Monday, June 18, 2012

Message to grads: It’s your world now

Men and women serving in the military have a special bond that ties them together even after they put their uniforms aside. There is another bonding in our country which embraces young people, parents and grandparents as well as relatives and friends – to wit, the vast audience who attend graduation ceremonies.  

Graduations are rightful recognitions of past accomplishment as well as an exciting first page for a new chapter in the book of life. Each ceremony combines sighs of relief from those who have passed their finals with parental boasting about their offspring. There are other players involved

in the moment of course, particularly the teachers who have nurtured the young men and women who will now be moving on. Then there are the grandparents (many still trying to figure out where the time went when their own kids, not their grandkids, were gracing the graduation stage) relatives, friends and certainly the speaker of the day. It is no easy thing to provide guidance and inspiration to restless spirits chomping at the bit for the post-ceremony parties. It is also a lifelong lesson for graduates – don’t believe any speaker who says he/she “will just take a few minutes.” We audience veterans know those “few minutes” can stretch from here to eternity.                

There are surely electrifying speakers taking the podium at graduation day ceremonies around the world, but the fact is they are few and far between.  Most speakers are well meaning ladies and gentlemen who having drawn the assignment are doggedly determined to do the best they can. Good for them! If you have to speak at a graduation, here’s a tip: Keep it short. Like most sermons or homilies in church, shorter is always better, and shorter than short will make you king or queen for the day. Nobody will remember what you are going to say anyway, but they will remember you FOREVER if you make them suffer unreasonably. It was true this time round for Bryce, Kelly and Carolyn just as it was for you, for me, for everyone else. 

Young people today are conditioned to being congratulated for everything. From kindergarten on up, they receive a prize for something, even just being there. So if you are going for the whole package, that is both the awards and diploma events, be prepared for a very long day. 

Scattered among our ceremonies this time round were prep school graduations. I’m old school when it comes to graduations – caps and gowns for one and all because they are great equalizers. There is greater leeway with prep school attire however – and greater adventure for parents. The sea of white dresses for the young women range from Snow White to near-Hooters.  And many a parent/mother is getting an unnerving preview that the kid who almost drove her crazy is now a women not too far removed from being a bride.  As for the young men, nothing much has changed – the traditional blue blazer, the knotted tie askew, pants cascading down around the ankles.  One soul behind me murmured “for $40,500 a pop, he could at least have combed his hair.” 

Ah well, not to worry, it is their world now, not ours.  It will all work out in the end.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Like the song says, they will always be daddy’s little girls

Some songs, like some romances, are gone with the dawn of the day. Other melodies linger on forever just like the special women we associate them with.

The song “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” introduced by the late Maurice Chevalier in the motion picture “Gigi,” is one such. The truth is little girls do in fact “grow up in a most delightful way.” The challenge is to steer them successfully through their tweens and high-school dating. Sons are widely considered gifts from God, but don’t you think all babies are?

Men pray for a son so that a father and a younger version of himself can go out on the front lawn to throw a football around. So here’s to all of us who have sons, and beyond that to our sons’ sons. Now hold your breath, dear reader, for I have to attempt a transition in the paragraphs that follow.

Let’s not quibble about whether you are blessed more or less by the sex of your offspring. Early on my little Susan knew how to run deep then cut to snag a pass. She was my athletic delight right up to the very moment when Susan and her pal, Jean Scribner, decided that they were going to be “girls.”

So endeth the lesson of my football-on-the-lawn drills.

Short of walking to an electric chair the most challenging 50-yard stroll in the world is a father’s trip down the aisle to the wedding altar with his daughter on his arm. This trail of tears is made worse by the certain knowledge that there is not a man on the face of the earth good enough for Daddy’s Little Girl.

The single saving grace is the near certain knowledge that your departing daughter will remain closer to your side of the family than to his.

The bond between mother and daughter is unbreakable and through no effort of his own a father gains because of this. As for newly wedded sons, we send them off with a sense of loss combined with comedy and sympathy because he will be spending most of his time with them.

Little girls do grow up in most amazing ways for in time they become young mothers and present us with that wonder of wonders, grandchildren. Happily, all the while daughters retain an inner compass that keeps steering them back to check on Daddy.

Life is good.

Monday, June 11, 2012


“Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette…” goes the song written by Merle Travis for the country singer Tex Williams.  Besides saving Williams’ waning career, the number went on to huge success on the charts and remains a catchy chorus to this very day. Now thanks to televised baseball games smoking has been replaced by spitting.  It’s just a question of time before another song is born, but how to turn “spit, spit, spit” into a memorable hit?

No one can challenge the fact that television coverage of baseball games has brought what was formerly considered a nasty and illegal habit right into our living rooms every time the batter is up. I was reminded of how far we have slipped as a society during the last division playoffs when a woman seated nearby voiced what most of us keep unspoken: ”Why do they have to spit ALL the time?” Given the multiple shots of players spitting and the millions watching them do it, this disgusting habit is well on its way to becoming the new national pastime. It is surely much more of a macho habit than a physical necessity.

There are serious ramifications here, not the least of which is endangering the health of players themselves.  We are increasingly aware of infectious disease. People are being urged to cough or sneeze into their own arms, wash their hands frequently and consider carefully if they want to shake hands with every single soul they meet. I understand that the dugouts for the teams are never going to be confused with Sanitary Central but the accumulated spittle in small areas constitute danger zones. One can reasonably assume that some players are looking to be out of the dugout and into the game just to escape puddles of spit. Youngsters mimicking their baseball heroes are certainly being ill served. All you have to do is watch Little League games where copycat spitting has become routine.

If there is a bright side to this epidemic it is decreased use of big wads of tobacco held in the check. There are one or two player holdouts of course but the danger of tongue and cheek cancer caused by chewing tobacco has surely lessened. Nowadays there are substitute cheek-fillers like bubble gum. We’ll settle for team managers popping bubbles if they’ll keep our favorite teams competitive year after year, but it’s still an odd sight seeing grownups imitating a little kid’s habit. Sunflower seeds are another ballplayer spitting choice. The flying debris reminds us of the finches sitting on our backyard feeder flicking birdseed shells to grateful squirrels gathered below. Even with all this spitting and the frequent “equipment adjustments” players make while they are on camera, the game of baseball may still live on as our national sport. But as a school of good example? NOT.

Perhaps next year we will see a change, but I don’t think so for bad habits are very hard to break.  The answer may lie in strategically placing attractive spittoons in the dugout and around the infield.