Tuesday, May 11, 2021

What’s A Father For?

Darkness falls. I watch the glow of the flame and memories fill my mind. My father always filled my world with light and laughter. We did not have much “stuff” growing up, but somehow we never felt lacking. We never took exotic vacations or had the latest gadgets or toys. My parents provided us with much more to carry us through our days. We had endless love and a faith that anchored us. In a world today, where mothers and fathers often feel stressed and families spend more time on their phones communicating with others than with each other, there is one particular memory that stands out from my yesterday. My father imprinted within me his definition of family and “what’s a father for.”

It had been a long and hot summer. My husband had undergone delicate surgery for a dislocated shoulder and was warned to watch the movements of his arm. He was wearing a sling and was in a lot of pain. I was expecting and approaching my due date, feeling the scorching heat of a blazing summer day.

I took my children outside to play and my five-year-old daughter fell off the swing. Her hand lay limply at her side. She was howling in pain.

I ran to the pediatrician, hoping that he would tell me that she was simply bruised or suffered a sprain. He shared the news that her hand seems to be broken and that I would have to see an orthopedist. My child would require an adult to accompany her to the x-ray room, lift her up and sooth her. I also had an active toddler who needed someone to watch over him in the office as my daughter was being examined and casted. I needed help.

My husband was completely incapacitated and in his own bandaged arm. My mother was lecturing. I knew that my father had left that morning to visit with my sister and her children in the Catskills. He was spending a week in their summer bungalow.

I was mulling over my situation as I entered my home and the phone rang. I picked up the receiver and heard my father’s voice.

“Sheyfelah, how are you?”

I could not speak. I just started to cry.

“What happened? What is it?”

I sobbed a bit more and then relayed the story to my father. I described my husband immobile in his sling and in pain, my daughter wailing and needing x-rays, my seven-year-old getting off the day camp bus shortly, and my two-year-old doing what two-year-olds love to do. The orthopedist’s office was an hour away. I didn’t know how I would manage. I felt overwhelmed.

“Don’t worry, sheyfelah. I am coming to help you.”

“Abba, what do you mean?” I asked. “You just arrived to the country this morning. You spent three hours on a bus getting there. You’re staying for a week. How will you help me?”

“I’m going to take the next bus home. Don’t worry. I didn’t even unpack yet, so it’s fine.”

I took a breath. “Are you sure, Abba?”

I was astonished. I knew how my father had waited for this week. My parents never took a vacation. Being the rov of a shul was a never-ending role that kept my father “on” both day and night. The phone was constantly ringing with all types of needs. Hours were spent preparing for drashos and shiurim, counseling families, visiting the sick, and teaching Hebrew school to kids who could not sit still after a full day in class. It all took its toll. This was to be my father’s big getaway, a week in my sister’s bungalow. His greatest pleasure was spending time with his children and grandchildren. My father would take early morning walks on the country roads while wheeling a stroller, and spend the day discovering the beauty of Hashem’s world while sharing the wonder with the children surrounding him. He would share his stories and laughter. We never heard a sharp word or saw a sour mood. I learned later from my sister that my father had arrived drenched in sweat after a long and hot bus ride, but he made no mention of this to me.

To me, my father simply insisted that he was turning around and coming home. I was overwhelmed by his incredible kindness. I decided to ask one more time.

“Abba, are you sure?”

I heard my father’s wonderful laugh over the phone. And then he said something that I will never forget. In fact, I can hear his voice as I write these lines.

“Slovelah, of course I’m sure. What’s a father for?”

My father came home. He lifted my spirits. He soothed my daughter’s tears. He carried my toddler on his shoulders. He took my seven-year-old on to his lap and told him a favorite story. And he did it all with an incredible smile.

As we grapple with a topsy-turvy world, let us at least hold on to this one unshakable truth: Fathers exist in the lives of their children in a role that goes way beyond the daily grind of paying bills and taking care of daily needs. Of course mothers nurture and give life and love. But fathers are here too, to lead, teach, guide, and provide spiritual and emotional nourishment to both sons and daughters. Fathers can be the moral compass steering children throughout their life journey. And then, when we grow up and may feel overwhelmed at times or wonder if we have the koach to go on, we can hear our father’s voice or see his image – “deyukno shel aviv” – and know that we have been given footsteps to follow. We can look back at the small kindnesses, the little talks when we seemed troubled, and the reassuring arm around our shoulders that let us know that we are loved and never stand alone.

After all, what’s a father for?

L’zeicher nishmas Rav Meshulem Haleivy ben Rav Asher Anschil.

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