“I hated it.”
Those three little words, in response to my therapist’s question, “How did you feel about being the rabbi’s son?” were the key to unlocking a decades long battle with my father. You see, as simple a phase as it may be, when I uttered that response it came as both a great surprise and a great relief for the first time in my life to become conscious of this truth.
It was around the same time—early 1991—that I discovered Robert Bly’s so-called “Men’s Movement” which also served to help reshape my relationship with my father— at that time about sixteen years after his death. I consciously began a new journey toward connecting with him in a way I had not done since I was very young, if I had ever done so at all.
Several months after my cathartic moment in therapy, I was back East with a few friends from high school whom I had not seen in many years. I told them of my startling revelation. To a person they all shrugged and laughed, saying, “Of course, Doug, we all knew that!” I was left wondering why it had taken me over forty years to figure it out for myself.
That was over twenty years ago, and what began as a trickle of acceptance and a portal to filial love has become a gushing fountain as I pore through the archives of Dad’s sermons. They represent more than a scholarly walk through time. They bring him to life through a rich exposition of his most passionate concerns about Judaism and life itself.
A few nights ago the topic of emotions came up in my men’s group (that incidentally has been meeting almost weekly since shortly after I discovered the Men’s Movement). I mentioned how I had discovered this hidden emotion—my hatred of being the rabbi’s son. One group member asked me to say more about what I hated. In another moment of self-discovery I responded that it was less about the pressures of being a focal point of community expectation and more about the fact that he was out serving them so much that he seemed absent in my life.
Then it hit me—one reason that I am luxuriating so in reading these sermons. Day after day, night after night, I reach out for him and he is there. I pick up the pages that he held in his hands. I carefully release the corroded paper clip that he so casually adhered to these pages decades ago. I sit or lie back and read his words. I quickly discover with each four or five or six-page packet whether he is routinely responding to the duty of delivering his weekly message, or whether he has tapped into a deeper wellspring of fervor on a topic that emanates from his core beliefs. Either way, I hear his voice. He may have been talking to a sparse gathering in Columbia, South Carolina in 1939 or to an assembly of soldiers on Keesler Air Field in Biloxi, Mississippi during the early years of World War II, or to his thriving congregation on Long Island in the fifties and sixties. Regardless of the original audience, in these moments he is speaking solely to me. I have my daddy all to myself, and I love being his son.