Sunday, November 29, 2015


            It’s been an exciting Thanksgiving weekend, as my wife’s parents recently moved to the same town where my parents have lived for the past 12 years. After a couple of attempts at retiring up north, my in-laws realized that the Jersey Shore was more their style. So this Thanksgiving, my daughters were able to gather around the turkey with all four grandparents for the first time in their lives. It was wonderful.
            As I’ve aged out of some of the restlessness of youth, I’ve come to see just how much it can mean to feel comfortable and happy with your home. To have that roof and four walls, and to want to be there, is a special feeling. Thanksgiving, and the holidays that follow, are a yearly reminder of this.
            I was thinking about that feeling as I read a poem the other day. It’s titled “Home,” and it was written by Warsan Shire, a writer who was born in Kenya and raised in London to Somali parents. The poem addresses the world’s current refugee crisis, one that sees more people fleeing war and oppression than at any time since World War II, according to The New York Times.
            Shire begins her poem by writing, “no one leaves home unless / home is the mouth of a shark / you only run for the border / when you see the whole city running as well.”
            The next stanza continues, “your neighbors running faster than you / breath bloody in their throats / the boy you went to school with / who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory / is holding a gun bigger than his body / you only leave home / when home won’t let you stay.”
            Since the flurry of recent terrorist attacks in Europe, Asia and Africa, there has been increased conversation about a topic that is as old as history – whether to allow an exodus of people to enter one’s country. There are always complications to this issue, but time has a tendency to align itself with compassion and openness, rather than with resistance and fences. Those who enter a new country, as my great-grandparents did in America, tend to do nothing more than give thanks and start their new life with ambition and devotion to their new home.
            It’s tempting, during times of fear, to think that countless people are out to get us. But in reality, most people just want what my in-laws found this year – a place that feels like home. When we forget this, we run the risk of becoming sharks ourselves.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


            As I write this post, my daughter is hanging out at a boy’s house. She is 13; so is he. His parents are there, as are other friends.
            But still. I want the boy gone. Goodbye.
            I’m just not ready. I have to be ready, but I’m not. I need to father a teenager, not a child. And I don’t get a script. Parents never do, especially for the oldest.
            It seems like a heartbeat ago, we were dancing in the living room to Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” me swinging her in circles while she giggled and called for more. It feels like yesterday we were reading Fancy Nancy picture books together, her eyes beginning to recognize words and sentences as we turned the pages. It seems like last year she’d go to bed asking me to tell her a story, and I’d regale her with tales of my childhood, while she lay in the glow of a nightlight, listening intently.
            Now she takes her shower at nine, says a quick goodnight, sets the alarm on her iPhone, and goes to sleep. She wakes up and checks her Instagram and Snapchat, then dresses in her American Eagle finest, before munching on a quick bowl of cereal and heading off to the hallways of middle school.
            We butt heads pretty often these days. I tell her that I think she needs to broaden her friend base. I take away her phone when the device is taking place of the actual world. I encourage her to step away from the texts and Facetimes to go for walks and read books. She tells me to stop, stop, stop it, Dad.
            Did I mention the part about no script? Yes, I think I did.
            I know that if I push too hard, I’ll lose her. I also know that there are far worse things than a 13-year-old who needs to learn a few lessons about friendships and boys and the allure of devices. Much better that she learn this stuff now than later on in her teen years. But when you want to get the parenting stuff right, it’s hard to know when to pull back and when to go all-out. So, with my wife’s guidance, we pick our battles. Talking back to us? No way, Jose. Watching Dancing with the Stars after you’ve finished your homework, in lieu of reading? OK, your choice tonight.
            Asking if you can hang out at the boy’s house? Yeah, I didn’t make the call on that one, as you can imagine. But she’s there, and she’ll be home soon, and I’m sure she’s having fun.
            It’s getting harder to remember this as I climb into my 40s, but I was actually 13 once myself. And I can remember hanging out in basements with girls, playing “Spin the Bottle” while the more daring kids tried “Seven Minutes in Heaven.” That’s not happening tonight, and my daughter has so much of her innocence intact. But somehow I navigated the thrills and terrors of adolescence and came out in one piece. Why can’t I expect that she’ll do the same?
            Because she will, and my wife and I will be there for her every step of the way. But right now, I have to face the reality: I am parenting a teenager now. It’s a different Ring of Fire than the one we danced to all those years ago. But as I see the hormonal sparks and the flames of independence alight in our house, I need to know which fires must be extinguished, and which ones have to burn out on their own.
            Nothing is easy about this. But it is, in fact, what I signed up for. This is my daughter, my oldest child, my pride and joy. I don’t know the script, but I think there’s a lot in there about patience and love.
            And boys.