For the past few months, I’ve had the pleasure of watching my neighbor Aaron teach his kids how to catch a ball. When a father is playing catch with his son or daughter, there are few things in life that bring more happiness. It’s total enjoyment to the max. It’s amazing to see the smile on a child’s face when he or she looks into his or her baseball glove and unexpectedly sees the ball there. Then when they grab it and hold it up in triumph, it’s unbelievable. What’s better than that?
After a child learns how to ride a bike or catch a ball, life moves quickly from there. In a brief span of time, there’s a good chance my neighbor’s kids will be as good as, if not better than, he is at games they play. That’s the way it is and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Soon after teaching my kids pingpong, they were all beating me at the game. I rarely win when we play Rummikub, a tile-based game. I hate losing to them and they hate losing to me, so at least we are even.
When my kids were little, on Saturday mornings, we would walk 15 or 20 minutes to shul, depending on how much fighting, crying and stalling took place. Fifteen to 20 minutes alone with my children — priceless. When your kids are older, how much private time do you get with them? Generally, not a lot.
I know it’s a cliché to say childhood goes by fast, but it’s true. They are children for around 6,000 days (unless they go to college and graduate school, then maybe 15,000 days). In the blink of an eye, they’re all grown up.
I have only sons and it’s hard to think of a better feeling than for a father to watch his sons grow up, become menschen and be able to take care of themselves. It’s beyond comforting and beyond belief. It’s one of those “maybe I did something right” moments. When they get married and you see them not only taking care of themselves but also helping care for another person, it is mind-boggling.
One of my rabbis who has nine kids once said to me, “There has to be a God. We could not have done all this on our own.” He meant that to raise a bunch of kids and shepherd all of them out into the world as good and decent people is a miracle and demands assistance from above. I believe that.
I think the greatest thing I got from my father is that I knew, with every fiber of my being, that my father loved me. If you’re a young father and you transmit that to your kids, you’ve done a lot. Knowing a parent loves you can take you very far in this world.
My father didn’t spend much time with me. He was busy working. But during the time we spent together, he was present. When I was growing up, there weren’t a lot of distractions. In the car, we had no cellphones, no iPads, no nothing. Our entertainment was looking through the windshield. When we got into the car, we had a subpar AM radio that broadcast something called “talking.” That’s how two people find out things about each other. Today, people do that on YouTube.
Hey, young dads, I have an idea for you. Have what I call a 1960s day. Have a day when you leave all the electronics at home. Take the children out for a ride or to a ball game or a movie and lunch. Then maybe one day, your kids will look back and say to their kids, “One of my favorite things to do was when me and my dad left our cellphones at home and went out for the afternoon.” Then one day, they can get into their driverless cars, look through the windshield and see things they’ve never seen before.