After I offered parenting advice to Jewish mothers in these pages a while back, a couple of readers asked if I had advice for Jewish fathers. One asked whether there was a stereotypical “Jewish Father.”
I dislike all stereotypes whether based on gender or religion so I prefer to ignore the bad jokes (Boy to mother: “I got the part of the Jewish father in the school play.” Mother to boy: “Too bad. Maybe next year you’ll get a speaking part.”) and concentrate on the importance of Jewish fathers to their children.
I’ll start with my own father and grandfather, both secular Jews. My father encouraged me, opened horizons for me, and always had high expectations for my future. He would say, for example, the day after my sixth birthday, “You’re a big girl now, almost seven years old! Of course you can do it!” Valuable words, especially for a girl growing up when there were few female role models in professions or careers. He imparted his love of science, his curiosity about the world and the cosmos, his excitement about the future of technology. He taught me how to use a slide rule, play chess and find the constellations in the sky. When I started college he suggested I offer to report on college news for a Boston newspaper. The Globe hired me and paid a dollar an inch for the copy they printed, which gave me confidence in my writing.
My grandfather was an educated man who revered learning. I still have books he inscribed to me. I can tell from the dates that they were “stretch” books given to me before I was ready but that was another encouraging message: reach high.
A friend who is the daughter of a restless mother had a father and three stepfathers, two of whom were Jewish. One of these was her favorite. Why? Because he valued education. He was a kind man from a cultured family and not only assumed responsibility for my friend, but generously passed on his love of art and literature. He was a loving, encouraging mentor.
Fathers are critically important to their children. A father provides half of the genetic makeup of the child, is the primary support person for the mother during her pregnancy and the birth, and supports the mother as she enters her new parenting role. He plays a crucial role in the socialization of his children, daughters as well as sons, because there are gender differences in how men and women parent and every child needs both at every stage of development. And he is half of the family team that passes on values to the children, which develops their character and helps determine what kind of person they will become.
Although levels of observance vary, in my experience Jewish families in America hold similar values stressing the importance of education, family, tradition, hard work and helping others.
All families today struggle to parent in our rapidly changing world. As more women entered the work force a new and healthy phenomenon emerged: participatory fatherhood. The number of Dick and Jane families (a father who went off to work and a mother who stayed at home in her apron) has markedly dwindled.
More recently, dads are doing more than helping mom care for the children. Fathers are opting to stay at home with the children. New acronyms reflect this: WAHD (work-at-home dad) and SAHD (stay-at-home dad). One survey of over 350 fathers reported reasons fathers stay at home: they did not want to use child care, the wife made more money or wanted to work more or the father had the greater desire to stay at home. Fathers as well as mothers now report work-family conflict.
As I see it, the biggest problem for parents today is that they are losing control over what their children are exposed to. The “castle” that was once our home has been invaded by multiple screens that reflect values we do not share and do not want our children to see or hear.
My special advice for Jewish fathers?
• Stand united with your wife against what has been called the “toxic culture” and limit screen time.
• Be an encouraging father and remember to express the high expectations you hold for your children.
• Share your passions and interests. Teach your children what you know how to do and what you love to do while also observing them to figure out what they are good at and interested in.
• Try to spend some time alone with each child every day. This is special time for both the father and child.
• Be a role model to your sons and spend time with your daughters. Girls need their fathers and children of both genders must learn how to deal with adults of both genders. Teach both your son and daughter how to use a hammer and nails.
• Help around the house. Do chores together so your children learn the value of cooperation.
• Share stories with your children about your life growing up and your family.
• Enjoy your children!
Dr. Marilyn Heins is a pediatrician, parent, grandparent and the founder of ParentKidsRight.com. E-mail her at [email protected] for a private answer to your parenting questions.