June 15, 2017: Growing a daughter at the ballpark

June 15, 2007–Belmont Citizen-Herald

Born into it. A Red Sox fan for life.  She never really had a choice. Our daughter, Allison, attended her first Red Sox game at the ripe old age of six months. For the next 18 years, until she left home to go to college in Iowa, Allison and I, dad and daughter, had a standing Friday night “date.” If the Red Sox were in town on a Friday, we headed to our seats at Fenway Park.

At first, it was simply an opportunity to give Mom a one night break from having a baby in the house. Over time, however, the trips grew into an entire set of personalized routines and rituals.  Home run celebrations. The Seventh Inning Stretch. Sweet Caroline. Dad and daughter. Game after game. Year after year. Even our friendship with the parking attendant. The attendant knew us; he looked for us. He noticed the first time Allison was the driver (rather than in the passenger seat) when we arrived one night.

It always felt like being a dad/daughter twosome at the ball park was noticed more than had we been a father/son duo.  And we played to that.  I wore my “Who” jersey (#1) to games while Allison wore her “What” jersey (#2). (Think “Who’s on First” for those familiar with Abbott and Costello comedy routines.)

Raising a daughter at the ballpark presented difficult decisions for a dad.  At what was she old enough to go get ice cream on her own (about 7; older than she thought necessary). How long is she gone before you start worrying (about 30 seconds). When she was a toddler, decisions involved when to head home. By the time she was 8, however, she was deemed old enough to stay late to watch extra innings.  When Allison was 11, one playoff game moved past midnight as the extra innings piled up. At what point, I wondered, did giving her the chance to watch history become parental irresponsibility?  (We left at 1:00.)

Opening Day 2008. The Sox were to receive their championship rings for winning the World Series the previous fall. But it was a day game. Allison was 16 and in high school. The question inevitable. “Dad, can I skip school to go with you?” The game, however, ended up scheduled for 4:00, rendering the issue moot.  We were both disappointed.

Conflicts did arise. The deciding game of the 2013 World Series was to be at Fenway. On a Thursday night. Allison’s away at college. “Dad, can I fly home to see the last game of the World Series.” The answer was firm: “no, you cannot skip three days of college just to see a ballgame. There will always be another World Series.” She retorted, as only a baseball fan could, “did you learn nothing from 1918?”

Allison was back in Boston last summer for a few days and we went to Fenway Park together for the first time in two years. Dad and daughter. She, no longer a child, but an adult. I asked her whether it was still exciting to walk up the ramp and catch her first glimpse of the Green Monster.  “No,” she said, “it’s more like coming home, a place of comfort and refuge.”

Baseball. It’s not just a game. It’s not just about Nomar, Varitek and Papi. It’s not just about watching Ellsbury patrol Center Field, or watching Pedro strike out the side.

Dads, daughters and baseball. Traditions, memories and special bonds. A place of comfort and refuge. Gee, back at the age of six months, I thought we were just going to a ballgame.

June 8, 2017: Words matter–use them wisely

June 8, 2017 — Belmont Citizen-Herald

Congratulations Belmont High Class of 2017.  As you cross the stage to accept your diploma, family, friends and community members all look on with justifiable pride.  You represent not only our today, but offer us our tomorrow.  And while it looks like our tomorrow is in pretty good hands, we need some help from you.

Today’s world poses some problems that I’d ask you to help us all work on as you move forward.  One of the biggest problems is that we frequently seem to forget today that words matter.  The old childhood rhyme is just plain wrong when it asserts that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Now I concede, as a person with training in both law and journalism, I pay particular attention to words. I won an Iowa supreme court case once because the state legislature used the word “that” where it should have instead used the word “this.” Nonetheless, for everyone, words do matter.

Some words get over-used today.  For example, I fear we may have become too casual with the word “hate.”   I, personally, often proclaim that I “hate” the Yankees, the Jets and the Jayhawks.  Hate, however, is a strong word, capturing a strong emotion.  We cheapen its meaning by making its use too casual. When we become desensitized to the word’s true meaning, it becomes too easy to overlook expressions of disapproval (or even simple discomfort) through proclaimed “hate” in language, or through practiced “hate” in behavior.  Be wary if you find the word “hate” popping up in your vocabulary too frequently.

The word “them” gets over-used as well.  “Them” (as in “not us”) connotes a focus on that which makes someone different.  One problem with its use today is that the word too frequently focuses exclusively on a single attribute of a person (or group of people).  A presentation last year here in Belmont, for example, concerned “Muslims in America.”  One speaker eloquently questioned how a person might become a “them” based solely on differences in religion, even though the commonalities arising from being a parent, a spouse, a sibling, a neighbor might be far more substantial. Finding yourself with lots of “thems” in your life may merit some reflection on whether you are allowing yourself to experience the entirety of individuals you meet.

When I was in college, comedian George Carlin had a popular routine about “seven words you can never say on TV.” Carlin used humor to make the point that words are just words; they are harmless unto themselves. But words are rarely “just words.”  And they almost never stand unto themselves. Words almost always carry a context: expectations, judgments, emotions, history. Their use conveys that context. Please, be aware of the full context you are conveying in the words you use.

The world seems recently to have become a less civil society. Your conscientious use of words in the future can help reverse that trend. To do so, whether you move from high school to college, or to some other life pursuit, you should strive to be constantly self-aware of your day-to-day, person-to-person impact on the world.  One of those impacts is through your awareness that no matter the setting –work or play, on-line or in-person, public or private– what you say, and how you say it, makes a difference.

In short, as you move on after graduation, I ask that you consciously strive to use words wisely.  Words matter.

Class of 2017, as an entire community, we smile and feel a rush of pride upon your graduation.  Congratulations on your accomplishments. Godspeed on your life journey.