Things Your Father Wants You To Know #3 ~ Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff

I think its fair to say that your father sweats the small stuff; the smaller it is the more sweat. And it causes him a lot of angst. He is truly a mensch when it comes to the big stuff. If he wasn’t, we wouldn’t have you! We had just moved in together and I called home and said I was bringing home a teenage girl who needed a foster placement ~ no big deal. Call him in the middle of the night for an emergency, he is up and out in a heartbeat; but leave a dish in the sink and his head explodes.

So more than almost anything he would tell you… don’t sweat the small stuff, it will just raise your blood pressure. And more importantly, it is almost all small stuff. There is very little that you will face in life that is actually life threatening. There is no question that you will face things that will force change in your life; change is not bad, it can just be very disconcerting. Fearing change can cause you to make bad decisions; trust me, we know. Most decisions, fortunately, are not irrevocable. The good news is that faith will carry you through most change, and most change won’t kill you; small stuff.

With any luck you will never go to war. Hopefully you will not face life threatening illness, catastrophic accident or the untimely loss of a loved one. But you cannot count on these things; these are the big things. You will sweat these things, they are hard, painful and demand your attention. These are the things it takes time to recover from, the things that leave scars on your heart. Pretty much everything else is small stuff.

If you remember that it is all small stuff, you will have an easier time in your relationships; the necessary compromise will come more readily. If you are able to let the small stuff go, you will waste a lot less emotional energy on things that don’t really matter. You will be able to survive any tragedies that come your way. If you don’t sweat the small stuff you will have the emotional space for the things that really do matter… your loves, your passions, your joys.

Things I Want My Son To Know #10 ~ Respect Your Heritage

You have a complicated heritage. Your are adopted so there is a part of your heritage that you may never know much about. We do know that part of the heritage of your birth family is Native American. Since it is what we know, and it is special, hold it close and cherish it. This is a particularly spiritual and compassionate heritage and someday you may want to know more about it. I wish I could tell you more but that is all we know and all we have been able to find out.

But… you have the heritage of your family as well. That is us. Your maternal grandmother is, if anything, a Unitarian (religious preference). More importantly she is descended from early colonists and English missionaries to Hawaii. She was born into the Daughters of the American Revolution, as I understand it, but was drummed out for marrying a Jew (I think they are slightly more liberal now). There are two things important about this, first that she is descended of those revolutionaries in America and second that she experienced discrimination against Jews (something you should never forget). There is a history of her family among my books.

Your maternal grandfather is a Russian/Polish Jew whose grandmother fled Russia with her eight children and no husband and no English as a result of discrimination and poverty. Her story is an amazing one and your great grandmother described their journey to your Uncle Dan who wrote it out. This precious piece of writing is saved for you too (of course).

Your paternal grandfather was Irish through and through, and Catholic by upbringing; there is little we know about his ancestry but despite your father’s stubborness there is a little magic there.

Your paternal grandmother is, I believe, English and German. If this is wrong, I will let your dad post a correction! She is the toughest woman I have ever met and she is the only one in the whole family that is really good at handling and saving money. You could take a page out of her book on this one.

Finally, although you are many things, you are a Jew. You were raised as a Jew with Jewish values. Your dad was raised as a Catholic but chose to be a Jew because he believed in the values and principles of Judaism, he believed in Judaism as a way of life. And he chose it with no input from me. The Jewish heritage is a rich and vital one. It is a heritage of learning, knowledge, charity, spirituality, community service and kindness. The rituals are beautiful and many of them revolve around the home, rather than the house of worship, making them even more special; the candles, the seder, havdallah, chanukkiah (menorah).

It is important to respect that at least on two counts, your ancestors would have experienced terrible discrimination and physical violence merely for being who they were. If for this reason alone, you should be proud to be who you are, a Jewish man with Native American roots (among other things). You should wear your star proudly and never be ashamed of it. The Jews historically fought for civil rights in this country, side by side with African Americans seeking equal rights because they knew what discrimination was. You should always stand up not only for yourself but for those who are treated as lesser.

Whatever you think of religion ultimately, light the candles in your home; light a chanukkiah; conduct a seder with your children and re-tell the story of our liberation from slavery. It will make you feel proud and good; it will make you feel closer to your ancestors.

have a seder with your children you will feel closer to those who are gone.

Things I Want My Son To Know #7 ~ Cook With Your Children

Cook your family recipes; some things should be kept alive. In ethnic families there are rituals, usually tied to the religious, that are important and become part of the legacy and memories. In most families, eating together is a ritual that preserves legacy and memory. Even more, there are foods, cooked and eaten at particular times or times of year, prepared in a particular way, by particular people that especially preserve legacy and memory.

There are things you need to know. How to make the letter cookies your great grandmother, and then I, made when each of us in succeeding generations were small. How to make the cherry filled cookies that your great grandmother made for your grandfather and which are his very favorite. How to make your grandfather’s chopped liver (yes, the secret is in the schmaltz) and your grandma Joan’s lemon meringue pie which is too good to put in a pie, just make a double filling and eat it. I don’t know how you came to dislike brisket but you should still know how to make the best brisket on the planet, and the best potato latkes (you will always have friends at chanukah, guaranteed).

Whether you choose to be an observant or participating Jew, you should know how to make a seder. It is important to pass our story on to our children, year after year. The food is part of it, it is the glue that helps to bind our memories together, it keeps them real. The food is the taste and smell of the past and a path to the future. You know, being who I am, that I will have collected the recipes for you, and bound them in some kind of book for you to keep. But a book on a shelf isn’t enough. A few times a year, you need to take it down, make something yummy, and think of me, of your dad, of your grandparents, and the times we cooked and ate those foods together. And when your children are little, cook with them, and tell them the stories of the food and the memories… and they will live on.

Things I Want My Son To Know #3 ~ Have Faith

Have faith. Whether or not you have religion, which I will talk about in a minute, have faith. A spiritual life and a religious life are not the same thing. Believing with your heart that there is something greater than yourself, whatever you call it, means you are not alone when you don’t have people around. It means you don’t have to control everything in the world. In fact, I have come to realize, I have control over just one thing, my behavior. I can’t control my thoughts, dreams, fears, hopes, imaginations. But I can control how I act. I want my son to know that faith has an action component. Having faith means getting up and going to work or school for another day when you think you can’t, unpacking one more box on moving day when you are about to drop, reaching for an f sharp when you have barely ever sung an f, putting one foot in front of the other when there seems no point. The action component to faith is never giving up but allowing faith to carry you when you have nothing left and believing that you will be okay no matter what. It means living in the moment. You can make sensible, logical plans but in the end you have only the now and you can’t control the random part of what life will bring you. You create what you can and then faith has to kick in. I do believe that religion is important, it gives a community, a history, a ritual and a sense of belonging. But whatever you choose about religion, find some faith, find a way to be spiritually centered in your life. Suit up one more day because you are alive, do the job one more day because you can, reach for the f sharp, always.

D’var Torah

We have this really cool idea in Judaism, that anyone can and should interpret the Torah. In our world it is not just the Rabbis that have the power, intellect, right, whatever to interpret scripture. In our world scripture is personal, to be understood and explicated by each of us. I love doing this. I particularly love writing the D’var Torah for a shabbat service (this is equivalent to the sermon, its a commentary). Finding a theme, particularly one that resonates in the modern world, is not always easy. Some Torah portions are filled with terrible things. This week was all about the punishing God, the torments to be inflicted if we don’t observe all the rules. Its a difficult portion unless but the good news is that God loves us nevertheless. The last one I wrote on was all about skin sores (often interpreted as leprosy) and things unclean. I have been asked to write about this particular portion several times; not easy or attractive (its just a matter of dates). Each time the Rabbi says the teachers at the seminary say only the best get to write this portion because it is so difficult. I think he is just glad I did it, rather than leaving it to him! Nevertheless, it is interesting to do. It stretches my mind. And it makes me glad to be a Jew, because everyone’s Midrash (commentary) is welcome and encouraged. I love that egalitarian approach to the bible, to religion. And while I know that in the more orthodox corners of our religion women’s commentaries are not always welcome, I sit in a corner where my view is solicited, welcomed and praised. How cool is that?