A Look Back at Dad 2.0 Summit in NOLA

CoverSaturday night on Bourbon Street – neon green and red and blue and colors of indeterminate hue, a gathering Louisiana mist, free (FREE!) entrance into the Lipstick Club. Old Absinthe House for a round, then off again down a tunnel of light and music and grime and the smell of cigarette smoke.

So good. Regretfully, I could not hang.

Bloggers on Bourbon Street.

Bloggers on Bourbon Street.

This band of Dad 2.0 Summit attendees, these brothers and sisters of the digital world, wandered inexorably through one more night together, inevitably toward the Cat’s Meow karaoke bar.

When that realization dawned, when I knew that the clouded group-think had coalesced around the Cat’s Meow as its destination, I knew I didn’t have the energy. As much as I wanted one more chance to build memories with these beautiful friends, my hotel bed beckoned. I began to fall back. One friend after another drifted by, new faces and familiar, buddies and confidants, fellow writers and parents – I slowed my pace and let them slip past me through the Bourbon Street crowd.

Until at last I was at the end of our line, swallowed on all sides by unfamiliar faces and revelers whose nights were just getting started. Then I stopped, watched the heads of friends old and new bob through the gathering French Quarter fog until the last of them was out of sight. I walked back to the hotel along quiet, glistening Royal Street. A lone street performer sang an unfamiliar blues piece in a darkened doorway.

Another Dad 2.0 Summit was done. All that remained was to write the epitaph.

So … what now?

Rob Candelino of Dove Men+Care.

Rob Candelino of Dove Men+Care.

That was the question we were asked on Friday morning as the third annual Dad 2.0 Summit got underway at the J.W. Marriott New Orleans. The question, significantly, was asked of us by a brand representative. Actually, by THE brand representative as far as the dad blogger community ought to be concerned – Rob Candelino of Dove Men+Care.

The two-time title sponsor of Dad 2.0 Summit champions the concept of accurate depictions of fathers and fatherhood in TV ads. It’s a start, and Dove is a welcome and influential ally, but as Dad 2.0 co-founder Doug French says often about the larger picture: “We still have a lot of work to do.”

But … what now?

An informal study of 2013 commercials depicting fathers conducted by dad blogger Zach Rosenberg of 8BitDad revealed that, for the most part, things are moving in the right direction. Derogatory depictions of bumbling dads are not nearly as prevalent as they were. That’s progress.

Still … what now?

Procter and Gamble, the world’s biggest advertiser, touched hearts and likely moved product with the latest incarnation of Thank You, Mom ads associated with the upcoming winter Olympics. It seemed … odd … that they ignored the roles of the respective fathers of the athletes depicted, but an argument can be made that emphasizing the contributions of mothers does not necessarily de-emphasize those of the fathers. Of course, an argument also can be made that omitting dads from that advertising conversation was short-sighted on the part of P&G, but listen – at least they tried with the Dad’s Way and Modern Dad campaigns this past summer (disclosure: I was a blogger ambassador for both of those campaigns, which included a Father’s Day excursion at Brooker Creek Preserve).

Pirate's Alley, French Quarter, New Orleans.

Pirate’s Alley, French Quarter, New Orleans.

Perhaps what’s next, then, is for giant brands like P&G to follow the example of consistency demonstrated by Dove Men+Care and truly embrace what’s happening with this community of fathers who also happen to be talented, innovative content creators – and with engaged, enlightened fathers throughout the country. XY Media Group, parent company of Dad 2.0 Summit, is leading the way in that conversation and in the search for the answer to Candelino’s question. I, for one, can’t wait to see what happens next. What’s most exciting to me about it is that I have the opportunity to help shape that answer, as do all of the bloggers and brand representatives who made New Orleans home for the past four days.

Speaking of which, listed below are a few personal highlights of the third annual Dad 2.0 Summit. I can’t possibly list them all here, because the weekend gave forth far too many memorable experiences and insights. The highlights:

  • I was honored to be asked to conduct a round table workshop on journalism and storytelling. The participants lifted me mentally and – in one notable case – emotionally throughout the hour-plus session. Jim Higley made me mist up when he reminded me about an image I used in a post about our family’s trip to Tropicana Field to see the Rays and Red Sox in October. So, yes … during a weekend of emotional gut-punches, I even cried during my own workshop!  If you were there – or if you were not – and would like to chat about the topic and techniques of purposeful observation as a means to breathe life into your writing, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Thank you to all of those who attended, and a huge thank you to those of you who have since given me a kind word about the workshop itself and about how it already has affected your approach to storytelling.
  • Blogger Lorne Jaffe of Raising Sienna and the New York City Dads Group earned a standing ovation for the greatest show of courage I’ve witnessed in two years of attending Dad 2.0. His willingness to confront his own depression-anxiety disorder in that very, very public setting – and his brilliant turns of phrase and use of imagery in the post he read “Do I Really Like What I Like?” – gave me strength. It was likely the moment most people who were there will remember years from now when we talk about Dad 2.014.
  • Hanging with my fellow DadCentric bloggers, Kevin McKeever, Michael Moebes and Whit Honea, as well as fellow 2013 Spotlight Bloggers McKeever, Honea and Chris Read was another highlight. As I say, I could not hang Saturday night, but part of the reason for that was I made the rookie (or sophomore) mistake of hitting the Quarter a bit too hard on the first night and never quite regained full equilibrium. I enjoyed every minute I spent with them, though, as well as all of the friends I met in Houston in 2013 – Jim Higley, Mike Adamick, Jay Sokol, Jeff Bogle, Creed Anthony, Charlie Capen, Andy Herald, Jim Lin, Amy Windsor, Sam Black, John Pacini, Lance Somerfeld, Matt Schneider, Chris Lewis, Oren Miller, Adrian Kulp, Jason Greene, Kenny Bodanis, the guys from the National at Home Dads Network, the guys from Life of Dad, the guys from the National Fatherhood Initiative, and on and on. Then there were the first-timers, people I had met online only, who now I can include in my personal, ever-growing web of true, “in-real-life” friends who share an interest in parenthood and the creative impulse – Jess Sanfilippo, Lizz Porter, John Kinnear, John Willey, Brent Almond, Eric of Dad on the Run, Justin Aclin, Buzz Bishop, Vincent Daly, Scott Flax and so many, many more.
  • Listening to Jim Higley and Parenthood creator and show runner Jason Katims talk about parenting, the creative process and other important topics on Friday was a privilege. I was fortunate enough to run into Jason during that night’s cocktail party and he was kind enough to answer two questions: Is the message about authentic portrayals of fathers in media resonating in his industry (short answer: slowly, but surely) and what were his favorite TV shows as a kid (he mentioned All in the Family and Taxi as influencers, along with several other half-hour sitcoms that I didn’t quite catch).
  • I also appreciated hearing Josh Levs share his parenting journey and announce the publication of his new book in front of the Dad 2.0 audience. And it was interesting to see closing keynoter Peter Shankman displaying his pair of Google Glass (Google glasses?) all day Saturday at the J.W. Marriott. The future is here.
  • The folks from Dove Men+Care were amazing, as usual, and I would be remiss if I failed to thank them for the Movie Night on the Couch prize pack that I won and the framed photos from the Real Dad Moments campaign. We appreciate all the other brand representatives who did so much to make the experience great: Cottonelle (for whom I blogged — thanks to XY Media — during the Let’s Talk Bums campaign in the fall); National Geographic Animal Jam (hence, the skunk in the photo above); Jamba Juice; Kraft Cheese; Lee Jeans; LEGO Friends; Microsoft Surface; the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau; Little Remedies; and the savior, Starbucks Via.
  • I’ll never forget Whit Honea’s remarkable reading of Two Busy’s Spotlight post, By Such Swift Currents. It was a fitting swan song for DadCentric, as well as a wonderful way to honor the work of one of the finest writers in our community.
Fog shrouds Royal Street on Sunday morning.

Fog shrouds Royal Street on Sunday morning.

I’ll wrap it up with a special thank you to two of my all-time favorites in this community, my New Orleans roommates David Vienna of The Daddy Complex and Aaron Gouveia of the Daddy Files. The weekend flew by far too quickly, my friends. I appreciate everything you did to make it memorable for me.

So, what now? For the community, for society, it seems clear XY Media Group and other prominent dad groups will continue to consolidate and build on the efforts that seem to have made headway over the past three or four years.

But what about for me, personally? What now for this journal? That’s simple – I’ll just keep telling stories as well as I can, and try to make this online journal/whatever it has become something worth the time of its readers. I will also answer the call, when it comes, to help tell stories that depict fathers and fatherhood in an authentic light. It’s the least I can do for a community that has given so much to me in such a short amount of time.

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.

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.

 

 

 

The Year of Disney

This is why we're going back again. And again. And again.

This is why we’re going back again. And again. And again.

Is today February?

The 4-year-old knows. He knows that the Year of Disney begins for us when the calendar turns to February. Every day since he learned that fact, he has asked the question.

Is today February?

Not yet, we tell him. Soon. Shortly after February arrives, we’ll make the first of many planned trips over to Lake Buena Vista to visit the Mouse and his minions. We’ll use the seasonal passes Disney offers to Florida residents. Choosing the less-expensive seasonal passes saves us money, but there will be blackout dates. That’s actually OK, because the blackout dates take place during the high summer, as well as at Christmas and Easter. Going to a Florida theme park in June and July is as close to experiencing the heat of the Earth’s core as you’ll ever get. The Brits and Brazilians can have those dates. As for Christmas and Easter – those are the dates when the park administrators routinely close the gates to the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom because they reach maximum capacity. You can have those dates, spring and winter breakers. If we want to get lost and disoriented under the relentless crush of a crowd of wild-eyed strangers, we’ll go to Ikea.

Continue reading

The Time We Almost Missed Christmas

We shuffled up to the customer service counter winded, defeated, dejected. The O’Hare concourse was empty. Anybody who had a chance to get somewhere that night, Christmas Eve 2000, was either there already or on the way. Not us. We were trapped in the giant airport on the outskirts of Chicago, stranded between working that day’s Buccaneers-Packers game at Lambeau Field and getting home in time to wake up in our own beds on Christmas morning.

There were five of us. Four were with the Tribune: a beat writer, a columnist, a photographer and me. The fifth covered the Bucs for the Orlando paper. I was the only one who didn’t have at least one kid waiting for me back in Tampa, but the house was full of in-laws, including some toddler cousins. The Orlando writer was on his cell phone when we got to the customer service counter to sort it all out.

“No, sweetheart, I won’t be there tonight,” he murmured. “Molly. Molly. Don’t cry, sweetheart. Daddy will be home tomorrow. … Well, I don’t know what time. Don’t cry, Molly. Put Mommy on the phone, OK? Don’t cry, sweetheart. Daddy’s sorry.”

__________________________________________________________

When you’re a sportswriter, you don’t think about what you do as sacrifice. The night-time hours, the weekends, the holidays lost, the ridiculous travel schedule – it’s just what you have to do to get the story, to cover the beat, to keep the job. It still hurts to miss things, but the ones who choose the life must absorb that pain and wear it like a badge. Those who can’t cut it are frowned upon or mocked. Oh, you miss home? Waahhh. Work at a bank. It’s the same macho approach whether you are a man or a woman. Those who make the choice know that they are privileged to have the job, that literally thousands of people are out there waiting to take their place, and any sign of weakness might just be the chink in the armor that allows the tip of the spear to penetrate.

In other words? Quit your bitching.

__________________________________________________________

The football game went into overtime (foreshadowing!). Packers 17, Bucs 14. We filed our stories and photos and headed to the airport. The plane left Green Bay on time. There was snow, of course. But a little snow didn’t delay us in Green Bay.

The delay came in Appleton. Why we stopped there, I’m still not sure. Maybe it was for fuel. Maybe it was to pick up a passenger. Either way … what? We stopped in Appleton? It took about five minutes to fly from Green Bay to Appleton. Five minutes. We were up, we landed. It was supposed to be a 15-minute stop, for no reason I could discern.

Instead, it lasted about two hours.

What. The Hell.

__________________________________________________________

I remember looking out the airplane window while we sat on the ground in Appleton. It was dark and white, and snow drifts were piled against the terminal walls. It looked cold.

__________________________________________________________

We were assured that we would make our flight in Chicago. It might be tight, we were told, but we’d make it. We might have to sprint through O’Hare hurdling airport chairs like O.J. Simpson in a Hertz commercial, but we would make the flight. Our departure gate wasn’t that far from our arrival gate, we were told, so we would make it.

O'Hare Neon

This light sculpture is called Sky’s the Limit. It’s a neon walkway at O’Hare. We saw it only in passing on Christmas Eve 2000.

We landed with 20 minutes to spare. We grabbed our carry-ons and bolted up the ramp. We would make it. We sprinted up the concourse, found the connecting passageway to our departure terminal, ran at top speed down a hallway lit by flowing neon lights. We would make it. We found the right terminal, ran past the other gates, counted the numbers to ours. We would make it.

And I swear this happened next: We saw our gate 50 yards ahead, three attendants hovering around the desk and the ramp door. We kicked it up a gear, sprinting, shouldering our computer bags, a bunch of out of shape sportswriters desperate to get home for Christmas. In slow motion, one of the attendants reached for the handle to close the ramp door. We would not make it. In slow motion, the attendant’s head turned toward us as we yelled for her to wait wait wait wait we’re coming don’t shut it yet hold on we’re almost there stop stop stop stop stop!

We would not make it. The door shut just as we got there. Click.

I lost it. We all did. They knew we were coming. They saw us. They had been told we were on the way.

Click.

There was a floor-to-ceiling window right next to the door. There, at the other end of the ramp, was our airplane. The ramp began to move away from the side of the airplane. Then, while my fellow travelers tried to reason with the attendants, I actually did something I’ve only ever seen in movies and TV shows. I banged on the window and tried to get the pilot’s attention. I hammered on that glass and waved my arms and yelled as loud as I could. The pilot never so much as glanced in my direction. The ramp kept moving away from the plane.

Merry Freaking Christmas.

__________________________________________________________

At the customer service desk, the Orlando reporter tried to comfort his young daughter on the phone. The airline customer service guy gave us all $100 vouchers for pretty much any local hotel we wanted to stay at that night. He also told us that the O’Hare Hilton had a Christmas Eve special. It was connected to the airport, so we decided to stay there. Then we were all booked on a first class flight for the next morning. To Orlando. Because there were no direct flights to Tampa until late in the day. So we rented cars, too. To drive from Orlando International Airport to Tampa International Airport, so we could pick up our cars before we drove home to our families.

Merry Freaking Christmas.

__________________________________________________________

After we checked into the O’Hare Hilton, we met down in the hotel bar. There was a Christmas Eve bowl game on. I think it was Georgia and Virginia in some very, very minor bowl in Hawaii, of all places. I don’t even think they play it anymore. So, we gathered at a table in the empty bar and watched a college football game. We ate bar food and drank. We toasted Christmas.

Then an old man in a gray suit and fedora stumped into the bar with the aid of a brass-handled wooden cane. He sat at the table next to us and ordered a drink. He placed his hat on the table in front of him and leaned his cane against a chair. He nodded to us and sipped his drink while he watched Georgia-Virginia in a bar at the O’Hare Hilton on Christmas Eve.

We sat and talked and asked the old man to join us and watched the game until it was time to go to bed.

__________________________________________________________

I can only imagine what it would be like to still be one of those guys. The guys who spend Christmas Eve working in Green Bay and miss their connecting flight home to Tampa. I never had to call my boys and explain through their tears that I wouldn’t be there when they woke up on Christmas morning. For that, I am grateful.

My sportswriting career didn’t end on my terms. I was laid off in 2008, freelanced for 19 months, then landed a Monday through Friday job writing and editing in a cubicle for an Internet marketing agency. That’s what I do now. I don’t have to concern myself with inexplicable layovers in Appleton, Wis., or callous gate attendants or inattentive pilots or lonely old men in hotel bars on Christmas Eve. It wasn’t my choice for the sportswriting to end, and I do miss it every now and then. But I wouldn’t go back. Not to the way it was, anyway. I haven’t missed a Thanksgiving or a Fourth of July or a New Year’s or a Halloween or any holiday since 2007. Having weekends off is like having 52 two-day vacations every year.

Tuesday morning, I’ll see the light in my sons’ eyes when they come downstairs and dig into their stockings. I’ll be home for Christmas.

__________________________________________________________

After we landed in Orlando on Christmas day, 2000 – I highly recommend first class flights, by the way – I rode in a rental car with the photographer and the columnist. The photographer drove and we took I-4 in record time. At the Tampa airport, I got into my car and drove home. It was around 2 o’clock Christmas afternoon when I walked into my house. There were maybe 20 in-laws there. They had already eaten. I hugged my wife and ate some leftovers, then opened some presents.

It was nice.

 

On Chick-fil-A and a Sad Video by Bad Parents

I was going to write about Chick-fil-A. We’ve always been a Chick-fil-A family. And by family, I mean a man, a woman, and two kids. You know, the “right” kind of family. Dan Cathy’s kind of family.

We’re not a Chick-fil-A family any more.

Chick-fil-A owner Dan Cathy is free to cloak his blatant bigotry in the language of religion if he likes. The company is free to donate as many millions as it wants to anti-gay organizations. Fine. But we’re just as free to not eat there again unless something changes. I don’t want another penny of mine being funneled toward groups that actually fight against the civil rights of an entire population. It’s too bad, really. We really liked that place.

It’s been very strange seeing people on Twitter and Facebook boast about eating there today, revealing either their ignorance or their intolerance or both. By the way, you are wrong if you think this is some kind of attack on religion. It is, rather, a denunciation of those who believe following a particular religion gives them the right to consider other people beneath them in some way. Why would anyone want to practice a religion that doesn’t embrace all of humanity, a religion that would place one group of people above another, simply because of a belief system? I don’t think I’ll ever understand how someone could think that way, and still see themselves as being “pure” and “right.” They are neither.

If your religious beliefs dictate that you deny other people their civil rights, you might want to rethink your religious beliefs. And don’t give me this nonsense about “false outrage from the left.” I’ve never been active in the LGBT cause. It’s just never had much impact on my life that I noticed. I’m just sick of the hypocrisy from the right, and I feel compelled to write about it. Listen, if you don’t want to be called a bigot, don’t support bigoted policies. It’s that simple.

I was going to write about that.

But then I saw this video of a 6-year-old boy counting down the top 10 reasons not to vote for President Obama.

If you decided not to click on the link, here’s a brief summary. I’m not going to dignify it by describing it in too much detail. It’s simply too appalling. Suffice to say it is a spite-filled, scornful, wrong-headed regurgitation of everything Shaun Hannity and Rush Limbaugh want you to believe.

It made me slightly nauseous. The worst were the out-takes at the end, which were presented in black and white like some macabre farce. I guess it was supposed to be funny. It wasn’t.

I can’t imagine making my son doing something like that. Our videos are of him and his brother dancing like fiends to Phineas and Ferb songs in the family room. He knows Barack Obama is the president, and we don’t turn off political TV when he’s in the room, but he doesn’t have the first idea about politics in this weird country of ours. Nor should he.

Nor does the kid in that travesty of a video. His parents are the buffoons here, not him. Did they think this was cute? Did they think it would make anyone out there say, Hey, the 6-year-old has a point? I really don’t understand their motivation. Surely they didn’t expect it to go viral like it did (nearly 180,000 views as of tonight). Or maybe they hoped it would go viral, and their kid could get his own talk show on ClearChannel. I don’t know.

So … what then? Why?

I mean, considering the No. 1 reason not to vote for Obama was torn straight out of the Orly Taitz, Donald Trump, Joe Arpaio* playbook, they couldn’t have been using this is a civics lesson for the kid. Could they have? Good grief. What if these parents actually believe the wretched untruths they scripted for their unfortunate little boy? And what if, one day, this little boy learns the truth? What if all of the indoctrinated faithful who consider Hannity, Limbaugh and Fox News the gospel suddenly see the light, and this little boy is swallowed up in their terrible wake as they collectively veer toward reality? Or, worse yet, what if he’s the heir to fake investigative reporter/conservative hatchet boy James O’Keefe**?

The video made me sad. It made me sad for that child, and it made me sad for this country.

Maybe it’s best not to poke a stick at the Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day crowd or the Taitz/Trump/Arpaio minions. Nothing I can say or write or do will change their minds. Maybe it’s better just to leave it alone.

But no. That’s not who I am. It’s not who we are as a nation. Maybe I can’t do or say or write anything to change your mind. But that doesn’t mean I won’t speak mine.

*The Internet marketing geek in me loves the fact that Joe Arpaio’s Wikipedia page is page one, number one for the Google search [crazy Arizona sheriff].

** Page one, number two for [fake acorn pimp]. Heh.

Cape Cod Days

Cape Cod 2006

Jay’s first trip to Cape Cod in 2006.

We’ll head back to Cape Cod for the fifth time as a family in a couple of weeks. Before we started going there (almost) every summer, I thought of Cape Cod as this exotic place. It was the Kennedys and lobster, sailing and lobster, summer theater and lobster, golf and lobster, lobster and lobster. There was also a deep link in history between my family and the Cape, but more about that curious connection in a minute.

The first time I went to Cape Cod with my wife was for her sister’s wedding in 2005. It took place at this incredible seaside resort built around two Gilded Age mansions perched on a bluff over the Atlantic. You would think that breath-taking setting would reinforce my pre-visit perception of Cape Cod. But I think in this respect, Cape Cod is like any other place you hear or read about a lot and mentally slot into a “mind’s eye” view. What you leave out in your imaginary vision of a place is what I call the street-level view. It’s like that in Las Vegas, where you imagine a never-ending line of magnificent casino resorts glittering in the desert, only to forget the space in between, where you’ll find nameless souvenir shops, outdoor bars, Walgreen’s, the McDonald’s, M&M’s World, 7-11, and the stream of people who wander up and down the sidewalks of Las Vegas Boulevard all day and night.

Cape Cod Light

THIS is how I always envisioned Cape Cod.

The street-level view at Cape Cod is defined by the forested stretch of Route 6, the main artery that runs the length of the Cape from Bourne to Provincetown. There is nothing remotely exotic about most of Route 6, also known as the Mid-Cape Highway. My first impression of Cape Cod was shaped by that drab drive along Route 6. I was expecting Cape Cod-style clapboard cottages, sweeping beachfront vistas, yacht slips and mansions. Instead, I saw trees. An apparently endless mass of trees to left and right for mile after mile after mile. Oh, but what those trees concealed. It turned out to be far more exhilarating than I imagined – and I can imagine some pretty exhilarating stuff.

So, we go back now just about every year. Jay was 8 months old the first time, and he tried to crawl up the beach to Boston. He didn’t quite make it.

First Encounter Beach

View of First Encounter Beach from the cottage.

MomScribe spent most of the summers of her youth at Cape Cod. It was just what her family did. When school got out, they shipped out of Westford, Mass., and settled down in the cottage in Eastham, situated about a quarter of a mile down-Cape from First Encounter Beach on the shore of Cape Cod Bay. They stayed for weeks, living the Cape life, working on their tans and appreciating the sunsets. The girls worked at an ice cream shop, or at Arnold’s – a well-known seafood, ice cream, and mini-golf spot along Route 6 between Eastham and Wellfleet. When it was time to go back to school, the family packed up and shipped north again. But the summers were spent on First Encounter Beach, where my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was among 20 passengers and crew members of the Mayflower to conduct a (bloodless) battle with Cape Cod’s Native Americans. His name was Stephen Hopkins, and he was a part of the third on-shore expedition that issued forth from the Mayflower as the future inhabitants of Plymouth Colony searched for a place to put down stakes. Others more famous than my 10G-grandfather were also there, including William Bradford and Myles Standish. Hopkins was included, we have decided, because he had been to the Jamestown settlement a decade earlier and was (ostensibly) familiar with the native inhabitants.

‘Stephen Hopkins’ at Plimoth Plantation.

In any case, the spot where Hopkins and the rest of the Mayflower force fired muskets and stood among the falling arrows of the Nauset Indians was named First Encounter Beach and would one day become the summer-time playground of my future wife. It is entirely fitting that a descendant of one of those intrepid Mayflower passengers should journey there with his family every summer for a week of eating lobster rolls, exploring the tidal pools, building sand castles and searching for the perfect Cape Cod cocktail (I favor a simple concoction of Captain Morgan and ginger ale).

There is another historical connection between my family and Eastham. Among the Plymouth settlers who left for the Outer Cape in the mid-1640s was Nicholas Snow, who came over a few years after the Mayflower and married Stephen’s daughter Constance Hopkins. Nicholas and Constance helped found Eastham, which was incorporated in 1651. Giles Hopkins, one of Stephen’s sons, also came along. The three of them are buried and memorialized now at the Cove Burial Ground on Route 6, located just north of the Orleans Rotary. Constance and Nicholas were my 9G-grandparents.

Constance Hopkins’ memorial at the Cove Burial Ground.

I took a photo of Constance’s headstone at the Cove Burial Ground on a Tuesday in August of 2007. The next day, MomScribe and I took a quick trip to pick up her grandmother in Connecticut. On the way, at my insistence, we stopped at Plimoth Plantation, the amazing living museum based on the original Plymouth Colony. There is a colonial village recreated in great detail from period maps, and it is “inhabited” by actors playing the roles of the colonists who would have been there in 1627. Of course, the first thing I wanted to see was the Stephen Hopkins house. We found it, and sure enough, there was a portly gent with a beard holding forth on a log chair across the dusty road from the Hopkins house. It was the faux Hopkins, who was something of a character in life, and we listened for a minute to the man portraying my 10G-grandfather before we ducked into the very small hut that served as their family dwelling.

Constance Hopkins, Plimoth Plantation

‘Constance Hopkins’ at Plimoth Plantation.

Inside, we found a young woman in period dress. It was Constance. I added her picture to the one already on my camera of her grave stone. The actors couldn’t break character, so it would’ve done no good to tell her of the strange circumstance of visiting her final resting place the day before. I don’t know if it would’ve meant anything to her, anyway. It meant a lot to me, though. It was one of those moments only Cape Cod could give me. I think about Constance every time I pass the Cove Burial Ground. That’s a big part of my street-level view of Cape Cod now, that surreal brush with the living past. I can’t wait to experience that again in a couple of weeks with MomScribe and the boys.

This time, when we cross the Sagamore Bridge (or the Bourne Bridge, whichever seems quicker at the time) and jump onto the Mid-Cape Highway, I’ll see those thick trees again. But I’ll also see the sunsets, and I’ll feel the breeze off Cape Cod Bay, and I’ll smell the fresh fish and burgers and hotdogs and veggies on the grill. I’ll taste that first cool sip of Captain-and-ginger ale, and I’ll hear the soft waves rolling in off the bay at high tide. I’ll think of the boys running and laughing along the beach, and I’ll remember all the days we’ve spent there already, and smile at the thought of all the Cape Cod days to come.

Cape Cod Sunset

Cape Cod sunset at low tide.

Cap Cod Baby

Jay almost made it to Boston. Almost.

Two Lives Collide at the Ball Park on Father’s Day

My two lives collided today when we took the boys to Tropicana Field for a game between the Rays and the Marlins. It’s still weird going back to that place.

Did you ever go back to your old high school for a visit in the years shortly after graduation? You feel like an interloper in a place that once was so familiar. Even though they might greet you with warm handshakes and smiles, you know it’s only for a minute because there are other, more-pressing demands at hand. You are no longer an integral part of the décor. Everyone has moved on without you.

It’s like that when I go back to the Trop, the place I used to call my office.

This was the AP version of Father’s Day for the DadScribe family: A near-sellout crowd saw the Rays defeat the Marlins, 3-0, on the strength of seven shutout innings for starting pitcher Alex Cobb and a leadoff home run for center fielder B.J. Upton.

The optional write-through would lead with my sons going off for an hour with their mom to play in the many kid-themed areas they’ve stuffed the Trop with over the years. Meanwhile, I popped into the press box for a quick chat with an old acquaintance or two. I didn’t bother the other writers, because they were busy. They had other, more-pressing matters at hand. I’m no longer an integral part of the décor.

So, we all went to the ball game. A co-worker has access to fantastic tickets in the lower bowl, slightly down the first-base line behind home plate and about 10 rows from the field. This was good, because there’s no way the boys would’ve been able to follow the game from the nosebleeds. Come to think of it, though, My younger son could’ve done exactly what he did at those seats if we’d been in the upper deck – play round after round of Angry Birds on my old iPhone. At least my older son was a bit more engaged. When Upton hit his homer, he jumped out of his seat and pumped his fists. I’m sure it had as much to do with the general air of excitement around him as it did his actual reaction to the hit, but it was a great moment, nonetheless.

The best moment had nothing to do with the game. During the pregame circus at the Trop, dancing girls toss t-shirts and little foam baseballs into the stands (The ghosts of Branch Rickey and Kenesaw Mountain Landis are surely tormented by the fact that, in the 21st century, dancing girls throw t-shirts and little foam balls into the stands during pregame). One of the little foam balls landed at the feet of an elderly gentleman a few rows in front of us. He picked it up, made his way to our seats, smiled, and wordlessly handed the ball to my older son. We thanked him, and my kid immediately stood up and tossed me the ball. Then he held out his hands for me to throw it back to him. That’s right. Our first game of catch at an actual major-league stadium came courtesy of those dancing girls and that kindly old man. Another great moment in a day full of them.

Still … every now and then, I couldn’t help gazing over my left shoulder at the press box. Before the game, as they went through the usual loud and (frankly) obnoxious pregame preparations, I pointed out the press box to my older son.

“See all those guys sitting up there, buddy? That’s where I used to work. Right up there.”

He looked at the heads of the writers and broadcasters, just visible above the front lip of the press box. His question astonished me. Sometimes I have to remind myself he’s only 6.

“Daddy, do you wish you still worked up there and you were still a writer covering games?”

I didn’t even have to think about my answer.

“No way, buddy. If I still did that, I’d be on the road all the time. And even when I was home, I’d be here almost every night, and you’d almost never see me. I like it just the way it is right now.”

And I meant that. It’s never going to be “just a trip to the ball game” for me when I go to the Trop. Every nook and cranny of that place is absolutely stuffed with memories. I wrapped so much of my self-identity into my former profession, and visiting Tropicana Field reminds me of the guy I used to be. I didn’t always like that guy, and I wasn’t always happy in that profession. But man, it was glorious.

I don’t know. Maybe now that I’ve introduced the boys to that part of my former life, we’ll start to go to the Trop more often as a family. They certainly seemed to enjoy it. And who knows? Maybe the more I go with them, and the more I begin to see the Trop, and baseball, through their eyes, the less awkward it will feel for me to be there.

And one day, maybe we’ll sit in our seats and enjoy the game and the company and I won’t be tempted to gaze wistfully up at the press box. Instead, maybe I’ll think back to the time when we were there and my son tossed me that little foam ball, and my younger son sat quietly and played Angry Birds, and my wife and I smiled at each other and knew it was a good day.

 

Parenting: Our Political Common Ground

So much divides us.

Politics divides us. Religion divides us. Money divides us. Ethnicity divides us. Geography divides us. Social mores divide us. Ignorance divides us.

Fear divides us.

More than ever in my lifetime, it seems that we are defined by what we oppose, by our juxtaposition against – and unassailable, irrational anger at – the “other.”

We see it on our cable news networks. We read it on our bumper stickers. We hear it on our radios.

If you’ve ever had the misfortune of reading the on-line reader comments attached to almost any story on almost any news website, you no doubt felt like your brain was dragged through a virtual pit of slime. Such vitriol is deeply disturbing. It leaves me feeling like we live in a banana republic, populated by hate-filled ignoramuses. So much of the language seems geared toward the denigration and dehumanization of the “other.”

It makes me angry. Then it makes me sad. Then … I’m a little afraid for my kids.

This is the world we live in. It’s a world that seems to mock my morning ritual reminder to our sons: Be good, be nice, be you, have fun.

Voices of reason are ignored. The appalling becomes commonplace. The outrageous, humdrum. Even many of those who once populated society’s fringes no longer are weird enough to attract attention. The only way to be heard is to lunge further away from the middle, then point accusingly back at the “other” as the cause of it all.

I’m not here to draw a moral equivalency among all of these emotionally charged fragments of society. Of course I come to the table with my own set of beliefs, shaped by my experience and my visceral response to life.

I lean toward empathy, but I’m not above outrage.

I’m surrounded by conservative thinkers. I live in one of the reddest zip codes in the state of Florida. My brother would love to see Sarah Palin on the ballot. My uncle ran for county commission in North Carolina on a Tea Party platform. My dad believes the Federal Reserve should never have come into being. I don’t claim to understand their political views, or how they were derived. I love my family and I love my neighborhood, though, and only occasionally have I ever gotten into so much as a heated conversation with any of them about politics.* I’ve certainly never been politically active (as a lifelong journalist, that’s not on the agenda), even though I do feel strongly about most issues.

*I did feel compelled to correct one truly nice and utterly misguided fellow, who swore that our suburban neighborhood of about 600 homes was dotted with potential terrorist sleeper cells and said, in a very matter-of-fact way, that “everyone knows Obama is a Muslim.” This gentleman, who that day tried unsuccessfully to convince me to watch a Fox News documentary about terrorist sleeper cells in America, no longer lives in the neighborhood. I believe he stopped paying his mortgage and was asked politely by the bank to vacate the premises.

I’m also not one of those who contributes to the irrationality of our discourse by claiming we are as divided as we’ve ever been as a nation. I mean, come on. Anyone who believes that it’s never been this bad need only read up on the ‘60s – the 1860s and the 1960s – to understand that it has been much, much worse in this country.

Yet, something’s not right. I can’t put my finger on it. I’ll leave it to Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne in his new book, Our Divided Political Heart, to lay out the history of how we got to this point. Instead of conducting a detailed survey into the sociological reasons for our unease, I’d rather dream.

I dream of a day when our differences no longer define us. I’m not naive enough to even dream that our differences would evaporate in a sudden surge of national goodwill. But rather than let those differences dictate irreparable fragmentation, it would be nice if we could acknowledge those differences in a rational way and search for real solutions. To do that, though, we’ll have to set aside the anger and fear. We’ll have to identify, acknowledge and firmly assign to the back shelves of history those who would espouse the outrageous and appalling.

How? How do we do that?

We embrace what we have in common.

From my perspective as the father of two young boys, I can almost always find common ground with my fellow parents.

Mitt and Ann Romney have Tagg, Matt, Josh, Ben and Craig.

Barack and Michelle Obama have Malia and Sasha.

MomScribe and I have our Bird and Mouse.

We all know what it was like to bring our children into the world. We all have experienced the awesome sense of responsibility that comes with parenthood. We all want what’s best for our kids. We all hope this nation, and this world, is a place where our kids can thrive and live the lives they choose to live with dignity and purpose.

Yes, politics, religion, money, geography, ethnicity, ignorance and social mores divide us. Parenthood doesn’t necessarily change that. What it does, though, is give us a palpable set of shared reference points. Parenthood crystallizes – or should crystallize – our priorities.

I’m absolutely aware that even the definition of parenthood is an emotionally charged political issue these days. I’m not saying an adoptive same-sex couple of dads in Massachusetts have experienced precisely what MomScribe and I have experienced, or that the evangelical Christian mother and father of 12 in Wyoming would, could or should bring up their kids the way we are bringing up ours. Nor am I saying that becoming a parent makes someone a good person capable of rational thought. There are outliers in every group. For example, I fear for the children who attend Westboro Baptist Church, whose elders clearly occupy what passes for the political and religious fringe at this stage in our history. Nor am I saying that politicians should use their children as a political poultice to artificially smooth over their differences. The world is cynical enough without some disingenuous candidate using his or her children as a political prop.

What I am saying is that there is so much that threatens to tear us apart as a society, but there are things we share, too, and it is important to remember that. I share the state of parenthood with millions, and I’d like to think the overwhelming majority of parents in this country want what’s right for their kids.

So, yeah. I think it would be much more difficult to dehumanize the “other” if parents everywhere, of every political persuasion, of every ethnicity, of every religion, of every tax bracket, really thought about what it means to love and raise a child or children – and remembered that even the “other,” at a deep, foundational level, shares that feeling.

I love my kids. Don’t you love yours? OK, then. Let’s talk.

 

The Places I Saw, the Things I Did

I was a sportswriter from 1986 until 2010. During that time, I worked primarily for the Tampa Tribune in Florida. When I was hired there in 1992, there were about 65 people on the sports staff. After the most recent round of layoffs, there are, by my count, seven sportswriters working at the Tribune today.

It’s as good an example of the demise of newspapers as you’ll find. Just 20 years ago, sportswriting was an invigorating career, tough but generally fair, relatively safe from the whims of the economy. Today, it is a dying* industry.

*Some might quibble with that characterization, preferring the term “evolving” to “dying.” I’m sure the folks who built horse-drawn carriages when Henry Ford came along made a similar myopic argument.

There is a lot I miss about the business.

The people, of course. Sports journalists are almost all adolescents at heart, with all of the quirks and charm of that species. This is not a knock on sportswriters. Far from it, in fact. I’m not calling all sportswriters immature (although many of them certainly were – and are), and I’m not calling all of them irresponsible pups (although, again, if the shoe fits, many of them will certainly chew it to tatters). I’m saying that as a group, the sportswriters I knew (and know) combine an endearing eagerness to please, an astonishing lack of self-awareness, outward confidence and a burning desire to know that makes them as energetic a professional class as you’re likely to come across. Sportswriters are not necessarily poets, but they care deeply about the written word. They are story tellers and historians. They are witnesses, and I was one of them for a while.

Big Ben and Parliament, London. Taken as the clock struck 10.

My sons know virtually nothing of my life as a sportswriter. They don’t know that I was fortunate enough to sit in press boxes all over the world, watch games, and write about it for a living. There’s a lot more to it, of course, like cultivating sources and breaking news and competing for stories. And on, and on. The heart of it, though, was being there when something happened that was worth writing about.

And one of the things I miss most about the business is the very reason I’m glad I don’t do it anymore: travel. There was nothing better than going places and seeing things. And, in my opinion, there is nothing worse for a sportswriting father than going places and seeing things that don’t involve his family. There are plenty of sportswriter parents who manage to meet the extraordinary demands of the career while rearing a family. Good on them for that. But it’s not the life I wanted. I didn’t want to miss my sons’ formative years. I wanted to be here for them. So, I asked off a pretty nice beat, covering a major league baseball team, and moved to general assignment sports at the end of the 2005 baseball season. I was laid off three years later. I managed to scrape along on freelance sportswriting work for 19 months before landing a full-time job with an Internet marketing company. And that was that.

And even though I want to be here for my kids and wife – have to be here for them – part of me misses the road. I look back now and think of all the places I saw, all the things I did, and sometimes it seems like a dream. The list below is just a sample of the opportunities the job gave me to broaden my horizons. I want my boys to know I did these things, saw these things. They’re listed in no particular order:

  • I stood in front of the Aztec Sun Stone at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.
  • I saw snow-capped Mt. Fuji from the deck of a U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter flying from Tokyo to Yokohama.

    Mt. Fuji from a Blackhawk helicopter.

  • I visited Monument Park by myself – just me and the ghosts of Gehrig, Ruth, and the rest – at old Yankee Stadium.
  • I walked inside the Green Monster at Fenway Park.
  • I saw the Chicago skyline at night from the 96th floor observation deck of the Hancock Center.
  • I stood at the corner of Hollywood and Vine.
  • I sat through a 5.8 earthquake in San Diego.
  • I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and explored Muir Woods.
  • I drove to the end of the road up Mt. Rainier.

    Golden Gate Bridge and fog.

  • I stood in Times Square.
  • I saw Queen Street in Toronto.
  • I saw a forest of green and gold banners amid the smoky haze of hundreds of grill fires in the parking lot of Lambeau Field.
  • I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
  • I visited the Sixth Floor Museum at the Texas Book Depository in Dallas.
  • I lost way too much money at the MGM Grand casino in Detroit. And at Harrah’s in New Orleans. And at the airport in Las Vegas. And at the Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee. And the Casino du Lac Leamy in Hull, Quebec. Sigh.
  • I stood on the edge of the world, also known as the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, where I didn’t notice I wasn’t breathing for at least a minute. That’s when I learned what it meant when something takes your breath away.

    The Grand Canyon.

  • I strolled through the Harvard campus during a bitterly cold spring morning.
  • I stood under the St. Louis arch.
  • I walked the length and breadth of the Manassas battleground in Virginia.
  • I walked the corridors of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
  • I got lost in the French Quarter.
  • I saw a family of beavers waddling along the Ottawa River right in the heart of the Canadian capital.
  • I saw Puget Sound, the Olympic Mountains and the sunset from the top of the Space Needle.
  • I breathed the sacred smoke and marveled at the ancient architecture of the Hexagonal Shrine at the Sensoji Asakusa Kannon Buddhist Templein Tokyo.

    The gardens at the New Otani Hotel, Tokyo.

  • I saw the Rosetta Stone behind its glass enclosure at the British Museum.
  • I stood (reverently) on Charles Dickens’ grave at Westminster Abbey.

I saw all that, and I did all that, and much more, and met so, so many people, because I was a sportswriter for a time. Mind you, it wasn’t all a Rick Steves travel documentary. I managed to do most of these things because I made a point of playing the tourist when I visited all these places. It wasn’t the cool thing to do, I know. But I had to do it. It meant waking up early – really early – most of the time and getting out of the hotel room on limited (if any) sleep. It meant going it alone, more often than not. Then it meant grabbing a quick lunch and heading to work. I did it because I was almost obsessively curious about the world around me, and because I just … wanted to see what there was to see.

Westminster Abbey, London, resting place of Charles Dickens.

So, I’ve seen it now. And, yeah, I miss it sometimes. And I wish I could somehow upload those memories into my sons’ young brains. But I guess it’s OK that these are my memories, my experiences, because the boys will create their own. One thing I know. No matter how much I miss it, no matter how much I wish I could walk along Fisherman’s Wharf or browse the historic shelves at City Lights Book Store one more time, I know that I’m where I need to be. Where I want to be. I’m home.