Eleven years ago I would stare at my pregnant wife’s belly and wonder whether we were going to have a boy or a girl. I’d put my hand on her stomach and talk to the baby inside and promise that I would do everything in my power to give him or her the best life they could ask for.
When December rolled around and we started the ‘baby watch’ I really began thinking hard about all of the things that were going to come along with being a father. Part of that process for me included trying to think of really hard questions and how to answer them. Looking back on that time I can’t help but laugh at some of it.
Call it anxiety, nerves or whatever you want. I was terribly excited but I did wonder how some of it would go in real life.
Midway through the month one of the men in my office told me that he thought it was so cool that my children would get to celebrate with a real “Jewish Christmas tree” and that he was jealous that I would get to play Santa Claus.
I looked him in the eye and told him that there are NO “Jewish Christmas trees” and that I wouldn’t teach my children to believe in Santa Claus.
He told me that if I did that I was depriving my children of something special and that he thought I was wrong. I shook my head and told him that they would never miss it because it is not our holiday and that it was ridiculous to suggest that. As you might imagine the conversation had gotten a little bit heated and neither one of us was interested in backing down.
When I look back at that moment I see exactly where and when we trampled on each others beliefs and had I to do it over I might handle it differently.
It isn’t because I have changed my mind. There are NO “Jewish Christmas Trees” any more there are pregnant men. I know that some people disagree with this and that there are Jews who put up a tree in their home. That is not something that I can get behind or support. It is a hot button issue for myself and lots of others but there isn’t a way to spin it.
It may not be for me or my place to judge but I have more respect for the members of the tribe that are honest about it. If you put up a tree call it what it is. Don’t call it a “Chanukah bush” because it isn’t and it never will be.
But Santa Is Fun
My former colleague was more irate about my refusal to teach my children that Santa was real than about the tree. He told me that he thought it was terrible and that if my kids went to school and said he wasn’t real they would wreck Christmas for others.
I told him that I would teach my kids not to talk to the other children in school about it but that was as much of a compromise as I was willing to make on the issue. If my memory is accurate he didn’t speak to me again until well into January.
After a decade of parenting I think that I have a better understanding of some of these issues than I did. The joy and innocence of a child is precious and I have done my best to protect it for my kids. I expect no less from other parents.
Yet I can’t say that I feel guilty about teaching my kids that Santa isn’t real. It is not my responsibility or obligation to do otherwise. I am their father and my job is focus on passing along the values that I see as important and my religious traditions/beliefs will not be trampled on.
All that being said I can’t remember a time where any of this was a serious issue. No one has ever said anything to me that suggested that a problem has been created because of this. And my children have never felt like they were missing out.
I think that in part it is because I haven’t ever taught them that one is better than the other. When they have asked me about other religions I have always told them that people are entitled to believe what they want provided that they aren’t hurting others because of their beliefs.
And thanks to our neighbors we have had many opportunities to enjoy a tree in their home. It smells great and looks pretty- but it doesn’t belong in our home.