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June 16, 1995 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1995-06-16

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Editor's Notebook

Community Views

`Dad' Is An Honorary Title
We Need To Earn Each Day

Protecting The Rights
Of The Minority



Two of us sitting
on the porch on a
hot, humid sum-
mer's night drink-
ing Rolling Rock
beer in the green
pony" bottle. In
the background
was the sound of
the radio crackling
away the late innings of a base-
ball game. I was 15 and I was
with my best friend.
Happened to be my dad.
Before you call child protection,
that was 26 years ago. He taught
me that the beauty of summer
night baseball back then meant
sitting in the lounge chair, feet
up on the black cast iron railing,

with my homework, yet I never
realized it would be something
I'd long for as an adult.
I hope for all of you that you
have moments that mean next to
nothing to anyone other than you
and your father.
It's unfortunate that the rela-
tionship between a dad and his
children isn't expressed with a
type of passion and intimacy.
Fathers need not separate
themselves from their children.
They need to establish a rela-
tionship with their kids as indi-
viduals. Each child, no matter
how similar or even "from the
same womb," is different. Rela-
tionships should be fashioned to
the individual, with the thought

listening to the hum of the up-
stairs bedroom window air con-
ditioner, and sipping some beer.
It was special. It was our passion,
- and this was something he
shared with me, only with me. It
didn't matter whatever it was he
shared with my older sister, or
my mother or his friends. I told
him about my girlfriend, he told
me what it was like to date when
he was 15.
We'd stop and listen to the
crowd noise applaud someone's
home run. There were moths
spinning around the porch light.
It was more than helping me

that any comment, event, dis-
cussion can and will be remem-
All of us have those memories.
Not to get preachy, because
there are certainly experts and
plenty of literature out there, not
to mention the Torah, that can
teach us how to form lasting, im-
portant, involved relationships
with our children.
From my amateur, uneducat-
ed post in life, I and a zillion oth-
er fathers can tell you that it's the
little things that bond a father to
a son or daughter. No, that's not
out of the inside of a greeting




card, but it's true.
But before you go around
claiming the little things, there
are some big items you need to
take care of if they apply. They
include not abusing your chil-
dren, physically, emotionally or
sexually. Don't expect the word
dad to really mean something
positive until you take care of this
in a positive way. Cruelty, no
matter how small, is a memory
that won't go away.
If you are a dad and you
haven't given your wife a get, do
it. If you aren't paying your child
support payments on time, take
care of it.
Or, if for some reason you
haven't spoken to your father ha
months or even years,
don't just be a dad, but be
a man: You make the
first step.
A friend didn't talk to
his parents for, six years
because of an argument
that wasn't worth not
talking for six seconds.
After he and his wife had
children, twins, he called
his father. His words:
"Dad, this argument
we have, we can settle,
but it shouldn't be your
grandchildren's argu-
ment as well."
That was being a fa-
ther, that was being a
strong man.
All of us have these
stories, these moments.
You are allowed to be an-
gry at your dad, you are
allowed at times not to be
so proud of him.
When we did the "Six
Days In October" photo
special, many of the pho-
tos were of fathers study-
ing Torah with their
children. These were im-
portant. But equally im-
portant were photos of
children caught playing
in autumn leaves. Im-
portant, because in some
cases their dads saw the
passion, the love they had
in their child's play.
There are men in the
Detroit area who might
not be your parent, but who are
father figures to you. They could
be a friend, a rabbi, a supervisor,
a mentor. These are people who
provide examples for you, posi-
tive ones. It's okay to give them
a Father's Day greeting as well.
Father's Day is not something
that happens only this Sunday.
We're fathers every day, every
moment of the year. Just re-
member that anybody can "fa-
ther" a child, it seems like, in this
day and age. The name "Daddy"
is something you earn. ❑

My friend David,
the amateur his-
torian, loves to
play a game. He
tries to envision
how his ances-
tors might re-
spond to con-
temporary is-
I always belittled his diver-
sion as silly, similar to the old
TV program in which historical
figures grappled with current-
day problems. To my surprise,
I recently engaged in the same
intellectual exercise while re-
turning from Lansing.
I had given testimony on be-
half of the Jewish Community
Council before a state Senate
committee examining the ques-
tion of school prayer. The com-
mittee, composed largely of
small-town conservatives, was
not a receptive audience and I
left the capital doubting
whether my words had made
any differ-
The long
road home
from Lansing
allows one
time to pon-
der. I won-
dered how my
would have
weighty question as the First
Amendment's religion clauses.
Rufus "Fancy Pants" Ruben-
stein peddled dry goods to the
miners during the California
gold rush of 1848. His letters to
his mother in Syracuse spoke
in terms of survival and dreams
of returning home with enough
money to start his own busi-
ness. Constitutional questions
were far from his immediate
After the Civil War, family
members moved to the lumber
towns of northern Michigan.
The key words for them, based
on their correspondence, were
"acceptance" and "tolerance."
My grandmother's presiden-
cy of the Manistique Women's
Club had little to do with her re-
ligion and much to do with my
grandfather being a merchant
in the city. She would not have
wanted to "rock the boat" by
raising church/state concerns
— by invoking the specter of the
Christian majority struggling
with a Jewish minority.
The first allusion to the reli-
gion clauses in the family
archives is found in an ex-
change of letters between my
grandfather and his son Sam
when Sam attended Harvard
Law School in the 1920s. My
uncle spoke in general terms of

the need for a better separation
between what is church and
what is state and that such a
wall would be in the best inter-
est of American Jews.
However, my uncle, through
his 70-year legal career, never
spoke of minority rights. In-
stead, personal rights were to
be earned by outstanding
achievement and upward mo-
bility. He would not have mud-
died the waters with
church/state concerns.
My parents framed
church/state issues in terms of
what I phrase "silent equality."
They tolerated my reciting a
prayer every morning in ele-
mentary school. On the other
hand, they also expected the
public school to allow me to take
Jewish religious holidays off
without penalty and to treat
Judaism co-equally with Chris-
tianity. To invoke the Lord's
name at a school event did not
offend them as long as a rabbi
and a minister
alternated de-
livering the
My ances-
tors, I am con-
vinced, would
never have tes-
tified as I did
that official
school prayer
— however
worded — is
wrong or argued against even
a moment of silence. The Jew-
ish community's advocacy of
such positions evidences that
Jews feel themselves to be full
members of the American body
politic and a part of this coun-
try's economic and social main-
It is almost 150 years since
Fancy Pants Rubenstein sold
clothing to gold miners. The
world of small-town America
has been engulfed by a plural-
istic, heterogenous America. Yet
the forces promoting the inter-
twining of government and re-
ligion remain with us. The
danger is the easy step from
saying, "Let us pray," to official
enforcement of a single reli-
gion's supplication.
The fight for minority reli-
gious rights is a constant bat-
tle. This battle includes
educating children who in-
creasingly may be raised in
mixed families where accom-
modation to different religious
traditions is a fact of life. It in-
volves teaching those who
might feel the struggle is now
of an academic concern. Com-
pliancy about protecting our
rights is our most vicious foe. El

Laurence !merman is a

Birmingham attorney.

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