Saturday, August 23, 2008

Olympic Opining

I'm one of those Olympic junkies...I watch everything from badminton to field hockey and check the medal count to see if the US is still ahead. I don't have any rabid patriotism-we're-better-than-they-are things going on...I suspect it is just my competitive nature kicking in. But as the games wind down to the closing ceremonies, I thought I'd offer an observation or two about a few names we've seen or heard in the past few weeks.

Michael Phelps - We'll get him out of the way first - amazing, monumental achievement with 8 golds, thanks to clutch performances by Jason Lezak on the anchor swim of two medleys...but is there anybody else that thinks he's a bit of a big inarticulate goober. I know he answered the same three questions a bazillion times and I can't blame him for zoning out to parrot the same things he said every time he got asked...and he is after all a swimmer and not a professional speaker, but then, I listen to 16 year old gymnast Shawn Johnson answer difficult questions with insight, passion and compassion, as well as a wise-beyond-her-years respect and graciousness for both her teammates and opponents. She's cute as a button and won't it be cool when she goes back to high school this fall and is sitting in English class just like everybody else!

Dara Torres - She's 41 and she's faster than almost every swimmer more than half her age...and oh yeah...she hot. But none of those things are the main reasons she impresses me. Coming back to competitive swimming after giving birth to her baby girl less than two years ago and winning a total of 12 Olympic medals in her career that began in the 1984 games in LA is impressive enough, but it was her joyful attitude and irrepressible smile that won me over. And then, just as her semi-final heat was set to begin, she had the presence of mind to lobby for extra time for an opponent who had a wardrobe malfunction and had to go back to change her suit. Dara, notified the officials so they wouldn't start the race without the absent swimmer and then calmed the rest of the field down as they waited. That's class...and maturity. And by the way...if she wants to marry me...tell her I'm OK with that.

Usain Bolt - I actually consider Bolt (is that not the most appropriate runner's name ever?) who won three gold medals by breaking world records (easily I might add) in the 100 and 200 the most amazing story of these games. The 22 year old Jamaican speedster, has such a contagious delight for life and running that it was hard not to smile every time he left the starting blocks. He is a rising star and an entertaining one at that.

The NBC broadcast team - OK, it is a little strange, perhaps, to mention these guys, but I think several deserve special note.

Bob Costas - I just love Bob Costas. He is the consummate professional, incredibly knowledgeable, but was never so serious that he couldn't laugh at himself or see the lighter side of many of the happenings during the games. And he's a baseball guy...need I say more?

Mary Carillo - This former women's tennis pro had really only done tennis broadcasts before this, but she appeared throughout the games as an analyst and commentator, often doing special interest reports. I've always liked her, but never seen the human, compassionate side of her...I think this should propel her to do more than just tennis in the days to come.

Andrea Joyce - Andrea has been around sports broadcasting for a long time, and mostly did sideline interviews with the athletes after their competitions. I've never been a big fan, but after she decimated American gymnast Alicia Sacramone, insisting on hammering her with inane humiliating questions over and over, I'd had enough. I don't understand why it is necessary to add insult to injury by asking obvious questions and seemingly intentionally hoping for a an emotional breakdown. No bueno.

So...we'll wait to see if the closing ceremonies are as mind-blowing as the opening ones and look forward to the games in London in 2012. Maybe I'll be in the stands at the pool there cheering on my recent bride, Dara. Well a guy can can have Olympic dreams can't he?



Friday, August 15, 2008

It's a Dad/Daughter Thing...

I was pondering several serendipitous events yesterday and wondered what to do with them. Most of you know that I have three daughters...and they are not just any three daughters, they are smart, funny, tough, talented and beautiful. You also probably know that our last 14 years together have been with me as a single parent and them training me every step of the way. So what I'm getting at is that we have a very special relationship. I know that the dad/daughter is very important in almost all families, even in the ones where it is characterized more by its absence than presence. Years ago I read that cultural phenom that was "Reviving Ophelia" by Dr. Mary Pipher. One of the observations she makes is in regards to the incredible void that gets left in the lives of pre-adolescent girls who developmentally need a father figure in their lives during these critical years to develop healthy self image, relational and sexual identity foundational elements. For many, the father wound is deep and devastating. I have two close friends (single parent moms) who have young daughters, one 5, and one 9, and who watch them cry when the random and and infrequent contact of the hit and run fathers of their girls send their daughters into an emotional tsunami. It breaks my heart knowing that scenario gets played out thousands of time daily in our culture.

But...that's not what prompted my pondering. Actually, and refreshingly, it is the other end of the spectrum. A couple of dear friends, Ginger and Milton Brasher- Cunningham from Raleigh/Durham NC were in Texas to visit family and help lead a retreat at Laity Lodge. We got to sit and chat for a couple of hours on their way up to Waco to see Milton's family and to Ft.Worth to see a Lyle Lovett Show before heading south again for the retreat. As we were talking about family, Ginger began to talk about her concern for her father who is wrestling with Alzheimer's and she is seeing this gentle, compassionate man slip slowly away from them. She commented that she is one of the rare women in the world who can boast about a wonderful loving father as well as a wonderful, loving husband. She's right.

Several hours later I was watching , along with millions of others, as American gymnasts Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson won the gold and silver medals, respectively, in the women's all-around competition in Beijing. Shawn came in as the favorite on the strength of her victories at the World Championships and the US Olympic trials, but it was obvious to all those who watched the team competition that Nastia, the daughter of a dad who was a Russian gold medal gymnast 20 years ago, and a mom who was a competitive rhythmic gymnast, was getting better and stronger with every event. Since I am a sucker for these dad/daughter scenarios, I paid close attention to the way her dad, who is her coach and who was on the coaching sidelines during the Olympic events, interacted with her in the ups and downs of the team events. Dad/daughter relationships are one thing, but dad/daughter/player/coach relationships are a different animal all together. I coached Calla's softball teams for about 6 years and that tenuous balance between being a mentor and motivator and a supporter and cheerleader are easy to get dangerously entangled...and as we all know from watching little league games, can be downright ugly. I was impressed by Nastia and her dad's interaction during these days, but just fell apart, when following the official announcement that she had indeed won the gold, the first person she looked for was her dad and she raced to hug him and held on tightly for what seemed like minutes as she wept in his arms. At that moment she wasn't the top female gymnast in the world...she was just a daughter hanging on to her dad for dear life at the most important moment in her young life. There will be many more...most of them having nothing to do with gymnastics.

So, for all of those dads out there like Nastia and Ginger's who have had the courage to not just be a provider, but to be a friend, parent, coach, counselor, and cheerleader...I salute you. We need you...your daughters need you...the world needs you. Well done.



Thursday, August 7, 2008

Geezers Rule!

I'm 56 years November that bumps up to the next whole number digit...most days I don't feel like my head, my heart or my body agree with that chronological assessment... but on the other hand, there are days when my rickety knees outvote my brain and heart and Advil becomes my best friend. So, inexplicably, several months ago, my competitive nature kicked in and I signed up to play in a men's singles (as opposed to doubles, not not-married) league. I have played tennis recreationally since my best friend Cliff McArdle taught me to play 30 years ago, but have never, ever played in an organized league. So I went online, found a summer league that only cost $5 to join and decided to go for it.

Now the thing I didn't know was that you have to rate yourself as a player so that you can be placed in a league appropriate to your skill level. Since I've never played at any level I had to go to the USTA site and prognosticate what my level might be. I guessed at a 3.5...especially since you are warned to not sandbag and underestimate your ability to whip up on lesser opponents. I had my first match last week and my opponent was Mario, who was smart, successful, a very good tennis player...and oh yeah...half my age. I hung with him for a while, even leading the first set 3-2 at one point, but his strong serve, seriously tough topspin forehand and young legs prevailed and I lost handily 6-4 and 6-1. I limped home, put an icepack on the knee, took a couple of Advil, and wondered how I could ever have thought this was a good idea.

Tuesday was my next match, and I pondered the possibility that I might play the whole season without winning a single match...but what the heck, I would be building up the self esteem of others all across Austin...that's what servanthood is all about right? Yeah...I wasn't thrilled about being the Prince (I play with a Prince racket) of doormats either. So Tuesday I met Eddie, my next opponent. He was a very nice guy, had a booming serve...hit the ball like a rocket...and in case you were wondering...again, half my age. Eddie, while clearly a guy with better tennis strokes than moi, had a rough start and shockingly (for both of us and several folks watching as well) I won the first set 6-0. He won the first two games of the second set, I won the next three, and then the lights on these public courts just shut off. He asked if, in the event we might could get the lights back on, I wished to continue (he was no dummy...he knew that his youth and fitness would no doubt be a factor the longer we played). I agreed and after about a 20 minute delay the mercury vapor lights came on and we resumed. He proceeded to win the next 4 games and take the second set 6-3. We began the rubber match third set and with the score tied at deuce(40-40) in the first set the lights went out again. We decided to meet Thursday night to conclude the match.

Sooooooo... tonight we met to resolve the outcome, and I have to confess that while I have done a ton of stuff in my life in front of a lot of people, I was crazily nervous about playing this third set. I couldn't figure it out...this match has no real meaning in the larger scheme of the universe. It's a game that won't affect global warming (unless I fail to recycle my plastic tennis ball can), feeding the poor, addressing the human rights issue in China, the outcome of the Presidential election in November, or human trafficking in Cambodia...but I was nervous nonetheless. Bottom line, Eddie did not play well, and I avoided enough mistakes to win the final set 6-2. Go figure...the old man can actually win occasionally, even against the young guns. So, because I really do care about all of those afore-mentioned issues, and because I have friends who are experiencing devastating losses and family health and vocational crises, I will now turn my attention to more important matters, but for this moment my aching knees don't feel all that bad...and I'm kinda wondering if Centrum Silver and the AARP might do paid endorsements for a star tennis player like myself...



Friday, August 1, 2008


"Mr. T"... Sarah and Scott Bickle's feisty and precious toddler, Thomas, lost his two year battle with brain cancer yesterday. I was staring at the screen on my desk yesterday evening, wanting to say something, needing to say something, but unable to make sense of much of anything when a friend request from Facebook popped up. I was responding to that request when I noticed a string of recent updates on a number of folk's profiles (those of you who are FB addicts know of which I speak) indicating feelings or reports on what they are doing. I have trouble keeping up with my car keys much less updating my mood every few hours, so I rarely participate, but on this day I did have something to report, so I just typed in "sad". Curiously, within a few minutes several folks on my "friends" list checked in to see why I was sad. I guess maybe the Facebook "community" can actually occasionally act like a community. I was grateful that they were concerned and we chatted with short FB and e-mail notes, but I still am mostly wordless and clueless.

I'm not interested in talking the theology of the afterlife...although I believe with all my heart that Thomas is now pain free and sitting in the arms of Someone whose arms feel lovingly like his mom and dad's. I'm not interested is debating whether they should read "The Shack" or "90 Minutes in Heaven" even though I know those have both been helpful resources for folks who are grieving. I'm just sad. Sad that a wonderful mom and dad had such precious little time with their beautiful son and even much of that was nursing him through pain and surgery and chemo. I'm sad that I was seldom present with them through any of this except by phone and e-mail...OK I also feel guilty about that. And I'm sad I can't articulate any better why I'm sad. Talking and writing for a living is what I do. It's a good thing I'm not being paid by the word today.

I love you Scott and Sarah. I do know that... and I can say that with certainty. And I can pray to a God who gets it even when words don't.