The secret to being brave - revealed by a six year-old girl

I took the kids to McDonald's on Thanksgiving morning, thinking that this would be a win-win-win for the entire family.

  • I would eat an Egg McMuffin and get some work done.
  • The kids would eat pancakes and play in the PlayPlace.
  • Elysha would have some time at home alone to read and relax.

And for a while, it looked like things would work out well.

We left Elysha at home with a new book and some coffee. 
I ate my customary breakfast.
Clara and Charlie enjoyed some pancakes. Then they went off to play while I continued work on my latest novel. 

About 15 minutes into my work, I heard Charlie call for help. I waited, hoping that Clara would solve the problem or the problem would go away (as it often does), but when his calls for help increased in volume and intensity, I went to check what was wrong.

I found Charlie about 25 feet off the ground, trapped in a plastic tube connected to the structure by netting on both sides. He had climbed higher than ever before, crossed the netting to reach the plastic tube, but was now trapped, afraid to cross back over. Adding to his fear was the instability of the section of tube in which he was stuck. Every time he moved, it shifted left and right, causing him to freeze in place and cry. 

It would be extremely difficult for me to climb to him, and there was a sign indicating that the structure was not built to hold an adult's weight. So I asked Clara to retrieve him, which would've meant climbing higher than she had ever climbed before. 


Clara refused, retreating to a corner and sucking her thumb, leaving me without any options. I begged, pleaded, cajoled, demanded, insisted, encouraged, and threatened Charlie for about 20 minutes before Clara finally agreed to climb up and help. She went as far as the netting - a monumental feat for her - but refused to cross over to his tube. From about five feet away, she encouraged Charlie to crawl over to her, reaching her hand across the span and asking him to meet her halfway. 

It was while she was trying to coax him across the net that something magical happened. 

She said, "Charlie, whisper to yourself what you love most, and that's how you can be brave. That's what I do."

Tears welled up in my eyes. My daughter's wisdom astounded me. And I suddenly found myself wondering when she last needed to be brave. Had I missed it? Was I letting her down? Failing to protect her? Was she afraid more often than I thought? 

I felt like I was trapped in a Neil Gaiman novel. Danger and mystery and brilliant words of wisdom swirled around me. 

Clara repeated her advice. "Whisper to yourself what you love most, and that's how you can be brave. Do it, Charlie."

Then he did. In a tiny, high-pitched whisper, I heard him say, "Mommy. Mommy. Mommy."

You can't win them all.

Then he moved. Crawled toward the netting.  The tube shifted again, causing him to freeze and resume his cries of terror. 

Eventually I had to climb through the structure and across the net to scoop up my boy, who was, to his credit, very appreciative. Lots of hugs and kisses and "Thank you, Daddy" and "I love you, Daddy."

I didn't get a lot of work done, and I ended up with skinned knees and a bump on the head, but it was well worth it. 

Curt Shilling is wrong about evolution, but his response to Internet trolls was commendable and enough to make this Yankees fan cheer.

As a New York Yankees fan – as well as someone who supports science and knows that evolution is real – I’ve never been a fan of Curt Shilling.


But when Shilling took to Twitter last week to congratulate his daughter on her invitation to pitch for the Salve Regina University baseball team, Internet trolls emerged from under their bridges in numbers that Shilling never expected.

“I expected the trolls. The one kid kind of came at me and said, ‘I can’t wait to take your daughter out.’ Kind of borderline stuff, which again, I expected. I’ve been on the Internet since, I started playing on computers in 1980, so I understand how it works and I knew there would be stuff. The stuff that they did, that is not bad or vile, it’s illegal. It’s against the law.”

“When that started -- again, I thought it might be a one-off, but then it started to steamroll. And then [my daughter] started to get private correspondence and then I said 'OK, this needs to get fixed.’ This generation of kids doesn’t understand, and adults too, doesn’t understand that the Internet is not even remotely anonymous.”

Shilling went on the offensive, attacking the trolls on his blog and identifying a handful of the offenders.

One of the offenders – a part-time ticket-seller for the Yankees – has been fired, the team’s director of communications confirmed to Another, a student at a community college in New Jersey, was reportedly suspended from school.

As the victim of an large scale, anonymous attack on my professional credibility several years ago, I understand the power that a person has when they hide behind the curtain of anonymity and hurl false accusations and libelous statements at people who are unable to confront their accusers. I also understand how anonymity can embolden a person to say terrible things that they would never dare say in public.

Shilling refers to his not-so-anonymous offenders as “garbage” on his blog. I have often called them cowards, but I like garbage a lot, too.


Unlike Shilling, I was never able to positively identify the persons responsible in my case, mostly because the cowards (or pieces of garbage) used old fashioned paper and ink, thereby eliminating any digital trail (though the search for their identities remains active). As a staunch  advocate of free speech, I believe in the power of using that freedom to publicly identify people who make threats and spout hatred and vulgarity online.

It’s time to pull back that curtain of electrons and force people to own their words.  

Shilling may be wrong when it comes to evolution, and that stupid bloody sock may have been completely overblown, but when it comes to his response to Internet trolls, Shilling has my full support.  

The sooner we let these cretins know that they cannot hide behind their computer screens, the sooner they will crawl back under their bridges and leave the rest of us alone.

The blend of happiness and sadness, pride and envy of the working day is easy on some days. Impossibly hard on others. Also, my son needs to get himself a job.

It’s not uncommon to hear about my wife’s day home with our son or the times that they have spent with friends at a coffee shop or a playground or a gym class and feel incredibly jealous for this time that she has enjoyed at home with our kids.

It’s an odd tug, to be honest. Part of me is so glad that we can do this for her and our children, and part of me is so proud of myself for cobbling together my teaching and writing and speaking and storytelling and DJ and tutoring careers together into some semblance of an income that has allowed us to continue to pay the bills and keep our heads above water while one of us is not working.

But there’s always a part of me that knows that even if my next book is a huge bestseller or my last book is made into a blockbuster film, or even if we win the lottery that we never play because lotteries are for suckers, I will never get this same chance to spend the kind of time with my children that my wife has had over these past five years.

That time is gone forever. Clara is in kindergarten. Charlie will be in preschool next year. Even if I become a stay-at-home dad someday – which may actually happen at some point in the future – it will be a quieter, emptier, far more organized house. There will be chances to volunteer in classrooms and walks to school, but those lazy mornings in bed or those afternoons in the sun are not in my future, no matter what happens.

That blending of happiness for my children and my wife and sadness for what I can never have and pride for what we have accomplished is easier on some days than others.

Some days it’s easy as pie. Some days it’s a stone on my heart. 

But I really shouldn’t be jealous of my son for his time at home. He’s only two years-old, and yet, when I see photos like this, of my son playing in his big sister’s bed, while she and I are off at our respective schools, I can’t help but think that he needs to get a job.

He’s just having way too much fun.

image imageimage

Best compliment of my life

I received the greatest compliment of my life yesterday when my daughter, Clara, told my wife, “Mommy, thank you for marrying the funnest guy in the whole world.”

I got a little teary hearing those words.

image image

Prior to this, I’d been keeping track of the greatest compliments of my life. Four in all.

On January 1, 1988. I was sixteen years old. I was standing on a bridge in California, strapped to a bass drum, ready to march in the Rose Bowl Parade. Two teenage girls were sitting on the curb nearby, waiting for the parade to start. After giggling a bit, they managed to get my attention and tell me that I looked a lot like Tom Cruise. I was clearly better looking in 1988, the sun was probably in their eyes, and Tom Cruise had not yet lost his mind.

In the summer of 1988, I was spending a week in Weir’s Beach, New Hampshire with a bunch of friends. When not chasing girls and getting sunburned on the beach, we spent a great deal of time at the arcades that were within spitting distance of our cabins.

At the time, our friend Coog was known as the best video game player of our group, and one of the finest gamers of all time. Even today, he’s still our most prolific and experience gamer. But after a week of watching me play old school arcade games like Dragons Lair and Asteroids, my roommate Tom said to me, “Matty, if you and Coog started playing the same game on the same day, Coog would  beat you every time. But if I gave you both a week to practice, I’d put my money down on you every time.”

For a long time, this was the best compliment that I had ever received.

In 2008 Elysha and I were sitting in the doctor’s office, listening to the doctor explain a complicated procedure that I would be undergoing. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but in the middle of her explanation, I made an exceptionally honest, somewhat surprising, slightly inappropriate comment about myself and the process that we were discussing.

The doctor looked at me, clearly unsure of what to think.

After a moment, Elysha jumped in and said, “Doctor, my husband is the most authentic person you will ever meet.”

Until Clara’s words yesterday, this was the greatest compliment of my life.

In 2012, I overheard one student say to another student:

“Mr. Dicks isn’t the kind of guy who says something and doesn’t do it. He only says what he means. Even if it sounds crazy.”

I could’ve done without that third sentence, but it was still pretty good.

Clara’s sixth birthday. Make it stop.

My little girl turned six last week. She seems so old.

Time hasn’t exactly flown by. I write to my daughter everyday, so perhaps that allows me to mark time well, but time is still moving forward, incessantly so, and my girl is getting bigger and more independent and more autonomous by the day.

If I could, I would freeze my kids at exactly these ages forever. Six and two. I don’t care about the diapers or the babysitters or even the car seats. I’d go all-in on six and two and be happy forever.

When I tell this to Clara, she says, “Daddy! It’s my job to grow up!”  Sometimes she sounds so much mature than her age.   

image image imageimage image  image image image image image image image

Butterfly Kisses is not cheesy, damn it.

Butterfly Kisses, a song by Bob Carlisle, was released in 1997, the same year I became a wedding DJ.  I’ve been playing that song for fathers and daughters ever since, and I have always thought the song was incredibly cheesy.

Last night I watched a bride dance with her father to the song. He had chosen the song and had kept his choice a secret until I announced it.

As I stood on the edge of the dance floor, clipboard in hand, waiting to introduce the groom and his mother onto the dance floor, I started listening to the song, paying attention to the lyrics and thinking about my own daughter, Clara.

It was the combination of dust and pollen that generated the tears in my eyes last night, but as I wiped them away, I realized how stupid and wrong I have been for the last sixteen years.

It turns out that Butterfly Kisses is not a cheesy song at all. Not in the slightest.