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What's a Father For?

What's a Father For?

The definition of being a father.


It’s hard being a father today. The difficult economy has reduced many men’s ability to provide for their families. Dad’s who have often measured their self worth through their financial success are now grappling with the fear of unemployment or reduced paychecks. Families are struggling. Many fathers are feeling down and unsure about the future.

It’s time for us to reexamine a father’s role in the family. What is the definition of being a father?

Is his self worth simply based upon his financial income and type of car that he drives? Or is he here to provide more, to endow his children with both a spiritual and emotional income?

Is it his role to be a physical protector and tangible presence in their lives, or is it possible for him to live his life with an even greater purpose? Is there a way that he, as a father, can build his children’s essence through teaching them how to deal with moments of success, good fortune, anger, worry, disappointments, and life’s many searing challenges?

Dad’s who have measured their self worth through their financial success are grappling with fear of unemployment or reduced paychecks.

In addition to his financial portfolio, has he thought about the spiritual portfolio that his children will come to inherit one day?

I read the papers with all their gloomy news and statistics bringing us frightening words like The Great Depression and double dipped recession. I hear the commercials with serious voices asking us to think about overcoming deep debt and foreclosures in these tough economic times. I ponder the challenges facing families today. And though I know that it is both husbands and wives who are working long hours and worrying about the bills, I also know that this recession has somehow hurt the men and hit them hard. Men who had always felt safe and secure as they provided for their families.

And then my mind wanders to memories of my father.

No, we did not have much ‘stuff’ growing up. We never took exotic vacations or had the latest gadgets and toys. But my parents provided us with so much more to carry us through our days; endless love and faith that have anchored us throughout life’s ups and downs.

Though many stories pop into my mind, there is one in particular that imprinted within me the sense of ‘what’s a father for.’

It had been a long hot summer. My husband had undergone delicate surgery for a dislocated shoulder and was warned to watch the movements of his arm. He was wearing a sling while dealing with a lot of pain. I was in my later months of pregnancy, and you know that scorching days and expectant mothers are a difficult combination.

I took my children outside to play and my five-year-old daughter fell off her swing. Her hand lay limply at her side.

I drove to the pediatrician hoping that he’d tell me this was just a bruise or sprain. He gave me the news that my daughter’s hand seemed broken and I would need to see an orthopedist. My child would need an adult to lift her, accompany her into the x-ray room and calm her fears. I also had a toddler who needed someone to watch over him in the office as my daughter was being examined and casted.

Being that I was expecting, that ‘someone’ in the x-ray room could not be me. My husband was completely incapacitated. I drove home, thinking of my various options. My mother was lecturing and I knew that my father had left that morning to visit my sister and spend a week with her family in their Catskill bungalow.

As I entered the house, my phone rang. I picked up the receiver and heard my father’s voice.

Sheyfalah, how are you?”

I could not speak. I just started to cry.

“What is it, Slovelah? Why are you crying?”

I sobbed a bit more and then relayed my story to my father. I described my husband immobile in his sling, my daughter wailing and needing to have x-rays taken of her arm, my seven-year-old just getting off the day camp bus and my two-year-old doing what two-year-olds did. The orthopedist’s office was an hour away. I didn’t know how to manage. I felt overwhelmed.

“Don’t worry, my shefelah, I’m coming to help you.”

Abba, what do you mean?” I asked. “You just arrived this morning, you spent three hours on a bus getting there, you’re staying for a week. How will you help me?”

“I am going to take the next bus home, don’t worry. I didn’t even unpack yet, so it’s fine”.

“Are you sure, Abba?” I asked incredulously.

I was astonished. I knew how my father had waited for this week. My parents never took a vacation. This was to be my father’s ‘big getaway’; a week in my sister’s bungalow. His greatest pleasure was spending time with his children and grandchildren, taking walks on the country roads and breathing in the natural beauty of God’s world. He had shlepped up by bus and I learned later from my sister that my father had arrived drenched in sweat from the heat of the trip.

But he made no mention of any of this to me. It was clear that he would just turn around and come home. I was overwhelmed with his kindness. I decided to ask one more time.

“Are you sure, Abba?”

I heard my father’s wonderful laugh over the phone. And then he said something that I will never forget.

Slovelah, of course I’m sure. What’s a father for?”

Father’s are here to lead, to provide spiritual and emotional nourishment to both sons and daughters.

As we grapple with uncertainties and a topsy-turvy world, let us at least hold onto this one unshakable truth. Father’s exist in the lives of their children with a role that goes way beyond paying the credit card bills. Father’s are here to lead, to provide spiritual and emotional nourishment to both sons and daughters. Father’s can be the moral compass that steer children through their life’s journey. And then when we grow up and wonder if we are doing the right thing or how we will possibly make it, we can hear our father’s voice and see our father’s image in our mind. We can look back on the small kindnesses, the little talks when we seemed troubled, and the reassuring arm around our shoulders that let us know that we are loved and never stand alone.

And if right now you are feeling hurt and lacking such memories, know that today is your opportunity to create this legacy with your own children.

After all, what’s a father for?

August 14, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 9

(9) craig, August 20, 2010 6:21 PM


what a simple and meaningful story. your last sentences struck me. even if my father was violent and abusive, it doesn't mean that i can't change the script for my children and change the story line of our line for the better.

(8) Anonymous, August 20, 2010 1:00 PM

beautiful article

My father is the same way; my husband is, too. I wish to learn and be as good a parent as they are!

(7) Anonymous, August 17, 2010 5:17 PM

Bad economy or not, men still need to pay the bills

Yes. It is important for fathers to have an active emotional and spiritual role in their children's lives. However, I think this point is often emphasized in a way that overlooks and devalues the importance of a father simply being able to provide for his family. The article alludes to the pain men have felt in this poor economy. A man's role as provider and physical protector is a primary part of his identity. That is why the bad economy has been so emotionally devastating to men. Last time I checked, there is no escape clause in the Ketubah for a bad economy. When one brother learns Torah and the other brother goes out into the world to work support him, the brother who works receives the merit of the brother who learns in the world to come. When a father works long hours to keep his family afloat so that his children can eat kosher food and have a Torah education, however, we refer to him as being someone who "just pays the bills."

(6) Ronda Wunsch, August 16, 2010 1:41 PM

How true!

It's too bad that many men measure their success by how much money they earn and don't realize that their family needs quality time with them. I personally think it's better to work less, make do with less material wealth and have the time to enjoy every day life. Thank G-d for shabbos when the whole family has a chance to sit down and have a meal together. I have fond memories of all the recreation activities that I used to do with my father (ztl) as a young child. Now I am the one to do those things with my kids. He also taught me the importance of family and I have taken on that value as well. Even though he is no longer alive, his legacy lives on. However, many of the gifts i.e. toys, clothes, etc. are not. It's really something for all of us to think about.

(5) DDay, August 16, 2010 1:36 AM

Being a father means to me...

Having endless love for children.

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