The Pursuit of Happiness

Yeah, I'm happy. I admit it. The pursuit goes on.

Yeah, I’m happy. I admit it. The pursuit goes on.

A year ago today, I saw a rainbow in the sky on my way to work. At the office, I dropped my computer bag on my desk, walked to the corner office, and submitted my notice.

After four-and-a-half years of cubicle life, it was time to move on. Events conspired to make it possible for me to do that. I was fortunate, and I knew it.

I know it, still.

For a while, it seemed as if I had no choice. I felt trapped by circumstance. That was false. I always had a choice. I was not trapped. But I thought I was, and thinking it made it so.

For a while.

You are not trapped, either. You have a choice.

You can — you should — pursue happiness.

The pursuit of happiness is not some quaint and dusty notion from the history books. It is not merely an optional addendum intended to improve the rhythm of a catchy line, a pithy means to complete the circle of life and liberty.

It is a right. It is your right. Unalienable, even.

Happiness? It’s not a state of being. It is a fleeting thing. There’s a reason we must pursue it.

When you catch it often enough, happiness becomes familiar. String enough of those fleeting, happy moments together and yes, you can make happy your default emotion.

A year ago today, I saw that rainbow and took it as a sign. I don’t believe in signs. I do believe in contradiction, though, and in the power of conflict and decision to shape our lives.

It hasn’t been perfect. But we have been happy. We are happy. And the pursuit goes on.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

____________________________________

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

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

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

I’m no CEO, but this will do.

 

Creative Minds Podcast Appearance with Chris Read of Canadian Dad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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’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.

 

 

 

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

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.

 

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.