I just returned to our friends’ home in Los Angeles from Santa Barbara, where I spoke to some superb Jewish college kids.
The drive, in typical sunny California weather, was made even brighter by a phone call from one of my grandsons, Motty Rubinstein, Esq., who is currently eleven and a half.
“Zeidie, ” he began, “how are you?” (I’m also “Saba” to my Israeli contingent). I assured him I was just fine and asked him how he was. It turned out he was also fine. With the formalities over (Motty is English, so there have to be formalities), he hesitantly moved to the purpose of his call.
When I was in England a few weeks ago, he showed me his prowess on a keyboard he had borrowed from a friend. Motty wanted to buy his own. I offered him a deal: With Pesach coming up, if he resurrected his previous year’s car-cleaning business, I’d match him “Pound for Pound” so that he could get his own musical instrument.
He was now phoning to inform me that he had reached his target and to ask whether the deal was still on.
It certainly was!
Being part of your children’s lives – and your grandchildren’s lives too – is one of the world’s greatest pleasures. Even if it is sometimes a tad expensive.
I had just turned eighteen when my father passed away on Purim morning. I was in shul when someone came to tell me there was a call from my mother telling me to rush back.
Chovos HaLevavos writes in the fourth perek of Shaar HaBitachon:
“Hashem brought you to this world to be born in precisely the place you were. He chose only those two individuals who brought you into the world to be your parents…no one else.”
Of course pregnancy does not bestow perfection. The young mother- and father-to-be do not become different people because a child has arrived. If they had character flaws that had to be worked on before the child was conceived, they will still need to work on them after the child is born.
Our job as children is to learn from the things our parents got right as well as from the ones they did not (or at least what we always thought they didn’t until we became parents ourselves and discovered that parenting isn’t so easy after all).
I recall an incident that occurred when Motty’s dad was about four years old. I had been reading a letter from my bank manager who was threatening dire consequences if I didn’t do something about my overdraft. It was once again being overwhelmed by the costs of bringing up a young family.
This man was always writing me “dire consequences” letters. When the envelopes arrived my legs usually turned to jelly. As I sat gazing hopelessly at the words that demanded I find money to put into my account straightaway, the door opened and in came a very troubled little boy.
The wing had come off his toy plane and he was hoping I could fix it. Instead, fueled by the worry and distress brought on by the bank manager, I shouted at him, “Can’t you see I’m busy? Leave me alone!”
He closed the door and I could almost hear what he was thinking as he walked away: “Huh! Some dad he is. Shauli’s dad wouldn’t have shouted at him. Shauli’s dad would have stopped looking at stupid letters and fixed his son’s plane. Shauli’s dad is kind. Shauli’s dad…etc. etc. etc.”
The reason I knew precisely what was going through his mind was because the identical incident had happened to me when I was his age.
I had a teddy bear called “Ted” ( no points for originality or imagination, of course, but I was only four). My beloved Ted’s arm, which was constructed to move up and down, had come off. I turned to my dad to perform major surgery and restore Ted to full health and functionality. Instead he shouted at me, “Can’t you see I’m busy? Leave me alone!”
I fumed as I considered what a raw deal I’d received from Heaven when it came to doling out dads: “Huh! Some dad he is. David’s dad wouldn’t have shouted at him. David’s dad would have stopped looking at stupid letters and fixed Ted’s arm. David’s dad…etc. etc. etc.”
As my own son’s footsteps started to fade, it occurred to me that perhaps my father had been looking at a letter he had just received from his bank manager. On reflection, my bank manager may well have been the son of his bank manager!
At age four I was thankfully and blissfully ignorant of the fact that wicked creatures like bank managers exist in the world. My parents had protected me from such horrors. If our family needed stuff, the money always seemed to be there. Banks were simply where my parents sometime took me to get out some of their endless cash. I simply assumed you asked for money and it was always handed over.
I got up and rushed after my son, said I was sorry, and mended his plane’s wing. (Tragically, Ted remained a one-armed bear for the rest of his life.)
I sometimes struggle to remember my dad clearly. I always regretted that he never lived to see the man I grew to be. I always hoped he would have been pleased if he had. I know he would have loved Motty.
My mom, though, had been part of my entire life and saw most of my children married.
I had to move her into a care home when she was eighty-six. She was suffering from Alzheimer’s. We found her the best and most expensive care home we could. For three years there she was perfectly happy and well looked after.
I loved my mom. Perhaps since I am an only child I was especially close to her. A wise rabbi once told me, “As long as you have a parent, you still remain a child.”
There are so many memories I could retrieve so very easily – of her holding my hand as we visited the dentist or drying away tears when I was hurt or scared. The memories popped up when I took her for walks and she had to hold my hand. She was as vulnerable and reliant on me as I’d been on her all those years ago.
Some parents are geniuses at child rearing and some are very poor. Most parents (like me) are average, getting it right and often getting it wrong too. But Hashem chose only them for you and only you for them.
You can learn from the things your parents got right, copy them when your own kids and grandkids appear, and learn from their mistakes and not repeat them.
Was my mom a genius at child rearing? Was I a genius as a father or now as a grandfather? Of course not. But I hope and suspect that my kids – and theirs too – know that I tried and still try to do a good job.
And if you can honesty say that, I think they’ll overlook the occasional bank manager-induced lapse.
By the way, that keyboard is on the way.