MINUTE! Let me catch my breath.”

But then I think … no. That’s not right. We can’t stop. That’s not how it works. We have to absorb it all and process it and move on to the next thing and the thing after that SIMULTANEOUSLY because that’s parenting.

It’s also life. Even when I figuratively pause to write down a few stray thoughts, things are happening, man.

Right now, the boys are at summer camp. They swam today and frolicked in the sun with mermaids at a local tourist trap north of here.

Later, the younger boy – curl-less now, but still sweet as caramel – will resume his tennis lessons. Maybe the older boy will ask to watch a particular TV show, or settle in to giggle at a YouTube video about Minecraft, or pick up a chapter book and read it cover to cover by bedtime.

Pampers

I can’t hug them enough to really show them how grateful I am that they’re in my life.

Those are today’s memories. Tomorrow … that’s the good stuff. That’s how we grow, it’s how we fill our souls – one tomorrow at a time.

Who am I because of my sons? I’m dad. But who is that? Man, I don’t know. Whenever I think I might have a clue, or fool myself into believing that perspective is about to sink in, another tomorrow comes along to add a layer of being.

Whoever I am, these guys made me. I helped make them, sure, but without a doubt I am who I am today – and will be tomorrow – because they are in my life.

I could go back to that sweltering day in the park and bask in the summer heat and snarf down another donut and tell them how much I love them and yell at them to be careful on the slides and hug them a million times – a billion – and it wouldn’t match my gratitude for all they’ve given me.

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It’s almost Father’s Day, and I’ve partnered with Life of Dad and Pampers for this promotion and to tell this story. It’s about giving thanks for fatherhood, even though there is no way for me to adequately express it.

Better, maybe, just to keep it simple and share the hashtag: #ThanksBaby. It’ll be all over Twitter this weekend, as will I. Check in on Twitter at 8 p.m. Saturday, June 17, for a one-hour #ThanksBaby chat with Pampers and Life of Dad, with a chance to win a $250 Visa gift card.

The Wizard of Oz at the Straz: Bring the Kids

The Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, Toto and Dorothy bring the familiar, beloved story to life at the Straz Center in Tampa.

The Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, Toto and Dorothy bring the familiar, beloved story of the Wizard of Oz to life at the Straz Center in Tampa. Sunday’s evening performance at the Straz marks the end of the 23-city national tour.

I hummed the songs all the way home Tuesday night after the Tampa premier of the Wizard of Oz at the Straz Center.

Who doesn’t love “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” and “If I Only Had (a Brain) (a Heart) (the Nerve)”? Who doesn’t get that warm, fuzzy feeling when Dorothy breaks out into a soaring rendition of “Over the Rainbow”?

So, yes, our theater-loving party of four adults thoroughly enjoyed the last Opening Night of the national tour of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s stage version of the Wizard of Oz. My only regret was that our two sons weren’t with us – they know the movie well and would very much have gotten into the special effects and the antics of the adorable rescue dog, Nigel, who plays Toto.

In fact, this production is a wonderful way to introduce your kids to musical theater. The story itself is familiar and beloved, and the songs are (as mentioned) hummable. I’ve found that it’s incredibly helpful for children if we ground an unfamiliar experience in familiar, related territory.

In short: Your kids will love it, too. Here are a few reviews from past runs in Charlotte, Washington and San Diego. The critics liked this show.

But you might not want to wait too long to see it.

Tampa is the final scheduled stop on the 23-city tour, which began in December. Sunday’s 6:30 p.m. show at the Straz is the final chance to see this show with this cast, led by Sarah Lasko as Dorothy and Mark A. Harmon as the Wizard/Professor Marvel.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts about shows at the remarkable Straz Center, I’m no theater expert. I can carry a tune, and I’ve seen Phantom and Les Mis multiple times, but that’s the limit of my expertise.

That said, I love a good story. And that’s what theater productions at the Straz Center give me – a chance to watch epic tales unfold on stage, tales interpreted by talented artists with world-class singing, dancing and acting abilities.

I also appreciate when classic stories like author L. Frank Baum’s children’s tale, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, are tweaked to reflect modern sensibilities. So, I LOVED it when one of my all-time pet peeves from the famous 1939 Judy Garland film got the West End treatment.

I won’t spoil it, because it was one of several meta moments sprinkled throughout the show, and this one gave me an actual belly laugh. I’ll simply say that it always bothered me that Dorothy Gale’s Oz farewell speech seemed to randomly favor the Scarecrow when she tells him, “I think I’ll miss you most of all.”

I was always like, “Wait, what? But … what about the Tin Man and the Lion? I mean … why? That’s not right, man.”

This show takes care of that in a most satisfying way.

One more thing. We saw Wicked on Broadway in May 2014. That show, which turned the traditional Wizard of Oz story on its head, was never far from my mind as I watched this more-traditional version Tuesday.

Honestly, as delightfully mean and nasty as Shani Hadjian’s Wicked Witch of the West was in this one, I couldn’t help but think of her as Elphaba, the “good guy” green witch from Wicked. There was something about the sardonic exchanges between this Wicked Witch and Rachel Womble’s Glinda that hinted at the kind of love-hate back story that drove the plot of Wicked.

This story holds up on its merits, though, and several added musical numbers provide a new and interesting twist to the familiar sound track. The dog was real cute, too.

The Wizard of Oz runs July 12-17 at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, with matinee and evening performances on Saturday and Sunday. For tickets and information, visit the Straz Center website. Members of the Tampa Bay Bloggers were provided tickets to Tuesday’s performance for review purposes.

Put Mosquitoes in Their Place with DynaTrap

#GuardYourYardI have partnered with Life of Dad and DynaTrap for this promotion.

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We live in Florida. We have mosquitoes. A lot of mosquitoes.

We also have alligators.

(Come to think of it, does DynaTrap make a gator trap? Because we would totally buy that.)

As common as alligators are down here, our kids are still far more likely to get bitten by a mosquito — or many, many mosquitoes — while they play outdoors than to be accosted by a scaly, gray relic of the Cretaceous Period.

About four weeks ago, just as the calendar was changing from early summer (what you might call “spring”) to rainy season (what you might call “summer”), a large box arrived on our doorstep. It was a DynaTrap XL insect trap.

This pond is right across the street from our house. Think we have a few mosquitoes? Yes. Yes, we do.

This pond is right across the street from our house. Think we have a few mosquitoes? Yes. Yes, we do.

I parked it on the front porch, plugged it in, marveled at the blue light and soft whir of the fan — and waited.

It wasn’t long before the bottom pan began to fill with trapped bugs. Mosquitoes, mostly, but also moths, beetles, wasps and other pests that typically swarm to our porch light at dusk.

The trap did its job. It was quiet, safe (no chemicals) and efficient.

How did I know it was working (besides peering through the wire mesh and seeing the buggy evidence)? Well, our front door seems to be stuck on a permanent “open-close-open-close” cycle when the kids are home for the summer.

We put the DynaTrap XL on our front porch six weeks ago and haven't seen a single mosquito inside all summer.

We parked the DynaTrap XL on our front porch four weeks ago and haven’t seen a single mosquito inside all summer.

Ordinarily, each of the “opens” lets in a minimum of three mosquitoes, who are locked in by the “closes” and buzz our ears and bite us mercilessly that night while we try to binge watch the West Wing or Clone Wars or whatever we’re streaming this week on Netflix.

For the past four weeks, despite the usual open-close-open-close of it all — no mosquitoes in our house. Not one.

And? While our kids haven’t avoided mosquito bites entirely, it’s pretty clear the bites have happened in other people’s yards or while they were fishing in the pond across the street.

Our yard is no longer a haven for mosquitoes.

Which is a good thing, because mosquitoes have become more than a pest for folks in Florida this summer. Down here, we have the Aedes aegypti, which carries the Zika virus, chikungunya, and dengue.

This nasty dude proliferates in Florida.

This nasty dude proliferates in Florida.

While no cases of mosquito-borne Zika have been reported in the U.S., there have been more than a few travel-related cases reported in Florida — 199 as of June 21.

It’s not something we worry about every day. But then, my wife is not pregnant. Zika’s primary threat is the development of severe birth defects in fetuses when expectant mothers are infected. If this had happened eight years ago or 11 years ago, when we were expecting, you’d better believe we’d be even more diligent about mosquito control than we already are.

As it is, Zika causes only mild symptoms (fever, rash, joint pain, red eyes). However, it is believed to increase the potential for the development of Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare sickness of the nervous system that causes paralysis and other devastating symptoms.

All of this is to say that the timing of our introduction to the DynaTrap insect trap was ideal. We have a lot more peace of mind this summer playing outdoors with DynaTrap guarding our yard.

Now, about that gator trap idea, DynaTrap …

We Made You … Then You Made Me #ThanksBaby

Jay on beachI have partnered with Life of Dad and Pampers for this promotion.

Your mom and I made you, boys. We don’t think about that much, I know, but … think about that. We made you. You grew inside your mom until you were ready for the world, and then …

Here you were, announcing your presence with a purple-faced scream, slimy arms and legs flailing, eyes squeezed tight against the sudden, awful light of this strange, loud, bright, cold place.

Baby JayWe made you.

And then …

You made me.

I’m your dad. I am who I am because you’re here.

Thank you.

Kids at Lettuce LakeI don’t know when I noticed the shift, but it was real, and it was irreversible. You move through life with a certain idea of self, the “me” of it all. I can’t tell you how that is for you, because it’s different for all of us.

I can only tell you that when I thought of “me” before you came, the perception typically was shaped by fundamental desires. Food, of course. Sex, certainly. Career, fun, financial security.

I thought of my “self” as a means to acquire those things I thought I needed to support my inalienable right to pursue happiness.

Jay on baseThen you were there, and I realized that when I got behind the wheel of my car, when I sat down to eat supper, when I went swimming, when I knocked back a few cocktails – all of these things were happening to your father. I became aware, slowly, that my needs began to intersect with those of this new dude, this new being you had created.

It was me. I was the new dude.

Kids Walk to BusAll of the fundamental desires that once had been the driving force in my life were now superseded by the visceral need to nurture you and to protect your father so that you and your mother would not ever have to go it alone.

Sounds weird, I know. Sounds a bit like split personalities – and it is. That’s what happens. I’m pretty sure parental sleep deprivation in the first year of babyhood is a contributing factor.

In fact, for all I know, I’m dreaming right now as you snooze away the early morning with your head resting on my chest, your tiny little heart beating, pounding out the new rhythm of my life.

For all I know, I will wake up and find that you need a diaper change and a bottle, and the memory of the dream of these last 10 years will begin to fade, as dreams do.

If it is a dream, then it is a good dream.

Thank you.

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On Father’s Day and every day, Pampers is giving thanks to babies for making dad feel exceptionally special and empowering him to discover new roles in life through fatherhood. Pampers honors dads for just being dads and thanks them for all the amazing things, big and small, they do to help little ones have a better, loving, more fulfilling life.

Please join us this Father’s Day by tweeting why you are most thankful for baby with the hashtag #ThanksBaby. Then, enjoy this video that captures the amazing relationship that is created between a dad and his baby when a child is born and the beautiful journey of fatherhood begins.

 

I Found the Sun

He stirred and snorted. Awake, eyes closed.

He said:

“I found … the sun.”

He found …

What marvelous dream did I interrupt?

The sun.

I found the sun. 

Why was it lost? Where did he find it? How did he find it? Who did he tell?

I like to think that when he closed his eyes, he leaped into a journey through the night, seeking the sun’s warm glow.

He grappled with dog-headed demons and scaled mountainous wave after wave of salty, high-tide sea froth, sputtering, eyes closed tight against the stinging salt water. He dived beneath the waves and wore his fingernails to ravaged nubs digging a tunnel to the core of Venus, only to find himself riding a comet back to Earth.

His wings of wax melted away in the comet’s heat and he fell, fell …

He landed at Ikea and wandered through faux bedrooms and kitchens, deeper into the flatware and furniture labyrinth, past throw pillows and cutlery, following the aroma of Swedish meatballs to food — and safety. The meatballs were not to his taste, so he dived into a pool of dark chocolate cake batter and backstroked across the English channel to the White Cliffs of Dover, which were made of marzipan and were more beige than white.

He hopped aboard a tennis ball and served himself over the Atlantic back home to Florida, where he landed on the Monorail and waved at the Magic Kingdom train station as the track broke free from its earthly bonds and unwound before him across the swamps and cattle sloughs of the I-4 corridor, back home.

Awake, eyes closed, gazing into the abyss.

And he said:

I found the sun.

He opened his eyes and smiled at me.

The 5th Dad 2.0 Summit: Stories Everywhere You Looked

The White House was aglow the night before the fifth annual Dad 2.0 Summit in Washington, D.C.

The White House was aglow the night before the fifth annual Dad 2.0 Summit in Washington, D.C.

Stories simmered everywhere I looked this past weekend at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

I wish I had been there as a journalist. I wish I could have covered the fifth annual Dad 2.0 Summit in Washington, D.C., for a major news organization.

For example: Esquire. The venerable men’s magazine — my favorite magazine since the early 1980s — was the event’s primary media partner for the second year running. For that, the magazine should be applauded.

I wish I could have been there writing about the event for Esquire.

As it is, I was there for the fourth consecutive time. I was there as a speaker, as a participant, as a member of a community that has become dear to me as a 40-something father of two elementary-age children and a writer who loves great stories.

Throughout the weekend, from the moment I landed at Reagan National Airport on Wednesday evening until the moment I arrived home on Sunday afternoon, I was awash in story ideas.

It never gets out of your blood when you’re a journalist. I did that for 24 years. I found stories. Even when I didn’t want to be there, even when there seemed to be nothing compelling, nothing worth writing — I found the story.

That was the job.

If I had been there covering for Esquire or another respected news and entertainment organization, I might have felt a bit overwhelmed by the volume of compelling material. Still, I’m confident I would have managed to write something coherent and representative.

All I had to do was look and listen and write it down. What I saw and heard was a movement that is composed of dads and moms from all over the world. Parents who share a passion for content creation, for storytelling, and for being the best dads and moms they can be.

I saw brands — Dove Men+Care, Kia, Lego, Best Buy, Lee Jeans, Rheem, and many more — that sent representatives to the Dad 2.0 Summit to connect with fathers and to join in the conversation about the evolving role of dads in the 21st century.

I saw what I always see at the Dad 2.0 Summit: waves of raw emotion shared and accepted — and embraced.

Speaking of things embraced, I saw hugs. I saw a lot of hugs. I gave and received a lot of hugs, too, from people I have come to love over the years and from people who I met for the first time. Hugging is the universal language at the Dad 2.0 Summit, and there is a lot of it, always.

Mostly, though? I saw stories. So many stories.

Here are just a few that I might have used as a hook in a post-conference roundup if I had written one for a big-time publication:

One of the seminal moments of the fifth annual Dad 2.0 Summit: Beth Blauer, left, meets author Brad Meltzer, the opening keynote speaker. Meltzer dedicated his speech to Blauer and her late husband, Oren Miller, a leader and friend who helped galvanize the dad blogging community around the world.

One of the seminal moments of the fifth annual Dad 2.0 Summit: Beth Blauer, left, meets author Brad Meltzer, the opening keynote speaker. Meltzer dedicated his speech to Blauer and her late husband, Oren Miller, a leader and friend who helped galvanize the dad blogging community around the world.

Author Brad Meltzer, the opening keynote speaker, dedicated his remarks to the late Oren Miller and his wife, Beth Blauer.

Oren was one of the dad blogging community’s most important leaders, the founder of a large and vibrant group of dad bloggers on Facebook. He also was an incredible writer who died too young of lung cancer, and Beth was in Washington, D.C., to tell her family’s story with the people who loved Oren so.

Disclosure: I sat on a panel with Beth, along with the head of Movember in the United States, Mark Hedstrom. Jim Higley, the marketing director of Camp Kesem and one of the most respected voices in the country for cancer care advocacy, moderated the panel, which was about the galvanizing effect of fighting cancer.

That was a story. It was a story of Beth and Oren’s final days together, of how Oren nearly lost his fight before it began because the news shattered him and sent him to a dark place that could only be lit by the presence of his small children. It was a story of fierce optimism, a story of nine difficult months that moved all who heard it to tears and left me in awe of the strength and grace of Beth Blauer.

I told my cancer story, too. We all have one.

Oh, and? Higley announced a huge fundraiser for a new Camp Kesem chapter at the University of Maryland, Beth and Oren’s alma mater. Twelve dads will walk Hadrian’s Wall this summer to help raise money to fund the new camp.

That’s a story.

So were these. It would have been easy, frankly, to unearth them:

The brands have shown up in force over the years. What were they doing there? What did they expect to accomplish?

That’s a story.

Creed Anthony reads a tale of visiting the land in Kentucky where his ancestors were forced to work as slaves while author and keynote speaker Brad Meltzer looks on.

Creed Anthony reads a tale of visiting the land in Kentucky where his ancestors were forced to work as slaves while author and keynote speaker Brad Meltzer looks on.

Creed Anthony, a dear friend and father of African-American descent who authors Tales from the Poop Deck, read a powerful post about visiting the land in Kentucky where his ancestors had been forced to work as slaves 140 years ago. 

That’s a story.

On Friday night, a large group of dads turned out for the first “Dad Slam,” a series of readings where men cried and laughed and shared their hearts. When time ran out on the ballroom, they moved to another room and kept right on reading and crying and laughing and sharing. 

That’s what they call “color,” in the news business. It was a chance to pull back the curtain and find out what this community is about.

That’s a story.

And then came Derreck Kayongo, the closing keynote speaker. He is the CEO of the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. He got us singing and dancing.

See?

So many moments. So much useful information. So many hugs.

So many selfies and so much fun.

This was the fifth annual Dad 2.0 Summit as I saw it. Stories everywhere. Simply everywhere.

And there will be even more a year from now in San Diego. I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

These guys and 400 others -- my extended family. We have a lot to say and we have a lot to do. The Dad 2.0 Summit brings us together for common purpose: To change the way the world thinks about fatherhood. That's a story. (L-R: me, Jeff Bogle, Out With the Kids; Chris Read, Canadian Dad; Jay Sokol, Dude of the House.

These guys and 400 others — my extended family. We have a lot to say and we have a lot to do. The Dad 2.0 Summit brings us together for common purpose: To change the way the world thinks about fatherhood. That’s a story. (L-R: me, Jeff Bogle, Out With the Kids; Chris Read, Canadian Dad; Jay Sokol, Dude of the House.)

 

Breaking Down My 2015 Hall of Fame Ballot

My 2015 Hall of Fame ballot. I voted for first-timers Ken Griffey Jr. and Trevor Hoffman, along with holdovers Jeff Bagwell, Edgard Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mike Piazza, and Lee Smith.

My 2015 Hall of Fame ballot. I voted for first-timers Ken Griffey Jr. and Trevor Hoffman, along with holdovers Jeff Bagwell, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mike Piazza, and Lee Smith.

From the official Baseball Hall of Fame BBWAA Rules for Election – 5. Voting: Voting shall be based upon a player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

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I wish I had a cool Ken Griffey Jr. story to share. Naturally, I saw him play plenty of times, primarily against the (Devil) Rays. He actually was merely so-so in 42 games against Tampa Bay: batting average .231, on-based percentage .309, slugging percentage .444, and only nine of his 630 home runs.

Those mighty Rays, man. Giving Hall of Famers fits since 1998.

Putting the check next to Griffey’s name on the ballot was one of the easiest decisions I’ve made in my eight years as a voter. Simply, his career playing record and contributions to the Mariners and Reds warrant induction in the Hall of Fame. I don’t see much, if any, room for debate about Griffey, who was elected today along with Mike Piazza.

As always, I conducted my research. I’ll admit that was a much shorter process with Griffey.

I looked at his numbers on Baseball Reference, then checked his name on my ballot.

Similarly, I believe that Trevor Hoffman’s playing record and contributions to the Marlins, Padres, and Brewers made him a Hall of Famer. He became the all-time saves leader in 2006 and held that distinction until Mariano Rivera passed him in 2011. I checked Hoffman’s name not long after I checked Griffey’s.

Then I devoted a few minutes to each of the five holdovers from last year’s ballot, players I checked in December 2014 but who did not join John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez, Craig Biggio and Randy Johnson in the Hall. I found nothing to convince me I had been wrong about those five, so I checked them, too.

I was allowed to check as many as 10 players, but that’s where I stopped this year: seven.

Here are all seven players I checked this year (asterisk indicates holdover from 2014): Continue reading

Kids Feel Entitled? Don’t Blame a Trophy

Is achievement in youth sports a zero-sum activity? Your answer to that question likely will determine whether you think it’s some kind of social catastrophe for kids to receive a small, cheap, but lovely little token at the end of a youth sports season.

Here’s another question: What is the purpose of youth sports?

I believe youth sports are meant to help kids learn to socialize. After-school and weekend activities like baseball, soccer, swimming and other sports introduce kids to different experiences, a vital component of growing up. Sports give kids the chance to identify their physical, mental and emotional limits and push past them as they grow.

Most of all, youth sports are supposed to be fun.

If you believe sports is only about identifying winners and losers, then frankly, you have the wrong idea about the purpose of youth sports.

This brings me to trophies. What are trophies? A lot has been made this week about Steelers player James Harrison’s public assertion that participation awards in youth sports rob his kids of the edge they need to succeed. So, he told the world on Instagram that he is returning his kids’ participation trophies.

The implication is that a trophy only has value if it is emblematic of success in children’s games.

Historically, trophies do symbolize achievement. They symbolize excellence. They are physical reminders of the hard work and dedication put in to perform well enough to defeat the competition. Well, guess what? Those days are over. The traditional purpose of trophies has changed, at least for youth sports.

Whereas they used to give out certificates for participation, they now give out trinkets. Today’s participation trophies might also be likened to the varsity letters awarded to older kids who play at the highest level of high school sports. It’s perfectly reasonable that as kids get older – say, high school age – and begin to separate out into “competitive” and “recreational” athletes, some physical award for championships is received.

In this century, though, trophies for participants in most youth sports leagues have come to represent something else – commitment to a purpose. That’s worth commemorating, worth recognizing, as kids move toward adolescence and adulthood.

Times Have Changed

That said, I personally don’t believe it matters if a kid gets a participation trophy at the end of the season. When I was a kid, we got certificates – none of which survived for long. Many youth leagues award participation trophies today instead of certificates. So what? It’s the same message, only instead of a piece of paper it’s a trophy.

Not everyone chooses to gracefully accept this change. They think trophies should still mean today what they meant 20 or 30 years ago. They refuse to recognize that times have changed in that regard. I get it. It’s difficult to let go of tradition.

The problem I have is with parents and others who think participation trophies are somehow harmful to kids. That’s simply ludicrous. Kids are smarter than that. They deserve more credit than that.

My older son has a shelf-full of participation trophies and medals from YMCA soccer and Cal Ripken baseball. He displays them because they remind him of the friends he made and the fun he had during those seasons. He worked hard and improved every season and I see no problem with him enjoying the trophies.

We didn’t make a big deal of it when he got them. There was no, “Oh, hey! Look at that! You did SO GREAT! You get a TROPHY! Hooray for you!” Trophies or medals were just part of the end-of-season ceremonies, along with ice cream and the occasional pizza party.

I’m seeing many arguments this week from parents who scoff at the notion of a participation trophy. Great. Fine. Those parents can do their thing. But if a kid gets a kick out of receiving a shiny little trinket along with his or her ice cream cone at the end of a youth sports season, why would you want to spoil that?

It has been my experience that kids who get these trophies at the end of seasons are more excited about the ice cream. I’ve seen kids cry at the end of a season not because they didn’t win, but because they were sad that they would no longer be playing a game they love with this particular group of friends.

That’s the beauty of youth sports. The games give kids something to care about.

Don’t Blame the Trophy

I get the sense that people who object to participation trophies see them as symbolic of or contributing to an “entitlement” mentality. They associate it with the dreaded concept of “political correctness,” or consider it a symbolic recognition that mediocrity is acceptable. They seem to believe that if a kid gets an “award” simply for showing up, he or she will always believe that’s how life should be.

That’s a specious conclusion, because recognition for participation in youth sports is nothing new.

It’s just that instead of a piece of paper with a hastily-scribbled or stamped signature of some unknown league official at the bottom, kids get something a lot cooler – a trophy, or occasionally a little medal on a ribbon. A trophy is nicer than a piece of paper, but these little figurines of plastic, metal and wood one day will be discarded along with all other childhood relics.

If a kid happens to look at that shiny trinket on the shelf as he or she grows up, who knows? It just might be a reminder of the fun, the camaraderie, and other lessons learned during that season. It might even make that kid smile. Nothing wrong with that.

One thing it won’t do – it won’t turn that kid into a spoiled, entitled brat who expects to get something for nothing. If that attitude exists, parents might want to look for the cause in the mirror, rather than the trophy case.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Yeah, I'm happy. I admit it. The pursuit goes on.

Yeah, I’m happy. I admit it. The pursuit goes on.

A year ago today, I saw a rainbow in the sky on my way to work. At the office, I dropped my computer bag on my desk, walked to the corner office, and submitted my notice.

After four-and-a-half years of cubicle life, it was time to move on. Events conspired to make it possible for me to do that. I was fortunate, and I knew it.

I know it, still.

For a while, it seemed as if I had no choice. I felt trapped by circumstance. That was false. I always had a choice. I was not trapped. But I thought I was, and thinking it made it so.

For a while.

You are not trapped, either. You have a choice.

You can — you should — pursue happiness.

The pursuit of happiness is not some quaint and dusty notion from the history books. It is not merely an optional addendum intended to improve the rhythm of a catchy line, a pithy means to complete the circle of life and liberty.

It is a right. It is your right. Unalienable, even.

Happiness? It’s not a state of being. It is a fleeting thing. There’s a reason we must pursue it.

When you catch it often enough, happiness becomes familiar. String enough of those fleeting, happy moments together and yes, you can make happy your default emotion.

A year ago today, I saw that rainbow and took it as a sign. I don’t believe in signs. I do believe in contradiction, though, and in the power of conflict and decision to shape our lives.

It hasn’t been perfect. But we have been happy. We are happy. And the pursuit goes on.