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Absent Fathers

Absent Fathers

My father's disloyalty undermined my relationship with God.

by Wendy Langer

My father had been gone for months. Across oceans, I imagined him walking beaches in leather strap sandals, sipping black coffee in a glass, thinking of us when he passed a payphone. He was far away from everything that tied him down: my mother, my siblings, and me.

He came back to Connecticut for a short visit, and though my mother wanted it, he had no will to stay. Their relationship was like a baby grasping for the string of a balloon; just as she tried holding on, he slipped away. This is the way it always felt, whether he was with us or not.

Their relationship was like a baby grasping for the string of a balloon; just as she tried holding on, he slipped away.

He honked the horn outside my mother's house, his house, my house; his headlights blinded his face from me. It was just the two of us. The car glided through the night; the drive was irritably smooth and the night was eaten by black, by fog, by cold. I remember gestures: his fingertips turning the wheel, his jacket zipper being pulled halfway up. The silences between us pounded on me, a rainstorm of what should I say now, should I tell him about school, what would he want to hear, should I talk to him about coming back. And he sat there, dry, his back molded into seat leather, clean shaven and unflustered.

I would have given gold to have something to say, but there was nothing to say. There was nothing there. It was a hole where there should have been a wound. He stopped at Toys R Us. The thrill of a child in a toy store, it wasn't there. I was too old for this, but I was also too young.

I could grab from the rainbow of toys on the shelves, pull them all down and pile them into a cart and say, "Buy me all of these." I could have tried to make a dent somewhere, to hurt him and let him know, you owe me.

But I knew this then: filling my cart with possessions would leave me emptier than before.

Running out of options, not wanting him to feel bad, I took a basketball in a cardboard frame. I did not hate him because this is what I expected of him. He was consistent in his unpredictability. He was consistent in his disloyalty, in his unconventionality. He was consistent in his leaving. The father at the amusement park who leaned down to tie his daughter's shoe and said, "Stay close -- I don't want to lose you," this was not him. My father held a hand out, but I had to be the one to take hold. And if I did not, he kept on walking. I didn't expect anything else.

Who Is God?

So who, then, is God when He is referred to as "Father"? He leaves when He loses interest? He leaves when there's something better out there, far away from me? Is it always me taking a giant leap to Him, Him never meeting me halfway? Who is God when He is my Father? A relationship based on need? There only when I need Him? A provider when I seek Him out?

This was my battle. I believed in God, so I wanted to learn more, understand more, and be more than I was. But I wasn't certain of His loyalty. When I turned to God for practical purposes -- money, admittance to school, a good parking spot -- I felt at ease to ask, just as it was with my own father.

When it came to feeling God's love, I'd find myself in a brief moment of connection and lose it as fast as it would come.

But when it came to emotional closeness, feeling God's presence and love, I would find myself in a brief moment of connection and lose it as fast as it would come, with the thought, "God has left me to be with another."

I was in school for nursing, living with my mother. Undomesticated, with no husband to feed, we ate takeout sushi most nights and took turns on the treadmill. I was packing my days to keep out the quiet. We were both trying to date and it wasn't going well. In every path of life loneliness can be found. There was a lot of loneliness here.

Learning that reciting The Song of Songs for 40 days could bring me to the one I was destined to marry, I began. The Song of Songs is a love song between a man and a woman, a metaphor for the love between God and the Jewish people. Every night I read these words: I am my Beloved's and my Beloved is mine. In the words there is partnership, there is love. In the words there is presence, loyalty, and permanence. This was a new representation of my relationship with God, unlike the one I had fallen into. That God loves me. That God desires a relationship with me. If there was distance I was feeling, the distance was from my lack of understanding, not from rejection from Him.

I learned that doing God's will strengthened the inherent bond between us. So I learned more about Judaism and the commandments (mitzvot). I studied the prayers. After 40 days ended I stopped reading The Song of Songs, but soon started up again. Drip by drip, I was a cracked vessel being filled with sweet wine. There was a relationship forming, greater than any I could ever know.

And so, in the drear of my days, in the mundane and in the fear, in the happiness and in the thrill, in the good news and in the bad, I try to remember that God is yearning as I am yearning.

My battle has not been won, but it has gotten easier.

I turn to Him and part my lips. There is no longer silence.

I am my Beloved's and my Beloved is mine.

He draws me near when I am far. And He stays.

Published: January 3, 2009

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Visitor Comments: 38

(38) Anonymous, January 8, 2009 6:38 PM

What strength!

Wow! What an incredible amount of inner work you've done to reach the level of relationship you describe, despite not being given the model you so desperately wished for (as we all do). You have great reserves of faith, and you will only grow stronger and happier if you continue the path you have begun. Kol hakavod. Beautifully written too!

(37) chana sharfstein, January 8, 2009 3:21 AM

I can feel your pain- wish your father would read this article

Tragic indeed when parents are not willing to undertake the responsibility of nurturing a child. Every child should have parents to stand by them, to give them guidance and strength. I KNOW you will find your beshert in the near future and I am sure you will raise your children in a home filled with LOVE and security and companionship. Tracht gut vet zein gut- positive thinking, and an approach of hopefulness in the future will lead to a great life. There is a lesson here for ALL PARENTS. We can physically be with our family yet still be removed, uninvolved. Parents must remeber to build and maintain and nourish the relationship on a day to day basis. Try this experiment- Tape your conversations with your children on just an ordinary day. You might be shocked to discover that most of the involvement with your children consists of COMMANDS- fibish your homework, brush your teeth, go take a bath, eat your dinner, answer the door/phone etc. We must have REAL conversations with all family members. Remember to be PRESENT, not just a figurehead. Important lesson for us all. Thank you for reopening our eyes. GOOD LUCK.

(36) Lazar, January 7, 2009 6:35 AM

two sides to every coin

Now that you are an adult, perhaps you should begin to look at your father's side of the story. Perhaps he had or has psychological problems that resulted from the way he was brought up. Perhaps he and your mother were a poorly suited match. Perhaps he is gay, and shouldn't have been married in the first place. or maybe he is just a poor excuse for a dad. Perhaps his inattention to you was Gd's way of using nature to fashion the miracle that brought your soul back to faith. In any case, blaming others for one's problems is rarely beneficial, even when they are to blame.

(35) Batsheva, January 6, 2009 5:07 PM

See Psalm 27

I read a story about an orphan who felt abandoned, but was comforted every time he recited psalm 27: when my father and mother abandon me,Hashem will gather me up. (Metsudah Tehillim translation)

(34) Anonymous, January 6, 2009 1:15 PM

Thank you for this article

I lost my father due to a extremely bad accident. It left me confounded not knowing which way to trun. My life was one big mess. But when I realized G-d was my Father, I started coming up out of my 49th parallel. So the roll of Father that G-d has is an important part of my life. I very much enjoyed this article. Thank You!

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