By Ilan Schoenfeld • September 18, 2015
Today, when the children came back home from the kindergarten, Daniel told me that he was crying this morning. I asked him why. So he said: "When my father and my mother went to work I was sad and cried."
"But in the end I came back, didn't I?" I kissed his head.
"Even the teacher said father always comes back," added Michael.
In the evening, we went to visit my dad, Grandfather. I sat on the staircase and read a few pages in a book about the Inquisition. Michael and Daniel were playing Fireman Sam, dragging my father's long irrigation pipe out of the yard, to the sidewalk that surrounds the house. Our house is built at a corner of a busy intersection in Ramat Hasharon.
I was not worried. I know they are careful enough not to go down the road. Also, I sat and read only few feet away, and every few minutes I have reminded them to remain on the sidewalk.
Suddenly I heard a woman's voice, driver, shouting:
"Children must not play out that way. Go to your mother!"
"But we do not have a mother!" Michael answered her in his exuberant, jovial voice.
"So where is your father!?"
"At home, reading a book," replied Michael.
The poor lady drove away a second before I went out from the gate and asked them back home. I was concerned with their safety, but especially proud of the response to that lady, and their perception of parenthood. Michael takes it for granted that he has no mother. Daniel attributes to me the role of the father and the mother's role as one.
It does not surprise me. About a year ago I started talking to them about that there are different families, those with a mother and father, with a mother or two, with a father or two, and a family like ours, where the father is also a mother.
"You're not my mother, you Daddy!" Said one of the kids, I do not remember who.
"True, but I'm a father who performs a mother's role as well," I explained.
Since then I have already told them, in essence, the story of how I have conceived them and the story of their birth. I have printed a special private edition of the story, in the form of a children's book, with pictures of the IVF doctor, the donor and the surrogate mother, and they already know to call them by name. Yesterday Michael pulled out an encyclopedic children's book, which describes the creation of various animal life, and I got it up to explain them that in order to create life a seed should meet an egg in a womb.
I teach my children facts of life, and also their uniqueness. They take it for granted.
The only thing that might threat their emotional state is, whether a child or an adult will insult them by saying that they do not have a mother, or ask them why they do not have a mother. If that will happen, and it probably will, they will come to me. And I will have to explain things to them again.
I hope they will accept my explanations. But I am fully aware that there may be a possibility at some point in their lives, in which they will come out against me, because of my choice – single parenting in an old age. I can only hope that I will accept from them not only their bitterness, but also the love and compassion which would follow.
I am writing this because today, at 4:53 in the morning, someone woke me with a Facebook message. Her need to express herself was apparently so itching, that she did not notice the crazy hour in which she sent me this message. It made me jump out of bed, and it was difficult to come back to sleep. And this is what she wrote me:
"Hey Ilan, I want to write you something. So, yes, you're a great father, a legendary one. But who gave you the moral right to create children with one parent, half Orphanages? You're a writer, so you need to be an example for others. When you are 70 years old they will be soldiers. At the age of 30, you will be 80 years old. And you also do not have a spouse. Your deed is pure egoism, pure selfishness. And you can argue that it's not my business, and why do I interfere with your life, but it is my business. Any orphan hood is my business. "
I read this message and postponed my response. I remembered that the writer became motherless in a young age. I realized that she wrote to me from a terrible pain. But her pain made her see me and my children in a very subjective way. I was also afraid that anything I write her, no matter what, would antagonize her. So I remained silent.
After a few hours I received another message from her: "Well … I do not know why you were not upset by me … Excuse me anyway …."
Only then I replied. "Shabbat Shalom. I was not irritated. It made me think deeply, and perhaps even write about it, if you will let me quote your message with or without your name. In what age did you become orphaned? Was it from both parents? Shabbat Shalom and Happy New Year, Ilan. PS You should not send me messages at four-thirty in the morning. It wakes me up, and then it is very difficult for me to go back sleep :)) "
She gave me the permission to quote her words without mentioning her name. So I'm writing this post now.
In her message to me were few hidden assumptions. For example, that my children experience orphan hood because they grow up with a single parent; that, being a writer, I should become an example for others; that always, even in thirty years, I will remain without a partner; and that I am selfish and self-centered.
But she also touched my biggest fear. God forbid. I do not want to die too early, so that I will raise them myself, consolidate their emotional security and confidence in themselves and in their world. I am afraid that I will not have time to teach them the values that I believe in and help them in developing their skills and their way in the world. This is indeed my greatest fear, and it certainly makes me feel guilty, too. But I do not feel selfish, for a simple reason. Once I have decided to bring my children to the world, I also decided that I they will be top priority in my life. From that moment on I became, in a sense, worthless. My boys are important. I am important only or mainly as a parent, who supports them and raise them. This is the reason and source of my absolute devotion to my children. Devotion stands above all my personal, intimate life, my friends and lovers, and even above my creative hopes and aspirations.
Only thanks to the ability to divert myself aside I could and can give myself totally to my kids. And because of this total devotion I can isolate now new time fragments, re-create my time for my writing and for love. It is within my parenthood rather than outside it.
I used to write for six hours every afternoon. Today I squeeze my daily writing and split it between other tasks. I barely remember my love life. But I do not complain. I am extremely happy with my boys, in happy moments as in difficult times.
Devotion is the very opposite of selfishness. The deepest change that occurred to me, while becoming a parent, was the loss of narcissism, or being cured of it. This is one of the profound changes that have taken place in me, once my children were born. And this feels good.
This post is not a written apology. I write it to clarify things. When a person decides to become a parent, especially in old age, he must first calculate his life. And if never the less he insist to be a parent, it is not egotistical or selfish most other parent. Other people, in any age, also raise children in all circumstances, for the most part among warm families, but sometimes in horrific circumstances, and cast their kids into poverty or emotional neglect.
Thank God, my children were born into a supportive environment, which protect and loves them. Because of that they are wonderfully developed. There's no magic in it, but the power of love and total devotion.
No knows how many days on earth are left for him. There are plenty tragedies of people who died young, leaving behind them orphans. Thank God, many of such children have found their way in the world, although there is no cure to the pain they carry.
Parenting in old age is not necessarily a recipe for early orphan hood. With God's help, I will live and last to raise my sons for calmly, canopy and good deeds. But even if, God forbid, I would be taken from them before time, they will know one thing. That they came to this world out of longing and love, and grew in love, and that I will always accompany them wherever they are, if as an inner voice that they will hear inside them, or from the heavens. I have already told them that no matter where I might be, I will always be with them. And over the years I will pinpoint it even more. That always, everywhere, if they will only approach me in their hearts, and ask me something or contact me, if they will just listen carefully, they will hear my voice within them.
This is just like I do with my mother, who died fifteen years ago. Sometime before her death I turned to her, in the middle of a family dinner at Friday night: "Mom," I told her, "I hope you know that, no matter where you will be, I will always hear you and be with you." She stopped what she was doing, filing dishes to the table, smiled at me and said, "Yes, I know."
Fifteen years have already passed, and we still talk. I share with my deceased mother major dramas and trivialities of life. This week she intervened when I was wondering whether to throw chicken soup that was in the fridge a few days, or serve it to my children.
"If there is any doubt, then there is no doubt," I heard her clearly, in my heart. So I dumped trash the contents of the pot.
Single parenthood is not orphan hood. It is a unique family experience. The children grow up with understanding, acceptance and harmony with their situation. The only ones that might violate their tranquility are people who might see their happy lives as early orphan hood.