The power of our parenting

When I was a young boy and my parents were punishing me, I used to daydream about the future. About when I parented my own children and the punishment I would rain down on them when they disobeyed. I don’t think it was sadism. It was just an adolescent fantasy about the absolute power a parent possesses over their young children.

I remember those far-off thoughts sometimes when I actually have to discipline my 4-year-old twins. Sometimes, I yell, because, sometimes a parent has to yell. My daughter usually goes about her business, which leaves me unsatisfied. Maybe it is a sadism thing, because when I yell, I want her to react. I want her to know that, GODDAMMIT, I mean it. Usually, she doesn’t, but when the tears start flowing, I feel satisfied. For the briefest of seconds.

Then, I feel like an asshole.

But my son actually gives me what I want when I raise my voice. He gets sad. And the power play is complete. I win because I can yell and I can punish and I can make them do pretty much whatever I want. It’s the power I yearned for when I was a young boy sent to my room for leaving my father’s baseball glove out in the rain or for lying to my mother or for not informing them about the teenage girl my buddy once brought over to our house when nobody else was around.

I wanted that absolute power, and now, I have it.

And so, my boy was hopping on his bouncy bull recently a few minutes before bedtime. We told him to avoid the laundry we had folded on the floor, and he barely did so. He was too busy hopping — or as he calls it, “exercising” — to pay much attention. But it’s OK because he’s a kid and he was acting like a kid, and sometimes, you have to let a kid bounce on his favorite toy, even if it’s time to start winding down for bedtime.

But then, he hurt his foot. And he hurt his foot because he was using his bouncy toy as a step ladder, and he fell. We’ve told him not to use that bull as a step stool, and yet, here he was disobeying and he had to be punished.

So, I grabbed his bouncy bull, tossed it down the hall and told him I was locking it up (I immediately thought back to the day when I was about 4, and my parents “locked” all my toys in the closet. Don’t tell me history doesn’t repeat itself.).

And he just looked … so goddamn sad. So goddamn broken-hearted that I wanted to vomit.

“Where are you going to lock up my bouncy bull?” he asked with regret in his voice and his tear ducts glistening. “You don’t need to know that,” I said. “But Daddy, when can I have it back?” Said I, “On Friday.”

It was Tuesday, and with my absolute power, I had taken away one of the biggest sources of happiness in his life. He went to sleep a sad boy. And I went to sleep feeling like I should unlock the bouncy bull right that very instant and return it to his side as he slept.

Sometimes, absolute power absolutely sucks.

***

I got a text message from my father a few days later. “I wanted to let you know last week I officially retired. Yep, no more work for me, now it’s play time. Love, Dad.”

It was a jolt to my system. I’d never known my father not to work. And when I talked to him on the phone later, he said, “Josh, I’ve been working this job for almost 40 years. It’s time.”

He sounded happy. But it made me sad.

And it made me sad, because it’s not only an enormous step in his life as he transitions into the job of getting older. It’s also a step forward in my life. Now, one of my parents is retired, and something around me has been unalterably shifted.

For me, retirement is so far in the future that it’s not even worth thinking about. What do I have? Another 30 years of working? That’s a house mortgage away.

And one day, long ago, my father probably felt the same way. Retirement is too damn far away to even think about. But now, it’s here for him. And then, in our conversation, he talked about when he should take Social Security, what he was going to do with the rest of his life, whether he should think about taking up golf.

He seems pleased. It’s me who’s a little jolted.

He has absolute power as well, but not over the employees who looked to him as a boss or over his adult children. He has power over his own destiny. He doesn’t have to worry that one day he’ll get laid off or that he’ll be demoted or that somebody younger, hungrier and better will hunt him for his job. He can sleep until 10 a.m. now. He can go out photographing whatever he wants for whomever will pay him. He can buy a ticket and travel to the Caribbean next week.

That kind of power, I imagine, is awfully comforting.

***

A few hours after I hung up with my father, I held my baby niece. She’s obviously bigger than the last time I cuddled with her five months ago, and somehow, she’s even cuter.

I held her and kissed her forehead and lifted her high into the sky. She rewarded me with a big smile as my daughter tried to distract me by informing me that she was eating a grilled cheese sandwich.

As we walked from the restaurant to the hotel where my sister-in-law and her mother were staying, I trotted in front of the stroller and noticed just how much my baby niece’s cherubic face looked like my brother’s handsome mug.

Sometimes, my wife asks me, “Can you believe we’re parents?” and sometimes, it’s difficult to imagine that two people in this world count on us for just about everything, that they think of me the same way I think of my folks. But after four years, I often say, “Yeah, I believe I’m a parent.”

But my brother as a parent? To this cute little girl who wants so badly to crawl and squeeze my nose and tug on my goatee? That’s almost unbelievable.

If there’s one thing I know, it’s this: this little baby can make my world sparkle for a moment by grinning her toothless smile and touching my face. There’s real power in that, too.

***

After dropping off the baby at the hotel, I drove a mile north to catch a concert by a band called MewithoutYou. I was probably one of the older patrons there, and even though they were playing one of their albums, front to back and all the way through, from a decade ago, I’ve never heard an audience chant the lyrics back to the singer so loudly.

These kids were in high school (or younger) when this album came into existence in 2004. I had just moved to Cincinnati and was a working man and was three years away from discovering the band even existed.

But as it does, life moves along, and so did the songs on that album as the band shredded on the warm, breezy night.

As my feet began to ache and the tall dude in front of me mirrored any movement I made to see the stage, I began to think about my son and his bouncy bull and my dad and his retirement and my niece and her face.

The band roared into a number called, “My Exit, Unfair,” the ninth song on the album, “Catch For Us the Foxes.”
Mewithoutyou writes many of its tunes about god and what he or she means and what it means to have the faith to believe in such a god. This one is no exception, since it’s partially about a famous story in the bible. And this line — sung with a scream 25 feet away from where my feet hurt and chanted by the sweaty youth who bounced like bulls — caught me in the gut.

“Jonah, where’s that boat going –
Your ship set with eager sails?
There’s a swirling storm soon blowing,
And no use, fishermen, in rowing from the consecrated whale!”

Jonah, where’s that boat going?

We, of course, don’t know. Even if we believe in what the guys in Mewithoutyou believe or you believe in lording your absolute power over your kids or you believe that now’s the time to finish your work for good, nobody can know the answer to that question.

All we know is that we move forward into the great unknown. And we do the best we can. Whether we’re retired, disciplining our kids, or trying to grab the nose in front of our eyes.

Because, really, what’s the alternative? Life moves on. We’re handcuffed to the handrail and we have to move on, too.

Goddamn, we have no power at all.

Geoff Calkins, Memphis Commercial Appeal sports columnist

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Geoff Calkins is a Harvard-trained lawyer who clerked for a U.S. Court of Appeals judge and worked for a 500-man firm in D.C. He took all that training and became … well … a sports writer. A very good one, in fact, who was an influence on me when I interned at the Memphis Commercial Appeal in the summer of 2000. In our chat, we talk about how tough it is for a sports writer to maintain a daily radio show and the energy time suck that it becomes, why Harvard Law produces U.S. presidents and Memphis sports writers, and why Calkins has stayed as a columnist in mid-sized city despite opportunities to leave.

He also discusses why he’s OK hosting a daily radio show in Memphis while his former colleague John Robert is the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Interviewed on 7-3-14

Alexis Stevens, Atlanta Journal-Constitution breaking news reporter

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One recent story that has captured the city of Atlanta and for much of the entire country is the death of 22-month-old Cooper Harris and whether his father intentionally killed him by leaving him in his broiling car all day long. The first reporter on the scene that day was Alexis Stevens, a breaking news reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In our chat, we talk about how she worked the story that day and in the days following, her stance on using anonymous sources in this specific case, and how she deals with the human emotions that surround her while she works a story.

Also, Stevens discusses her approach to interviewing families who have just suffered the death of a loved one and how she thinks this tragedy perhaps can help somebody moving forward.

Interviewed on 7-2-14

Jason La Canfora, CBS Sports NFL insider

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The national NFL reporters have one of the toughest jobs in all of sports writing. It’s a grind that never seems to end with the pressures to ABB(N) (Always Be Breaking (News)). But CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora — one of the most successful NFL beat writers out there — says that it’s actually a tremendous way to earn a living.

In our chat, we talk about the 24/7/365 nature of the beat he covers and how he handles the balance between work and family when he’s not really working (but kind of is), how he structures his schedule (and prays like hell) so that he can break news on the Sunday morning NFL shows even if he learns of the news earlier in the week, and how he defends breaking news on Twitter while the NFL draft is ongoing.

Also, we talk about heavy metal, because that’s kind of what we do whenever we see each other. I detail my meeting with Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess, and La Canfora talks about his conversation with Slayer’s Kerry King and how much the thrash metal guitar god loves his Oakland Raiders.

Interviewed on 5-28-14

How’d You Write That? ESPN The Magazine’s Kevin Van Valkenburg

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On the MTTS podcast, we’re debuting a brand-new segment, called “How’d You Write That?” and it should be fairly obvious what it’s all about. Our first guest happens to be an excellent one, ESPN the Magazine’s Kevin Van Valkenburg. Before you listen, make sure to read last month’s feature on Adam Muema, “Hiding in Plain Sight.” In our chat, we discuss how Van Valkenburg got in touch with the elusive Muema in the first place, why he structured the story the way he did, whether he ever felt Muema was manipulating him, and how he handled a competing outlet trying to write the same story.



Interviewed on 6-6-14

Here’s something newsworthy:

Before we get to Van Valkenburg’s interview, we remember the career of longtime LA Times columnist T.J. Simers, who announced his retirement from the Orange County Register (and from sports writing as a whole) this past week. One of my favorite portions of Episode 15 is Simers talking about how he created his own little world in the columns he wrote, and I’ve included a snippet of it in this week’s episode.

Mark Sheldon, MLB.com, Cincinnati Reds reporter

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Last week, Mark Sheldon was the most famous sports writer in the land. Mostly because San Francisco Giants infielder Pablo Sandoval’s foul ball destroyed Sheldon’s computer (the photo above was screen-shot about 20 seconds after the destruction) while local TV produced a video on Sheldon’s reaction that quickly went viral.

You can see the video right here.

And here.

But Sheldon, who I’ve known since last decade, is a good sport, and he agreed to talk about some of the most infamous moments of his career. In our chat, we discuss what the hell happened in that moment and why it came at such a bad time, how he still managed to write and send in his final game story of the night, and what kind of reaction he received in the aftermath.

Plus, we talk about what he thought about two-time MTTS guest C. Trent Rosecrans jubilantly taking photos of the destruction in the seconds after the ball entered the press box and if Sheldon ever talked with Sandoval about the incident. Also, whatever happened to that foul ball of destiny.

Interviewed on 6-6-14

A cute story about Don Zimmer

With the death of Don Zimmer on Wednesday, here’s a short piece about Cincinnati natives/legends Glenn Sample and Zimmer — who apparently used to ride around on a horse during his youth — from my first book, Bearcats Rising:

(From the beginning of the chapter):

Glenn Sample was usually the first to arrive. He’d pull into the parking lot at McDonald’s around 9 a.m. most every Wednesday, enter the eatery, stride to the counter, throw a smile at a cashier here and an employee mopping the floor there, and order his coffee.

Then, he’d sit down, sip his java and wait for his friends – the members of his extended UC family – to arrive.

They’d straggle in, order their own shots of morning caffeine and begin telling the stories they’d described in the same way for the past 60 years. Every week, at this McDonald’s just off Interstate 75, the old-timers would come together. They’d Mc-rib each other, laugh at the stories they’d heard a million times, discuss what so-and-so was up to these days. Every Wednesday, it was like this.

One sunny day in September 2008, Sample, like usual, arrived early, grabbed his coffee and sat at a booth by the side entrance. Soon, Ray Penno joined him. Bill Williams walked through the door, and Dean Giacometti sauntered in as well. The weekly meeting had commenced. The caffeine entered their bloodstreams, and the stories began to flow. They started with one of their favorites.

Instantly, they returned to the day, sixty years earlier, of the Walnut Hills-Western Hills football game when the two teams battled for the city championship of the Public High School League. Sample and Don Zimmer – who went on to big success in professional baseball – were playing for Western Hills, and Giacometti, who had played at UC from 1939-41 before entering World War II, had taken a job as an assistant coach at Walnut Hills.

Walnut Hills had never won the city title, but with less than a minute to play, Giacometti’s team held a 7-6 lead on the water-logged field. Zimmer, the Western Hills quarterback, faced a fourth and 11 from the Walnut Hills 20-yard line. All night long, Walnut Hills had contained Zimmer in Western Hills’ single-wing offense, and Zimmer needed a miracle to gut out this victory. On the final play of the game, with the center Sample leading the way and blocking every Walnut Hills defender in sight, Zimmer escaped traffic, went around the end of the line and raced for the end zone.

He didn’t make it, falling three yards short of the goal-line. And six decades later, Giacometti’s frustration with what happened next still is evident.

“Zimmer goes down on the 3-yard line and his knees hit the ground,” Giacometti said. “But you know Zimmer. He never stops, and he gets in the end zone.”

The officials signaled touchdown, and in doing so, denied Walnut Hills the championship. To this day, Giacometti swears Zimmer’s knee was on the ground, the play was over and that Walnut Hills should have won the game. Sample corrects him: Zimmer’s hand was down, not his knee. Big difference. Giacometti’s counter: he has a video tape of the play, which proves Zimmer had been tackled and that Walnut Hills had been robbed.

Curiously, Giacometti never remembered to bring the video for these weekly McDonald’s meetings.

“Every time I saw him, I’d ask Zimmer, ‘Don, did your knee go down?’” Sample said. “We played our games at Norwood High School, and there was water in the low spots. Going into that end zone, there was a big gully and a lot of water. Last time I talked to Zimmer, I said, ‘Dean Giacometti has been after me all these years. Did your knee hit?’ He said, ‘I might have gone down and my knee might have hit one of those puddles of water, but I didn’t touch the ground.’”

Giacometti smiled. He sensed that one day the truth would be unveiled, and if he’s waited sixty years, he can wait a little while longer.

And with that, the old-timers were onto another story from long times gone.

(From the end of the chapter):

Those former players remained true to each other, as well. They kept in touch with each other, they considered themselves brothers and, every Wednesday at 9 a.m., a group of them met at a local McDonald’s to rehash the past sixty years.

Until, that is, the day in November 2008 when Sample – who had just returned home from a speaking engagement in Dayton – died of a heart attack at his home. Although he was 77 years old, it was a shock. He was in such great shape and in such great spirits that his death left his colleagues in disbelief.

A few weeks later, UC held a memorial service for him at Fifth Third Arena. Hundreds of people gathered inside and watched as pictures of Sample’s life flashed across the scoreboard. One of him and his grandkids at the Grand Ole Opry, one of him and Pete Rose, one of him with Lana Turner, one of him and his classmates with Clark Gable. His distraught son, Jeff, played a musical tribute, and more than a dozen of his colleagues and former players offered their eulogies.

Dean Giacometti rose from his seat, walked to the microphone, and not surprisingly, told the story about Don Zimmer and the Walnut Hills-Western Hills city championship football game that had been decided by Zimmer’s supposed touchdown. He repeated that he just couldn’t believe Zimmer had scored legitimately. After all these years, didn’t Zimmer have something to confess?

“Well, maybe I slid into the end zone,” Zimmer said. Then, he came clean with the truth. “Coach, we were lucky,” Zimmer admitted. “You had a bad call.” Giacometti, smiling, sat down with a satisfied look on his face. He had known all along, and finally, he had been vindicated. Sample would have laughed hardest at that.