Dads

The Steep Learning Curve of New Jewish Fatherhood

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For the last several years before Rosh Hashanah, I read the same book: Rabbi Alan Lew’s “This Is Real And You Are Completely Unprepared.” As this new year rolled around, my wife and I were expecting our first child, and I realized that this book is not about the High Holy Days, it’s about parenting.

Our son, Lior, was born at the end of February. He proved to be the best gift, because his is my birthday, too. Since then, we’ve been doing all we can to become proficient parents as quickly as possible. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, right? The first step was to survive the drive from the hospital back to our house. My knuckles, wrapped around the steering wheel, have never been so white. Then, we had to make it to and through the bris. Shortly there after, the grandparents packed up their things, heading back home. Here we were—a new family of three. Things just got real. How were we ever supposed to prepare for this?

In truth, Lior is an amazing guy, and we are loving life as parents, even with limited sleep and a long list of questions for our pediatrician. We’ve learned so much about who he is and who we hope he is becoming. Yet with all the joy, I never imagined parenting would be like this—the small moments of delight alongside feelings of pure exhaustion. Mostly there’s this fear that one day someone might realize we never read the user manual. This first month of fatherhood has been humbling, and it has brought a few key lessons for me:

1. Jewish spirituality matters. My wife, Liz, and I are both rabbis. Still, until Lior was born, believe it or not, my Jewish practice could be anemic. I can be lazy about my own spiritual life. Lior has encouraged us to sing the bedtime Shema prayer each night, and we have been singing the morning blessing, Modeh Ani together as we make coffee first thing in the morning. Having a child has enriched my daily Jewish life.

The weekly rhythm has changed for the better, too. Shabbat is different, now, the day during which I count Lior’s age by weeks. As the end of the week comes closer, I look forward to Shabbat dinner as a family, specifically to the sweet moment when Liz and I place our hands on his head and bless him, making a sacred imprint. In this first month, I’ve come to realize that that’s our new calling as parents—we’re in the Jewish imprinting business.

2. Patience and tolerance, or Savlanut v’Sovlanut, are everything. Lior is an explorer who has touched down on new land. So for him, everything is brand new. For instance, at first, he was terrified of the bath. Now, he gives us a look that says, “Maybe this isn’t so bad after all.” Too soon, I know he’ll be splashing in the water.

Lior has already taught us the values of patience and tolerance. His cries are distinctive; still, they are unpredictable. At 2 a.m. last night, we disagreed about what we should be doing. He wanted to hang out in the rocking chair with me, and I wanted to sleep. Being a new dad means rolling with it. As someone who is drawn to routine and ritual, this isn’t easy. But Lior and I both need me to loosen up and relax, to tap into new reservoirs of patience and tolerance, and to be with him as he is in that moment, not trying to fit him to my schedule or pace. Lior may be the new explorer, yet I’m learning a new landscape too.

3. Birthing parents have lots of resources today and could use more but non-birthing parents need support, too. Immediately after Lior was born, we felt an incredible embrace by our community. There was an outpouring of care and support, including congregants are providing us with meals, friends who have older children gifting us hand-me-down onesies, and other moms being here with Liz to help her through all the new aspects of her role.

But I admit that as the community has come around us, I—as the non-birthing parent—have experienced a tinge of loneliness. A mother puts forward a tremendous amount of energy in this first month, and her body needs to heal from the labor and delivery. I am in awe of my wife. Still, third insight I’ve taken from this first short period of parenting is that I have a longing to connect with other parents about our experiences.

The predominate models of fatherhood in our culture today don’t resonate with what I’m looking for, especially not pop culture. I’m not the Don Draper distant father or the weak-kneed, silly Phil Dunphy sitcom dad. My wife and I are committed to egalitarian parenting. And so I find myself longing for conversation with other parents about how to be strong, confident fathers and mothers to our children, teaching emotional and spiritual wholeness. This first month has also woken me up to a need I have, to be in conversation with others about how to be an egalitarian parent. And that is a conversation I would like to have with other new and experienced parents. As a non-birthing parent, I wonder where to look for that.

I don’t think I know very much about this new role in which I now find myself. But this I can say: Parenting gets real, fast. We can do little to prepare for it. Experience is the best instructor. The only thing I’m certain of is that there is so much more to learn.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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