I am writing this on the eve of my parents’ Yahrzeits. They died two years apart but on the same day in November. Even though I never know exactly how to consecrate their memories, and the dates in the Hebrew calendar separates them, I always light candles for both of them together
They were very united as a couple, and to my young mind, they formed a united front against me.
They were old when I was born – my mother was forty – and I drove their strained nerves to the breaking point with my alternative style of behaving, of learning, of thinking. I think they were not disappointed with the final results, but by the time they got to enjoy the fruits of their labors they were worn out from the effort. They were worn out because I was always determined to go my own way and they never gave up trying to cajole me into following their life style.
If they’d just leave me alone a little, I’d think, I would come around to talk, maybe even consult with them, because they were both very wise people. But their united and uncompromising demands always drove me away.
So as a mother I determined to be ‘available,’ but not interfering. I would be always there, always in the background, and if anyone needed advice, I’d be happy and generous. But I would never impose my will upon them. I would never declare that this one should be a teacher and that one should marry a rabbi and this girlfriend was unsuitable. I tried to guide my children gently into what they thought was best for them, and put my own advice in the back of my mind until they were asked for. If I formed any united front, it was not with their other parent, but with them.
Of course you know the conclusion. No parent I know could have read this far without laughing it out like the punch line of an old joke. My children complain delicately, when pressed, that they lack direction, a solid framework, a clear sense of values. I’d like to blame my immigration from one country and language to another, my divorce and the subsequent drastic alteration of our standard of living, my remarriage into a different democratic life style. But all these factors are really minor. It is because I myself rebelled so blindly against the yoke of my own strong parents that I couldn’t distinguish between oppression and guidance.
But now that I am planning how I will observe the anniversaries of my parents’ deaths, I think there is a lesson for my children and myself to learn and that is not too late for all of us to learn it together. If we can only see each other as individuals with our limitations and strengths, if we can only forgive the people most important to us their weaknesses, then we will all be doing all of us a great service. We’ll be giving the other the love and respect they deserve and giving ourselves back our own freedom of choice.