Monday, September 26, 2016
A Father's Rosh Hashana Resolution
Last night I had the opportunity to hear a lecture from one of the most well known, inspirational speakers in America, Rabbi Yissocher Frand. He spoke about a topic near and dear to my heart- a topic he called "Master in My Pocket." The premise was how our smartphones are our masters-- we are enslaved to them. As a result of perceiving this problem within myself, I wrote in these pages around Passover time how I dumbed down my smart phone by removing email, Safari, Facebook, and Twitter. Now, in light of Rabbi Frand's speech, and given the proximity of Rosh Hashana, it is appropriate for me to do some self reflecting, and offer a recap of how my life has changed since then.
Fortunately, when I initially made the change, I saw great improvements in all areas of my life. Specifically, my relationship with my children was transformed: I was present when I played with them. Two days after making the change, my daughter learned how to walk. I am convinced it is because I was fully present, and able to help motivate her to take her first steps. However, as time went on, the inspiration waned. While I had hoped that by dumbing down my phone I would be more present for my children, and that when they were sleeping, or not around, and I was bored, I would study the Torah from my iPhone, unfortunately, over time, that has simply not happened. I would have my phone out and around, so we could listen to music, make silly faces on Snap Chat, or see my text messages. After being reminded last night of the reasons for my initial decision, however, I am recommitted to taking up the cause of minimizing the use of my smartphone when I am around other human beings.
Listening to the rabbi speak last night made me think of the events of the day, only a few hours before. I am very proud of the fact that except for very rare circumstances, I am able to attend all of my child's baseball games. I remember the feeling I had when as a kid, I would see my mom and dad looking at me proudly after getting on first base with a base hit, or how my dad, who was often coaching third base would raise his hands and clap for me after I got an RBI. I honestly attribute a lot of my positive development as a person to this phenomenon. This gave me a sense of being love and a feeling of security that is hard to even put into words. As Rabbi Frand was speaking last night, I thought how I, just like my parents, were at the game. However, the difference was that in my lap was my iPhone 6, opened to the NFL app which was broadcasting live the end of the Broncos game. I wondered, "did my son see me glued to that stupid phone the whole game? Did he notice how I noticed his plays in the outfield? What is he thinking?" And then I realized how blessed I was to grow up before the smart phone era. Would my parents have been on their phones during my games? How would I have felt? Weren't they there to see me? These thoughts were indeed very unsettling. What would life have been like if everywhere we went I had to compete with my parent's phone for attention? At the park, at the pool, at the Rockies game? Didn't my parents want to spend time with me? Are these thoughts that are going through my mind, also going through my children's mind, G-d forbid?
These stirring thoughts made me think a little deeper. I am extremely proud to have a certain sensitivity to not look at my phone when it buzzes when other people, even strangers, are talking to me. It seems rude, and extremely inconsiderate. (For more on this, please read about my open apology to anyone who has ever texted me.) And I came to realize, if I show the basic human decency to not interrupt my conversation with a complete stranger who is speaking with me, how much more so, is it inappropriate to interrupt my precious children or dear Better Half to look at my phone? When I do this to a stranger, they might think, "wow, this guy is rude-- he cares more about his phone than about acknowledging me." But when I do it to my loved ones, what do they think? Maybe, "I am not as important to Tatty as his phone?" Or perhaps, "I hope he loves me as much as he loves his phone." And then I thought sadly, about how many times precious conversations with my wife been cut short due to me responding to a text. Thank G-d, as we both work hard, and are raising four delicious children, we don't have much time to speak to one another every day-- and when we do-- when the kids go to sleep-- the phone sometimes has other plans for us, and we end up not communicating at all.
As I came to these depressing realizations, I reflected that now, the time before Rosh Hashana, is a time to make a change. To create a fresh start. I decided that I do not want my children to see my smartphone at all. While they are awake, they will have my attention. If I need to sit next to my son and do nothing at all besides watch him do his homework, that is what will be. The smartphone will be put away, to somewhere inaccessible. When they are asleep, my wife and I will have a chance to connect. The smartphone won't be anywhere near us. When I speak to G-d while going to synagogue, the phone will be left in the car. When I am waiting for an oil change, or for a flight, if no one is trying to engage me in a conversation, I will utilize the phone to study and to learn Torah.
I will end with a quote Rabbi Frand said last night: "Distractions comfort us from the greatest miseries, but they are our greatest miseries." Indeed, what greater misery is there than wasting away our precious time, and squandering our most dear relationships?