My 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot

Baseball Hall of Fame

My 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. I voted for nine players, including electees Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas.

I’m not smart enough to solve all of the problems that plague the voting process for baseball’s Hall of Fame. I’ve given my opinion, which is just that — one opinion. I think much of the angst and hand-wringing could be eliminated if they simply eliminated the voting rule that states we have to factor in sportsmanship, integrity and character. It works for the Pro Football Hall of Fame — which certainly doesn’t have things exactly right, but at least the process doesn’t force the voters to make educated guesses about who did and did not do things that were against the rules or the law.

It’s high time the voting process was revamped, anyway. If an attention-seeking sports columnist and TV personality from South Florida can thumb his nose at the process by giving his vote away to readers of a satirical sports news website, something clearly is wrong.

Still, it’s a process I feel compelled to take seriously. I spent 1999-2009 covering baseball, 11 consecutive seasons as a card-carrying, hard-traveling member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Yes, it was a truncated career. It wasn’t my choice to leave newspapers, any more than it was the choice of so many others whose careers went south when the print industry imploded. I hung around long enough to meet the requirement for 10 consecutive years of uninterrupted membership. Growing up, I lived the game. I love it still, and that decade-plus I spent roaming clubhouses and press boxes was the culmination of a dream come true in a lot of ways.

So, I’ll keep voting until they tell me I should stop.

Here are my 2014 selections (I voted for nine players, one fewer than the 10-player limit):

  • Greg Maddux, RHP
  • Tom Glavine, LHP
  • Frank Thomas, DH/1B
  • Craig Biggio, 2B/C/CF
  • Jeff Bagwell, 1B
  • Fred McGriff, 1B
  • Lee Smith, RHP
  • Mike Piazza, C
  • Edgar Martinez, DH

This is my sixth year as a voter. My thoughts on the PED users already have been documented. And you can see by my ballot that my thoughts haven’t changed. I won’t vote for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa. I never voted for Rafael Palmeiro, who fell off the ballot this year. Rumor and innuendo are not necessarily enough to convince me to not vote for a player (witness my inclusion of rumored users Piazza and Bagwell). What separated those two from Bonds and Clemens? The overwhelming preponderance of circumstantial evidence against the all-time home run leader and the greatest right-handed pitcher in baseball history. Simply, the rumbling and whispers about Piazza and Bagwell just weren’t loud enough, and I think their numbers and contributions to their teams made them Hall of Fame players.

A few other notes.

I vote for Martinez because I believe that if we’re going to put relief pitchers into the Hall, all specialists should be included. This argument about “only” being a hitter and not contributing with a glove doesn’t make sense to me. Are we going to exclude pitchers because they can’t hit? Outfielders because they don’t pitch? Nonsense. Baseball specialists who excel at an extraordinary level should be considered for the Hall. Extraordinary specialists whose achievements are historical (such as closer Lee Smith) should be elected.

There’s also this: Martinez won the 2004 Roberto Clemente Award, which is bestowed upon the major leaguer who best combines giving back to the community with excellence on the field. Biggio won it in 2007. Why does this matter? Because if factoring in sportsmanship, integrity and character means Bonds and Clemens are out, how can we not take into account exemplary displays of those qualities? In other words, the way the rule works now, being a good guy during a playing career meant something. That’s one reason I voted for Dale Murphy for five consecutive years before his candidacy came to an end in 2013.

So far, I haven’t deviated from the belief that if a player is a Hall of Famer, there is no reason to leave him off the first year. I re-evaluate each candidate with each new ballot, but unless some new evidence came up the last time I voted, there is virtually no chance I’ll include him.

I’ll finish with this: If the integrity, sportsmanship and character rule was eliminated, I would not hesitate to vote for Bonds and Clemens. I didn’t ask to be some sort of moral cop when it comes to Hall of Fame voting, but as long as that rule is in there, I feel like it’s my responsibility to make as informed a decision as possible. Ultimately, it’s a futile exercise, because as I’ve written before — here and in my old life as a sportswriter — no one who didn’t see PED use happen knows for sure if it did. We’re guessing, at best. I hope I’ve made the right choices, and I hope the process is reformed soon.

One of the Best Commercials About Parenting You’ll Ever See (not sponsored)

This Coca-Cola commercial from Argentina is one of the best portrayals of early parenthood I’ve seen. This is not a sponsored post, but I felt compelled to share this because it spoke to me as a father of two young sons and it made me smile.

I hope it makes you smile, too.

If Only Integrity, Sportsmanship and Character Did Not Count in Hall of Fame Voting

BBWAA

A BBWAA Lifetime Honorary membership card, along with the envelopes for the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot.

I care about the Baseball Writers Association of America. I care deeply about the Hall of Fame vote I earned as an active member of that organization from 1999-2009. When my active membership lapsed after I was laid off from the newspaper where I worked for 16 years, I cared enough to pay the fee that ensured I would remain a lifetime honorary member.

The gold card that comes with honorary membership does more than allow me entry into any Major League ballpark in the country. It is my final tangible link to a 24-year sportswriting career that ended in 2010. It wasn’t entirely my choice to end that sportswriting career, but it’s over and I’ve moved on.

Mostly.

Every December I anticipate the arrival of the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot in the mail. Not in my e-mail inbox; in the mailbox that sits under a tree in my front yard next to my driveway. It comes in a distinctive manila envelope, stuffed in there along with a stamped return envelope, biographical information on each of the candidates, a letter from National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum President Jeff Idelson, and the BBWAA Rules for Election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

I’ll vote for the sixth time this year. Every December, I fax off my ballot to the BBWAA because I want to keep the actual paper it’s on. I sort of envision my kids’ kids holding it one day and talking about how their grandfather contributed, if only in a small way, to baseball history.

So, it means something to me. I covered the game long enough to earn that vote, and I actually got into sportswriting hoping to one day become a Hall of Fame voter. I consider it an honor and an important responsibility.

Now, I am aware that the system as it exists is flawed. It never was perfect, but the Steroid Era threw everything into disarray. The inherent subjectivity of the process practically guaranteed chaos as the list grew to include Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and others whose candidacies have been tainted by suspicion (or hard evidence, in Palmeiro’s case).

I wrote pretty extensively about my feelings on the process last year. I ended up voting for seven players, none of whom were elected (we are allowed to vote for as many as 10). In fact, as you might recall, no one was elected by the writers.

Here are the players I voted for last year:

This year’s ballot includes Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas. I’m not saying that’s how I’ll vote, mind you. I’m simply pointing out that those three players are, frankly, Hall of Fame locks.

Where does that leave the likes of Bonds, Clemens, et al? Off my ballot, at least for now. As I’ve written before, it all comes down to Rule 5 of the BBWAA Rules for Election:

“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.”

I boldface the salient words – integrity, sportsmanship, character – because voting for the Hall of Fame would be a much different proposition without them. Those words transform an already subjective process into a guessing game. A game that I and 600 or so of my fellow voters are compelled to play every December.

The game reached a new level of absurdity this year when Deadspin announced that it would “buy” a BBWAA voter’s ballot and allow its readers to make the selections. I don’t blame Deadspin, which is just doing what it does. I honestly don’t even blame the anonymous voter who allegedly has sold his or her ballot to Deadspin. Just because I take the honor and responsibility seriously, it doesn’t mean the other 600 or so voters are obligated to do so. That person has his or her reasons, and I hope he or she spends the money well. (Might I suggest a donation to one of baseball’s most famous charities, the Jimmy Fund? Or the Children’s Cancer Center? Or anywhere else but the sell-out voter’s bank account? Because hey … it’s Christmas.)

That voter – or soon-to-be former voter, once his or her name becomes public – is no more absurd than the voters who decided Joe DiMaggio – Joe DiMaggio! – was not a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Or that Gaylord Perry, an admitted spit-ball pitcher, was somehow more worthy of election than others despite his transgressions.

Or the voters – like me – who take it upon themselves to act as gatekeepers in the face of rampant steroid use in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

There is a simple solution, you know.

Change the rules for election. To be precise, eliminate three words.

Integrity.

Sportsmanship.

Character.

Eliminate those stipulations, and we’re back to the numbers.

Then it would be like the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which explicitly prohibits the much smaller pool of voters from considering the off-field actions of players.

I can acknowledge right now that my ballot would look a lot different if not for the current wording of Rule 5. Bonds, Clemens and Palmeiro absolutely would have earned my vote. McGwire and Sosa might have, as well.

Those three words are there, though. And that means another year of hand-wringing, wondering, speculating. It means watching one of my fellow voters help push the whole thing to a new level of absurdity by selling it to a satirical sports website whose editors are in the business of exposing absurdity in sports – something they do quite well.

As for me, I will continue to take it as seriously as I always have. It means something, this signature honor bestowed only upon long-time baseball writers. It means I’m still part of the game in a small but meaningful way.

And it means I still have a voice in a complicated conversation that I care about a great deal, a conversation that I’m pretty sure is just getting started.

Sea World Spooktacular: Get there early to beat the crowd

Sea World Spooktacular

Our boys very much enjoyed their first visit to Sea World. The Spooktacular Halloween event only made it more memorable. And more bubbly.

Our family was invited to Sea World this past Saturday to experience the first weekend of the annual Spooktacular Halloween event. It was our sons’ first trip to Sea World, and the first trip for Beth and me since summer 2005.

I’ll say this up front: Our boys, a 7-year-old second grader and a 5-year-old kindergartner, loved every minute. They already were asking when we’d be back before we left the parking lot on the way out.

That said, let me add: Bubbles! Holy Mother of Shamu, there were so many bubbles. So many.

Bubbles.

And I get it. The whole scene is supposed to be an undersea Halloween adventure. As they put it in the news release: “An ocean of Halloween fun.”

B.

U.

B.

B.

L.

E.

S.

There were more than a few. And you know what? Our kids loved those, too.

Sea World

Did I mention there were bubbles?

Before getting into the day’s highlights, I’ll bottom line the Sea World Spooktacular here. The event, which takes place weekends throughout October, is OK for all elementary school-age kids, but is probably best suited for kids between 4 and about 8 or an early 9. It’s included with park admission, which is a nice bonus considering how much extra other parks charge for their Halloween special events.

As I mentioned, our sons loved the event and the park, so I can definitely recommend it for families with younger elementary- or preschool-age kids.

We got to the park around noon, which was definitely the right time to arrive. The lines for trick-or-treating and animal interactions were still relatively short when we went through. Later in the day, as we passed back by the areas we’d already visited, the lines stretched down the walkway. So, get there early. It was extremely crowded the day we were there, and because we aren’t regular Sea World attendees, I don’t know if that’s the norm. If so, prepare yourself for slow progress from area to area.

Photo Highlights of Sea World’s Spooktacular Halloween Event:

Sea World Spooktacular

Spooktacular is good for kids 4-8. Just make sure you get there early enough to beat the long lines for trick-or-treating.

Sea World

The boys met a possum and a beautiful eagle.

Sea World

The early trick-or-treat lines were virtually non-existent. We went past this one a couple of hours later and the line stretched down the walkway. Get there early!

Sea World

Waiting for Shamu!

Sea World

Orca leaping. When asked later to name the highlight of the day, our 7-year-old didn’t hesitate: the whale show.

Sea World

There are paid games and free arts and crafts, as well as interaction with costumed undersea characters at Penelope’s Party Zone. Our boys enjoyed decorating the gigantic sugar cookies (this activity costs extra).

 

Sea World

The entrance to Antarctica illustrates how dense the crowd got at times. The wait for the Empire of the Penguin ride was an hour, so we gave it a pass this time around. Really, I can’t emphasize enough: Get there early!

Sea World

Did our boys enjoy their first visit to Sea World? Well, this photo was taken at the six-hour mark of our trip. They look pretty happy to me!

Disclosure: Our family was admitted to Sea World at no cost for one day in order to experience the Spooktacular event and the park itself for review purposes. All editorial content and opinions are those of the author.

 

How Will Our Sons Remember Me?

Boys, I don’t know if you’ll ever have kids of your own. I imagine you will. I don’t know whether I’ll ever meet these theoretical grandchildren of mine. I hope I do.

If you do have kids, and if I’m gone by then, they’ll probably ask about me.

“Tell me about your dad,” they might say.

What will you tell them?

What am I doing now to create a legacy worth remembering, memories worth sharing with your own children?

I know what I hope you’ll say:

“Your grandfather was smart, kind, patient and funny.

“He loved to read, and he loved to write. He read to us and made up stories with us as the heroes and helped us with our homework. He played video games, too. He was just a big kid at heart.

“He taught us how to throw, catch and hit a baseball, and how to kick a soccer ball. He taught us to care for animals. He took us to nature parks and movies and arcades.

“He loved to visit Disney World every bit as much as we did when we were little. As I said, he was a big kid his whole life.

“He could really sing, and he taught us to appreciate music. He couldn’t dance even a little, but he was funny when he tried.

“He always told us to ‘be good, be nice, be you and have fun’ every morning before school.

“He loved Mom more than anything in the world, except maybe for us.

“He showed me how to live with grace and dignity, and every day I try to be the kind of man he was.”

That’s what I hope you’ll say.

Here’s what I fear you’ll say:

“Your grandfather loved us, but he had no idea how to relate to us – or to anyone – in a mature, meaningful way. He really was just a big, immature kid his whole life.

“He liked to call himself a writer, but he never published a book and he would put us to sleep with boring stories about covering baseball for a newspaper.

“He played video games, for God’s sake. And he dragged us to Disney World so many times I get hives just thinking about Mickey Mouse.

“Oh, and don’t get me started about all the times he tried to live vicariously through us with Little League baseball and youth soccer. He just didn’t understand why we didn’t care about playing or watching sports. If he had the sense God gave a ferret, he’d know we hated sports because he constantly shoved them down our throats.

“Sure, he could sing a little, but not as well as he thought he could – and he made an absolute idiot of himself whenever he tried to dance.

“He was like a parrot with that ‘be good, be nice …’ blah, blah, blah every day before school. What did that even mean, anyway? As if platitudes could replace genuine communication and empathy.

“As I say, your grandfather loved us – probably – and I think he meant well. But every day I live my life trying not to be like him.”

____________________________

Here’s the thing about legacies: They are impossible to forecast. Memories are fickle. Even if I do everything right in your eyes from now until the day I’m gone, I have no way to know how I’ll be remembered by you.

Chances are, boys, if you do have kids one day and they ask about me, the things you tell them and the tone of voice you use will be determined by things that have not yet happened, by moments that have not yet been lived. You are just now beginning to form long-term memories. This is Chapter One in your story of me.

All I can do is to attempt to live up to the ideal, while remaining mindful of the possibility of disappointment. If I’m fortunate, my true legacy to you will not be the memories and stories you share about me, but how your children remember you. Because if you grow up to be worthy of emulation in the eyes of my grandchildren, then I’ll consider this a job well done.

ESPN Wide World of Sports: Athletic Excellence, Disney Magic

WWOSGlobe

In 16 short years, ESPN Wide World of Sports has carved out a unique position in the world of participatory and spectator sports.

When the Braves and Reds inaugurated the beautiful baseball stadium at ESPN Wide World of Sports in 1998, I was there to cover it for a newspaper. I remember being impressed by the “Florida Picturesque” style, and the whimsical Mediterranean Revival details of a stadium that instantly became the premier spring training ballpark in Florida. (It still is that, by the way.)

Back then, I barely gave the rest of the complex a second thought. After all, this was about the partnership between Disney and the Braves. Once spring training was done, I figured the facility would — like many ballparks in Florida — merely transition into a sleepy, minor-league facility for the Double-A Orlando Rays.

These days, those minor-league Rays are long gone. So is any hint of anything remotely “minor league.” In 16 short years, ESPN Wide World of Sports (the four-letter network became part of the name in 2010) has emerged as a unique destination for participatory and spectator sports.

Boardwalk

Disney’s Boardwalk Resort at sunrise, the morning of the Run Disney Fun Run at Epcot.

I and 18 other bloggers from around the country had the chance to immerse ourselves in the sports facilities and amenities — as well as the overall Disney World experience — earlier this week.

My bottom line takeaway from the very well-run and extremely informative media event: If you have a child who participates in organized sports, or you are a coach or team organizer (mom or dad) responsible for planning and executing trips for a youth sports team, I can’t imagine a better place on Earth to come than ESPN Wide World of Sports.

That’s a broad statement, I know, and it needs support. Here, then, are just a few things that stood out for me during the media event:

  • The 225-acre complex is the site of more than 350 events with 350,000 youth, college and professional athletes in more than 70 sports annually. That means the Disney Sports Solutions team is extraordinarily experienced when it comes to meeting the needs of athletes and their support crew (coaches, parents, relatives, etc.).
  • You, too, could own a WWOS DadScribe t-shirt. And you know you want one.

    You, too, could own a WWOS DadScribe t-shirt. And you know you want one.

    The ESPN brand is ubiquitous, and that’s on purpose. One of the most interesting aspects of the athlete experience at the complex is the opportunity to, as the marketing slogan says, “Play at the Next Level.” Part of that next-level experience is being on TV. There is an incredible ESPN control room located behind the scenes next to Champion Stadium, and the action on the many fields and courts is almost always framed by one of the 56 high-definition cameras that dot the complex. There also are high-def 40 screens, including three jumbo screens, carrying footage all over the complex. In fact, athletes can view their professionally edited highlights from that day on a dedicated channel in their Disney resort rooms. The goal is to dramatically increase the TV presence of these games. The Watch ESPN app and ESPN3 figure big in the broadcast future of the Wide World of Sports Complex, which also serves as a testing ground for breakthrough broadcast technology like 3D.

  • Yes. Yes, I was the MVP.

    Yes. Yes, I was the MVP.

    Memorabilia is big for kids, and they do those things very well at the WWOS complex. Customized shirts are available (mine is pictured above) and the visit can be commemorated with photos and a personalized ESPN the Magazine “cover” shoot (also pictured). I can imagine kids begging their parents for these items. I know I mine would.

  • Everything — and I mean, everything — logistical is handled for the teams and their organizers by the Disney Sports Solutions team. No matter what you need help with (the daily itinerary, fundraising for travel, safety and health issues, finding the right open tournament to match your team’s competitive level, housing for athletes and family members, transportation, nutritious food, entertainment between games, and so much more) the Disney Sports experts have it covered. In addition, the recently opened Office Max Business Center provides computer access, smart phone charging, and more.
  • The starting line of our personal Run Disney Fun Run through Epcot.

    The starting line of our personal Run Disney Fun Run through Epcot.

    And here’s the clincher. There’s no reason another sports complex couldn’t one day compete on an equal footing with Disney in all of those qualities (yes, even the broadcast element, if another big network decided to commit 100 percent to the plan). But no organization can combine a first-class athletic experience with the magic of Walt Disney World theme parks. According to the Disney Sports team, an estimated 50-60 percent of the athletes and their supporters who come to ESPN Wide World of Sports to compete have never been to Disney World. Nothing can compete with using your down time before, during or after games to head on over to the Magic Kingdom for a ride on Pirates of the Caribbean and a viewing of the Wishes Nighttime Spectacular fireworks; or to Hollywood Studios for a stroll along Hollywood Boulevard at twilight and wild rides on the Rock-n-Roller Coaster and the Tower of Terror; or to Downtown Disney for dinner and bowling at Splitsville. Sure beats cable TV or an outdated game room at some low-budget motel.

The Welcome Center at ESPN Wide World of Sports integrates the athletic experience and the Disney experience for participants and families.

The Welcome Center at ESPN Wide World of Sports integrates the athletic experience and the Disney experience for participants and families.

To find out how to put your team on the Road to Disney, check out the Disney Sports website. Twitter is a great way to keep up with the many goings-on at the complex, and the official Disney Sports handle is @DisneySports. There also is a YouTube channel that is updated regularly with highlights from the complex.

____________________________________

Here are some bonus videos taken during the Disney Sports media event I was fortunate enough to attend. The highlight for me, in addition to learning so much about a place I thought I already knew, was meeting a lot of great writers and content producers from all over the country. I learned a great deal from interacting with them, too, and I think these videos provide wonderful insight into the work that goes into reporting for blogs.

The videos also expose you to detailed, behind-the-scenes looks at what goes on at ESPN Wide World of Sports. You’ll see what we saw. The first two are five-minute versions of our tours. The third includes highlights of a really cool Run Disney Fun Run we had the chance to do at Epcot on Tuesday morning.

Disclosure: I was invited to attend the Wide World of Sports media FAM and write about what I learned. I was provided a room and promotional materials, but all opinions and editorial decisions are my own.

Let’s Talk About God

“Every mythology, every religion, is true in this sense: It is true as metaphorical of the human and cosmic mystery.” – Joseph Campbell, the Power of Myth

God

Detail of Michelangelo’s ceiling fresco at the Sistine Chapel, Vatican City. Source: Photo illustration by DadScribe.

Our first summer in Florida, I was 13 years old and wheelchair-bound after corrective surgery on both feet. My parents sent my brother and me to vacation Bible school at the Presbyterian church up the road from our Palm Beach Gardens apartment complex. There, in the Sunday school classroom, as I sat in my wheelchair with my feet in their twin casts sticking straight out in front of me, a young man with shaggy brown hair, bad acne and huge glasses asked me if I would accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and savior.

If so, he added, my soul would be saved and I would be guaranteed a place for all eternity in the Kingdom of the Lord.

That sounded OK to me. So I said, “Yes. Yes, I do.”

And he said, “Praise Jesus. You are saved today.”

So, I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice.

__________________________

Sundays at our house have always been reserved for rest. If not rest, Disney World. If not Disney, Busch Gardens. Or laundry. Or yard work. Or the community pool. Or grocery shopping. Or anything except church.

Put simply, we don’t go. We are among the 20 percent of Americans who a Pew Research Center poll identified as having no religious affiliation. That’s not to say we are not religious. Beth certainly is. She prays regularly, and she believes in the traditional, organized-religion definition of the Christian God.

I don’t share her beliefs. I suppose I would have to be lumped in with the 33 million Americans who identify themselves as atheistic or agnostic. I don’t know what that means, though. What I do know is that I don’t know what happens when we die.

I also know this: Neither does anyone else know. But you know what else? That doesn’t matter.

Religion isn’t about that. Or it shouldn’t be.

Joseph Campbell, a scholar of comparative mythology whose work influenced George Lucas as he created the Star Wars universe, makes as much sense to me as anyone I’ve read or listened to when it comes to the purpose of religion. He said it exists not to reveal the meaning of life, but to help us find a way to live life with grace, to discover within ourselves an accord between what we experience and the questions and concepts that transcend our experience.

Campbell said God was, in fact, a metaphor for the things that transcend thought. I think what he meant was that because we exist in the field of time — we’re born, we live, we die — it is incredibly difficult, maybe even impossible, to grasp the concept of eternity.

And that’s about as deep as I want to go with that. As I say, I don’t know. I want to know, but I also am not arrogant enough to believe that I have the answers. That said, nor will I at this point in my life acknowledge that anyone else truly knows, either. That’s what I believe.

Which brings us to our sons.

__________________________

Beth wants them to go to church. We have found one that might serve, at least for now.

I have qualms.

On one hand, I want our sons to learn about organized religion, about spirituality, about humanity’s attempts to make sense of it all.

On the other hand, I believe that much of humanity’s strife — today and throughout history — has been caused by organized religion. As Campbell said, practitioners of the individual religions get stuck in their own interpretations of their chosen metaphors. That is, they fail to read the sacred texts or hear the sacred stories as poetry. Instead, they read it and hear it as prose. It is, Campbell said, a purely literary problem.

I see people in the public eye espouse views in the name of their religion about topics such as homosexuality, and it is clearly a bigoted way of thinking. Here’s the problem, though: They don’t think of themselves as bigoted, because they simply are adhering to the things they learned from their religious leaders. They are wrong to think that. Hiding behind specious lessons does not excuse the ignorant. While I might not know the answers, I do know this: Any religious teaching that is used to objectify and dehumanize other people is deplorable. I hope our sons never think that way.

Some of my favorite people in the world are deeply religious, and so sure in their convictions that it sometimes makes me wish that I could give myself over to the rapture and let the joy wash over me like a baptismal font.

It’s tough, but our sons need a frame of reference. They need to be exposed to these ideas — and at 7, our older son is probably as impressionable as he’ll ever be when it comes to ideas about spirituality.

It’s tricky. I bought our older son a book the other day called The Kids Book of World Religions, and he sort of freaked out about the drawing of Jesus on the cross. He needs to know what that means, that the resurrection is emblematic of the “death” and “rebirth” we all must experience as we transition from one stage of life to another (I am aware there are those whose interpretation of the crucifixion differs from this one). I Googled [talking to children about religion] and found an entire blog dedicated to the subject, along with this Washington Post story about the author of that blog. This is not a problem unique to us.

It’s necessary. We want our sons to make informed decisions about how they choose to think about spirituality in the future. We’re going to expose them to different ways of thinking, to different paths. We’re going to let them make their own decisions when they’re ready. You’ve got to start somewhere. So … we’ll start by giving up our Sunday rest or recreation to explore the spiritual.

And we’re going to hope that when (if) they choose their paths, they find grace and peace and love. Above all else, we hope that.

Michelangelo

Michelangelo’s Pieta, Vatican City. Source: Photo illustration by DadScribe.

I’m a Dad, a Husband, a Writer … and I Want It All

I want it all.

I want to be there – actually, physically, there – for my sons. I want to be a life partner and best friend for my wife, and I want her to be those things for me, too. I want a career that pays me what my work is worth and provides the kind of personal and professional gratification that comes from making a meaningful contribution, whether from a business perspective or culturally.

I want all of that.

And I want this, too: I want to write fiction that resonates with someone. I want to write short stories like O’Connor or Fitzgerald and novels like Irving, Chabon or Russo. I want readers. I want readers that want to buy my work in order to read it.

I want that, and I want to play FIFA soccer on my PS3 while I drink cheap red wine or expensive English beer. I want to watch Mad Men and enjoy a nice glass of bourbon every now and then.

I want to play softball again, and I want to go on dates with my wife. I want to go to Walt Disney World every other weekend, and I want to fly to Cape Cod every August.

I really, really want to go back to London. Paris, too. And I’d like to see Rome and Florence one day.

I want it all.

I’m a dad. I’m a husband. I’m a writer.

I want all of the things behind those three curtains.

What? I have to choose?

Says who?

Here’s the problem. I do have to choose, just as men and women have had to choose since the rise of the original American middle class. That began about a century or so ago, when technology and progressive ideas about how the working class should be treated combined to thrust this country into an unprecedented era of relative ease and prosperity. It wasn’t always easy. Not everyone prospered. But on the whole, the world has never seen a society like ours, wherein individual aspirations are – in theory – paramount, and we are free to shape our government in order to create an atmosphere conducive to the pursuit of those aspirations.

A fiercely independent spirit – that’s the American ethos. That’s why we want it all. But who am I kidding? The past three generations – the Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y – have collectively believed they are owed it all. We aren’t.

We are, however, owed the freedom to pursue happiness. The freedom to conduct that pursuit is an inalienable right, I believe.

So, what would make me – a dad, a husband, a writer – happy?

I want … it all.

Is that too much to ask?

_________________________

There’s been a lot of public discussion lately about this topic, along with another subject that is directly related to our family, women as primary breadwinners. I think those two topics are connected.

Here is an interesting piece that ran Thursday in Bloomberg Businessweek. Alpha Dads: Men Get Serious About Work-Life Balance.

Here is a piece on the Pew research study that concluded that in 40 percent of American households, a woman is the primary breadwinner. That’s how it is now in our house, and I could not be more proud of my wife. Breadwinner Moms.

And here is a link to the blog of an online friend of mine, Scott Behson, an academic from Cornell who researches and writes extensively about family work-life balance issues. There is a lot of good stuff there on this topic, including a guest post by yours truly about why I asked off the baseball beat in 2005. Fathers, Work and Family.

I hardly ever ask for comments, but I would love to know how you do it. How do you make life’s pursuit of happiness work for you? How do you decide what to sacrifice and what will absolutely never fall by the wayside? Our family doesn’t have any big secret. We just do it day by day and work hard to stay on top of all of our responsibilities at home and at work.

Sometimes it’s great. Other times, it feels like our heads are going to explode.

There’s been some backlash lately about the term “work-life balance,” but for us, it really is a balancing act sometimes. For instance, we both took today off in order to attend Jay’s first-grade class play and Chris’ preschool graduation ceremony, which began a half-hour apart and took place a mile apart this morning. There was no way either of us would miss those events, but we had to sacrifice a precious vacation day to do it.

What sort of decisions have you had to make in order to strike that balance? What have you missed? Is it even realistic to think about “having it all,” whether you’re a man or woman? I’d like to think so.

 

 

 

Are Angels Real?

“Dad, are angels real?”

Not what I expected to hear tonight as I tossed supper onto the stove. I waited a beat, turned toward the kitchen table.

“Why do you ask?”

“Because I don’t know.”

Fair enough. But I wasn’t quite ready to give him my answer. So …

“Well, what do you think?”

He pointed toward the ceiling.

“Are they up there?”

“On the ceiling?”

“No,” he said. “The place on the clouds. What’s on the clouds?”

“Rain?”

“NO,” he said. “Heaven.”

“How do you know that’s heaven?”

He has read it somewhere, or seen it on a TV show or a movie. Or perhaps he heard it at school or at his after-school center. We’ve not had many conversations of a religious nature yet with the boys. We don’t go to church, but the idea is to give our sons a grounding in spirituality and right and wrong, as well as we can. Then we’ll let the boys make their own decisions about religious beliefs when they’re old enough. Not saying that’s the way it ought to be done, necessarily, but it’s right for us, and that’s how we’re going to do it.

Meanwhile, back in the clouds …

He told me he read about heaven in a book on the Civil War. Someone was hungry and scared, and they prayed to the angels for food and protection. I can imagine why a kid — anyone, really — would want to know if that works.

Hence, the question.

“So, what do you think, buddy? Are angels real?”

“Well, I don’t actually know,” he said. “But do you think they’re real?”

“I don’t actually know, either,” I said.

“No one knows,” he said.

“No one knows?”

“No one.”

No one.

Empathy

San Francisco

The Basin – San Francisco.

On a crisp, bright morning in San Francisco, as I stood apart from the semi-circular line of tourists who waited to board the cable car at the Powell/Mason turntable, I saw a young woman exit a black car that had stopped in the Market Street bicycle lane. She got out of the car and walked toward me.

I saw her piercings as she walked – black studs in her nose and lower lip, a small gold hoop in the corner of her left eye. Short, dark hair, black t-shirt, stained denim skirt, black Chuck Taylor high-tops. Pasty white skin, thick black eye shadow.

Staring straight into my eyes, she walked in my direction. She didn’t stop, though. As she passed – close enough to whisper – she looked me in the eyes and told me in a low, clear voice:

“You don’t love us.”

She broke eye contact and walked on. I stood there and watched her melt into the crowd of tourists, past the cable car turntable, up Powell Street, on toward Union Square and back into her Gothic oblivion.

It didn’t even occur to me to try to contradict her.

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She was right, though. I didn’t love her.

Yet, over the years, a decade and more, I have replayed that scene in my mind so many times that even the memory flickers, like an old film exposed far too often to the projector’s hot light. It’s not my most vivid memory, or anywhere near my most relevant.

Those would be things like, you know, our wedding in Boston, the births of our two sons, waking up healthy after emergency angioplasty … life-altering or live-saving events. My Memories, with a capital M.

Yet, that moment in San Francisco has stayed with me. There was no reason for that particular young woman or her peculiar declaration to stand out in a four-decade-long swirl of memories. You don’t love us, she said. But …

I am her. And so are you. And so is everyone you know, and everyone you ever have known or ever will know. And she is you. She is my wife, my sons, my mother and father, everything I have ever loved or ever will love. She is every word I’ve ever written or will write or will read, every tear I’ve shed and every smile I’ve smiled. She is my everything and she is your everything, too. You don’t have to love someone, or even know their name – or even know they are alive a decade after a fleeting encounter on a bright cool morning – for all of that to be true.

This is empathy.

It is remembering every detail about the girl on the street who looked into your soul and walked right on past and disappeared forever into the crowd. It is four words – you don’t love us – carved into your cortex like a hieroglyph on a temple wall, taunting you with its complex simplicity.

Empathy.

It’s the visceral response we feel toward a grieving father when we see photographs of his smiling little boy, gone now, carefully holding up with just the tips of his fingers a hand-lettered sign that reads, “No more hurting people. Peace.” It’s the overwhelming urge to weep, the unavoidable shudder, the inexorable need to make physical contact with our small children after we read or hear accounts of a deadly day on the first-grade wing of an elementary school in Connecticut.

It’s running toward the bomb blast to see if there’s anything you can do to help those who were in it. It’s the physical inability to sit through a movie because some people you never met were gunned down during the midnight premier in a theater a thousand miles away.

Empathy.

It’s the spark and flutter of what I guess scientists these days are calling mirror neurons, which fire off signals that make us unconsciously reproduce emotions we witness – or imagine we witness – being expressed by someone else.

Evidently, some of us have more active mirror neurons than others.

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Did you know that the word empathy didn’t enter the English language until the early 1900s? It was introduced by psychologist (and Oxford man) Edward B. Titchener as a translation of the German term einfühlung (“in” the “feeling”), which itself was a loose translation of the Greek term empatheia (“in” “pathos”), having to do with art appreciation. I didn’t know any of that, either, until I looked it up.

Empathy. It’s the unspoken recognition of the knowledge that we’re all going to die. It’s the shared, and the sharing. It’s the point in space and time where “we” intersect “they.”

It’s the truth behind you don’t love us.

And that truth is this …

Even now, so many years later, I want to run after that Goth girl in San Francisco and catch up to her in the crowd, and tell her that she’s right, that I don’t love her or anyone else in her life. But so what? I don’t have to love you. You still matter to me because the part of you inside that makes you human is inside me, too, and I love that part of both of us and all of us because that’s what life is. It’s what being alive is.

Empathy is life itself, acknowledging its presence and luminosity in the other.