Although I write to everyone, I know that my letters are, at times, more appropriate for particular demographics. Today, I write to young fathers in particular…
In a class this week I was teaching about gender equality in the synagogue when a student stated: “Now that women have equality, it seems that men have disappeared!” Now I’m not sure that is fully the case here, but I do note a decline in the number of young men that come to synagogue with their children. I know there are many reasons, mostly connected to work and family roles and time constraints. Yet, my sense is that children and men both lose out if fathers abdicate their role as spiritual guides.
This was reinforced today with another conversation. A man in his mid-sixties was telling me how much he misses his deceased father. He then proceeded to tell me about going to shul with him. He loved being close to him, walking under his tallit, playing with his tzitzit. He loved to hear him sing and daven. He loved watching people in the community greet his father, and to see the special bonds of people who shared something special. And he was touched when he perceived his deep connection to the community and to that which was sacred. When he asked his father why that was so important, he would say, “because of my father.” Or he would say, “Because the shul needs me.” He realized then that this was something greater then the moment…this transcended generations. Today he will never sit in shul without thinking, warmly, about his Dad and the feelings that generated.
Times change. Roles change. Life changes. And we make decisions about what is important in our lives. I see young men much more involved in the day to day care-taking of their children than ever before. And I see young men that seem to leave it all to the mothers of their children. And I know that the men who think that their lives are better with less responsibility are in fact cheating themselves out of life’s greatest joys and deepest relationships, and very true love. I know that when fathers abdicate responsibility for their children’s care – be it physical or spiritual – they are in fact removing themselves from the common core of the family’s life. And they are losing something that could enrich so much.
We see in the Torah the call to our people to build a religious center and a holy day – Shabbat. And that which was written thousands of years ago has an ongoing and sacred dimension that not only strengthens our people, but strengthens individuals and their capacity to love and find meaning in life’s most important relationships.
I hope Dads think about this when they make decisions about their lives as fathers. They have much to add to every child’s development. And when they add, they grow.
See you in shul!
Rabbi David Steinhardt