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For Fathers of Adult Children

by Rabbi Charles Simon

Every parent struggles to balance making decisions for our children with empowering them to be independent. It’s rarely easy. As our children become adults all too many of us believe that our ability to influence their decisions is inversely related to their level of independence. Fathers who feel their influence lessening are often conflicted. We are proud of our children and their emerging independence, but we still have to live with the decisions that these young adults make. We acknowledge the possibility of failure and feel somewhat frustrated because we can’t assure success. Indeed, we know that even if we could “fix it” that could hinder the maturation of our sons and daughters.

Unfortunately, too many parents, and specifically fathers, fail to understand that even after our children have made decisions with which we are not comfortable we still retain the ability to influence their decisions. I can’t tell you how many times fathers have approached me and expressed their pain and upset because one of their children has chosen to marry or partner with someone who was not Jewish. “But what could I do?” they ask. “What can I do?”

In the past my responses have always been “Don’t obsess with what you could have done. There is so much that you can do!” My responses to fathers have become even stronger as a result of what I have been learning about fathers.

We know a great deal about mothers and how they influence their children. We know that in a majority of situations the decision- maker regarding a family’s religious commitment and practice is almost always the woman. It doesn’t matter if she is Jewish or not. If she decides the family will be Jewish, the children will be Jewish. In addition many sociologists believe on the basis of the data collected over the past 30 years that her children will identify as Jews and seek to live, in some manner, Jewish lives.

We are beginning to understand more about a father’s ability to influence his children, even adult children who are no longer living at home. Last year, at an FJMC weekend retreat, I piloted a lesson plan to fathers whose adult children no longer live with them. I asked the group how many of them texted or emailed or called (I know that sounds archaic) their children regularly to wish them a Shabbat shalom. The response was mostly negative: “I never did it before.” “They will wonder why I’m doing it.” “My children are in their late 30s.”

I encouraged it and was pleased the following morning to see a group of men with smiles on their faces because their children had texted them back. They were beginning to realize their actions could still influence their children. Late afternoon we met as a group and I asked how they were going to respond to their adult children when they were asked why, all of a sudden, they wished them a Shabbat shalom. “Because it is important to me,” they decided to reply. Six months later, they are still doing it. Hopefully, it will be passed on to their grandchildren.

A world of information is becoming available to help men learn to become more effective fathers. It’s one piece of FJMC’s Hearing Men’s Voices Initiative. Hearing Men's Voices provides the venue for men to talk about the issues that affect their daily lives, including their roles as fathers. As they engage in these conversations they both mentor and learn from others at the same time. Many of these issues are also explored on Mentschen.org, the online address for conversation for Jewish men.

Rabbi Charles Simon is the director of FJMC and author of Building a Successful Volunteer Culture: Finding Meaning in Service in the Jewish Community, Jewish Lights Publishing: Woodstock, Vermont.

 
 
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