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What's a Father For?

August 11, 2010 | by Slovie Jungreis-Wolff

The definition of being a father.

It’s hard being a father today. The difficult economy has reduced many men’s ability to provide for their families. Dad’s who have often measured their self worth through their financial success are now grappling with the fear of unemployment or reduced paychecks. Families are struggling. Many fathers are feeling down and unsure about the future.

It’s time for us to reexamine a father’s role in the family. What is the definition of being a father?

Is his self worth simply based upon his financial income and type of car that he drives? Or is he here to provide more, to endow his children with both a spiritual and emotional income?

Is it his role to be a physical protector and tangible presence in their lives, or is it possible for him to live his life with an even greater purpose? Is there a way that he, as a father, can build his children’s essence through teaching them how to deal with moments of success, good fortune, anger, worry, disappointments, and life’s many searing challenges?

Dad’s who have measured their self worth through their financial success are grappling with fear of unemployment or reduced paychecks.

In addition to his financial portfolio, has he thought about the spiritual portfolio that his children will come to inherit one day?

I read the papers with all their gloomy news and statistics bringing us frightening words like The Great Depression and double dipped recession. I hear the commercials with serious voices asking us to think about overcoming deep debt and foreclosures in these tough economic times. I ponder the challenges facing families today. And though I know that it is both husbands and wives who are working long hours and worrying about the bills, I also know that this recession has somehow hurt the men and hit them hard. Men who had always felt safe and secure as they provided for their families.

And then my mind wanders to memories of my father.

No, we did not have much ‘stuff’ growing up. We never took exotic vacations or had the latest gadgets and toys. But my parents provided us with so much more to carry us through our days; endless love and faith that have anchored us throughout life’s ups and downs.

Though many stories pop into my mind, there is one in particular that imprinted within me the sense of ‘what’s a father for.’

It had been a long hot summer. My husband had undergone delicate surgery for a dislocated shoulder and was warned to watch the movements of his arm. He was wearing a sling while dealing with a lot of pain. I was in my later months of pregnancy, and you know that scorching days and expectant mothers are a difficult combination.

I took my children outside to play and my five-year-old daughter fell off her swing. Her hand lay limply at her side.

I drove to the pediatrician hoping that he’d tell me this was just a bruise or sprain. He gave me the news that my daughter’s hand seemed broken and I would need to see an orthopedist. My child would need an adult to lift her, accompany her into the x-ray room and calm her fears. I also had a toddler who needed someone to watch over him in the office as my daughter was being examined and casted.

Being that I was expecting, that ‘someone’ in the x-ray room could not be me. My husband was completely incapacitated. I drove home, thinking of my various options. My mother was lecturing and I knew that my father had left that morning to visit my sister and spend a week with her family in their Catskill bungalow.

As I entered the house, my phone rang. I picked up the receiver and heard my father’s voice.

Sheyfalah, how are you?”

I could not speak. I just started to cry.

“What is it, Slovelah? Why are you crying?”

I sobbed a bit more and then relayed my story to my father. I described my husband immobile in his sling, my daughter wailing and needing to have x-rays taken of her arm, my seven-year-old just getting off the day camp bus and my two-year-old doing what two-year-olds did. The orthopedist’s office was an hour away. I didn’t know how to manage. I felt overwhelmed.

“Don’t worry, my shefelah, I’m coming to help you.”

Abba, what do you mean?” I asked. “You just arrived this morning, you spent three hours on a bus getting there, you’re staying for a week. How will you help me?”

“I am going to take the next bus home, don’t worry. I didn’t even unpack yet, so it’s fine”.

“Are you sure, Abba?” I asked incredulously.

I was astonished. I knew how my father had waited for this week. My parents never took a vacation. This was to be my father’s ‘big getaway’; a week in my sister’s bungalow. His greatest pleasure was spending time with his children and grandchildren, taking walks on the country roads and breathing in the natural beauty of God’s world. He had shlepped up by bus and I learned later from my sister that my father had arrived drenched in sweat from the heat of the trip.

But he made no mention of any of this to me. It was clear that he would just turn around and come home. I was overwhelmed with his kindness. I decided to ask one more time.

“Are you sure, Abba?”

I heard my father’s wonderful laugh over the phone. And then he said something that I will never forget.

Slovelah, of course I’m sure. What’s a father for?”

Father’s are here to lead, to provide spiritual and emotional nourishment to both sons and daughters.

As we grapple with uncertainties and a topsy-turvy world, let us at least hold onto this one unshakable truth. Father’s exist in the lives of their children with a role that goes way beyond paying the credit card bills. Father’s are here to lead, to provide spiritual and emotional nourishment to both sons and daughters. Father’s can be the moral compass that steer children through their life’s journey. And then when we grow up and wonder if we are doing the right thing or how we will possibly make it, we can hear our father’s voice and see our father’s image in our mind. We can look back on the small kindnesses, the little talks when we seemed troubled, and the reassuring arm around our shoulders that let us know that we are loved and never stand alone.

And if right now you are feeling hurt and lacking such memories, know that today is your opportunity to create this legacy with your own children.

After all, what’s a father for?


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