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.

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