fatherhood

Cutting Off the Tags

We all have quirks: the way we hike up our pants, the way we frequently forget the third button, the way we inspect some delicacy we’re eating as if to reveal the true mysteries of yumminess.

I have a few quirks of my own (all of the above and about a thousand more). Here’s another: sometimes, I don’t remove the tags. Case in point, I finally banished a threadbare wool vest to Goodwill and I had to remove the tag before I chucked it in the bin. I’ve had the thing since 1997. Here’s another: I have ties which I wear on the regular, and when I do, I have to tuck away their tags so they don’t peek out.

Why don’t I just cut the damn things off?

farangae

Ah, Three-Years-Ago-Me. So young and so foolish.

Three years ago, in the final days before I turned 40, I drew a three part comic-strip, sending off my 30s.  I borrowed imagery from the sequel to Madeline L’Engel’s A Wrinkle In Time, called A Wind in the Door. Like the main character in the book, I was at the epicenter of a battle between two forces: one force pressing backwards, wanting to remain zippy, unrooted, and uncommitted. The other force pressed me onwards to evolve, to put down roots. In Madeline L’Engels’s book, putting down roots is necessary for the organism’s survival. So too with me. None of my backwards-looking had to do with who I was in a marriage-bound relationship with (the best person ever) or whether I was actually happy where I was going (very much so). All of it had to do with my irrational, age-old desire to “keep the tags on.”

Like insecticide and fungicide, the “cide” in “decide” means to kill something. In this case, killing options, killing the past. And for many people, myself included, that’s scary, even when the old options aren’t actually desired. In my case, I was thrilled to be moving forward in my life with Gabi, but hosing down my “carefree 30s” with fungicide presented certain irrational challenges.

No surprise, I’ve been thrilled with how I’ve melted into my 40s. And I love being rooted and married. And yet, with the birth of my daughter, my issue with tags has crept up in some funny ways.

As  Gabi and I prepared for our baby’s day of birth, I was keenly aware of the fact that one of the only truly permanent changes in life was barrelling my way. I would soon be a Dad, and there was no undoing that. Once the baby was born, (a moment Gabi and I described as stepping into a time machine), in an instant, I knew I’d become something I’d always wanted to be. My roots would be forever sunk into the soil of my very much committed future.

I believe that we can not vanquish the ghosts from our pasts, for once and for all. That’s neither a realistic nor a healthy way to grow and evolve. Rather, we find ways to put these ghosts in their places. In my case, I will continue to choose to allow Life to sweep me forward and find adaptive ways to let my quirk express itself. I’m still me. I don’t want to go backwards. But I haven’t stopped craving ways of keeping things unknown, unwritten, unrevealed, and mysterious – even (or especially) as my future comes into focus — as I make better and better friends with permanency.

upclosetags3

Two important tags: A) the little plastic clamp that pinched my daughter’s lifeline from the Mother-Ship. B) the tag from the backpack Gabi and I used to bring our gear to the hospital. My mother-in-law made me cut the tag.

The first quirk of post-birth tag-preservation came in the form of my daughter’s umbilical stump. After I cut the cord, moments after my daughter emerged into this world, a tiny plastic clamp pinched her lifeline to her 9 month lifeboat. In a week, my wife and I were told, the stump of tissue would fall off. Which lead me to an obvious and pressing question.

Q: What does one do with the ultimate tag of a human life?

A: We’re not sure. Some day, Gabi and I may bury it, perhaps as part of a ritual of our own design.

The second tag comes in the form of a name. The day after the baby’s birth, I held in my hand an official-looking piece of paper, instructing me to print my new baby’s name in block letters. In an ancient and familiar way, I hesitated to put pen to paper. I procrastinated from hour to hour and day to day. There seemed to be no perfect moment to make a mark that will last forever.

Eventually, I did. One quiet hour, I wrote the baby’s name, and handed the clipboard over to a clerk who brought that little swash of ink into eternity. Eight days later, at a Jewish naming ceremony, my daughter’s name was revealed to all the world.

Her English name was decided upon, declared to all. As for her Hebrew name, there’s a catch. Her Hebrew name, Malka, means “Queen.” And though it’s customary to give babies a hyphenated Hebrew name, Gabi and I decided not to pick her second Hebrew name. One day, Anna will decide, for herself, what she aspires to be the Queen of.

Let the past be the past. Let the future be unknown. And when the time is right, let Anna Mari cut off her own tag.

 

 

 

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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.

 

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