I wanted to photograph a sunrise over the ocean several years ago. I awoke early, dragged my sleepy daughter, set the camera on a tripod, loaded the camera with film and waited for that perfect moment.
She does the laundry.
On July 14, 1989 I became a father. (My first, real, Father’s Day.) I didn’t know it at the time, but I had set sail on the happiest journey of my life.
My mom raised me. My parents were married, but it was a bad marriage, so I didn’t have a Dad. When I became one, I was never nervous, worried, insecure or any other negative emotion. I was absolutely confident in my ability to be a Dad. I wasn’t cocky. I simply knew to give my son (and daughter, born January 13, 1995) what I didn’t have. A real Dad. It was that simple for me.
How do I define “a real Dad”? Someone who takes care of their children. Period. Whatever needs to get done, you do it. There are no gender specific job duties. Diapers? Change them. Time to eat? Feed them. Doctor’s appointment? Take them. And on and on and on. (For the record, there is one thing I cannot do – cleanup vomit. It’s my personal kryptonite.)
There are gender differences in how we raise our children. The theory goes, Mothers tend to be more nurturing. Fathers tend to tell their children to “Go for it!” Some will discount that theory, but there ARE going to be gender differences. How can there NOT be? There are also our individual talents. My wife and I employ those different, non-gender, talents in raising our children. When she says, “Go ask your Dad,” or I say the reverse, it isn’t to shirk any responsibility, it’s because the other parent is simply better in those specific situations.
Getting back to those “job duties”, I took my children to daycare. It was onsite at my job at a hospital. It also made “visits to the doctor” very easy. I’d do it during work hours. Would I really hand that job over to my wife because it’s a “mother’s job”? I’m pragmatic, not an idiot.
I’ve always done the food shopping. Being raised by just my Mom, I had to go with her. Then when I got my driver’s license, I drove to the supermarket. That routine has stayed with me. When my children were old enough, they tagged along.
For them, growing up meant that if they asked me to do something and I said “yes”, they knew that I meant it. Questions would concern going to the movies, sleepovers, school sports, vacation, whatever. I wanted them to always trust what I would say. As a Dad I knew not to promise what I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) deliver. There are drawbacks to that approach. For years my son kept asking me to take him to San Francisco. I didn’t want to say “no” and wouldn’t say “yes” to appease him. (We did go.) He also wanted to go to London because my wife and I been there. (We went.) He also asked me to take him to Japan. I told him he’s on his own with that one.
In 1990 I started the tradition of reading, and videotaping, “Twas the Night before Christmas” on Christmas Eve. Several years ago when my son was around 23 years old and on a date, he said, “Don’t worry Dad, I’ll be home in time.” Yes, we’re still doing it.
I’ve mentioned my son, but everything above also applies to my daughter. In 1999, because my wife had a job change and couldn’t go on vacation, I went on a Father/Son trip. He was 10 at the time. My daughter was 4. She remembered that and demanded, when she was older, that she’d have a Father/Daughter one. (We did.) Now that my son is (almost) 27 and doesn’t want to go on our family vacations anymore (I agree with his reasoning), I told my daughter, “Well I guess it’s just Mom and me now.” Her answer? “Heck no. You’re not cheating me. I’ve got several more years of going with you.”
As a photographer, I’ve taken millions of photos. I’ve also videotaped a lot. (I recommend that for any parent. My “adult” kids love looking at the photos and videos.)
Naturally not every day was fun. Illnesses, arguments, fights and tantrums are all part of the equation of being a Dad, but there are 3 quotes that answer all questions –
1) “I want to be a Dad just like my Dad,” my son said, when he was around 12.
2) “I love you,” texted my daughter yesterday for no particular reason.
3) And, at my son’s college graduation family dinner I said to him (and this applies to my daughter), “I am very proud of you. You keep me on my toes. I’m always questioning the validity of my advice. And you’ve made my life perfect.”
Portrait of my daughter, somewhere in Las Vegas.
My 2 best reasons for living.
I awoke this morning knowing that my life would be different evermore.
I was a staff photographer at a hospital for many years with an on-site daycare. I brought my children, first my son, then my daughter, with me to work everyday and dropped them off. And with the convenience of working in a hospital with their pediatrician also being there, any doctor visits were taken care of easily.
When life changed and I became a self-employed photographer, aka “freelancer”, both my children were in either elementary or middle school. During this time I drove them to school in the morning and many times picked them up in the afternoon (depending on jobs). For my son, he graduated high school in 2008 so we parted company then but I continued driving my daughter. During my time with the both of them I could be a royal pain as I was “the happy guy” while they were miserable. A funny moment happened when it was the start of a new school year, and as we rode in the car I commented, “I’ve seen happier faces on corpses.” They actually laughed. Other moments would concern morning traffic. The schools were very close to home, but delays at stop signs were inevitable. I would complain that “the satellites are watching me! There was no traffic a minute ago, but now they’re making me stop!” On one occasion I also drove my son’s friend and when he heard me talk about “the satellites” he told Jason, “Your Dad’s nuts!” I couldn’t stop laughing when Jason told me that.
For the past 5 years it’s just been my daughter and I. I still made jokes but she tended to ignore me more than my son. She also tended to “use” me more than him. When she forgot something, she’d text me asking me to bring whatever she needed. She had a 6th sense knowing when she could forget or would need something on a day that I didn’t have a job. I’d moan about it, but would always drop it off telling the secretary that I was the butler.
This all changed yesterday. My daughter graduated high school. My work as chauffeur to my children has officially ended. When September arrives both of my children will be off in college. My son will be in final year and my daughter will be starting. When I get up in the morning, I will only have myself. I am no longer the alarm clock to their day. This has really been the best time of my life. I really don’t want to let it go.
The photograph above was taken a long time ago at the Jersey Shore.
This is how I will always think of them.
My daughter created a video for a New School scholarship in New York City.
It’s a wonderful piece. If you enjoy it, please comment here – New School. It’ll help her win.
Today is my daughter’s 18th birthday.
The photograph is how I will always think of her.
“If I were born in the 1800’s, I’d be dead in a week.”
Hurricane Sandy afforded me the opportunity to get many laughs with that comment.
It also confirmed that I am a product of the 21st Century.
Most important Before Sandy –
1- Family (wife, son, daughter)
2- Basics (food, water, shelter)
4- Everything else
After Sandy –
4- Everything else
I need electricity for practically everything I do, including flushing the toilet. (I have a well.)
When I was 10 years old, all I needed was my bike and my “Man from Uncle” spy gun. Connecting to the outside world? I had my land-line phone.
2012 – I’m at the mall (thankfully it’s open) sitting on the floor with dozens of other folks charging my phone and ipad, and connecting to the outside world. That’s – email, fb, news, entertainment, etc.
My day without electricity –
Arise out of bed at 8:30 AM. Cold. Get dressed. Listen to my battery powered radio. Maybe answer a land-line phone call. Eat something for breakfast. At 10 AM wake up daughter. She dresses. We go to the High School/Red Cross Shelter to get warm/coffee and food. Next we travel to the mall (previously mentioned) to charge our gadgets, go on the internet and stay warm. We return either noontime (for lunch in the shelter) or 2 PM, depending on how we feel. In the afternoon we shower in the gym. (Never in my wildest imagination did I EVER think that I’d be showering in a high school gym decades after graduating.) Then we might go home to fill-the-time doing “something” at home, besides being cold, or we’d stay at the school, staying warm, reading, talking to people and wondering, “when are we getting our power back?”
By 6:30 PM it was dinner time. After that, we’d return to the “sitting area” (the gym) and stay there until 9:30 – 10 PM. Then it was time to go home. (My daughter and I wanted to sleep in our beds at home and not in the school.)
At home, with a flashlight that didn’t leave my side, I’d light some candles, sit on the couch and listen to the radio. My daughter went into her room to go to bed. By 10:30 I’d retire to bed under “many layers” of blankets and wearing hat. Even though it was around 44 degrees in the house, we were still pretty warm. (It was getting up in the morning that was difficult.)
As a pro photographer I did not do what many other photographers probably would have in this circumstance – document the disaster. I took a few photos, but just didn’t have it in me to go out.
For the record, Hurricane Sandy only “inconvenienced” me. My house was not damaged by falling trees and my family was safe. (My wife stayed with her parents because of her job and my son was away at college.) But it gave me a closer understanding of some of what real victims go through with a disaster. It’s the fact that you just sit around and wait. And wait. And wait. And wait. That part is not easy.
The one great thing that did happen during this event – I spent almost 2 weeks with just my daughter. We’ve always been close, but now I think that we’re a little closer.
The photograph above was taken a few blocks from my house.
She does my laundry for me.
I didn’t have a father growing up. My parents were married but when I was born, he left leaving my mom to raise my older brothers and I by herself. (And she did a wonderful job.) I knew that when my turn came, I wouldn’t be that man.
I don’t agree with people who believe that mothers are the primary parent. “Parents” are the primary parent. Two. Each with their own talents, abilities and gender-specific traits raise a child. Men who believe that mothers are the main parent use that as an excuse not to be involved with their children. As for the mothers who believe it, they’re trying to be good moms with fathers who…(previous sentence).
Me? I’ve been hands on since day one. And I don’t have to be thanked on Father’s Day because I’m the one who’s thankful that I have them.
The photograph presented is one that I did not take. My daughter took a self portrait. She stood by her bedroom window letting the natural light fall upon her. She held her camera in front of her and made this photograph. I thought that it was beautiful and amazing.
I’m reposting this photo because it is one of my favorites. It is of my daughter, taken with polaroid film attached to my 4×5 view camera. This photograph was better than the subsequent images captured with 4×5 B&W negative film. So what did this teach me? Even when you’re setting up and testing, whether it’s digital or film, be prepared that the “inspired” photograph might be one of the practice shots.
In 1990 I started a family tradition of reading “Twas the Night…” on Christmas Eve to my children. I started with my son and my daughter was came onboard in 1995. The videos have been edited to watch them grow.
While I’m in the path of Hurricane Irene, luckily I’m far enough west – about 50 miles from NYC – that it’ll probably just be a tropical storm in my area. My neighborhood is not a flood zone and my house sits on an incline so water runs away, but I still cleaned up my yard and tied everything down on my deck, just in case. And there’s always the possibility of a tree falling on my house. Yikes! It’s a surreal moment to prepare for a hurricane. I’ve never done it. I wish I had a waterproof video camera so I could go outside, play weatherman and look like I’m about to be blown away. Why do those knuckleheads do that?
Well, it’s about 24 hours to the big show!
It’s a heat wave and time for the shore.
Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of Britain, said it best in his memoir:
“A friend of mine whose parents were immigrants, Jews from Europe who came to America in search of safety, told me this story. His parents lived and worked in New York. They were not well off. His father died when he was young. His mother lived on, and in time my friend succeeded and became wealthy. He often used to offer his mother the chance to travel outside America. She never did. When eventually she died, they went back to recover the safety box where she kept her jewelry. They found there was another box. There was no key. So they had to drill it open. They wondered what precious jewel must be in it. They lifted the lid. There was wrapping and more wrapping and finally an envelope. Intrigued, they opened it. In the envelope were her U.S. citizenship papers. Nothing more. That was the jewel, more precious to her than any other possession. That was what she treasured most.”
Happy 4th of July.
My 2 best reasons for living. And this is when they were cute.
On one of the pro photo forums, there’s a discussion about portrait photography. Folks are talking about the merits of hiring a real photographer for a portrait vs. what Walmart or Sears would provide. My suggestion – if you have an anarchist on your hands, don’t bother with Walmart. (The photo was taken with polaroid film using a 4×5 Wisner camera.)
The other face I never tire of looking at.
In 1999 my wife got a new job and couldn’t go on our summer vacation. I didn’t want to disappoint my 10 year old son, so just he and I went to Disney World. I didn’t realize it at first, but that Father & Son trip was to be one of the best times of my life.
Fast forward to the present. Ever since that trip I have wanted to have a Father & Daughter vacation. The opportunity never presented itself until this summer. It was a repeat of 1999. My wife got a new job and didn’t have the vacation time to use. My daughter is 15 years old and I was grateful that the moment finally came – before she was “too old” to hang with her Dad. When my son was 10, I was still the “Big Man” in his life. My daughter and I have a wonderful relationship but she is still a teenager and all the parents out there will know what that means.
My trip with her wasn’t to Disney World. When we return there in the future I know she wants the whole family to go. She and I went to Washington, DC and Wildwood. At first I was worried. As I said, given her age, would she have anything to say to me. Would she acknowledge me at all or just go her own separate way? I know that I said she and I have a great relationship, but there’s a difference between the day-to-day routine and being stuck with someone. I kept telling her that she didn’t have to come. I wouldn’t be offended if she wanted to stay home and hang with her friends. “No,” she insisted. She wanted to come with me.
In Washington we went to a variety of museums, saw some Imax 3D movies, walked around a lot and talked about stuff. It was just simple conversation. She tagged along, without complaining, on my photo hikes. She walked with me, for what seemed like miles, in Arlington National Cemetery. (The next day, admittedly, we were both very tired and did a lot less walking.)
Wildwood, our next stop, did have some disappointments. Specifically, the weather was cool and rainy – not exactly swimming weather. But we did walk along the beach and went to the boardwalk and she got to eat some “fried oreos.” And she went on plenty of rides and played her favorite game – ski-ball. I also went on a few “gentler” rides with her but my stomach was still queasy. She managed to make friends with some teenage girls and go on a bunch of the “wilder” rides with them.
Yesterday was “pack up and goin’ home day”, and the weather finally was very nice – blue skies and a warm sun. I asked my daughter if she wanted to stay another day and she said no, it was fine to be going home. I knew the minute she walked in the door (at home) the computer would go on, facebook would appear and she’d be talking to her friends. I just asked her to try and remember who I was and maybe say hello sometime.
Tonight I’m going to watch the video I shot during the trip and read the journal I kept. For every vacation we have went on for years, I have kept a journal of what we do. Everyone expects it now. Even on this trip, my daughter made sure that I was keeping it.
My Father & Daughter trip – another “one of the best times of my life”.