Dear Mr. President

Dear Mr. President,

I’m going to begin by offering you congratulations on your inauguration today. You may not have won my vote, or even the votes of the majority of U.S. citizens, but you did win the votes you needed to win the election, which is why you’re standing where you are today. As I told my students after the election was over, “Whether you were happy with the results of the election or not, the system worked the way it was supposed to.” And so, I will congratulate you.

I must tell you, though, Mr. President, I am nervous about your upcoming administration.

I am concerned about the people you have appointed to your cabinet posts. Senator Jeff Sessions, whom you have selected as your attorney general, has a political history replete with racist actions and statements; your Secretary of State appointment, Rex Tillerson, has close ties with Russian leader Vladimir Putin; and your nomination for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, not only has no formal experience working in schools, she struggles to understand the basic policies of our education system. I’m not saying that you have to be an expert in these areas or that you should be running these political and economic systems yourself, but your appointments of people to positions who are on record as being biased against the agencies they are about to oversee are, as I said, concerning.

I’m also concerned about the connections between your supporters and acts of violence, acts which seemed to happen fairly frequently during your campaign. I’m willing to acknowledge the possibility that these incidents may not have been quite as prevalent as they seemed because of the publicity they received in the media. That being said, however, I would argue that even one act of violence on your behalf should be deemed deplorable, rather than minimized. It would also be comforting to hear you condemn acts of violence against women, people of color or even just people who disagree with you, rather than simply distancing yourself from those attacks, if you address them at all.

The root of my unease, Mr. President, is that I have difficulty believing that you have the well-being of our nation as your top priority. If my concerns stemmed simply from an inherent difference of political opinion, I would not be happy about your actions and cabinet appointments, but I would accept them. The problem is that every action you have taken, both during your campaign and since the election, has appeared to be self-serving, from maintaining ties to your businesses after being elected to appointing Rick Perry to head the Department of Energy, a position neither of you understood. Even if it is not necessarily the case, it appears to me you are more focused on your own interests than on how you will achieve your goal of making America great again.

Mr. President, you have the most unique of opportunities before you. Today you are becoming our Commander-in-Chief and our representative to the rest of the world. It is a position of great power, to be sure; but, as we learned from Spider-Man, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

If I may be so bold, I would like to give you some advice as you begin your new position. You don’t have to listen to it but I sincerely hope that you will at least consider it. You seem to put so much stock in what other people think of you, taking to Twitter to post angry responses, whether you feel you’ve been slighted by CNN, Saturday Night Live or Meryl Streep. I believe that one of the reasons why many people – including me – have been so outwardly negative about your election victory is that we do not feel like you see yourself as our leader. As I said earlier, your actions seem to indicate you have only your own interests in mind. It appears as though you plan to lead the members of your own socioeconomic group and the rest of us will have to fend for ourselves.

My advice is this: lead all of us. Answer our questions, rather than suppressing the voices that imply that you might be wrong. Explain the rationales behind your actions and support your arguments with facts. Reassure us that you are thinking about the consequences of your comments and that you are listening to advisers who have some political experience as opposed to just your business buddies. Assuage our fears by demonstrating that you’re not just making decisions because “you feel like it.” Be more transparent about your thought process and engage in true political discourse, rather than simply insulting the people who contradict you.

We may not be happy with your policies or your political actions. You still may not get our agreement. But you may get our respect.

Congratulations again, Mr. President.

Sincerely,

Aaron

Religious Education and Spontaneous Combustion

This week I had one of those fantastic moments in class where I blew a student’s mind.

The class was made up of students in sixth and seventh grades. The broader lesson revolved around interfaith relationships and focused particularly on the degree to which we, as Jews, should be educated about other religions. I’m on record with my students as saying that it is not only a good idea to learn about other religions and cultures, it is critical for Judaism’s survival that we learn about the people around us so that we can find ways to coexist peacefully. Judaism has never existed in a vacuum and part of my lesson was imparting the message that we need to understand the beliefs of others in order to maintain healthy relationships with them. It is a matter of keeping the peace and being good neighbors, to be sure; but, for a nation that has been attacked and persecuted as long as it has existed, it is also a matter of survival.

During Tuesday’s class, there was a moment when we were discussing some of the basic distinctions between Judaism and Christianity. I chose to contrast the concept of the Holy Trinity against Judaism’s singular God to drive that point home: not only does Judaism reject the notion that God would appear in human form, the idea that there can be three “versions”1 of God runs directly contrary to the Jewish belief in one God. The students were familiar with Judaism’s stance from reciting the Shema but had some difficulty understanding the Trinity. They asked questions like, “How can God be in three parts but also have each part be God?” Also, “Is one of the parts higher than the others? Like, is the Father the ‘real’ God and then the Son and the Holy Spirit are below him?” And, the more basic, “Are the Holy Spirit and Holy Ghost the same thing?”

I might have considered the class a success at that point, if only because I had engaged the students and pushed them to grapple with foreign and challenging concepts. They were trying and they were taking the material seriously, which is all I usually care about. But then I used an analogy I had heard from my father, a Jewish educator in his own right, to help them along a bit more. I wrote the words “vapor,” “water” and “ice” on the board2 and said, “These are all the same matter, just in different forms. The temperature and the environment affect the way the matter appears but its basic nature never really changes.” The students nodded in agreement.

Then I asked, “Now, of water, vapor and ice, who can tell me which one is the real one?”

A couple students immediately blurted out, “Water!” One of their classmates corrected them and said that they were all real because nothing except their appearance was changing. A moment or two passed as the students kept going back and forth and another student started to ask me how the analogy connected to the Trinity. I started to explain that, just as there is no “real” form of water, vapor or ice, there is no “real” form of God in the Trinity, because God is both made up of the three parts and each one is God on its own. I was about halfway through my explanation when one girl, who had been sitting and listening quietly in the back, suddenly sat straight up in her chair and clapped her hands to the sides of her head.

“Whoa!” she yelled. “I think my brain just exploded!”

I couldn’t help but laugh. Her eyes had gone wide as dinner plates and she began stammering, trying to find the words to articulate what had just happened. She was eventually able to string together a few coherent sentences and some of her classmates began to show similar understanding smiles, though there were no more exclamations.

Those are the moments I strive for. The sudden awakenings of understanding where everything somehow slides into place; the proverbial “light bulb” moments. It sometimes feels like my students are already so jaded that I wonder how much of an impact I’m really having on them. In many ways, these twelve and thirteen-year-olds have seen much more of the world than I had at their age because of their access to the internet, so I have to work harder to grab their attention (the social and political events of the last few months have been quite helpful in that regard). When those moments do come, though, whether they lead to smiles or laughter or gray matter getting metaphorically splattered around the room, I feel like my effort has been validated. Not only are my students learning, they are enjoying the process, which means I’m doing my job right.


1. I put “versions” in quotation marks because it’s a difficult concept to explain. As I understand it, the three beings combine to make up God, while God is also simultaneously fully present in each of them. So we’ll go with “versions” and accept that it’s a difficult concept to explain. (Thanks again, Sam, for help with the phrasing.)

2. Technically, first I wrote “steam” and then changed it to vapor when one of my students informed me that steam and water vapor are two different things. It was just one more instance of me learning as much from my students as they learn from me.

The Long and Short of Greed and Anger

I watched The Big Short last weekend, the 2015 Oscar-nominated movie about four men who saw the housing market crash of 2008 coming. Here’s a very quick summary, just in case you either haven’t seen the movie1 or weren’t paying full attention nine years ago when all this was actually happening (like me): basically, big banks began selling bonds made up of mortgages that weren’t nearly as strong as the banks said they were, so when the bonds matured, the money that was supposed to be there wasn’t. People hadn’t been paying their mortgages, which meant that the banks didn’t have the cash that they said or thought they did, which then meant that the banks couldn’t pay people’s loans or their employees’ salaries. Millions of people, both in the banking sector and in other walks of life, lost their jobs and their homes and it’s only been in the last few years that the housing market has really begun to recover.

The key, though, is that the whole mess was essentially created by bank executives who saw opportunities to make money off of people’s lack of knowledge, lack of interest and, most importantly, their lack of patience to actually research what they were buying. Without getting too much into specifics, the banks kept taking on loans that had no backing and, as with any system based on falsified practices, the foundation eventually fell out from under them and everything crashed. And, while “common” citizens were floundering trying to find new jobs so they could stay afloat and avoid going into terrible debt, the bank executives received bailouts from the government – paid for, by the way, by those same “common” citizens’ tax dollars – to keep their banks open and fix the mess they had made (more about this in a second).

In the interests of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I wasn’t affected too severely by the market crash. My wife and I probably paid more for our apartment than we would have even six months or a year later, but that’s probably the most significant influence.2 We were able to make all of our mortgage payments through the eight years that we lived in our apartment. Neither of us lost our jobs and, probably because we were very young and didn’t know any differently, we didn’t think too much about what was happening around us.

But there I was, watching the movie the other night, seeing old news clips of people in tears leaving their offices with their belongings in cardboard boxes. I saw photographs of unemployment lines and tent cities. I saw parents trying to reassure their children that there would be food for dinner. And then I saw references to 2008 headlines about bank and insurance company executives receiving billions of dollars in bailout money from the government and using significant portions of it for lavish parties and personal bonuses, rather than trying to fix the economic crisis.

And I got angry.

I got angry at the bankers who willfully sold products that were doomed to fail. I got angry at the lawyers and accountants whose language was so esoteric and intentionally unintelligible so that people were driven to simply sign on the dotted line rather than give themselves migraines trying to understand the details of their contracts. I got angry at the executives for not only tolerating such behavior, but encouraging it because of the extent to which their bank accounts would be padded. I even got angry at the homeowners who stopped paying their mortgages. I’m sure that many of them did so for good reason because of job loss or other unforeseen circumstances, but that just made me angry at the banks again for not realizing the problems and addressing it immediately, rather than putting lipstick on a pig and bundling those underwater mortgages together in order to sell them under a different name.

Most of all, I got angry at everyone who either ignored their conscience or didn’t seem to have one to begin with while they were complicit in creating a fraudulent system that caused so much pain to so many people.

I don’t mean to sound naive. I know that greed is real and that there are always going to be people who will look to take advantage of others in order to move ahead. I know that hubris and arrogance are always going to rear their ugly heads at some point or another. I know that people are animals at their cores, which means that they are usually going to act in ways that promote their own best interests as opposed to limiting their potential for personal benefit after considering the impact of their behavior on others. I even know that it’s specifically because of those primal instincts that the responsibility gets placed on the rest of us to be upstanders, rather than bystanders,3 in order to pursue justice.

That is probably where the root of my anger lies. It’s a mix of disappointment in one group of people for their actions and frustration with another group of people for not speaking up about it.

The question, of course, is, “So what?” The Big Short chronicles events that happened almost a decade ago, so there isn’t much for me (or any of us) to do about the past. But there is something we can do about the future. We can pay closer attention to the influence that big banks, pharmaceutical companies and other corporations have on our government. We can contact our elected officials to make our voices heard so that they understand the motivations of their constituents. We can criticize the media’s coverage of certain issues over others and draw more attention to events that are important to us. We can be more aware of politicians’ attempts to pack so much activity into one day that we lose track of their actions, just as the aforementioned housing and banking lawyers used legalese and financial jargon to confuse and overwhelm unsuspecting clients, not to mention competing institutions.

The housing crisis and the Great Recession may be over for most of the United States but that doesn’t mean we can afford to get complacent. Our President-elect may not end up having quite as much power as he thinks he will after being inaugurated, but his greatest weapon as the leader of our nation will not lie in his Constitution-granted executive abilities, his partnership with a Republican Congress or his Twitter account.

His most powerful weapon will be capitalizing on the apathy and ignorance of the American people.


1. You should.

2. That, plus the fact that we were part of that first government stimulus package that gave homebuyers a grant that would need to be paid back a year at a time later on, as opposed to the later stimulus packages that included grants that did not have to be paid back at all.

3. There’s that Facing History language again.

Baby, It’s Christmas (With Consent)

I don’t like Christmas music.

(It’s okay, take a minute. I’ll wait for you to stop hyperventilating and/or to pick up your laptop from wherever it landed. I suppose I should have put a “trigger warning” first to prepare you. Sorry about that.)

I don’t like Christmas music because I’m Jewish and my family was observant when I was young, so I don’t have the same personal connection to Christmas that the overwhelming majority of the U.S. population seems to. We celebrated Hanukkah and it was always made very clear to me that trees and Santa and mangers and red and green M&Ms were for other people, not us. Even so, I don’t remember ever being bothered by the onslaught of Christmas when I was a child. I probably didn’t pay much attention to something that I knew didn’t apply to my family, but I also don’t remember Christmas being shoved down everyone’s throats the way it is now.

I don’t like Christmas music because I never had a reason to. When I was growing up, I didn’t know who the Little Drummer Boy was, I figured Rudolph had just used way too many tissues and I thought the Tannenbaums were a family from our synagogue. The only Jesus I knew about was Ivan DeJesus, the former Cubs shortstop who was traded for Ryne Sandberg.1 I had always been taught that the holy nights were Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and I thought that Silent Night was just the prayer that all parents made before they went to bed. The only song title that made any sense to me, as a child living in Chicago and then New York, was “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

I used to get more upset with the constant associations with Christmas in commercials and practically every show on television when I was a teenager. I tend to believe that I’ve become more patient as I’ve grown towards adulthood. I don’t get as angry about being bombarded with all things Christmas once the clock hits midnight on the first of November (if not earlier). I certainly don’t hit the radio’s “off” switch with quite as much authority anymore. My family visited Disney World during the week before Thanksgiving and, even though it looked like Christmas had vomited all over the Magic Kingdom, I remained fairly relaxed.2 Christmas is the primary holiday for our country’s most prominent religion and, at its heart, Christmas brings joy to millions of people. I’d rather spend my energy creating joy for my family rather than changing my name to Ebenezer Scrooge.

All that being said, one of the songs I mentioned earlier has always struck me as… creepy.

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” describes two people who have just spent an evening together. The woman is leaving and the man wishes she wasn’t. The call-and-respond nature of the music would have you believe that the pair are having a conversation but the actual lyrics3 show that, while the man and woman are speaking to each other, the man is not doing much listening.

The first paragraph is fairly tame:

I really can’t stay (Baby, it’s cold outside)
I’ve got to go way (Baby, it’s cold outside)
The evening has been (I’ve been hopin’ that you’d drop in)
So very nice (I’ll hold your hand, they’re just like ice)

Translation:
Woman: We’ve had a nice time but it’s late and I have to get home.
Man: I had a nice time too.

We can see the faint signs of trouble in the man’s focus on the temperature outside, even if the he hasn’t said anything too obvious. By the second verse, though, the man is absolutely putting on the pressure.

My mother will start to worry (Hey beautiful, what’s your hurry)
And father will be pacing the floor (Listen to that fireplace roar)
So really, I’d better scurry (Beautiful, please don’t hurry)
Well, maybe just a half a drink more (Put some music on while I pour)

Translation:
Woman: I have people waiting for me and I’m ready to go.
Man: Let’s see what else I can do to keep you from leaving.

Verse three is more of the same, followed by this exchange in verse four:

I oughtta say no, no, no sir (You mind if I move in closer)
At least I’m gonna say that I tried (And what’s the sense in hurting my pride)
I really cant stay (Oh baby, don’t hold out)
Oh, but it’s cold outside.

Translation:
Woman: I’m very uncomfortable with this arrangement.
Man: Your discomfort is not as important as my desire to have sex.

I won’t go through the entire rest of the song because I’m sure you get the idea by now. Some highlights include the woman asking, “What’s in this drink?” and explicitly saying, “The answer is no” while the man continues to make comments about her looks and his lust. At the end, when she says again, “I really can’t stay,” his response is that she should “get over that old out,” once again invalidating her pleas to be released. Oh, and in case you were wondering, we never find out if she ends up leaving or not.

I’m not bringing this up as some sort of battle in the War on Christmas. As I said, I’m much more interested in just finding ways to enjoy a day off from work with my family than I am in trying to spoil other people’s holiday. But it seems that, too often, people take things as they seem without thinking about any possible deeper implications.4 We don’t consider the potential agendas that lead to the publication of certain articles or the effects that our “opinions” might have on others. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is a clear example of our culture’s ongoing dismissal of women’s rights to maintain control over their bodies. No means no, unless you can convince her to say yes (or put something in her drink so she stops answering altogether).

Fortunately, a couple from Minnesota felt similarly uneasy about “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and rewrote the song to demonstrate a more appropriate male response to the woman’s lines. The new lyrics emphasize consent as the man gives the woman every opportunity to make her own decisions about how the night should end, even answering her clearly about what is in her drink. From the very first line, when the woman says she can’t stay, his immediate answer is, “Baby, I’m fine with that.” The rest of the song continues in the same vein.

Again, I’m not interested in taking away from other people’s enjoyment of Christmas and the holiday season. Far be it from me to say that I should have any authority over another person’s belief system or the choices they make during this time of year. What I am saying, however, is that we need to be more careful about the messages we are sending our children about consent and their rights to be autonomous where their bodies are concerned. Our daughters need to know how to say no firmly and clearly and to feel comfortable asserting themselves. Our sons need to understand that “no” means “no,” full stop. Do not pass Go; do not collect $200. No means no and, for that matter, so does any other answer that isn’t specifically “yes.”

We’re moving in the right direction. Our most recent presidential election results notwithstanding, I’ve been hearing more and more frequently about women being encouraged to speak up for their rights and men who take advantage being held accountable. We’re hardly perfect, but the right steps are being taken. As long as we continue to analyze the messages our culture is sending and think critically about our roles in contributing to those messages, we’ll be able to help our children grow up in a safer world.

Happy holidays.


1. Sandberg became my favorite Cubs player after Andre Dawson left in free agency. The Phillies often get criticized for trading Sandberg, who went on to have a Hall of Fame career. But, as my father always points out, they wouldn’t have made it to the 1983 World Series without Ivan DeJesus.

2. I’ll admit, I had hoped that Trudy and I had a bit more time before having to explain to Eitan about Santa Claus but Disney forced our hands. Oh well.

3. Lyrics were borrowed from Metrolyrics.com.

4. See: our current political climate.

The Morning After

Dear Eitan and Shayna,

Yesterday was a tough day. It started quite promising, as we were all able to leave the apartment in the morning as a family so that you could watch your mom and me vote in one of the most important elections in our lifetime. We wanted you to see us exercise our rights to have our voices heard in choosing our representatives in government because we know that there are people all over the world who are not nearly as lucky. We also wanted you to get a sense of the gravity of the situation, since this election carried extra weight. The two main candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, were diametrically opposed in many of their views, particularly regarding equal rights for women, the LGBT community and people of color. Plus, there was also the very real possibility that we would be able to take part in electing the first female president of the United States.

Your mom and I were genuinely excited when we left the poll. We thought we were about to see Hillary elected, a move that would launch missiles at the glass ceiling that has trapped women in our country for decades. We thought that there was no way that Trump could be elected, not after the campaign he ran using bigotry, misogyny and flat-out lies. We thought that American citizens would respond positively to Trump’s anti-establishment rhetoric but that they would be so shocked by his blatant disrespect and disregard for those who disagreed with him – let alone, those who had the audacity to be born with a vagina – that they would send him back where he came from.

We were wrong.

The two of you are in a difficult position right now. You know that there was this thing called an election, that we spoke with you about hope for the future and about not voting for the “silly man.” You know that, the morning after, there were parents in your school hallway in tears as they hugged each other, trying to find comfort after such a confusing, depressing and, for many, infuriating night. You may hear grownups talk about walls or deportations or even about moving to Canada. The reason people are talking like this is because they are scared for the future and, if adults are scared, you might be too.

Don’t be.

I’ll admit, I’m as frustrated and disappointed as anyone. I think our country had a real opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to equality and social justice and we somehow decided to go the other way. But, despite yesterday’s election results, I don’t think we’ve necessarily lost that opportunity altogether. Eitan, I’ve written countless times about your caring, sensitive heart and how much I admire your intelligence and your desire to help others. Shayna, you may not even be six months old yet, but you’ve already shown that you’re one of the happiest babies I’ve ever met. Your smile lights up every room you enter and the twinkle in your eyes when you recognize your family is truly amazing. Our country may feel a bit dimmer this morning, but we’re all going to continue working together to ensure that our lights are able to shine even brighter through the darkness. The fight for justice lost a major battle last night, but we’ve hardly lost the war.

Yesterday didn’t go as we planned or hoped and the next four years are not going to be easy for anyone. We have each other, though, and there are a lot of people who are with us in this struggle. You may feel scared at times and that’s okay; we’re scared sometimes too. It’s natural to be afraid when the future is filled with so much uncertainty. If you have questions, we’ll do our best to answer them. And, if we don’t know the answers, we’ll just keep having the conversations that need to be had so that we can figure things out together.

Love,

Daddy

Cursing at Babies

We’re over a month into the new school year at this point. Eitan is in Pre-K now, which means he’s in school before 8:30 and gets out after 3:30. It’s a long day for him, especially since he was still napping on occasion over the summer, but he’s adjusted nicely. There are usually some tears at points during the couple of hours between getting dismissed from school and going to bed, largely because he’s exhausted and refuses to nap during rest time at school. All things considered, though, he’s getting used to his new schedule.

My routine has not been affected too severely. I’m still going to work every day and seeing private practice patients some evenings. The biggest difference for me is that now I’m teaching religious school again on Sunday mornings and Tuesday evenings, plus leading children’s services in synagogue a few Saturday mornings each month. It’s the same work as before, just more of it. Plus, since Eitan is usually wiped, he’s asleep by the time I get home some nights.

What this really means is that now Trudy has been thrust back into those early stages of stay-at-home mom status. She was able to spend most of her summer days at the beach with friends and relatives, plus both of our kids. Now that Eitan is in school and the summer is over, she’s spending most of each day just with Shayna. Shayna may be a great baby who doesn’t give us too much trouble (more about this in a minute), but she’s not the best conversationalist. Say what you will about the tantrums and defiance that come with having a four-year-old, but there is still something nice about having someone around who can actually talk to you, as opposed to just smiling, staring off into space or sleeping.

Of course, Trudy is handling everything like a pro. Our kids are clothed, fed and happy and, after a summer of taking care of a little boy and an infant girl, she’s certainly earned a little quieter time at home. She’s tired too at the end of the day, though, as one would expect her to be after spending the day nursing and playing with Shayna, running errands, cleaning the apartment, cooking dinner and then keeping Eitan awake and calm long enough after school to eat, bathe and get to bed.

It’s hard for me to picture that kind of a day. I spend the first hour and a half of my day with Eitan (and Shayna, depending on what time she wakes up) and then I don’t see them until much later. Even then, I sometimes don’t see Eitan until the next morning, depending on what time I get home at night. I have trouble imagining going through the entire day without much adult interaction or acknowledgment of my efforts. (Babies aren’t really good at saying thank you.)

One night, I was coming home late after a private practice session and, when I texted Trudy to say I was on my way, she responded that Shayna had been crying for fifteen minutes and that I should come home quickly. I got home about ten minutes later and I could hear Shayna still crying as I unlocked the door. She didn’t seem like she was in pain; it wasn’t that forceful adamant screaming cry. But she was definitely irritable or uncomfortable or something and she was making her displeasure known. I came inside, put my bag down and walked over to take Shayna from Trudy. I picked her up, patted her back, bounced her in my arms a little and walked around as I told her to calm down.

She stopped crying in less than a minute.

Trudy’s eyes got wide for a second and then very narrow as she glared at Shayna and started cursing.

I couldn’t blame Trudy. It’s a familiar refrain in parenting circles that the primary caregiver puts so much effort and energy into taking care of the kids during the day and then the kids seem to like the other parent better. An outsider might have laughed when Shayna stopped crying; I did not. I understood the humor of the situation to a point but my bigger concern was Trudy feeling like our infant daughter had just waved her tiny little middle finger in Trudy’s face.

My level of experience with feeling that type of rejection from an infant may be limited; after all, I’ve been working full time since before Eitan was born so the opportunities for me to be the sole at-home parent for an entire day for even one child have been few and far between. That being said, I can remember quite a few times, especially when Eitan was very young, when I felt completely useless as a parent because Eitan only wanted his mother. Eitan was – and still is – very attached to Trudy, so hearing him say he only wants Mommy to read to him, for instance, feels like a four-year-old hitting me in the stomach with a Heisman pose. Plus, as far as the cursing is concerned, I can remember a few distinct instances where I let a few of my own blue streaks fly at Eitan.1 Trust me when I say that sailors have nothing on exhausted parents in the foul language realm.

I don’t want to speak for Trudy, but she seemed to end up fine. She’d had an incredibly long day that was capped by a three month old2 essentially saying, “Okay, Mommy, I’ve had enough of you.” Honestly, Trudy had probably had enough of Shayna too at that point. The key, for both of us as new-ish parents, has been to remember that it’s natural for kids to prefer one parent over the other at certain times and to make sure we each have opportunities to keep bonding with both of our children. We keep talking with each other about our needs and our kids’ needs so that we stay on the same page. Keeping the lines of communication open is how we keep as much of our sanity as possible and how we keep our kids from tearing our emotions apart. If we end up using some R-rated language here and there, but we keep ourselves together as a result, so be it.


1. The triggers for my outbursts usually involved bodily fluids getting all over me or an Eitan who just wouldn’t stop crying but I was really just expressing my frustration about feeling like I was a completely inept parent. I felt that way a lot, especially early on.

2. Shayna was still three months old when this happened.

Boys Need Attention Too

Dear Eitan,

I feel like I owe you an apology. Or, maybe, at least an explanation.

Your mom and I have been working really hard to make sure you’ve gotten enough attention over the last few months since Shayna was born and, to be honest, I actually think we’ve done a pretty good job. We’ve each taken you bowling by ourselves a few times, you and I went out for ice cream, your mom has gone swimming with you… I can’t remember everything. My playing with you every morning before I leave for work is somewhere on that list too. There have been times when we’ve been more successful than others, obviously – it’s always hard with a newborn in the house – but I think we’ve been okay overall.

I’ve been thinking about the ways that women are treated in our society a lot lately, especially with regard to parenting. I’ve noticed that I’ve been reading and sharing a lot of articles that have to do with empowering women and girls (or, at least, I feel like I have been). I’m sure that I’ve been taking more notice of these articles because of Shayna. I’ve always taken notice of these kinds of pieces but, since Shayna was born, I’ve found myself even more drawn to material that promotes women’s rights and helps women break through the obstacles Western culture places on them. You’re largely unaware of my social media presence at this point, since you’re four years old and are only starting to learn how to read, but you’ll have to take my word for it.

It’s always been important to me that you grow up respecting women and being aware of the privileges that are available to you as a male. I’ve written about this a few times, usually in terms of situations that arise with professional athletes.1 There are, unfortunately, still so many people in the world who seem to think that women don’t deserve to be able to speak for themselves about their own jobs, their personal space or their bodies. We, as men, need to make sure that we’re being upstanders, rather than bystanders, when issues like this come up.2 That doesn’t necessarily mean fighting women’s battles for them, because that’s not exactly helpful either, but it does mean being available and talking about these issues so that people become more aware of how ingrained some of these views are in our culture.

The “apology” comes up because I feel like I’ve been thinking a lot more about the things that your sister will encounter as she works to find her place in the world than I have about what will come up for you. It’s not that I’m worried about Shayna; at least, I don’t think I’m any more worried about her than any parent would be about their daughter. I do think, however, that I get so wrapped up in thinking about what it’s like to grow up as a girl in our culture that I sometimes forget that you’re going to encounter your own set of challenges.

Boys struggle with body image issues, self-esteem and other social pressures just as girls do, but boys tend to not receive the same type of support in dealing with those issues. It’s not that the support isn’t available; I tend to believe that quality counseling services are considerably more prevalent in most communities than they were even five or ten years ago (there’s even an app for that). The problem is that boys are conditioned to keep their feelings quiet and figure things out on their own, rather than ask for help, so they don’t pursue the help to begin with.3 Even if we won’t know for a few years how most of these issues are affecting you, I should be keeping these things in mind for both you and Shayna. It’s not fair for me to tell myself that you don’t need as much attention because you’re a male; if anything, I should probably be putting even more effort into maintaining open communication with you because you’re going to be getting the message from society that you should be keeping your problems to yourself.

That’s really the reason I’m writing. I want you to remember, as you grow, that there are going to be times when Shayna is going to get more attention than you or it’s going to seem like more focus is being put on her life because she’s a girl. But, even if that’s the case, your mom and I are not forgetting about you. We’re both here for you and we want to help you as much as we can, no matter what challenges come your way. Please keep us in the loop as you get older; we’ll keep asking what’s going on anyway, but we’re going to need you to keep us informed so we can figure out how to help. We hope you’ll always feel like you can trust us to be supportive and honest, no matter what struggles you’re facing.

That’s what we’re here for.

Love,

Daddy


1. For instance, there was this post about Greg Hardy and this one about Ray Rice and this one about the Cubs trading for Aroldis Chapman.

2. This language comes from Facing History and Ourselves, a program and teaching curriculum devoted to examining people’s behavior during the Holocaust and the connections to today’s world.

3. This is one of the reasons why girls might be more likely than boys to attempt suicide, but boys are four times more likely to die from suicide. Girls attempt suicide and (hopefully) get the help and attention they need; boys complete the attempt because they don’t believe help is available for them in the first place.