Dear Eitan: Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged

Dear Eitan,

Last week was my birthday. I turned 31 on Thursday and, even though we didn’t celebrate much on the day itself because I have late home visits on Thursdays, your mom made a fantastic dinner on Wednesday night and we celebrated some more over the weekend. You got me a card, made me a sign that said “Happy Birthday Daddy” and gave me a collage of photos of the two of us, all of which helped to brighten up what was otherwise a fairly gloomy day.1 So I wanted to say thanks for that.

This letter is not going to be a contemplation of my mortality or of time slipping away from me. I’m getting older, but I’m not old, no matter what your uncles and certain other friends of mine try to tell me. Instead, I wanted to write to you about perspective. I’ve written about this in the past, but there was something that happened that made me want to bring it up again. This post will be different, I promise.

Someone very close to me reached out to me last week because she was having a rough time. She needed someone to talk to about some things she’s dealing with in her life and she chose me. We texted back and forth for a while as I did my best to answer her questions and gave her some small pieces of advice but it was the start of the conversation that really stuck with me. She opened up by asking me how I viewed her and what I thought of some of the decisions she has made during her life. This wasn’t like that friend of mine I mentioned in the other post, who was looking to me for advice about how to prepare for the birth of his first child. This wasn’t someone picking my brain. This was someone who was in real pain and was looking for help and she had essentially just asked what I thought of her. I told her that everyone faces adversity at some point or another in their lives and that people deal with those challenges as best they can. I told her that everyone makes mistakes and that the key is how people learn from those mistakes.

Most of all, I told her it’s not my place to judge her.

One of the most important things I’ve learned from being a social worker is that there’s almost always more to the story. It’s very rare that you have all the information. Clients get referred to me because they’re demonstrating negative behaviors like physical aggression or they’re experiencing suicidal ideations or they’re refusing to comply with certain recommendations. These behaviors get them in the door, but it’s not until later that I find out the child’s family is struggling financially, which is why they don’t have access to the same resources as the child’s classmates. Or the child was adopted and is experiencing a crisis of identity. Or the worst, that the child was abused and that’s why their behavior is deteriorating. But no matter what the issues are, I know I can’t make appropriate recommendations or develop treatment plans until I know the whole story.

The same goes for my relationships with my friends. I don’t necessarily have to agree with the decisions people make but I do have to accept that I may not have all the information that led them to their decisions in the first place. You’ve heard the saying, “Don’t judge anyone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”2 I work very hard to avoid judging people based on their decisions and I hope that you will too. I heard somewhere that every person you will ever come across is struggling with some sort of crisis that you have no idea about and I’ve tried to keep that concept in mind whenever I meet someone new. I have no doubt that you’re going to grow up to be empathic, trustworthy and dependable. I’m sure your friends are going to love you and that you’re going to be a role model for them and for the rest of your peers as you get older. I just know that I work very hard to keep an open mind about people and to give others the benefit of the doubt whenever I can.

I hope that you will too.

Love,
Me (Da-dee!)


1. It was chilly and cloudy and I had a couple of crises at work. Not the best birthday-day, but the other stuff really helped. Also, your mom helped you out with the card and the sign and the collage. You’re smart, but not quite good enough to write out “Happy Birthday Daddy” without help.

2. Jack Handey takes this a step further by adding, “That way, when you do judge them, you’re a mile away and you have their shoes.” I’m paraphrasing, as the original wording is “criticize” instead of “judge,” but it still fits.

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What Color is Gender?

When I was young, probably around first grade, I remember having a conversation with a couple of friends about which colors were “boy colors” and which ones were “girl colors.” Blue, green, brown and black were definitely boy colors. Pink, purple and yellow were girl colors. I think I remember a small debate about red, since it fits with both fire trucks and hearts, but I believe the hearts won out. Red was a girl color, but a boy could probably wear something red and not get made fun of for it, depending on what it was.

As an adult, I know that the idea of colors having genders is absurd. Colors don’t play sports, play with action figures, get their nails done or do any other stereotypically gender-specific activities. Colors are colors. The problem is, even if colors aren’t capable of performing an action, they do carry meaning. The old NBC sitcom Friends1 filled a part of one episode by having the characters tease Ross about his pink shirt, which Ross tirelessly persisted was “salmon-colored.” That episode originally aired 12 years ago and I’ll admit that our society has become increasingly more accepting of the blurring lines between these social distinctions. But I would bet that if you showed that Friends bit to a six or seven year old child today, they would understand that it’s intended to be funny because a man is trying to get his pink shirt.

Clothes are only part of the issue. The bigger area where gendered coloring comes into play is regarding kids’ toys. Kids may not necessarily realize – or care – about the colors of their toys when they’re little; I’ve heard from a significant number of parents who buy their kids toys that their kids like, regardless of the color. But, as they grow, kids pick up on the messages being sent to them by the adults in their lives. Too often, those messages include judgments about the degree to which a person conforms to social norms. “Why would you let him play with Barbies? Aren’t those for girls?”

A few weeks ago, I came across an image on Facebook that described the different Spider-Man toys McDonald’s was including with its Happy Meals. The toys in the first group – a car, an action figure, a Spider-Man mask – were colored red and blue, Spider-Man’s typical colors. The toys in the second group – a headband, hairbrush, bracelets – were purple and pink.

mcdonalds-genderbiastoys (Borrowed with permission from www.daddydoctrines.com)

Before I get into the reasons why this bothers me, let me say first that I have no problem with two separate groups of toys, one of which is designed to appeal to boys and the other to girls. Kids like the toys that they like and it’s important for McDonald’s to make sure that their toys appeal to as many types of kids as possible. Businesses are out to make money and McDonald’s is a business so that’s fine with me.

The first problem I do have with these toys is how they are presented to the customer: “Would you like the boy toy or the girl toy?” The idea that toys can be labeled as “for boys” or “for girls” might have made sense twenty, or even ten, years ago, but it’s just inappropriate in 2014. If my son wants to wear a headband, it’s fine with me. If I have a daughter and she wants to play with action figures, she will. But my child should be able to make that decision without being told beforehand that there’s a right and a wrong answer.2 And, while we’re on the topic, if my daughter wants to have a Star Wars-themed party or my son wants to have a Disney princess party, no birthday supplies store is going to stop them.3

IMG_2079IMG_2078

The other problem I have is the use of the color pink, particularly in examples like this one. If a girl wants a Spider-Man headband, why does it necessarily have to be pink? Why can’t it just be a red and blue headband with a picture of Spider-Man on it? I don’t have a problem with appealing to a female demographic using specific toys or other objects, but I do take issue with the forced use of the color pink in order to do so. I get just as worked up about this topic regarding professional sports teams producing pink jerseys and hats. There is no pink in the red, blue and white Chicago Cubs’ logo; nor is there any pink in the navy pinstripes of the New York Yankees or in the orange and blue4 of the New York Mets. Maybe I’m a purist when it comes to sports jerseys and comic books characters, but pink is not one of the original colors and I can’t help feeling like the use of pink in these cases sends the messages that girls and women will only purchase something if it’s pink. Like they’re not “fan” enough to wear something that stays true to the original and it has to be pink for it to be worth their time. Give women a bit of credit here.

I realize that there is a part of my argument that seems to sit on both sides of the fence. On one hand, I say that I understand that these are all businesses that are out to make money and that they should be able to sell demographic-specific merchandise to be able to do so; then I say they shouldn’t use pink to appeal to women. I don’t have a problem with using pink to appeal to women; I have a problem with changing something to become pink in order to appeal to women. If Marvel and McDonald’s want to attract women using the Spider-Man character, they should work harder to promote Spider-Girl (link) or they should write slightly different stories for Spider-Man that will appeal more to women. If teams want more women in the stands, put on promotions like discounted women’s jerseys during certain games or team-sponsored ladies nights at a local restaurant. But don’t change the character’s or the team’s colors just because you think girls will only choose something pink.

Maybe I’m a purist. Maybe I’m too rigid. Maybe I just take sports too seriously. Please tell me what you think in the comments section below. But, I’m definitely not the first to raise concerns about gender-specific colors on toys so maybe, just maybe, I’m right.


1. I’m sorry if calling Friends “old” makes you feel uncomfortable about your age. It makes me feel old too, but let’s face it: the last episode aired ten years ago and the series is being re-run on Nick at Nite. It’s old.

2. To be fair, I’ve actually heard some encouraging news on this front. Many of the people I’ve spoken to have actually said that when they’ve gone to McDonald’s with their kids, they’ve been asked a question more along the lines of, “Which toy would you like?” No judgment, just a choice.

3. “Let’s call this store Party C. No, that’s too obvious. Let’s go with P. City.”

4. And, apparently, black. Ugh.

Life of Dad Podcast

For those of you who weren’t aware, Life of Dad is a website that was created originally as one dad’s personal blog and evolved into a social network for dads. It’s in the tagline and everything: “The Social Network for Dads.” Anyway, the guys who run the site have a ton of podcasts that they publish on a regular basis, or that other guys put out and they sponsor, including the Life of Dad Show, Super Dad Show and Bobblehead Dad Parenting. One of their other shows, the Life of Dad After Show, focuses specifically on interviewing dad bloggers about their families, their blogs and anything else that might come up in a free-flowing conversation. They had me on earlier this week and I figured I’d post it here for your listening pleasure.

Enjoy!

Life of Dad After Show – Aaron Yavelberg – Sleeping on the Edge

“Unleash the Tantrum!”

With all due respect to Jim Carrey, I’ve got a better one.

Eitan is turning two in June and he looks every bit the part. Far gone are the days of the goofy little smiles, rattle distractions and innocent cries that beg for food or comfort. They have been replaced by full belly laughs, Sesame Street videos and demands requests that are getting clearer by the day.

“Big Bird!” “Bubbles!” “Bat!” “Ball!” “Boob!”1

Most of the time it’s no big deal. It doesn’t take much to persuade Trudy or me to play with Eitan. We take him outside to blow bubbles or play baseball or whatever it is he wants to do. Or, we give him a different toy or start a game of hide and seek or something and he forgets about his original idea for a while. Sure, let’s set up your train tracks in the living room. It’s fine if you want to walk around with the laundry basket on your head. You want to spin around in a circle and make yourself dizzy? No problem. Go ahead, take all the Tupperware containers out of the cabinet. Yes, I’ll even clean them up for you.

But once in a while, you just have to say no.

“No, you can’t hold the laptop.”

“No, you can’t ride your scooter without your helmet.”

“No, I’m not going to hold you on the window sill. Stand on the couch and you can look for buses that way.”

“No, you can’t put Daddy’s credit cards in the heater.”2

That little word, “No,” is when it starts. His eyes shut tight, his hands clench into fists and his feet start dancing. His lips tremble and part and he unleashes the most terrible sound ever created. It’s a mix of cry, whine and Tyrannosaurus Rex roar. I can almost hear Liam Neeson’s voice in my head: “Unleash the tantrum!” It’s not just the volume; loud noises are annoying but I can deal with them. It’s the meaning behind the cry. It’s the cry that says, “I want what I want and I don’t care how irrational or unsafe it is. All I know is that you’re not giving it to me.” I was a philosophy major in college; logic and reasoning are my bread and butter. But there’s no negotiating with “Waaaaaaaaaaa!”

The truth is, I think toddlers get a bad rap most of the time. People ask how old Eitan is and, when I say he’ll be two in June, the inevitable response is, “Uh oh, the terrible twos!” It’s as though people have this image of toddler-hood that it’s essentially one year-long temper tantrum. It’s not at all. Eitan is loads of fun and has an amazing personality. He knows that there are limits and most of the time he abides by them.3 On the rare occasions that he does get angry, he usually lets out one quick cry and that’s it. He very rarely has a total meltdown and, even if he does, it’s more because he’s overtired than anything else. All toddlers are like that. They’re just figuring out their way in the world and trying to understand why things are the way they are. They just get upset when things don’t go their way and they don’t know how else to express their frustration.4 The rational side of me gets all that.

The emotional side, however, is searching for earplugs.


1. Today’s blog post is brought to you by the letter B.

2. Quick story about this. When my youngest brother was three or so, my father’s drivers license went missing one day. About a week later, my dad found it in the baseboard heater, which is where my brother had left it. Then, during the hottest week of the summer, our newly installed air conditioner didn’t seem to be working. We checked the filter, tried turning it on at different times of day, different speeds, everything. At the end of the week, my dad dropped something and practically burned his hand when he picked it up from under – you guessed it – the baseboard heater. It turned out my brother had turned the thermostat to the highest setting, which is why the AC wasn’t working right. In retrospect, it’s kind of amazing my father allowed my brother to make it to his twenties. In related news, maybe Eitan’s obsession with the heater has something to do with our gene pool.

3. If Eitan sees a knife, even the plastic toy knife from his kitchen set, his eyes to wide and he points and says, “No no!”

4. For the record, I know some adults who do this too.

Dear Eitan

Dear Eitan,

I’ve been meaning to start writing you letters for a little while now. I suppose the blog that I’ve been writing for the last year and a half has basically been a long series of letters to you anyway, but I wanted this piece to be directed to you, in particular, as opposed to me just writing about you. There are some things I’ve been thinking about here and there, especially over the last month and a half since my last blog post, and I want to make sure I get them down before I forget them.

As I write this letter, you’re 30 days away from your second birthday. Don’t worry, I’m not going to wax poetic about where the time went and how I can still remember carrying you around cradled in my arm like a football and how much you’ve changed in the last two years, although I definitely could. I will, however, tell you a little bit about… you.

–You’re funny. Every kid can do something cute from time to time (whether they mean to or not) and, don’t get me wrong, you do plenty of cute things without realizing it. You walk around in your mother’s and my shoes; you take your food and “cook” it in your toy kitchen; you give a huge smile and shut your eyes tight when your picture gets taken, just to name a few. But you also know how to make your mother and me laugh, whether you’re spinning around in a circle until you’re dizzy, running through the apartment naked or telling us where you aren’t when we’re playing hide and seek.1

–You’re caring. Whenever your mom or I aren’t feeling well, you come over and give us hugs. When you meet a baby, your first impulse is to go give them a hug or a kiss or “make nice.” You’re like that with animals too. One of your friends is unfortunately terribly sick but when you were at her birthday party, you couldn’t stop giving her hugs and kisses. You also didn’t stop saying her name and “happy birthday” for weeks afterward.

–You’re friendly. You’ve met other kids in playgroup and you’ve been playing with them – not just alongside them, with them – for months now. I’m not usually at your playdates because I’m at work, but I inevitably get pictures sent to me of you and your friends dancing on top of your toy box or jumping in your crib or using your mom’s stethoscope to hear each other’s heartbeats. Sometimes you and a girl are even lying down in your crib and smiling at each other.2

–You’re smart. It actually startles me how smart you are sometimes. You seem to see something once and it’s like you’ve mastered it, whether you’re building train systems on the floor, learning to ride your scooter or manipulating your parents into bribing you with cookies to get you into your car seat. Your language skills are also exploding. Your mom told me one day that you pointed to your toy basketball hoop in the living room and said “hoop.” She had never heard you say the word before but I told her that you and I had been watching ESPN in the mornings while we ate breakfast together. Now I can flip between basketball, baseball and hockey games3 and you point out hoops, balls, bats, pucks and nets. Now all we need is for you to recite the line, “There’s always next year” and we’ll be all set.

That’s probably a good place to stop for now. There’s a lot more for me to tell you about, but there’s time. I’m going to be writing new posts, either as letters to you or as my usual essays, about once per week. Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park talked about life finding a way; in my case, with regard to writing regularly, life got in the way. I should have a slightly easier time now. Here’s hoping you’ll enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy writing them.

Love,

Me (“Da-dee!”)


1. Here’s a tip: if you’re hiding and you hear us asking, “Are you behind the door?” or something similar, you don’t have to answer. I hate to break it to you: we already know where you are. Although, to be fair, your uncle Joel was a lot better at hide and seek at your age than I was. Maybe you should take notes from him instead.

2. Getting a girl into your bed will have a very different meaning for you when you’re older. Something to look forward to.

3. No football yet; it’s still spring, so it’s early baseball season and the NBA and NHL playoffs. We’ll get to football, don’t worry. You don’t realize it yet, but I’ve already taught you about the Bears.

On Donald Sterling, the NBA, Racist Symbols, Easy Victories, and A Wakeup Call That May Continue To Be Unheard

I was thinking about writing a post about Donald Sterling and his lifetime ban from the NBA. Then I read this post, from a college friend of mine, and decided he had said everything I would have wanted to say.

Too Much For Tweets

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Donald Sterling was banned for life from the NBA Tuesday, in an unprecedented move by new commissioner, Adam Silver.  The Los Angeles Clippers owner, a habitually public racist, had long been ready for the gallows and today was the long-past due execution.

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