Are you happy? The question is innocent enough. My four-year-old who is running around the house with his plastic sword in case we get attacked by Princess Robots (year, don’t ask) stops dead in his tracks to ask me.
“But I didn’t know the first dad-gum thing about raising one,” says my dad, who still talks like that, Southernish, with a twinkle. For her part, my mom likes to tell the story of the maternity nurse at Touro Infirmary who—after my folks gathered their things and Mom settled into the wheelchair for the short discharge trip to the car—winked at my mother and grandmother, then turned to my startled dad and offered him the 21 tightly swaddled inches of his firstborn.
You’ve spent most of your young life cooped up with us in our small Brooklyn apartment, first by felicity of generous leave policies and then by necessity amidst a pandemic. The world outside, which we gird up to face with our odd masks and anxious glances at people not observing social distance on our regular walking routes, must seem both fascinating and a little frightening.
When Mr. Alex asked me to contribute to the Bookshelf for Father’s Day, as the old guy looking back on raising three sons, I thought I’d offer some reminiscence about about my kids’ eccentricities. I imagined I’d gently make the point that our kids need to be their own true selves, not our reflections, no matter how attractive we may find the mirror.
“Daddy, what’s death?” This is a question no father (or mother, or grandparent, or caregiver in general) looks forward to, but we all know it’s going to happen sooner or later. However, if you look at it from a strategic angle, possibilities arise for making it a relatively painless encounter. At least in theory.
It took mere days after learning that my wife and I were expecting our first child before I began to worry how society would see that child, and how that child would eventually come to see herself. Yes, through some weird extrasensory perception that I still can’t explain, I knew we were destined to have a girl. And I knew society is not kind to girls, much less to brown-skinned girls.
“I am your mother, and I have the scars to prove it,” I thought. “I gave birth to you myself.” The more I thought about the grueling adoption process, the three failed adoptions we had had previously, and one of the roughest, first 18 months of life on record, I felt fairly secure I could call myself a mother. Moms, after all, endure it all. And, live on to fight another day. Here we all were. Living, happily, still fighting.
Alexa, how go friend house and not germs?” My heart sank. My incredibly resilient, almost four-year-old had had enough of sheltering in place.
Now, I want you to stop and think about all the pressure that we are currently under; these pressures are not ordinary pressures—these are not ordinary times. When you get into an argument—and we all get into arguments—ask yourself: if I had done this dumb thing, would I want to be forgiven? Is this thing so massive, that it’s worth holding on to? I’ll wait.
I am not, by the way, advocating free Get Out of Jail cards. What I am advocating is grace. It’s all about degrees. Don’t set a standard for your partner that you’re not willing to set for yourself. Don’t set too high a standard for yourself either.