My parents still live in New Jersey, so I don’t get to see them every Father’s Day. But they visited recently, which is always an adventure. You never know if there will be a blowout fight, some passive-aggressive verbal slights, or just typical disdainful judgments about who you’re dating with or how you parent.
This weekend was a new adventure. Yes, my son did humiliate me by telling my dad to stop annoying his mom. Truth be told, my dad was doing nothing more than trying to push the cart at Target and pay for my groceries. I was being an ungrateful bitch by getting annoyed by this instead of being thankful—but this is a topic for my therapist; I won’t trouble you with it (and, yes, I’m working on it).
The real adventure began at our dinner out without the kids. Real grownups talking about real issues in a nice restaurant: good start. The conversation turned to religion, which is not necessarily taboo, as we’re all Jewish—no drama here.
I grew up in a fairly religious home: temple every Saturday (three hours—brutal), strictly kosher (no, I’ve never eaten bacon, or a McDonald’s hamburger… Ever). We didn’t go out on Shabbat, no Friday night dates—it was family time. My faith was taught and swallowed blindly. We didn’t really question it, and when we did, the answer was usually, “Because God said so.” This didn’t sit well with me, so as a teenager I sought my own answers, questioned my personal faith, and found my own path. I had no idea that my mother, the woman who had sent me to birthday parties with a Hebrew National hot dog wrapped in tin foil because the other kids’ house wasn’t kosher, was on her own quest for answers.
Wow—the things you learn at dinner. I mentioned to my parents that I’d joined a study group, and my mom nonchalantly responded, “Yes, I studied with a Rabbi, too.” Really? When? Where was I? And what have you done with my real mother?
Apparently, 25 years ago, my mother was seeking answers to some of the same questions I have today. I was amazed and relieved. Her casual admission that she too had questions made it okay not to have blind faith, even in the things my parents taught us. Those moments when you realize your parents don’t have all the answers (even though they like to think they do) are humbling and scary. But they’re also unifying. For the better part of 40 years, I’ve been striving for the approval from these people sitting across from me at dinner. But for a moment, we were equals, all just trying to figure out life, all truth-seekers. It was very cool.
My moment of equality faded quickly as it became clear mom still knows much more than I. (She did have a 25-year head start.) I’ll share a little of Mama Green’s wisdom. Our conversation about religion turned to my disdain that organizational religion is patriarchal and sexist.
Mom smiles and asks, “Do you know why the Fifth Commandment says ‘Honor thy Father and thy Mother’?”
Me: “You’re proving my point; Father is first.”
Mom: “God knew children would always honor their mothers. We gave birth to them; we are already closer to God. So God put Father first so children would be reminded to honor their fathers, too. They would never forget to honor their mothers.”
I had, once again, been schooled. In perfect mother fashion, she both educated me and comforted me. Well done, Mama Green.
During this visit there was no blowout fight or judgmental snickers about my parenting—only an elevation in the relationship between me and my parents. That’s not a commandment—it’s a blessing.
Hope you had a happy Father’s Day!