The As-Phalt Is Not In Our Stars (A Short Greyson Story)

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves.”

~ Cassius, in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

Our 4-year-old Greyson has been a word sponge since he was 1. When I read books to him, he often interrupts to say “What’s that mean?” about an unfamiliar word, always making a commendable attempt at pronouncing it. This mildly disrupts the flow of the story, but boy does it make me proud.

Playing at the park the other day, Greyson saw a small black chunk of something on the ground and asked me what it was. I examined it and said “It’s a piece of asphalt” and started to tell him it’s the stuff that makes up roads and parking lots. He interrupted my explanation and said, “What’s a phalt?” I’m not sure if he heard me wrong or if perhaps he remembered the word “ass” from one of his non-kid-oriented animal encyclopedias and figured I was saying two words together — ass and phalt.

I explained that asphalt was one word, but I also took the opportunity to lay out in some detail what a fault is. (That’s the question he asked, after all! And I’m always happy to capitalize on an opportunity to learn.) So I explained that a fault is something we do wrong; a mistake we make. I had Greyson try to think of some of his own faults, like fussing or not listening. As is often the case when I explain a more grown-up concept, I wasn’t sure if he was fully picking up what I was laying down. He’s a very distracted little guy at times. But I figured I was at least laying the groundwork for important conversations down the road about moral culpability and personality responsibility.

Fast forward a few minutes. I scolded Violet for something (I’ve now forgotten what it was; forgetfulness is a fault of mine) and then quickly realized that I had misperceived what she was doing. So I apologized and told Violet that I was wrong to scold her.

Greyson, who was standing nearby, piped up and said, with notable excitement (and zero moral judgment) in his voice:

“That’s a fault!”

By golly, he did pick up what I had laid down!

Two days later something similar happened at the park. I overreacted to something and then admitted my mistake, to which Greyson exuberantly said: “That’s another fault!”

What a genuine delight to see him incorporate my little lesson so quickly, and then to remember it days later. At the expense of the teacher of said lesson, no less! Parenting is nothing if not humbling.

As it ought to be.

Cassius was right after all. The fault, on both of these occasions — and on every other occasion — is assuredly not in my stars. It’s in myself. The challenge is to be able to look at that flawed self with clear eyes and say, as Greyson did, “That’s a fault!” I want to always model that kind of fault-acknowledging self-awareness for my kids.

If I can’t do that, I’ll be just another ass/fault-deflector.

And the world has more than enough of those.



Roughly 1 out of every 11 times I walk out of my office (i.e. “the diaper-changing room,” our official name for the guest bedroom that now doubles as my workspace), I behold a particularly wondrous sight in the living room.

The other 10 out of 11 sights are pretty wondrous too — the kids dancing around the kitchen, or sliding down their plastic slide, or drawing at the dining room table, or having stories read to them by Danielle. (And yes, sometimes being quite fussy or having a loud meltdown.) But every 11th time I walk out of my office, which amounts to roughly once a day, I see the following diorama:

Greyson and Violet sitting snugly on the sofa, side by side, sunlight streaming through the window behind them, while they contentedly peruse books, sweetly reading aloud to themselves and to each other.


Sometimes they’re each reading their own book, with Greyson leaning over to identify things for Violet, and sometimes they’re sharing the same book. It’s a priceless sight for a parent, and it always makes my heart spontaneously contract with paternal pride and ardent affection.

I have read books to both of our kids ever since they were wee babies. Greyson immediately took to it like a duck to water, floating happily through the shallows of each book, scanning the surface of each page for any new word or image he could point at and savor.

Violet was a tougher study since she’s always been action-oriented, a go-go-go girl (never to be confused with a go-go girl), restlessly wriggling off my lap after a few pages when she was 12 to 18 months old. But in the last few months, she’s reversed this trend entirely, joyfully letting me read as many books as I’m willing to read her before bedtime each night. I suspect that her big brother has been a good influence on her in the literacy department. He’s helped her to value cerebral pursuits along with her instinctive love of more kinetic endeavors.


So how did we get so lucky?  Well, between Danielle and me, we’ve certainly done our part to embed in them a love of books (and an ambivalence toward screens). But I’m sure that on some level, the kids must have also just been born with a certain bookish, page-turning disposition. Their grandmas have both worked for libraries, one of their grandpas reads books while he takes walks (!), and their parents (i.e. I and she) were both English majors. So… a bit of nature, a bit of nurture.

Whatever the exact ratio or the precise genesis of their bookwormishness, it’s intensely gratifying to know that each of my kids adore reading. If my heart was a chocolate cake, then it gets slathered with an extra-thick, extra-gooey layer of chocolate joy frosting when I see them reading together. Without any prompting. The feeling is mildly euphoric.


Their progress has been delightful to witness. I was able to start reading chapter books with Greyson since he was about 3½, such as The Lighthouse Family series by Cynthia Rylant, the Marty McGuire series by Kate Messner, and we’ve just started the original Paddington book by Michael Bond. [Please message me with your favorite suggestions!] His focus on these books, even with minimal pictures, is getting better by the month.

Meanwhile, with Violet I’ve recently been able to leap from board books to some of the longer books that I was reading Greyson when he was 2 and even 3. Even though our polysyllabic girl only has a dozen or two different words in her verbal repertoire at this point, she listens and absorbs these books like a word sponge. Once her verbal ability “clicks,” this girl is going to be like the Dave Matthews Band — so much to say! I can’t wait to hear exactly what she has on her mind.

But even beyond the pride I feel in my kids’ cognitive development, it just means the world to be able to sit with each of them every night, and many mornings too, snuggled together on our glider chair. With the possible exception of nature walks, there is no type of fatherly bonding that I have found to be more satisfying.

Just me and my bookworms, nestled in our book nook, reading a book.

The world and all its aching, roiling sadness fades away.

All that exists is the story we’re immersed in.

We leaf through each page.

Imagination takes root.

A tree grows.


A Year Without Sports

The Olympics were postponed for a year. Baseball is in the process of imploding. College football is on the ropes. Pro football is in the late stages of a particularly strong bout of denial about its viability this fall. Basketball is surviving, but only in a bubble format that would be unsustainable for a full season. And hockey has been resuscitated, but only because all the players were sent across the border to our friendly neighbor (and not-so-hot spot) to the north.

One pretty great Super Bowl notwithstanding, 2020 will likely prove to be the most cataclysmic sports year — financially and otherwise — in recorded history.

We all know that sports doesn’t truly matter in the grand scheme of everything. It’s just a game. It’s not, you know, life or death.

But in a different sense, these games really do matter. Sports function as a microcosm of our hopes and dreams, of the values we stand for and the vices we stand against. Sports is one of the primary ways that many young people learn how the world functions, for worse but also for better.

Sports offer endless opportunities for heroism and herculean feats of mental strength. Some of the heroism is synthetic, and some of it is impressive but purely physical. But plenty of it is genuine and emotional and quite meaningful. To repurpose an old Alanis Morissette line, sports give a determined, damn-the-torpedoes athlete “the very best platform from which to jump beyond [one]self.”

And that is one reason why it is such a gut punch to know that any viable chance of college or pro sports this fall and winter is dwindling by the day. Until a vaccine is finalized, the unrelenting threat of COVID is simply incompatible with the potentially lethal risk factors of cross-country travel, close physical contact, and large-scale social gatherings. Each league can deny it all they want because there are so many millions (and billions) of dollars that stand to be lost. But trying to engage in sporting business as usual this fall would lead to COVID cases and spiking deaths that would quickly render it a catastrophic decision.

I’m as rabid a football fan as they come and have been for 30 years. It pains me to know that while the NBA and NHL might be able to successfully complete their seasons (due to being in Floridian and Canadian bubbles), the NFL may not be able to even begin its own.

But the operative thing is to do the right thing. That’s all that matters.

And the right thing is to preserve the safety of players, coaches, training staff, and sports fans. Each of these groups has a compelling reason (passion! pride! paychecks!) for longing to be on the field, or on the sideline, or in the bleachers. But the powers that be, be they sports financiers or federal government leaders, have an obligation — a moral obligation — to protect everyone involved in sports from each other. And also from themselves.

There is plenty of blame to go around when we think about how we got to this point in the U.S. We are 5 months deep in our chapter of the pandemic and, unlike almost every other comparable nation, are somehow still in the midst of a resurgence in COVID deaths. But that’s a conversation for another day, and another blog post.

Blame won’t protect or save anyone. Only careful, coordinated action will do that. What matters is not to preserve the status quo, or to preserve our sense of normalcy, or to preserve the pursuit of leisure.

What matters is to preserve human life, at any cost. Because life itself has no price tag. It has infinite value.

Cancel sports this fall, and we’ll prove that we still believe this most fundamental of all human truths.

So to the cooler heads of the sporting realm, I urge you:



Thank you so much for reading my blog. Feel free to like, comment on, or share my Facebook post — for now, that’s my primary platform for putting my work out into the world.

I am grateful for your time, and I am always eager to engage on the issues I write about. So engage away!

Working from Home (Sweet Home)

My family has been quarantining hard for close to 5 months. (It’s not as cool as rocking hard or partying hard, but it’s decidedly safer and yields zero hangovers.) Now with last week’s relieved-gasp-inducing news that Widener will go virtual this fall, it appears that the 4 of us will continue seeing a whole lot of each other for the indefinite future.

It’s wonderful news for everyone in our home — except, perhaps, my wife. Some of you may not know this about me, but I can be… a bit much at times. The incessant wordplay and shameless punnery are a little exhausting, and I’m not necessarily the least codependent guy who has ever ventured into a marriage. One might say I have the insistent affection of a Golden Retriever, just without the natural charm or the kissable face (albeit just as fuzzy). But Danielle is a trooper, and I’m sure she’ll find a way to cope somehow. Please keep her in your thoughts and prayers.

All jokes aside, though, this Widener news is a truly profound relief for us. I am awash in gratitude to know that I will not have to put myself (and thus my wife, kids, and parents) in harm’s way this fall.

The Mother of all Caveats

Let me first be abundantly clear: I ache for anyone who, in order to support their family and/or not derail their desired career, will now be forced to physically visit a school or workplace on a daily basis despite the sadly well-documented risks of population density during a pandemic. I cringe to think of my friends, relatives, and neighbors who simply have no choice other than to keep working.

In the United States, we are uniquely shackled to our paychecks — and the health insurance that is nearly always bound up in those paychecks. If Widener had decided to have in-person classes, I would have felt my hands were tied. Not having affordable health care in this country is a recipe for looming bankruptcy. And I’m not a trust fund kid.

So I simply would have shown up and earned my paycheck, with tremors of fear in my heart. No one should be in that position, but tens of millions currently are. It’s a brutal state of affairs that Congress needs to address (but very likely won’t) by creating legislation protecting employees.

To all of you reading this who are in the position I describe, I am deeply sorry. My empathy doesn’t help you, but I offer it nonetheless.

Having outlined that caveat, and with much more that could and should be said on behalf of my brow-furrowed fellow citizens, I want to document for posterity’s sake why this is such a deep and abiding relief for me and my family. And I want to advocate for why I see it as a life-affirming — and life-preserving — gift from Widener to its staff, faculty, and student body.

Reason #1: Quality of Life (Quantity of Nature Time)

Safety is the preeminent practical concern during a pandemic, but I’ll start with the reasons that hit closer to home. The most emotionally significant reason that I’m grateful to be working from home is that it gives me so much extra time with my family, doing the things that make me feel alive.

Consider this: I usually have a 40-minute morning commute, a 60-minute lunch break (with not nearly enough time to drive home from Harrisburg), and a 45-to-50-minute evening commute. That adds up to almost 2 ½ hours every weekday of my life that is spent (A) all by myself, (B) not making money, and in fact (C) spending a lot of money on gas.

Now take those 2 ½ hours and reallocate them for (A) longer morning walks with the kids, (B) longer morning storytimes with the kids, (C) eating breakfast with the family, (D) lunch walks with the family, and (E) pre-dinner woods walks with the kids. All of which vastly improve my mental health by (A) putting me next to the people who mean the most to me, (B) giving me an extra hour of fresh air every day, and (C) extricating me from the nauseating crush of gridlock that tends to make me curse at stoplights and fellow motorists under my breath. (And sometimes not under my breath.)

It would be difficult to overstate the value of that trade-off. People say that time is money. But I say…

Time is life itself.

Reason #2: A Penny Saved (A Penny Earned)

Having said that, time is also money. And money is indeed a factor in my life, given that I have 2 kids and a mortgage. I was surprised to recently crunch the numbers and learn this fun fact: We are saving a good chunk of money while I work from home.

Given that I have a 30-mile commute, I spend roughly $130 a month in gas money. That’s over $1,500 in one calendar year that our family will not spend, if this thing ends up dragging on that long. Even when you factor in the loss of a few discretionary hours per week (which I successfully lobbied for years ago) that I will be unable to work now that I’m at home, there is still a decent net gain from not commuting. And when you then add in the massive drop in wear and tear on my 2008 Dodge Caliber, which annually logs 15,000 commuting miles and now is closer to zero (since we exclusively use the minivan), it’s more realistic to think that we’re saving between $1,000 and $2,000 a year.

That’s not pocket change. In fact, it’s like getting 1 to 2 extra paychecks.

[Side note: The environment isn’t complaining either.]

Reason #3: Safe (Inside) & Sound (In Mind)

Even if the first two reasons weren’t relevant — if we were breaking even and if I didn’t enjoy the extra time with my kids for some odd reason — this third one would still be enough to overwhelm me with gratitude. I am thankful to be working remotely because I will feel exponentially safer at home than at work this fall.

Envisioning my return to campus over the last few months has unsettled me again and again. And both times I paid a visit to Widener between mid-March and late July, even with almost no one else on campus at the time, I felt even more unsettled.

During a regular semester, the building I work in has a high population density. My office is smack dab in the middle of a heavily trafficked faculty hallway, and both professors and students enter my office regularly for any number of reasons. Ventilation is also fairly nonexistent in my windowless workspace. Under normal circumstances, I don’t mind any of these factors (other than the sunlight deprivation that comes from not having a window).  In fact, I quite enjoy rubbing shoulders with all those folks.

But of course, these are anything but normal circumstances. And shoulder-rubbing isn’t exactly what the CDC is recommending right now.

Given that I see my 70-something parents on a weekly basis, both Danielle and I are hyperaware of any points of contact we make in the world. And visiting a campus 5 days a week, or even 2 days a week which was on the table as an option at one point, would render me uncertain whether I should risk any close physical proximity to my parents.

And that doesn’t even speak to my proximity to my own family, given that we now know that children can contract COVID too. Not to mention wives of affectionate, Golden Retriever-like husbands.

In short, working on campus would sabotage my entire way of life. It would make it untenable, or at the very least unsettling to the extreme. COVID’s lagging indicators make it a uniquely insidious virus that undermines the most basic logistics of living one’s life. And our country’s persistent, bewildering lack of a nationwide fast-test infrastructure (presidents and athletes have access to fast tests, but the rest of us don’t?) just adds to the logistical chaos.

Given these truly unfortunate and destabilizing realities, which will likely continue until we have a new administration willing to deal head-on with COVID, working from home is the most viable option for containing the spread and protecting one’s own family.

Sadly, millions of Americans don’t have any such option. I am sickened by that fact and shudder on a daily basis when I think about it. The calculus of who can stay home and who is deemed an “essential” in-person worker is a brutal equation. It turns people into mere cogs in capitalism’s unthinking, unfeeling, perpetual-motion machine.

Having said that, and not being in a position of influence, all I can do is be grateful for the safety that has been granted to me by the Widener powers that be. Their decision to go virtual this fall will prevent our Harrisburg campus from becoming yet another hot spot.

And it will allow my little family to continue quarantining like it’s 1999 (assuming that people quarantined right before Y2K).

While our nation waits impatiently and feverishly for a hugely crucial vaccine and a hugely crucial election, the 4 of us here in rural Dillsburg now have the ability to maintain our strenuously frugal family budget and continue living our peacefully rural little life.

All while we stay, for the time being, safe inside.

And, as much as can be expected, sound of mind.

It feels like a gift, given in good faith to all of us Widener folk by its humane, thoughtful, conscience-driven president.

On behalf of my family, I receive that gift with open arms.


My Thoughts (& Feelings) on Widener’s Decision to Go Virtual This Fall

I work at Widener Law Commonwealth as the faculty secretary. Mother Widener (as we playfully call “her”) has signed my paychecks for 7 years in November.

My first 6 years were relatively peaceful, despite some notable challenges. But this year at Widener (as well as virtually everywhere else) is the first one that could reasonably be labeled as “absolutely, brain-meltingly bonkers.” The shutdown in March was something no one — beyond soothsayers and epidemiological experts — could have predicted. As you might imagine, and surely have gotten a taste of in your own lives, 4½ months of remote learning and remote working have offered quite a, shall we say, education for all of us Widener folk.

Which brings us to July. Every one of us, from the faculty to the students to the staff, were waiting for weeks with bated breath and clouded mind to learn the verdict. What will the fall semester look like, given the pandemic that rages all around us?

On July 27th, exactly 3 weeks before the start of classes, we found out. President Wollman sent out a carefully crafted, warmly empathetic, superbly detailed missive explaining that the three Widener campuses will function in a virtual capacity once again this fall. All classes will be held online, which means that the staff (including freelance dad bloggers who may or may not be involved in the post you’re reading) will be working from home for the indefinite future.

I have many thoughts, and even more feelings, about this verdict and about the virus itself. I will proceed to lay them out with careful consideration for everyone involved.

Students deserve empathy. All the empathy.

I start with this point because students are the lifeblood of the law school. Any academic body that doesn’t earnestly acknowledge that salient fact isn’t worth the letterhead their acceptance letters are written on.

I can vouch for this fact: Widener Law Commonwealth greatly values its students. And I myself happen to positively adore all 300 or so of them. There may be no aspect of my job I enjoy more than getting to know each new class of students and rubbing shoulders with them for 3 to 4 years. When they graduate, I feel like a proud uncle patting them on the back and feeling nostalgic for the days when they arrived, wide-eyed and nervous, for orientation week. It brings me great pride and joy to watch our plucky, promising students go out and change the world using the tools they learned from Widener’s esteemed faculty — whom I also happen to positively love working alongside.

I repeat: Students are the lifeblood. And being around them puts life in my blood.

This brings me to my salient point, which there’s no way to get around: This pandemic has been devastating for students. And that goes for all students, everywhere, from kindergarten to graduate school. In no universe does remote learning constitute an optimal education, and in no universe does the Zoom website constitute an optimal learning platform.

Not even close.

So many essential components of the educational experience are lost when the physical classroom is removed from the equation. Computer screens should not stand between students and professors any more than plexiglass should. All of this is far from ideal.

I can’t decide who I feel more badly for this fall — first-year students who won’t even get a taste of campus life until next spring or fall, second-year students who were just coming into their own as freshmen before being abruptly knocked out of their groove mid-spring, or third-year (and fourth-year evening) students who now have to face the prospect of a senior year without most of the mileposts and mementos that make a senior year exciting, meaningful, and socially connected. I can only imagine that the disappointment must sting like acid poured on a not-yet-healed, maybe-even-still-gaping wound.

I could say much more on this subject. But suffice it say: This is a gut punch for our beloved and beleaguered Widener student body. And I have all the empathy in the world for each of them, many of whom I consider warm acquaintances and some of whom are my friends. To those of you who are reading this, let me just say, for what it’s worth:

This sucks. And I’m sorry.

But laying aside (if it was possible to do so) warmth and empathy and the things that make life worth living, what about the considerations that make life able to be lived? What about public health? What about the pandemic itself and our moral responsibility to respond to it? This brings me to a less emotional, more rational, and equally pressing point.

This was the only humane decision that Widener could have made.

Nothing I will say on this point detracts from anything I said above. And nothing I said above detracts from this point: There was simply no other decision that would have adequately protected students, faculty, and staff. Going virtual was a public health necessity.

Covid-19 has forced our hand. Or more to the point, Covid-19 (combined with our country’s woefully inadequate response to it) has forced our hand. We are currently at the mercy of an invisible, marauding virus that, after dying down during the early shutdown period, is now raging through large portions of the country once again.

Major League Baseball is quickly learning that all their best and most insistently laid plans can’t prevent a pandemic from infecting groups of people who are traveling across state lines and interacting in close (even if socially distanced) quarters.

Governors who have prioritized their economy over public health are quickly learning that they have done so at the expense —both metaphorical and financial — of their constituents.

And academia, to the extent that it tries to maintain some kind of status quo of faux-normalcy this fall, will quickly learn that it just doesn’t work. Even with masks and wipes and plexiglass and social distancing, you simply can’t operate a college campus during a pandemic.

All those Hollywood movies happened to get it right on this one: A virus will always find a way to creep in.

So this is my avowed contention. While all of these disruptions fully and unquestionably suck [pardon my language, Mom; the virus forced my hand], there’s just no way around it. Widener’s superlatively progressive and intuitive president, Julie Wollman, made the only humane and sustainable decision she could have made when she pulled the plug on an in-person fall semester.

I am deeply grateful to President Wollman and to all of the administrators who played any part in rendering this verdict.  I am grateful that they listened to medical and scientific advice. I am grateful that they did this despite the inevitable loss of enrollment revenue. I am grateful that they valued the lives of students, faculty, and staff over maintaining a façade of normalcy during a moment in time that is anything but normal.

I feel grateful.

And I feel relieved.

And I feel safe.


*The 2nd half of my blog post will come sometime next week. It will tackle the family side of working remotely, which is the part I have even more thoughts (and feelings) about. Thank you so much for reading this far. I’m grateful for your engagement with my blog.*