Daniel Turns 18, Birth of Egyptian Democracy on Hold
February 11, 2011 9 Comments
Hod Hasharon, Israel—The boy was turning 18. “Daddy, wake up,” Daniel says insistently, as I had succumbed to a weird delayed jet lag. It was around 11:30 in the evening (4:30 pm EST). “You are missing history,” he says, “wake up, Mubarak is resigning.”
As abuses of history go, Daniel’s is perhaps the most gentle and heart-warming in history. By the time Daniel wakes me up, it is clear Mubarak has no intention of resigning. That hopeful moment, predicted by too many, had already been dashed in a defiant speech.
But Daniel wants me awake. “Otherwise, you will wake up at 3,” he tries to explain. But in truth, he wants me awake at midnight, when he turns 18. I watch events in Egypt not unfold on an English language TV station upstairs. At 11:59, Daniel yells impatiently, “Daddy, I’m turning 18 and you’re not down here.”
I run downstairs, scolding him for getting upset when it’s only 11:59. Savlanoot is the Hebrew word for patience, and probably for the last time, I say to him, “savlanoot for boys”—my shorthand throughout his childhood for “you’re not even managing the special, indulgent standard of patience for boys.”
When the midnight moment arrives, we hug, everyone hugs him, and even language changes. Now, with my terms of affection, I am obliged to acknowledge his manhood respectfully. “Happy birthday best boy man!” “I love you great boy man.” His innumerable nicknames are longer now. “Dookiemon” (a spin-off from Pokemon, which stuck) is now Dookiemon Man. “Shponk” is now Shponk Man. “Shpinkle MacPinkleWinkle” is now Shpinkle MacPinkleWinkle Man. There are others, but they might embarrass him.
Since I arrived last Friday, I’ve been preparing him for manhood. That cereal box with a cartoon on it? Might want to reconsider. He reminds me that I am Lucky Charms man. True, I concede, I’ve come full circle.
Our game of choice this visit is the manly pursuit of Power Yahtzee. We’ve taken to calling it “Schmatz,” which serves as noun and verb. “Hey, wanna’ Schmatz it up a bit?” We’re competitive in that manly way, but with a dollop of manly solidarity. He rolls four ones, but already has ones. He goes for the Yahtzee. “I’m a man, and this is what men do.” I sing the anthem that necessarily accompanies such courage. “He know’s he’s a man, he knows he’s a ma-a-a-an.” (I take the melody from an old U.S. Army commercial jingle. Or maybe Wheaties. Can’t recall.)
And now my son is a man, already an inspiration of a man, a man of good character, good will, and good humor in a region where men are tested in ways we Americans can barely comprehend. When, that is, they survive to manhood. In Pakistan earlier this week, a young Taliban boy walked into an army compound wearing a school uniform and blew himself up, killing 31 and wounding many others.
More hopefully, an Israeli woman gave birth in a Palestinian hospital on Wednesday. For security reasons, Israeli citizens are barred from visiting Palestinian areas. The woman, a Jew who speaks only Hebrew and who converted to Islam, was with her Arab Israeli husband in Ramallah when she went into labor. The rarity of the occurrence sparked a visit from the town mayor and flowers from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The couple named the boy Omri, a name used by both Jews and Arabs.
The poet Rilke said God is in all beginnings. Let it be so, and let Him persist with His grace—for Daniel’s new manhood, for Omri, for the still hopeful birth of Egyptian democracy, and for the faintest stirrings of a durable peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
UPDATE: Mubarak resigns. It may not yet quite be the beginning of democracy, but it is the definitive end of one despot.