I Punched Him in the Face
Now, I realize that it is not, not ever, the thing to do; to punch people in the face. Especially you should never punch your father in the face. But I have to confess, I did it. I punched my father in the face. You have to understand, I was, for a very long time, extremely angry with him and not without good cause. OK I know that is not a good enough reason but wait till I finish explaining and then make up your mind about it and me.
I was born in 1939 on Long Island to a upper middle class white Protestant family. Raising children then was very different than it is now. I always say that I "lost out" because when I was a child "children were to be seen and not heard" and by the time I had children parents were to be seen and not heard. So a lot of leeway need be given to anyone raising children in that era on that count alone. Along with the style of the day my Father had been brought up without a Father as he had died when my father was a year old. So we can give him another leeway that he had no role model for either a Father or a husband. And as I was to realize in later years - he was not a bad person, he just did not know the harm he was doing.
I'll give you a few of my memories to let you understand what I mean. When I was seven years old my Great Grandmother (my Father's Grandmother) died. The custom was to keep the dead body in its open casket in the house (some did in a funeral home) for a week after death until burial and people would come to pay a "last visit" to the dead person.
I remember being in the family three story home and went to find my Father. He was sitting in one of the upstairs bedrooms with a few other people. There was a dead body in the house, strange people were coming and going, and I was seven. I was feeling scared and confused and went to him for some comfort and protection. I climbed on his lap and before I could get comfortable he told me "Get off my lap. It will spoil the crease in my trousers." Off I got and realized sadly that my worth was less than a crease in his pants. Now, looking back I can imagine that perhaps he was very sad and maybe many more feelings were going on in his heart and mind but then, I was seven and today 66 years later as I write this, tears flow down my cheeks as the pain renews itself in my heart.
A memory of a few years later: My Father and I were in the car. He was driving and I was pleased to be with him with no other people around. I had just started learning to play the violin. With all the gusto and imagination of my 10 years I said, wanting to impress him, "I want to learn to play the violin so beautifully that it will be able to speak for me." My father laughed derisively and I knew that instead of impressing him I was a joke. I never learned to play the violin well and whenever I practiced I would put a mute on the bridge so as to deaden the sound.
Now you may say "Well, so what that was once when you were seven and once when you were ten.".. But between those two I have no happy memories of him being proud or encouraging or worse yet of even being interested in what I could or did do. I learned one summer to row a boat - I was 12 - I was very proud of my new skill. I said, "There is a pond down the road (we were then living up-state New York) come and let me give you a ride in a row boat. No one answered, no one heard.
Also When I was 12, my Father and Mother decided to get divorced (probably one reason they did not hear me they were too busy with themselves). Nobody told me and I found out by mistake when reading a letter from my Father that was written to my sister - who always got loads of attention and compliments from everyone and especially my Father.
After the divorce my Father moved to California. He sent me pictures of his cute apartment and even cuter sports car. He apologized profusely that he was unable to send money for my support because after paying his rent and expenses for the car he had no money left over. Left over; I was a Left over person.
When I was 18 and living in Connecticut and working as I had left school at 16 in order to go to work and support myself, I decided I wanted to work in Manhattan. My Father had returned to the East Coast and was living in a trailer park on Long Island. I went to visit him. "I would like to come and live with you for a while and commute to work in Manhattan." I told him, hoping we still could build some kind of relationship. "If you live with me then I would be responsible for you," He said aghast at the idea, "I will take you into the city and help you find an apartment there." And he did. I thought at the time that being responsible for me was probably something he should have considered before my Mother became pregnant with me, but this stayed as a thought and was never said because what good would it do.
So while living in New York City one day I got the idea of making a clay model head. Working with clay had always been an idea that fascinated me. So I went to an art store and bought an armature and modeling clay and spent time working it and found it to be kind of a meditation and relaxation. I was enjoying it a lot. When I finished the first (and only) head that I did I stepped back to look at it and was shocked to see that I had produced my Father's face. I looked, and looked, not believing what I saw and then all the raw emotion of all the years of his betrayal and lack of protection and/or interest welled up inside of me and I suddenly felt myself pulling back my fist and it shot out and I punched that clay face with all my strength. Then I threw the head away in the garbage and to this day have never worked again in clay.
Fortunately, although the memories still pain me for that little girl, I have come to terms with who he was and why. More than that, after finding Judaism and studying and learning Chassidut (the mystical side of Judaism) I believe that nothing in this world happens by chance. G-d put me in that family to learn things that I had to learn and as painful as it was, it was all for the good. Today I am a very happy convert to Judaism, living, Thank G-d, in Israel. I have a wonderful husband, three great children, whom I have never subjected to laughing at their dreams and two granddaughters who bring light into my life. My children, Thank G-d, are all married to good partners. I have two daughters-in-law who live in the same small settlement as my husband and I and we get on beautifully.
So why would I tell you this "sob story." If you read this please, please, know that whatever you say to your children makes very deep impressions - at all ages but especially to small children. We all need encouragement and love and obvious caring, especially little children. Their sometimes dramatic ideas are not funny. They are real and serious and important and our remarks and attitudes leave deep ruts in their souls for good and for bad. Never stop showing them how much you love them. They need this and so do you. Don't encourage them to one day punch you in the face.
from the August 2012 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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