Time Flies

It seems like only yesterday that I held this funny looking, hair-covered, tan baby as she took her first breaths of life.

Today she turns 21.

Where has the time gone?  I know it is a question that every parent since the dawn of man has asked, and I suppose it is one of the many burdens that we take to our graves.

No regrets.

She is the first of three children that my wife and I brought into this world, and I can still remember desperately hoping that she would not be born on the same day as her great grandmother.  I would quietly bite my tongue when relatives with only good intentions made remarks like “Wouldn’t it be great if the baby came on Grandma Hammond’s birthday?”.  I wanted my child to be unique in every way and to make his or her name for themselves.  I’d have none of this sharing a birthday talk!

Naturally, Sarah was born on Grandma Hammond’s birthday.

From the moment I first held her I no longer cared what day she called her birthday.  At the moment the doctor put her into my arms the petty worries about who else was born on that day vanished.  I was holding a living, breathing person that would cut her own path in the world and in doing so help to define my legacy.

I pledged at that moment to forever be there whenever she needed me and to always protect and comfort her as she grew up.  I’d make that same pledge for her brother and sister at their births.

Now twenty-one years of moments in time flash through my mind.  Synchronized swimming meets, softball games, soccer games, lacrosse games, driving lessons, academic awards ceremonies, college visits, and a Salutatorian speech all are snapshots that I will keep for the rest of my life.  Of course they are tempered with things like hair getting caught in a game piece, staples in the top of her head from where a golf club accidentally found its way, a broken leg while playing soccer, and a broken heart from a first love lost.

I can’t imagine going through life without my kids, and Sarah is the one that has had to show us the way.

She’s done a pretty damn good job.

Today represents yet another step into adulthood for the oldest of my offspring.  I’m not quite sure why I am so sentimental as twenty-one is merely an age that some government official deemed humans are old enough to drink and live out from under the umbrella of their parents’ guardianship.

It’s funny how life can be.  When your children are young you find yourself anxious to reach the next phase in their growth.  You want them to become more independent and self-sufficient.  Yet, once they mature and achieve the levels of independence that you hoped for, you can’t help but long for the days where you sat in the stands watching in the unbearable heat of an indoor swimming complex while they desperately tried to impress judges during a “synchro play day”.  You only want to relive those snapshots in time.

But you can’t.

Instead, you celebrate the fact that they continue to meet new challenges on their own while you sit on the virtual sidelines beaming with pride and awestruck in what they’ve achieved.  You are always at the ready to catch them should they fall, but you know that with each passing year they become a little more sure footed.

Sarah continues to break new ground for the Skinner family and next year she’ll graduate from college, becoming the first of our three kids to do so.

For now, we’ll just relish the fact that she is safe and relatively happy and healthy.  For a parent, it is pretty much the goal we set out to accomplish.

Happy Birthday Sarah.  Stay the course and never look back.  If you stumble, we’ll be there to catch you.

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Veteran’s Day Has Personal Family Meaning

I have the great fortune of being the father of a son who is a senior at Syracuse University, and a top-ranked cadet in their Army ROTC program.  From day one, he has taken to the program like a fish to water.  Quite frankly, it’s in his blood; it’s what he’s meant to be.  One only need to talk to him, or observe him for just a few minutes to understand he’s Army through and through.

Matt carried the flag for his battalion in the Veteran’s Day Parade during his freshman year at Syracuse.

One day, God willing, Matt will be one of the veterans we salute on this very special holiday.

As I  reflect on this day – Veterans Day 2015 – I can’t help but think about what this day means to my family.  My dad served in the Army during the Korean War, and my wife’s father was a member of the Air Force.

The military traditions that now accumulate on Matt’s shoulders don’t end there.  They go as far back as this country does.  Solomon Wixon, Matt’s ninth great-grandfather, was a Minute Man in the Continental Army.  His son, Solomon Wixon Jr., was part of a rifle battalion during the War of 1812, and there are two ancestors – A.B. Reniff and Jesse Soper – who fought for the Union in the Civil War.  Less direct military ancestry includes a third-great uncle that served in the Spanish-American War, and a great-great uncle that fought and died (and is buried) in France during World War I.

I realize that ours is not the only family with this kind of lineage.  We are one of what I am sure are thousands of families scattered across this great country with proud military histories.  Each of us have our own set of stories to tell, and all of us share the common bond that is the defense of freedom.

I wish I could personally thank my long-since gone grandfathers for their service to our country.  I do not know what their reasons for enlisting were, and I never will.  What I do know is that because they did enlist and fight, my family can live in a land where it is ok to speak your mind and pursue your dreams.  If you are going to fight for something, I can’t imagine a more noble cause.

Members of the 10th Mountain Division march in the Veteran’s Day Parade.

For the one family member that served this country and is still alive – Dad, thank you.  No matter how insignificant you may consider your part, the fact is that you were willing to lay your life on the line not only for your children, but for your grand-children and their children.  There is no greater expression of dedication and love.

Whether you do anything in observance of Veteran’s Day or not, just remember those who served did so for you.  I cannot be more proud of my son for carrying on the cause of his ancestors, and after reflecting on the meaning of this day, I cannot be more proud of all of those in whose footsteps Matt now walks.  Thank you for your service.  Thank you for your sacrifice.

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SONY – How a Large Company Took Advantage of a College-bound Teen

My son Matt is 18 years-old and a good kid.  He’s smart (ranked 5th in his class) and athletic (team captain and goalie of the soccer team), and he’s overall just a good person.  He’ll be a freshman at Syracuse University this year, attending on a full four-year ROTC scholarship.  That means one day he’ll be defending our way of life.


Matt’s greatest fault is that he believes in everyone.  He trusts that all will be true to their word and follow through with their promises.  In Matt’s mind, everyone is good until they prove otherwise.  It is a noble belief, but unfortunately it is proven flawed time and again.

This is an exciting time in our household.  The weeks have been building in anticipation of Matt beginning his four-year journey at Syracuse, and some of that excitement stemmed from the fact that he would be getting his own laptop (sort of a tradition that began when his older sister purchased hers prior to entering the University of Rochester).

In researching what computer he’d be choosing, Matt was drawn to the “perks” that came with buying a SONY VAIO – enough “points” to get another tech gadget (like a tablet, ipod…etc) and one-day shipping (which would ensure that he’d receive it prior to heading to school).  On August 3rd he ordered the laptop online.

Be careful if you order a laptop from SONY.

As the date for the anticipated delivery of the laptop drew nearer, Matt began checking its status online.  A day before it was due, the ship date changed.  The laptop wasn’t ready.  He called SONY and found out that not only was the computer still being “processed”, but he was not eligible for the “perks”.  Disappointed, he let that roll off his shoulders and kept faith that the laptop would soon be shipped.

Following another delay, Matt decided (wisely I thought) to cancel the online order (since he wasn’t going to get any of the incentives) and just drive the hour to Syracuse where he could purchase the same model at Best Buy.

Following his call to SONY, he finished his day by making the purchase in Syracuse and setting up the laptop that night.  His excitement for school was building as things were finally falling into place.

Matt finally got his laptop from Best Buy after delays by SONY

The next week Matt’s plan was to purchase his books from SU online.  He had already received his schedule, and with it the list of books he would need for each class.

Before selecting his class materials, Matt decided to check his account balance.  When he did so, he found SONY – that very day – took $750 out (the amount of the laptop order he had cancelled), leaving him without the money necessary to get his books.

Immediately he called the SONY customer support line, and after waiting 45 minutes he finally got a live voice who told him that SONY shipped the laptop that day and took the money.  After some argument, the SONY support person admitted to Matt that “somebody dropped the ball” with his cancelled order – but did nothing.

Needless to say, I got involved and exchanged tweets and phone calls with someone else in SONY support (@SONYsupportUSA) who ultimately apologized and told me that because the laptop was shipped, they could not credit Matt’s account until the laptop was returned to their warehouse, and that would not occur until next week.

Since then, I’ve received confirmation via twitter that the shipment of the computer had been stopped and it is en route back to the warehouse.

My question is this: If they have confirmed that the laptop is on its way back, why can’t they refund the money to Matt’s account?  Do they honestly think I’m going to chase down the truck that carries the package and steal it away before they can retrieve it?

Given the level of intellect of the people we’ve dealt with thus far, I don’t think that would be too difficult and I appreciate more of a challenge.

Having resigned ourselves to the fact that SONY just isn’t going to refund the money to us (that they basically stole) until they physically have the product THEY wrongly shipped back in their clutches, focus changed back to happier things like finishing up with getting school supplies.

SONY will rob you blind and think nothing of it.

Once again to his dismay, Matt discovered that today – two days after we thought SONY was done stealing Matt’s money – the apparently desperate-for-every-dollar company took another $107 from his account.  A quick call to their support line rewarded us with another lemming who informed us that the charge was for the service contract on the item being shipped.  Really?

We are now close to a week since the ordeal with SONY began and Matt is out a total of $857, snatched from his account because the company “dropped the ball”.  He has been unable to purchase the books required for his class because of SONY’s incompetence and he borrowed money to complete the purchase of his school supplies.

Along the way we have never once asked for anything other than the return of Matt’s money to his account.  We haven’t even asked for an apology.  Yet, here we are with this supposed multi-billion dollar company unwilling to part with $857 that they wrongly took.

Matt’s spirit remains strong because he knows the road ahead for him is much more important than worrying about a corporation so arrogant and greedy that they think nothing of robbing a college student.

Matt remains “Army Strong” in spite of SONY’s efforts

My son is a better person than I am.  I’m having difficulty getting over what SONY has done in the course of one week.  I certainly cannot believe that we are the only ones this organization has dampened the spirits of.

Is this the way SONY conducts business with everyone or did Matt just happen to be one of the “lucky” few?

In any case, my son will go on to get a great education at a great school.  During that time he will also learn how to defend our country and protect a democracy that gives a company like SONY the platform it needs to continue to hurt the very people it calls “customers”.

Ironic isn’t it?

It is my sincerest hope that Matt goes on to be the doctor in the U.S. Army that he hopes to be, and that SONY’s business practices come back to haunt them.  It might just restore some of his belief that justice can be served.

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George, look away…….

I truly believed that the Steinbrenner children would keep my Yankees in good hands.   For more than 30 years, George Steinbrenner ensured that my favorite team would put the best product on the field, in spite of the critics.   Yes, the man could be a real prick.  He could treat a person like dirt until they did something for him  at which point, they were treated like royalty.   There were a million other reasons to loathe the man but, as far as I was concerned, I wanted no one else owning the Yanks.   Why?   Because unlike other owners, George would do whatever it took to win.   The man hated to lose and that one characteristic endeared him to me.   Damn the cost, get me the best players in the game.   Where other owners were pocketing most of their team’s profits and leaving their stadiums and product on the field at status quo, George was pouring dollars into keeping his on-field product at the highest possible level as well as creating the best possible venue for their beloved fans.   George was all about proactively creating the best.

This is why now that George is gone, he must be turning in his grave.   The Yankees have watched as their bitter rivals- the Red Sox– have acquired top notch talent like  Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez.  In the meantime, they have let Lance Berkman and Kerry Wood-two high talent players that fitted nicely into the Yankee lineup in 2010- go without so much as an attempt to re-sign them.   Instead, they re-signed Sergio Mitre who did more to ensure a Yankee loss than any opponent during 2010.    Now, they’ve lost out on the top free-agent of the off-season,  Cliff Lee.   George would never have stood for this.   Watching the Yankee opponents get better while Brian Cashman has basically stood stagnant would have been grounds for immediate dismissal.  

2011 is shaping up to be a bad year for the Yankees.  As the “core four” grow another year older and, their talents begin the slide into the twilight, they are being surrounded with players of a lesser caliber and the team itself, I fear, is in the beginning of an era to be forgotten.  With the continued complacency of it’s current general manager and Steinbrenner brood, there is little hope for improvement in the near future.

Perhaps George spoiled us.  Maybe there aren’t many more with that same passion for being the best – that same pure hate for losing.   All I can say at this point is “George, look away.  You do not want to see this”.

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Mr. Santo

I’ll never forget it.   Every time I smell “new” leather, it’s what I think of.   I remember the feeling of slipping it on my hand.  I remember my dad showing me how to break it in so that it formed a nice big pocket with which I could easily close my hand around the ball.  It was my first baseball glove.   A “Ron Santo” signature model.   I have had numerous gloves since then but, that’s the only one I remember.   It is the one that defined to me what a baseball glove should feel like and, I held all of its successors to the standard that it set.

I was all of about 8 years old when I received the glove.  At the time, I didn’t know who Ron Santo was.   I grew up a Yankees fan and at that age the only players I knew of or, cared about, wore pinstripes in the Bronx.  To me, the thrill was in having my first “real” baseball glove – not in whose signature was stamped into the pocket.  Looking back, if I had understood whose name was on the mitt, I may have held it in even higher reverence.

As a lifelong baseball fan, I would learn as I grew older that Ron Santo was the third baseman for the Chicago Cubs for 14 years.  During that time, he hit 342 home runs, drove in 1331 runs, won 5 gold gloves and was named an all-star 9 times.   In spite of these numbers, he never made it into the Hall of Fame.

With the advent of satellite radio, I had the opportunity on occasion, to listen to Cubs’ games.  To my surprise the man who I only knew through a baseball glove and some statistics had become a colorful announcer for the team.  Again, to reiterate, I’m a die-hard Yankee fan but, whenever I’d be scanning the XM/Sirius airwaves for a ballgame, I’d always stop at the Cubs broadcast so I could hear Mr. Santo.  He had so much passion for his beloved Cubbies and I could actually feel his joy or sorrow with every pitch.  There were times I had my son Matt in the car with me while Ron Santo would scream with ecstasy over a Cub home run or, sigh with despair when the home team struck out.   My son instantly became a fan and, Ron’s emotional outbursts over the air gave us both something to smile and laugh about.   As with my baseball glove, I have unknowingly held other baseball announcers to the standard Mr. Santo set each time I listened to him.

This morning while driving Matt to school, we learned that Ron Santo had passed away.  The excitement in the air over the season’s first big snow was replaced with a solemn silence.   Without a word being said between us, i knew he was feeling the same small sense of loss that I was.  I know that both he and I will find ourselves thinking about Mr. Santo throughout the day.   I may be a Yankee fan but, for me, the world became a little less colorful today.   Thank you Ron.

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The U.S. Press needs to GROW UP

Ok, I’ve read enough.  Wikileaks has proudly divulged all the U.S. secret communications it could get its slimy hands on.  Good for it.  They only tell me what I pretty much already assumed the U.S. government and military did to either acquire information or manipulate the people it works with to get the response it wanted.  Big WOOP!  As if this is the very first time in history that any country has ever done (or continues to do) somethings like these….   GROW UP U.S. media –  yes, CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC news, and FOX news…I mean YOU.   Yes, New York Times, Washington Post, NPR……I mean YOU.   Stop acting like grocery store tabloids and start acting like the quality news outlets you used to be.

If my government has a book on every leader in the world and each book contains comments about what those leaders like or dislike, or who they will listen to and who they won’t,  I’m proud….it’s doing the job I expect it to.   DUH!   The latest tweet from Scientific American –  yes, Scientific American –  says “Leaked Cables show U.S. pressured Saudis to Accept Copenhagen Accord”  –  WOOOOOOOO!!!!   Big news there….  yeah, that’s the first time EVER the U.S. has pressured someone into accepting an accord….. An accord, by the way, which will force the Saudis into diversifying their economy as our government made climate change a priority in it’s relationship with the Saudis…   Ok…where’s the big news there?   Grow up Scientific American.

If my country is secretly planning on North Korea imploding and assisting South Korea to create one unified country, by all means…have at it!   There’s nothing I’d like better than the world not having to worry about some weird-looking lunatic threatening to fire off atomic weapons.   As an American, I’m not embarrassed by that leaking out…it’s not news to me….

If I’m the President, I go on national T.V. and say “Yes, that’s how we operate and, yes, those are the things we said and did.  If you want to remain a safe and free country, that’s what we have to do.  We aren’t the first to operate like this, nor are we the only country to operate like this.  Deal with it.”

The U.S. press has to man-up and start producing quality reporting.  By acting like they are, they are enabling behavior  like that of Wikileaks to continue.  What that does is put U.S. diplomats and U.S. troops in harm’s way.   Start being accountable for what you print or publish.  Heaven forbid anyone gets hurt by what has already been made public but, if they are, I hope every one of you gets sued into non-existence.

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Don’t make this a different game…

On December 2nd the New York State Public High School Athletic Association will vote on a referendum to require men’s lacrosse helmets to be worn in women’s lacrosse.   While the intentions are good, I feel they are ill conceived.

The women’s version of lacrosse is a much different game than the men’s version.  Whereas men’s lacrosse resembles football with metal sticks, the women’s game has far less contact and, has rules to keep things that way.   As can be deduced, the women are not required to wear helmets and don’t wear shoulder, hip, elbow or chest pads (other than the goalies).  The rules of the game designate an imaginary “halo” around the player’s head and, if that “halo” is penetrated by an opponents stick, it is considered a penalty and, depending upon the intent, could result in a yellow or red card.    Contact with other parts of the body, depending upon the type of play, could also result in penalties.

The referendum being proposed came about as a result of an increase in concussions in women’s play.   However, I contend the increase is not due to the lack of protection, rather, it is the result of an increase in the number of teams and players participating in the sport.   Lacrosse is the fastest growing sport in North America.  The growth in popularity will naturally result in a growth in lacrosse-related injuries.   Because it is growing at such a phenomenal rate, there is a struggle to find enough high-quality referees with a thorough knowledge of the rules.  As anyone who has played an organized sport can tell you, a game can quickly get out of hand if the referee or umpire has not established control or does not have a complete understanding of the sport.  A poorly refereed contest could result in chaos or even injuries.

I believe putting helmets on women playing lacrosse will only encourage more vicious hitting with sticks above the neckline.  And, to take that further, swats intended towards the helmet that miss their target, will end up cracking collarbones or bruising shoulders.  This will only propagate further legislation requiring shoulder pads which in turn, following the same type of argument, will result in elbow pads, padded shorts and hockey-style gloves  –  all currently used in men’s lacrosse.   Suddenly, the game that had it’s own, unique, form of play becomes a duplication of the men’s game.

The irony in all of this is that helmets, in any sport, have not yet been shown to reduce the number of concussions.   In fact, the men’s helmet is designed to prevent skull fractures and scalp abrasions.   So, there is no evidence that the referendum would have any effect at all in the number of concussions in women’s lacrosse.     Quite simply, further research is required.

In the meantime, the best solution is to better educate everyone as to the rules of the sport.   Train more “experts” to keep up with its growth.   Get more experienced and knowledgeable referees involved at all levels and in all areas of the country.   Right now, I believe the sport is just experiencing “growing pains” and we shouldn’t be jumping to conclusions that could endanger the very reason that women’s lacrosse is so unique and popular.

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