Once More … For Oren

Give Forward

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

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

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

Oren’s phone rang. It was me.

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

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

Oren Miller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oren Miller

Oren Miller and family.

 

Our New York

The lobby clock at the Waldorf-Astoria.

The lobby clock at the Waldorf-Astoria.

New York is the Statue of Liberty. The Circle Line. Washington Square. Greenwich. The West Village. Chinatown. The Empire State Building. MOMA. The Guggenheim. The Upper West Side. Central Park.

We did none of that.

Our plans were fluid. We knew where we would stay, knew what day we would arrive. There was a reservation for dinner, a date at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, tickets to a show.

A loose itinerary for the rest of the weekend. We had ideas, certainly. We had hope. We made it there on our 10th anniversary. We could make it anywhere.

It rained. Did we care?

We had an umbrella, which I left under a table at a bar called Peacock Alley. We drank chocolatinis and ate truffled fries.

Fourteen-year-old dancer by Degas at the Met.

Fourteen-year-old dancer by Degas at the Met.

A decade of life together. At the beginning, 10 years ago, this is what we knew: We knew where we would wed, knew what day we would be married. There was a Las Vegas honeymoon, a date in a helicopter for a champagne brunch at the Grand Canyon, tickets to a show. After that …

A loose itinerary for the rest of our lives. We had ideas. We had hope. We made it to our 10th anniversary.

New York. Why New York?

Because the city was mine, and it was hers, but it had never been ours.

It is ours now.

The loose itinerary allowed our imaginations to play. The boys were home and well-attended. This was our time. Time to discover and rediscover.

Time. That was one thing I had forgotten about New York. It is an island floating loose on the stream of time. This place, this metropolis of memory, took us back a decade. We were at the beginning, back in 2004 on our wedding night.

Freedom Tower.

Freedom Tower.

The loose itinerary of our life together still hovered out there, unformed, unknown, unknowable, inconceivable to us.

Had we known …

We did not know, though, and when we were caught in the rain without an umbrella we improvised. The walk from the Gershwin Theater to the Waldorf-Astoria is seven blocks, farther in heels. Farther still in the pouring rain at midnight, but New York is New York. There is always a gift shop nearby offering to sell you a $2 umbrella for $17.50.

It rained. At Grand Central Terminal, we ate hot soup and watched the stars. At the Met, I lost the docent, the tour group, my wife and myself. Through the Italian masters I wandered, past the Degas, the Seurat, the Van Gogh, the Rembrandts, the Monets, the Tiffany glass windows. I found her among the mounted knights in their armor.

The sun came out and we walked the streets of New York together.

It is ours now.

New York is the Upper East Side. The Met. Times Square. Wicked. Rockefeller Center. St. Patrick’s Cathedral, masked by scaffolding, inside and out. Bryant Park in the rain and in the Sunday morning sunshine. The Public Library. O’Casey’s Irish bar. Chelsea Market. The High Line. St. Paul’s Chapel. The Freedom Tower. Zuccotti Park. The Stock Exchange. Federal Hall. Stone Street. The Brooklyn Bridge from the South Street Sea Port. Little Italy. The 6 train. The 35th floor of the Waldorf Towers, where presidents and monarchs spend their nights in New York.

The original Winnie the Pooh, on display at the NYC Public Library on 42nd Street.

The original Winnie the Pooh, on display at the NYC Public Library on 42nd Street.

Our loose itinerary revealed to us the pew where George Washington prayed on the day he was inaugurated. It threw into our path the original stuffed animals that A.A. Milne gifted to his son, Christopher, and later immortalized as Winnie the Pooh and friends. With no tyrannical to-do list holding us hostage, we lingered at the Ground Zero memorial pools, tracing the engraved names of the dead in reverence. It was sublime.

We did all of that, unfettered by an agenda, free to actually see it, to let it wash over us and to appreciate the city and each other. We gave ourselves the gift of room to breathe in New York, and the city helped us remember who we were.

And as we remembered, we floated on the island in its stream back to a time before our hopeful itinerary of our life together hardened into the immovable facts of shared history.

For a time, it all fell away. There was just us, and just New York, and it was ours.

 

The southern tip of the High Line park in New York.

The southern tip of the High Line park in New York.

 

Swing, Fail, Swing Again

Baseball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He stepped. He pivoted. He swung.

The Field Trip

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

His face broke.

Tears gathered and fell.

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

Small sob.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I did not.

_______________

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

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

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

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

“Daddy!”

He ran to me and grabbed me in a hug.

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

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

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

_______________

No. That did not happen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tampa Sunrise

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

I Asked, He Answered: What My Son Really Thinks of Me

At 6:17 a.m., I walked into my older son’s bedroom and flipped on the light. His face was turned toward the lamp, so he squeezed his eyes shut tighter and twisted his head into his pillow. I sat down on his bed and said good morning.

“What time is it?” he mumbled into his pillow. I glanced at his alarm clock.

“It’s 18 minutes after six,” I said. “Time to get ready for the bus.”

“Six-eighteen,” he said. He’s learning time and money in school, and he’s getting pretty good at both.

And then, because I read a story about the impressions our kids have of us, and because I saw a commercial the night before that showed kids mimicking the behavior of their parents, I had this question buzzing around in my mind as we began our morning wake-up ritual.

“Hey, let me ask you something,” I said. “How would you describe your dad?”

Now, this wasn’t fair of me and I knew it. He was still basically asleep. His mind was primed for another day of second-grade exuberance and angst, possibly still full of Frozen songs from our little movie watch party of the night before.

I asked anyway, even though I wasn’t sure I would like his answer.

As drowsy as he was, he did not hesitate.

“Sweet, kind, funny, courageous,” he said. After a pause, he added, “Likes to play soccer.”

It was as if he had tapped into my mind and pulled out the exact words I would have used to describe him. Except I would have added a few.

Smart.

Empathetic.

Sensitive.

Energetic.

Loving.

Feisty.

Independent.

Loves to read.

Good at math.

Loves animals.

Loves to ride his bike.

Loves vacations.

Loves his family.

On and on I could go. His answer was not what I expected, but it instantly lifted me emotionally and mentally. I could not stop smiling when I told my wife what he said, and even the morning commute to work couldn’t get me down.

When I think of some of the words he might justifiably have added to his description of me − strict, grumpy, always tired, yells too much, hard to please, sometimes makes kids eat healthy food − I feel exhilarated, but a little guilty, too. Even though I would describe myself differently, he chose to accentuate the characteristics that place me in the most favorable light as a parent. The guilt sneaks in because his act of lifting me up with unvarnished praise also served to remind me that I have a long, long way to go to be the parent − the person − I need to be for him, his brother and their mother.

I won’t let it go to my head. I know that if I ask the same question at a different time (say, when he’s being forced against his will to spend 10 more minutes on homework instead of watching Clone Wars on Netflix), his answer might be vastly different. But it did feel good to hear it. It does feel good.

Nothing wrong with a little parenting validation from the most relevant source there is, as long as I keep it in perspective.

 

5 Things About Frozen Our Kids Just Didn’t Understand

Frozen

Can I say something crazy? Frozen has become our family’s favorite Disney movie, even though the boys don’t understand half of it. (Image: Disney Studios, via Click Communications.)

Can I say something crazy? We’ve seen Frozen three times. Three.

Can I say something even crazier? The last movie I saw three times in a theater was Star Wars: a New Hope, in 1977. I was 8.

Naturally, we own the complete Frozen soundtrack. Our boys know the words to all of the songs. And they sing them. Constantly. So do we.

The songs alternate as my daily ear worm. More often than not, I wake up with “Let it Go” in my head. And there it stays. All. Day. Long.

(It’s in there right now.)

Sometimes, though, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” or “For the First Time in Forever” manage to break the “Let it Go” stranglehold. Lately, “Love is an Open Door” and “Frozen Heart” and “In Summer” have made their presence known. Today at my desk, I noticed myself humming the chorus of “Fixer Upper.”

They’re all good. So good that I was tempted to download the digital HD version when it became available Tuesday on iTunes. We’re waiting, though. The Blu-Ray Combo pack comes out March 18. Maybe we’ll wait. Probably.

Meanwhile, we talk about it. I know the boys love the songs and the story and the characters, but I wasn’t sure they actually understood everything they heard or saw. A non-scientific investigation revealed what I suspected: Some of the lyrics and plot points were a bit beyond our boys. Not that it matters, mind you. They love it, all the same.

I’m just glad I took a moment to set the record straight for them on these five things:

1. Why would Anna think she was either elated or gassy, and where, exactly, is “that zone?”

This one required definitions for elated (delighted, overjoyed, very happy) and gassy (um … about to burp or, I guess, fart). It also required an explanation for the physiological effects that often accompany the anticipation of a life-altering event. Which … butterflies? That was a can of worms best left for another time, because our younger son still takes things a bit too literally. “No,” I said. “There aren’t actual butterflies in your stomach. It just feels like it.”

2. Why does Anna feel the need to stuff chocolate in her face at the prospect of meeting a tall, fair stranger at the ball? 

This one made absolutely no sense to them. Our older son doesn’t even like chocolate. If she was about to meet someone “special,” why would she want to risk having brown teeth? I explained to them that some people crave sugar and caffeine when they’re nervous, and as chocolate has both, it’s a natural stimulant. Or sedative. Actually, I’m not really 100 percent sure why she’d want to stuff chocolate in her face. Maybe they just needed something to rhyme with “sophisticated grace.”

3. Why is it crazy for Hans to ask Anna to marry him?

They got that it’s a bit weird for two people to become engaged to be married the same night they meet, but I don’t think they quite understood why. I tried to explain that first you need to meet someone. Then, after a protracted getting-to-know-you period of friendship, you have to become aware of a mutual attraction. Then, if that mutual attraction is more than physical zeal, there has to be some kind of … spiritual … connection? OK look, I don’t really know how love happens so if those two crazy kids want to get crazy with each other, who are we (or Elsa? Or Kristoff?) to say otherwise? I mean, sure, Hans turned out to be evil, but his horse seemed nice. It just goes to show you.

4. Why did Elsa change dresses (and hair) (and makeup) (and … bra size?) when she magically built her castle?

No, our boys didn’t ask anything about Elsa’s bra size. But they were a bit confused by her physical transformation. They understood that she left Arendelle because she was afraid she was going to hurt Anna or someone else with her uncontrollable power. And they got that she was now able to be who she really was and live how she wanted to live, with no rules. She was free. They got that. The purpose for the clothes eluded them, until I explained that it was the screenwriter’s way to make absolutely sure that we all understood that Elsa’s transformation was complete and absolute. That the only thing from Arendelle that she still carried with her was massive guilt for nearly killing her sister and for surviving when their parents drowned at sea.

Wait. What?

5. Why couldn’t Elsa just immediately freeze those handcuff things off her when she woke up in the cell?

You know … I have no idea. I’m just glad she remembered to put a little flurry over Olaf before he went the way of Frosty in the greenhouse.

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.

That Night in New Orleans

New Orleans

A musical trio serenade the tourists on Royal Street in New Orleans, circa 1995. Photo by Carter Gaddis.

This blog was created almost two years ago as a way to share some of my experiences as a sportswriter, a way to chronicle those years of my life that my sons are too young to know about. With the Dad 2.0 Summit in New Orleans approaching, I’ve been reminiscing about some of the times I had in the Crescent City, including one night when a fellow sportswriter drank deeply from the chalice of French Quarter life. Come to think of it, this could all have been a dream. The names have been changed, but the events are faithfully recorded as they might or might not have happened. See you soon, New Orleans.

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That night in New Orleans began at Mulate’s. As the Zydeco heated up and the Abita cooled us down, Sam finished his second hurricane of the night and addressed the table in that gravelly, frog-like voice that always made me think of Owen Meany.

“HEY,” said Sam. “WHY DO YOU GUYS WEAR YOUR WEDDING RINGS ON THE ROAD?”

The married men among us looked around at each other and pondered how exactly to answer a question like that. We were sportswriters, all of us, in town to cover an NFL game the next day at the Superdome between the Tampa Bay Bucs and the New Orleans Saints. This particular question from this particular sportswriter demanded a moment of contemplation.

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My 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot

Baseball Hall of Fame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few other notes.

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

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

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

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

An Interview with Santa Claus

Pick a Santa, any Santa. They're all as real as you want them to be. (Photos: Various sources.)

Pick a Santa, any Santa. They’re all as real as you want them to be.

One of the most remarkable developments during my many years of travel as a journalist was the time I interviewed Santa Claus.

It was March 2004, and I was in Tokyo for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays-New York Yankees opening series. Our first afternoon there, I came across Herr Kringle strolling through the 400-year-old Japanese garden adjacent to our hotel, the New Otani. He was alone, unattended, not a reindeer in sight. I got the distinct impression he wanted to be left alone. But I was a journalist. This was news. I approached the Jolly Old Elf and introduced myself.

I pulled out my digital recorder and notebook and proceeded to conduct the interview of a lifetime.

The 400-year-old Japanese garden at the New Otani in Tokyo, site of my interview of a lifetime with Santa himself.

The 400-year-old Japanese garden at the New Otani in Tokyo, site of my interview of a lifetime with Santa himself.

Here’s how it went down.

Carter Gaddis: I apologize for interrupting your meditation, Mr. Claus.

Santa Claus: Please, call me Santa. And I understand. You have a job to do. You mind if we keep this short, though? I have a breakfast reservation in Paris.

CG: Paris? But we’re in Tokyo.

SC: Hello? Magic elf.

CG: Sure. Of course. Sorry.

SC: Look, if you don’t have any questions …

CG: No, no. Yes, well … um. I guess the first thing is, how is this even possible? You’re not real.

SC: And “a wise man proportions his belief to the evidence,” right?

CG: Well, yeah. Who’s that, Locke? Hobbes?

SC: Hume. So, what do you deduce from the evidence? Wait, let me make it easy for you. You’ve studied your Pascal, yes? You’re familiar with his “wager” theory about belief in God? No? Well, it’s like this. Are you willing to gamble away potential eternal bliss spent basking in the presence of the almighty creator simply because you can’t bring yourself to believe in Him? I mean, what if you’re wrong? If you’re right, that there’s no God, all you’ve lost is an infinitesimal blip of time in the immeasurable immensity of eternity. Not a bad bet, that. In this case, the odds are heavily in your favor, because here I am. Think about it like this: Your eyes tell you I’m real, correct? With that piece of evidence, and knowing that not believing I’m real means you’re doomed to a lifetime of no presents at Christmas time, it is in your best interest to just go ahead and let yourself believe. Right?

CG: But …

SC: Buddy, I really can’t stay much longer. We can stand here and debate my existence for the next three minutes, if you like. And when I disappear into thin air on my way to the Champs Elysees for œufs brouillés a la truffes noires, you can stand here holding your … notebook. It’s your dime.

CG: OK. Yes. So, let’s say you are you. You’re really Santa Claus. How do you deliver toys to all the good little boys and girls on a single night? The whole sleigh and flying reindeer thing seems a bit unlikely, to be honest.

SC: I have a T.A.R.D.I.S.

CG: A … what?

SC: A T.A.R.D.I.S. You know, blue police call box from England. Bigger on the inside. Travels through time and space? Like Doctor Who.

CG: Doctor Who?

SC: Exactly.

CG: But that’s not …

SC: Real? Ho! Ho-ho-ho! Of course not. I was kidding. No, but yeah. It’s magic. I use magic. Simple, really. The reindeer are just for show. Mrs. Claus runs an arctic animal rescue up north, so I just – do what I do – and voila! Flying reindeer. The actual gift delivery system is far beyond your comprehension. There are too many moving parts to simplify the explanation. Let’s just call it magic and leave it at that.

CG: I’m sorry, that’s not good enough. I need to know how you do it. I need to know how to tell the world you’re real. Explain it to me like I’m a fifth grader.

SC: A fifth grader? Funny you should pull that particular time of life out of the ether.

CG: Funny how?

SC: Because that’s when you stopped believing. Remember? Even after you spotted all those toys in the foyer closet when you were 5, you wanted to keep believing. So, you did. You kept believing in me because that’s what you wanted to do. And that still applies today. To you, and to everyone in the world. Do you understand what I’m saying?

CG: Sure, but I don’t think it applies. I mean, you’re not real. You’re an inherited Western European archetype, based loosely on Germanic paganism and later Western religions, seasoned with a healthy sprinkling of good, old-fashioned capitalism. It’s all about corporate symbolism now. Is that the message we want to teach our kids? That it’s OK to perpetuate a vast, fantastical myth that celebrates commercialism and the all-mighty holiday dollar?

SC: OK. Well, I don’t know what else to tell you. Except this: Sartre was on the right track when he wrote, “In life, a man commits himself, draws his own portrait, and there is nothing but that portrait.” You see?

CG: That doesn’t answer my question.

SC: Your question doesn’t have an answer. I’ve got to go. Merry Christmas!

CG: It’s March.

SC: I know. Ho-ho-ho! Bye.

And like that … he was gone.

As you can see, the interview was a disaster, which is why I sat on the story until now. It was nothing more than an incoherent mishmash of pop philosophy and obscure science fiction allusions. I didn’t have a camera on me (no iPhones back then), so I could produce no photographic evidence. My recorder crapped out after I transcribed the conversation, so I even lost the audio proof. I haven’t seen Santa since.

I believe, though. I decided to believe, and I did. In my portrait, the one I made for and of myself, Santa Claus is real. Just as every religion, every mythology is true in the sense that it is metaphorical of the mysteries of existence, Old Saint Nick is a metaphor. For me, he’s a combination of kindness, generosity and the wonder of imagination. I’m leaning toward zombie Santa at the moment, too.

What else does Santa symbolize? Depends on who you ask. Your portrait is yours, and yours alone.