Fundamentals of Fathers and Sons
This wasn't the first time my dad and I had crossed
rhetorical swords. I recall much earlier instances of heart to
heart dialogue with my father. The dialectic of father and son
has always intrigued me. And who should know better, have the
kind of insight I seek, than my own father?
Do we not refer to our father as “avi mori” my father, my
teacher? He’s been through it, been there and done it, right?
It’s a truism that children are natural mimics, and though a
simple truth, it is one replete with profound implications and
consequences. So important that even as a grown man with
three children, my mother would remind me of this when she
thought I had made a wrong decision or done something
with which she disagreed. "The children will do as you do," she
would remind me. Just doing her job, right? Voluntary
parental retirement is never an option. So I have no problem
with that. Annoying? Yes, at times but necessary nonetheless.
From my side of the kitchen table, I enjoy bonding with my dad.
Always have. It’s the kind of satisfaction a boy must receive
from his father though it usually happens much earlier in the
However, in this matter it also true that “later is better
than never”. That’s how it happened in my case. My father did
our “dor l’ dor"-generation to generation- bonding at the end of
his life rather than at the beginning of mine. It’s typically an
early life lesson for which reason it is placed at the beginning
of the siddur, the Jewish prayer book.
“Shma beni mussar avicha v’al toras imecha.” ("Listen my son to your father's ethical instruction and to your mother's teachings.")
My father gets such nachas, joy, fatherly pride from our
interactions together. He thinks I'm so smart which is his
prerogative, I suppose, which I find funny because I happen to
think the very same thing about him. I haven’t the heart to tell
him otherwise nor am I referring to his technical adeptness
or academic credentials. Rather, how well can one’s father
delineate the shades of gray in life and be able to identify
those moments when there truly exist only black and white?
In Jewish prayer, we say: "Baruch ata Hashem …. Me’vorech
ha shanim." (Blessed are You Hashem, ... who blesses the
years.) I hope that a father should have acquired wisdom
enough to be able to explain that to his son. And he needn’t be
religious to do it although it doesn't hurt if he is.
I can see my dad gearing up. It's as if he is testing my
"sticktoitiveness". Dad practices the pedagogic tactic of leading
me to the trough only to discover that he has set it upon its own
wheels. If I really want to quench my thirst, I have to follow
that trough. When I finally do catch up with it, I really hope I’m
worthy to receive the transmission of this oral tradition. It's
powerful stuff. When you think about it, it is really quite
dramatic, the revelation of the mystery behind the act of giving
over from father to son. I get to ask questions and listen while
my father tells his story to me, his son. Think about it … what
does he possess beyond the transient that he gives to me, the
very act of which assures his eternity, forging one more link in
the chain of our family mesora, tradition? The answer is simple.
His story, But it’s not the facts alone of his life experiences that
make this such a special event. By so doing he “enables” me to do
the very same thing for my son when it's our turn.
Every member of each generation of fathers and sons
participates, but what happens if and when the chain is broken?
When a death occurs as happened with my son Ben? We say it
is a tragedy, but why? Why is it a tragedy? A tragedy is that
which happens at the wrong time in history. Had Ben died as
an elderly man, his death would not have been tragic. My
father’s death at eighty-seven years is not a tragedy. Tragedy
disrupts the natural flow of events in time. Compounding the pain
of the “tragic” is its irreparable nature. Ben will never be a
father. I will never be a grandfather to his children. No child
will ever be able to say of Ben: ”This is my dad.”