Explaining the Walk-Out to a Kindergartener

Eitan had been ready for school for a little while by the time we asked to talk to him.

He was sitting at his homework table, coloring in the small Star Wars coloring book he had gotten as a birthday party favor or as a small treat from Target or some other place that five-year-olds acquire little coloring books. His sneakers were already tied and knotted and his hair was neatly gelled and combed. He was wearing his backpack for some reason, even though he would have to take it off to put his coat on when we were ready to leave.

Trudy was finishing getting ready in our bedroom and had left the door open so that we could talk. Eitan stood up slowly from his chair and walked over to stand next to me. I reassured him that everything was fine and that we just wanted to talk about something that was happening today.

“So,” Trudy began, “some kids in your class might be leaving school–”

“Why?” Eitan asked, cutting her off.

“They’re fine and they’re going to come back–”

“But why?” he asked again.

“I’m telling you. They’re going to go out for a little while and then come back.”

“Where will they go?”

“They’ll just be standing outside the school,” I answered. “They’ll go stand outside for a bit and then come back in.”

“Cold! Cold!” Shayna interjected.

Trudy and I smiled. “Yes, Shayna, it’s cold outside,” I said.

Trudy turned back to Eitan. “Do you know what it means to protest?” she asked.

Eitan shook his head no.

“You know when we ask you to turn off the television or to put your shoes on or to go do something else and you argue with us? That’s protesting,” she said.

“To protest is to say that you don’t like something,” I added. “So when you argue, you’re saying you don’t like the fact that we’re asking you to do something you don’t want to do.”

“Right,” Trudy said. “So the people who leave school are going to be protesting. They’re saying that they don’t like–”

“Trump?” Eitan interrupted.

Both Trudy and I burst out laughing. We don’t spend a lot of time discussing politics in front of Eitan but, clearly, he had picked up on the connection between our current president and the word “protest.”

Eitan looked confused, though. He had figured out that this was an important conversation and he had not intended to make a joke. Our laughter had caught him by surprise.

“You’re not really wrong,” I said. “But the people who walk out aren’t going to be protesting Trump by himself. They’re angry about the rules that the government has about who can own guns.”

“There are people who don’t use guns the right way,” Trudy continued. “Unfortunately, there have been some people who have brought guns into schools and people have gotten shot.”

“That’s why only police officers should have guns, right?” Eitan asked as my mind immediately jumped back to the other conversation I had just had with him about guns. “Because the police help to keep people safe so they should be the only people who get to use guns.”

“That’s a really good idea, Eitan,” Trudy said. “But people are allowed to buy guns. It’s one of the things that people are free to do because they live in America. You know what it means to be free, right?”

“It means that you don’t have to do what people tell you,” he answered. “Like the slaves in Egypt weren’t free.”

Trudy’s eyes widened with pride, marveling at the association our son had made. My lips spread into a broad grin; I knew that we had gone over the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt every year at Passover but we hadn’t started talking about it yet this year. I made a mental note to compliment his religious school teacher for helping to refresh Eitan’s memory.

“You’re absolutely right,” I said. “In fact, if you hadn’t said that, I was going to use that exact example to explain freedom to you.”

“So, in America,” Trudy continued, “people are free to own guns if they want. The problem is that not everyone uses guns in the right way and we want to change the laws to make it harder for the wrong people to buy them.

The conversation continued in a similar vein for another minute or two. Eitan said that he understood and Trudy and I each gave him a hug and a kiss. Eitan went to play with Shayna until we were ready to leave and Trudy and I stood watching them for a moment.

“He’s really amazing,” I said.

“Yeah, he is,” Trudy agreed. “I couldn’t believe he made that freedom comparison.”

She had been smiling but her expression morphed quickly into a mix of anger, sadness and a hint of fear.

“I can’t believe we just had to have that conversation with our five year old,” she said.

My own smile faded into a grimace as I wrapped my arms around her.

“I know.”

Finding Goodness in Unexpected Places

“Someone give me some good news,” she said.

She wasn’t exasperated; she didn’t have that frustrated edge to her voice that people often have when they’ve been hearing nothing but terrible things for an extended period of time. The sigh she let out as she spoke hinted more at resignation than anger. Her request sounded as though she had all but given up the fight against negativity and was grasping for one last moment of hope to remain grounded.

I didn’t blame her for trying to lift the mood in the room; the office lunchroom conversation had not exactly been pleasant. It had been relatively short and the subject matter may not have held the same overbearing weight as the headlines screaming from the newspaper lying in the middle of the table. Still, discussing a coworker’s week-long struggles with digestive issues and the various challenges that go along with planning one’s wedding were enough to start bringing her down and she’d had enough.

“I don’t necessarily have good news,” I answered. “But how about an adorable picture?”

She smiled and nodded vigorously. I scrolled quickly through the photos on my phone, selected a shot I’d taken earlier that week of my children sharing a milkshake and passed the phone across the table. I grinned as she began kvelling; I mentioned that I could not believe the similarities in their faces, from the outlines of their noses to the curves of their cheeks to the shapes their lips formed as they puckered around their straws. She asked with a knowing smile if they love each other and I couldn’t answer yes emphatically enough.

I was glad that I had been able to help her smile at that moment but her request stuck with me through the rest of the day. I couldn’t begin to count the number of times recently when all I’ve wanted was for someone to show me something positive. The news has been one terrible thing after another after another. I pass multiple homeless people every day as I make my way through the city. I work with children who are doing their best to handle significant mental illnesses, many of which are as heartbreaking as they are scary.

Still, somehow, we keep breathing, keep moving, keep pushing through.

I made my phone calls and home visits during the rest of the afternoon, my coworker’s request periodically re-entering my consciousness. My wife and children had spent the day in the city with friends and I went to meet them when my visits were finished. Their faces lit up when they saw me and I had a passing thought that I had found my own personal piece of “good news.” We remained in the city for some time longer and then made our way through the evening rush hour crowds to take the subway home.

The subway had just started moving when I heard someone singing from the other side of the car. I couldn’t see him clearly through the commuters standing between us but I caught glimpses of his face. His skin was dark but his smile shone, practically eclipsing the pale fluorescent train lights. It was difficult to make out the songs over the murmurs of the other passengers and my daughter’s ongoing commentary (“Train! Ride train!”). I could tell that the people around him enjoyed it, though; their applause sounded more enthusiastic than the soft, polite claps I was used to hearing for subway performances.

The man began moving toward our side of the car, asking for donations as he weaved slowly between the other passengers. He stepped gingerly past our stroller, careful to protect his guitar from hitting the handles or the people sitting nearby. The family of tourists behind us said that they had not heard him playing and he began strumming immediately.

“Don’t worry… about a thing,” he sang.

I smiled, quickly recognizing the Bob Marley song. Shayna motioned for me to pick her up so she could get a better look at the musician. I planted my feet to balance her weight with that of my work bag and the movement of the train and hoisted her into my arms. I leaned in next to her ear and joined in softly.

“‘Cause every little thing… is gonna be all right.”

I leaned back against the subway pole and turned slightly so that Shayna could see the man with the guitar without having to look over my shoulder. The man returned her gaze as he sang, his warm smile continuing to shine.

“Don’t worry… about a thing,” the man sang again as he returned to the chorus. This time, though, I harmonized with him loudly enough for everyone near us to hear.

“‘Cause every little thing… is gonna be all right.”

Shayna giggled and smiled back, captivated with our duet. The man’s eyebrows rose briefly from the surprise of having an unexpected partner but his expression shifted quickly back to enthusiastic joy. We finished the song together and I passed him some money as he thanked me for joining in. He gave me a fist-bump and one last gracious smile before moving into the next subway car to perform for a fresh audience.

Positivity

I found myself thinking of my coworker again. She was right; the world seems so often like it’s crumbling around us that it’s difficult to find reasons to keep a positive attitude. That train ride made a difference, though. My kids saw their father sharing an interaction with a man who came from very different circumstances, not least of which had to do with the color of his skin. I felt good about providing an example for the way I expect my children to treat others, especially those less fortunate than we are. And, as for my singing companion, I can only hope that he appreciated my joining with him in what I assume was one of his lower moments.

There is still good news around; sometimes we just have to spread our own.


The “Reasons to Stay Positive” graphic was borrowed with permission from the creator, Ms. Dani DiPirro. Follow her @PositivelyPresent on Instagram.

Nerves of Steel

I’m nervous.

I don’t feel this way very often and, even when I do, I rarely let on. I pride myself on being flexible, adapting to situations as they come, taking in new information and adjusting accordingly. People tell me that they admire my calm, that they don’t understand how I can appear to be so relaxed in the face of difficult meetings, challenging personalities or mountains of paperwork. Somehow I manage to remain stoic, composed, cool under pressure through it all. I channel Yoda and Mr. Spock; I don’t let emotion get in my way.1

But this morning, I’m nervous.

I’m sitting on the subway, making my way to a school visit for work. My legs have been trembling for enough time now that I’m slightly worried about what will happen when I try to stand up. My pulse has quickened and I recognize the awkward discomfort in my stomach. I’m still the image of a duck, unflappable to observers, while their feet paddle furiously beneath the surface. I doubt anyone around me can tell anything is wrong just by looking at me, even though I feel like my body is tying itself into knots.

It’s not because of work, by the way. The visit I’m making this morning should be a cakewalk and, in general, work rarely gets me bent out of shape. I’ve been a social worker long enough and had enough people yell at me, threaten me and, in one case, use anti-Semitic slurs toward me, that I’ve come to accept the stressful parts of the job as simply that – part of the job. I enjoy my work because of the interactions with people, even when those interactions are uncomfortable.

My foot starts tapping on the subway floor, making my bag shake as it rests on top of my leg. I close my eyes and take a few breaths, inhaling deeply and counting the seconds as I let the air out, forcing my escalating anxiety back under control. It occurs to me that my current struggle to maintain my composure is fitting, given the piece I’ll be reading publicly in a few days, though that realization doesn’t help me feel much better.

My foot stops tapping as I hear the subway doors open. I open my eyes again to check the station but it’s not time to get off yet.

This is what happens to me anytime I speak in public. Miniature lessons in graduate school, reading Torah in synagogue during Shabbat services, the presentation I made to my entire department at work; the context doesn’t matter. It always starts out the same: my heart feels like it’s going to burst out of my chest, my stomach does backflips and my legs turn to jelly right before I’m supposed to start. Then I breathe, start speaking and I’m on my way.

This is a new experience, though. I’m going to be reading my writing at a blogging conference for dads later this week and, days beforehand, I’m terrified. This conference has a lot riding on it, after all. The connections I make there can open up new writing opportunities for me and different ways for me to support my family. If I trip over a word or two as I’m reading, are these representatives going to think less of me? Are they going to lose sight of the story I’m telling because they’re distracted by my verbal fumbling? Am I going to lose my place and, in the process, the interest of a brand that would have otherwise pursued me?

Then there is the fact that I’m going to be away from home for three days. How are my kids going to behave while I’m gone? Is my wife going to be pulling her hair out and cursing at me while I’m schmoozing with other dads? What if someone gets hurt while I’m busy taking selfies with Chewbacca or test-driving a Kia or talking about football with Von Miller?2 I still remember the guilt I felt when Eitan fell into a wooden piece of playground equipment, bashing his chin and needing to be rushed to the doctor for x-rays. I was only on the train then; how will I feel if something happens and I’m thousands of miles away?

I take another breath. I inhale, hold it for a second, and slowly let it out. Then I do it again. And again.

And again.

I tell myself that I’m overreacting. I remind myself that my wife is amazing and that “capable” barely scratches the surface of her strengths as a parent. Plus, I’m only going to be gone for three days, two of which Eitan will be in school for. I remember that I’ve interacted online with many of the other dads countless times and that reading my post will only be five minutes of a much broader experience. I think of the congratulations and other well-wishes I received when the announcement was made about my participation at the conference.

I feel the knot in my stomach begin to loosen and my legs start to regain their stability. I stand, slinging my bag back over my shoulder and move toward the door if the subway. I know that I will probably feel nervous again just before my turn to speak but I feel much calmer now. I hold the bar nearby as the train comes to a stop and the doors open. I take another quick breath and step off the train.


1. My kids are the only real exception to this rule. I don’t become a blubbering mess in crises but there is some sort of glitch that causes my brain to suddenly have difficulty processing new information. It’s the only time I imagine I really look shaken.

2. These are all things I’m going to be able to do at Dad 2.0 because Lego, Kia and Best Buy are sponsors.

High Stakes

Dear Eitan and Shayna,

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately.

It’s a dangerous pastime, I know,1 but it’s one of the reasons I haven’t published a new post in around three months.

I’ve had a couple of posts that I’ve started and then scrapped. There was the one about it taking a village to raise a child that had to do with the grandmother at the beach club who gave me a suggestion that helped Shayna stop screaming so I could get her to take a nap in her stroller. There was the one about watching Eitan grow over the course of the summer and watching the transitions he made during his first year at summer camp. There were a few about the ways you two interact together, some about our community of friends in our neighborhood and more than a few about the different events in our political sphere.

But I haven’t really finished any of them. I actually started to write a couple of times, but nothing ever felt quite right. My hesitations were due in part to my having trouble fleshing out some of my ideas into a fuller post that actually spoke to people and partially due to sheer exhaustion (it was a busy summer in a number of ways).

The biggest reason, though, was that I had been putting too much pressure on myself.

We live in interesting times.2 Our President is an old man who cares more about maintaining his popularity and his coverage in the media than he does about actually helping the citizens of our country. Dictators on the other side of the planet seem bent on bringing our country to an end and, if they don’t manage to succeed, Mother Nature has gotten so angry about people not paying attention to her that she may just finish the job herself. Americans are at odds with each other about topics like healthcare, tax reform and the fate of people who kneel for the national anthem. I was listening to a podcast recently where the guest, an African-American writer who had just published a piece online about Colin Kaepernick, said that he would so much rather be writing about mundane topics than heavy think-pieces. He said that he felt like he had to write the think-pieces, however, because “the stakes are too high.” The heavy think-pieces were too important for him to pass them up.

That’s what I was doing to myself. I was telling myself that there are too many important things happening in the world today for me to write about such small issues like watching Eitan walking to school with a backpack nearly as big as he is or watching Shayna’s face light up when I open the front door when I come home from work. How could I spend my time writing about telling Eitan off-the-cuff stories about the Star Wars movies at bedtime when anti-Semitism, racism and countless other isms literally threaten people’s lives on a daily basis? I may not have the ongoing readership numbers of a major media company – my monthly views are a fraction of even most parenting blogs, for that matter – but I know that I have a solid number of regular subscribers who look forward to reading what I have to say. I have to imagine that those subscribers – including you, as you’re reading this now – are at least somewhat curious about where I stand on some of these issues which, again, are too impactful for me to just leave them to someone else.

And yet, that’s exactly what I was doing. I didn’t end up writing about Kaepernick or Russia or climate change. I wrote one post about health care reform and that was back when the bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act was still in the House of Representatives. I left the writing to the “professionals” because I felt too uninformed or inexperienced or just plan tired to work at actually figuring out my thoughts on the issues. I kept feeling like I should be writing about something, though, instead of leaving the blog to go dormant for three months.

As you can see, I finally decided to start up again by getting back to my roots. This all started as a parenting blog and evolved into, for all intents and purposes, a journal of my thoughts and experiences. It is a space for me to offer my thoughts on certain subjects, both for my peers to see today and, hopefully, for the two of you to read in the future. I’ll still end up giving my opinions about some of the heavier issues if I feel like I have something to say but I think, in general, I’m going to be working more with what I know. At some point, you may find yourselves wondering who your father was and what kinds of things affected him on a daily basis; I hope I’ve given you some material to answer some of those questions.

As far as moving forward is concerned, I would like to try to get back into the swing of things. September was a busy month, between changes at work, the start of the new school year and the High Holidays (not to mention the fact that I started the month by burning my foot by stepping on a piece of charcoal).3 That being said, the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot are designed to help us reflect on our lives and look for ways to improve ourselves. This post may be a few weeks late for a “New Years Resolution” but I guess it’s better late than never to make a decision to start writing more consistently.

There certainly is no shortage of material.

Love,

Daddy


1. If you just heard Lefou and Gaston in your head, give yourself a pat on the back.

2. Now there’s an understatement. Also, apparently that phrase being an ancient Chinese curse is actually a myth.

3. Before you scold me for being barefoot while I was barbecuing, let me just say that I was at the beach. Everyone is barefoot at the beach.

Featured image credit: CC0 Creative Commons

The Force Will Be With You… When You’re Older

Eitan loves Star Wars.

He has masks of Darth Vader and Captain Phasma that he uses when playing dress-up. When Trudy bought him new pairs of pajamas to wear to school for pajama day he chose the Darth Vader set over the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles set.1 He has a pre-reader book of Star Wars stories and loves pointing out Chewbacca, Han “Sola” and the “Stormtrippers.” He starts laughing anytime he sees C-3PO and R2-D2 and, once in a while, I’ll catch him glancing at the Yoda toy sitting on his dresser that he got from my father. When he was a baby, I would throw him up in the air while singing the Star Wars theme song and I would take his echoing toy microphone and say in my deepest voice, “Eitan… I am your father.”2 We recently had to hide his “light-savers” so he wouldn’t use them in the house because things like this kept happening:

 

There’s one little problem with Eitan’s love of Star Wars, though:

He’s never actually seen it.

Eitan hasn’t watched any of the movies. He hasn’t seen any of the television shows. He knows most of the names and characters but I don’t think he would recognize Luke Skywalker if twenty-year-old Mark Hammill walked into the room. I’m actually not even sure he would recognize the name Luke Skywalker because characters like Darth Vader and Chewbacca are marketed so much more frequently.

In fact, now that I think about it, I don’t even think Eitan knows what the Force is.

Most of this is by design, of course. I could have put Star Wars on for Eitan so he could watch it during any number of rainy days. The biggest reason I haven’t done so yet is because I think it would scare him. Chewbacca is a giant teddy bear at heart, but there are a bunch of aliens in the cantina on Tatooine that are not nearly as cuddly. Emperor Palpatine’s eyes and voice are incredibly creepy and Darth Vader… well, Vader is just terrifying. He’s strong, he’s dressed in black, you never see the face behind his mask and he appears to be unstoppable.

Aside from the fear factor is my hesitation about pushing Eitan’s interests in the direction of conflicts that are sometimes quite violent. The light saber fights are exciting and the special effects of the various gun fights are incredible to watch, especially as a child seeing them for the first time. The problem is that weapons, in real life, are incredibly dangerous and are specifically designed to cause harm to others. Even though Eitan has (unfortunately) had some experience with death and is old enough to understand the concept, at least in a basic sense, I worry about the idea of encouraging his interest in a movie so replete with acts of violence.

I should add, for the record, that my unease isn’t limited to Star Wars. I have the same concerns about pushing Eitan to become more interested in super heroes for the same reason. Eitan “likes” Batman and Superman the same way he likes Star Wars; he has some toys, clothes and books, but he doesn’t know too much of the characters’ backgrounds. Even if Eitan is well acquainted with character deaths from Disney movies – Frozen, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, take your pick – the idea of him becoming desensitized to shootings and sword fights just doesn’t sit well with me.

I realize that the desensitization is probably inevitable. Kids act out what they see on television and in movies, whether it’s Daniel Tiger learning coping skills, Blaze the Monster Truck speeding past volcanoes to teach fair play or super heroes fighting off bad guys. I suppose my hope is primarily that I can delay Eitan’s interest in guns so that he stays more of an innocent young child in my mind for at least a little longer before the negative influences of the rest of the world really start to creep in.

Look, Eitan will see Star Wars. It’s one of my all time favorite movies and I can’t wait to introduce Eitan to the stories and characters that I’ve loved since I was a child. The movies teach about magic, teamwork and a sense of wonder that I believe are so much more important than any references to violence, which is exactly how I will present the movies to Eitan. He is also finally getting to the age where I can really start sharing my interests with him in ways he can understand. I can tell he is looking forward to it, if only based on his enthusiasm for a movie he’s never seen and doesn’t even really understand. But I would rather wait another year or so, partially so that I can be more confident that the movie won’t scare Eitan too much, but also so that he understands more about the consequences of physical violence and the differences between fact and fiction.

 


1. Eitan made his choice fairly easily, but five-year-old me would have really grappled with that decision. Seven-year-old me would have had an even harder time.

2. I don’t do this anymore now. I’m scared he’s going to have that plot point spoiled for him before I can show him the movie and there’s no way I’m going to be the one to do it.

Baby, It’s Christmas (With Consent)

I don’t like Christmas music.

(It’s okay, take a minute. I’ll wait for you to stop hyperventilating and/or to pick up your laptop from wherever it landed. I suppose I should have put a “trigger warning” first to prepare you. Sorry about that.)

I don’t like Christmas music because I’m Jewish and my family was observant when I was young, so I don’t have the same personal connection to Christmas that the overwhelming majority of the U.S. population seems to. We celebrated Hanukkah and it was always made very clear to me that trees and Santa and mangers and red and green M&Ms were for other people, not us. Even so, I don’t remember ever being bothered by the onslaught of Christmas when I was a child. I probably didn’t pay much attention to something that I knew didn’t apply to my family, but I also don’t remember Christmas being shoved down everyone’s throats the way it is now.

I don’t like Christmas music because I never had a reason to. When I was growing up, I didn’t know who the Little Drummer Boy was, I figured Rudolph had just used way too many tissues and I thought the Tannenbaums were a family from our synagogue. The only Jesus I knew about was Ivan DeJesus, the former Cubs shortstop who was traded for Ryne Sandberg.1 I had always been taught that the holy nights were Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and I thought that Silent Night was just the prayer that all parents made before they went to bed. The only song title that made any sense to me, as a child living in Chicago and then New York, was “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

I used to get more upset with the constant associations with Christmas in commercials and practically every show on television when I was a teenager. I tend to believe that I’ve become more patient as I’ve grown towards adulthood. I don’t get as angry about being bombarded with all things Christmas once the clock hits midnight on the first of November (if not earlier). I certainly don’t hit the radio’s “off” switch with quite as much authority anymore. My family visited Disney World during the week before Thanksgiving and, even though it looked like Christmas had vomited all over the Magic Kingdom, I remained fairly relaxed.2 Christmas is the primary holiday for our country’s most prominent religion and, at its heart, Christmas brings joy to millions of people. I’d rather spend my energy creating joy for my family rather than changing my name to Ebenezer Scrooge.

All that being said, one of the songs I mentioned earlier has always struck me as… creepy.

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” describes two people who have just spent an evening together. The woman is leaving and the man wishes she wasn’t. The call-and-respond nature of the music would have you believe that the pair are having a conversation but the actual lyrics3 show that, while the man and woman are speaking to each other, the man is not doing much listening.

The first paragraph is fairly tame:

I really can’t stay (Baby, it’s cold outside)
I’ve got to go way (Baby, it’s cold outside)
The evening has been (I’ve been hopin’ that you’d drop in)
So very nice (I’ll hold your hand, they’re just like ice)

Translation:
Woman: We’ve had a nice time but it’s late and I have to get home.
Man: I had a nice time too.

We can see the faint signs of trouble in the man’s focus on the temperature outside, even if the he hasn’t said anything too obvious. By the second verse, though, the man is absolutely putting on the pressure.

My mother will start to worry (Hey beautiful, what’s your hurry)
And father will be pacing the floor (Listen to that fireplace roar)
So really, I’d better scurry (Beautiful, please don’t hurry)
Well, maybe just a half a drink more (Put some music on while I pour)

Translation:
Woman: I have people waiting for me and I’m ready to go.
Man: Let’s see what else I can do to keep you from leaving.

Verse three is more of the same, followed by this exchange in verse four:

I oughtta say no, no, no sir (You mind if I move in closer)
At least I’m gonna say that I tried (And what’s the sense in hurting my pride)
I really cant stay (Oh baby, don’t hold out)
Oh, but it’s cold outside.

Translation:
Woman: I’m very uncomfortable with this arrangement.
Man: Your discomfort is not as important as my desire to have sex.

I won’t go through the entire rest of the song because I’m sure you get the idea by now. Some highlights include the woman asking, “What’s in this drink?” and explicitly saying, “The answer is no” while the man continues to make comments about her looks and his lust. At the end, when she says again, “I really can’t stay,” his response is that she should “get over that old out,” once again invalidating her pleas to be released. Oh, and in case you were wondering, we never find out if she ends up leaving or not.

I’m not bringing this up as some sort of battle in the War on Christmas. As I said, I’m much more interested in just finding ways to enjoy a day off from work with my family than I am in trying to spoil other people’s holiday. But it seems that, too often, people take things as they seem without thinking about any possible deeper implications.4 We don’t consider the potential agendas that lead to the publication of certain articles or the effects that our “opinions” might have on others. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is a clear example of our culture’s ongoing dismissal of women’s rights to maintain control over their bodies. No means no, unless you can convince her to say yes (or put something in her drink so she stops answering altogether).

Fortunately, a couple from Minnesota felt similarly uneasy about “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and rewrote the song to demonstrate a more appropriate male response to the woman’s lines. The new lyrics emphasize consent as the man gives the woman every opportunity to make her own decisions about how the night should end, even answering her clearly about what is in her drink. From the very first line, when the woman says she can’t stay, his immediate answer is, “Baby, I’m fine with that.” The rest of the song continues in the same vein.

Again, I’m not interested in taking away from other people’s enjoyment of Christmas and the holiday season. Far be it from me to say that I should have any authority over another person’s belief system or the choices they make during this time of year. What I am saying, however, is that we need to be more careful about the messages we are sending our children about consent and their rights to be autonomous where their bodies are concerned. Our daughters need to know how to say no firmly and clearly and to feel comfortable asserting themselves. Our sons need to understand that “no” means “no,” full stop. Do not pass Go; do not collect $200. No means no and, for that matter, so does any other answer that isn’t specifically “yes.”

We’re moving in the right direction. Our most recent presidential election results notwithstanding, I’ve been hearing more and more frequently about women being encouraged to speak up for their rights and men who take advantage being held accountable. We’re hardly perfect, but the right steps are being taken. As long as we continue to analyze the messages our culture is sending and think critically about our roles in contributing to those messages, we’ll be able to help our children grow up in a safer world.

Happy holidays.


1. Sandberg became my favorite Cubs player after Andre Dawson left in free agency. The Phillies often get criticized for trading Sandberg, who went on to have a Hall of Fame career. But, as my father always points out, they wouldn’t have made it to the 1983 World Series without Ivan DeJesus.

2. I’ll admit, I had hoped that Trudy and I had a bit more time before having to explain to Eitan about Santa Claus but Disney forced our hands. Oh well.

3. Lyrics were borrowed from Metrolyrics.com.

4. See: our current political climate.

Boys Need Attention Too

Dear Eitan,

I feel like I owe you an apology. Or, maybe, at least an explanation.

Your mom and I have been working really hard to make sure you’ve gotten enough attention over the last few months since Shayna was born and, to be honest, I actually think we’ve done a pretty good job. We’ve each taken you bowling by ourselves a few times, you and I went out for ice cream, your mom has gone swimming with you… I can’t remember everything. My playing with you every morning before I leave for work is somewhere on that list too. There have been times when we’ve been more successful than others, obviously – it’s always hard with a newborn in the house – but I think we’ve been okay overall.

I’ve been thinking about the ways that women are treated in our society a lot lately, especially with regard to parenting. I’ve noticed that I’ve been reading and sharing a lot of articles that have to do with empowering women and girls (or, at least, I feel like I have been). I’m sure that I’ve been taking more notice of these articles because of Shayna. I’ve always taken notice of these kinds of pieces but, since Shayna was born, I’ve found myself even more drawn to material that promotes women’s rights and helps women break through the obstacles Western culture places on them. You’re largely unaware of my social media presence at this point, since you’re four years old and are only starting to learn how to read, but you’ll have to take my word for it.

It’s always been important to me that you grow up respecting women and being aware of the privileges that are available to you as a male. I’ve written about this a few times, usually in terms of situations that arise with professional athletes.1 There are, unfortunately, still so many people in the world who seem to think that women don’t deserve to be able to speak for themselves about their own jobs, their personal space or their bodies. We, as men, need to make sure that we’re being upstanders, rather than bystanders, when issues like this come up.2 That doesn’t necessarily mean fighting women’s battles for them, because that’s not exactly helpful either, but it does mean being available and talking about these issues so that people become more aware of how ingrained some of these views are in our culture.

The “apology” comes up because I feel like I’ve been thinking a lot more about the things that your sister will encounter as she works to find her place in the world than I have about what will come up for you. It’s not that I’m worried about Shayna; at least, I don’t think I’m any more worried about her than any parent would be about their daughter. I do think, however, that I get so wrapped up in thinking about what it’s like to grow up as a girl in our culture that I sometimes forget that you’re going to encounter your own set of challenges.

Boys struggle with body image issues, self-esteem and other social pressures just as girls do, but boys tend to not receive the same type of support in dealing with those issues. It’s not that the support isn’t available; I tend to believe that quality counseling services are considerably more prevalent in most communities than they were even five or ten years ago (there’s even an app for that). The problem is that boys are conditioned to keep their feelings quiet and figure things out on their own, rather than ask for help, so they don’t pursue the help to begin with.3 Even if we won’t know for a few years how most of these issues are affecting you, I should be keeping these things in mind for both you and Shayna. It’s not fair for me to tell myself that you don’t need as much attention because you’re a male; if anything, I should probably be putting even more effort into maintaining open communication with you because you’re going to be getting the message from society that you should be keeping your problems to yourself.

That’s really the reason I’m writing. I want you to remember, as you grow, that there are going to be times when Shayna is going to get more attention than you or it’s going to seem like more focus is being put on her life because she’s a girl. But, even if that’s the case, your mom and I are not forgetting about you. We’re both here for you and we want to help you as much as we can, no matter what challenges come your way. Please keep us in the loop as you get older; we’ll keep asking what’s going on anyway, but we’re going to need you to keep us informed so we can figure out how to help. We hope you’ll always feel like you can trust us to be supportive and honest, no matter what struggles you’re facing.

That’s what we’re here for.

Love,

Daddy


1. For instance, there was this post about Greg Hardy and this one about Ray Rice and this one about the Cubs trading for Aroldis Chapman.

2. This language comes from Facing History and Ourselves, a program and teaching curriculum devoted to examining people’s behavior during the Holocaust and the connections to today’s world.

3. This is one of the reasons why girls might be more likely than boys to attempt suicide, but boys are four times more likely to die from suicide. Girls attempt suicide and (hopefully) get the help and attention they need; boys complete the attempt because they don’t believe help is available for them in the first place.