His high beams shined on me brighter than the lights at Time Square, while his sirens sounded as loud as those chasing a fugitive on the run. I was just seventeen years old, it was past 10 pm, and there I sat nearly crippled in panic and fear, alone in my car. What had I done wrong? I looked up and saw a seemingly innocent black and white “One Way” sign with an arrow pointed in my direction. I was going the wrong way in a one-way alley. I pulled down my window, hung my head down in shame and just knew it was all over. “License and Registration, Ma’am” said the officer. My perfect driving record had come to an end; I had gotten my first ticket.
More than ten years later, the memory still lives fresh in my mind, as if the incident had just occurred. It’s not the pain of receiving my first ticket that I remember so vividly. Besides, after having kids it’s amazing how petty our concerns from our youthful years appear. What I will never forget, however, is what transpired next. It was the reaction from one of the most important people in my life that I will forever treasure and has shaped me in more ways than I can understand. It wasn’t until I finally pulled myself together and called to notify my parents that the real life lesson had begun. I heard my dad’s voice on the other end and just broke down in tears, “I’m so sorry Dad, but I just got a traffic ticket." I sobbingly explained to him what had happened and without skipping a beat, without giving it a thought, he responded with what was simply his second nature reaction. Beaming with joy he replied, “Thank Gd! That policeman was your angel. I couldn’t be happier.”
What? Was I missing something? I didn’t understand. Isn’t it a complete disappointment for a father to learn that his daughter, who very recently got her driver’s license, didn’t obey the traffic laws? He further elaborated by saying, “Perhaps you would’ve hit another car had you kept going down that alley in the wrong direction and really hurt yourself or others? Don’t you see? That policeman just saved you from something much worse. Maybe he just saved your life. Your ticket is a blessing in disguise.” The strength his perspective gave me that night, the power of his faith and how true he stood by his convictions in moments of seeming distress, made me realize this man was the strongest man I had ever known. That day, more than ever, I realized how fortunate I was to have him as my father.
They say behind every great man stands a great woman or, as the joke goes, is a woman rolling her eyes! In parenting however, I’ve come to learn that behind every great mother, there is a strong father. Whether it was the man who helped raise her to be the woman she is today or the man she has chosen as a partner in raising her own children, a strong father’s influence on a mother is invaluable. While my own father taught us children the importance of faith in G-d, my husband further elaborated that lesson by teaching my children (and their ever evolving mother) that faith in G-d means having faith in yourself.
My husband recently encouraged us to embark on weekly family hikes. Back in the day, seemingly centuries ago, when we were carelessly dating, and so madly in love, hiking was our favorite pastime and a forum through which we deeply bonded. We even continued our outdoor adventures after my first child was born, strapping her into the handy kangaroo mimicking body pouches and carrying her off into the hills of majestic wilderness. After my second child was born however, the thought of taking the kids to roam around anything more natural then the neighborhood park made me nervous. You have to admit, it’s a daunting task to strap a one year old baby on me and a three old big girl on the hubby and stroll through the narrow, bumpy, often slippery, unpaved land leading to endless terrain. With two kids now there is just more at risk, more that can go wrong, and neither adult equipped with two free hands ready and able to respond instantaneously at any moment’s need. “We will be fine my love,” my husband assured me. “Just trust.”
He always just trusts. The amount of faith this man has in himself and his instinct is beyond belief. “Rona, for someone who has so much faith you really worry so much.” It’s been five strong years this man has been working on teaching me that having faith in G-d means having faith in oneself and letting go of the worry. This is a lesson I am learning now, alongside my children. Interestingly enough, as moms, we have found that it's not until you realize the importance of passing on a value to your children that you realize how important it is for you to value it yourself.
So, with his insistence and reassurance, we make it happen. And, truthfully, one whiff of the purest outdoor air found on these high trails and I am reminded of how healthy this experience is for my children. All seems to go well for the first ten steps. Then, before we get too comfortable (well as comfy as you can be with weights of thirty plus pounds on each of us), they both want to jump out of the carriers. “No way,” I said, “There is no way these kids are walking on this trail- it’s too dangerous.” We were on trails with steep ledges, who knows how many feet above ground, and I was not taking any chances. Of course, my husband’s reaction was more along the lines of, “Come on out kids, let’s explore!” With my heart beating out of my chest, I frantically chased my free and now wild kids all along the never-ending five-mile trail.
Every step they took I took four more, making sure I was always within arms reach. I felt like a General on the battlefield with eyes every which way, just waiting for any predator to make a move. Meanwhile, relaxed Daddy was having a blast- encouraging the kids to touch all the trees, pick up different color leaves, find rocks and even dig their fingers deep into the dirt to feel the cool earth. And there I was, armed with hand sanitizer clipped on my backpack, extra wipes in pocket and magnifying glass in hand looking for anything that could even remotely resemble poison ivy. “Wait,” I thought, “How exactly am I supposed to enjoy this?”
Within minutes my daughter was climbing the highest of trees and my son hiking the steepest of hills. Were these my kids or some safari animals that had spent years in the wilderness? While I would scream, “Slow down!” my husband would scream, “Go faster!” While I would say, “Be careful!” he would say, “Be free!” When I would warn, “Watch out for that stream, you’re gonna get soaked!” He would reply, “Take off your clothes kids, we’re going for a swim!” “I don’t want them to get sick, the water’s freezing,” to which he calms me with, “Let them get sick, their bodies will only get stronger because of it.” While I caution, “They will fall and scrape their knees!” he replies, “Let them fall; they will learn how to get back up.”
What I’ve seen as a result of these hikes, (beyond how many hours of couples therapy we would probably need to be on the same page!) is how strong my children have become and how confident they now feel to jump high, try new adventures and explore the world around them. Even simple walks around our neighborhood have turned into fun journeys in their eyes. Rocks are not just rocks to them anymore, but rather are now mysterious pieces of nature, each with a unique story to tell. Trees are no longer just for shade, but rather for hugging and climbing. A flower is not just a flower, but rather a hidden diamond found in the rough of the cliffs. A tree stump is no longer a hindrance to the beautiful landscape, but rather a launchpad from which they can leap and soar high into the sky. If nothing else, for my three-year old princess to have the patience to walk more than ten feet, without insisting on being picked up, is an accomplishment of Oscar status.
As a result of these excursions, my children have certainly built their physical strength, but just as important, they have developed their inner, mental strength. They have grown to be free spirited, explorative and passionate because of their strong father- a father that believes in them and their G-d-given resilience. What they have is a father that encourages them to believe in themselves.
You see, what I’ve come to learn from the fathers in my life is that the strength we need is not just that of the physical, but so much more is that of the spiritual. It is this strength of the spirit that truly unleashes the fear. Through the growth of my children, I have come to see that the strength my father had instilled in us and that which my husband is instilling in our children is indeed one in the same- both serve as tools that empower us to access our greatest potential: to reach for the moon, knowing the stars await us.
On this day, in particular, I wish to say thank you. Thank you, to my dear father and thank you to the father of my children, for reminding me, at any stage, whether it was that seventeen year old girl behind the wheel, or the thirty year old mom hiking up the mountain, that fear is our single greatest obstacle to truly enjoying life and fully appreciating the blessings. Thank you for teaching my children and me that, in order to learn to rise, we must not be afraid to fall.
So, be assured that because of you, I will go forward in strength, still slightly holding my breath at the sight of a cop, or at every sharp turn on that hill. But, do know that I march forward believing in all that you have taught me and so very grateful for all that you have made me. I vow to embrace the driving tickets and knee scrapes whenever they may come. And, with confidence, I know, my children and their unbreakable spirit will be a longstanding testament to your greatness.
Happy Father’s Day!