This morning, I opened the bottom drawer of my desk to search for an envelope and happened upon the Father’s Day card I never sent our dad in 2009. I had scurried to Target to get a card before all the good ones disappeared and, then, Dad disappeared from the world before Father’s Day. Our dad’s yahrzeit (anniversary of his death) is 16 Sivan, next Shabbat. This year it happens to be the Shabbat before Father’s Day.
I have spent a lot of time thinking about Dad’s influence on us. When Leslie and I were sharing a room with one bed, along with our mutual fears about presenting at the Jewish Book Network in New York City, we felt Dad’s pride and encouragement. So do we really need a yahrzeit to remember Dad when he seems to be ever-present in our consciousness? I think we do. While other denizens of the world can think about what’s next on June 14th, we can stop and feel grateful for all that our dad meant to us and all that he taught us just by being himself. How often would we carve out those moments for ourselves?
One of the joys of interviewing Vera and Alla was prompting them to remember their parents. Both Vera and Alla were very close to their dads. Their dads doted on them and empowered them. Their dads felt a mission to protect them and prepare them for a very cruel Soviet reality. While Leslie and I were not thrust into the hardships of life like Vera and Alla, our dad cushioned every bump along the way with humor and wisdom. He didn’t belittle our humiliations and fears but tried to comfort us and prepare us for life’s vicissitudes.
He always told us in any emergency he’d be there. And he was. My freshman year at Yale was the first time I felt anxious about grades. Without weekly essays and tests like high school, I had no idea how I would perform on the midterms. Dad could sense my anxiety even though he couldn’t hear my specific words on the phone. So, he flew into New Haven on business and we went out for pizza. The anxiety disappeared with his hug.
Not every daughter is privileged to have a dad at the ready like we did and like Vera and Alla did. In the USSR, so many dads were gone—some by choice and some by government decree. Other dads were emotionally absent as they turned to drink to escape their own frustrations and angers that built up everyday in a society that seemed to thwart its own citizens’ needs for basic commodities and security from the power of the State apparatus. When Leslie and I grew up some dads were so preoccupied with making a living that they compartmentalized childrearing as the moms’ domain. Dad may have left most decisions to our mom but he was a loving and vital presence in our everyday lives even when he was out of town.
Dad believed in us and allowed us to learn from mistakes. We did not need to be perfect, but we couldn’t wait until Yom Kippur for apologies. If we did something wrong, we had to admit it and make amends just as he did. We could not be victims or passive. We had to be decisive, mold our own lives and take responsibility.
I see how Dad’s influence has filtered down the generations to his grandchildren. Now his great-grandchildren are asking about Papa George and what he was like. This Shabbat we will light the yahrzeit candle and tell Papa George stories. May your own parents’ memories be a blessing for all of you as our dad’s memory is for us.