Dear Matt Forte…

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“It’s an honor to play for such a great owner,” Forte didn’t say.

We’ve started our 2016 Fantasy Football campaign on the right track, despite a Week 1 loss to something called Oprah’s Circle. And even though you hardly played in the pre-season, you’re over 30-years-old and toting the rock with a new team, the 915 Ballers are looking to devastate the league this season, led, of course, by you. And me.

Us.

Week 2’s tilt versus some team called Year of the Raging Chinamen has our squad up a fat 28 points heading into Sunday. If only I could have picked you up in the other fantasy football league I got suckered into joining (even though my team did manage to beat Kiss My Big *I Can’t mention the rest of the name because you and I are decent men of faith and esteem but it rhymes with Lass), the victory would have been sweeter with you in my lineup.

Thursday was a thing of beauty, you scampering through a porous Buffalo defense en route to 100 yards and three TDs – me with the foresight and cunning to insert you into the lineup.

Can you believe that this is my 20th year playing fantasy football? It seems like only yesterday that I was fidgeting with a team that featured one of your New York Jets predecessors, Curtis Martin. Curtis took me to the playoffs that year – here’s to you doing the same! Together we’re going to beat the likes of the Saltydogs, Yeehawks, Scout Snipers and my brother, Paul’s stupid team: Lick My (And once again, I apologize for his vulgarities, but it rhymes with Malls).

As I reflect on the last 20 years I recall the people who called me and my friends, nerds and dorks and all kinds of names because of our passion for sports. Today the very same people that labeled us are now playing against us, as millions of people throughout the world, from CEOs to porn stars, are playing fantasy sports. Matt, my mother is playing in our league (and I’m too embarrassed to tell you her team’s name).

In essence, Matt, I’d like to think that we were ahead of the curve, trailblazers with foresight – personally I forget my kids’ names at least 20 times a day but ask me who still holds the rookie rushing title set in 1983 and that would be one Eric Demetric Dickerson, thank you very much.

So much has changed in my life since that very first fantasy draft, Matt. Technology has evolved (we don’t need an abacus to figure out scores anymore), the guys in the league are separated by many miles and even oceans but we still manage to talk as much smack to each other in our 40’s (and 50’s Keith Garcia) as we did when we were teenagers going to college in Honolulu.

We’ve managed to weave our league into our every day lives during the season, something that takes skill and moxy. In 1999 while living in San Francisco, I dated a girl with big toes for thumbs (I found it intriguing at the time) that absolutely hated my involvement in the league. So I faked a stomach virus and many “trips to the bathroom (laptop)” for an entire weekend just so I could get through the draft that season. It was the same girl that shared my desire to never have children. Today, I stopped counting after my wife and I gave birth to our fifth child. Or is it four? Anyway…

You know, Matt, I used to think that managing a team in this league helped me stay on top of the happenings and goings of some pretty incredible people I met a long time ago. And that certainly hasn’t changed. But in addition to this, I see this time of year as the outlet I need to keep me from losing my mind. I mean with all these kids (this includes three girls, mind you), the league is the equivalent to how most parents feel using the bathroom in peace, free from interruptions, knocks and tiny fingers sticking under the door.

You understand. You’re a baller – a 915 Baller.

Here’s to an incredible season of domination, Matt (so long as you stay healthy and average 15 fantasy points a week).

Your friend and GM,

Phillip


NEW Book Update: “Pancakes For Dinner!” (Waldorf Press) will be included in Book Expo America, held in New York City in May 2017! The expo is North America’s largest gathering of professionals from around the globe and is the leading business event for publishers, librarians, retailers and more.


Schools are already booking their 2016-17 readings and events. Make sure to schedule yours today!

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My dog is a Son of a Bitch (Literally)

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Rocco, married less than three month and already acting like a dog.

Let’s not mince words – my dog, Rocco, is a punk.

There. I said it. He’s wild, uncontrollable and has little to no regard for anyone other than himself. In essence, he’s exactly the kind of character I want my three daughters to stay away from.

Oh daddy, look at his pretty eyes!

Sure, I suppose that’s where it starts with Rocco (and perhaps future boyfriends). The eyes will draw a person in, the same way Rocco, the con artist, fooled us. As a puppy he didn’t just look at us. He stared into our souls, gave us visions of love and laughter for our children. It’s as if he spoke to us, Take me, I’ll be a puppy pal like no other. Rocco totally fooled us, of course.

He even fooled the puppy trainer when we enrolled him in a 6-week course. There we learned to have him obey basic commands, like sitting and lying down. The catch to all of this was that we needed to reward him with treats. So naturally, Rocco figured it out pretty quickly that he wasn’t into being a good boy unless he got something out of it. The class should have been called Puppy Bribery 101.

Sure, Rocco “earned” a certificate for passing his course, but there’s been no retention of what he was supposed to learn. It’s as if he just went through the motions, like some scoundrel. He can be deceptive, too. During the day when nobody’s around but me, Rocco can be an uncontrollable nightmare. When the kids are home from school he turns into a lovable plush toy, eating up all the attention. The other day, as my daughters were doting over him, Rocco turned to me and winked. True story.

But he’s just so cute, daddy!

Rocco is kind of a metaphor for some of the would-be suitors my daughters will face. And as is usually the case with fathers that have to size up said suitors, I’m the only one that sees what kind of a jerk Rocco can be, mainly because I did some dating in my past life. I know how boys can be, what we want (no matter the age) and what we’re willing to say or do in order to get it.

You see, girls, boys have the potential to be a lot like your dog, I’d tell them. They might be cute and lovable on the outside, but they have the potential to make a huge mess of things. Some of those messes can be pretty filthy to clean up. But you’ll do it anyway. And then they’ll say sorry while looking at you with those puppy dog eyes and make a mess all over again.

I know. Some of you reading this right now are probably thinking that I’m looking waaaay too into this whole thing. And perhaps you’re right. But ask any father of daughters and they’ll tell you that there comes a time when we really start thinking about this topic. We think about how we’re going to protect them. Because let’s face it, some boys can be, well, dogs. They have the ability to draw a person in yet stray to the person that gives them the most attention, forgetting the most important qualities that make for true relationships, like friendship, respect and loyalty (and before you start yapping about how dogs can be loyal, just give me a steak and I’ll show you how loyal your dog can be). Like dogs, boys will run away, never to be seen or heard from again.

A few weeks ago I ran into a girl that married a childhood friend of mine, a friend that I had not seen in years. When I asked her how he was doing, she had no idea.

“I don’t know where he is or where to find him,” she said. “He just disappeared.” The girl was with their son, a spitting image of my friend, and both just looked at me, waiting for me to break that awkward silence.

“Why would you need him when he left you the best piece of him?” I responded to her, referring to their boy.

Fast-forward to last weekend when I caught Rocco digging up a hole I had just filled in for, like, the thousandth time and it hit me. You have to be the example. In some weird way I have to be the example that my daughters see and learn from. It’s in the way I communicate with them, how I treat their mother, even the relationship I have with my own mother. My daughters have to see that and learn from it.

Now, I realize I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself here. We’re talking about a guy who, quite frankly, can be a moron for large chunks of the day. And I was certainly no saint when it came to dating. The scariest thing would be for me to open the front door and find that my daughter was going out with a guy that reminded me of… me. Maybe if I play my cards right while they’re still young, this won’t be such a scary thing after all.


I love visiting schools and talking to kids. I’m currently writing a collection of short stories and essays called Your Poor Mother: The trials of raising 5 sons. My next children’s book, Pancakes For Dinner! will be published by Waldorf Publishing in 2017.

The Very First, First Day

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“Don’t let that smile fool you,” I warned her teacher.

The busy elementary hallway might as well have been a crowded airport terminal, with drop-offs, angst-filled passengers sprinting towards their gates and sloppy good-byes. One kid we passed along our way to my daughter’s classroom was clutching his mother’s leg, sobbing so hard that he…couldn’t…catch…his…breath.

The first day of school is an emotional event for both parents and kids, especially when it’s the first day of Pre-K. And so last Monday, it happened to be my daughter Zoe’s very first day. Zoe represents the last of our four children to begin her educational journey – and it began slowly.

We walked down the hall, every step was carefully measured the way a barefoot parent walks through a child’s toy-riddled room in the dark. I tried to steer her clear of as many crying kids as I could, if anything to help support my efforts in convincing her that school was an awesome place where she could make friends and have fun and eat cool snacks.

This attempt was futile, of course. One kid ran out of his classroom and chased down his mother like a lion to a gazelle, which caught a lot of people by surprise. It reminded me of a jailbreak, the look on the boy’s face was one of sheer determination and panic (“You will not take me alive!”).

“Why can’t I just stay at Grandma’s house?” Zoe asked my wife and I in the days leading up to the First Day.

“Because you have to go to school and learn,” I responded, which, to a smart 4-year-old probably sounded like a stupid canned response all parents are supposed to say as if the government was secretly eavesdropping on us.

The more I thought about it, the more this 4-year-old had a point. Thanks to the extended time she has spent with her grandma, Zoe knows how to speak Spanish, she knows how to share, give and love. She’s learned to be compassionate, not just in seeing her grandmother’s interaction with others, but the child truly has expressed concern over her grandmother’s well being. To say that these two have formed a unique bond would be an understatement.

But sometimes you have to go with the stupid canned response to certain questions kids ask.

Because as much as you have benefitted from being exposed to your grandmother the last several years, going to school and developing relationships with kids your own age is going to help you actually apply the terrific qualities that grandma has taught you. You need school because this is where you get to use those street smarts, the ones that are going to get you in (and more importantly) out of trouble. It’s where you’re going to learn how to adapt, how to respond to adversity, stupid bullies, jealous you-know-whats and other creeps, I wanted to rant but couldn’t because what father actually says these things to a 4-year-old?

Even though I’m all grown up now (my maturity is a little in question, I’ll admit), I still miss my grandma. I miss the way she worked her old stove like some festival DJ, spinning delicious magic at the drop of a hat. I remember feeling safe, sound and carefree every time I paid her visit.

So I totally get where Zoe is coming from.

It’s a feeling I want all four of my children to always remember because even though they’ll grow up and carve out their own paths, I want them to understand that no matter how far that path takes them, no matter how chaotic and noisy the world can be, they will never be too far removed from that feeling of safety, security and love they experienced when they were little.

***

Like a scene out of Platoon, Zoe dropped everything and ran to me as if to avoid a huge grenade blast (in what seemed like super slo-mo) when I picked her up later that day. She cried on my shoulder as I carried her to the car.

“Do we have to do this again tomorrow?” she asked.


I love visiting schools and talking to kids. I’m currently writing a collection of short stories and essays called Your Poor Mother: The trials of raising 5 sons. My next children’s book, Pancakes For Dinner! will be published by Waldorf Publishing in 2017.

Cancer sucks.

IMG_2224Cancer sucks.

No, it’s not the most profound of openings for any kind of an essay but I’ll tell you what: it’s the most child-friendly way of putting it given what my family has seen and experienced the past two years.

During that time we watched as the disease whittled away at my father’s stout, 6’2 frame. It was an illness that took half his lung, his weight, his ability to work, focus on the books he loved reading, the music he loved playing and his overall interaction with the people he loved, including my mother. Ultimately cancer took his life.

Several months have passed since that February morning, when my older brother, Steven, rang me to let me know that our dad had passed away. The days leading up to the funeral were a blur. But after the initial grieving, one of the first and probably the most profound realizations that I came to was this: I wasn’t alone.

Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people have lost their battles with cancer or cancer-related illnesses. My father just happened to be one of the newest names on the list. I also realized that I wasn’t the only one to lose a parent, as so many people have experienced this before. My wife lost her father when she was just a teenager, a horrible experience for any girl during such a crucial time in her life.

So my morning mantra, as I drove into the office every day recalling memories, thinking about the good times with him as well as the bad: “What makes you so special?”

The second most profound realization: We are stronger than we give ourselves credit for.

“Dude, this is the way the world works: you grow up, have kids, watch them grow as you get older and then you die. Repeat the cycle,” said a good friend of mine, explaining the natural order of things. And he was right, the tragedy would be to bury your own child. And in that sense I considered myself lucky.

I am lucky because I had the opportunity to say goodbye. My dad wasn’t tragically taken from me as people very close to me have experienced. My cousin, Kiki, and I were walking back to our cars in a dark hospital parking lot last fall and tried to figure out which way would be the best way to meet our maker: a lightning-quick heart attack like the one his father suffered about five years ago or the grueling, pain-filled route my dad was taking. On the one hand death is quick and merciful. On the other hand there’s some advanced notice with the opportunity to say goodbye, get some closure.

The ultimate consensus was that both options sucked. It’s like choosing which son or daughter is your favorite; there’s just no winning. But there is support out there, glimpses of light like fireflies in the darkness. We get a little stronger every day, both physically and emotionally. We develop a scab to the pus-filled, emotional chaos that comes with putting the pieces back together again after someone so close to you dies. Scabs turn to scars and in time they fade. Kind people are the salve that helps this recovery process. This leads me to my last realization:

People are incredible.

At a time where there are 41 wars going on in the world, jetliners are being shot out of the sky and we’re all facing some kind of adversity in our lives, people still took the time to call or write and provide some kind of encouragement. We kept our father’s death within the confines of our family for the most part but those who did know showed an incredible willingness to be kind. And rather than wallow in a cesspool of sleep deprivation, depression and just an overall funk, it was the little flashes of brilliance in people that I never quite paid attention to before that have helped me. And for this I am more grateful than I can ever express.

At a time when I should have two more books coming out in the next twelve months, I haven’t been able to write a grocery list much less a story or essay. If anything, this piece is both cathartic as well as an opportunity to jump back in the proverbial saddle, if you will. It’s high time to stare at a blank screen again and not be afraid of what comes out of it. But that can’t happen unless I can get this off my chest first.

It’s time to string words and thoughts together and try and make sense of them, craft a story or essay and have the balls to accept any kind of criticism that may come my way.

It’s time to stay up late and not avoid the computer, to explore some new ideas and pretend that I can still bounce them off my old man the next morning and hear his honesty.

It’s time for a new morning mantra, like the one my wife shares with our girls on their way to school: Let’s do this!

She’s right. Let’s freaking do this.