The only topic I was ever specifically forbidden to write about in my newspaper column was my children, by an editor who had none himself and thus didn't see their utility. So naturally I wrote about the boys a lot, because I found them a source of endless fascination. My older son, Ross, being first out of the gate, got the lion's share of attention. But his younger brother was not ignored either. Since he turns 18 on Tuesday, I decided—with his permission, of course—to dub this Kent Week, and reprise a few highlights from over the years, such as this, when he was seven:
Second children often get the short end of the stick. The hand-me-down clothes. The old toys. The half-filled photo album. When I try to explain the difference between how we treated our first and second sons, I put it this way: When Ross was a baby, I'd boil his baby bottle nipples, handling them with tongs and setting them out on paper towels to dry. When Kent was a baby, if I dropped a nipple on the floor, I'd pick it up, brush it off on my shoulder, and use it.
Maybe that's inevitable. Parents get tired, and what at first seemed extraordinary over time becomes routine. Even here in the column. You've read, over the past nine years, of my oldest -- the chess-playing, book-devouring wunderkind. My youngest -- quieter, more athletic, more of a regular kid and less an oddball like his dad -- hardly gets mentioned. That isn't fair, but life isn't fair.
Every once in a while, however, life compensates, and the overlooked step into the limelight. When my good friends at Harry Caray's asked if one of the boys wanted to throw out the first pitch at a Cubs/Sox game at Wrigley Field earlier this summer, I knew it had to be Kent. He's the ballplayer, the Cubs fan. I measured off 67 feet in the driveway and insisted we practice. The boy has an arm, for a 7-year-old, but it's a long way to the plate.
The big day finally arrived. We sat together for nearly an hour in the stands in the bright sun, waiting. I yabbered nervously away while Kent squinted silently at the field, as if measuring it. Finally, they called him. He picked his glove up and trotted out to the mound. He never looked back, never glanced at me. He stood at the mound, set himself, looked at the plate for a single moment, and threw a cannon shot to the catcher. A strike. The stands erupted. I shouted myself hoarse. He trotted back to me, the faintest trace of a smile on his lips.
I couldn't shut up for days; told everyone I know and sent copies of the pictures everywhere. He, on the other hand, never mentioned it again.
Well, once. I was marveling, for the 50th time, about him throwing that strike, right over the plate, and he said, softly, "The catcher was standing in front of the plate, Dad," which impressed me even more. The modest hero.
I hope you'll forgive me sharing this -- I know it's bragging, and I resisted at first. But summer is almost over, and, thinking back over it, I realized that I had once again overlooked Number Two. It's hard to be a little brother and to dwell in the shadows of the first born, and I'm so glad he was able to step up and nail his moment of glory. You have to keep an eye on those quiet types -- they can surprise you. Not that anything he could do would surprise me now. If he is someday elected president of the United States, when the final ballot count comes in, I will turn to my wife and say, "Of course, after that pitch at Wrigley Field, we should have expected this."
—published in the Chicago Sun-Times, Sept. 3, 2004