Honoring My Father by Speaking His Language and Walking His Streets

The third Sunday in June hasn’t meant anything to me since I was 12 years old; it’s the many ways I regularly honor my father - especially when I speak in Hebrew and spend time in Israel - that make him experience how much I appreciate him.

I don’t remember the last time I was home for Father’s day. The holiday, which pops up out of nowhere in June, is usually celebrated in the United States, well, with one’s father, and yet I can’t bring to mind one memory of celebrating Father’s day in the United States past the age of 12.

I think part of this is because I never really took to celebrating Father’s Day (or Mother’s Day, for that matter) because throughout every year, there are several days punctuated as Father’s Days in my mind, and none of them happen to fall on the third Sunday in June.

There was the day when my father and mother drove an hour and a half just to give me a hug after I had a car accident; the multiple times my dad made sure he caught every single play, soccer game, or art exhibit I had; the day when he literally left a work meeting early, drove halfway around the city in rush hour traffic just to make sure I didn’t have to stay late at the after-school program; and the many scrambled-eggs and bagel dinners he would prepare for us when my mom wasn’t home.

One day that particularly stands out in my mind is the day my dad visited me during my study abroad year at Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva, Israel. I remember my dad meeting me in the morning after class at the quad, grinning from ear to ear.

My dad, who was born in Tel Aviv two years before the State of Israel was established, grew up in Israel before immigrating to the United States along with my mother when I was about 1 year old. Visiting Israel with my dad was like having a walking tour of his personal history. We’d be walking down some random street in Tel Aviv when my dad would say, “I lived here” or “I used to play soccer here,” or “here is where I used to grab soft-serve ice cream with your mom” (which was, by the way, the famous “Montana Ice Cream” made famous by the Eskimo Limon movie franchise).

Having my dad visit me in Israel, particularly in Beer Sheva, was different. First, I spoke Hebrew - a language that was spoken to me all my life, but one that I had never uttered. Responding to my parents in English, I grew up never speaking Hebrew, worried that my accent made me different than all the other Israelis I knew. My dad, then and now, always says this was the biggest shock: suddenly, his daughter who had never spoken Hebrew was able to not only communicate in the language, but also take political science and history classes in Hebrew.

Second, I had my own memories of a place: “here’s where I grab lunch with my friends,” “here’s my local convenience store,” or “here’s the best place in Beer Sheva to grab a falafel.” And, unlike a typical visit anywhere else, I found that bringing my dad along made an instant connection.

“Ah, so now I see your father,” the man at the local market said to us as I bought a drink, “you know, she comes in here almost every day, and finally I meet her father!” The conversation still rings in my head as if it occurred yesterday. For once, I had my own community in Israel, and a feeling as though I was part of a larger group and a true part of my heritage, so different to the feeling of being separate from your American friends back home. It was the feeling of being both at home at Israel, my father’s home, as well as establishing my own footprint there that made the day so special.

And for me, perhaps that’s why that day, more than any other, marks the most important father’s day of all. Father’s Day, in essence, is about honoring our fathers and remembering all that they do for us. And for once, I was showing my dad how I could honor him by making myself part of a place that was, and is, so important to him.

So while perhaps I don’t serve my dad breakfast in bed or happen to go out with him to a movie on Father’s Day, I celebrate it in my own way, several times a year, when my dad and I talk in Hebrew, or perhaps whenever I remember something wonderful my dad has done. Because, really, that’s what Father’s Day is all about.

Yael Miller is a professional working in International Affairs in Washington, DC.
 

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