What's In A Name?
Ever cry in public? I just did. Totally embarrassing. I was listening to a song at Einstein Bros Bagels (not a song at Einstein Bros - a song flowing from my phone to my earbuds while I'm sitting at a table at an Einstein Bros) and I started to cry. Held it together on the first and second listen. Third time through, I started to cry, hustled out the side door, sat down in my car, and sobbed. There was a lot going on in those tears. I'll try to explain.
Our first granddaughter was born last night. One month early. My wife and I are having dinner with friends and my wife gets a "water just broke" text. That's a great text at 40 weeks. At 36 weeks, it's "wait, what?".
Your first instinct is to try to get there, but they're 1,600 miles away. And packing for the trip to the hospital. Not the exciting, humorous, "did you remember my toothbrush?" sitcom trip to the hospital. The "it's only been eight months - is everything going to be OK?" trip to the hospital. Googling the topic back here in Illinois was both reassuring and terrifying. We talked to them just before midnight, my wife said a quick prayer for them, and then we helplessly tried to sleep. I woke up and checked my phone a couple times, but there was no update.
At 4:45 I got out of bed and texted my son, asking how things were going.
"Why are you up?"
"Because I can't sleep because baby."
"Well then you get to be the first to know. 5 lbs, 7 oz, healthy baby, healthy mama."
I'll forever cherish this. Being the first to know simply because I sent a text just after she was born. It's ironic, given that I'm a notoriously late sleeper. But also, she's the first Rosenthal born in 49.5 years. Since, you know, me.
If you don't know my story, I'll go back through it. And as I'm saying that, I'm realizing that this is one of those times where I'm fully aware of my audience. Aware of the people who will be reading this. Perhaps, at certain times while writing this, I should address some of you directly.
Brad, remember the pledge meeting at the fraternity house where I broke down in tears? Pledges were assigned a nickname, and mine was a play on my last name (from Fletch), and in this meeting someone said "Rosenthal, what's wrong?" and I had this internal "oh no not now not now not now" until I burst into tears explaining that my family had this long standing thing about our name and lineage - that's the family crest from my living room wall in the photo up there - and as dumb as it sounds, getting the nickname Dr. Rosen(something) bothered me on a molecular level. (It was respected and changed. And I left the meeting horrified at being the guy who burst into tears at a fraternity meeting. Over a nickname.)
I honestly don't know where it started (the name thing). But it was always important. I used to think it was about being the only male Rosenthal (my dad had two sisters and no brothers and I have one sister, no brothers). I guess I was "charged" with carrying it forward to the next generation. There was this "duty" there.
Maybe 18 months after that fraternity meeting, my father passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. I've written about that so many times that I already hate this paragraph. It's been 28 years now, and I've fully adapted to a world without him (as we all eventually do after loss), but I bring this up to say that The Name Thing quadrupled that day. Derek, you probably remember our conversations about this very subject at senior studio. My sister married, and my mom re-married five years later, and suddenly I was the only person in the entire family with the last name Rosenthal.
I don't want everyone to get the wrong idea here. This wasn't some "you MUST BIRTH ELEVEN MALE ROSENTHALS" thing. It was a name thing. A generation thing. A Christian family with a predominantly Jewish last name that was apparently fascinated with our specific line of Rosenthals. We were Ancestry.com before Ancestry.com.
Because of that, it was often on my mind. Well, except for one time: when I met my wife. It seems as though a guy with The Name Thing would meet a woman with three boys of her own and think about lineage or something. But I never recall thinking about it. Maybe it was the love thing. I knew this was it and didn't hesitate another second. It wasn't until later that I realized adopting the boys (their dad wasn't in the picture) would change their last names to my/our last name. And when my oldest asked me - his idea - if he could also change his middle name to Robert, well, there was another big, ugly, public cry.
Just think about all of the dots connected there. The guy with The Name Thing adopts sons who will now carry the name forward. Boys with a deadbeat dad (who, inexplicably, wanted nothing to do with them) get a father so ready to get fatherhood started. And, perhaps most importantly, these boys don't have an ounce of my DNA so their heads aren't abnormally large. Win, win, and win.
I've written about the boys so many times that many of you wonder if you subscribed to an Illini blog or a dad blog. I'd be going along one summer, going one by one through The 90 Illini, and then, out of nowhere, a post about dropping my middle son off at Colorado State. That was 2012, by the way, nearly 10 years ago. Speaking of my middle son, I also wrote about his wedding in 2020 and, five days later, I wrote about their grandfather passing away. He got back to St. Louis on Monday night after attending his grandson's wedding and passed away Wednesday afternoon.
Now I'm writing about the birth of my middle son's daughter. The first Rosenthal born in 49.5 years. And I'm completely overwhelmed by it.
First off, I want to reiterate that so far, she is completely healthy. There are lots of questions for a baby born at 36 weeks, but so far, she has answered every one of those questions with "I'm good." I can't wait to get out there and hold her.
See, last year I got to experience "parents glowing with their newborn" for the first time. I had been at the hospital when my nephews were born (with what seemed like 15 other people), but last year our fourth son and his wife had a baby. I guess I need to explain that one as well for those of you who haven't read everything I've written. Actually, let me just cut-and-paste my explanation from the 2020 article I linked just above:
Even after the adoption, there were still quizzical looks. Since we were "still young", many thought we would try for kids "of our own". Nope. These are my boys, so "of our own" doesn't even make sense to me. I have a family. It's my wife and I and our three boys.
Actually, it's four now. Our oldest son's best friend lived with us for a while, and our sons started telling people they were one of four boys, and we started telling people we have four sons, and now I never want to have a Christmas without our fourth son and his wife. Sure, it's unconventional, but my personal definition of the word "family" has changed so much over the last 20 years.
Because of Covid, when their son was born (our fourth son and his wife), only one person was allowed in their hospital room at a time. So the morning after he was born, I got an hour with two parents and a newborn. I'd never been around it, I'd never understood it, and now I totally get what everyone has been talking about all these years. There's something magical there. Otherworldly.
We've finally reached the present. And my tears. Here's the best I can do to explain them.
I didn't sleep well. I got up sent my son a text. It's right after she was born (and before he can send out the photo with the "mother and baby doing well" group text), so I get the treat of being the first to know that she's here (and that all is well). He sends the group text with her full name. At the end of her name, it says "Rosenthal". I was not prepared for how that would affect me.
Being a month early, obviously, there are a lot of tests (lung function, etc), so the morning is a bit of a blur as we get more information. My wife has corporate training today (remote, thank goodness), so she has to attend her Zoom training. I clear out (as I do any time she's on a Zoom in the main room) and go to Einstein Bagels. I spend the first two hours trying to figure out our travel plans.
This whole time we're continuing to get updates from our son and daughter-in-law. All tests good so far. Probably won't need the NICU other than the initial testing. Might even get to go home in three days (!!!). A month early and no hospital stay required? I didn't even know that was possible.
I'm still being the analyst at this point. Obviously, over the weeks ahead, there are concerns that come with being born at 36 weeks. So I'm still doing some Googling and other research, half-helpful, half-harmful. I'm in analyst mode, so I'm not really thinking about what all of this means. If you wonder if I live my life like I blog, well, there you go.
My phone buzzes. It's a text from our daughter-in-law in the four-way group text, thanking my wife for the prayer the previous evening and sending us a song. "This was playing right as she was born and it felt like God just telling us that everything was going to be OK."
I click on the song (a song called The Blessing). I'm not familiar with it. But the lyrics are familiar. When you went to your aunt's house in 1979 she had this Bible verse in cross-stitch on the wall:
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.
As I'm listening to the song, the magnitude of everything starts to hit me. I don't know about you, but for me, when I'm in analyst mode and "then I'll research babies at 37 weeks and then I'll look for a different flight on Tuesday morning and then..." is dominating my thoughts, something like this can crest over me like a wave.
I'm listening to the song and I get to this verse:
May His favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
And your family, and your children
And their children, and their children
I listened to the song three times. And it just kept piercing through. This is a generational day. Every step of my story, from meeting my wife to adopting her boys (making fatherhood "official" even though we didn't need it) to dropping the middle one off at Colorado State and then attending his wedding in the mountains eight years later all the way to to the birth of their first daughter - this is what I had prayed for. I was really struggling to hold back the tears.
I should pause here to note that this is not the lineage discussed by my grandfather, of course, where everything was focused on having a son to "carry on the family name." The generation after me took my last name through adoption, and now I'm discussing a granddaughter carrying it forward to the next generation. But given our family story, even that makes this a bit sweeter. Personally, I see no difference between birth and adoption. And I could even see my granddaughter asking to keep her name some day.
Back to the tears. There was just something about that last line - "and your children, and their children, and their children" - which finally broke me. I hustled out the side door, sat down in my car, and sobbed. Here's my best explanation.
The one thing about this new job of mine: it's been stressful. I quit my day job and Covid happened a few weeks later. Yes, when you've asked me about it, I've told you the same line: "yeah, it sucked, but it also meant that I got to be one of the 75 people in the building to watch a top-5 Illini team in the 2020-21 season and that's not nothing." But it's been harder than I've let on. Covid had a huge impact on my wife's job as well. During this whole thing we moved to a new city and couldn't even go to a restaurant or meet new people. And we couldn't help but notice that our kids are further down the road with their own lives. This has easily been the largest period of isolation for us.
Even the times of celebration (my son's wedding) were followed by times of sorrow (my father-in-law's passing five days later). We're still happy we've made this move, but I cannot report back that it's gone smoothly. And whenever the road is bumpy, I no longer look at the horizon. I'm looking at each and every pothole. My goodness did the last 27 months have a lot of potholes.
That's where these tears originated. The birth of the next generation of Rosenthals has lifted my chin and set my eyes upon the horizon. A night of tossing and turning turned into glorious news at dawn. Two years of potholes redeemed by one beautiful little girl. With the last name Rosenthal! What's in a name? A Rosenthal by any other name would not smell as sweet.
So that's me on June 29, 2022. Whatever your faith (even if it's "none"), I hope you get to experience a moment like I experienced with this song today. In 1992, about a mile from here, I (quite embarrassingly) wept at what I perceived to be the degradation of my last name. In 2022, at an Einstein Bros, I wept at the generational continuance of my last name.
I hope you get to experience a feeling like this. I hope everyone in your family gets to experience it.
And your children.
And their children.
And their children.