I’ve been somebody’s father for half my life and a grandfather for almost one year. This fact is an extraordinary part of my identity. It means that I have spent untold hours, awake and asleep, thinking about my children. I have held my children as they slept. The experience of holding one’s son or daughter nestled into one’s chest or on one’s shoulder is beyond description. It is an intimate moment of warmth and connection which dads need, never having carried our babies inside of our bodies or nursed them (a bottle is a very distant second..). Of course I’ve also held screaming babies, be they sick or angry or over-tired… That moment is not one that I cherished, that sense of not being able to gain control. The good news in those moments is when the storm passes. Eventually, they will stop crying. And that’s a good lesson in and of itself
For half my life I have bathed, clothed, burped, kitzled,, and plain old loved my children. I’m not looking for a medal: I know lots of Dads have done this and more. And yes, in the early years I may have said I had to go home to babysit my kids, which I know is not the most endearing phrase, but I said it. I have schlepped my kids thousands of miles for various school, temple, family, and other activities. Some of the time I did it graciously. Other times, not so much.
The truth is that in between all of the big moments there are countless little ones, little moments of meaning. Reviewing homework, teaching how to ride a bike, helping to cook home fries, sitting together on the couch watching TV, and so forth. I am of the generation that began to take seriously a father’s role in child rearing. We didn’t all have great models of fatherhood, so like many men I made it up as I went along.
As a child it was clear to me that the role of fathers was to, among other things, scare their children. How many of us over age 45 heard the warning “wait until your father comes home!”. Of all the things I’ve done as a father, one of my proudest declarations is that I did not beat them, not once. I may have done some screaming along the way, but I never belittled my children. Perhaps this sounds like a relatively insignificant accomplishment. But for any father who as a child experienced physical violence, getting out of that cycle of responding with violence is no small journey.
Again, I am not expecting a medal nor am I applying for sainthood. But for me, it is an accomplishment for which I am extremely proud. So many of the rules have changed in my lifetime. Some of the changes are so powerful, so life affirming. I am so deeply thankful that my children are not afraid of me.
I am also deeply thankful for the advent of feminism in Western culture. Because without the rise of women in the professional world, without their insistence that men step up to the demanding role of parenting, I think many of us men would still be somewhere in our caves. So to be very clear here on the weekend of Father’s Day, I am endlessly appreciative of the women who’ve helped us become better fathers and, frankly, better men.
My charge to fathers everywhere, Jewish and not Jewish is to give your children unequivocal, unambiguous love and support for who they are and what they want to do. Help them experience your strength without fearing its intensity. Remind them that they are a blessing to you and to the world.
I really do you remember what it was like to hold each of my children. That such a tiny creature would one day grow and become a mensch, a player in the world, is beyond my wildest imagination. God knows, I had no idea how to be a father. No real mentors or guides. Just intuition and a great parenting partner . I pray that what I did was enough. Though as any parent knows, there’s no such thing as enough.
Happy Father’s Day.