November 2, 2000
My daughter turned 4 weeks old today. She has never heard of the State of Israel, the book of Deuteronomy, Albert Einstein, Shawn Green, Joe Lieberman, the Holocaust, Golda Meir, Yasser Arafat, the Western Wall, God, or, I suspect, her father.
It's such an extraordinary thing to hold an individual whose mind is totally devoid of the sort of factual and historical knowledge we consider so vital. It's equally extraordinary to love a human being so utterly incapable of reciprocating that love.
The concepts I listed are, each in their own way, aspects of modern Jewish identity. My daughter lives in a world bounded by sleeping, stretching, wriggling, looking around and sucking at her mother's breast. Peace is her ground state. She didn't need Oslo, Madrid, Camp David, diplomats and presidential intervention to achieve her peaceful world.
The pity of it is that educating her means introducing her to a world filled with conflict.
Conflict between nations, within families and especially conflict within Judaism. How am I going to handle that one? "Yeah, we're all Jews, but these people over here don't think these people over there are Jews. And those people - they think the prayer book that these Jews use isn't even a prayer book." Ugh. She's so lucky not to know any of it.
She doesn't know about conflict; she also doesn't know much about me. Love is a funny thing. It's a state in which we deny that we have expectations about other people, but God help them if they don't live up to those expectations. Miss my birthday? Miss my dog's birthday? You call that love?
Actually, love is a minuet of expecta-tions raised, sometimes dashed, and mostly fulfilled. And along comes a little person with no concept of the social contract. She is joy, she is life, she is the future, true. But above all, she is need. She needs endlessly, with no knowledge of or interest in reciprocating. And yet she provokes such wild love, commitment and passion in her mother and myself that she makes a mockery of the concept we call "adult love."
I don't hold her, sing to her, caress her and watch, rapt, as her mother feeds her because one day she'll do something for me. Obviously, as a father I want her to be intelligent, kind, spiritual, beautiful and humble, a credit to her family and her people. A Pulitzer would be nice, maybe a Nobel. But I have to laugh at myself when I think that way. That's a lot to expect from someone who weighs nine pounds.
I love her because I'm magnificently wired to love her. Part of it is the endless narcissism of the search for resemblance. She's also living proof of my virility - more narcissism. But if I'm going to be smart about fatherhood, I absolutely must remember that fatherhood isn't about being a father. It's all about her. That's why I think it's so perfect that months will pass before we get a smile that indicates recognition - and not gas. It's so perfect that she gets to spend such a long time in a preverbal, peaceful world. With language come expectations. Tell Daddy you love him. Massage his fragile ego. Perform. Do. Succeed.
Nope. Not for my daughter, not for any infant. All they can do is shred your heart with their cuteness, their utter dependency, their endless need for feeding, cleaning, eye contact, physical contact, and warmth. For my generation in particular, babies are appropriate penance for the lifetime of self-indulgence that proceeded their appearance.
The immediate satisfaction comes from knowing that my daughter knows she is loved and cared for, even though she has no idea of what love is. That her needs are met promptly even though she has no idea of the concept of "promptly" or even that she has needs.
My daughter may not know about the outside world, but my ignorance of vital things dwarfs hers, despite my 42-year head start. I understand none of the following: how my wife can grow a baby inside her. How that baby emerged safely from one climactic zone (the womb) to another (Santa Monica). How my wife's body became a 24-hour restaurant whose only menu item happens to contain precisely what the baby needs at that exact moment in order to thrive.
I don't understand how the baby "learned" to yawn or stretch so voluptuously, or how her billions of brain cells are activated by mother's milk and parental love and attention, like the lights of a city blinking on one by one at twilight.
I don't understand why the most awesome display I've ever seen is my daughter's facial expressions, which look like Sid Caesar meets Tweety Bird. I especially don't understand why I'd lay down my life for a person who didn't exist a month ago and who has no more concept of my birthday than her own.And if you know the answer to any of the above questions, please don't tell me. For me, as for my baby girl, ignorance is bliss.
Michael Levin is a columnist for The Jewish Journal.
What to Do With Your Kids
A selection of this week's Jewish events for children
Saturday, Nov. 4:
Dig it, the Skirball Cultural Center will introduce kids to the mysteries buried beneath the sand in a simulated archaeology dig and workshop. Bring a hat, closed-toe shoes and clothes appropriate for digging. 2 p.m. For ages 8 and up, accompanied by an adult. $5 (members); $7 (general). 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd. For reservations, call (310) 440-4636.
Saturday, Nov. 4:
PAGES Bookstore offers Saturday Storytimes, with changing themes and a related craft project. This week's theme is "Silly-Billy Bath Time." 11 a.m. For ages 3-8. $3 materials fee. 18399 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana. For more information, call (818) 342-6657.
Sunday, Nov. 5:
Follow the Yellow Brick Road to the Central Library for entertainment and games in celebration of "Wizard of Oz Day." 1-5 p.m. 630 W. Fifth Street, Los Angeles. For more information, call (213) 228-7250.