The Fine Line Between ‘I can’t’ and ‘I can’t – yet’

To a second grader, grownups are magicians. We can reach stuff in the high cabinets. We can make toast. We can drive a car. We can produce endless LEGO sets out of thin air. We can do things their developing minds consider mini-miracles.

I kind of like it. Makes me feel useful and smarter than I actually am.

Our younger son got frustrated at breakfast trying to open one of those applesauce pouches. You know the kind, and come on; it’s the easiest thing on Earth to do, right? Grab the cap in one hand, hold the pouch firmly in the other hand, apply counter-clockwise pressure to the cap, and voilà! One of your oh-so-vital servings of fruit, ready to inhale at your convenience.

He could not figure it out. So, he threw it across the table and yelled, “I can’t!”

I retrieved the pouch and placed it in front of him, unopened. I bent down to his level and smiled. He crossed his arms and stuck out his lower lip.

I ducked my head to look at him eye-to-eye and asked, “Can you fly a rocket ship to the moon?”

He said, “No!”

I asked, “Can you drive a car to the movies?”

He said, “No! No! No!”

I asked, “Can you ride your bike without training wheels?”

He said, “No, and I don’t want to!”

I asked, “Can you determine the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?”

He looked up at me and said, “What?”

Then I backed away a bit and, smiling, asked him quietly, “Can you put on a shirt by yourself?”

He uncrossed his arms and said, “Yes.”

He reached for the pouch and I gently swatted his hand away. He laughed and waited for the next question.

I asked, “Can you take a bath by yourself?”

He said, “Yes! A shower.”

I asked, “Can you go to the bathroom by yourself?”

He laughed again and said, “No!”

I looked at him sideways and he said, “OK, yes!”

Then I said, “You can’t drive a car … yet. You can’t ride a rocket to the moon … yet. You can’t ride your bike without training wheels … yet. You can’t cure cancer, or make a plan for world peace, or feed the world’s hungry, or invent a flying car. There are a lot of things you can’t do. Not yet. But that’s because you don’t have the experience you need to do those things. Your mind and body are still growing. You’re still learning. Everything is still new to you. You aren’t unable to do these things because you’re seven; your age is just a number. You are unable to do these things yet because you haven’t had the time to learn how to think, how to allow your intelligence to work on a problem until you find the solution.

“Plus,” I said, “you’re just too short to reach the cabinet.”

Then I said, “The answer you give when someone asks if you can fly to the moon is, ‘Not yet.’ ”

I asked, “Does that make sense?”

He shrugged and said, “I guess.”

“OK,” I said. “Good.”

Then I asked, “Can you open your applesauce pouch on your own?”

And he said, “No.”

Then he added, “Not yet.”

He smiled, reached for the pouch, and turned the cap with all his might.

Why We Should Care if CEO Dads Choose to be Engaged Parents

The thoughts and experiences of several CEO dads regarding work-family balance are detailed in a new article posted to TIME.

This quote from Ernst & Young’s Mark Weinberger sums up why it is important to tell the stories of these high-powered, high-stress, high-responsibility executives:

“You can have all the initiatives you want saying you can have flexibility, but until some of the real leaders make the choice to choose family, I don’t think people feel like they have real permission to do it.”

I agree with Weinberger, who told TIME about turning down the chance to take photos on top of the Great Wall of China after a recent speech because he had to board a plane to get back to the U.S. for his daughter’s driving test the next day. Weinberger added that he received many emails after that speech, all of which praised his commitment to fatherhood.

I am drawn to a story like this one, as well as the one I wrote last month for TODAY Parents about CEO Max Schireson reducing his work duties to be more “there” for his kids. The idea that millionaire men who are responsible for the growth and well-being of billion-dollar companies want the world to know they are engaged fathers resonates with me.

No, these guys don’t have to worry about paying for food or medical bills. They have the luxury to actually make decisions that will enable them to spend more time being dads, as opposed to working two or three jobs to make ends meet.

But that actually enhances their point. They have the choice, and they choose to make fatherhood a priority. Not merely the traditional, provider role of fatherhood. The vital role of being there, of engaging with their kids. As Schireson told me, “It’s not just about being there more. It’s about being ‘more there.'”

This is why it’s important to acknowledge these rich men who run these big companies but also are committed to being the best dads they can be. Because the more it becomes the norm for the men and women who are “big” bosses to make the right choices in terms of work-family priorities, the easier it will become for all of us to be “more there” for our kids.


I am beginning my second week working out of our home. So far, so good. Last week, the boys seemed pleased to have me home in the afternoons, and I was more than pleased to be here for them.

We’re still making the adjustment, and I get the feeling that it will take more than a few days to figure it all out. Then, just as we figure it out, I imagine things will change again. We’ll adjust to that, too.

For now, I’ll meet them at the bus stop, get them settled into a routine that includes an afternoon snack and homework (not necessarily in that order) and juggle the responsibilities of writing and maintaining the household.

I’m no CEO, but this will do.


Ray Rice is a Jerk, but the NFL Doesn’t Care if You Boycott

Ray Rice – jerk. Simple enough. He cold-cocked his fiancé in a casino elevator. He’s out, cut from the Baltimore Ravens and, at least for now, banished from the NFL.

About that banishment, though: Took you long enough, Roger Goodell. Oh, and way to go with that whole two-game suspension thing.

Here’s the thing, though. I’m hearing rumblings that some fans of the NFL are so disgusted, they’re turning their backs on the game. Which … OK. But who are you hurting, really? Only yourself.

And that brings me to a Facebook message conversation I had this morning with my friend Aaron Gouveia, publisher of the Daddy Files. Aaron is a lifelong New England Patriots season ticket holder. He wanted to name both of his sons Tom Brady Gouveia, but opted for Will and Sam – one Mike short of a linebacker trio.

Parents want to be able to tell their kids the right things when it comes to athletes gone bad. Me? I just tell them that athletes are human, too, that some of them do bad things, and that just because they can run faster and do other incredible things on the field or court, it doesn’t mean they can’t fail at life.

Aaron seems to be feeling a little guilt, though. He was having a tough time reconciling his love for the NFL with feelings of disgust toward the way Goodell has bungled the Ray Rice case.

I tried to talk him down over the course of a half-hour Facebook conversation. Here is a slightly edited version of that back-and-forth, reprinted with Aaron’s permission. Enjoy this glimpse into a couple of twisted minds, each of whom was determined to get his point across on a complex issue:

Aaron Gouveia: I’m trying to work up a Ray Rice related column, but it keeps turning into the same thing – I am a hypocrite and I am part of the problem because I have no plans to stop watching football even though I know I should.

Carter Gaddis: Why? Why should you stop watching football?

AG: Because the NFL is clearly covering this up and covering their asses. They all but condoned domestic violence both with that 2-game suspension and by letting guys like (Ray) McDonald and (Greg) Hardy continue to play.

CG: So, speak out against the NFL’s domestic abuse policy. Why punish yourself? You love the game. You love the sport. You love the Patriots.

AG: I stopped buying Barilla pasta, would never set foot in a Chick-fil-a, etc. All because I don’t want to support a company with those warped morals. Yet I’m going to watch football.

CG: But you didn’t stop watching the Pats after Aaron Hernandez turned out to be a murderer.

AG: The Pats cut Aaron Hernandez immediately. They didn’t hesitate to make the right decision even before their hand was forced.

CG: I don’t think you can conflate the Chick-fil-a thing or Barilla thing with this. I’m with you on both of those things, by the way. But this is different because no one’s human rights are being infringed upon. There have always been criminals on our courts and our fields.

AG: These other teams are allowing known criminals to play. (Greg) Hardy was convicted for (crap’s) sake.

And Goodell is lying. He’s flat out lying.

CG: Call him out, then.

AG: That’s the problem. I can’t call him out and continue to support the product that makes him so powerful.

Season ticket holder, watching the games, buying a new jersey, purchasing the Red Zone channel.

“I’M SO MAD AT YOU!!! Now here’s my money.”

CG: You’re over-thinking it, though. This isn’t a human rights issue. You can enjoy the product and still rage against the policies.

AG: I can. But I don’t think doing that gives me any credibility. Because if I’m really that upset about it, I can rail against AND stop supporting it. Except I don’t want to.

CG: To turn your back on it would be extreme. And unrealistic. It wouldn’t prove anything.

AG: I think it would. It would prove that even a diehard NFL fan is so sick of what’s happening he quit the NFL altogether.

CG: The only one who suffers, the only one who cares, is you if you boycott the game.

AG: Exactly. Which is why the NFL never has to change because too many people feel like I do – they’re upset but not upset enough to walk away.

CG: Anyway. Change has happened, though. Drug policies. Safety policies.

AG: In name only.

CG: No, these are real changes.

AG: (Ray) McDonald was allowed to play after being arrested for beating his wife WHILE THE RAY RICE FIASCO WAS HAPPENING.

That’s not change.

Also, think about this …

If an NFL player goes out and levels his girlfriend in an elevator today, what happens?

6 games suspension.

CG: Nope. The Rice thing now has changed that. This is fluid.

AG: No. That’s the new policy. Went into effect 8/28.

CG: That is out the window.

AG: Hopefully, but not yet.

CG: Rice has been suspended indefinitely and kicked off his team. So … out the window.

AG: I know. But under the new rules created because of Ray Rice, the person who does this next is currently subject to 6 games for a first offense.

In the end, the only real way to tell the NFL consumers are fed up is to stop watching the games. Stop buying tickets. Stop purchasing jerseys. And unfortunately, I’m just not prepared to do that because I’ve gone to almost every Patriots home game since the age of 6. My dad has had season tickets for more than 40 years. Tickets I’ll one day inherit. Tickets I hope to pass down to my son, along with a love for the Patriots. So while I can shout my outrage to the heavens about how the NFL handles domestic violence among its players, I’ll be a hypocrite if I do anything short of walk away.

CG: Rage on, dude. Trust me, no one is going to think any less of you because you still want to watch football. If anything, criticism means more coming from a devoted fan of the sport. A dissenting voice inside is more effective than a voice in the wilderness.

Aaron Gouveia and me at Cape Cod this past August. He's a fiery New England sports fan, but the NFL's stupidity regarding Ray Rice and domestic violence is making him feel guilty about watching and supporting football.

Aaron Gouveia and me at Cape Cod this past August. He’s a fiery New England sports fan, but the NFL’s stupidity regarding Ray Rice and domestic violence is making him feel guilty about watching and supporting football.

Creative Minds Podcast Appearance with Chris Read of Canadian Dad

From left: me, Chris Read of Canadian Dad; Kevin McKeever of Always Home and Uncool; Whit Honea of the Internet. I spent an hour Tuesday rambling about baseball, storytelling and other things on Chris' Creative Minds podcast.

At Dad 2.0 Summit in New Orleans this past February. From left: me, Chris Read of Canadian Dad; Kevin McKeever of Always Home and Uncool; Whit Honea of the Internet. I spent an hour Tuesday rambling about baseball, storytelling and other things on Chris’ Creative Minds podcast.

One of the best things about publishing this online … whatever it is … journal, I guess … is the chance to develop friendships with people all over the world. One of my favorites is Chris Read of Canadian Dad.

Chris was kind enough to feature DadScribe on his Dad Blogs Exposed series about a year ago. And Tuesday, he was kind enough (again) to invite me to join him for an hour-long conversation on the Creative Minds podcast he produces with fellow Canadian Mike Reynolds of Puzzling Posts. Mike was out Tuesday attending to under-the-weather family members (get well soon, Mike’s family!), so it was just me and Chris.

Chris indulged my rambling about baseball writing and storytelling and parenting and other topics, and I enjoyed every minute. We name-dropped a few of our favorite fellow online writers and I made a few lame attempts at jokes about how Canadians occasionally add a “u” after an “o” in inappropriate places.

It was a good time, and I hope you get the chance to listen. Here is the link to the podcast, which is  also available through subscription on iTunes.

Thank you again, Chris and Mike, for the invitation. I’d love to do it again sometime.


Thoughts about SeaWorld never stray far from Dawn

A killer whale leaps from the pool as trainers look on from the deck during a performance last week at Shamu Stadium.

A killer whale leaps from the pool as trainers look on from the deck during a performance last week at Shamu Stadium.

No matter where my family and I went Wednesday at SeaWorld Orlando, I thought about Dawn Brancheau.

In the morning, we stopped and gawked at a dozen or more dolphins swimming leisurely along in their open-air enclosure.

I thought of Dawn.

We watched a SeaWorld caretaker bottle feed a rescued baby manatee, who is destined to be released back into the wild.

I thought of Dawn.

We saw a 3D sea turtle film at the Turtle Trek exhibit, and we saw a rescued turtle with paralyzed rear flippers thriving in that environment, and we listened to (and approved of) SeaWorld Entertainment’s message to “be an everyday hero” when it comes to sharing the world with marine animals.

I thought of Dawn.

A SeaWorld trainer interacts with a killer whale at Shamu Stadium after the performance on Wednesday.

At Shark Encounter, I thought of her. At the Antarctica section of the park, even as we froze our toes in the penguin exhibit, Dawn was never far from my thoughts.

Occasionally, I checked my iPhone for updates on SeaWorld Entertainment’s tumbling stock, a result of a worse-than-expected second-quarter earnings report. I checked Twitter and other online channels and was not at all surprised to see anti-captivity activists revel in the apparent public rebuke of SeaWorld’s practices regarding the company’s trained killer whales and dolphins in Orlando, San Antonio, San Diego and other marine parks around the world.

I thought about Blackfish, the compelling documentary that attempts to indict SeaWorld’s treatment of orcas.

I thought about the passionate entreaties and the harsh vitriol I’ve read on Twitter and Facebook and at animal activist sites like the Dodo and PETA-backed SeaWorld of Hurt.

I thought about SeaWorld’s detailed online response to those claims, and I thought about how frustrating it must be to SeaWorld that its message of animal rescue and environmental conservation has been largely lost in the public discourse in the wake of Blackfish.

Shamu Stadium was packed for the Wednesday afternoon performance of One Ocean, SeaWorld Orlando’s killer whale show.

Then we watched the orca show at Shamu Stadium, where the killer whales jumped out of the water while trainers danced and gestured and tossed fish into open orca mouths. The performing killer whales also used their tails to splash spectators in the first few rows.

The stadium was packed.

I kept looking for Tilikum, the 12,000-pound killer whale that killed Dawn Brancheau on Feb. 24, 2010. I thought about Tilikum in his holding pen somewhere behind the main performing pool. I wondered if he was listening. I wondered if he was watching.

I thought about the three people whose deaths were attributed to interaction with Tilikum – Keltie Byrne, Daniel Dukes and Dawn Brancheau.

I mostly thought about Dawn, who died only yards away from the stadium where thousands of spectators cheered other killer whales jumping and splashing on Wednesday.

I thought about the arguments against keeping marine animals in captivity. I thought about how millions of people would never see these animals up close if not for SeaWorld, and how seeing these animals up close makes them real, and how proximity can engender empathy.

I thought about my sons, both of whom love animals.

After the show, a few handlers demonstrated to our group how the killer whales have been trained to respond to signals requesting that they provide urine and blood samples used to monitor their health. One trainer narrated, while a handful of others interacted with the orcas.

Later, I talked to Craig Thomas, a 28-year SeaWorld veteran who responded to the alarm the night Dawn died (click here for a transcript of my interview). He used to work with Tilikum. Now, Craig Thomas is the assistant curator of Shamu Stadium at SeaWorld Orlando.

The whole time I talked to Craig Thomas, I thought of Dawn.

I thought about how both sides in this controversy have interpreted Dawn’s legacy. SeaWorld Orlando named its education center after her and holds an annual 5K run/walk in her honor. The makers of Blackfish and the adherents to its message have turned Dawn’s death into a rallying point for the anti-captivity cause.

I thought about all the subpoenas and legislation and the political back and forth. The impassioned pleas and boycotts on one side. The defensive posturing by a corporate giant that has done what it does for 50 years, and only now has begun to acknowledge that things must change. Change means significantly larger killer whale enclosures in San Diego, San Antonio and Orlando, along with a $10 million matching donation for killer whale research.

I thought about all of that, and about Dawn, and about how parents can explain the issue to their kids.

Many might simply say SeaWorld is in the wrong, that it is morally reprehensible to use sentient creatures like dolphins and killer whales to make money by amusing the masses.

Others might say that the animal rescue efforts SeaWorld undertakes, and the message of conservation that SeaWorld advocates, are worth talking about, worth preserving. And that the way to bring attention to those efforts and that message is to expose as many people as possible to the beauty and intelligence of killer whales and dolphins – that the shows make it real for millions of people.

Opposing ideals, opposing ideologies. Both compelling, both important.

I prefer to think about Dawn, and to share the message of the Dawn Brancheau Foundation, which is “dedicated to improving the lives of children and animals in need.” I’ll think about Dawn’s family, which issued this statement about Blackfish. It reads, in part: “Dawn’s death is central to our story.”

I’ll share the facts with our children, who are not too young to start thinking about the welfare of these wonderful animals we are so fortunate to see up close. I’ll let them know some people think it’s wrong to put animals in cages, while others believe that as long as the animals are properly cared for and treated with dignity, there is a place for zoos and marine parks in our society.

I’ll tell them about Dawn. And I hope when they think about all of this, they think about her, too.


The memorial plaque at the Dawn Brancheau Education Center, SeaWorld Orlando.

Disclosure: I was invited to experience behind-the-scenes tours at SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa for purposes of learning about SeaWorld Entertainment’s conservation, rescue and veterinary care programs, as well as the entertainment component of the park’s marine mammals and other animals. Opinions are solely those of the author.


What do we tell the children?

What do we tell them?

What do we tell the children of Gaza as the tears stream down their faces, leaving tracks in the layer of dust that settled on their cheeks after bombs turned their homes into craters?

What do we say to the terrified children of Syria, where the innocent years have been smothered in bombs and blood?

What words are there for the lost and desperate children of the American border, where they stream across in their thousands, running from death, hoping for a new life?

What do we tell them? What can we do?

We see the images on TV, hear the horror even in the refined, detached voices of the men and women assigned to cover it. How can we change the channel? How can we look away?

How can we not, though?

It is easier, safer, to turn away from the horror than to stand up to it. Chores and errands demand our attention. Games and movies beckon. The lawn needs mowing. The baseball team is heating up down the stretch. Football is starting. School is around the corner. Vacation, birthday parties, a trip to the zoo.

All of this is here, in front of us. This is our reality. All we have to do is change the channel. All we have to do is click over to BuzzFeed or Upworthy or Reddit or Facebook.

Get lost in the fun.

Forget the faces. Forget the agony. Forget the blood.

Forget those children.

Hey, sorry. We all have problems.

Besides, they aren’t my children.

But yes.

Yes, they are.

They are mine.

They’re yours, too.

These children? We can’t see their faces, hear their cries, and relegate it to that place in our minds where unpleasant thoughts go to hibernate, waiting to stir when poked and prodded by our demons and thrust into our nightmares.

We can’t do that. We can’t just ignore it. Can we?

But what do we tell them? What can we do?

If I was there, if I didn’t have my own concerns and problems and distractions, if I could drop it all and run to them on the Rio Grande and in Gaza City and Aleppo, I would tell them that there is more.

That this is not all there is in this world, that life is still beautiful. That there are flowers and toys and music. That somewhere on this planet, a kitten purrs and a toddler laughs and laughs.

That even though the world allows little boys to be blown to bits on the beach as they play soccer;

even though men with guns and foul faces force little children to trek across dangerous Central American  fields and treacherous waters in a blind search for something better;

even though it is unspeakably awful now and sadness, despair and anger are their close companions … there is hope.

There is more.

I would tell them: Don’t give up.

You are precious.

And I would take them in my arms and hold them close, and cry with them until our mingled tears soaked the dry and fractured earth.


9 Things Han Solo Taught Me About Being a Dad

As a child of the ’70s, I considered Han Solo the epitome of manhood.

Fiercely independent, yet secretly sentimental. Skeptical, but willing to believe in magic if he sees it with his own eyes.

Secure enough in his own skin to pursue a princess, but not above taking a wide-eyed farm boy under his wing. Best friends with a Wookiee.

A lovable scoundrel who poses as a mercenary, but who deep down recognizes the best things in life are free.

In short — the ideal dad.

I readily acknowledge that my exposure to Star Wars at a young age shaped the adult I have become. And while Obi Wan was a superb mentor and Vader achieved redemption in the end, it was Han Solo who taught me the most about how to be a good dad.

Here are just a few examples of why I believe General Solo, who had not fathered children with Leia Organa as of the end of Episode VI, still might be the finest father figure in the history of this or any other galaxy:

Nine things Han Solo taught me about fatherhood

1. When the kids get difficult, use redirection.


(And if you must leave a mess for someone else to clean up, tip well.)

2. Trust your instincts. Even in the face of utter uncertainty.



3. If you don’t like what is being said, change the conversation.


(To be fair, Don Draper also teaches us this.)

4. Give praise where it’s due — but don’t overdo it.

5. Make a smile your default expression.


6. Learn to work with your hands.


7. When all else fails — bluff.


(But if the bluff fails, know when it’s time to cut your losses.)


8. Give the kids room to succeed or fail — but a little help every now and then can’t hurt.


9. Never let them forget how much you love them.


 Images/videos:; imgur; YouTube

 A slightly different version of this post appeared on the Huffington Post following publication here.

Once More … For Oren

Give Forward

Oren Miller, founder of a Facebook dad bloggers group almost 800 strong. He and his family need our help. Now is the time to act.

They were in the car together, Beth behind the wheel, husband Oren Miller by her side. This was life now. A trip to Johns Hopkins for radiation treatment, a necessary precursor to deal with a cancerous invader in Oren’s brain before the rest of it could be dealt with.

The rest of it is stage 4 lung cancer, which has spread and is life threatening. Very life threatening. But that would have to keep. First, the brain.

Oren’s phone rang. It was me.

My editor at TODAY Parents had agreed to let me write it up live. When a group of dad bloggers get together to make something this big happen, it’s news. Especially on the Friday before Father’s Day.

What was so big that the parenting arm of the TODAY Show immediately responded in the affirmative to my inquiry that afternoon? The fundraiser, of course. Using the wonderful Give Forward platform, Oren’s fellow blogger and Marylander, Brent Almond, had set up an online fundraiser on behalf of the Facebook dad bloggers. This group, this extended family of fathers and writers from all over the world, would do our small part to help Oren’s family.

Oren Miller

L-R: Oren Miller, his wife Beth and friend and fellow blogger Brent Almond, together on Memorial Day weekend — hours before Oren’s cancer diagnosis.

The idea was to raise as much as we could to help them enjoy a nice vacation getaway before Oren began his treatment in earnest. We figured $5,000 was a nice, round target.

Brent posted the link to the fundraiser late Thursday evening. By Friday morning, the amount raised had slid right on past $5,000 and was bearing down on $10,000 before noon. When it reached $13,000, I emailed my TODAY Parents editors and told them news was happening.

Important news. News that illustrated the strength and power of these things that bind us in that Facebook group. Fatherhood. The creative impulse. Passion for our roles as caregivers, and compassion for others.

It had to be shared, this wonderful story that arose from such a terrible thing.

I say terrible, because that’s what it was. And is. Yet, Oren’s grace and dignity in the face of this awful circumstance moved thousands (here it is in his words, powerful words, words that will make you cry and wonder at the strength of this gentle father and caring husband).

That Friday afternoon, as Beth and Oren wheeled their way toward Johns Hopkins for his radiation treatment, I reached back into my professional past and tried to wear my journalist hat for an interview session. We chatted, he and I. He sounded tired, of course, but all I heard was music in that thick Israeli accent of his. His responses to my forced and awkward questions were as graceful as you would expect, if you know him.

And then he put Beth on the phone. I wish I had known Beth before this. She sounds amazing. She also let me know how much the group has meant to Oren during this time. I wrapped my TODAY piece with a great kicker quote from Beth, but it was cut in the final edit. Here is that quote now, in its entirety:

“Right now, this is the [worst] time you could ever imagine,” she said. “The only time in those early days in the hospital I saw Oren smile was when he was keeping up with what was going on with the group. I don’t think he would have made it out of the hospital if not for that. I really don’t.”

The fundraiser goes on. The goal has been increased to $30,000, and as of this writing, we’re past $26,000. It’s more than a vacation fund now. It’s money they can use for medical bills or any other needs that will arise as they fight this. The founders of Give Forward have generously agreed to donate $25 for every post the dad bloggers publish (up to 40 posts), an additional $1,000. Click here to donate, if you like, or simply to leave Oren and his family a message of love and hope.

There is no moral here. No feel-good story, no happy ending. Not really. There is something, though, and it’s this: We can do good in this world when we act together out of compassion and love. What else is there?

Oren Miller

Oren Miller and family.


Swing, Fail, Swing Again


Stay focused. Stay relaxed. See the ball, hit the ball. Failure is inevitable. How you respond is up to you, and it can make all the difference.

We played ball out back on a makeshift miniature diamond I mowed into the high, early summer St. Augustine grass. The 8-year-old stepped to the foam-rubber home plate, batting lefty, knees bent just so, arms high but relaxed, head cocked toward the pitcher — me.

I wound up and tossed the ball softly in his direction.

It occurs to me that I was 17 when I became a sportswriter. Nine years older than this boy at the plate. I stepped into that life before my life had really begun, and had no real reason to regret it for two decades. But at the end, when it was over, it could only be classified as a failure.

The boy swung and missed. The swing was handsy, too much upper body, but there was purpose to it and his head and eyes were where they were supposed to be. That’s more than half the battle when you’re learning to hit a baseball. Watch the ball hit the bat. See it, hit it. He retrieved the ball and tossed it back.

How could a career as rewarding as mine be considered a failure? Because it didn’t end on my terms. Where did the fault lie? With me alone? With a newspaper industry in its dying throes? A combination? No matter. When I began that career, I intended for it to end many years from now, many games later, when I was too old to carry my computer bag into the press box. Didn’t happen that way. I failed.

I reminded him to focus on the ball, to keep his arms relaxed, to step toward me, pivot and turn his hips, throw his hands at the ball and explode into the swing. I pitched, he swung — and missed again.

Failure of that sort — mammoth, life-altering, frightening — can derail a man. You think you’re moving along toward a certain destination, surely, confidently. And then … it stops. Even if you sensed it coming, knew failure was inevitable, it stung. Worse, for the first time in your life, you didn’t know what came next.

The ball sailed over the shrub and the external AC unit as he swung and missed a second time. It was a bad pitch, a ball in any league, but at age 8 he still swings at anything and everything. He has not yet developed a discerning eye, a well-defined hitting zone. Every pitch is a promise. Every swing and miss is that promise broken. He dropped the bat and hustled after the ball again.

You didn’t know what came next, but you understood for the first time in your life that nothing was promised. Really understood that fact, not merely the theory. That there were dead ends. 

He found the ball in the high grass and tossed it back. Insects disturbed by the lawn mower began to crowd around us. He swatted at a bug in front of his face and stepped in for one last pitch from dad.

There are dead ends. Failure is inevitable. How you respond to that inevitability determines whether dead ends crack and split and branch off in promising new directions or stay dead ends. You choose your response. You choose to move forward. You choose. That’s what failure does for you, if you let it. If you let it.

This one came in under-handed, an acquiescence to physics and undeveloped, 8-year-old muscles. His eyes grew large as it arced toward the plate.

He stepped. He pivoted. He swung.

The Field Trip

He came around the corner, distraught, and found me in the family room.

His face broke.

Tears gathered and fell.

“Mommy just told me you can’t come on the field trip.”

Small sob.

“I want you there,” he said. “I want you to go. I want to be with my daddy.”

He wrapped his arms around my waist and buried his face into my shirt.

I put my hand on his head and told him I was sorry.

“I have to work,” I said. “I want to go, too. I wish I could. But I have to work.”

I told him we could make our own family field trip. I told him to think of adventures we could have on the weekend.

The tears stopped. He stepped back. Our own field trip? That sounded promising. He seemed to feel better.

I did not.


The next morning I got into my car and began my commute as usual. I fought the traffic along the expressway and watched the sun come up.

When I reached the exit for my office, I kept going. My son wanted me there. I was going to go on that field trip. It wasn’t far, just up the interstate at the state fairground. A place where old Florida has been reconstructed out of antique buildings that were moved there from their original homestead sites. It’s a pretty, shaded village, a living set torn from the pages of a Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings novel.

I maneuvered through the downtown morning rush hour traffic and made it to the fairground ahead of the kids. I parked my car. I talked my way through the gate. The guard said he had a son, too. He understood.

When the bus arrived, I stood there smiling. Excited kids filed off and I looked for my son. He bounced off the bus chattering to friends, excited to be there. Then he spotted me.


He ran to me and grabbed me in a hug.

“You’re here! I can’t believe it! This is awesome!”

“I know, bud,” I said. “It is awesome. It really is. Hey, let’s go look at that old train station. It looks pretty cool.”

We explored the village, ate some kettle corn, pet some farm animals and had a great time making a memory.


No. That did not happen.

I battled the traffic, took my exit, and showed up to work. He went on the field trip with other chaperones, other kids’ parents.

We will have our own, personal field trip. But it’s not the same. I know it, and he knows it. That’s why he cried.

I wanted to be there. I should have been there. I could not be there.

It didn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel right.

We can’t have it all. I know that. We understand reality. There is school, there is work, there are hours apart. Our family handles it as well as we can, just like every family.

But sometimes, if only for a day, it might be nice to have a little more. Sometimes, it would be nice to be there.

Tampa Sunrise

Tampa sunrise from the office. Beautiful view. Somewhere out there, there’s a field trip happening.