Nov 24, 2009

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Celebrating My Daughter’s Coming of Age


I’ve been away from tending to this site because I have been engaged the last few months in planning my soon to be 14 year old daughter’s coming of age ceremony.  It is a hybrid of a Bas Mitzvah, since we are essentially the only Jews in our little rural town and I have no real affinity to my religion we decided to forego the religious but maintain the ritual.  So no religious overtones but a recognition that life for her is about to change and with that were a series of rituals and speeches to celebrate that transition.  I got to give a speech and here it is; it’ll give a little flavor of what it meant to me and her.


Which brings me to the now, Orli.   Let me start by saying I originally had a 42 minute speech written, 3 minutes for each year of Orli’s life but that got nixed so here’s the abbreviated version.  The thing that surprised me is how when it came time to edit the jokes got cut, so for those of you still filling out the O questionnaires don’t hold this speech against me.  It is more heartfelt than irreverent.  But if you read the 30 minutes on the cutting room floor you’d know I am way funnier than Dorry.

It might surprise most of you to hear that I always wanted a daughter.   I know alpha males are supposed to want sons but I realized that in most father son relationships UNLESS IT IS Peyton and Archie Manning the son can’t possibly live up to the father’s expectations – Giant’s fans notice I said Peyton and not Eli Manning.  No matter what, a father always has retort of “oh that was nice but I would have done it this way”   But a daughter….. that provided unchartered territory.  And for those of you who are fathers to a daughter you understand that there really is nothing that can match the unconditional love of a daughter.   With the exception of one incident where she refused to switch the channel from the Tony’s to a sport’s game I can’t really think of any time we had a major disagreement. 

  Most parents will tell you that it is important to understand your children.  That has never been an issue for me because Orli understands me and Dorry.  She just gets it, whatever “it” is.  I think she humors me more than I humor her.   And she has always seemed totally content that we are her parents.  You already heard about the ceremony Dorry and I did before Orli was born but here’s a piece that Orli filled in for us when she was about three.  She explained that even before she was born she wanted us as her parents, so much so that as she explained it, there she was on the baby waiting line in heaven and was way down the line at that so when the time came for Dorry and me to receive a kid she had to think quickly. So she shouted “look over there. Candy.”  As the other babies in waiting turned to look, she ran to the front of the line and got us as parents and there you have it.  This came out of the mouth of a three year old which is maybe all you need to know about Orli.

Orli, is really smart.  Not just book smart but street smart which is weird because we don’t live on a street.  So I guess she is road smart.  She has an entrepreneurial spirit.   Every year she seemed to have another enterprise be it a bucket business, book business, or just developing a killer sales pitch for girl scout cookies, Orli was always thinking of the right hook to close the deal.  She is independent and creative.  She  appreciates the importance of both a well thought out March Madness Bracket and six word memoir She gets that other people’s upsets have nothing to do with her and she doesn’t need other’s approval to feel validated.  She just seems to know she is good at what she chooses to be good at.

So how did she get there?  I’d like to think it is all imprinting.  The very first thing we did after Orli was born was plunk her down on my chest and let her sleep through the night.  With the father/daughter bond intact, I went for the second thing of importance, as soon as we brought Orli home from the hospital I plunked her car seat down on the living room floor right in front of a TV playing the Knick game.  She watched the entire game without crying.  In year one, we took her to games at Madison Square Garden where she actually was breast fed at half time. Only in New York.  I’d like to think that imbued in her a love for basketball that allowed us to connect as I coached her Holland Township team into the finals four straight years.  A lot of her former teammates are here today and it was cool to watch them over achieve every year.  They were usually the youngest or shortest team in the league not always the best on paper  but they always hustled, played smart and played within themselves.  And if it weren’t for the fact that the refs really disliked me and the way I always tried to manipulate the rules they probably would have won the championship all four years instead of just one.  So we got to bond over sports, any Dads dream.

Of course I couldn’t leave well enough alone, the next critical imprint was to turn her on to Singing in the Rain and Gene Kelly and Shirley Temple Musicals.  I don’t think a day went by when me and four year Orli weren’t dancing up a storm in synch with Gene Kelley and Debbie Reynolds.  Orli loved putting on ad hoc dance recitals with Samantha for anyone who had the patience to sit through them.  This of course has lead to her love of Broadway and her trading in her sneakers for tap shoes.  Still I could relate.  At her age I would do anything for a Willie Mays or Reggie Jackson autograph.  Orli is the same with hanging at the stage door waiting for Jonathon Groff or John Stamos.

Next came working on creativity, I used to totally improvise these rambling bedtimes stories every night inserting Orli and her friends into ridiculous tales about Moose and talking ducks.  I would even tape record the stories for Orli to listen to when I was traveling.   And I would read to her from Scrambled States of America and If You Give a Pig a Pancake which even today remain two of my favorite books.  It is amazing to me that in the age of technology Orli finds so much pleasure in a good book.  She likes to chide me and Dorry that she is probably the only kid in America who gets yelled at for reading too much.  But she loves to read and create, as you already know most of today came from her. 

And then there was the seminal imprint.  When she was about seven I took her with me to check out a local sleep away camp, Camp Nockamixon that I was looking at for an offsite for my men’s group.  It was mid-summer, camp was in full swing, we drove around the camp in a golf cart and I could see how big her eyes got looking at everything that was going on.  All these kids, just being kids with no parents in sight.  She got the bug and a few years later she was off to Island Lake first for three weeks, then six, now eight and I suspect if she had a choice she would live there at least half the year.  Camp has clearly given her a sense of independence and confidence that are just icing on the cake.  And of course it has given her access to valuable life skills like improve and flying trapeze.  

We’ve been lucky in that Orli has continually been exposed to a sense of community.  Not an us and them model of community but more of a what’s mine is yours model.  Orli has been blessed by having a diverse and colorful cast of characters traipsing through her life.  Having traveled to California, Vegas, Colorado, Florida, Jamaica, Mexico and Cleveland Ohio, she’s already seen more of the world then I did when I was her age.  She’s developed a healthy competitive spirit from watching me play Risk and has morphed that into a love of games like Scattegories, Wise and Otherwise and Apples to Apples.  She’s gotten a good healthy dose of testosterone from the hundreds of men who have come to our property to partake in sweat lodges and build the road down to the river.  From Dorry’s celebrant work she has come to appreciate the importance of empathy.  And from us both she’s come to appreciate ritual, humor and generosity of spirit and the importance of community. 

We wanted to throw this celebration to bring all of you together — Orli’s camp and home friends, Dorry’s celebrants, my MDI guys, family, neighbors and friends who have been part of our lives for nearly forty years.  And we wanted to do it in a way that was uniquely Orli.  We struggled with what to call this.  Personally I was pushing to call it a Stymie.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Little Rascals, Stymie was the little bald kid with the top hat who seemed to have an intuitive sense of what do in every moment.   Not unlike Orli.  You couldn’t get anything past Stymie, he was wise beyond his years and had retort for everything.  I wanted to call this a Stymie for two reasons. Stymie was the name of the black collie I got as a gift from my friends for my bar mitzvah.  It was easily the best gift I have ever gotten and calling this a Stymie seemed like a nice bridge to this time in my childhood.  I’m not sure why, but there is something transitory about this age, from here on in, life is just different.  Orli will see that her choices have ramifications that she actually has some say in her future and where she goes and what she does.  Which brings me to the second reason, there is a great Little Rascals episode which ends with Stymie sitting on the back of a pick up truck and as the truck starts to leave one of the kids calls out, “Hey Stymie, where’re you going?”  And Stymie’s answer was brilliantly simple, “I don’t know but I’m on my way.”  And that my dear is what today is, no one knows where you are going or where you will wind up but you are definitely on your way.  So enjoy the ride.  I, we, are proud of you and are all excited to see where the truck winds up.  I love you.

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