Years ago, I had a discussion with someone. He told me that as much as he loved his father, he blames him as well for being over-protective. He felt that had his father not been there to catch him each time he was about to fall, he would be better prepared today to deal with what life throws at you.
I thought for a few minutes and then told him that I completely disagreed with him. I had known (and loved) his father too, and, I had the advantage at the time, of being a parent. It is in the nature of a parent, I told this friend, to protect a child. When the child is 2-years-old and goes to run in the street, it is the father who will stop him. And when the child is 5, the father will grab him to protect him.
And when the child is 13 and 18 and 25, the father will always step forward to protect him. It is the nature of the parent, to step forward, to protect. What changes, I explained, was that the child becomes a man and learns not to put himself in danger. It is not the parent who changes, but the child.
I thought of that this morning as I drove Shmulik to catch the bus. A great rabbi died yesterday in Israel. He was once the Chief Rabbi of Israel, and two hundred thousand people came to his funeral. This is a sign of how much he was loved and how much he will be missed. Shmulik and three others in his unit learned at this great rabbi’s yeshiva and so the army agreed to release these boys so they could come and pay their respects.
The funeral was held last night because according to our religion, a body should be buried as soon as possible and more – the holiness of Jerusalem requires that a body should not be left, even over night. So Shmulik went to the funeral and came home to sleep. Early this morning, he came with me to drop his younger sister and brother at their schools and then to drive into Jerusalem. Traffic was bad, we left late, and I wasn’t sure we would arrive in time for him to catch the bus. I was calculating the time it would take to get him to base and get back for my 11:00 meeting when I suggested he find out the route the bus would take when it leaves the central bus station.
He called a friend, one of the other three that was to catch the same bus back to base and learned the bus went down a major street in Jerusalem close to where we were traveling. We stopped. I told Shmulik I would wait to confirm the bus stopped on the other side of the street. As he walked to the corner, I saw him touch his shoulder and hesitate. He looked around; I looked at him. He was missing his beret.
He began to walk back to the car. I searched the seat as he approached and we looked together. Nothing. I called Elie, “Can you check if Shmulik left his kumta [beret]?”
Already I was calculating. “It’s on his computer,” Elie told me a few minutes later. If Shmulik went to base without it, they would likely punish him. It would probably not be a major thing at this point in his training; a few hours delay in going home, for example.
We figured out that the bus would travel close to our home, to the highway that runs just below our city. I asked Elie to meet us at the bus stop on the highway and he set off. I turned the car around, returning back along the 25 minute drive that takes 45 minutes in the morning traffic. Leaving the city behind, Shmulik and I raced down the hill to meet him, about 15 minutes ahead of the bus.
It all went well; we met Elie moments before the bus came and took Shmulik on board, there to reunite with his friends. And that’s when I remembered the conversation I’d had long ago.
Yes, Shmulik should have been more careful and remembered to take his beret and, in forgetting it, I could have let him sink. I could have let the army punish him. This isn’t even the first time this has happened – the last time, he put the wrong pants on by mistake, wearing the on-base uniform rather than the dress uniform they are supposed to use for traveling. Then too, I asked Elie to find the correct pants and save the day by driving them to Shmulik. Elie arrived with five minutes to spare; Shmulik changed in the car, and went to meet his unit.
I didn’t let Elie sink; nor have I let my other children. There are parents who say they must learn to swim and I don’t disagree…but I have never been one to let them fail when it is in my power to prevent it. I have driven far up north to collect Elie; I drove into, out of, and back into Jerusalem today for Shmulik.
I think I am hoping, deep down, that sometime in the distant future, perhaps long after I am gone, each child will remember that I did all I could for them, when I could, as I could. I hope my children will never wish that I had not attempted to protect them. More, I wish some day, they will understand why I do…and do the same for their own.