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Parenting Choices

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Imagine yourself as a 5th grader when suddenly your father decides that he wants you to play baseball. He enrolls you in Little League. You attend most of the practices but none of the games. Your father doesn’t attend anything, leaving all of the arrangements to your non-athletic mother who knows not a homerun from a touchdown. Then, in the 7th grade, your team makes it to South Williamsport, PA for the Little League World Series and the first game you’ve ever attended, never mind played, will be in front of thousands of people. And in front of your father. That is the first and last time you are on the field.

Now imagine yourself as that kid all grown up and with kids of your own. You want your kids to play baseball and have before you two options; to make choices that differed from your own negative experience. OR…to repeat the sins of your father.

A kid in our shul recently became Bar Mitzvah. It was the first such service he had attended because his father hadn’t had to attend services when HE was “getting Bar Mitzvahed.”. So his son never came to shul. And the “deer-in-the-headlights” look on the kid’s face was evidence of that. He did amazingly well considering he only began his education in the 5th grade because his father didn’t start until HE was in the 5th grade. Mom did the schlepping and made all the arrangments because that’s what HIS mother did. Didn’t matter that she’s not Jewish. Nor did it matter that we have different expectations for our families. If it was good enough for him, well then it was good enough for his kid.

And it showed. A more uncomfortable family I have never seen.

Who parents this way? What message is he sending his son, whom I fear will not darken the doorstep of a shul until HIS kid’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah, about the value of being Jewish?

Prior to the service, our kids read over the Bar/Bat Mitzvah certificate and then affix their name on it. It gives us one last opportunity to remind them (and their parents) that Bar Mitzvah is not some terminal experience. Rather, it marks the point at which the youngster becomes responsible (with loving, and sometimes stern, guidance from their parents) for religious obligations. As the kid was signing his certificate, one of the Rabbis reminded him that he was promising to behave in a certain fashion. The father said (in all seriousness), “like repecting your Old Man.”. “No,” replied the Rabbi, “such as continuing your Jewish education.”

The highlight of the experience was Havdallah. As I was about to start one of the blessings, I suddenly realized that something was off. The Bar Mitzvah was taking a sip of the wine that lingered a moment too long and before I could stop him, the wine was gone. Made it a little harder to extinguish the flame without anything more than a single drop of wine.

The nechemta (consolation) in all of this is the mother. Having been the driving force these many months, SHE understands the importance of being here. And she will be the one, I pray, who will make certain that her son upholds the promise he made.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Sunday, 7 December 2008 8:19 pm

    oy vey.

    i feel your pain. on a regular basis.

  2. Sunday, 7 December 2008 8:35 pm

    I love that the other rabbi corrected the father as the BM boy was signing the certificate. A positive experience at my Bat Mitzvah is what propelled me to further my Jewish learning, something I didn’t take very seriously in preparation to that day. Hopefully this young man has learned some semblance of a lesson. Plus, its crazy how often we see the non-Jewish parent taking the lead. I’ve heard this story many many times.

  3. Monday, 8 December 2008 2:50 pm

    If there is one thing that I have learned about people and parenting it is that some times people do things strictly because they think that they have to.

    It is too bad that the father doesn’t have more appreciation for his son and his Bar Mitzvah than this.

  4. knittnkitten permalink
    Monday, 8 December 2008 3:10 pm

    That is so heart breaking!
    Hopefully the boy will find a way to feed his soul and honor himself outside the shadow of his father.

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