Learning On the Job

I always knew I wanted to have children.

Part of it is that, when I was younger, I just assumed that was the natural course of life. All of the adults I knew had children, largely because all of the adults I knew were either my friends’ parents or my cousins’ parents. Growing up, getting married and having children was just what people did, at least through my young child eyes.

Not much changed as I got older. I always seemed to
get along well with children, whether they were my
young cousins or my friends’ Yavelberg kidsyounger siblings and, aside from some occasional sibling mischief, I’ve always felt protective of my two younger brothers. For instance, one brother and I once got separated from our parents at a museum when we were very young (five and two, six and three, something like that) and I remember sitting and hugging him in the corner of a hallway and telling him everything was going to be fine. (Our parents found us very soon afterwards.) In retrospect, my parental impulses were already developing steadily.

I never really knew why I wanted to have children, though. I knew I liked kids; I knew that I enjoyed telling stories, making funny faces and playing games with them. I knew I liked teaching, which came in handy when I was a camp counselor during my college summers. And I knew I liked listening to children tell their own stories, which has been even more helpful as a social worker. But still, even though I liked being around and working with children, I never knew quite why I wanted to have children of my own.

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Then, five years ago, my son was born. I remember being so astounded that my wife and I had actually created this little pink mush of skin and hair. In the minutes after he was born, I found myself repeating, “Holy crap, it’s a baby!”1 Even though I knew, rationally, that a baby was coming at the end of the pregnancy, I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around the idea that “baby” and “this new helpless life form in my arms” were the same thing. One moment, I was Aaron; the next, I was Daddy. I had become a father.

And yet, not quite.

Sure, I had become a father in the biological sense. I had passed on my genetic code to my offspring, thus fulfilling nature’s directive that the existence of the species will continue in the form of another young child playing with his earlobes and making fart jokes.2 But, as far as becoming a dad was concerned, I had so much more to learn.

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I want to see the genetic code that led to this…

I did learn. I learned the straightforward things, like changing diapers, cutting nails (sort of) and packing bags for day trips. I learned how to install car seats, assemble strollers and how to make it through twenty-four hours of flying with a toddler. And I learned the more complicated things, like trying to rock my children back to sleep without waking their mother, watching my son use a nebulizer and having difficult conversations. I learned about the struggle between balancing time at work, time with my wife and time with my kids.

I learned that there is no stronger feeling of guilt than realizing you have put your child in a dangerous situation. And I learned that there is no better feeling than when your baby lays her head on your shoulder.

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I’m thankful that my children have taught me so much about being a better parent, a better husband and a better person, in general. Dads like the ones in the video below don’t always start out that way; it takes a lot of work to learn to be a good father. I’m thankful that I’ve had fantastic teachers who give me new opportunities to learn every day.

I have partnered with Life of Dad and Pampers for this promotion. Use the hashtag #ThanksBaby across all social media platforms to honor dads all over the world for Father’s Day. Also, check in on Twitter at 8 p.m. Saturday, June 17, for a one-hour #ThanksBaby chat with Pampers and Life of Dad, with a chance to win a $250 Visa gift card.


1. My wife, who was nearby getting cleaned up and starting her recovery from the birth, finally said to me, “Well, what did you think it was going to be?”

2. Mission accomplished. Just wait until Shayna starts doing it.

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Peace

It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, the picture is worth just over 450. For day three of the week, I thought I’d try something a little different from my usual essays. I’d love to hear what you think, positive, negative or anywhere in the middle. Enjoy!


 

A soft breeze drifts through the backyard, drawing a slight rustle from the leaves in the neighbors’ trees. The trees that used to tower above the yard, whose leafy tendrils had formed a canopy that practically blocked out the sun entirely, have been felled. One massive stump is now a work table, currently holding smaller blocks of wood whose future use has yet to be determined. The other two still reach about ten feet high but their branches have been replaced by a single wooden beam that crosses the space between them. A swing hangs down in the middle, a trapeze and pair of rings to its left.

The sounds of conversation fill the air. The talk is of dresses, dates and venues, new employment opportunities, the logistics of moving to new houses and the various adventures that are still to come. The chatter is interrupted periodically by the soft thwack of a ball hitting leather. Two young men stand apart, tossing a ball back and forth between them, while a third stands nearby and only occasionally makes a throw because he does not have his glove. The family resemblance is plain. They share the same high cheekbones and broad grins. The mischievous twinkles in their eyes. The soft-spoken confidence and implicit trust in each other.

The eldest, standing apart without his glove, mentions having developed the yips from not having played catch in years and promptly bounces a throw five feet in front of his brother. His brother leaps to catch the next throw, which sails over his outstretched glove. The eldest apologizes again and gradually works into a rhythm. Their father, watching nearby, asks about his middle son’s current opportunities to play, which leads to a discussion of the Cubs’ poor performance and the defense of front office moves targeted toward long-term success. The consistent thwack continues.

A young boy shouts, “Da-dee!” and runs over to the eldest gleefully, latching onto his father’s leg with a tight hug. His father runs his hand over the boy’s hair and rubs his back. The boy then shifts his attention to his uncles, points his finger and demands, “Ball!” The youngest brother picks up a nearby tennis ball, lowers himself to a crouch, instructs the toddler to put his hands out and tosses the ball softly. The boy fumbles the catch but picks up the ball and lofts it just over his uncle’s shoulder. The group applauds and the boy’s face is lit up with his smile. The suggestion is made that the males should all gather for a picture. The brothers and their father gather close together and the toddler climbs up into his father’s arms. The boy’s mother counts to three and the same broad grin makes its presence known in all five faces.

 

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Post-Father’s Day Thoughts

It’s been an eventful week for my family. My dad was in town last week, Eitan’s second birthday party was on Saturday, Father’s Day was on Sunday and there’s more going on this week too. There has been a lot going on in my head so I’m going to try to make sense of it all in separate blog posts each day this week. The posts may be a bit shorter as a result, but there will be more of them, so I suppose it evens out. As always, any sort of feedback is always welcome.


Father’s Day is a weird day.

I wrote about Father’s Day last week, but now that the day has actually passed, I’ve had some more time to think about it. I understand the general premise of the day; as important as it is to appreciate the people we love all year round, it’s nice to take one specific day and designate it just for those people. Birthdays are like that too, obviously, but days like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day celebrate the effort that goes into the “hardest jobs in the world.”

I say it’s a weird day because Father’s Day has so many different meanings for different people. For people who have – or had – positive relationships with their parents, the day serves its intended purpose of celebrating the people who are most important to us and recognizing the work that they put in to help us achieve our goals. But there are also those people who have not been fortunate enough to grow up with a positive father figure, for whatever reason. I’m thinking of kids whose fathers have struggled with substance abuse, kids in foster care and kids who have been raised by single mothers, just to name a few. I’m not taking anything away from the incredible work that the caregivers of these kids do; I’m simply thinking about the fact that there wasn’t a father involved. And I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be a parent who has lost a child when Father’s Day comes around. For these people, doesn’t Father’s Day just become another (sometimes traumatic) reminder of what separates them from the rest of American society?

Look, I know it’s not up to me to solve everyone’s problems and to make things better for every person in the world. I’m not saying we should do away with Father’s Day entirely.1 I do what I can for the people I can help and I’m satisfied with that. As Pirkei Avot teaches, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” I came to terms with my struggles with the Jesus Complex2 a long time ago (during a conversation with my father, not-so-coincidentally). But there were different points yesterday, whether I was playing catch with Eitan and my brothers and father, or pushing him on the swing in my wife’s cousins’ backyard, or this morning, when Eitan wouldn’t let me leave for work without sitting with him at his kiddie table while he ate breakfast, when my mind drifted a bit and I remembered just how lucky I am.

I hope you were able to enjoy Father’s Day. I certainly did.


1. Although, I suppose there could be worse things, despite this committee’s apparent sole purpose.
2. Because I wanted to save everyone, not because I actually believed I was the Messiah.

Happy Father’s Day

I don’t ask for things very often.

I don’t mean I don’t ask for help often. It’s also true that I don’t ask for help, even when the rational side of my brain knows that doing so will make my life easier, but that’s a different discussion for another blog post. I mean that I don’t ask for things. Hanukkah, anniversary, birthday… You name the special occasion, I still don’t ask for anything. My wife will tell you that her least favorite question to ask me is, “What do you want for ________?” because my answer is invariably, “I don’t know.”1

I get too wrapped up in practicality most of the time. I don’t ask for sports jerseys because I don’t know when I would wear them. I don’t ask for memorabilia because it would just sit on display somewhere. I don’t ask for music because I just buy it myself. I don’t ask for clothes because I don’t really need any. I know that the point of a gift is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be practical; gifts are supposed to be more about “want” than “need.”2 But I still don’t ask.

Part of the issue is that I have trouble seeing myself as deserving of special attention. People thank me for doing something or compliment me about something else, and I minimize my role by saying things like, “You don’t have to thank me,” or “It’s just part of the job.” Why should you thank me for doing something I was expected to do anyway? I’ve gotten much better in recent years about just saying, “Thank you” when someone offers me a compliment but there’s still an awkward feeling inside me whenever it happens. It’s easier when I’m being recognized for a job well done but for gifts, even for special occasions, it’s like I feel guilty for accepting something I haven’t earned. The thing I’ve come to realize about parenthood is that nobody really knows anything about the “right way” to do things; at the end of the day, we’re all just doing our best and that’s worth celebrating (and accepting any praise that comes my way).

I was thinking about this over the last few days because Father’s Day is coming up on Sunday. Perhaps you noticed the sudden flood of pro-dad television commercials and internet articles. Some members of the dad blogger community are quick to point out that it would be nice to see dads get credit for their hard work as parents throughout the year, as many moms are recognized even when Mother’s Day isn’t around the corner.3 Others take a different side, choosing to appreciate the progress that’s been made rather than focusing on how much there is left to do. I probably lean more towards the latter position, although I’ll admit that I’ve become much more aware of mom-specific advertising campaigns (as opposed to those targeted to parents) in the last two years.4 If you haven’t noticed the shift, it’s something to think about.

Regardless, I started thinking about Father’s Day gifts when I heard someone refer to the day as “Happy Tie Day,” implying that the only things fathers ever get on Father’s Day are ties. It was an innocuous comment but a disappointing moment for me, as I had thought that we, as a society, had moved far beyond the idea that a dad’s purpose is simply to provide for his family, as opposed to being an active participant in family life. I realize that some dads still fit that mold, avoiding involvement in their kids’ lives and shirking any parental responsibilities. If you know a dad like this, by all means, buy him a tie. But so many dads have taken the opposite route, capitalizing on every opportunity available to prepare their kids’ lunches, do amazing crafts or just find ways to communicate with their children. If the dad you know falls into this category, someone who demonstrates what it means to be a positive male role model and finds ways to connect with his children whenever he can, consider getting him something a little more meaningful. He might feel weird asking for it and he might tell you that you didn’t have to get him anything, but I’d bet he’ll appreciate it more than he can say.

Happy Father’s Day everyone.


1. Incidentally, a very close second on the list is, “Do you remember where the __________ is?” That answer usually ends up being some variation of “No.”
2. Lone Star and Princess Vespa from Spaceballs had the all-time best exchange ever in the need vs. want lesson.
3. Remember this Olympics commercial?
4. If you’re interested in reading more about this, Zach Rosenberg of 8-Bit Dad does an excellent job keeping track of these kinds of things.