When Dad Goes Off and Gets Frum

I’m starting to understand why many parents are so weary of sending their children to Israel for a year.

I kind of have the reverse situation. My family, including myself, are all what one would call baalei teshuvah.

Growing up, my dad would repeatedly tell the story of when my mom was pregnant with me, their first child, he had a dream that 3 people-2 girls, one boy (presumably their 3 children)-were standing with him, and the youngest one, a girl in a nurse’s uniform, said “Dad, being with you is like being in a time warp.”

Disregarding the prophetic vision in this dream, focus on the last line. That’s what growing up with my dad was like. I never knew what popular music was, our radio was always tuned to the “classics” like Kingston Trio, David Bromberg, and The Beatles. We listened to old radio shows like Dick Tracy and the original War of the Worlds instead of watching TV. When we did watch TV, it was Nick-at-Nite oldies like Route 66 and The Andy Griffith Show. My dad talked freely of growing up in the sixties and seventies, and sang us war protest songs from his youth. He tried to hide the fact that he smoked and took all sorts of drugs, but once it came out, he was pretty open about that too. When I went to Amsterdam this past winter break, he told me, only somewhat jokingly, that I should get high while I had the chance. I used to look forward to our big Friday night dinners, where the conversation ran freely and anything and everything was always discussed.

Then, slowly, my family began flipping out. I guess in a large way it was due to me-I stopped wearing pants in 4th grade, and my mom followed. I started only eating vegetarian when we went out to eat, and my dad followed. Then, I wouldn’t eat out at all, and since my family had to cook something else for me, they stopped eating out so much as well. I went to a high school out of state, because there were no Jewish high schools near where I lived. When I started there in 9th grade, my family was probably one of the least religous families. We still would eat dairy in non kosher restraunts, my mom didn’t cover her hair all the time, I didn’t even know what mincha was. The girls in the school, for the most part, came from relatively shtark families. The school defined themselves as a “non-Bais Yaakov.” Now, just a few years later, my parents would probably not have sent me to that school, as it’s too modern for them. My dad wears a black hat, and has a beard and peyos. Not that I judge people by what they look like, but…I do.

Friday night, I’ve noticed, isn’t the same unless my dad has had several shots of whiskey. If not, then it goes like this. He and my brother come home from shul, and sit down on the couch to rest for a few minutes from the 20 minute walk home. The women, who have been home the whole time and haven’t eaten properly the whole day because they’ve been busy getting ready, are extremely hungry and want to start kiddush ASAP. Finally, we get the boys up and to the table, and everyone starts singing Shalom Aleichem off-key. There’s always an argument whether or not to sing Eishes Chayil, as my parents don’t really know the tune or the words, and so its up to us kids. None of us have great voices, and while this doesn’t bother my brother or sister, it bothers me, especially if there are guests. Kiddush, Hamotzei, Fish, Soup and then the fun begins.

My father gives over a dvar torah. He’s worked really hard at preparing this with a Rabbi that he learns with, so everyone is very quiet while he speaks. It’s something that usually takes him about 5-7 minutes, quotes a rashi, and has a “feel good” mussar point at the end. You can’t question him, because he just hasn’t learned enough to answer analytical style questions. If our non-religous relatives are there, it gets even worse, because some sort of arguement always ensues about “The Rabbi” that always gets the final say, or women’s role, or our relationship with non-Jews. I’m always quiet during these things, but I really don’t think my father presents Orthodoxy in the best light.

What bothers me so much is not the lifestyle my father has chosen. When I was in Seminary, I was surrounded by people like him. I didn’t really mind them so much, because that’s just how they are. What bothers me is that I remember what my dad was like just a few years ago. His Orthodoxy has made him lose so much of his personality. Now, everytime I go home, he’s more interested in learning with me than with speaking with me. I can still get him to be like how he used to be, but usually only when he’s had a couple of drinks, or times like lazy Sunday mornings when he sleeps in and doesn’t go to shul, and therefore isn’t in the “shtark-mode” so much.

I have a friend who lives about 4 hours away from my hometown and reminds me SO MUCH of my dad (pre-flipout). I really want to introduce my dad to him, but right now, I don’t think they’d get along very well. If I had met him 3 or 4 years ago, things would have been different, but now, my dad would immediately have a negative reaction to him when he sees him not wearing a kippah, but a cap with the Beatles logo on it. And my friend would think that my dad looks like an old Hasidic rabbi. And then they’d talk Torah. And they maybe wouldn’t hate each other, but they would each think that the other one is a little bit crazy. And they would probably never get around to discussing things that they have in common, like music. My dad would try to show off how shtark he was by saying that he listens to the Miami Boys Choir. I know my dad secretly despises them, but it’s the frum thing to do. He can’t listen to goyishe music anymore, so instead he listens to the Big Band music of the 40s. And this breaks my heart.

I’ve recently started going to minyan everyday as well, and I love it. I love the camraderie and the “minyan chevra”, and I also love that it sort of forces me talk to God 2 or 3 times a day. I would never want to suggest that my father not go to minyan, or not learn daf yomi, or spend less time with the kollel. But at the same time, I really miss the old him. I miss taking weekend camping trips to middle-of-nowheresville South Carolina. But we would never do that now. Its too much time spent away from the shul. And I’ve come to really resent that.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

In an attempt to decorate our room, my roomate hung up two larger-than-lifesize posters of Abercrombie and Fitch models in our room. They hang from floor to ceiling, and are about 3 feet wide.

A friend of mine came by my room, and we were discussing the posters (I’m not a fan).

She pointed to one of the posters

and said “You know, he’s not so bad looking.” I made an “are you crazy?” face, and told her that if I were to choose, I would go with the other one:

She said “Really? But the first one is so…pensive.”

“True,” I responded. “But the other guy looks so happy and carefree.”

And that’s the difference between her and I.