What's Father's Day when one has a Jewish mother?
It's time we thank our parents equally, for their joint sacrifices and devotion.
In many Jewish families, Father’s Day seems to just come and go. All through June, daughters and sons complain that their dads are “difficult to buy for” and flood stores and online shops in search of all kinds of presents - from rotating tie racks to leather-bound bookends. Most of the items I see advertised as "the" gift that will best express my love, I'm sure my dad would hate. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day have been reduced to commercialist holidays, much in the way that Christmas has lost its spiritual worth for the sake of consumerist spending. But what is even more unfortunate for our dads is that Father's Day is ascribed even less sentimental importance than Mother's Day.
The Jewish mother has been a source of mysticism for years, with her matzo ball soup that cures all ills and her constant goading to do better in school. The Jewish mother has a role in pop culture, too: our favorite romantic comedies see Jewish moms dominating their timid Jewish husbands, or managing a household in which the father does not even exist.
Fathers are often unsung heroes in the dynamic duo of Jewish parents. Most people have at least one fond memory of their fathers, but oftentimes the father is only briefly mentioned in many films with Jewish characters, in memoirs of Jewish people, and in the tales we ourselves tell about our childhood. Of course, this isn’t the case with all families, but in modern-day culture there seem to be far more tall tales about the stereotypical Jewish mom than the dad.
When I was about twenty-two, I got into a fender bender on the last day of my finals. Sleep-deprived and stressed from midnight paper writing sessions, on my seventy-mile drive home to my parents’ house, I hit another car right before turning onto the highway. Even though the collision only left a small dent, I began to cry (thanks to the dangerous mixture of fatigue and academic pressure). I called my parents immediately. Dad picked up the phone, heard what I said and told me not to finish the drive home. “We’re coming,” he declared, despite my protest. “I’ll drive your car home.”
And he did. My mom and dad drove the seventy miles to pick me up and drive me (and my car) home. It was not just my mom who came to my rescue, nor was it my dad who succeeded in the operation alone: it was my parents, as a team.
My father has been a source of wisdom and insight as equally as my mother has. Emotionally, both have been crucial to my development: my mother by helping me through battles of middle-school gossip and quizzing me before high school science tests, and my father with his endless source of career advice and consistently being the person to turn to when the calculus problem didn’t work out just right.
Mother’s Day and Father’s Day might be great holidays to buy mom those flowers and to get dad that new set of cufflinks, but it’s not the way to show your appreciation for sacrifices your parents have made and the influence they have had on your life. It’s a time to celebrate both parents equally for their joint contributions.
The esteemed Jewish author, Chaim Potok, wrote extensively about the Jewish father. In The Chosen, the main character’s father compares a life span to the blink of an eye: “…a blink of an eye in itself is nothing. But the eye that blinks, that is something. A span of life is nothing. But the man who lives the span, he is something. He can fill that tiny span with meaning, so its quality is immeasurable though its quantity may be insignificant.” If our lives are, indeed, the length of a blink of an eye, we truly must fill our lives with meaning, starting with extolling both of our parents equally.
Yael Miller is a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.