Dear Eitan: Be A Man

Dear Eitan,

It’s been a little while since I’ve written to you. We’ve all been busy, you and your mom and me, between work and going to the beach and playdates and all the other stuff that manages to occupy people’s time. We’ve been having a lot of fun together at the pool, playing catch and getting into tickle fights at home. And I can’t even begin to tell you how amazing it is to have a mini-dance party with you in the living room while Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” plays in the background. But there’s something more serious we have to talk about.

We have to talk about girls.

We’ll have other discussions about girls as you get older, but this one can’t wait. We have to talk about how you act towards girls. How you talk to them, how you look at them and, most of all, how you touch them; it’s all important. There are people in our society that are going to try to teach you that this isn’t true. They’re going to make comments about women needing to stay in “their place” (usually the kitchen) and then say, “It was only a joke.” They’re going to write lyrics that refer to girls and women as bitches or hos (or worse) and then say, “It’s just a song, it doesn’t mean anything.”

They’re going to hear that a woman was knocked out by her fiancée, a professional football player, and then say that there might be “some other story,” implying that she must have done something to deserve getting punched in the face and dragged, unconscious, out of a Las Vegas elevator.

I know, it seems like a big jump to go from jokes and song lyrics to incidents of domestic violence. It is, in a way; certainly there are plenty of married men who make their share of misogynistic comments but don’t go home and beat up their wives. The thing is, you need to realize that all the “little things” add up. Every time you call a woman a name (besides her own, obviously) or make a joke about how girls don’t need to be involved in important decisions because it’s not their “place,” you’re contributing to the culture that sees women and girls as less than their male counterparts. And, if women are seen as less than men, if they’re just objects to be looked at, then there is less of a reason to treat them with respect.

I know that a lot of the things I’m talking about are over your head right now. You’re two years old; you’re not supposed to be thinking about the way American society influences your behavior or the statements that your actions make about your personality. Your biggest focuses at this point in your life are if your pancakes have “caka chippies”1 in them and where you last put your “pee mom boll”2 and paddle. That’s how it’s supposed to be. But as you grow, you’re going to be exposed to a lot of different things in a lot of different ways. Some of it will be good, like learning about teamwork and humor and love. Some of it won’t be quite as good, like when you eventually hear about violence and war and the terrible things that humans do to each other. You’re going to have to decide how you want to treat the people around you and, by extension, what kind of a person you want to be.

Over the last few months, your mom and I have been teaching you not to hit. You don’t do it maliciously; sometimes you just get a little too excited and forget that it hurts when you hit people. I’m not really worried. You’re a quick learner and, even though you’ve been testing the limits more often recently, you know when you’ve done something wrong. More importantly that that, though, you’re a kind and sweet boy who genuinely cares about others, even at your young age. I get the sense that you’re going to grow up to be just as passionate about preventing all kinds of abuse and mistreatment as I am and that hitting women (or anyone, for that matter, but especially someone physically weaker than you) is something for which you would never stand. So I’m not really concerned, but I figured it was worth saying anyway.

There is a saying that comes from the Rabbinic traditions of Judaism: “In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.”3 I take issue with the phrase “Be a man” for a number of reasons,4 but I think Rabbi Hillel got this one right. It’s not always going to be easy to stand up for what’s right and to look out for the people who need help. The road of social welfare and moral responsibility can be a lonely one sometimes. Your friends and co-workers are going to issue all the usual platitudes about jokes and seemingly innocent comments. But as long as you understand the deeper meaning behind all those remarks and remember that you don’t need to use physical aggression to demonstrate your masculinity, you’ll be a man in the best sense of the word.

Love,

Daddy (Da-dee!)

 

There have been seemingly endless reports about the incident that occurred between Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and his then-fiancée (they’ve since been married) and even more opinions have surfaced since the NFL issued Rice a fine and a two game suspension. Feel free to do your own research and formulate your own opinion. If you’re interested, I thought this article by Jane McManus was a really well-written, thoughtful and poignant take on the whole situation. And, for other dad blogger posts, check out these posts by Oren Miller and Jeff Bogle. And, as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading. –Aaron


1. Thank you, Cookie Monster.
2. Ping pong ball.
3. Pirkei Avot, 2:6.
4. Many of those reasons are illustrated beautifully in this video.

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Story Time: Rangers-Islanders 1999

I originally started writing this post as a connection to Eitan’s first baseball game but I got so involved in the story that it became its own post. I decided I enjoyed writing it so much that I would finish it and post it anyway, even though it was a long time ago and being a parent was one of the farthest things from my mind. I’ll post more memories occasionally under the “Story Time” title. If there are specific types of stories you’d like to hear from when I was younger, either stories that you were a part of or a type of story you’d like to read from my point of view, either send me an email at sleepingontheedgeblog@gmail.com or post on the blog’s Facebook page. Enjoy!


 

I was in middle school when I first started paying attention to professional hockey. My closest friend was a New York Islanders fan, so that’s the team that I first started following (I went back to my Chicago roots with the Blackhawks a few years later). The downside was that the Islanders were terrible and played in an awful arena (two facts which remain true today, unfortunately, although apparently they’re moving to Brooklyn). The upside, though, was that because they were terrible and played in an awful arena, their tickets were really cheap, which came in handy for a middle school student with no income. My friend and I went to a couple of games and my love for the sport was sealed.

One of the games that we went to was against the New York Rangers. The Rangers and Islanders have a long and storied history. It’s hard for me to call it a rivalry, as they haven’t often both been competitive at the same time, but because of their proximity and the nature of the sport, their games always tend to get a bit chippy.1 A group of my friends made plans to see this game together; one guy bought the tickets over the phone and we planned to pick them up at the game. We met up after school, drove to Nassau Coliseum, went to the Will Call window and…

No tickets.

My friend, Jon, was beside himself. He pleaded with the ticket person, said that he had given his credit card information on the phone, gave his name, his phone number, his drivers license, anything he could think of. The ticket person asked him to wait a minute and move to the side so that she could help the other customers. Jon did so reluctantly and after a minute, a tall, muscular man wearing a maroon customer service vest came out of the ticket office door. He asked us what had happened and Jon made his case. The man listened and, when Jon had finished, told us to wait while he would see what he could do. He went back into the office and we waited in silence, watching with increasing despair as the other fans around us – you know, the ones who actually had tickets – filed into the arena. The young woman who sang the Star Spangled Banner that night had just finished when the man emerged again.

“Okay, guys, here’s the deal,” he said to us. My heart immediately sank, as there was no way good news could follow an introduction like that. The night would be a supreme disappointment, we would have to go home empty-handed and there was nothing at all that could be done about it, no matter how much we begged.

“The good news is that I got you tickets to the game.”

My emotions have never made as fast U-turn as they did in that moment.

“The bad news is that they’re obstructed vision. Rangers-Islanders, you know, it’s sold out obviously. We keep a couple of seats open just for misunderstandings like this, though.”

We thanked him profusely as he handed us the stubs, said we didn’t care about the vision as long as we could get in. This was 95% true. Remember, I said Nassau Coliseum is an awful arena. It’s old, it smells and it’s falling apart.2 There are poles and beams placed sporadically through the arena. There are places in the upper decks and at the backs of the lower decks where the roof or the levels above you hang over, allowing you to see the nearest corner of the ice and forcing you to watch the rest of the action on tiny televisions installed in the very parts of the building blocking your view. It’s as though the architect forgot that people would want to come to the arena to watch live sports. So there were tiny pieces of our hearts that were disappointed about the phrase “obstructed vision,” but we were being honest when we said that we just wanted to be at the game. There are few pairs of teams that inspire such animosity in each other’s players and fans. Think Yankees-Red Sox, but if they played forty-five minutes away from each other instead of five hours.

We made our way inside and our excitement grew exponentially as we entered. The game had just started and to say that the atmosphere was electric would be an understatement. We handed our tickets to the usher and waited to see just how much the Coliseum was going to force us to depend on the crowd’s reaction to see what was happening in the game as opposed to seeing it for ourselves. We braced ourselves for the inevitable climb up, up, up to the last row of nosebleed seats. The usher glanced at our tickets and began to lead us down to our seats.

Down to our seats.

We looked at each other, none of us daring to say a word, in case the usher had somehow made a mistake. We followed him down, getting closer and closer to the ice and the players on it. The usher finally stopped, gestured to the row of empty seats and said simply, “These are your seats.”

We were sitting in the front row.

I couldn’t help myself. I was at the front of our group so I asked him, “Are you sure?” No one else in our group had moved, so I’m assuming I had voiced the question they were all wondering.

He laughed and said, “Enjoy the game, boys.”

He had not made a mistake. As it turns out, one of the other ways a spectator’s view can be obstructed is by the six inch advertising strip that lines the base of the glass around the rink and the broad shoulders of the players sitting on the bench. I was sitting no more than three feet behind the Islanders goalie, Roberto Luongo.3 If not for the glass, I could have reached out and touched him without leaving my seat.

The game was fantastic. A rare 4-2 win for the hometown Islanders, including an incredible glove save from Isles goaltender Kevin Weekes and the diminutive Rangers forward Theo Fleury slashing his stick at the calves of the hulking Isles defenseman, Zdeno Chara, who returned the favor by stealing a Fleury pass and assisting on a goal.

The night that had started so inauspiciously had turned into an amazing evening that none of us would ever forget. It was the last time I saw a game at Nassau Coliseum, but I doubt highly that any other game could match the emotion of that night.

 


1. Poor Tommy Salo…
2. The arm rest from my seat at my first game literally came off during the evening. Just fell right off of its base. Naturally, I kept it as a souvenir.
3. Yes, this Roberto Luongo.

His First Game

This post would not have been possible without our friends, Daniel and Stephanie Rensing, and Stephanie’s father, Mr. Bob Jordan. We owe all of the memories of Eitan’s first baseball game to you guys. Please take a minute to check out their amazing line of baking products at The Smart Baker.

Also, this post is part of the “Future Fanatics” campaign being run by Fanatics, the leading online retailer of everything sports. Fanatics is a one stop shop for everything sports, from your favorite team’s baseball hat to the Cubs jersey Eitan will get when he’s older (and we don’t have to worry about him spilling food on it). Check out their site to see how other “Future Fanatics” are getting their start.


 

I don’t remember my first baseball game.

I went to four baseball games in person when I lived in Chicago: three to see the Cubs at Wrigley Field and one to see the White Sox at the “new” Comiskey Park.1 The truth is, I don’t remember much of any of them. I remember that Andre Dawson hit a home run at each of the Cubs games. I remember thinking that the Sox were cooler than the Cubs because their stadium had a jumbo-tron and Wrigley Field had that boring charming manual-operated scoreboard. I remember that at my third Cubs game, we sat next to the railing in foul territory on the first base side, the last three seats in the row between our section and the bleachers to my right. At that game, I remember furtively waving my hand every once in a while just in case a television camera was filming me without my realizing it. I remember that we left that game early because my brother was with us and he was no older than six or seven and he was falling asleep. I remember standing at the L station outside Wrigley Field, listening to the crowd cheer in the stadium behind us. I remember a man standing on the opposite platform with a huge bag of wrapped presents that came undone and spilled down onto the train tracks and the way the people next to him helped him hook each gift and pull them back up.

Most of all, I remember the crowd. I remember being in awe at the sheer volume of people in the stadium and how amazing it was to hear 30,000 people cheering, “Let’s go Cubs!” in unison. I remember watching 30,000 pairs of hands clapping to applaud a strikeout and hearing 30,000 voices scream, “Charge!” after the piped-in bugle played. I remember the organ and singing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” with Harry Caray (who, by that point, I had finally realized was not my grandfather) along with all of those 30,000 other strangers. I don’t remember the score; I don’t even remember who the opponents were. I just knew we were all fans, we were all there for the Cubs and we were all having a blast.

We brought Eitan to his first baseball game this past weekend. He had a very different experience than I did when I was younger, for a number of reasons. For one thing, we were at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, a much more modern and fan-friendlier stadium than Wrigley Field. For another, we had been invited by old-school friends of Trudy’s to watch the game from the luxury box that they had for the evening, which meant that all of the food and drink was catered, Eitan had some space to run around (although he actually sat and watched a lot of the game with me) and we even got a personal visit from Mr. Met.

 

IMG_7899

 

I’ll admit, I was a little uncomfortable about the idea of Eitan’s first game not involving the Cubs at all. I know he’s going to make his own decisions about sports allegiances, just as every child does, but I want him to be a Cubs fan. I know there are all kinds of reasons why I should spare him the misery, but I want to share the love of the team with him. You can fault the Cubs for many things, but treating their fans well is not one of them. It’s a badge of honor being a Cubs fan and I want Eitan to know that feeling. So I knew it was going to be difficult to pull him away from a mascot with a giant baseball for a head or the ice cream in the little New York helmet or the bright flashing lights of the scoreboard.

In the end, we all had such a good time that I almost didn’t care that we were cheering for the Mets. For me, it made no difference that we were cheering for another loser team; it’s not like they were going to knock the Cubs out of a playoff spot or anything.2 I had gotten what I wanted: we were sharing baseball together. We were cheering in unison with 30,000 strangers and we were joining in the highs and lows of a hard-fought battle on the basepaths. We ate, we laughed, we ooh-ed and ahh-ed.

And in the middle of it all, we made this moment:

Forget the finger; we’ll make a Cubs fan out of him yet.

 

I don’t remember my first game and Eitan probably won’t remember his either. But I’ll never forget bringing him.

 


1. That was right after they re-did the “old” Comiskey Park. I’m pretty sure it’s still the same stadium today, although it’s had two or three different corporate sponsor names since the early 90s.
2. Playoffs?!? The Cubs? Hah!

Thank You For Not Saying Thank You

Last night I was alone with Eitan for most of the evening.

I usually work late on Thursdays. One of the families I visit doesn’t get home until after 5:00 and because of scheduling, I usually don’t get to them until 5:45 at the earliest. That means that I don’t usually leave before 6:30 or 6:45, which, in turn, means that I don’t get home until around 8:00. I get maybe a half hour to see Eitan and most of that time involves bathing him and getting him ready for bed. I’m not looking for sympathy here; I’m just explaining how Thursdays usually go.

Last night was a little bit different. First, I finished my visits a bit earlier than usual, so I got back to my neighborhood just after 7:00. I met Trudy and Eitan where they had gone out to dinner with our soon-to-be sister-in-law and we walked home together. On the way, Trudy spoke to one of our close friends on the phone and, when she got off, she told me that our friend had a family emergency and that she was going to go help her through it. She asked if I minded putting Eitan to bed and being by myself for the next few hours and I said it was fine. We got home, Trudy left and Eitan and I were left to our own devices. Eitan helped me do laundry,1 I bathed him and got him into his pajamas, we transfered the wet clothes to the dryer, I read Eitan some stories and put him to bed. Yes, he cried a few times for Mommy and I had to distract him by pleading for help with the clothes or making funny faces or singing Take Me Out To The Ball Game2 but we both got through the evening fine. He went to bed late because of the laundry and because we got home late, but that’s how it goes sometimes. Trudy got back home around 10:45, we talked for a bit about our respective evenings, watched some television and went to bed. And, as you could probably tell from the title, at no point did Trudy thank me for watching Eitan.

This may surprise you, but I was happy she didn’t.

Let me be very clear before I go on: Trudy goes out with some of the moms in our neighborhood every so often and she always says thank you for watching Eitan while she’s gone. Every time. The thing is, I usually feel weird when she thanks me. I don’t think she intends it that way, but I hear the phrase “Thank you for watching Eitan” and I think of a babysitter or someone doing a favor for someone else. But I’m not a babysitter. I’m not someone who gets paid for a few hours and then I’m done until next time.3 I’m a dad. I’m supposed to look after my son. I’m supposed to goof around with him. I’m supposed to teach him to do laundry and bathe him and sing with him. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not always the best father or husband that I could be, but I know what my responsibilities are as a dad and I take them seriously. Plus, responsibility or not, I liked having some time alone with Eitan. It doesn’t happen often because I’m usually at work so I try to capitalize on the opportunities when they come up. I like having the chance to flex my parenting muscles, not just because it helps me keep the confidence that I can do this whole fatherhood thing, but also because it shows Eitan that he can be alone with me and he’s still going to be kept safe and sound.

I understand the point of thanking people when they do things, even if they’re doing things they should have been doing anyway. Good supervisors make it a point to acknowledge a job well done because it shows the workers that their efforts are being noticed and appreciated. It keeps morale up and encourages similar effort in the future. I know that Trudy thanks me for looking after Eitan when she goes out because she is home with him all the time and it’s helpful for her to have a break, so she wants to acknowledge that I’m helping her take that time to recharge. But there was something about last night that made me prefer that I wasn’t thanked for watching Eitan. Part of it was that Trudy has told me that she feels guilty sometimes going out and having a good time without me and last night was a difference circumstance. Either way, I think I felt better that it seemed like it was assumed that I would do my job as a parent even without the follow-up message.

It’s always nice to hear “thank you,” but this time, it was actually nicer not to.

 


1. “Helped me do laundry” is code for “alternated between putting clothes in the washing machine and running around the basement figuring out the highest pitch he could reach with his voice.”

2. We’re going to his first baseball game this weekend. I’ve sung it to him before but I wanted to make sure he’d be prepared. I’ll probably put the video of us singing on the blog’s Facebook page, so keep checking there and you’ll see it.
3. I’m also not a teenage girl. Just in case you were confused.

Peace: The Beach

It’s quiet.

Not silent, since I can hear the breeze making its way through the air, the faint sensation of salt tickling my nostrils, but quiet, nonetheless. The ocean laps at the shore, voicing soft greetings as it’s waves curl and shift from green to white before fading quickly into the sand. Some young children run into the water just in time for a larger wave to playfully test their resolve, sending most of them squealing back to steadier ground. The bright orange umbrellas whip softly in the wind but hold their posts like sentries protecting a town’s citizens.

I glance down at you, enveloped in your colorful pirate towel, lying down on the chair with me. I carefully lift my foot and pull the lower corner down to cover the little toes that are peeking out. I continue stroking your dirty blonde hair as you doze, making sure not to disturb the hood that keeps your lightly tanned skin sheltered from the hot sun. Your torso slowly rises and falls in rhythm with your breathing and the pressure on my chest increases slightly as your head becomes heavier with sleep. You suddenly remove your second and third fingers from your mouth and tuck your hand back down by your stomach before becoming still once again.

Your mother is lying in the chair next to us, soaking up the sun’s rays eagerly and savoring the current calm. She turns her head toward me and offers a smile, her usually bright eyes forced to squint under the sun. I accept graciously and my lips blow a soft kiss back in response. She reaches her hand across the divide between our chairs and her fingers intertwine with mine. She smiles again and returns her focus back to the cloudless blue sky and the rays warming her skin.

I lean my head back in the reclining chair and close my eyes, saving a mental picture of the moment before allowing my own tired muscles to relax and welcome the oncoming numbness of sleep.