A Portrait of the Artist As an Old(er) Man

I got checked out by a woman when I went out a couple weekends ago.

Hang on, it’s not what you think.

It was around 9:30 on Saturday evening. I wouldn’t say that the streets were packed, but it seemed like a busy evening. There were groups of people milling about outside the restaurants and more making their ways through the streets, plus a few who seemed to just be standing and listening to the music echoing from the concert at the stadium nearby. I had stopped at an intersection to wait for the light to change when she walked by.

She looked to be in her early 20s. She had done her hair and was wearing a dark jacket and jeans. I had been watching the oncoming traffic when I heard her heels clacking against the sidewalk. I looked up just in time to see her smile and quickly return her attention to watching herself in her phone as she ran her fingers through her hair.

Actually, it was really more of a smirk than a smile.

The differences between us couldn’t have been clearer. She was talking to someone on the phone as she walked; I was standing alone. She was going “out;” I was going to Target. She was young, I was old (…er). She had clearly put effort into her appearance; I was wearing this:


I’m fairly certain I’ve had these exact clothes since I was in college.

She wasn’t checking me out because she thought I was attractive; she was laughing at me.

Before I go any further, let me be very clear: I was not insulted. I remember being 20-something and feeling like the world was at my fingertips. That’s how 20-somethings are supposed to feel. They are supposed to think that the world is full of possibilities and that they are at the center of it all. They are supposed to think, at least to a certain degree, that they know everything; at least, certainly more than anyone who is old (…er!) or who doesn’t fit into their social circle.

There I was, standing on a street corner, two days shy of my 34th birthday, with two finally sleeping children and an exhausted wife at home. I looked less like an gainfully employed adult supporting a family than I did like a college student taking out the garbage in the hallway of his dorm.

I found myself asking two questions. The first, obviously, had to do with what other people were thinking as I walked by. My feelings were clear: I was under-dressed to even be making a quick run to CVS, let alone moving among people who were out for a night on the town. I felt conspicuous, as though every person who saw me was immediately thinking of some sort of judgment about me. “Look at that guy,” I could practically hear them saying to their friends. “He’s got the drawstrings hanging out of the front of his shorts, he’s wearing flip-flops in 50-degree weather and he’s probably had that sweatshirt since he was actually in college. That must have been like twenty years ago.”1 My usual impulse to play the contrarian role seemed to have less will behind it on that particular evening.

The second was, “Why should I care what they’re thinking?” By most typical measures of success in life,2 I have it made. As I mentioned, I had two beautiful sleeping children and an unbelievable wife – who was not yet sleeping – at home. I have multiple jobs, including a private therapy practice, a post-graduate education and a savings account. What do I have to feel uncomfortable about? Am I really that insecure or was I just temporarily yearning for the times when I was young(…er)?

I decided that what I was feeling was normal. I imagine that, to a certain extent, everyone longs for a time when they had fewer responsibilities and had the luxury of putting their effort into spending time with their friends or going to parties instead of making late night runs to the drug store. On a more basic level, I imagine that many adults at least think about the difference between first going out at 9:30 at night and having been wearing one’s pajamas for twenty minutes by the time 9:30 comes. It wasn’t about the girl or my clothes or the fact that my glasses and the stubble on my face from not having shaved combined to spell “exhaustion” across my forehead. It was about being reminded of where I am in my life and being happy with what I have.

I’m thankful for the fact that I’m employed, even if it feels like the work never ends. I appreciate the fact that I’m able to support my family financially so that my wife can stay home with our children. I’m lucky to have access to resources and the awareness that I’m significantly privileged so that Trudy and I can impart the same awareness to our kids as they get older. There are some challenges in my life, to be sure, but they’re not nearly as severe as those than many other people face on a daily basis. I wouldn’t change a thing.

1. I finished my bachelor’s degree in 2005. It was twelve years ago.

2. Including The Game of Life, where the very object of the game is to get married, raise a family, make a whole bunch of money and retire. This game may end up being the subject of a future blog post.

What It Means to be Adopted

Contrary to what the website says, this post was written by my wife, Trudy, in honor of her 30th birthday. Enjoy!

Fact: I am a woman. Fact: I am a wife, mother and daughter. Fact: I am a friend. Fact: Today is my 30th birthday.

Fact: I am adopted.

No, I am not playing a joke on you. I am, in fact, adopted.

I’m not quite sure why the first reaction people have when they hear I am adopted is that they think I’m lying or just messing around. For some reason, people find adoption to be one thing in life that people speak about but that you can never really be sure if the person is telling the truth. Thirty years after being adopted, I still get these reactions. They differed when I was younger; most questions people had for me were related to who my “real” parents were or if I could go back to them whenever I wanted. They wanted to know if it was strange living with people who aren’t my parents and what I call “them.”

My favorite was always, “Why were you given up?”

The other comment that always annoyed me – and my parents – was when people would compare adoption to grocery shopping, as though my parents went to the store, picked me out and brought me home. Oh, and if they were not satisfied, I could be returned for a full refund.

For me, being adopted has been the most positive thing in my life. It has truly shaped the person I am today. It has been the topic of all of my college and graduate school essays. It comes up at doctors visits. It’s why my mom and I chuckle when a stranger says we look alike and it’s the issue that always arises around my birthday. For as long as I can remember, I was read books about adoption (there was even a Sesame Street one!). We talked about adoption and we embraced adoption. Sure, I wonder from time to time who my biological family is, and what my life would have been like if I had not been given up for adoption. But then I look around and see the wonderful life I have and I forget about my questions.

Today is my 30th birthday but so is August 21st. My parents always made a big deal about both days. I always loved being celebrated on both days, but I didn’t fully understand why until I reached my teen years. The awesome thing about being adopted is that I get to celebrate two birthdays: the day I was actually born and the day my parents brought me home.

My parents and I speak often about my adoption. My mom tells me stories about how she never cleaned the house as much as the night before the social worker was scheduled to come for her home visit. She tells stories about how she and my father had twenty-four hours notice that they were going to be parents. How my grandma and grandpa (Papa Dave and Agee Lil) bought out the baby super store Coronet and were caught pushing strollers and prams (at full speed) up and down the aisles to determine which one was the strongest and sturdiest.

I love hearing these stories.

The photograph from the courthouse steps has been etched in my memory forever, as that was the day we officially became a family (even though we all know we actually became one when I first arrived home, many months earlier). We waste countless hours worrying about doctors visits, since medical issues arise and the extra poking and prodding ensures doctors are not missing anything important.

I don’t think I have ever been more proud of anything in my life, except for my son, Eitan. Adoption is not a topic that should be “brushed under the rug.” I have never understood families who hushed when the topic of their children’s adoption came up or when I found out that people who were adopted did not know growing up. Adoption should be embraced. Families are all different. Biological or not, it should not matter how a family is formed, but, rather, that everyone loves and supports one another unconditionally.

Yes, I do wonder where I came from. But my life is amazing. I am truly blessed. There’s this argument between adoptees and adoptive parents about who is more blessed. Is it the parents who receive a beautiful bundle of joy, the perfect child to love and to raise? Or is it the child, the one who is loved and loves the parents back?

Today, I see that I am more blessed. When people ask me who my “real” family is, I tell them this: I have had a wonderful life filled with love, support and compassion. My mother is my best friend and my father is my biggest fan. My grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins never once made me feel like an outsider and have always accepted me for who I am. Without my family, I would not have met the love of my life and given birth to the perfect son. They are all my real family.

My parents always had the following poem hanging in our house. I always felt like it was the perfect description of my relationship with my parents and I think it is the perfect way to end this post:

“Neither flesh of my flesh, nor bone of my bone,
But miraculously my own.
Never forget for a single minute,
You didn’t grow under my heart, but in it.”
(Fleur Conkling Heyliger)

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.

Dear Eitan: Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged

Dear Eitan,

Last week was my birthday. I turned 31 on Thursday and, even though we didn’t celebrate much on the day itself because I have late home visits on Thursdays, your mom made a fantastic dinner on Wednesday night and we celebrated some more over the weekend. You got me a card, made me a sign that said “Happy Birthday Daddy” and gave me a collage of photos of the two of us, all of which helped to brighten up what was otherwise a fairly gloomy day.1 So I wanted to say thanks for that.

This letter is not going to be a contemplation of my mortality or of time slipping away from me. I’m getting older, but I’m not old, no matter what your uncles and certain other friends of mine try to tell me. Instead, I wanted to write to you about perspective. I’ve written about this in the past, but there was something that happened that made me want to bring it up again. This post will be different, I promise.

Someone very close to me reached out to me last week because she was having a rough time. She needed someone to talk to about some things she’s dealing with in her life and she chose me. We texted back and forth for a while as I did my best to answer her questions and gave her some small pieces of advice but it was the start of the conversation that really stuck with me. She opened up by asking me how I viewed her and what I thought of some of the decisions she has made during her life. This wasn’t like that friend of mine I mentioned in the other post, who was looking to me for advice about how to prepare for the birth of his first child. This wasn’t someone picking my brain. This was someone who was in real pain and was looking for help and she had essentially just asked what I thought of her. I told her that everyone faces adversity at some point or another in their lives and that people deal with those challenges as best they can. I told her that everyone makes mistakes and that the key is how people learn from those mistakes.

Most of all, I told her it’s not my place to judge her.

One of the most important things I’ve learned from being a social worker is that there’s almost always more to the story. It’s very rare that you have all the information. Clients get referred to me because they’re demonstrating negative behaviors like physical aggression or they’re experiencing suicidal ideations or they’re refusing to comply with certain recommendations. These behaviors get them in the door, but it’s not until later that I find out the child’s family is struggling financially, which is why they don’t have access to the same resources as the child’s classmates. Or the child was adopted and is experiencing a crisis of identity. Or the worst, that the child was abused and that’s why their behavior is deteriorating. But no matter what the issues are, I know I can’t make appropriate recommendations or develop treatment plans until I know the whole story.

The same goes for my relationships with my friends. I don’t necessarily have to agree with the decisions people make but I do have to accept that I may not have all the information that led them to their decisions in the first place. You’ve heard the saying, “Don’t judge anyone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”2 I work very hard to avoid judging people based on their decisions and I hope that you will too. I heard somewhere that every person you will ever come across is struggling with some sort of crisis that you have no idea about and I’ve tried to keep that concept in mind whenever I meet someone new. I have no doubt that you’re going to grow up to be empathic, trustworthy and dependable. I’m sure your friends are going to love you and that you’re going to be a role model for them and for the rest of your peers as you get older. I just know that I work very hard to keep an open mind about people and to give others the benefit of the doubt whenever I can.

I hope that you will too.

Me (Da-dee!)

1. It was chilly and cloudy and I had a couple of crises at work. Not the best birthday-day, but the other stuff really helped. Also, your mom helped you out with the card and the sign and the collage. You’re smart, but not quite good enough to write out “Happy Birthday Daddy” without help.

2. Jack Handey takes this a step further by adding, “That way, when you do judge them, you’re a mile away and you have their shoes.” I’m paraphrasing, as the original wording is “criticize” instead of “judge,” but it still fits.

Yup, I’m 30.

Time is a very weird thing.

There are moments when I feel like I’ve been doing something for twenty minutes or so and it turns out I’ve been there for a few hours (Trudy will vehemently disagree, but our son’s birth was sort of like this for me). And then there are other points when it seems like the second hand literally could not be moving any slower if it wanted to (“The flight is how long???”). Time flies or it drags on, but the point is that it’s always moving.

Yes, today is my birthday. Yes, I’m now 30. But no, I don’t really feel that weird about it.

Yes, people who are 30 are adults. Real adults, with families and jobs and retirement accounts. Adults talk about how they don’t like today’s music, how kids don’t respect their elders and how their joints are sore.  Adults read the actual news instead of flipping straight to the comics or the sports sections. Adults talk about how things were so much better in their day.

You know what?  I do most of those things too.  I don’t like most of today’s music.  I did a little running last weekend (read: sprinted down 34th street from Herald Square to Penn Station to catch a train) and my legs are still kind of sore.  I have a wife, a son, a job and a retirement account.  I think the cartoons that kids watch today don’t hold a candle to the ones that were on when I was younger.  Yes, I still read the comics and the sports section first, but I generally at least skim the real news afterwards.  The truth is, I’m pretty much an adult myself, so I might as well accept it.

Plus, being an adult isn’t that bad.  I get more out of movies now.  I enjoy my vacations more.  I can appreciate what it means to just sit and watch a sports game (I don’t have the time to do it, but I can appreciate it).  I can understand and treasure the importance of my relationships with my wife and my family.  I can watch my son grow from folds of skin and a mop of hair to pushing his toys around the living room and clapping out of self-satisfaction when he’s moved all the obstacles out of his way (speaking of time moving too quickly…).  I can do things now that I couldn’t before and I know enough now not to do things I was doing before.  Being an adult is just the next step that I’ve reached and it certainly won’t be the last.

And it could be worse – at least I’m not 40.