April 26, 2001
Bitterness Once Removed
Eleven years ago my parents divorced after my father found out my mother had been having an affair for four years. Although my sister and I were already in our 20's, it had a devastating effect on the family. My father stayed single, alone and brooding ever since. He lives in an apartment, goes to his job and doesn't seem to have much of a life. He still "loathes" our mother, refuses to hear her name mentioned and will not attend any function where she'll be. My mother is married and happy, and the rest of us have gotten on with our lives and blended well.
As you can imagine, holidays and family functions have been tough because we are so divided. I am getting married in three months and as happy as I am about it, I have always dreaded the moment for obvious reasons. My fiancé and I want a big, family wedding, but of course, my father will not attend if mom is there. This is absolutely devastating to me. I have always wanted him to "give me away," dance with me, do what most fathers do. He won't even listen to my pleas, and actually suggested we have a separate ceremony in the rabbi's office or at home if we want him there. He has even hung up the phone on my fiancé. At this point I am so ashamed of my father, so hurt, that I have started toying with the idea of eloping, but no one else likes that idea, not even me.
Deborah, can you suggest something that will knock some sense into my father? How unfair, ridiculous, selfish and warped is it that he cannot find it in his heart to be a good father at the most important moment of my life?
Knock sense into your father? Fairness in families? Let's just slip off those rose-colored glasses and take a cold, hard look at the truth.
Your father has been mired in bitterness for 11 years. The poor man has been unable to move on with his life all this time, but you, my dear woman, must do so yourself. You have not yet accepted the fact that you have no power over your father or what you consider to be his "unfair, ridiculous, selfish" behavior. He is just stuck.
So go ahead and have one big, whopping simcha of a wedding. No one will be embarrassed, with the possible exception of your poor fartootst father. In any case, do not punish yourself, your fiancé or the rest of your families by eloping. You would run the risk of beginning this next chapter of your life with your own bitter little tale. You know, the one in which the embittered daughter follows in the footsteps of her father and gets stuck -- not at the end, but at the beginning of her marriage.
Timing Is Everything
When is it appropriate to ask a widow out on a date? How long is the proper mourning period? I fancy a lady in my shul, and I want at the same time to be respectful and not to miss my chance. Any advice for me here?
Shall we begin by quoting a few rabbis, bereavement specialists or perhaps Miss Manners?
Nah. I don't think so.
Why not? Because the time you spend ruminating over the right move might be the time in which you have missed your window of opportunity. The real expert here and therefore the only person qualified to respond is the widow in question. Let her know the truth -- that you "fancy" her, and that while you wish to respect her mourning process you would like to know if and/or when it might be appropriate to call upon her for tea.
No Holy War Here
Just wanted to tell you I enjoy your column. I also wanted to comment on the letter published in the February issue written by a worried mother whose daughter is married to a man becoming too religious for the mother's taste.
This is a tough issue, and I think you handled it well. But as someone who became more ritually observant as an adult and one who knows at least a hundred others like me, I also know that often it is the secular relatives who become combative, sarcastic and otherwise behave badly in these situations, often because they feel threatened. It does take great sensitivity and responsibility on the part of the person becoming religious to try not to alienate others in the family; indeed, one of the main reasons for people to choose a more frum lifestyle is for the very closeness it can and should engender in families.
It's possible that in this case the mother was right, and her son-in-law was behaving boorishly; but in my experience, for every insensitive baal teshuva who seems not to care what his or her family thinks, I can show you 50 (at least) who take great pains to include family members, to try to make them feel just as loved an needed in the family as ever. It's a delicate balance, and everyone needs to do their part.
While your letter offers a glimpse of another facet of religious intolerance, the dilemma presented by the mother was not, as you implied, an objection to her son-in-law's becoming "too religious for the mother's taste."
Rather, the letter expressed concern for the emotional welfare of her daughter. She said her daughter stated that "she was being forced into a life she hadn't chosen." She had begun to complain to her parents about feeling "hopelessness and despair."
The letter was about a troubled daughter and her troubled marriage. Religious observance just happened to be the conflict du jour. But understand that had it been about the mortgage or chopped liver I'd have given the exact same advice to the parents; which was to encourage the daughter to get appropriate help and then for the parents to stay the hell out of it.
You are right though. Religious intolerance from any angle stinks.