My Son, the Jedi Padawan

The Force is strong with this one. Jedi Academy training Sunday at Disney’s Hollywood Studios bore that out.

Hollywood Studios

Jay communes with the Force moments before vanquishing the Dark Lord of the Sith on stage.

Lord Darth Vader’s mastery of the Dark Side was no match. Padawan Jay showed that Dark Knight of the Sith what’s up. But don’t take my word for it. We have video proof of his subtle, but powerful skill with the lightsaber. He was, if I say so myself, the very image of the future Jedi Master.

In fact, feel free to use the video below as a training tape for your young ones. Or even for your old ones. This kid can rock a saber. Honestly, he had seen the training so many times during our many visits to Hollywood Studios that he had memorized the training routine. And yes, he is small compared to the full-sized Darth Vader, but never tell me the odds.

The Force will be with him … always.

Why Do You Hate Squirrels, America?

This is how most of America sees squirrels: tweaked out, hyper, incompetent, good for a laugh. This must cease, for the good of humanity and squirrelhood.

This is how most of America sees squirrels: tweaked out, hyper, incompetent, good for a laugh. This must cease, for the good of humanity and squirrelhood.

The negative and inaccurate portrayal of squirrels in American mass media and entertainment must cease. Consider this a rallying cry on behalf of our furry-tailed, tree-climbing, acorn-eating friends.

Your eyes are rolling. I can hear them. I know what you’re thinking. They are squirrels. They have been handed all of life’s advantages for eons. Why should you care whether a writer or filmmaker or advertising hack depicts a squirrel in an absurd and utterly unrealistic way to get a laugh or sell a product?

Because even though many squirrels do, in fact, live down to the appalling mass media stereotype, the vast majority of squirrels actually are competent, caring, engaged, hard-working rodents. Rodents who are tired of being made fun of as a group, just for the sake of a cheap laugh.

As Scrat from Ice Age proves, this is not a new problem.

As Scrat from Ice Age proves, this is not a new problem.

Think it’s not a problem? Consider how squirrels have been depicted in children’s movies in recent years. Scrat from Ice Age? A tweaked out, acorn-obsessed addict who would rather chase a nut than avoid certain death in an avalanche. Hammy from Over the Hedge? Also tweaked out, particularly susceptible to the lure of caffeinated beverages, which are like squirrel amphetamines. One dose, and Hammy turns into a seething mass of hyperactivity and pure adrenaline. That’s just not realistic, and it has to stop. In the brilliant animated film Up, what do Dug and the rest of the talking dogs of the South America jungle get distracted by throughout the film? That’s right. Squirrel! They are merely a comic prop, good for nothing but a laugh. Squirrels demand equal screen time from now on. Or any screen time, for that matter. And not of them being tweaked out. Screen time of squirrels being squirrels, as they do. It’s only fair.

Even our preschoolers are not immune from negative stereotypes of squirrels. Witness one of our younger son’s favorite board games: Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel. Sneaky and Snacky? Why not just call the game Felonious, Gluttonous, Stinking Rodent and be done with it? Say what you really think, game makers. Show the true depths of your anti-squirrel bias.

Or, better yet, in all seriousness, why not call it Industrious, Athletic, Cute-as-a-button Yard Pet? Because that would be far more accurate and provide America’s youth a genuinely positive impression of our furry little buddies. Our children deserve to know the truth about squirrels. Their lifelong impressions are being formed now. It’s not too late.

Not every depiction is inaccurate or demeaning. Fortunately, the good people at Mary Baldwin College — home of the Fighting Squirrels — have it right. Here’s an excerpt from the school’s website, explaining why the squirrel was chosen for its school mascot.

“In heraldry the squirrel is a symbol of industriousness, trustworthiness, and preparation for the future. It also has been used to represent those with a love of the woods. In Nordic mythology, the squirrel is a symbol of the soul. These ancient meanings apply to Baldwin athletes who know that diligent work will pay off at game time and that their teammates depend on them — and equally apply to all Baldwin women (and men) who are disciplined in their focus, strive to do good in the world, work toward environmental sustainability, and seek wellness of body as well as soul.”

Now, that's more like it! Thank you, Mary Baldwin College, for your squirrel-savvy depiction of our furry friends.

Now, that’s more like it! Thank you, Mary Baldwin College, for your squirrel-savvy depiction of our furry friends.

Yes. That’s more like it. Truly inspiring. Thank you, Mary Baldwin College. It is encouraging to see that someone, somewhere, understands the plight of the gentle, humble squirrel. Perhaps there is yet hope for the squirrel community, after all.

We can dream.

ESPN Wide World of Sports: Athletic Excellence, Disney Magic

WWOSGlobe

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

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

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

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

Boardwalk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Yes. Yes, I was the MVP.

    Yes. Yes, I was the MVP.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Are Angels Real?

“Dad, are angels real?”

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

“Why do you ask?”

“Because I don’t know.”

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

“Well, what do you think?”

He pointed toward the ceiling.

“Are they up there?”

“On the ceiling?”

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

“Rain?”

“NO,” he said. “Heaven.”

“How do you know that’s heaven?”

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

Meanwhile, back in the clouds …

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

Hence, the question.

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

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

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

“No one knows,” he said.

“No one knows?”

“No one.”

No one.

Empathy

San Francisco

The Basin – San Francisco.

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

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

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

“You don’t love us.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is empathy.

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

Empathy.

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

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

Empathy.

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

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

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

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

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

And that truth is this …

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

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

Seconds to Check, a Lifetime of Moments to Savor

I’m trying to remember how I thought about things when I was seven. I carry a few foggy memories from that age of an awakening awareness of gonads, girls and God. I was on the verge of knowing a few things, but I was still working out the details.

For instance: I knew older boys were terrified of being hit in the ‘nads. That’s what we called them: ‘nads. Or, I suppose I should say that’s what the older boys called them, and we first graders followed suit.

Because that’s what first graders do. They emulate. They’re mostly undifferentiated human templates, absorbing and assimilating the qualities of those around them. What they hear, see, smell, touch, do and dream at that age combines with nature to give them form and substance for life.

At seven, I don’t recall if I had the slightest idea that ‘nads were properly called testicles (and even more properly called testes, but we’re not really sticklers for propriety). I do remember that I didn’t know what purpose testicles served. I only knew they were my constant companions, and that it hurt like the dickens when I they got hit or kicked or smashed by the pointy tip of my bicycle seat, and older boys wore a cup during baseball practice and games, and I wanted to get a cup, too, because it would mean I was a big boy.

So, now, I’m the father of a seven-year-old first grader. In preparation for this piece about testicular cancer awareness, I thought it would be good to start with a lesson for my older son. I thought I’d begin with the generalities then move on to the specifics.

During the drive from Tampa to Walt Disney World Saturday, I asked the back seat the general question, “Hey. You guys know what testicles are?”

Silence. Then …

“They’re, like, well … um, no, not really.”

Turns out my older son knows approximately what I knew almost 40 years ago at that age. Only, instead of ‘nads, he and his buddies call them balls.

(A quick aside here. I envy the years of rich discovery ahead for my sons. The lessons they’ll learn. The colorful vocabulary they’ll acquire. Oh, to relive each and every moment when life served up a new testicular euphemism. It’s all ahead for them: nuts, eggs, huevos, danglers, scrotes, cojones, rocks, stones, the family jewels. And oh, so many more. Use them well, boys. Use them well.)

After our brief chat Saturday, my older son knows now that the proper name is testicles, but I’m still not sure he’s ready to process the concept of testicular cancer. I’ll save the specifics for later.

Not much later, though. One day soon, I’ll explain to my sons that testicular cancer is the most common form of cancer among boys and young men aged 15-35. I’ll explain that catching it early is vital, because 99 percent of those diagnosed with testicular cancer respond well to treatment and can lead normal, active lives. My wife and I will talk to their pediatrician about teaching self-examination, and then we’ll reinforce the importance of vigilance. We won’t be shy, because it’s too important for awkwardness.

All of those details are a bit much for a seven-year-old, I think. But what we can do now is instill the zest for life that will convince him that it’s well worth the few seconds it takes to check for signs of testicular cancer.

So we savor the moments. Saturday, with my wife laid out by a nasty head cold, I piled the boys into the car for the hour-long drive over to Epcot. The annual Flower and Garden Festival has begun, and that means topiary! You might be surprised at how fascinated young boys can be with wired shrubbery shaped like Mater and Lightning McQueen, or like a family of pandas.

We spent a couple of hours Saturday wandering the pavilions, chasing the evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz, enjoying the mild weather, relishing each other’s company. It’s the Year of Disney for our family, and this was the first time it was just me and the boys. They’ll remember these days of Disney, I’m sure. I know I will. Perhaps one day they’ll look forward to days like these with their own kids.

With that hopeful thought in mind, we’ll remind them occasionally when they’re older to self-check for signs of testicular cancer. And then, if necessary, we’ll remind them of why. Hopefully, they’ll already know. Hopefully, they won’t need to be reminded that we check because those few seconds could buy them and everyone who loves them years, decades, a lifetime of moments to savor.

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 SingleJingles-Logo-spot

It’s Man UP Monday!

I’m proud to be a member of the Single Jingles Man UP Monday BLOGGING TEAM!

Today, I’m doing my part to spread an important message about Testicular Cancer.

Did you know that Testicular Cancer is the #1 cancer in young men ages 15 to 35?

Did you know that Testicular Cancer is highly survivable if detected early?

Did you know that young men should be doing a monthly self-exam?

What can you do?

Stop by the Single Jingles website for more information on Testicular Cancer.

Request a FREE shower card with self-exam instructions — it just might save a young man in your life!

And if you’re feeling just a little AWKWARD about this conversation, check out this video from some parents who feel the exact same way!

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Thank you to Jim Higley of Bobblehead Dad for inviting me to participate in this great series. Here is the first installment, written by Whit Honea and published last Monday at his personal blog, Honea Express. Here’s another entry by Paul Easter, and another by Andy Hinds (aka Beta Dad).

Epcot

Topiary panda family at the China pavilion, Epcot.

Why I Don’t Cover Baseball Any More

Pitchers and catchers report next week for spring training. On that day, I’ll pick up my sons at daycare, take them home, make their supper, beg them to eat their green beans, help them with their homework, maybe play with them for a while, help them get ready for bed, read them a book, yell at them to get back into bed, ask them don’t they know how late it is, chase them up the stairs and back into their bedrooms, threaten to withhold tomorrow’s dessert if they don’t go to sleep, and check on them on my way to bed, amazed, as always, at how achingly beautiful they are in repose.

It wasn’t so long ago I would not have been able to do any of those things. And not merely because I didn’t have kids back then. I wouldn’t have been able to do those things on the day pitchers and catchers report for spring training because I would have reported, too.

I might have mentioned once or twice that I used to cover baseball for a newspaper. I wrote about the Tampa Bay Rays for a newspaper here in Tampa. That job went away for good in July 2008. The layoff ended a 16-year run for me at the paper. The last decade of that was spent writing about baseball.

I asked off the Rays beat after the 2005 season. Why? Why would I leave what many people (myself included) would consider the career of a lifetime, the dream job? It couldn’t be more simple: My wife and I were expecting our first child in December of that year. There was no way I wanted to put my family through the rigors of a baseball season year after year after year.

Continue reading

Dad 2.0 Summit: Next Year, I’m Singing

Houston Sunrise

Sunrise over Houston during the Dad 2.0 Summit, as seen from the 18th floor of the Four Seasons Hotel.

First, it was about the song. The song we all dance to as loving, engaged, parents and creative souls. The tune that wakes us in the morning before the sun or the kids are up so we can be ready for work or whatever our day holds before we make them breakfast and walk them to the bus stop. It’s the melody of the midnight crying jag. It’s the chorus of cookies and milk. The lunchbox aria.

Second … it was about karaoke. Maybe first it was about karaoke.

Dad 2.0 Summit in Houston, Texas, will probably best be remembered by those who (wisely) chose sleep deprivation instead of resting peacefully at night in the luxurious Four Seasons Hotel as the weekend when Canada made a scene. Not the scene. A scene, as in, “Holy Black Hockey Jesus, did you see that guy spin around that stripper pole while belting out Neil Diamond (or whoever)? No? Well, check out this six-second video on Vine! Ha! That guy rocks.”

Yeah. You know who I’m talking about. Chris Read, CanadianDad, proved that there is room on the dad blogging stage for the new guy. He earned his place there, one of five Spotlight Bloggers invited to read at the second Dad 2.0, with a moving tribute to his late father, as well as a willingness to put himself out there over the past year as a prominent resident of what I thought of as the Planet of the Pixelated Parents before I got to Houston on Thursday.

See, as I touched on in an earlier daily recap (and told pretty much anybody who stopped to chat with me during the weekend), my perception of my fellow attendees was shaped by the months of research and reading I did before I ever wrote word one here. I knew them as avatars and blog posts and rabble rousers or peacemakers. I knew them as pithy tweeters and witty digital conversationalists. I knew them, or their personas, as they wished me to know them.

Most of them didn’t know me at all. Which, yeah. Feb. 21 will mark one year since I “launched” this thing, whatever it has become. Even though parent blogging remains a fairly new phenomenon, especially among the growing field of dads, one year is a blink of an eye in this well-established, tight-knit community.

Going to Dad 2.0 was like crawling into my laptop screen and melding with the circuitry of the surreal. Throughout the weekend, familiar faces drifted by, like scrolling through a living Facebook photo album.

That surreal sensation was completely gone by the end of the event. I can’t begin to recount every interesting conversation or in-person connection I made in Houston. What I can do, though, is point out that there is something beyond intimate about a blogger conference for a natural introvert like me. I think what makes it so interesting in terms of making those real connections with people is that, if you do your homework (and, as a lifelong journalist, of course I did), then you meet these writers and content creators already knowing a great deal about them. There is no need for the verbal circling and sparring that takes place as you get to “know” them. As I say, you already know what they want you to know about them – because they’ve written it or talked about it on a podcast or depicted it in viral meme form.

Also, it helps that we all come from the same place emotionally and creatively. We’re parents. We love to write (or draw, or take photos, or whatever the medium of choice might be). We love to tell stories.

That’s what I’ll remember about my first Dad 2.0: the stories of the people I thought I knew, as told in their actual voices in hotel hallways, on a ballroom stage, over a game of Texas hold ‘em with fake money, in the hotel lounge, or in a bar.

I’ll remember the impressive keynote speakers, of course, and the five men who weaved sublime tales about being dads, bloggers, and Internet pros – the Three-headed Dads. And I will always, always remember the warm welcome everyone gave me when I stumbled through my Spotlight reading on that first morning. I’ll also remember the guys from Dad Labs grabbing me as I raced out of the main ballroom on my way to the restroom to ask if I had time for a live, streaming interview with Clay Nichols. In case you were wondering (which, of course you were), I had to piss like a racehorse throughout the conversation.

I’ll remember Manwich and Army of Frankensteins. Free! Booze and food. The kilt.

I’ll remember the walk from my hotel room on the 18th floor to the bank of elevators. Out the door, right turn, right turn, left turn, long hallway. Push “down.” Which one would arrive first? Where would that magic box carry me next? Who would be there when I got there? Would the people and lobby have dissolved into flowing green streams of pixelated code? Would Agent Smith be waiting at the bottom to chase me back into my rabbit hole? Would a black cat walk by … then walk by again?

Somebody, Amy from Mom Spark, I think it was, called herself the glitch in the Matrix when I floated my “climbing into the laptop screen” analogy for the first time. (Oh, you didn’t know writers tested material in conversation before committing it to the page? Why do think writers talk at all?)

Most of all? Most of all, I’ll remember the weekend as the time when the pixelated people of the Daddy Complex and Howtobeadad and Beta Dad and Honea Express and Always Home and Uncool and Black Hockey Jesus and Canadian Dad and BloggerFather and OWTK and Pet Cobra and Daddy in a Strange Land and Clark Kent’s Lunchbox and Bobblehead Dad and the Daddy Doctrines and Momo Fali and the Muskrat and Lesbian Dad and Bitchin’ Wives Club and the Captain and Laid Off Dad and Super John and so many, many, many more morphed into David, Charlie, Andy, Andy, Whit, Kevin, um … Jesus, Chris, Oren, Jeff, Jason, Jason, Ron, Jim, Chris, Momo, Michael, Polly, Amy, Creed, Doug, just plain John and on and on and on. Turns out they’re all real. And they’re almost all warm and friendly, and curious and alive, and dancing to the same tune.

Oh, yes. I’ll be back. And next year, I’m singing.

Beer

Beer. Lots of beer.

Why am I doing this?

I don’t have a plan. I have some business cards (and boy, are they nifty), and I know when I have to be on-stage Friday morning. I also know that I’m sandwiched between the mayor of Houston and the opening keynote speaker, Jeff Pulver.

But they all said I need a plan. This is my first blogger conference, the second annual Dad 2.0 Summit in Houston, Texas. I’m going because I submitted a blog post when they did a call for submissions for Spotlight Bloggers. They asked me to come, and asked me to read this post instead. I was blown away when they asked, and I consider it one of the great writing honors of my long and illustrious blogging career. Which began in earnest on Feb. 21, 2012, less than a year ago.

So, what am I doing? I’m going to read my thing, which will be over before the event even really gets started. I’m going to meet face to face some of the other Spotlight Bloggers, established dad blogging voices like Black Hockey Jesus and Whit Honea and Kevin McKeever and the pride of Canada, Chris Read.

I want to meet members of the new dad bloggers group on Facebook, including group founder and Bad Boy of Dad Blogging, Oren Miller.

I want to meet some other people, too. Writers I’ve come to admire. Funny writers. Poignant writers. Powerful writers. Men and women who know how to use the English language and social media to tell stories that matter. Stories about parenthood, certainly, but stories about life. These are writers who make me want to write better.

I want to meet them.

But I also want to meet Doug French, founder of the Dad 2.0 Summit and the guy who sent me the email telling me my work had been chosen. Doug seems pretty cool. I want to meet him.

I want to meet so many others, too. The guys from DadCentric, including the inimitable Jason Avant (the blogger, not the receiver) and Andy Hinds (the brilliant, brawling everyman behind Beta Dad blog). There are people I want to meet that I’m not even going to mention here, because I don’t want to jinx it. I don’t know if I’m invited to karoake, and I’m not going to invite myself. But apparently there will be late-night karoake. Rumor has it, anyway.

Even representatives from the event sponsors. I want to thank them, for sure. There’d be no Dad 2.0 Summit without Dove Care for Men, Honda, Turtle Wax, and many, many others. I also am fascinated with the idea that there seems to be a groundswell among corporations to move away from the buffoon-dad stereotype we’ve always seen on TV and in movies. It’s important, I think, that high-profile events like Dad 2.0 Summit bring attention to parents who shatter those stereotypes, and share their stories on the Internet.

But what am I doing? Three days away from my family? For what? Damn, I’m going to miss them. They’ll be fine without me, of course. Yet, one of the main reasons I wanted off the baseball beat back in 2006 was I wanted to be here — always — for my sons. So … irony! I write a dad blog now, which I would not write without them, and I’m about to jet off to Houston for a long weekend of boozing it up with a bunch of other mom and dad bloggers learning as much as possible about the craft and business of blogging.

Honestly, I don’t know what to expect at the Four Seasons Hotel (although I did stay there once while covering an NLCS, Astros versus Cardinals). The guys from DadCentric did a round table primer on the conference, so I guess that helps some. No, it definitely helps quite a bit.

No matter. So what if I don’t know what I’m doing, or why I’m going? I’ll enjoy finding out the why and what for in the coming days.

I’ll also be tweeting the hell out of it, in case anyone is interested in following along. Hey, and if you have any suggestions about what, exactly, I should be doing while I’m there … don’t hold back.

See you on the other side.