I turned fifty years old today. As an amateur historian, I have a real sense of what it means to have lived for half a century (and a real appreciation of not being born 1000 years ago because I’d be dead by now). For some reason, turning 50 has left me in a reflective state of mind. And I’m not arrogant to think that my overall very good life has made me any smarter, wiser or more wordly than anyone else. But like most of us, I’ve become a little more patient and a little more tolerant as I’ve gotten older, and to my surprise have learned that when you are patient and tolerant, you learn things. And I’ve come to believe you’re never to old to learn, but also, it’s good to stop once and awhile and take measure of your life.
One of my favorite movies is Bull Durham. And not because it’s a baseball movie, because it isn’t. It’s a movie about life. There’s a great scene at the end of the film, where Costner’s character, Crash Davis, is cut from the Durham Bulls. He’s a career minor league catcher who once spent 21 days in the Major Leagues. He’s in his mid-thirties now and knows he’s never going to make it back to “The Show” as a player. So he leaves because he wants to catch on with another team and break the minor league record for Home Runs. And Susan Sarandon thinks he’s gone forever. But at the end of the season, it’s a rainy day and she’s walking home only to find Crash sitting on her porch swing. He asks her if she thinks he could make it ‘the Show’ (the Major Leagues) as a manager. And she jumps over next to him and starts talking fast, telling him how great it would be and how he knows all the linear and abstract theories of baseball…and he holds up his hand and says “Annie, you have a lot of great theories on baseball and I want to hear them all, I really do. But not right now. And not today. Today…I just want to be.”
For my next fifty years, I hope to keep growing and learning as a person. But I also hope I spend a lot more time just “being.”
But as for the things I’ve learned. Well, if it helps, you, makes you think, disagree or ponder…that’s a writer’s job right?
1) The three greatest days in my life were September 25th, 1982, October 3, 1985 and January 24, 1992. The day I married my wife of almost 28 years and the days my children were born.
2) The greatest honor I have ever received in my life was the day my son asked me to stand next to him as the best man in his wedding. My son is a wonderful young man, with many close friends, but when he asked to perform this duty on the biggest day of his life, it inspired feelings beyond my abilities to describe. No matter what else I’m ever able to achieve, not even winning a Nobel Prize would ever exceed this.
3) I’ve tried my hardest to teach my children two important things. The first is the 90/10 rule. I believe that 90% of just about every situation is life is worthy only of laughter. If you laugh your way through life, you children will see it and they will learn to laugh as well and be so much happier for it. They watch what you DO much more than listen to what you SAY! The second is the 80/20 rule. I believe that about 80% of life is compromise. The other 20% is your ‘sacred ground’. Those parts of yourself that you will never compromise. Fidelity to your spouse, honesty in your actions, respect for yourself and others. No job, no amount of money, no person is ever worth giving up those parts of yourself.
4) I believe that men should always ‘marry up.’ I am beyond lucky in that I somehow won the hand of a woman so far out of my league, I still have no idea why she said yes. And no matter what happens, through all the trials and tribulations of life, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t tell her how much I love her. She has made me a better man, a better father and a better person. I believe that woman are much more intuitive than men. Maybe it’s hard wired into our brains, I have no idea. But if a man is open to it and listens to his wife, really listens, he will be the better for it.
5) I believe in America. I think it is, as Ronald Reagan said “A Shining City on A Hill.” It is not perfect, nor will it ever be. And it is a country that bears many shameful scars. We are not always right. But what makes us great, is that we never stop trying. Whenever something shameful occurred in our past history, their were always other brave Americans with the courage to rise up and say “This shall not stand.”I choose to live my life believing in the essential goodness of man. That when people are given freedom and opportunity, they will instinctively do the right thing. Maybe that is naive, but it is what I believe. Americans are the most generous people on earth. If that isn’t true, why is that even though we’re down in the middle of the list in per capita income among the civilized nations of the world, whenever a disaster strikes somewhere (the Tsunami, Haiti), Americans and America itself give more financial aid, medical assistance and materials than all of the other nations combined?
6) As a student of history, I never cease to be amazed at the profound changes in the world that have taken place in my lifetime. The comedian Louis CK said it much more cleverly than I, but think about it. Since I was born in 1960 we have sent men to the moon, not once, but several times, and safely home again (as Byron MacGregor of CKLW would say). Computers that once filled an entire office building now slide into a briefcase. Fifty years ago, most Cancers were an automatic death sentence. Today we can pick up a phone the size of a credit card and talk to someone on the other side of the world. To me, this is not science or technology. It is the magic of human ingenuity.
7) Alan Trammell belongs in the Baseball Hall Of Fame. This is not open to debate.
8 ) I believe it is too hard to be a kid today. At fifty, my ‘old-fogeyness’ is starting to show and all I can say is “we need to lighten up people”. While I’ve never been a scholar in the academic sense, I’m virtually certain that I couldn’t pass high school today. We put to much emphasis on our kids achieving things, instead of worrying what it is doing to them and what kind of people they will be. Your kid doesn’t need to be on three soccer teams. Send him outside for a pick-up game in the neighborhood. Your seventh grader will gain nothing from taking the ACT test for ‘practice’. Your kids can skip being on a ‘waiting list’ for a private kindergarden from the day they were born. Give them love, support and encouragement, not trips to visit colleges when they’re in 9th grade. One of the best pieces of parenting advice I ever received was try to never be the one to dash your child’s dreams. If your son wants to play NFL Football when he’s seven, just say ‘wouldn’t that be great!’ The world will tell him if he can or can’t play in the NFL. You’re going to need to be there for him either way, so why dash his dreams when he’s young or push him relentlessly toward a goal he may not be able to achieve? You’ll both lose.
9) I’ll probably be the last man standing, but I just don’t ever see an electrical device replacing the tactile sense of a physical, printed book, one of the most enduring and successful pieces of technology ever. I want to feel the paper in my hands. I want to write in the margins, not type. I want to dog ear the pages, not push a button. Devices are useful. But just because you can do something easier, quicker or faster, doesn’t mean you should.
10) I believe we are responsible for our actions and our destiny. We may need the additional hand along the way, but it is up to each one of us to do the heavy lifting of our own lives. I believe in equal opportunity for everyone but it is up to us as individuals to determine the outcome.
11) Anyone who intentionally seriously harms a child or hurts an animal should be locked in jail forever. I am very Code of Hammurabi on this. I believe we should be judged by our actions toward the weakest among us.
12) I know that times are bad right now. Times will be good again. And they will be bad again. But we will get through it all. And we will survive and prosper by the sweat of our labor and the freedom to choose our own path.
These things I believe.
Happy Birthday to me,
Michael P. Spradlin