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A Single Father’s Love

A Single Father’s Love

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Had he lived, he would be 67 years old today. He would have two children, a son and a daughter, and two grandchildren, a grandson and a granddaughter. Both of his grandchildren, his daughter’s children, know him more intimately as a picture and a memorial candle than they ever knew him as a person. They know him as a memory, and the memory they know him from is mine.

Each year I struggle to make my father’s memory relevant to my children’s lives. He would be 67 years old todayI fight against time itself, which threatens to eradicate the deep connection I shared with my father. I fight against the disease which ate away at him before he died, and the death which ultimately claimed him.

Each year on his yahrtzeit (anniversary of death), I open the vault around my heart to let my children see the crater my father’s loss has created in my life. Most of the time I keep it hidden, but once each year I bring this loss into the spotlight. I do this for my children, despite the pain this causes me.

I want them to know that they have the mother they have because she had the father she did, because he took the time to hear her, to nurture her and to love her.

It wasn’t easy for my father to raise a teenage daughter in what he called his “bachelor’s pad,” the place he lived after divorcing my mother, with only an older son and a large, uncivilized dog to share his burden. It wasn’t always easy to be that teenage daughter, growing up in a man’s world with few signposts on the way to womanhood.

There were awkward moments and silent moments. There were questions I didn’t know how to ask, and questions he didn’t know how to answer. There was also a lot of laughter, and weekly trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Natural History Museum. There were endless rounds of word games such as Geography and Scrabble. My brother both promised and threatened me that someday I would outgrow my love of playing Geography, but he was wrong. Today I play with my own children, and I teach them the same crazy, obscure places my father taught me, like Timbuktu and Kalamazoo, places I was sure my father made up just to keep the game going.

Like many things I believed as a child, I was ultimately wrong that my father made up these bizarre names for places. I was also wrong that Shakespeare had taken the plot of King Lear from the bedtime story my father told me as a child.

What I was never wrong about was There were awkward moments and silent momentsthat my father loved me deeply, and that his love for me would continually lead him into situations he never dreamed he would be in, like arranging for his teenage daughter’s first trip to a gynecologist. Or having a conversation about how to acquire a first boyfriend. “Never play dumb,” he advised me. “Just don’t even go there; it is not a game you will be able to keep up indefinitely, so why even start?”

I followed my father’s advice through a series of suitably intellectual boyfriends—including the one who read Camus in the original French while also failing his high-school French class, while I read Camus in translation and struggled my way to success in high-school French, ultimately achieving a textbook-sounding verbal competency without the necessary accent to make it worthwhile.

I followed my father into a lifelong love affair with Shakespeare and independently owned bookstores, while he supported me through a series of increasingly unusual and inspired choices that ultimately lead to my decision to move to Israel and become a therapist and a writer. (Living in Israel provides an endless amount of material for both of these career options.) This last choice was one he never came to terms with, because he had a fear of flying—due to a plane crash in 1966, nine years before I was born—which forever prevented him from acting on his desire to visit me or relocate closer to my husband and myself.

In fact, the one time my father visited was for my wedding, and although he was already sick, the experience was one of the highlights of his life—even as it brought him a searing pain from the knowledge that my marriage to an Englishman would only solidify my commitment to life abroad.

My father could never understand why the whole world dreams of coming to New York while his own daughter left New York for good. However, ultimately, his inability to understand my decision didn’t matter to our relationship. It didn’t interfere with his ability to love me, or our ability to keep on having the endlessly evolving conversations that began in my adolescence.

My father and I could talk about anything. Even when we didn’t agree, we could keep on talking about it. More than anything else, that is what saved us. We both believed in the ability of words to redeem and to inspire, and to build bridges strong enough to span oceans and religious debates. We believed that as long as there were words to connect us, our bond could never be broken.

Six years after his death, I am left to carry on this monologue alone as I try to explain to my children who my father was. So much of what it means to me to be their mother is shaped by what it meant to him to be my father. This is the story I tell my children—that love is a form of energy which cannot be created or destroyed. Therefore, the story of their grandfather’s love for their mother is also their story as well.

My father taught me that words can build bridges and sustain worlds, and Torah supports this lesson by referring to a human being as a medaber (a speaker). The Torah defines our very humanity by our ability to speak, and we define ourselves through the words we choose. To honor my father, I choose my words carefully, and the words I choose are those that will honor his legacy, and best allow my children to know him.I am left to carry on this monologue alone

Yet my relationship to my father is defined by much more than my words. It continually defines and refines my choices, such as when as I head out late at night to pay an unexpected shivah call to a friend who just lost her own father. This is a mitzvah I do with silence. I come to listen to my friend, to honor her father with my silent presence and with my ability to listen.

My experience has taught me that my friend is also embarking on a journey, a transition from dialogue to monologue that is defined by clear halachic markers during the first year of mourning, but ultimately is defined by our ability to hold on to the enduring legacy of a father’s love.

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Geoffrey Jacks Lakewood, CA. October 29, 2014

RE: A Single Father's Love Very Powerful...Thank you for sharing.

L'Chaim 5775! Reply

raymond a baugh HOWELL October 26, 2014

Wow that was great to read Reply

Blumah Kansas October 22, 2014

BH tzipporah thank you for sharing your beautiful touching story of the power of love! What a legacy your father left for his grandchildren as you emulate and continue in his way. May his soul find joy as he watches over you and your loved ones. Blumah Reply

Em Australia October 21, 2014

Beautiful, touching Reply

Scott Riemersma Kalamazoo, MI. October 20, 2014

A Single Fathers Love You honor your father but I get from your story a daughters love for her father. It is sad but beautiful at the same time.

And I really live in Kalamazoo Reply

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