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Walking with My Father

November 24, 2013 | by Slovie Jungreis-Wolff

We never walk alone.

Parents can get bogged down in the carpool schedules, the after school activities, the stress of late homework and tests. The constant hurdles of discipline and scheduling our children’s lives can rob us of the bigger picture. We easily forget that our parenting is truly a journey of love.

As I once again approach my father’s yahrzreit, I recall his taking my smaller hand into his larger one, and giving me the gift of his words to carry me throughout the many seasons of my life. Though he is no longer here beside me, the image of him walking next to me and trying to share a life legacy is never lost. These are sweet moments that for me are frozen in time. Though they may have occurred years ago and took just a few minutes to relay, the imprint has never left my soul. My father let me know that I never walk alone. Perhaps we can all take a closer look at the message we would like our children to recall when they think about us, one day.

Season of Love

August, 1984

The soft music was playing in the distance. Before me stood two tall doors that would soon be opened. I was in my tulle wedding gown, veil covering my face, anticipating my walk down the aisle with my parents at my side. I was starting a whole new stage of life and was excited to begin my married life.

My father motioned to me. He wanted to tell me something. He took my hand and I saw that his eyes were moist. “Sheyfelah,” he whispered. (He always called me ‘shayfelah,’ a Yiddish term of endearment.) “As you walk to the chuppah tonight I want you to know that you are not walking alone. On your sides are all your holy bubbies and zaydies who walked before you. Their souls are here and they are bringing you blessings. They are so holy and they are watching over you. Wherever life takes you, never be afraid.”

I knew that my father had lost his parents and entire family in the Holocaust. I knew that for him to see life begin anew was a miracle. And I knew that he had inhaled despair but exhaled faith. Now he was sharing this faith with me. As I began my life as a young bride my father wanted me to always know that my faith would carry me through. He gave me this blessing, this incredible knowledge that we never walk alone.

The doors opened. We began our walk down the aisle, hand in hand.

Season of Life

September, 1985

“The doctor says I need to walk.”

There we were in the hospital, anticipating the birth of our first child. My husband and I had arrived at the light of dawn thinking that I was in heavy labor. Instead I was informed that I had lots of time to go. My parents arrived and I relayed to them the advice that the doctor had given us. He had said that walking would be the best thing to do.

Once again my father took my hand in his. “Come, sheyfalah, let’s take a good walk around the block together. When you feel terrible pain, squeeze my hand.”

I squeezed my father’s hand hard that day. I was afraid that I was hurting him but he laughed and said, “This is what fathers are for.” As we walked he once again reminded me that I never walk alone.

That night my husband and I welcomed a precious baby boy into this world. He was named for my father’s elder brother who had been taken away by the Nazis. He had left behind a beautiful family who were also never seen or heard from again. My father carried their lives within him. It was a heavy load though he never allowed himself to grow bitter or become lost in sadness. He never uttered a word of complaint. I knew that we could offer some little solace for all that my father lost through the naming of our son. And my father offered us great love and patience for all our children who followed.

Watching my father parent my children was a lesson in joy. He would take the toddlers to the lake across the street and laugh as they would feed challah to the ducks. He enjoyed carrying our babies on his shoulder and rocking them to sleep with his kisses. He always had time for another bedtime story or to sing the Shema prayer. As the children grew they would love to visit with him because he listened-he really listened. He was never impatient. He never seemed tired or bored. He made us all feel loved unconditionally. I know that he had plenty of pressures. But somehow he always pushed the stress to the side, put a magnificent smile on his face, and delighted in us, his children and grandchildren. This is the inspired parenting that I draw upon as I am trying to climb my own ladder in life.

Season of Loss

January, 1996

“The doctor says I need to walk.”

Once again I am in a hospital but this time we are not anticipating the exciting birth of a child. My father is in Memorial Sloan Kettering, a cancer hospital in New York City. I know that he is very ill though we discovered that he was facing the fight of his life only a few weeks before. We are shell- shocked. My beautiful 6 foot 2 father who had always carried us upon his broad shoulders now lay in a hospital bed. I was spending time with him and my father told me that the doctor had said it would be a good idea to take a walk around the corridors. I helped my father up from the bed and we approached the hallway.

My father took my hand into his. We took a few steps, silently. I did not know what to say.

My father stopped walking for a moment.

Shayfelah,” he turned to look at me. “Do you remember another walk we once took together? Do you remember how you said that the doctor wants you to walk?”

I nodded not trusting myself to speak.

“This is a different walk, I know. But I am still taking your hand in mine. And you can still squeeze my hand if you feel pain. I want you to know that even here we never walk alone. You never have to be afraid. And when one day I will not be here next to you anymore, I want you to know that I am still by your side. Remember that I am walking along with all your bubbies and zaydies. You will never walk alone.”

Soon after that day, my father gave me his final blessing. He left me with a legacy of parenting that I try to live up to each day.

As we parent our children, let’s try to show them that we enjoy being with them. Let’s give them the message that even though there are pressures and moments of stress, we hear their voices and never turn away. And when there are moments of challenge or fear, let us impart a message of faith.

“My sweet child, you will never walk alone. No matter what, I am here beside you. Never be afraid.”

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