When Jeremy was a toddler, we took him to the Zoo. Jeremy enjoyed the outing but insisted that his father pick him up and carry him the entire time because he was afraid of the animals. Normally, Jeremy was a Mommy’s boy and would prefer that I hold him. However, at the Zoo, he wouldn’t let me carry him at all. Somehow, Jeremy instinctively understood that Tal would be a better defender than me. In this situation, Tal served the role of protector.
I remember when my dad served that role too when I was young. As a toddler in Israel, I accidentally peed on the floor of a store, and the saleswoman yelled at me. My father stood up for me and reprimanded her – reminding her that I was just a child and didn’t mean to do it. I remember feeling that my dad had saved the day.
However, the father’s job of “protector” is time limited. Tal’s role in protecting Jeremy from the animals will expire someday when (God willing) Jeremy will be as big – or even taller – than his father.
I went to lunch with my father last week to ask him some professional advice. This session involved a kind of protection – preventing me from making professional missteps. But the fatherly role of protector had somehow morphed into one of mentor or consultant. Fathers play so many roles as their children grow – guardian, advisor, or guide. What do these roles have in common?
In this week’s Torah portion, the Israelites are approaching the Promised Land after trekking through the desert. At God’s command, Moses sends twelve scouts to check out the land and bring back a report in preparation for entering the land. Ten of the scouts reported that the land was beautiful but that its inhabitants were giants. They were afraid to enter the land, stating: “we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves and so we must have looked to them.”[i] By contrast, the two remaining scouts, Caleb and Joshua, encouraged the people. Caleb said: “Let us go up, yes, up and possess it, for we can prevail, yes, prevail against it!”[ii]
Caleb's words are a fitting slogan for fathers. Fathers have the power to uplift their children. When children are small, fathers literally pick them up, and at all ages, fathers can encourage their children to achieve their dreams. Throughout life, good fathers lift us up higher than could otherwise go. Rather than feeling like grasshoppers, children know they can reach great heights.
In the car this week, Jeremy said to me, “I wish that Abbah (Dad) had magic shoes that I could ride on his back and we could fly into the sky.”
“Maybe he does,” I replied.
Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers who elevate their children’s aspirations!
[i] Numbers 13:33. Translation by Everett Fox.
[ii] Numbers 13:30.