I think I will take a pass on the sensitive and controversial issues and write about Father's Day. Then again being a father and at excelling at it is anything but easy. It is one of those jobs in life where us fathers receive no formal training but are expected to do well at it. As in the case of a driver that goes behind the wheel of an automobile without any training can endanger the welfare of others, the same applies to the fine art of being a dad. An irresponsible father can endanger the well-being of his child both physically and emotionally. Granted, I think the vast majority of dads are well meaning but sometimes still come up short in the area of fatherhood.
So I will offer some thoughts on what it takes to be a great dad.
1) What's important to you is important to me. We have dreams and expectations that we want our children to fulfill as in "my son the doctor". I am not suggesting that we lower our expectations of excellence that we want our kids to reach, but rather to realize that the development of a child/teen takes years to materialize and we must demonstrate to them that we empathize with their challenges and struggles. I remember reading a story about one of the greatest dads of the twentieth century -- Rav Moshe Feinstien of blessed memory. He is known as one of the greatest halachic authorities of that century, but less known is his excellence in fatherhood. His son Reuven (now Rav Reuven and a great man in his own right) would relate that they would have a daily Torah study session while they were vacationing in the Catskill Mountains. (That brings up another important topic -- vacation. That is for a future post on this blog.) There wasn't much for the kids to do back then (that was in the pre historic times before all the mobile devices that had games were invented.) Once a day, a farmer would drive his truck into town to pick up some supplies. The back of the truck was cushioned with hay, and the children would climb in for their daily ride. Many times as they were studying Torah, the truck was about to leave for the daily ride. Rav Moshe who arguably cared more about Torah study than anyone of his generation (he was at least in the top five of this exclusive category!) would stop and tell his son that they could continue later but for now he should make sure that he didn't miss the truck ride.
2) Unconditional Love. Your child should always know that no matter what their grades are or how clean their room is -- their dad will always love them unconditionally. We should not think that is a given that kids know that we love them but rather our words and our actions should reflect that. The child should know and feel that his or her dad will always love and care for them in all circumstances. This can even be demonstrated with small gestures. R' Reuven Feinstien remembers waking up in the frigid winters in New York and he would walk over to the radiator and take the warm socks that his father Rav Moshe had left them as he was leaving the house in the morning. Many fathers don't have the opportunity to spend a lot of time with their kids. The time that is spent should be quality time with the child feeling the unconditional love of his/her father.
3) Push him away with your left hand and bring him close with you right hand. I am referring to the golden rule of discipline that is found in the Talmud. Of course, it is necessary to discipline a child/teen. However, the big picture should always be part of this equation. A father sometimes has to discipline or redirect the child's behavior or attitude, but should always make sure that it is done in a way that encourages good behavior and ultimately as part of an overall dynamic of a loving and healthy environment. I once heard from a great educator, that one should have a ratio of 4:1 positive feedback to negative feedback from their parent.
4) Listen to your wife. That may be the most important advice of all ! Having a child grow up in a healthy and loving home where his/her parents listen and respect each other is arguably the best thing parents can provide their kids.
So to all you dad's out there as you stand by the grill or the pool this Father's Day, please remember the wonderful gift of fatherhood G-d has bestowed upon us and most importantly --- hug your child !
Please share your thoughts.