La La How The Life Goes On

Archive for June 2014

“Esther! Come see this!” beckoned my dad from the living room. I reluctantly left my in-progress game of PayDay to see what was up. Rather than the earth-shattering feature promised by the timbre of my father’s voice, I found myself viewing an Art Garfunkel-looking TV host intoning about The Majesty of Masada. A towering symbol of blah blah where this young man’s family chose to hold his bar mitzvah. Cue the classic local news man-on-the-street B-roll of mom, dad, bar mitzvah son looking eager, and wee fat kid brother looking some combination of bored and irritated that he’s missing new episodes of the A-Team and Knight Rider for this trip. It was a feeling that I, as a wee fat kid sister could totally understand. “Uh, that’s cool, Dad. Interesting place!” I fake-thanked him, just trying to get back to my game to see if I had won the lottery yet.

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“Oh, crap. It’s Jewish kid day,” I lamented to a coworker at the local amusement park. Every summer I worked at this destination location for many school and religious group camps. Each group had its own peculiar calling card. We always knew it was Christian Vacation Bible School day because we would find friendship beads in every corner of the park, as if the kids were popping open those Jesus Loves Me safety pins and freeing the beads into the wild. Run little beads! Run! There was also more surreptitious teenage kissing per capita than even the private school kids. We knew it was Family Reunion Days because the park would be inexplicably overrun by litter. Food wrappers and soda cans everywhere. Not little wrappers either. Garbage-sized litter. Everywhere. And then there was Jewish Camp Day. Everything I “knew” about Jews overturned in 6 short hours. Dorky. Studious. Well-behaved. Ha! Try “roving bands of yahoos, all in their respective camp’s signature t-shirt, some wearing what those of us in the know called a Ya-ma-kah. All in full pre-adolescent blitzorama, like fizzy bubbles propelled from a shaken bottle, laying waste to the park in a “no listening skills” summer bender. The Jews, more than even the Mennonites, wore us out. Especially one group from a particular camp in [town redacted], the name of which was surprisingly (to me) not Jewish-sounding and therefore not memorable.

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“Esther! Come sit here!” summoned my friend Nicole. I plopped my lunch tray down next to her and a kid I’d seen around campus. She introduced us. Hi there, Jon. Aaah. So that’s his name. The guy with the orange flannel shirt who wore shorts in freaking November. I recall telling a friend my theory that he obviously had some kind of lower-trunk nerve damage to be walking around out at Thanksgiving with bare legs. Which is how, before our introduction, he was known to me only as Nerve Damage Guy. At the lunch I assessed him on the positive side as cute, funny and nice-body having. On the negative (and deal breaking) side, he played rugby and I was not in the market for a boyfriend with leg troubles.

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“If you like the photos you’ll love the videotape,” promised Jon’s brother. It was getting late after our first dinner at his parents’ house, but we decided to look through his Embarrassing Family Photos anyway. They did not disappoint. Wide lapels, tube socks pulled up to the knees, and more people sporting Isros (the Jewish Afro, AKA the Jewfro) than you could shake a challah at. So much retro Semitic goodness for me, so much eye-rolling cringeyness for my boyfriend. As I was quietly reveling in the comfortable, feels like-I-belongness of the moment, his brother sank the VHS tape into the cavernous VCR. As the tape began to roll I was still feeling the warm contentment from the laughter, the joking, the ease with which it all felt somehow meant to be. Then I looked up at the TV to see a recording of a local news program.
Featuring a family at Masada for their son’s Bar Mitzvah.
I was so taken aback that I halted flipping through the Camp Yahoo Jewish Kid yearbook pics.
I realized in rat-a-tat, dominoes-falling, out-of-body amazement, that the fat kid brother in the video being bored is the athletic kid in the camp amusement park photos being an ass on the roller coaster is the guy I’m dating is my future husband.

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“‘B’shert’ is Yiddish for Meant-To-Be,” I told my daughters. Destiny. Predestined. Foreordained. Our family, our lives, our world. All of it b’shert. We were all meant to be together, even before you were born. Before I liked boys. Before I ever thought twice about getting married. Before your birthmothers carried you. Your father is my b’shert and I am his. You girls are our b’shert. There could have been no other outcome than the 4 of us together. Today, tomorrow, forever. Powers we don’t understand joined forces to create us. Your grandfather set it in motion. Our unconscious choices kept it alive. Our gratitude and love for each other sustains it. 16 years and counting.

How do I know it’s b’shert? How do I know it’s forever? They want to know. Easy; I saw it on the TV.

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Here is mine. Let us hear yours!

Two weeks late but early in the morning, all 9 pounds of me arrived. Sister poked my face and said, “mine!” Brother enclosed himself in playpen to avoid my stink and hiccups. Shades of things to come.

Halcyon childhood memories; I’m told less perfect in reality. I remember only soft-focus, rose-tinted good time happiness. Relentless, tireless, loving, working-4-jobs dad. Caring, committed, no-nonsense, working mother peacemaker. Always felt loved. Always felt wanted. Never doubted my world was a great and limitless place.

Voyaged to the New World. Fish out of water. Or swimming upstream. Up was down. Struggle. Inferiority complex. Drive to succeed. Not good enough not pretty enough not smart enough not thin enough. Not enough. Not enough. Never enough.

Worked two jobs plus school. Glorious success. Politics. Money. Power. OK, proximity to power. Real power in real love. Southern wedding. Northern charm. My life’s best day. Beginning of every good thing ever. Beloved husband. Amazing baby girl. Congming de haizi. Stared into bone marrow’s abyss. It stared back. Slayed all the demons. Claimed my power. Amazing baby sister. Ni zhen ke ai.

Life is beautiful. It goes on.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there. Recognizing that many families rock the world without dads, with two moms, with one mom, I’m writing this today from the perspective of a woman who grew up with a great dad. I have been extraordinarily fortunate in the father department, both as a daughter and as a mom married to a man who is an awesome father to our girls.

So, in honor of these two remarkable men, I’ve compiled my totally incomplete and wholly inadequate list of

THE TOP FIVE QUALITIES OF A FANTASTIC FATHER

5. No bitchassness.
Fantastic fathers do their damn jobs without making it all about themselves. Without blaming others for their problems. Without getting passive-aggressive when the going gets tough. Fantastic fathers understand that their job description kind of sucks–and they DO IT ANYWAY. With courage, enthusiasm, integrity and good humor.

4. No excuses.
Fantastic fathers make no excuses for themselves or for their children. My dad never allowed us a single cop-out. Not one. If we messed up, we had to own it. Sometimes that meant hearing about it for days and weeks on freakin’ end. Other times it meant getting screamed at for 5 minutes then being absolved immediately. It absolutely made for uncomfortable awkward situations–and he could not have cared less. If we were busted by a neighbor or teacher for bad behavior he made no excuses for us, no demands that our accuser back down and behold his precious children. Nope. We were in deep sh*t and that was that. No excuses.

3. Leadership by example.
My father’s loquaciousness was legendary. His ability to talk to anyone and anything unrivaled. But when I ponder the most important lessons he taught me, I realize that I learned them all through his actions. He loved my mom. I saw it in his eyes and his demeanor. (I of course found it simultaneously skin-crawlingly gross and deeply solidly reassuring.) I saw through his actions how a man should treat a woman. I saw the consequences that befell anyone who disrespected that woman (“What did you just say to your mother?!” Words you did not ever want to hear because you knew they preceded a very sound ass-kicking). He admitted when he was wrong. He helped out neighbors with rides or home improvement or just having them over for a whiskey. Most importantly, his leadership philosophy was simple: “I am the leader of this household–and I have my wife’s permission to say so.”

2. 100% commitment to his children.
The BabyDaddy (my sweet husband), I’m certain, gains minimal joy from playing the role of Pinkie Pie in today’s iteration of My Little Pony: Daddies Are Magic. But he does it. No, he doesn’t just do it. He sells it. He commits to it. He OWNS it. BabyDaddy werqs it. He brings the same enthusiasm and genuine love to this minor interaction that he does to every single fatherly responsibility he holds. He’s not checking his IPhone at the playground. He’s not “squeezing in quality time” with his kids. He’s in it; for the good, the bad and the fugly. He even bows out of Red Sox games at Fenway if he has been traveling too much and it will mean missing another bedtime with Baby Sister, who truly struggles when he travels. I’ll say that again: the man gives up tickets to the Red Sox to read Frog and Toad Are Friends to his preschooler.

And the No. 1 Quality of a Fantastic Father is
1. No ego.
The BabyDaddy is confident enough in himself as a husband, father and man that he intrinsically understands that respect, trust and affection are EARNED. It minimizes his fatherhood and his crucial role in our lives not one bit to acknowledge that authority and power are not the same thing. That he does not have to abuse the latter in order to have the former. Raising decent humans is no easy assignment, and fantastic fathers understand the importance of compromise, understanding, and humility to the task. My girls love their father. My girls respect their father. My girls know EXACTLY how their father would feel about particular behaviors, situations and individuals without him having to say a word. His quiet, confident, no-bluster style radiates power, radiates confidence and radiates respect–for himself, for me and for his girls.

Those of us who get to see fantastic fathers work are the lucky ones. Whether you are a father, a father figure, or the lucky son or daughter of a wonderful father, may this be a day to remind ourselves that Great Dads Rule. And they have their wives’ permission to say so. 🙂