Creating your people
“Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one's youth
Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them
They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies”
Psalms 127 3—5
I spent last Shabbat with a beautiful family. It was a Chabad bar mitzvah, the eldest of (soon to be) seven.1 The father too was one of nine. The mother was one of many. The siblings had a bunch of kids each. And so on.
I noticed some things.
No man envies another when he is amongst his brood of kids.
He does not think: I wish I had more money. I wish I had more time to be elsewhere. I wish I had worked more. Such questions and thoughts are not even wrong — they’re outlandish in such a moment.
No, every man amongst his kids is a king. This is such a strong sense that it is the impression one gets just hearing of a man and his pride in his progeny.
No, every man is not a king. He is a god. Closest to being as God. He looks upon what he has made and sees that it is good.
Building a family is every man’s opportunity to carve out his own kingdom. His own slice of creation. Kids aren’t fungible. There are many children, but these ones are mine. Another man may have a bigger house, a nicer car. But I have my kids. (One more thing to beware in the decline in fertility and families — the distinction and satisfaction from your own kids will need to be met in fervent competition elsewhere.)
The elderly patriarch of this family did not start life as Chabad. He was one of the many who ended up on Australian shores in the wake of European death.
He chose Chabad. He adopted a new life. He bore many children with his wife. Those children became rabbis or other respected pillars of community. And they bore children of their own. But their path was not the same as his. They had rails. A tradition, schooling system, expectations, a known cultural context. One he bequeathed them. He had to lay his own. With his wife, they spun their family and tradition from the wind. They made something from nothing.
And so as this elderly patriarch sat in this room full of his children and grandchildren, all growing down the paths he laid, he saw the fruit of not a single decision, but of decades of toil. He had wrested a legacy from the ether with sheer will and time. Every family contains within it the story of genesis. The rivalries, the tragedies, the loss and the triumph. Creation.2
Maybe I reflected on all this because we are now expecting our fourth. A boy. I guess in this patriarch, I saw something of what lies ahead. Decades of turbulence, the vicissitudes of parenthood, final satisfaction.
Neither of our families live in our city. My wife and I have leaned into a Jewish tradition neither of us grew up with. And now with the fourth on the way, I’ve experienced a sensation I didn’t expect. A sense that there really is no going back. Which might seem ridiculous to you, and maybe it is. But what I mean is: people really won’t invite us to things now (four kids — are you nuts?). It’s harder to go out. It’s harder to travel. I won’t make one of my best mate’s birthdays in Greece later this year. Those last strings that tied us to the Before Times — pre-kids — are snipped.
We are all we’ve got. Three kids is a large unit, four is a small tribe. We’re building our own thing. Our own people. We better get better at hosting.
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Chabad is the most open, outreach based sect of Hasidism, religious Jews from Eastern Europe. I’ve known Chabadniks my whole life and their brand of Judaism is probably the one I am most familiar with.
The multigenerational thing is no longer an Anglo thing (when did it stop?). I’ve come to appreciate the Anglo cultural export: atomisation, distance, abandonment of parents. I think we tend to confuse it with a pathology, which is why we use such terms. But they are another way of spelling independence, exploration, individualism. They are the beating heart of liberalism and the outstretched arm of civilisation. So I am a fan! But. I must say — and maybe I’m giving away my oriental (wink wink) disposition when I say this — I like the multigenerational thing. Big families. Babies. Cousins. It’s a deep and interesting question to ponder how much kidmaxxing conflicts with civilisation building.