Fathers' Day - Am I Doing the Right Thing

Copyright Rabbi Eli Hecht
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When Father's Day comes around I think of the many single parent families where children are brought up fatherless, some never knowing their fathers.  How sad are those who never had a chance to feel the strong and warm loving hand of a father.  I have friends who have great caring and sharing fathers.  Why are some blessed with good fathers or bad fathers and others with no father?  We are not given a choice of fathers.  When you are born, the man whom your mother loved is your father. 

All of this got me thinking.  If God let me be a father, am I doing the right things?  To whom can I turn to get some guidelines?  As a Rabbi, I look towards my religion for answers.  In the Jewish religion there is an ethical teaching found in Pirke Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers) C.100, -Grandchildren are the crown of the aged; and the glory of children are their fathers.

What we have here is a two-way street: parents proud of their children and children proud of their parents.  The glory is shared and earned by father, son and grandson.  On a personal level, I look to my father for guidance and inspiration.

As American Jews growing up in the East Side of New York my father's family experienced the regular joys and hardships of life.  The depression years were hard on my American grandfather.  He was a salesman, always on the move, trying to make ends meet for his six boys, insisting on a full American education so his boys would appreciate our great country.  As a second generation American and an Orthodox Jew, he taught his children the importance of old-time standards, balancing honesty and pride with religion and practice.  He even hired personal tutors to teach the boys the truth of religion.

  Not preaching religion, just practicing, was his motto.  When his sixth son was ordained as a rabbi he said, "I don't really have a need for my sons to be rabbis.  Just be honest children."  To him, being a rabbi was a bonus, being honest was a must. 

  My father became a rabbi at the young age of twenty-one.  He built schools, synagogues, and found time to raise nine children.  All of his children are rabbis or are married to rabbis.  Believe me, it was no easy task to achieve.  Bringing up children in the late 50's and early 60's were trying times.

  One of the main problems with the father/child relationship is where discipline begins and ends. My father created a simple formula.  When he used the words, "I forbid you," then there was no flexibility.  However, when he said, "I don't want you to do it," then we knew negotiations were still possible.  Somehow I don't remember him forbidding me to do anything. When a son loves his father, he respects the "I don't want you" statement as an "I forbid you."

In his 60's my father became president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America, a group representing some 750 rabbis.  He meets presidents, senators, congressmen, community leaders, and gives quality time for the not so famous.  Somehow he still finds time to talk to all his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.  Since he turned 80 he has been busier than ever.

  Recently, I asked him if he was happy with his life.  He answered that "A father doesn't ask himself if he is happy.  Instead, he asks himself if he is doing the right thing.  When the answer is yes, then he is happy."

Unfortunately, for so many fathers the opposite is true.  If they are happy, they reason that whatever they are doing must be the right thing, regardless of the cost to the family.

My job as a father has been made simple by being blessed with a father who expects you to live like him.  Father's Day reminds us to try to follow in our father's footsteps.  Remember that we only have to follow footsteps.  If we did that we would be very happy indeed

There is a Father's Day prayer created by the great Hassidic master, Rabbi Nachman of Breslow (1772-1810):  "Dear God, teach me to embody those ideals I would want my children to learn from me.  Let me communicate with my children wisely - in ways that will draw their hearts to kindness, to decency and to true wisdom.  Dear God, let me pass on to my children only the good; let them find in me the values and the behavior I hope to see in them."

Once, I asked my son, "What do you think of Father's Day?"  He ran to get the New Book of Knowledge Encyclopedia and read aloud to me:  "Spokane, Washington, is said to be the first city that observed Father's Day in 1910.  In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the third Sunday in June as Father's Day.  Roses are the Father's Day flowers - red to be worn for a living father and white if the father is dead."

Then my boy turned to me and said:  "Father's Day is every day.  It says clearly in the Ten Commandments, "Honor your father and mother."  That is the nicest Father's Day gift anyone can get.  A happy Father's Day to all.