Thursday, October 27, 2011

Now Comes BAD – Baseball Affective Disorder

Like millions of people, I’ve suffered from SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder.  My spirits fade with the light, darken in direct proportion to the lengthening shadows, turn gray with the clouds that bring winter rains and snow.  But the other evening as I was leaving my office and learned Game Six of the World Series had been rained out, I realized that my affliction isn’t really SAD at all, it’s BAD – Baseball Affective Disorder.

For most of the year I'm able to hold off BAD with the help of my city's team, the San Francisco Giants. Via radio, television, newspaper sports pages and summer nights at Big Phone Bill Park, the 2010 World Series winners were a hugely entertaining diversion. Players like The Freak (Tim Lincecum), the Panda (Pablo Sandoval), the Beard (Brian Wilson), baby-faced Darren Ford, the slightly seedy Aubrey Huff, choir boys Matt Cain and Freddy Sanchez and the budding Natural, Nate Shierholtz, had all become part of the everyday fabric of my life.

I realize of course that these people are literally strangers, but their exploits united our city in a thousand intangible ways. I could always ask a passing stranger wearing Giants gear how the team had done that day and get a friendly, heartfelt response. With our almost daily connection through baseball, we had become something more than fans.

We had become family.

Take the brutal, season-ending injury to catcher Buster Posey (please!). It wasn’t just the loss of the 2010 Rookie of the Year and sparkplug of the World Series. It was the demise of a favorite son, the felling of the longed-for-hero who had helped redeem our baseball "family" from a legacy of failure.  Buster was the youngest sibling making good, the child who actually absorbed the game’s stated virtues of devotion, humility and excellence.  He done us proud.

No other sport allows for this level of intimacy.  Basketball, hockey, soccer are simply too fast, with little space between the action to reminisce or embellish with tales, legends, myths.  Football’s plodding pace comes closest, but there are only 16 games – as opposed to baseball’s 162 – played weekly. Everyone knows it takes more than one day a week to hold a relationship together.

No matter how bad things get – and this has been a bad year for me, with two close friends succumbing to cancer and another fighting for her life – I always look forward to a baseball game somewhere. Even without my favorite players on the field, the game's stateliness and pace bring me comfort. To turn on the radio or TV and hear the laid-back voices of announcers, the conversational tone of the crowd and demonstrative crack of the bat helps keep winter and its chilly silences at bay. 

Thinking more about it, maybe the rainout of Game Six of the Series was a good thing. It helped extend the season one day longer and postpone the onset of BAD, an affliction guaranteed to last from the final out of the season to the opening tosses of Spring Training.

Unless I go to Mexico to catch some winter ball, which I've done in the past.  I'll do almost anything to counteract BAD.  Even watch the Yankees.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Dad Stats

Everybody knows that baseball is "stats happy." Beyond comparing Batting Averages (BA), Stolen Bases (SB), Hit By Pitch (HPB), and Earned Run Average (ERA) and Blown Saves (BS) for pitchers, denizens of the diamond provide an ever-expanding field of acronyms that any bureaucrat can be proud of. 
Baseball now measures hitters' prowess with Runners in Scoring Position (RISP), their ability to move a runner to the next base –Runners Moved Up (RMU), On Base Percentage (OBP), the number of GWHs – Game Winning Hits – and the stat all teams dread, LOB – runners Left on Base.

True to this blog, how about some stats measuring the evolving state of American  fatherhood?  It is changing, after all.  An earlier post referenced the 2010 Census, which showed that single-father-headed households with children increased 27% in the decade from 2000 to 2010. Over two-and-a-half million single parents today are single fathers.  And the number of stay-at-home dads is rising with them – a nearly 60% increase between 2003 and 2008.

That's a strong AHP – At Home Percentage – for fathers.  But it also reflects a broader rise in fathers'  TWK – Time With Kids. This positive trend was borne out by Newsweek's Julia Baird, who reported in a column that "Millenial fathers – those under 29 – spend an average of 4.3 hours per workday with their kids, which is almost double that of their counterparts in 1977."
In addition to swelling AHP and TWK counts, social scientists are also measuring increases in dads' SPI – School Participation Index.  A survey by the National Center for Fathering and the National Parent Teacher Association found that the percentage of fathers who bring their child to school increased 16 percent in the past ten years, while 11 percent more attend classroom events and visit their child's classroom, and 8 percent more attend parent teacher conferences.

This suggests a rise in another general category – DPA, or Dad Point Average.
Finally, there's the all-telling HPD – Hugs Per Day.  Lisa Belkin of the New York Times cited a study that found that four out of five dads who responded "show more physical affection to their children than their parents did with them." A startling statistic from that study was that "fathers hug and kiss their children an average of five times a day." Wow! That HPD rating is exactly five more than my father ever logged.

These ascending stats are not surprising as more dads leave the workforce for the nursery, dads are doing more childcare and housework in general, and many fathers are feeling as torn over balancing work and family as mothers are.  Unfortunately, not every statistic involving dads is on the upswing, however. Let's look at a few of the most important ones, many of them from the web site of the National Fatherhood Initiative.
LWF – Living Without Fathers

More than 24 million children are currently growing up in this country without a father at home – making us the world leader in this distressing category.  Numerous studies show that a high LWF leads to a glut of other social problems, such as: 
CAD – Crimes per Absent Dad

A study of 13,986 women in prison revealed that more than half grew up without their father. Another showed that even after controlling for income, youths in father-absent households still had significantly higher odds of incarceration than those in mother-father families. Youths who never had a father in the household experienced the highest odds of serving time behind bars.

DIDU – Dad-Induced Drug Use
Numerous studies show that kids are far more at risk of substance abuse without a highly involved father. Each unit increase in father involvement is associated with 1% reduction in substance use. In other words, as a father's AHP increases, the child's DIDU decreases.

MMO – Missed Mentoring Opportunity
Boys from fatherless families reported higher rates of drinking and smoking as well as higher scores on delinquency and aggression tests when compared to boys from two-parent households. For girls, being raised without a father increased the risk of teen pregnancy, marrying with less than a high school degree, and forming a marriage where both partners have less than a high school degree.

SLI – Shitty Life Index
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that children in father-absent homes are five times more likely to be poor. Children who live apart from their fathers are more likely to be diagnosed with asthma and experience an asthma-related emergency even after taking into account demographic and socioeconomic conditions. Figures for obesity are similar.

DPD – Dropouts per Dad
A study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services concludes simply: "Fatherless children are twice as likely to drop out of school."

The picture is clear.  A father's low AHP and TWK leads to rising CAD, DIDU, SLI and DPD for kids. So let's work on lowering that LWF and getting the DPA back up. One suggestion: keep upping those HPDs.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

One Week Becomes a Life-Long Gift

Like most fathers from "The Greatest Generation," mine wasn't known for his emotional range. Communications were terse. Praise was meted out like World War II ration coupons. Hugging was an alien behavior still far away in an unexplored future world.

Except for one week out of the year. Every year no matter who was playing, my father took half of his allotted vacation time to watch the World Series at home. The Dad who was gone every day at his factory job from 7 am to 5 pm ... the Dad who every night after dinner disappeared into his workshop to smoke Chesterfields and build stuff ... the Dad who golfed every Saturday, marched his kids into church every Sunday, and every once in awhile played catch or shot baskets or showed my brother and me how to grip a golf club was home for an entire week.

He was there at breakfast, making coffee and buttering toast.  While I was at school he'd get out the storm windows he'd made himself and prepare them for winter, repaint peeling shingles, clean gutters, prune the lilac bushes, change the furnace filter.  It was a working man's holiday for sure, but afternoons were for baseball – and family.

The World Series was played in daylight back then so when I got home from school Mom and Dad were in front of the American-made Zenith TV, tray tables crammed with bowls of Planters Peanuts and pretzels and potato chips and glasses of Standard Dry Ale from the local brewery.  I'd squeeze between them and watch some of the great dramas of my youth: the 1957 Series, when Hank Aaron and the Milwaukee Braves vanquished the hated New York Yankees (Dad always rooted for the underdog, which the Yankees never were) ... Bill Mazeroski's startling ninth-inning home run to lift the Pirates over the Yankees in 1960 ... the dramatic 1962 Series that didn't end until the Giants' Willie McCovey lined out to Bobby Richardson ... the 1963 disassembling of the mighty Yanks by Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Johnny Podres.

For an entire week we cheered together, booed, laughed, hooted and groaned.  It was during these times that I recall the emergence of most of my father's unsolicited aphorisms. Keep your eye on the ball. Play hard every inning. Don't try and hit a home run every time up. Swing at strikes. I didn't know then that these were metaphors, only that they were true. Because my Dad said so.

The main thing I remember about that week, however, is simply being together.   Columbus Day sometimes came during the Series and I'd be home too. I'd share some of the chores around the house shoulder to shoulder with Dad, holding boards he was sawing, painting storm windows he'd patched and sanded, raking leaves to the curb.

It was a magical week. I felt comforted, inspired, protected and – here I add a word that my father actually never used, but I know he felt – loved.

The beauty of that one week a year with my Dad gave me the inspiration to try and spend 52 weeks a year with my son. I know it's impossible for every father to be there every day for his kids, but it's not impossible to try.  You won't regret it.  Look at time with your kids like you used to look at it when you were a kid. Unless you had the misfortune to have some SOB as a father, wasn't it great to have him around?  Isn't it great for your kids too?
The glue that sticks people together takes time to dry. I'm forever grateful for that one week a year I got with Dad. And eternally grateful to baseball for helping make it happen.