fatherhood

Putting my toys/ties away

Yesterday, I bundled up 200 ties, some freshly pressed with the drycleaning tag still on, and put them way in the back of the storage closet: behind the still-boxed baby-swing, behind the retired stereo equipment, even behind the Talmud set I haven’t looked at in fifteen years. I’m on family leave from work until August, and with a baby on the way (and with no rational justification to have 200 ties occupying valuable shelf real-estate) it became clear that the ties had to say goodbye.

Doing this felt at once uncanny and yet resonant, the way something feels when you’ve done it before — but rarely. It didn’t take long to place it: I was feeling the bittersweet resolution that always comes with putting away old toys.

fortress

No one needs a two foot tall, hundred dollar transforming robot. Unless it can cook good omelettes.

By “old toys,” I mean both actual and figurative. As a kid, I collected things: Pac-Man paraphernalia, video games, even something called Mad Balls. Don’t ask about that one. The magnum-opus of all my collections was my Transformers armada. My Grandpa bought me my first Transformer, in 1984. Five years later, I was still collecting them. The last Transformer I purchased was the largest and most expensive;  $100 of my bar-mitzvah money bagged me Fortress Maximus, two feet tall.  It was almost as if the absurdity of this purchase collided with the reality of my being, now, a high-school student. None of it computed, so, a few months after I bought the biggest and best Transformer of all time, my entire 200+ piece collection went to live in a the crawlspace of a walk-in closet, never again to emerge, except for a few moments of detached nostalgia when Gabi and I visit my parents in Milwaukee.

 

madballs

Maybe not the best use of my allowance.

The banishment of the Transformers from my room was different from other collections relegated to shoe-boxes and shoved into the basement. Old, obsolete video games gave way to newer, better video games with no tears shed: the cartridges had no intrinsic value. And as cool as Madballs were (not very), I simply grew bored of them. I was happy not to have to look at them any longer.

 

turtle

Transformers helped me through my green period.

Transformers were different: they’d been a constant presence throughout my childhood. In fourth grade, they were common gifts at birthday parties. In fifth grade, my best friend Joe and I ignited a new phase of our friendship coinciding with his acquisition of an evil dump-truck Constructicon. In sixth and seventh grades, I was more secretive about my collection, but they distracted me through an extraordinarily challenging two year period. As an eighth-grader, putting Optimus Prime in a box meant becoming something new, and no longer being what I had been, forever: a little kid.

 

toys

I never outgrew my interest in toys.

Thirty years later, I remain remarkably consistent in my approach to collecting things. I’ve collected Thom Browne/Black Fleece shirts and ties for about as many years as I once collected Transformers. I still tend to fixate and “nerd-out” on whatever I collect: here’s a piece I wrote exploring Thom Browne, Pee-Wee Herman and a kids’ show comedian from the 40’s named Pinky Lee. My ties were carefully arranged in my closet, in a way any collector would find familiar. I have my favorites, those which get a lot of use, and others so favorite I use them sparingly lest some horrible tragedy befall them. I also have a few that I’m not crazy about, but I project some sort of pathos onto them, and I use them periodically so they won’t feel neglected. I was the exact same way with my Transformers. And now, they all live in the back of the storage-closet, behind the Baby Swing box.

 

It’s not exactly the same situation: my toys went away forever. My ties are going away only temporarily; my sartorial inclinations be relevant to my life, once again, come August and the new school year. By then, however, Gabi and I will have gone through  transformations of our own: from expecting parents to bona fide beginners to bumbling novices. In that sense, there is no real return to the collections we once knew and loved. The ties will come out of deep-freeze, and they will be the same, but I will be transformed, in ways both apparent to all, and I’m certain,  more than meet the eye.

 

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A Letter to My Daughter (On the Occasion of Almost Being Born)

Dear Daughter,

little seater

This is the first letter I have ever written to you. This may also be the first letter you have ever received. One day, you will read this and it will seem weird to both of us that you are only about twenty feet away from me right now, as I sit here in my blue chair, and yet, you exist in a plane of existence I cannot comprehend, closer to the stars than to this living room. By the time you read this, you, too, will no longer understand who or what you once were, now, in this particular moment. You and I will have a lot more in common on that day than we do on this day.

Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play
Dear Prudence, greet the brand new day
The sun is up, the sky is blue
It’s beautiful and so are you
Dear Prudence won’t you come out to play

People keep asking me: are you ready?

I am prepared, but I can’t be ready. Looking back, much of my life seems to have been set in place to prepare me for you, but ultimately, in this moment, I can no more  relate to being your father than you will one day relate to once being an unborn. It seems impossible, on the other side of some shimmering veil, and yet, so very clearly true. For the most important things in our lives, we can prepare — but we should not expect to be ready.

grandma made thi

Your grandmother made this for me when I was tiny. I spent many sunny mornings pondering its mysteries.

Though we are as different as two humans can be, we have some things in common. We’ve both been eating your mother’s excellent cooking: you, for your entire, gossamer life. Me, for my last (and best) 6 years. It is Passover, so I hope you enjoyed the matzo-ball soup last night. I ate it too, and yeah, it was really, really good. I choose to express my pleasure verbally, and you do it by kicking your mother in the bladder, but, same idea. (BTW, tonight, we’re having Shabbat brisket.)

Also, we have both been listening to the Beatles. I’m not sure what Dear Prudence sounds like when it’s piped into your glorious sensory deprivation chamber, but hopefully, George’s cool guitar part and Paul’s bass line came through to you, even if the words may have been garbled in transmission:

Dear Prudence open up your eyes
Dear Prudence see the sunny skies
The wind is low the birds will sing
That you are part of everything
Dear Prudence won’t you open up your eyes?

I’ve been told that the relationship between a father and a daughter is a unique and magical one. I’m excited to explore this, but I’m nervous, too. I’ve never been a girl, myself. And as a boy, most of my friends, (and your uncle, too) were boys. I was surrounded by boys  well into my teenage years. I wonder: will I be able to translate your young experiences into my own boy-memories? Will I be able to offer you wisdom and guidance, relevant and helpful for you, from my limited male perspective? Will you sometimes think I am the biggest idiot on the planet?

I suppose the answer to all these questions is: yes.

femaleThis is a noteworthy time to be born a girl in America. Lots of us are angry about the messages that our leaders and our media send out about what a woman is and what a woman isn’t. The reality is that, in the company of other strong women, and in solidarity with men who want the world to be a better place, you will raise your own fist/sign/flag against the system that probably will still be suggesting that you’re the other-gender. You won’t do this alone. At some point, not long from now, your mother will take a picture of you at a march or a protest. You’ll be surrounded by countless others, fighting for the same change. You’ll be sitting on my shoulders.
Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play
Dear Prudence, greet the brand new day
The sun is up, the sky is blue
It’s beautiful and so are you
Dear Prudence won’t you come out to play

As you grow up, you may discover that you like Kung-Fu or foraging for mushrooms or power-tools or electric guitar. You might decide to study organic chemistry or Czech female film producers of the early 20th century. You might become a Rabbi or a priestess or an agnostic who deep down knows that the Goddess loves her. You might decide that you want to marry a man who reminds you a little of your father, or than you want to marry a woman who is nothing like your father.

No matter what happens, who you become, and who you are, I will make it abundantly clear that one thing you can know for sure: your father loves you.

See you in a few days.

Love,

Dad