The Force Will Be With You… When You’re Older

Eitan loves Star Wars.

He has masks of Darth Vader and Captain Phasma that he uses when playing dress-up. When Trudy bought him new pairs of pajamas to wear to school for pajama day he chose the Darth Vader set over the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles set.1 He has a pre-reader book of Star Wars stories and loves pointing out Chewbacca, Han “Sola” and the “Stormtrippers.” He starts laughing anytime he sees C-3PO and R2-D2 and, once in a while, I’ll catch him glancing at the Yoda toy sitting on his dresser that he got from my father. When he was a baby, I would throw him up in the air while singing the Star Wars theme song and I would take his echoing toy microphone and say in my deepest voice, “Eitan… I am your father.”2 We recently had to hide his “light-savers” so he wouldn’t use them in the house because things like this kept happening:

 

There’s one little problem with Eitan’s love of Star Wars, though:

He’s never actually seen it.

Eitan hasn’t watched any of the movies. He hasn’t seen any of the television shows. He knows most of the names and characters but I don’t think he would recognize Luke Skywalker if twenty-year-old Mark Hammill walked into the room. I’m actually not even sure he would recognize the name Luke Skywalker because characters like Darth Vader and Chewbacca are marketed so much more frequently.

In fact, now that I think about it, I don’t even think Eitan knows what the Force is.

Most of this is by design, of course. I could have put Star Wars on for Eitan so he could watch it during any number of rainy days. The biggest reason I haven’t done so yet is because I think it would scare him. Chewbacca is a giant teddy bear at heart, but there are a bunch of aliens in the cantina on Tatooine that are not nearly as cuddly. Emperor Palpatine’s eyes and voice are incredibly creepy and Darth Vader… well, Vader is just terrifying. He’s strong, he’s dressed in black, you never see the face behind his mask and he appears to be unstoppable.

Aside from the fear factor is my hesitation about pushing Eitan’s interests in the direction of conflicts that are sometimes quite violent. The light saber fights are exciting and the special effects of the various gun fights are incredible to watch, especially as a child seeing them for the first time. The problem is that weapons, in real life, are incredibly dangerous and are specifically designed to cause harm to others. Even though Eitan has (unfortunately) had some experience with death and is old enough to understand the concept, at least in a basic sense, I worry about the idea of encouraging his interest in a movie so replete with acts of violence.

I should add, for the record, that my unease isn’t limited to Star Wars. I have the same concerns about pushing Eitan to become more interested in super heroes for the same reason. Eitan “likes” Batman and Superman the same way he likes Star Wars; he has some toys, clothes and books, but he doesn’t know too much of the characters’ backgrounds. Even if Eitan is well acquainted with character deaths from Disney movies – Frozen, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, take your pick – the idea of him becoming desensitized to shootings and sword fights just doesn’t sit well with me.

I realize that the desensitization is probably inevitable. Kids act out what they see on television and in movies, whether it’s Daniel Tiger learning coping skills, Blaze the Monster Truck speeding past volcanoes to teach fair play or super heroes fighting off bad guys. I suppose my hope is primarily that I can delay Eitan’s interest in guns so that he stays more of an innocent young child in my mind for at least a little longer before the negative influences of the rest of the world really start to creep in.

Look, Eitan will see Star Wars. It’s one of my all time favorite movies and I can’t wait to introduce Eitan to the stories and characters that I’ve loved since I was a child. The movies teach about magic, teamwork and a sense of wonder that I believe are so much more important than any references to violence, which is exactly how I will present the movies to Eitan. He is also finally getting to the age where I can really start sharing my interests with him in ways he can understand. I can tell he is looking forward to it, if only based on his enthusiasm for a movie he’s never seen and doesn’t even really understand. But I would rather wait another year or so, partially so that I can be more confident that the movie won’t scare Eitan too much, but also so that he understands more about the consequences of physical violence and the differences between fact and fiction.

 


1. Eitan made his choice fairly easily, but five-year-old me would have really grappled with that decision. Seven-year-old me would have had an even harder time.

2. I don’t do this anymore now. I’m scared he’s going to have that plot point spoiled for him before I can show him the movie and there’s no way I’m going to be the one to do it.

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.

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.

Watching What We Teach

I was on the subway on my way to work last week when two men near me began arguing.

I didn’t see how it started. Like so many other commuters, my attention was buried in my phone, split between a podcast and Candy Crush. I looked up when I heard the men raise their voices at each other and took out one of my ear buds so I could hear what they were saying. I was interested in the argument, but I also wanted to see if they would need to be separated or if I would need to move to another car. Listening to the argument turned out to be little help, as the men were both speaking Spanish, but from what I could gather, they had both gone to sit in the same seat and one man took offense at being pushed aside.

Despite their shared language, the two men appeared to be from very different walks of life. The man who had taken the seat had tan, pockmarked, weather-beaten skin and was wearing dark grey shorts and a black v-neck t-shirt. His black hair looked damp and somewhat stringy, though I couldn’t tell if it was wet from water, gel or sweat. The other man was wearing dark slacks and a neatly pressed white polo shirt. His skin was smooth and his hair had been carefully sculpted into place. Polo looked ten to fifteen years younger than Shorts, but I suppose the actual margin could have been smaller.

They yelled at each other for a few minutes. Shorts appeared defensive, but certainly aggressive, as he continually pointed his finger at Polo’s chest and asked, “What’s your problem?” Polo, meanwhile, spoke sternly but simply stood straight, rather than leaning into Shorts’ space. He used phrases like, “You can’t just do whatever you want,” and “You’re not the only person in the world,” as though he were Shorts’ parent.

Which made sense, since Polo’s son was standing next to him, watching the whole thing.

Polo’s son looked to be around eight or nine years old and was the spitting image of his father. He was wearing athletic clothes but he had his father’s face and signature hair part. I decided that Polo was upset because he had been hoping that he and his son could sit next to each other but that Shorts had sat down before them, perhaps bumping into one of them in the process. In that light, Polo seemed more like a protective father, rather than simply a disgruntled man on his way to work. That image was reinforced for me once the argument subsided, as Polo and Shorts sat down next to each other and Polo held his son on his lap.

As I watched the men argue, I listened to their exchange but watched Polo’s son. His expression never changed; his face remained blank, though I thought I saw a hint of fear in his eyes. He seemed to be waiting, as I was, for Shorts to push his father or throw a punch. The boy didn’t say anything; he simply stood dutifully next to his father, watching the two men yell at each other and waiting to see if he would have to defend his father.

I found myself trying to put myself inside the boy’s head to see what he was learning from watching his father. “When someone does something you don’t like, yelling at them is the best way to solve the problem.” “Don’t back down from an argument, no matter how aggressive the other person seems.” “Keep on driving your point home until the other person is convinced you’re right, even if he doesn’t seem to be listening anymore.” “Defend yourself and your family against any and all threats, no matter how trivial the offense.”

There are some positive lessons in there, to be sure. Standing up for one’s beliefs and maintaining personal dignity are lessons I would think any parent would want to pass on to their children. As I thought more about how I would have acted if one of my children had been with me, though, I kept picturing myself making a comment to the other person and then leaving to find another seat. Even if the other person tried to continue the conversation, I believe that my leaving the space and keeping my temper in check would have brought the other person’s anger down, as well. Hopefully, the issue would have been settled quickly and more quietly, without one of my children ever having to fear that I was about to get into a physical altercation.

And then, suddenly, as I was processing what I had seen and telling myself that I would have handled the situation better, I realized that I was projecting my own ideals onto these two men without having all of the information. Maybe Shorts had shoved Polo and his son out of the way. Maybe he had stepped on Polo’s son’s foot. Maybe Polo was angry because he genuinely thought his son could have been hurt, which would have made his reaction more justifiable. Plus, even if I was right that they had simply bumped into each other while looking for the same seat, the men spoke to each other, expressed themselves and then the argument was finished. Neither man became violent and they spoke calmly throughout the rest of the ride.

I know that my first instinct is to act protectively toward a child I see in a situation like this. It’s why I work in the children’s mental health field and has a lot to do with my identity as a father, as well. Even so, I have been working to maintain an awareness of the influence my background and my work experience have on my perception of my surroundings. Part of that means remembering that if I might do things a different way, it does not necessarily mean that my way is the “right” way. I still think that Polo probably should have walked away from Shorts, rather than continuing to argue, but I appreciated the fact that he prevented the argument from becoming physical, especially because his son was there. I also realize that different people, especially people from different backgrounds, can have different definitions for “yelling.”1

The key for us, as parents, is to keep in mind that our children are always watching us. They see how we react to every situation, both positive and negative, and they take notes. If we show affection and smile often and treat people with respect, our children will internalize those behaviors. If we throw tantrums whenever things don’t go our way, we can rest assured that our children will throw tantrums when they don’t get their way as well. If we keep a calm, stoic demeanor all the time and only become really animated when we’re watching sports, our kids will follow those examples too.2

I may not know what triggered the disagreement between Polo and Shorts. I may not even know exactly what lessons Polo’s son learned from watching it, though I think I have an idea. But I do know that parents always have to be careful about the lessons we are teaching our children, especially when we don’t even realize we are doing so.


1. Jerry Maguire illustrated this point beautifully in this scene.

2. Sound familiar, Yavelberg family?

“Daddy, I Don’t Love You!”

Well, I finally got mine this week.

I’ve heard that it happens to every parent. It’s really just a matter of time and there really isn’t anything you can do to stop it. You can set up the circumstances and plan as best you can, but even the most skilled veteran parents are going to get it at some point or another. I’ll admit, I don’t know that I expected it this early – is four years of parenthood even considered early? – but I figured it was coming sooner or later.

Last week, Eitan told me he didn’t love me.

Well, he didn’t exactly say it as much as he screamed it at my face. I was sitting at the foot of his bed and he was near the head. He was in the middle of a gigantic tantrum that involved him not getting what he wanted (more about that later). His face had gotten red and he had been yelling so loudly that he started coughing and dry heaving at one point. I tried to talk to him calmly to help him come down a bit but he ramped right back up and threw out the line like a 100 mile an hour fastball.

“Daddy, I don’t love you anymore! I love Mommy and Shayna but not you!”

I barely acknowledged it in the moment. I think I said, “That’s fine” and kept trying to calm him down. I didn’t show any anger or sadness; I really just tried to keep from rolling my eyes. As angry as Eitan was and as much as he was obviously trying to hurt my feelings, I would have hated to think that he would have felt even more invalidated by an outright dismissal of what he thought was a silver bullet. At least “That’s fine” shows that I heard him make the comment, even if I didn’t respond or throw back a return volley.

There were a few reasons I didn’t want to make a big deal about the comment. For one thing, I knew he didn’t mean it (at least, as much as one can “know” what another person is feeling). My interpretation was that Eitan was just really angry and that he was looking for a way to express his extreme displeasure with me and with the situation. I also knew that Eitan hadn’t quite matured to the point where he could differentiate between the feelings “like” and “love.” He said he didn’t love me but what I heard was, “I don’t like you right now because I’m angry with you.” Granted, hearing something different than what is said can be quite dangerous, especially in relationships, but I think it’s usually fairly safe in certain situations with young children. Plus, even if Eitan really did mean what he was saying in the moment, I was fairly confident that he and I would be able to move past the argument in time and that he would “love me again” later on.

Second, as I said earlier, I figured it was just a matter of time until Eitan told me he didn’t love me as part of an argument. Kids use these kinds of comments – I don’t love you, you don’t love me, you’re ruining my life, you’re a horrible parent, etc. – as tactics to deflect from the issue at hand and to elicit a reaction that will make their parent question their actions and, hopefully (from the child’s point of view), change their mind to give the child what they want. As a social worker with experience watching families throw all kinds of emotional barbs at each other, this was probably one of the lighter remarks I’d ever heard. Of course, it was different because it was a younger child and it was my son saying it to me, but it was still hardly the most awful thing I had ever heard a child say to a parent.

The last – and probably the most important – reason why I didn’t want to make too big a deal about Eitan’s comment is that the tantrum started largely because of my own mistakes as a parent. Eitan had wanted to look at pictures of toys on my phone and I said yes initially. Then he went to get his tablet to look at some YouTube videos of those toys on there instead and I said no. The videos he wanted to watch weren’t harmful or inappropriate for his age, but there was also no real value to them.1 So I said that he could not watch the videos and suggested that we play with his actual toys instead.

That moment where I said no, after having originally said yes, was the critical mistake. Part of the point of childhood is looking for an understanding of the world and structure is what helps kids do that. When the structure is inconsistent or unpredictable children react accordingly because they cannot figure out what is expected of them. If something is allowed at first but then immediately revoked, it is understandable that a child would get upset. Had I said no from the very start, Eitan might have still thrown a tantrum but I could have explained my reasoning more clearly at that point. It’s also possible that he might have allowed me to redirect him towards a different activity instead.

When I got home later that evening, Eitan was fine. He didn’t seem angry at all and didn’t bring up the argument from that morning. I brought it up to him before bed, though. I apologized for my part2 and also reminded him that he would not be watching those videos anymore, whether he was using a phone or a tablet or the computer. Eitan said that he understood, gave me a hug and a kiss and said that he loved me before falling asleep. And so we both moved on, at least until the next time Eitan decides that I’m ruining his life.

 


1. I know, on the one hand, it shouldn’t really matter. Eitan had just woken up a little while ago, he likes the videos and he was keeping himself occupied, so what’s the big deal? On the other hand, considering all of the things he could be watching, like actual television shows that provide educational content, for instance, I would rather not have him sit and use exactly zero brain power to watch other people play with children’s toys. It would be even better if he would actually play with his own toys in the first place, but that’s a different issue. The bottom line is that, if he’s going to be watching something to begin with, I want it to have some sort of value beyond just occupying my child’s time.

2. Eitan likely heard me say that the whole argument was my fault; that’s obviously not what I said, but remember what I said before about hearing something different than what people are saying? It happens all the time. It’s also important for Eitan to hear me apologize when I’ve made a mistake and to see me change the behavior in the future. That’s part of parenting too.

My Father’s Hands

My first distinct memory of my father’s hands is from when I was six or seven years old. There wasn’t anything remarkable about them; five fingers each, no marks on the skin or anything like that.1 They were just his hands.

I had been playing with Legos and had gotten two small pieces stuck together so tightly that my little fingers could not get them separated again. I remember thinking at the time that my mother would be the better person to ask for help. I should say, it was not because moms solve everything and a dad’s only purpose is to be able to tell his child where mom is, as some internet memes might have you believe.2 No, it was much more practical than that. At that age, I understood that I needed something small to get between my two Lego pieces and my mom had something my dad did not: nails.

In any event, my mother wasn’t around at that moment so I went to my father instead. I remember watching him try to separate the Lego pieces with his short, recently cut nails and thinking, “Well, this is never going to work.” But, lo and behold, my father’s fingers were able to pull the pieces apart just enough that he was able to get even his shortened thumbnail in between to pry the pieces apart so I could keep playing.

* * * * *

I was sitting next to my father in synagogue on a Shabbat morning when I was in early high school. We used to play games with our hands when we were bored, like the typical Slaps3 or Thumb-Wars, but on this morning, he and I were just sitting. His hand was resting on one of the books and I put my hand next to his to see how much closer my hands had become to matching the size of his. He shifted position to make room for me and he and I looked at our hands side-by-side.

“That’s amazing,” he said. I remember the genuine surprise in his voice. “They’re the exact same hands.”

He was right. My hands were smaller, obviously; palm to palm, my fingertips barely reached the crease of the last knuckle on his fingers. My father’s hand was also… fleshier, I suppose, which is to be expected from a man thirty years older than me. But the skin complexions were a perfect match and so were the shapes of our palms. Even the small hairs that had begun growing on the backs of my hands followed the same pattern.

My hands were his hands, just on a smaller scale.

* * * * *

It was one night last week when I noticed it again. Shayna had just finished nursing and Trudy and I were ready to put her down for the night, except she woke up while I was swaddling her and took a little while to get back to sleep. I had her cradled in the crook of my left arm, rocking her softly as I paced back and forth through the living room. Once she fell asleep, I rocked her for a few more minutes, just to be sure, and then prepared to put her down into her bassinet.

I made my way into the bedroom as quietly as I could, so as not to disturb the sleeping baby in my arm or my sleeping wife on the bed. I turned on the flashlight app on my phone and angled it toward the wall so that there was enough light for me to see but not so much that it would wake anyone up. I did my best Indiana Jones impression as I lowered Shayna into her bassinet and placed my hand flat on her torso. She flinched ever so slightly when I put her down but relaxed right away once she felt my hand.4

That was when I saw it. The hand on Shayna’s stomach, visible through the pale glow of my cell phone flashlight, was my father’s. The outline, the shapes of the nails, the complexion of the skin, everything about it was the same as my father’s hands.

I smiled.

I’ve been noticing more and more indicators that I’m slowly, but surely, turning into my father. There are words and phrases that I hear myself using; the ratio of salt-to-pepper in my hair that seems to be growing daily; and now, my hands. Each of them are reminders of my upbringing, both in terms of nature and nurture. And, while it’s certainly an eerie feeling when I hear my father’s words coming out of my mouth, it’s also comforting to know that someone I admire is so much a part of me.


1. No, my father is not Antonio Alfonseca.

2. This one is pretty basic, but still… ugh.

3. Everyone knows Slaps. It’s the game where one person holds their hands out, palms facing up and the other puts their hands out over the first pair. The person on the bottom tries to slap the other person’s hands before the other person can get their hands out of the way.

4. Trudy taught me this technique when Eitan was born. I remember being shocked that something as simple as putting my hand on a baby’s torso would help the baby relax.

Dear Shayna

Dear Shayna,

I wrote a letter to you a few weeks ago, but that was before I knew you were you. It was before I knew you were a girl, for one thing, although your brother was adamant that he knew you were. It was also before I remembered what it was like to have an infant around. I had forgotten about doing my best to find things in the dark so I wouldn’t wake your mother up while I was changing your diaper in the middle of the night. I’d forgotten about the Zombie Parent Shuffle, the dance steps that exhausted parents do as they pace back and forth while trying to rock their newborns back to sleep. I’d forgotten how quickly dirty laundry adds up and how frequently newborns need their diapers to be changed (seriously, turn off the faucet, would you?).

In any event, now that you’re here, I wanted to write you your first official letter. As I’m writing this, you’re five days shy of your one-month birthday. You haven’t been around for very long but you’ve already changed so much. You’re a pound and a half heavier than you were when you were born and you take up significantly more space in the bassinet than you did when we first brought you home. Your mom and I are actually a little bit nervous because we were hoping that the bassinet would buy us more time before you would start sharing a room with your brother, but we may have to make that switch a little sooner than expected. You’re alert1 and focused and learning new things every day. And, most importantly for your mom and me, you’re only waking up once at night to eat, which we really appreciate.

I mentioned in the last letter that I was a little nervous about the fact that I didn’t feel the same sort of connection with you that I did with Eitan before he was born. I can say that, in the short time I’ve had to get to know you, I’m already feeling better about those nerves. I’m sure it has something to do with me putting in the effort to be there to change your diapers and rock you to sleep at night, but I think the fact that you’re such an easygoing baby helps a lot too. It’s a weird thing about being a parent: you haven’t been around for very long, but I already have trouble picturing a time when you weren’t around. I smile whenever I see you and the warmth I get from feeling you sleeping on my shoulder or in my arm helps melt away any sort of muscle soreness that might try to creep in.

I should warn you: it’s a weird world you’re coming into. Everyone has gone a little crazy, especially over the last few months, since it’s an election year. Civil disagreement and debate seem to have been killed off and replaced by yelling and outrage and name calling. Also, women have been making progress in improving their station in society, but things are far from perfect. You’re going to be fine, I’m sure, but you’re going to have to deal with some struggles that your brother won’t even have to think about. I know it’s not fair, but that’s another warning: life rarely is.

That being said, you also have a lot to look forward to. You have a brother who is so eager to play with you that he lies down with you on your play mat and shows you all of his toys. You have parents who will do whatever it takes to make sure that you feel loved and that your needs are met. And you have an extended family that adores you and will always be there to support you. You’re never going to be short on allies, which is not always the case nowadays.

I’m not going to go on and on about my hopes and dreams for you. You’re going to have enough things to worry about growing up in this day and age, like navigating the increasingly tricky world of social media and handling various other societal pressures, so I don’t want to tack on additional expectations. I just hope that you’ll be able to find your place in the world and maybe disrupt a few things along the way. If you turn out anything like your mom, you’re going to be a force to be reckoned with, wherever you go. That’s a good thing; it means you’ll be strong, assertive and that you’ll never be afraid to advocate for yourself. That’s about as much as I could ask for from a daughter.

Welcome to the world, Shayna. We’re so happy to have you.

Love,

Daddy


1. Be alert; the world needs more lerts. Hashtag dad jokes. (Ugh, I’m sorry, kid; you’re doomed.)