Learning to Go with the Flow
In my professional life as a surgeon, every move that I perform is calculated and reanalyzed with precision, with an intent to minimize haste. The goal is that everything goes according to plan.
Our morning routine, however, is like any other family’s: fu*&#$’ insane. Deviations from the carefully planned schedule for getting our twin boys out the door do tend to throw me for a loop. My partner Andy, however, has perfected his ability to “go with the flow,” and I do hope it will rub off on me a little, just by being in his presence. One would think that after five years of raising identical twin boys, any change would get easier and easier, but in reality, it’s baby steps.
Our Kids’ Normal
Likewise, every morning both Andy and I are reminded of how difficult it is to raise grounded, humble children in this city of infinite, crazy wealth. Picture the scene: The elevator opens in the lobby and all four of us step to the door. Sebastian turns to me and asks in his usual loud, projecting voice, “Are we getting an Uber, Dad?” Our doorman opens the front door, and we proceed to the black SUV waiting in front. Off we go for the usual drop-offs at their respective Upper West Side schools. The situation gets worse when the Uber driver doesn’t have any of the usual complimentary candies or chewing gum. Both kids are thoroughly disappointed. WTF? It’s not about their want for candy; I expect that. But it does raise questions like “what kind of children are we raising here?” and “how ridiculous is this?” My kids think, and even expect, that a driver in an SUV is going to give them free candy. They think this is the norm, just like it’s normal for them to have two dads, go to private schools and have both a city apartment and a beach home. And while this might be the norm for us now, I was raised by two teachers in a middle-class neighborhood of New Jersey and went to public school. On foot. So while the boys are correct — this is part of our norm — how can we keep them humble and grateful in this environment?
It has to start with respect. There are many people who work for us, but I prefer to view it as working with us. All of these people — from our nannies, to the doorman, to the Uber driver — have a hand in helping to shape our children’s future and not any one of them is less important or deserves less respect than anyone else. We take this approach when they interact with anyone during their day, and I mean everyone — we have a daily rapport with the man begging for change on the corner of 86th Street and Broadway. We make sure that when they interact with anyone, it involves greeting them by their desired name and making sure the boys shake their hands or look into their eyes with a salutation—this to me is paramount. With respect, you come to humanize. When I think of all the people who interact with my kids on a weekly basis — and it must be over 50 — I become teary-eyed with emotion, feeling blessed that people from all walks of life are helping to shape my kids and turn them into the men they will be. Everyone has a part to play and because we live in this city of dreams, Manhattan, these people expose my children to a myriad of experiences. Andy and I can’t do this by ourselves, and frankly, we don’t want to, since everyone is unique and individually has so much to offer.
Yes, we are two hard-working, full-time dads traveling with crazy work schedules, but the essence of respect can be instilled in the simplest of ways. When we ourselves are kind and humane, acting as positive role models, I do believe in my heart of hearts that it trickles down to the boys.
Once the Uber driver drops off the kids at school, both Andy and I take the subway to work, just like most city dwellers. It’s faster and more convenient, though far dirtier and less comfortable than the back of the black SUV! On several days, Andy and I will split up the duties of drop-off, with me taking Phoenix on the crosstown M86 bus or Sebastian via the local 1 train uptown, and yes, we walk to school sometimes as well. One of the most important learning tools for us is exposure. It has been our goal to expose these kids to everything and everyone — and what better place to do this than New York City? Exposing them to right and wrong, rich and poor, access and denial, and explaining this thoroughly to them at the level of their capacity to learn, has truly brought both my kids out of their shells and helped them to understand and practice acceptance.
A final aspect in this process is simply to call a spade a spade. We aim to have them understand (or attempt to understand) that we do lead a privileged life and we continue to drive home the fact that not everyone has what we have — although there are plenty of people who have far greater. I have to say the word stuff — have greater stuff — because at the end of the day all this stuff means sh*t. It’s teaching and understanding that all of this material stuff is a bunch of crap. Yes, it’s nice, and I feel privileged to have the lifestyle and the possessions we enjoy, but my children need to know that it’s not the foundation of importance. It’s not the makings of a family, the building blocks of love or the definition of success.
To Andy and me, these constant daily reminders continue to be so important in how we are shaping and raising our children. We have so much to do and a long road ahead of us and we look forward to all the challenges that lie ahead, but knowing the importance of respect, humility, acceptance, and self-reflection, we hope these qualities will stay with our children in whatever environment they are placed. I know they will and as long as we keep being self-critical, I do believe Phoenix and Sebastian will make us proud.
Read Dr. Evan Goldstein’s article on the “Top 5 Health Checks to Keep Gay Dads Healthy.”
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