(Names and situation changed)
While I’m on the subject of expectations…
The last two weeks of articles told Bob’s story; how he developed a clearer vision of what his family needed from him. He saw his adult family emulating the example he had set for them (by his intense community involvement and workaholic behavior) when they were children. Though as children they resented their always-busy father, as adults they emulated his behavior without seeing that their children were feeling the same resentment they had felt when they were the same age.
As a young man, Bob was sure that his behavior as provider was correct. He had little understanding of men who put their family ahead of their work or the needs of their community. As a grandfather, Bob was sure his new insights were correct and had little patience for fathers who put their family last, after job and community.
Whatever we feel is correct at the time is what drives our behavior and controls how we relate to others. We are, of course, right. Other people’s ways of dealing with family, work and community are, of course, wrong. And so when others treat us in a manner in which we would not treat them, we take it personally. We are hurt and upset, and can’t understand how they could behave this way to us. But in truth, it is not personal or meant to be hurtful. They are merely doing what they feel is right for them in the situation.
When Abe lost his job as the synagogue rabbi without cause or justification, it affected his entire family and split the community. Since it was just after the High Holidays, finding another position for that year was almost impossible as most rabbinic positions are filled by September. Abe’s synagogue was the only one in their town, and so merely attending the services was torturous for Abe, his wife and their children. Going to children’s clubs were equally uncomfortable.
It pained both Abe and his wife to see their son, Eli, stop attending the clubs he loved going to so much and distance himself from former friends. They began to get really desperate, as Eli seemed to isolate himself more and more. And so they accepted one of the many offers of support they received from neighbors and friends – the “anything you need, just ask” offers. Eli would go to the clubs only if his friend Josh went with him.
And so they asked Josh’s dad, Jack, to include Eli when he walked his son to clubs. This worked well for a while, and Eli’s parents felt relieved to see their son returning to normal activities. Then, Abe got a call from Jack. He said that he was sorry but Eli couldn’t accompany him and Josh to clubs anymore. Nothing had happened, but this was the only “alone time” he had with Josh, and he felt it was important to them. If Eli shared it, it just wasn’t a special father-and-son time.
Abe was beyond devastated. He would never have done this to someone else’s child, especially when the child was as alone and hurt as Eli. Abe would have been the first one there to offer help, whatever it entailed. In the same situation, he would have put his “alone time” with his son aside for the needs of the other boy. What happened to “anything you need, just ask?” As Eli’s isolation increased, Abe’s pain multiplied, and his anger toward Jack grew.
Meanwhile, Josh’s dad felt he had done the right thing. He felt terrible about Eli. He liked him, and hated to see him go through such a rough time. But the walks to clubs were the only “alone time” he had with his son. He had a large family and a time- consuming job, and those walks to clubs were their only time to bond with each other. He just didn’t want to give it up.
Looking at this situation as outsiders, some of us will side with Abe while others will feel that Josh’s dad did the right thing. I’d like to suggest that neither did right nor wrong. Each just acted in the manner he felt was right for his family at the time. As a rabbi, Abe had always put his community first. He felt it was the right thing for everyone to do. To him, it was a simple case of right and wrong. He was right and Jack had been wrong.
Jack, on the other hand, always felt it was right to put the needs of his family ahead of the needs of others. He acted in a manner true to his beliefs. It wasn’t personal. He felt badly by excluding Eli. But the right thing was to put his son’s needs first.
We often get hurt by the behavior of others toward us – and especially toward our children – when it doesn’t match what we believe is right and how we would act in the same situation. Yet aren’t both parties doing the same thing by acting in a manner that they feel is right, based on their priorities at the time? No hurt is intended. The solution is to not be offended by someone who is doing exactly what we are doing. They just see their priorities differently. Don’t take the behavior personally.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.