Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Daddy Dearest

I delivered this sermon at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Petaluma on Father's Day, June 21, 2009:

Two decades ago, my brother worked at the college daycare when he was a student at the University of Connecticut. He changed more than 1000 diapers during the semester.

My father, who is a good dad, loving, kind, quiet, never shouted or hit us, maybe changed two or three, and that might’ve been a lot. I remember when my brother was a baby, my dad got up in the middle of the night to sterilize the bottles before my brother’s midnight feeding. But at some point he fell asleep on the couch and burned the pot. The smoke-fire scarred the cabinets and wall above the stove.

Most fathers of my father’s generation worked hard and were not active when it came to the day to day responsibilities of being a parent: men rarely changed diapers or soothed us when we were sick in the middle of the night. That’s how things were, for the most part. I know there were exceptions to every rule, but dads weren’t expected to be hands on.

Well, today is different. Many dads play active roles in caring for their babies and helping to raise their kids. But still it isn’t easy for us as we navigate the turbulent 21st century waters of life as we try to be good fathers and husbands and life partners and men. How do we cope with the ravages of the economy, the pressures and demands of jobs, family, friends, making time for everyone and ourselves, the instability of the world in so many ways, our own fears about the planet and our families as they grow and change, about what our roles are and should be?

I can’t think of anything more pleasurable and demanding than being a parent, and the rewards and joys are immense. When I was 25, I got a job as a go-fer for the Connecticut State Legislature. I wasn’t interested in politics, but I needed a job and had a background in political issues and organizing. As part of the process, I had to meet the Speaker of the House of Representatives at the State Capitol in CT, Irving Stolberg, a former English professor who had an arrogant-imperial air about him. I think he fancied himself as a kind of mentor to young people.

I didn’t think it was appropriate to inform him that I really didn’t give a crap about the political process, as he was the ultimate boss at the State Capitol and I would be working under his authority. As an aside, the only time he ever asked me to do anything was to get him a coffee, cream and one sugar.

So there I was in his office, surrounded by photos of him and leading dignitaries, and his framed degrees and awards. “So what are your plans? What do you want to do in life?”
I didn’t have a clue. I was 25, had dropped out of college two years earlier, spent two years knocking on doors for a political action group, and now I felt I was in a terrible, soul-piercing rut. But I knew this job might be fun and educational, so I was up for it.

I decided to be honest. And my answer, looking back now 25 years later, might’ve been influenced by the fact that my girlfriend at the time had had an abortion a month earlier and that my two housemates had an almost two year-old son, who I babysat for several times a week and was part of my daily life.

“I’m really looking forward to being a father,” I said. Stolberg appeared stunned but he said nothing. I got the job and spent the next three or four months processing proposed legislation, taking notes during sessions, and running errands for beer and pizza for the House staff.

My feelings then never wavered. In 1999, when I turned 40, I retired from teaching to be an at-home father. I was home with our son, Miguel, for six glorious years, where I got to play with him at parks around Marin, bike him to school, and meet a surplus of moms and nannies.
I have no easy solutions or formulas to plug into. I abhor self-help books, so my talk today is designed to share some of the wisdom I have gleaned as a father and husband, a writer and a student of culture and people. None of this is original, but it is important to me, and by restating it here I am giving it meaning for you, for me, and for everyone we touch. I’m calling it the Daddy Dearest Decalogue:

1. Be There for Your Kids: When you are with your kids, be there and only there. Obviously it’s OK to handle any real emergencies. But it’s best to turn off the cell phone-pager-bluetooth-iPhone-Blackberry device things dangling from your belt loops.

2. Rule #1 leads directly to
It’s OK to be a Hypocrite, Just be Aware of your Severe Limitations: and of course focus on correcting them. I violate rule #1 several times a week as I check the Red Sox scores on the voice activated 1-800 number sponsored by the Chronicle. My family has the mantra memorized: “Sports. Baseball. Red Sox.” Seriously, perfection should not be the goal, but if improvement and a deep awareness of our faults is not part of our daily equations, we are going to be stuck doing the wrong thing much of the time.

3. Yes, Stop and Smell the Roses: I remember walking with Miguel to Petco and Performance Bikes from our duplex in San Rafael, where we lived from 1993-2005, and having him take three or four hours just to meander 300 yards down our street. He saw the world differently than I did. I was in a rush to get from point A to point B. He wanted to zig, zag, loop back, and blaze his own path. He wanted to experience the world as a three, four, and five year old. He lived in the moment, and that is a great place to be.

4. Words Matter: As an extension of seeing the world from our children’s perspectives, we must realize that what we say is very, very important. My family knows I like to joke around and tease, so they can interpret my subtle and not-so subtle oral nuances just about 100% of the time. I often say to our daughter before we leave the car, “OK, Maya, we’ll be back later. Just stay here.” And she knows I am being silly because sometimes she pretends not to let me unbuckle her seatbelt. Or I will say to her, “Maya gets sawdust and worms for dinner tonight. No cake. No treats.” And she will respond, “Naw, daddy’s just kidding.” But other kids, including our own, might not be old enough or savvy enough to detect the humor and good-natured ribbing behind our sarcasm.

One time I had a student who kept whining about being chosen to do something in class. I told her she wasn’t getting a turn this time because I couldn’t pick everyone. She said, “You didn’t pick me because you don’t like me.” I said, with a twinkle in my eye, “You’re right. I don’t like you.” Got a call later from her irate parents. Even after I explained that I was joking and how they knew me, they were still upset that I would attempt what they felt was age inappropriate humor on their 12-year old.

Another time I had a student at Hebrew school who was talking as if he were an inner city African American, or at least the romanticized hip-hop gangsta cool version some of us have. I blurted out to him, “Hey, Saul, you’re white. Stop acting as if you’re Black.” Got a call from his mother later—she being a prominent defense attorney married to another prominent defense attorney—who was shocked I’d trashed Black culture. Her son was so offended. After I explained that I was trying to tell Saul to appreciate who he was as an individual and not try to be anything or anyone else, she kinda, sorta, not exactly accepted my apology. I think I basically fumbled through an apology to Saul as well. My words weren’t heard as I meant them, and that can happen so easily with our kids, especially the younger ones.

5. Share your Wisdom: I just interviewed Robert Bly, the poet who is widely credited with starting the men’s movement in this country, and he said that men need to gather and share stories, especially older men sharing with younger men. It need not be formal or didactic or pressurized, but there are plenty of healthy forums available. I recently wrote an article about moms and all their anger towards their husbands, and I sat in on a session of MOPS, Mother of Preschoolers, a Christian-based national group, and they have a tightly-knit, superbly friendly, and wonderfully engaging support and educational network. These women have fun, learn, share, bitch, moan, and provide each other with the emotional and physical support parents need. So get out there and join a group or make sure your regular poker night includes conversations about parenting.

Of course, the gender sharing can cross over as well. When I was an at-home father, hanging out regularly with moms and nannies at the park, I was often seen as the voice for all men, given that I was usually one of the only men around. So I fancied myself as an expert on relationships and the male perspective. I used to argue that men are simple creatures: we are mono-focused, we usually do and think about one thing at a time. And we don’t need all that much to keep us happy. Among the few things I mentioned, I said, “We just need to have sex once a week to make us feel special.” One women, whose daughter was in my son’s preschool class, said, “Really?” She admitted she and her husband were literally two ships passing in the night. But she really, really listened to my advice. I saw her a few days later and BOOM, she said, “Steve, you’ve changed our lives.” She made some time over the weekend for some recreational intimacy, and said her husband’s entire attitude had changed, they were communicating better, and it was if the dark cloud hovering over them had disappeared. I am certainly not saying that sex cures everything or anything, but it was sharing my views and her willingness to listen that helped. Hey, a little nookie every now and then is good.

6. Stand and Deliver: It’s vitally important that your kids see you standing up for what you believe in. We used to drag Miguel to protests all over the Bay area. To the Bohemian Grove, to rallies after Bush stole the presidency in 2000, and to those massive gatherings in 2003 before he invaded Iraq. He hasn’t been arrested yet, but we’re working on it. Recently, I ran into some trouble as it were when I made a stand, albeit a tiny one.

Miguel and I had mild interest in the recent NBA Finals and were rooting for the Magic. But after I read an article about the Magic’s owner, Richie DeVos, who founded Amway and donates millions of dollars to ultra-rightwing causes, I decided to root for the Lakers. But before I could explain he shook his head and said, “Traitor.”“Miguel, the owner of the Magic donates tons of money to things Mommy and I don’t believe in.” I’d hoped invoking Verna’s name would increase the legitimacy of my arguments.“Traitor,” he responded.“It’s not that,” I protested. “The owner does bad things with his money and I don’t want to support that.” Miguel never switched allegiances and still doesn’t get that standing up for your beliefs may cause you discomfort or require great sacrifice.

For the Father’s Day article that appeared in HERE, I interviewed Dr. Warren Farrell, who said his father quit his job as CEO of some company in Europe after Warren’s mother became severely depressed and wanted to return to the US. Warren’s father was jobless and even had to work as a Fuller Brush salesman for a while before things got better. But Warren has always remembered how his father put family and his personal values before money and job security.
Be A Hero: Closely related to stand and deliver, let your kids see you doing community service, bring them along when they’re able, and realize that they will closely monitor and absorb what you do and how you do it. My father had a part-time weekend job at a delicatessen, and he always treated his customers with the utmost respect. I have never forgotten that. Everyone mattered to him.

7. Feel Passion: Make sure you have interests outside your family and work. Make sure to find activities that you truly enjoy and can devote yourself to: reading, exercising, sailing, wine collecting, woodworking, gardening, barbershop quartet singing, whatever. Do something, several things with supreme gusto and let your kids see that. They will emulate your passion, I truly believe, by finding their own as they grow.

8. Be Quiet: Sometimes we all just need to meditate or pray or go off by ourselves to regenerate, ponder, contemplate, reflect, cry, become catatonic, solve, or achieve either spiritual, emotional, or physical bliss.

9. And Finally, Sometimes You Just Have to Throw Up Your Hands and Say, “I am stumped.” Shortly after our daughter was born in 2006, 6 days after my wife had been diagnosed with breast cancer, my son and I were in line at Best Buy. There was a young girl of about nine or so in front of us in line at the register. She had on a button that read, “Girls Can Do Anything”.
Miguel looked at it and said, “Girls can’t do anything.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“They can’t take out their wieners and look at them,” he answered loud enough for several patrons to overhear. The ultimate embarrassing moment for parents, when we wonder if people nearby are convinced we are raising a serial pervert. My initial impulse was to chastise Miguel for speaking so loudly in a store, but I let it go because I was so impressed with his logic: She couldn't do anything anatomically, as Miguel rightly noted.

10. As I practiced reading to my wife the other day, our daughter ripped out a page from a library book. I raised my voice, which is pretty easy because it’s already so damn loud, and she responded as always by crying. So, in conclusion, all my parenting wisdom dissipated in that moment when I lost my temper. Therefore, in regards to everything I’ve said today, I must quote the eternal words of Saturday Night Live’s Emily Latella and say, “Never mind.”

My Twilight Zone

I spent most of last week week in bed, felled by a nasty virus that doctors initially thought might be meningitis, sinusitis, or the rockin’ pneumonia and the boogie-woogie flu. But after a battery of tests, including a spinal tap and cat scan, I was told to ride it out and my massive headache—the kind where I wanted our dog to shoot me—loss of appetite, and overwhelming sense of malaise would pass someday.

Because my head ached so badly, piercing pain behind the eyes and across my forehead, I was unable to read or even remain upright. Most of the time I was just curled in a semi-fetal position on the couch, drool forming on the edge of my mouth, as the dog nipped at my socks.

But I did manage to pass some of the time when I wasn’t asleep or wishing I was dead by watching daytime TV. I never thought American civilization was in such dire straits until I ingested an overdose of afternoon TV. It’s a veritable nightmare.

Almost everything I watched was pure and unentertaining crap. I must admit up front that we don’t have cable, so we rely on a few local stations and several more quirky ones that are pulled in by our HDTV.

One thing I found on the tube is a plethora of judge shows. There was this one guy, I think Judge Alex, who spent most of the show counseling a young woman, who’s already had an army of abusive boyfriends, to make better choices. Uh, duh, no shit, buddy; where’d you get your law degree? The 24-year old female was suing her ex-boyfriend for borrowing her car when they were together, crashing it, and then refusing to pay for any damages.

On Maury Povich, who was actually trained as a real journalist, he did a show about incredibly obese toddlers. Being the father of a toddler, albeit a lean one, I tuned in for a few moments. He featured one three-year-old boy who weighs 114 lbs, which is 80 lbs above normal. Heck, that kid weighs 40 lbs more than Miguel, who is 11. He is only 45 lbs lighter than I am, and I am 50.

Then there was this show hosted by a guy I’d never heard of, Steve Wilko. On it, a woman accused a male relative of either killing her daughter or hiring someone to do so. She was crying and had to be restrained by members of Wilko’s crew as she shouted in a thick Southern accent, “Did you kill my baby? Did you have someone kill my young-un?”

“No,” he said defiantly. “I did not. She was my young-un too.”

I didn’t tune in long enough to ascertain what type of kinship relationship the accused and the dead girl shared.

As I watched these shows and one or two others, I kept thinking two things: one, why would people who may have legitimate legal grievances choose to air their cases in such a tawdry fashion? OK, I know the answer to this one already. And, two, give me Judge Wapner. The original People’s Court was the best. Wapner delivered judgments that were often swift and painful, but occasionally laced with humor and pathos. And he never took bullshit from anyone or doled it out in return. He seemed the real deal; the rest of these bozos are pretenders to a crown they will never wear and to a thrown they will never ascend.

The only daytime show I am sorry I missed was Ellen. I watched the advertisement for her show, but I must’ve been sleeping when it actually came on. Ellen features what she calls her bathroom concert series, in which she sings with a famous crooner in a bathroom or shower. That afternoon she was slated to sing I Kissed A Girl with Katy Perry. Having a chance to hear a great singer, a great comedienne, and their duet with a great song might’ve made my day. And it would’ve been funny.

In the end, the only TV I found comforting during my convalescence was my DVD collection of the 2004 American League baseball championships, when the Red Sox overtook the Yankees after a three-games-to-none deficit and launched the greatest miracle turnaround in playoff baseball history, culminating in Boston’s first World Series title in 86 years. Watching the exciting comeback games when the Red Sox were on the brink and the subsequent World Series celebrations brought many tears to my eyes and maybe, just maybe, helped my ailing body heal a tad faster.

As for most of daytime TV, I will leave the final words to jazz singer and proto-hip-hop artist Gil Scott-Heron: “The revolution will not be televised.”

Thanks goodness.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Graduate

No one tugged at him touting the eternal optimism of plastics. No one crushed a wad of money into his hands. There were also no cap, no gown, and no car for college.

But there was plenty of pomp and circumstance as Miguel graduated yesterday from the fifth grade.

Heads bowed in either reverence or fear, Miguel and Sam Afsharipour led seventy-one Dixie School graduates into the school’s multipurpose room as they concluded elementary school on a partly sunny morning.

Parents craned with digital cameras clicking and digital video recorders quietly whirring. Tears welled in parents and grandparents’ eyes, older siblings shifted restlessly, and Maya flitted between Verna and me.

“Why did I ever listen to you?” Verna asked me. “This is the last time we sit in the middle of the row. Next time we’re taking the aisle seats,” in order to make a quick getaway with Maya, who laughed loudly, narrated a running commentary of the ceremony, and informed everyone in several rows that she was hungry.

Miguel later said, “I didn’t hear her at all.”

Thanks goodness, for we didn’t want to ruin the festivities for him or anyone else. Even though the idea of a fifth grade graduation seems superfluous, the giggling energy generated by Miguel and his classmates and their utter devotion to the school and each other deserved some type of closing ritual, I guess.

I mean have we blown things wholly out of proportion with how we celebrate youth? There are now preschool graduations, fifth grade graduations (before students enter middle school), 8th grade graduations prior to high school, high school graduations, and ceremonies to mark the ends of college and grad school.

What’s next: ceremonies to celebrate spelling acumen, physical prowess, or the ability to share? Do we trivialize childhood accomplishments by having a plethora of ceremonies? Is this like having sports moments co-opted by corporate sponsors, reducing them to overt silliness? “And now our Tostito’s crunchy halftime report” or “Welcome to the Acme Axel Grease game time summary.”

I can just see it now: the principal stands at the front of the auditorium and intones, “Today, before parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, former neighbors, letter carriers, babysitters, nannies, mother’s helpers, and the weird guy who always sits on the park bench, we celebrate the first grade because now all of them, except for Billy Smith, are able to read, though we do question some of the racier material Missy Davis brought into ‘Show and Tell’.”

But amid all my cynicism, I was elated and proud. Miguel spent only one year at Dixie, having switched over after five years at a Waldorf-inspired school in Mill Valley. The transition academically was difficult at first, but Miguel buckled down from the beginning and was able to do quite well. He had absolutely no problem acclimating himself socially, in part because he went from a class with three boys total to one with 15. He was in sports and games heaven at Dixie.

The ceremony was very sweet. Several students shared memories of each grade level at Dixie; there was slide show, which Miguel introduced; and all the fifth graders sang “Shooting Star”, about ending one phase of life and moving into another.

Verna and I shed tears of joy and sadness—joy for Miguel and sadness that Verna’s mother was not alive to share with us. But her father was there, and that was great.

After a brief reception, Miguel and I walked back to his room to hug his teacher and collect his report card. On the way back to the car, Verna said, “Miguel, where do you want to go for lunch?”

“Pasta Pomodoro,” he said.

Once we settled down and got our drinks, Verna lifted her glass and said, “Let’s have a toast to Miguel the graduate.”

We clinked glasses and tapped plastic cups, but Miguel looked over at Verna and said, “Mom, it’s only fifth grade.”

And now for some appropriate perspective from someone who gets it: thank you, Miguel, thank you very much. The celebration continues.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Teach Your Children Well

I’m due to go before a firing squad in less than 12 hours. My crime? After a process that would elevate Russian show trials to models of legal efficiency, my son has accused, tried, and convicted me of treason for switching allegiances in the NBA Finals from the Orlando Magic to the Lost Angeles Lakers.

The cause of my flexible loyalties and my son’s subsequent high-minded and vocal charges in our living room was an article I read yesterday about the Magic’s owner, Richie DeVos. Seems this guy founded Amway and donates millions of dollars to ultra-rightwing causes. Since a NBA championship means more millions to the winning team (and owner), the author of the article, Dave Zirin (edgeofsports.com), suggested rooting for the Lakers as the lesser of two evils in a corporate sports world gone mad and greedier.

I have a mild interest in the outcome of the NBA Finals, at best. I am a casual professional basketball fan. After the team we were rooting for, the Boston Celtics, lost in the conference finals, Miguel and I decided to cheer on their opponents against the hated Lakers.

Full disclosure: I was a big Lakers fan for nearly 30 years. I was an even bigger Kareem Abdul-Jabbar fan, so when he was traded to Los Angeles in the mid-70s, my hoop devotion went immediately to the Lakers, remaining constant through the halcyon days of Kareem, Magic, James Worthy, and then later Kobe and Shaq. But when Kobe helped destroy the team by forcing Shaq out of town, I quickly abandoned the Lakers, unable to further tolerate another selfish athlete trying to insert an ‘I’ into ‘Team’.

So shortly after I finished Zirin’s article, I said to Miguel, “I’m going to root for the Lakers.” But before I could explain he shook his head and said, “Traitor.”

“Miguel, the owner of the Magic donates tons of money to things Mommy and I don’t believe in.” I’d hoped invoking Verna’s name would increase the legitimacy of my arguments.

“Traitor,” he responded.

“It’s not that,” I protested. “The owner does bad things with his money and I don’t want to support that.”

We didn’t have much time to talk, but the ‘incident’ stayed with me through the rest of the day, which included a family barbecue and pool party at his Little League coach’s home to celebrate the end of their season.

So I knew I had to re-visit the issue later and try to explain the importance of not always viewing sports as neutral or values free. He was on the couch with Verna and me after we got home.



“Miguel, that’s not true. I don’t want to support a team whose owner spends so much money on things that bother me. Sometimes you have to make a stand for your beliefs and values.”

“What about the Red Sox?” he asked. “Would you give up on them for what they did to Jackie Robinson and being the last team to integrate?”

He read a biography on Jackie Robinson earlier in the school year and later did two reports on the baseball pioneer’s life. Miguel was acutely aware as he faced Verna and me that the Red Sox, because of their racist owner, had passed on Robinson and Willie Mays during tryouts in the 1950s, and didn’t sign a Black player until 1959, twelve years after Robinson shattered the color barrier.

“Miguel, there is no excuse for what the Red Sox did, but since then they have spent a lot of money to help inner city kids play baseball here and in other countries.”

“What about Curt Schilling?”

Shortly after the Red Sox won their first World Series in 2004, Curt Schilling, their inspirational pitcher campaigned for George Bush against John Kerry. Miguel was essentially asking me to drop the Bosox because of one player’s political views. He was also—on some level—clarifying his and my core values.

“But the Red Sox’ owners are Democrats and have donated tons of money to the Democrats,” I said.

“So what if they had owners like this guy from the Magic,” he inquired.

“I’d give up on them.”

He and Verna exchanged glances. “I don’t believe it,” he said.

And I can’t say for sure. I can’t even say, “How could I dismiss a team I’ve loved for more than 40 years?” without appearing as a hypocrite. Miguel’s at a crucial juncture in his social and moral development and Verna and I have a herculean task ahead of us. We must be critical bulwarks of morality and righteousness as he rumbles through adolescence.

After he went to bed I asked Verna, “Do you think I was a little over the top about the Magic and not rooting for them?” I didn’t wait for an answer before barreling to my next question. “Do you think he will appreciate my stand a few years from now?”

She looked at me reassuringly and said, “Yes.”

As for the firing squad, I am still debating whether or not to have tofu or roast beef for my last meal.

Friday, June 5, 2009

My Cheating Heart

I cheated at baseball when I was a kid. I often played my neighbor, Bill Sarinsky, who is a year younger than I am, in one-on-one games in my backyard, which was at least 50 yards or so long. And I would do whatever it took to win the game. If I got a couple of hits and put a ghost runner on third or had to stay there myself and try to race home, I always found a way to manipulate the rules in my favor. Bill and I would argue, but I almost always prevailed. At least that’s how I remember it now nearly 40 years later.

This win-at-all-costs side to my personality competed against my somewhat nonchalant attitude toward sports, borne in part because of my mediocre, at best, athletic abilities. Sometimes I just didn’t let sports or games faze me; other times, I was rampaging monster who destroyed everything in its path on the way to victory.

Fortunately as a parent, I have embraced the nonchalant side much more fully. I never want Miguel or Maya to feel any pressure from me when it comes to sports. But because I tend to relax about competition involving myself and others, I probably overcompensate by being overly charitable at the expense of my own son.

Last Saturday night, our neighbor Max, who is 13, and his friend, Daniel, also 13, came over and challenged Miguel and me to a game of two-on-two baseball. We’ve played basketball, football, and baseball with them and others before, and often I have let them dictate the rules and sometimes the outcome of the matches.

We started the game after 7 pm. The rules were simple: one out per inning; any ball hit onto the sidewalk path, about 250 feet away, was an automatic homerun; and the runner was out if the pitcher fielded the ball before the runner made it to first (which is called Pitcher’s Poison).

We played until dark, and there was no score. In the bottom of what turned out to be the final inning, we scored a run. Miguel was pitching quite well, so when Max and Daniel came up in the final half of the game, Miguel and I were feeling pretty good.

Daniel is a free-swinger, so he is often an automatic out. I was shading toward leftfield when he slapped a clean shot up the middle into centerfield of the park. Max then lofted a ball, which I heard ping against the bat but couldn’t see until it was well over my head. I raced over and threw to Miguel as Max was rounding third. My throw was off, so Max scored rather easily. He and Daniel collapsed into each other’s arms and danced and hooted as if they’d won the World Series.

Miguel later said, “If you’d made a better throw, I could’ve tagged Max easily.”


Max and Daniel came over for a rematch the next night, which was also a school night. We started around seven and I announced, “We have to stop at 7:45.” I was thinking about Miguel’s shower and getting him into bed by 8:30.

I don’t remember all the details now, even though it was only five days ago, but I think we scored two runs, then Max and Daniel plated 3 to go ahead 3-2. I pitched the first few innings and struck out Max once or twice and Daniel three times. At one point, Max popped up and the ball landed on the fair side of third base for a cheap single.

“Foul,” he yelled.

“Foul?” I asked. “That was fair.”

Max is a sweet kid, good natured and also an umpire for Miguel’s Little League. “No,” he said, “it was foul.”

It was fair, but I am sure Max was upset he hadn’t smoked the shot for extra bases. So I relented. “OK, foul ball,” I said, with a slight nod to Solomonic temperance.

Miguel and I came up and the floodgates opened. We were roping the ball all over the field, spraying shots to left, right, center with virtual impunity. We added three runs, which really isn’t enough with someone as offensively talented as Max batting against us. As I batted again, I dinked a ball that plopped very close to the first base line. Max ran over and was ready to declare me out.

“Foul ball,” I said.

“That was fair,” both Max and Daniel said.

Old Steve, the father who wanted to sooth things over for the neighborhood kids and not make a big fuss because his son would understand, wanted to say, “OK, I’m out,” and then the inning and our chances for victory could’ve been over.

But New Steve, the one not afraid to stand up for his son and self every now and then pleaded, “C’mon, I gave you that one earlier. The fair ball near third?”

I am an adult (most of the time), so Max and Daniel stopped protesting and agreed to let me bat again. I stroked a hard liner into deep right field, and the onslaught continued. We ended up winning 11-3 or 11-4. But I will proudly admit that there were no raucous postgame celebrations or even a fist or chest bump. I simply told Miguel he’d hit and pitched well.

Hitting and pitching well was a good catharsis for both of us because at last Saturday’s Little League playoff game, Miguel’s team, the Yankees, was shellacked by the Blue Jays, 18-1. The Jays hit five homeruns, three of them were grand slams, and we only had two or three real scoring opportunities.

Amazingly, though, the team played pretty well, with very few mental mistakes or errors in the field. I can’t recall any right now, in fact. Outside of ransacked pitching, the guys did just fine. In fact, and even more amazingly, their spirits never waned even as it became apparent they were going to lose big time.

When the game mercifully ended, the boys raced across the field for the postgame chat with almost as much vigor as if they’d been victorious. They’ve been slapped around a few times during the season, but lately they don’t seem to hang their heads or wallow too much in defeat.

After the game, I took Miguel and Maya to Subway for lunch and we ran into one of the Blue Jay players, Matthew Carvallo, a nice kid who homered in the game. He greeted Miguel (they met at the weeklong outdoor education program in March) and I chatted with his mother. Maya simply wanted chips with her Subway sandwich.

Miguel’s team has played two more games since last Saturday, and won both in very convincing fashion. Their slumbering bats have awakened with a vengeance. Now they face the Blue Jays tomorrow morning, and the loser’s season ends. The Blue Jays lost for only the third time in two years on Wednesday, so they are on the brink, with the Yankees, of double elimination.

I have a feeling, though, that win or lose (and I feel magic in the air) the Yankees will hold their heads high after having a great season of fun, some frustration and heavy doses of male bonding.

And when the umpires yells, “Fair” or “Foul,” I doubt any one of them will even bother to argue.