For Father’s Day, JInsider offers practical advice for dads on cultivating an inspired life for their children.
Reflections on an Ideal Dad
I think that the most important lesson of being a father is to lower the bar into the human realm. I will never be the perfect dad. There are times when I embarrass myself by losing my patience or temper. I also regularly mortify my children now that they are older just by being near them in front of their friends.
But if I can remember that I do not have to be perfect but instead simply a mensch – a decent man – then this is achievable.
Psychologist Brad E. Sachs writes that there are really three births for every child. The first is when we discover that we are going to be a father. We fantasize what this perfect child is going to be like and how we will be moved to new heights of love and generosity. The second is when the child arrives and our dreams are shattered by defiant chubby fists and endless bodily fluids or later by adolescent rebellion and failures. But the third birth is when our child is released from our unrealistic expectations and we accept our kid for who he or she is. Our children are then free to meet their own needs instead of ours.
When asked what the secret of being a good father was, the Hasidic master the Ba’al Shem Tov said simply, “Love your children more.” Even when your children disappoint you or your disappoint yourself, all you can do is to love them more. Avinu Malkeinu accepts us despite our shortcomings, so can we be flawed dads loving our imperfect children, too.
Rabbi Joseph Meszler is the author of A Man’s Responsibility: a Jewish Guide to Being a Son, a Partner in Marriage, a Father, and a Community Leader (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2008) (www.rabbimeszler.com)
Lessons from My Father
The essential lesson that I learned from my father (and my mother as well) about building a meaningful Jewish life is that Judaism is what you make of it. Judaism isn’t a set of rules, institutions, or events created by others that an individual simply attends – like a concert or a sporting event – but a dynamic opportunity to create the culture and the spirituality anew. As a family of displaced New Yorkers living in Michigan, I grew up in a very small Jewish community without a great diversity of Jewish opportunities. My parents, who came from Labor Zionist and Orthodox backgrounds, were looking for an intense, liberal, and predominantly secular, Jewish communal life that was largely unavailable. And they wanted my sister and me to have a powerful and compelling experience of being Jewish where we would find ways for Judaism to connect us to the generations, our history, our culture and a Jewish approach to learning and questioning that would make our lives richer.
So instead of simply signing up for the local synagogue and sending me off, my father was part of one of the early groups to create Rishon School, a parent-organized Sunday school and community. As a result, I grew up seeing him as a creative leader, developing an institution that was to be my Jewish anchor. He and his friends, the other parents, took responsibility for what we learned, finding ways for the traditions to be integrated into a modern life, locating space for us, hiring our teachers, writing a community haggadah for our Passovers to capture that particular Rishon spirit. And when we kids were at Rishon, we knew that our fathers and mothers were deeply engrossed in their own studies of Judaism — including a yearlong reading of the book of Genesis.
In my Jewish life, and my career in Jewish communal service, I have benefited greatly from the education and the community feeling that he created. But, in retrospect, I think I got the most out of the experience of knowing that this community was a creation of the love and energy that my father and the other parents were putting into the fabric of the Rishon school – love for us and for Judaism itself. And today, with small children of my own, I joyfully participate with my kids in our Shabbat Katan as we march with our huggable torahs and sing welcoming songs to the Shabbat dinosaur.
Gideon Aronoff is the President & CEO of HIAS, the international migration agency of the American Jewish community. (www.hias.com)
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