I'd Be Filled With Pity

I know a lot of people my age who are still settling scores with their parents - scores that fester like an open wound. Their parents may have died long ago, but the bitter reckoning with them lives on. Everything is their fault: It's all because of the way their parents brought them up. All of our flaws and shortcomings - are because of them. If only they had raised us differently, we would be different, much better, people.

I don't count myself among this happy group, these people who have someone to blame. I don't. I must lay claim to all of my deficiencies, because I had wonderful parents, an exemplary mother and father, and even if I try hard, I can't come up with any serious complaints against them. As time passes, their image only improves, and I sincerely hope that this isn't due to some kind of "parent-deification" syndrome or to excessive self-criticism: It's all on me. I've accepted responsibility for myself.

My father, Yaakov, devoted too little "quality time" to me. My mother Doba, on the other hand, gave me too much attention. My father was "an important man." He was always busy, always involved in public affairs. As a small boy, I knew that he was responsible for the education of many children and, eventually, of all Israeli children - when he became director-general of the Education Ministry. As soon as I was old enough, I recognized the importance of Yaakov Sarid's work and well understood why he was gone from the house most of the time. Even when he was home, he was barely present.

On Saturday mornings, at our house in the Rehovot colony, he would sit outside on a little stool, warming himself in the sun and reading Davar. It was always Davar. I would watch him admiringly, sure that reading Davar was more important than the ordinary fatherly activities that I'd seen other fathers doing at friends' homes. Other fathers would play all kinds of games with their children; I thought that was a waste of adults' precious time. For our forefather Isaac, it was easier to be the father of an entire nation than the father of two children, Jacob and Esau. And for my father Yaakov, it was easier to worry about the education of all the children of Israel than about the upbringing of one girl and boy - my dear sister Hadassah and me.

I justify my father's behavior, because otherwise I could not justify my own. I certainly didn't resent my father - that's the truth. I loved him and, despite everything, I was always confident of his love.

My mother was an entirely different story. She is actually to blame for some of my complexes, though it wasn't her fault. She was the best mother in the world, but there were a few totally objective factors that made life difficult for me. First, she had me at a relatively advanced age. According to my calculations, she was almost 40 (38, to be exact), which in those days was considered a late age to give birth. Almost 40 then is like almost 50 today, particularly in my mother's case, as she was often sickly. That's why, when I first heard the famous story about the Immaculate Conception, it didn't seem totally farfetched to me.

I was the only son; my sister was eight years older. When your mother is older, and the other mothers are younger, and she's frail, and you're the only son, and there's a big age difference between you and your sister - then there's a problem. That's just how it is. When my mother came to school, they acted like she was a grandmother, because the other mothers looked different. I admit that my mother's age and physical appearance bothered me somewhat, but no one is to blame for their age and physical appearance. Whenever she showed up, I'd be filled with love, but also with pity - for her and for me - and there's a problem when sons pity their parents.

And there was another problem that's not so comfortable for me to talk about: I knew my mother's body as well as I knew my father's, because in our family, we weren't careful to go about the house fully clothed when we went in and out of the shower. And it was from my mother's body that I got my first idea of what a woman's body looks like.

I wasn't an easy child. On school vacations, they sent me away to relatives, to aunts and uncles in various places around the country - especially to those who lived on kibbutz, so that my parents could have a break from me and so that I could eat my fill on the kibbutz: chicken and eggs, fruit and vegetables - because it was a time of austerity and my parents, avowed Mapainiks, obeyed every strict directive issued by Dov Yosef, the minister of supply and rationing. In our house, "black market" was the most despicable term imaginable.

I spent one vacation with my Aunt Rivka, of blessed memory, on a farm in the south of the country that was run by her husband Yitzhak, also of blessed memory. There was another girl there, too - a second or third cousin who, if I'm not mistaken, was named Aza. I was 10 or 11 then and Aza must have been 14 or 15. I found her, and her body in particular, tremendously intriguing.

One day, she was taking a shower and, obeying an irresistible impulse, I climbed a ladder so I could look through the window. The window was closed and jammed. I tried to open it and ended up shattering the pane. Aza screamed and I was so embarrassed that I made a desperate run for it, but my Aunt Rivka caught me and sent me back home.

But now it can be told: Between Aza's screams and my mortification, I managed to catch a glimpse of her body, and I noticed a strange protuberance on her chest that was like nothing I'd ever seen at my mother's house.

I was sure that this jutting protrusion on Aza's chest was some kind of deformity because, to me, whatever my mother had was normal - the very epitome of normalcy - and if my mother's chest was flat and her breasts droopy, then that was how a woman was supposed to look. I thought that maybe Aza was sick and I wished her good health. Later I would learn that a lot of women were stricken with the very same illness. Since that episode, I've never really shaken off that sense of cognitive dissonance about the female body. There's a problem here but, again, it's not my mother's fault.

She's also not to blame for the name that her parents gave her - Doba. In kindergarten and elementary school, every time that I was asked for her name and said, "Doba," all the other kids would burst out laughing. "Your mother is a bear, a bear! " they laughed and teased, and I was deeply offended, because I cherished my mother and couldn't stand to hear them taunting her and me. When I got older and was asked the same question, I mustered the nerve to deliberately distort my mother's name: I'd say that it was Dora. For some reason, Dora sounded a lot better to me, and the kids didn't laugh anymore. I know that this is embarrassing. It shames me greatly, but this big bear accompanied me for many years without letting go.

Then one day, when it was time for me to be sworn in as environment minister in Yitzhak Rabin's government, I ascended the Knesset podium to take the oath. Incredibly, at that moment, my mind flashed on the scene from kindergarten and I thought to myself: Maybe I'll say, "I, Yossi Sarid, son of Yaakov and Dora Sarid, of blessed memory-" but I immediately suppressed that feeling, knowing that I was too old now for idiotic inhibitions of this sort, and I said, "I, Yossi Sarid, son of Yaakov and Doba Sarid," and no one in the Knesset laughed, and I was relieved.

You see, with enough courage and gumption, one can overcome any complex and permanently erase it. I did. Just as my mother is not to blame for her age, her appearance or her breasts, she isn't to blame for her name.

Now I can see that, for me, my father was like the Promised Land. I saw him there before me, engrossed in Davar, but I didn't really come to him. I've been coming to him nonstop ever since. As for my mother, whom I saw all the time, and from whom I came - I am going toward her; throughout my life, I am evolving into her womb.

Yossi Sarid is a Meretz MK.